Navagraha Ottam – Part 4

Day 3 looked daunting for both runners and support team alike and there was a mountain to climb. For runners, it was about covering the total distance of 49 Kms in 4 stages – 13, 14, 8 and a final leg of 14 kms and for the support team, it was to ensure that none of us run more than planned. Any deviation from the course will lead to drastic increase in distance and can lead to more woes for runners. The team got ready earlier than other days and we started the run much earlier than the daybreak.

Our first destination was Vaitheeswaran Koil and route was fairly direct from Mayiladuthurai. It was quite tiring initially but soon found the rhythm to keep moving at a steady pace. Vaitheeswaran Koil has of late, become famous or infamous for its nadi josiam or Palm leaf astrology. I had frequented the place on many occasions, the most recent being in May 2013 when Srini and I cycled all the way from Pondicherry for a weekend ride. To keep the conversation going, I started boring Ram with ‘facts’ like I have been visiting this place with a different mode of transportation each time – train, bus, car, cycle and now by foot!

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We reached Vaitheeswaran Koil in about 2 hours and few minutes. I have plenty of pictures taken in this place on the previous two occasions I visited and the place doesn’t seem to change much to prompt me to take photos again. The place housed the Sevvai graha(the equivalent in English is Mars). My earliest memory of this temple was those red beads, salt & pepper offered to Lord Vaitheeswara (the doctor) for curing of diseases. His consort was Thaiyal Nayagi which Srini referred to as Surgeon in our previous trip. I called up home to remind them that I am a dutiful scion of our ‘clan’ as I placed my obeisance to the family deity!

After our breakfast, we started our next stage of run towards Thiruvengadu. The route was supposedly a mystery although we were sure of the direction to be followed. The crew did an excellent job in positioning themselves at appropriate places to guide us safely.

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Expected a better reaction!

En route, we saw Shreya having the world’s best ‘kuchi’ ice. Sadly, she gave a bad expression when asked for a picture of her with the icecream! Shreya, daughter of Bala, was the youngest member of our support crew. She was enthusiastic all through the trip helping us in every possible manner. Her assistance with the ‘dry fruits’ deserve a special mention.

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That’s what heat does to you!

Before Thiruvengadu, we had another gentleman who offered his house for us to rest and also showed us an easier route to the place. It was a welcome rest as the day was getting really tough on us. We finally reached Thiruvengadu at about 11:30 AM in time to have a dharshan of the Lord Budhan (Planet Mercury). A rest house (constructed in 1960s and still serves well) was arranged for us to refresh and have our lunch. The facilities were excellent for us to recover from the heat and plan for the rest of the afternoon run.

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Thiruvengadu Temple

After a brief rest, I and Ram started our run earlier than the rest of the team. The next destination was Keezhaperumpallam, easily the most complicated name we encountered in the whole trip. To ensure that we remember the name well, we broke down the name into two parts and ensured that each one of us remember at least a part. The route was towards the historic town of Poompuhar or Kaveripoompattinam as the next destination was located close to the town.

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Wonder no feminist has ever bothered to protest!

The road was filled with arches in memory of the characters from the Tamil Classic ‘Silappadikaram.’ A week before the trip, I was trying to explain the importance of this story to a group of children only to find that there weren’t any. A mediocre story, hyped up by the politicians and the key protagonist of the story, Kannagi has more importance in the recent political history of Tamil Nadu. I also found that a memorial was built for her although the name Patthini Kottam sounded regressive for me. The arches in memory of Kovalan, Kannagi, Madhavi (yes, Madhavi) sounded absurd and made me wonder if a treatise like Silappadikaram deserves materialistic flamboyance in these forms.

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Kannagi Arch

Further down on the road was this site apparently important from archeological perspective. A layman view would have been that it looked like one of those unfinished construction sites in Chennai. Nevertheless, it is archaeological site and we have to attach importance to it.

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Just before entering the town, we take a diversion towards south to reach Keezhaperumpallam. We cross the river Kaveri for a final time during the trip. The river becomes very narrow and hardly resembles the majestic look that it had in earlier places. We also a had a view of the Poompuhar light house.

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The last view of Kaveri

Keezhaperumpallam, which wasn’t far away from Poompuhar, houses Lord Kethu. It was one of the smallest temples we visited during the trip. After offering our prayers, we set out for one final run towards the final destination for the day – Sembaranar Koil, where we were scheduled to spend the night.

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The ever present crew at the final turn

 The final leg of the run was mixed with tiredness and a sense of satisfaction that much of the run for the day is over. The initial route looked a bit confusing but it was fairly easy once we hit the Poompuhar-Mayiladuthurai road. As always, I and Ram started our run earlier and let most of the runners go past us. Durai and Vadivel chose to accompany us and we had some interesting conversation with Durai on some myths vs reality when it comes legal profession. You can read Durai’s report on the trip in his blog here –

There cannot be any complaints about the food, electrolytes or water offered to us on the run as well as off the run. Our crew tirelessly worked towards squeezing dozens of lemons to prepare fresh lemonades for us every day and Shreya did her part in ensuring that I get my dry fruits when I wanted it! Three days of ‘runners’ diet can be excessively boring. Running past through small towns, one cannot miss the fragrance of the Bajjis and bondas being fried in roadside shops. The next time, the crew passed us asking our needs, I had the temerity to ask for a Vazhakkai Bajji evoking laughter amongst my fellow runners. Few minutes later, the car passed us with a hand raised out of the window offering me a vazhakkai bajji neatly wrapped in a news paper (yeah, that’s how it is and also helps is absorbing excess oil). Shanti (Bala’s wife) and Bhanu (Vishy’s wife) had stopped their car and managed to get a freshly prepared vazhakkai bajji for me. There wasn’t a better inspiration for that evening run!

Meanwhile, the ‘speedsters’ – Srikumar and Neville haven’t yet run past us leaving us to wonder what’s happening to them. On seeing Chakra run alone, they have dropped their pace and chosen to accompany him till the end. Running is never a solo feat; it has always been a team show. The last few Kilometeres were navigated in the dark thanks to the incessant power cuts in those region. The night was spent at Sembaranar Koil.

Navagraha Ottam – Part 3

One done; three to go. It wasn’t the distance we ran that mattered; it was more about the frequency of start-stop-start that made the run more difficult. After a good night sleep and an early morning coffee (Our crew made sure that we are served coffee every morning), we were all set to start the second day of running. Our itinerary included visiting three temples, five stages of running totaling about 44K and as always, plenty of surprises.

Start of Day2
At the start, in Thippirajapuram Agraharam

Our first destination for the day was the Raghustalam in Thirunageswaram which was about 11K from Thippirajapuram. We started a little after the sunrise and it started getting hot a bit early. It was a Monday morning and running towards a town like Kumbakonam cannot be a pleasant experience. After reaching Sakkottai, we took a small dirt road with less traffic and reached our destination. Thirunageswaram is also renowned for the Uppliappan temple and I am not sure which of these temples is more popular than the other. Visiting that temple was subject to time constraints. Given our struggles with the existing plan, any detour looked a distant dream.

Reaching Thirunageswaram

I have some memories of visiting Thirunageswaram about 2 decades back with my parents. The temple is renowned for a unique phenomena – when the abhishekam is performed for the idol with milk, it is said that the milk turns blue in colour. As a small boy, I made some comment that it must be because of some blue powder with the priest and remember given a stern look from my parents. I still haven’t witnessed it yet and not able to agree or disagree. This temple was one of the biggest that we visited during the trip and I was disappointed that the distance we walked around the temple was not included in the total distance! Our breakfast was arranged in the temple premises. The speedsters – Neville and Srikumar enjoyed the luxury of visiting the Uppiliappan Temple.

Raghustalam Temple

We began the second stage of running at about 10:00 AM under blazing sun. The run was towards Suryanar Koil located at a distance of about 12K and follow it with another 4k run towards Kanjanur. After visiting these two temples, we were to proceed towards Vanathirajapuram (another 11 Kms) for our lunch and afternoon rest. The itinerary looked daunting for both I and Ram. We wondered if we can take a break at Kanjanur and do the rest 18K after lunch and rest. Before we even reach that stage, we had a mountain to climb in the run to Suryanar Koil and Kanjanur.

Thiruvidaimaruthur Temple

The next town in the route was Thiruvidaimaruthur. It was a small town sharing some of the features that one would witness in most towns in that region – A dilapidated building, this time it looked like a mansion, beautiful temple, congested market place and curious onlookers. After Thiruvidaimaruthur, we again cross the rivers Veerachozhan and Kaveri and join the Kallanai-Poompuhar road.

Polluting the water?

Another sight of Kaveri and Selva cannot resist the temptation of ‘floating in water.’ This time, he was joined by his mom along with Shreya and Krishna. Ram and I were invited to join the party but we politely declined as the day’s schedule was frightening us in a big way. We enjoyed the scene from the top of the bridge along with a few onlookers. I tried to pick up some conversation by suggesting that the river is polluted by these folks from Chennai and if you continue to allow them to bathe, Kaveri will become another Cooum. They didn’t seem to bother about those remarks and mentioned that they feel that the river belongs to everyone.

Few metres away, we met one of the characters of our trip – Sub-Inspector ‘Captain’ Mariappan. We spotted a police officer who looked extremely busy stopping oncoming vehicles and questioning them. We felt that it would be responsible on our part to go ahead and report ourselves to him. Ram took the lead in approaching him and wished him. The first response from him was in a half-baked Hindi that would put this movie scene to shame. Ram tried his best to get him talk in Tamil but he refused to do so. On seeing his name badge, we asked if he is ‘Inspector’ Mariappan. He responded that he is Inspector ‘Captain’ Mariappan by which it was definitely sure that the man was ‘floating in water,’ albeit of a different kind. We left the scene quickly wishing that he encounters either Bala in Hindi or Peter in English.

Suriyananar Koil

Suriyanar Koil, as the name suggests, is dedicated to Lord Suryan or Sun. Kanjanur was approximately 4 Km from Suriyanar Koil. I suggested to Ram that it will be better if we walk it to that temple in our ‘temple gear’ than change into running gear and back to temple gear to visit the temple. Ram agreed to walk with me and the consequence was the biggest fashion faux pas of 21st Century. Attired in the ‘kavi veshti’ and ‘yellow thudu,’ I added dark glasses (like you know whom!) and a crocs slipper for my feet! Ram added black glasses and a camera to his attire of Veshti and Thundu.

Picture by Ram

The walk from Suriyanar Koil to Kanjanur was truly the ‘spiritual walk.’ Except those expensive gadgets, we both gave the impressions of a true ascetic. After much of running-walking, the walk relaxed our legs for the subsequent stages of the trip. After running in my minimalist footwear, crocs slippers gave me the much wanted comfort for my feet. So, who cares about the fashion disasters!

Kanjanur hosts Lord Shukran (Venus) and we managed to sneak into the temple just before it was closed for the after noon. By now, our crew judged that most of us will be tired to run another 12K for lunch and arranged to bring the lunch to Kanjanur. They also managed to convince the temple authorities to allow us to take rest in the temple premises itself. More about their magnificent work in Ram’s blog.

With Vishwanathan

Before our lunch arrived, we managed to grab the free lunch in the temple premises itself. Any lunch is delicious when you work for it and even better, if free. I also managed to get some education on the right way to lay the banana leaf. Contrary to my perception that the broad side of the leaf has to be on the right, it seems that the end of the leaf (not the one near the stem) must always be on the left side irrespective of the width (but didn’t learn how to identify that)!.

Lunch at Kanjanur Temple. Picture by Ram

Our afternoon rest was in the temple premises and the veshti-thundu came handy for spreading it on the floor. With a gentle breeze to cool us down, afternoon nap made me feel better and ready for the 18K run towards Mayiladuthurai. Selva seems to know the course of the river Cauvery inch-by-inch. Not very far from Kanjanur is the spot popularly known as ‘Vada’ Cauvery. It is here alone where the river flows towards the Northern direction. Feeling fresh from the afternoon nap, I agreed to join the rest of the crew for my only act of polluting the river.

Our next destination was Vanathirajapuram which was originally our destination for Lunch. Krishna did have some complaints over the length of my legs. We were received at Vanathirajapuram by the staff of Suja Shoei with an attractive banner.

6 x 4 copy

We took a break to enjoy the felicitations and refreshments. Further down the road was both Ram as well as his wife’s native places. Getting into a town late in the evening is a challenge by itself and after some hiccups, we found our final destination at Mayiladuthurai.

The arrival at Mayiladuthurai brought me in touch with some familiar people. The owner of the house in which we stayed was uncle to my friend Balaji. It was his dad who was the custodian to the house and his mom had prepared a delicious payasam for the entire team.

with Balaji’s dad Ponnuswamy

The route for the final stage for the run can be viewed here.