Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The 'right' road to Maran - Part 2

Day Three : My cup runneth over
Bangun! Bangun! (Wake up! Wake up!)…this was repeated over and over again like an old tape recorder by our dear priest Samy. As soon as he woke up, he started walking round the hall to ensure that everyone is awake. It was only 1 am. I meant to sleep in for another half hour but when I saw that Amelia was already up and getting ready, I got up. Samy was so persistent with his morning call “Bangun!” that I could even hear it while I was brushing my teeth outside!
At 2.30 am the police truck arrived to chauffeur us to Mahamariamman Temple at Temerloh to join the rest for Breakfast. While waiting for the flag-off at 4 am, the skies show signs of a shower coming. We decided to go into the temple to put on our raincoats and suddenly the heavy downpour! Later, I was informed that this (shower) seemed to be happening every year and it is considered as auspicious. Many just braved the rain and started with their journey but the officials advised us (about 50) to stay behind as the rain was getting heavy.
Since we only slept for 3 hours last night, we did not hesitate to continue our sleep on the cold floor in the temple hall. I chatted with some of the aunties there who offered me a space to squeeze in between them. Just as curious as they were about my presence there, I was also curious about theirs. They shared with me their purpose for participating in this walk which they have been walking for the past 10 years. Incredible!
At about 6 am, heavy rain was reduced to drizzle and we were all advised to start our journey for the day. The police truck then sent us to the first pit stop for some light refreshments and to join the group who started their walk earlier. So began my journey for day 3. It was still drizzling and the gloomy skies were certainly a welcome change after being burnt by the sun for the past two days. Having said that, the sun came out and started roasting us again! On arrival to the stop at Jengkak, it was only 10.40 am and we were told to rest and wait for lunch at 12 noon.
Based on Julie’s experience, she advised us not to wait but to continue walking and have lunch on our own later.
The final stretch was another grueling long section heading towards Maran. We followed the signboard which wrote ‘KUIL SRI MARATHANDAVAR 16km’ but wait, as we walked quite a distance further it said ‘Kuil Sri Marathandavar 17km’ Ah…16km or 17km? Anyway, never trust distance markers in Malaysia – they are often misleading and a waste of time if we depend on them too much. Julie, Pueh Tian and I took a short break at one of the stalls to have lunch while Amelia had walked way ahead and could not be stopped. Ahead of us was another 13km…On a normal day, 13km seem pretty easy for me. But presently, walking with 6 blisters on the heated tarmac road seemed quite a task. After coming so far, I thought I can overcome anything but not until I got to know that we need to walk barefooted for the last 4km. Ah..with my blisters???

Last 4km
Ha! Ha! It was another relief after having completed 13km. We joined all the devotees and assembled beside the river bank to walk the last 4km together, barefooted. Well, as observers, my friends and I have decided to part take the whole process with the others.
Everyone had to walk down the river to ‘cleanse’ ourselves from top to toe. (In the end, Samy suggested that we can also use mineral water..hehe! he is humorous!) As we walked forward, the priest blessed us by applying some white powder and a red little dot on our foreheads. Then, we formed a line with other devotees. Some aunties who were observing us were joyous to see that we followed this ritual. They offered me a place in the queue next to them but I told them I will stay behind the line to observe this time. After 20 minutes of prayer, we picked up one of the milk pot covered with a piece of yellow cloth that was placed on the ground and followed the group as they chant and marched to the main temple. Oh yes, we walked barefooted carrying the milk pot on our heads.

One of the St. John’s volunteers was very helpful, he dressed and plastered all my blisters so it lessened the pain. Thanks a million, Kwan!
Carrying the milk pot on the head was rather difficult as it was heavy. I placed it on my shoulders instead. As we drew nearer to Sri Marathandavar temple, one of the priests advised me to put the milk pot on my head. He explained that when the milk pot is placed on the head, you could feel the heaviness. You then transfer this heaviness (the heaviness of our burdens) to Lord Muruga. Another officer who was walking beside me said, “Today is an auspicious day for you. When you handover this milk pot to the priest, remember to make a wish.”
It was without a doubt, the people surrounding me were all willing to share their culture and beliefs and we need to respect that. I was made to see that everyone on this planet can actually live together in harmony if we make enough effort to treat each other as human beings by not looking at one another in contempt, and discriminate because of skin color, gender, race or rank.We finally arrived at our final destination…I sighted the majestic Sri Marathandavar Temple! There were already thousands of devotees gathered there to celebrate Pangguni Uthiram festival (a celebration for Murugan devotees) and almost similar to Thaipusam. Some devotees carrying the kavadis, some went into a trance, rolling on the floor, dancing etc.
There was a huge bazaar with more than a hundred traders selling all kinds of everything. It was indeed a very colorful carnival.
We walked around the temple 3 times before entering the sacred place. And when my turn came to hand over the milk pot to the priest to pour on Lord Muruga, I made a universal wish: that all of us will be blessed with good health and that man will learn to live in peace. After pouring out the milk, the priest handed the pot together with a coconut, banana, powder and some flower petals to me.

Sri Marathandavar Bala Dhandayuthapani Temple
Situated in Maran, Pahang this temple is one of the holiest pilgrimage sites for Hindus in Malaysia. It is 121 years old today.
The legend goes that a large tree was marked for falling to make way for the KL – Kuantan road but as the blade of the axe struck it, the tree began to bleed. Lorries were overturned and one of the Tamil workers suddenly went into a trance and pleaded for the tree to be spared. When the authorities refused, they saw a figure of a child appearing on the tree trunk. The supervisor immediately changed his mind and then re-laid the road to avoid the tree. The place became sacred and the temple was constructed around the tree. Many who came to worship were bestowed with good fortune in their lives and they returned to the temple from time to time to offer thanksgiving to Lord Muruga.
After the ceremony, I went searching for my bags at the tent outside the temple and was surprised to discover a big mess! Hundreds of bags were scattered all over and I wondered if it’s ever possible to find mine?! Well, took me awhile but eventually I managed to locate my bags. Then I realized that my shoes and slippers were missing and still in the police truck. I went searching for the truck which was parked some distance away from the temple. I was absolutely worn-out this time especially walking around barefooted until these words suddenly came to mind and struck me: I complained I have no shoes until I saw a man without his feet!
Gratitude, haven’t I just learn?
Next, when I got to know that there weren’t any place to shower, I decided to go home with Amelia. I hastily made arrangements with the St. John’s team after learning that they were also leaving for KL that night. Mohan and Suresh from St. John’s are some of the nicest people I met here. They drove us back.
By now, my legs were screaming of fatique, my blisters were shouting in agony and my whole body began to sore and ache due to the excessive sunburn, otherwise I would have stayed back. When we were leaving Maran, it began to rain and later, I was told that the whole place was flooded. I slept all the way from Maran to KL.

As ravaged as my body feels, the overall experience is just too extraordinary to lose sight of. Now still recovering from all the aches, sunburn and record-breaking blisters, I did not regret making my foot-steps from KL to Maran.
Will I do it again? When the time comes and there are still lessons to be learned, I will.

Indeed, sometimes we can be at the right time, right place and miracles happen.
For me, the lessons I learned throughout this entire journey itself is a miracle!

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