O Lord! In my mind, which is now very agitated due to mental and physical afflictions, may Thy beautiful form manifest, which is of the nature of Knowledge-Bliss absolute. This will excite me with supreme devotion causing horripilation all over the body and tears flowing in ecstasy and in such a thrill, my endless sorrows will melt into insignificance.
When we say “wild and wonderful” where does our mind jump to immediately?
“Hakuna Matata. kusafiri” is the answer.
Confused with the answer? In the East African language of Swahili, it simply means “no worries”, “take it easy”. The answer is “Safari”.
Safari -An introduction
In Swahili, the word safari means “journey”, originally from the Arabic noun سفر, safar, meaning “journey”, “travel”, “trip”, or “tour”; the verb for “to travel” in Swahili is kusafiri. These words are used for any type of journey.
Safari entered the English language at the end of the 1850s thanks to the British explorer Richard Francis Burton. In 1836, British Army Engineer,
William Cornwall Harris led an expedition purely to observe and record wildlife and landscapes. Harris established the safari style of journey, starting with a not too strenuous rising at first light, an energetic day walking, an afternoon rest then concluding with a formal dinner and telling stories in the evening over drinks and tobacco.
The hunting aspect traditionally associated with the safari is said to have its origins where villagers got together to hunt wild boars and reclaim land for farming. However it was the British who used Safaris for hunting for personal pleasure and popularized it.
Gujarat – The wild and wonderful
Our trip to Gujarat contained two segments where we stuck to the spirit of William Cornwall Harris style of Safari as a means to understand the wild and wonderful Gujarat.
Segment 1 – Gir – The kingdom of the “Wild and Wonderful”.
Part A – Jungle Safari
The Gir National Park was established in 1965 in the erstwhile Nawab of Junagarh’s private hunting area, with a total area of 1,412 km2(545 sq mi), of which 258 km2 (100 sq mi) is fully protected as a national park and 1,153 km2 (445 sq mi) as wildlife sanctuary.
Kicking off the day at 0530 Hrs we started our Safari in the jungles of Gir. A four hour drive in an open Gypsy (A jeep) took us the nook and corner of the sprawling Gir Forest. We were lucky to spot a lioness marking her territory right at the start of the Safari. The rest of the Safari covered other animals and birds. Here is an overview.
This was followed by an exquisite lunch and siesta at the FERN GIR FOREST RESORT.
Part 2 – Devalia Safari
Evening Safari was a bit different; we wanted to present ourselves as “strange moving creatures with two legs” to the wild and wonderful. So we locked ourselves in a cage mounted on a Gypsy and paraded ourselves to the wild animals in the Gir Forest. Needless to say that the Wild and Wonderful didn’t bother about us at all and were busy at their routines.
Gujarat Tourism calls this place as “ Devalia Safari Park ” also known as “Gir Interpretation Zone- Devalia”. Here is our Safari with a dufference:
Experience in this segment summed up – “High” on expectations (with increased Lions population and previous day sightings expectations built up) and “Moderate” on success in sighting.
Segment 2 – The Little Rann of Kutch – A saline sublime
In this segment, we moved away from the Jungle to the vast, dry and extremely hot saline desert.
Covering an area of 4954 Km2, Little Rann of Kutch is one of the most remarkable and unique landscapes of its kind. Wild Ass Sanctuary is located in this Rann which harbours the last population of Wild Ass (Equus hemionus khur).
It is a vast desiccated, unbroken bare surface of dark silt, encrusted with salts which transforms into a spectacular coastal wetland after the rains. The present saline desert of the Little Rann (saline desert-cum-seasonal wetland) of Kutch is believed to have been shallow sea.
We checked into the Royal Safari Camp at Bajana and relaxed after a sumptuous meal.
Part A – The Wild Ass Safari
We were ready for the Evening Safari. Temperature soared to 43 deg C (in the last week of March itself) and here we are driving in an open Gypsy towards the saline desert from the village center.
Part B – Nature’s Aviary at the Saline Desert
We even got down from the Gypsy and walked around the waterbodies to have an exclusive “darshan” of the birds around there. Wow. What a sight.
Experience in this segment summed up – “Low” on expectations (what do you expect, except a few Wild Asses and that too in a hot desert) and “High” on success in sighting (not only Wild Asses but also an impressive show by the Birds and Aditya, the Sun while setting).
Lessons learnt – Safari and Vedanta
This is our second Jungle Safari after the one at Kanha Tiger Reserve at Madhya Pradesh in 2018.
Safaris like these drive home several lessons, many of them straight from our Vedanta.
Here are some of my learnings:
1. If you are keeping your expectations (desires) high, you are bound to get disappointed (frustrated). After all you are looking for a few hundred wild animals (which are mostly territory oriented) in an area spanning thousands of square kilometers.
2. What you get to see (or otherwise) need not necessarily be seen (or otherwise) by someone who are either ahead of you or behind you. Your experience is unique to yourselves.
3. Time and Space can decide what you get or loose. In other words your experience is time and space limited.
4. Enjoy what you see, your experience. That moment is precious. The idea of being present and savoring the moment is not a novel idea, but it’s often a forgotten one. David Attenborough’s extraordinary documentaries on Animal Kingdom are awesome; no doubt about that. But nothing will ever have as big an effect as seeing the real beauty of the world and its inhabitants on safari by yourselves.
5. Silence is golden. Feel it and enjoy it. Through the day enjoy that moment where a bird or a monkey or a deer provides an alarm for an approaching animal. In the night at the Camp, listen to the insects’ hum and chirp; the stars in the sky and the sounds of nature.
6. See the positives. Even dirty roads and bushy terrain offers great views.
7. The Sun always provides spectacular views both in the morning and evening. Enjoy it and pray Aditya for keeping us alive.
8. Be patient. You have no choice. Sometimes what you want and expect doesn’t happen right away; sometimes what you want takes much longer than you thought it would.
9. Ears are better than mouth. Listening is Often Better Than Talking. Listen to the safari guide or just listen to the sounds of the bush. The point is that when we listen, our bodies are much more attuned to everything that’s happening around us. You also learn what you may not have known.
10. Life is not a rat race. Reconnect with the beauty of little things and enjoy.
Post retirement we had a wonderful plan of exploring every year, one of the States and Union Territories in our country. That was working out nicely till 2019, when the dreaded CoVid 19 stuck. The years 2020 and 2021 saw us getting trapped in the residence.
At last, the opening came in March 2022. We decided that we will visit Gujarat (despite the fear of an oppressive heat). A detailed plan was drawn out (10 night & 11 days) covering nearly 2500 Kms of road journey. The tour was well coordinated and organized by Akshar Travels, Gujarat.
Here is a pictorial summary of our tour plan.
Great experience it was. From the time we landed in Rajkot till the time we boarded our return flight at Ahmedabad, it was non stop learning about animals, places, heritage, culture, food and of course people.
From the non stop “Thambakoo” chewing Rajasthani driver (thanks to Film Stars who are responsible for this addiction in many people) to the tribal people selling their wares in Little Rann of Kutch, evidences of our Sanatana Dharma, everyone in search of pure happiness kept cropping up by the minute again and again.
My iPhone X literally cried for help. Help came only through places where photography was not allowed. Consolidating the photos and preserving them is a mammoth task. That process has just started and the first focus is on my favorite, the Sun – Aditya. The reason is “After all Gujarat is shining. Isn’t it?
Here is Shining Gujarat, a video of Sun Shine across our entire route in Gujarat
The festival of Meenakshi Thirukalyanam celebrates the divine wedding of Meenakshi Amman with Lord Shiva. This grand celebration is held in Madurai, the cultural capital of Tamil Nadu and is one of the biggest events here.
This annual event takes place in the famous ‘Meenakshi Amman Temple’ at Madurai and devotees from all corners of the world come to witness this magnificent event. A part of the renowned Chithirai festival, Meenakshi Thirukalyanam is held on the 10th day. On this auspicious day thousands of devotees from Madurai and adjoining areas come to the ‘Sri Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple’ to observe the celestial wedding of Lord Sundareswarar (Lord Shiva) and Meenakshi (Goddess Parvati). Devotees throng the temples in large numbers to seek the divine blessings from their lords.
Legend has it that the emperor Kulasekhara Pandyan was the founder of the ancient city of Madurai. He was succeeded by Malayadwaja Pandyan. Malayadwaja Pandyan and his consort Kanchanamala who did not have any children of their own, worshipped with the desire of obtaining progeny. During the course of their ceremonial prayer, a baby girl appeared in the sacrificial altar miraculously.
The Royalcouple brought up this child as their own and named her Tataatakai. An odd feature about the baby was that it had three breasts instead of two, and that a divine prophecy decreed that the third one would miraculously disappear, at the princess’s sight of her consort to be.
Tataatakai grew up to be a valorous queen; she was also known as Meenakshi, the one endowed with fish like eyes. Tataatakai embarked upon a DigVijaya or a tour of victory, across the length and breadth of the Indian subcontinent. In the course of her travels she came to Mount Kailash where she encountered Shiva; upon standing in front of Shiva her third breast disappeared and a valorous warrior princess transformed into a blushing bride.
Lord Siva directed Meenakshi to return to Madurai and promised her that he would join her in eight days as her groom. Accordingly Meenakshi returned to Madurai, and at the appointed time, the divine wedding was celebrated with pomp and splendour. Maha Vishnu, believed to be the brother of Meenakshi is said to have given the bride away.
The legend of Meenakshi Kalyanam brings together four of the six main streams in popular Hinduismi.e. the Saiva, Shakta, Vaishnava and Skanda faiths – and this grand culmination of faiths is still celebrated in great splendour today, in an enactment of Meenakshi Kalyanam each year, when images of Skanda and Vishnu are brought to the Madurai Meenakshi temple from Tirupparankundram nearby. Also of significance is the grand procession of Kallazhagar towards Madurai from the AlagarKoyil temple in the outskirts of the city.
How fortunate I am to attempt to translate the Meenakshi Pancharathnamala, a garland of 5 exotic flowers filled to the brim with bhakti by Adi Sankara. Indeed I am very lucky.
vidhuuya kleshaanme kuru charaNayugmaM dhR^itarasaM
bhavatkshetrapraaptau karamapi cha te puujanavidhau |
bhavanmuurtyaalOke nayanamatha te paadatulasiiparighraaNe
ghraaNaM shravaNamapi te chaarucharite ||
விதூ₄ய க்லேஶாந்மே குரு சரணயுக்₃மம் த்₄ருதரஸம்
ப₄வத்க்ஷேத்ரப்ராப்தௌ கரமபி ச தே பூஜநவிதௌ₄ |
ப₄வந்மூர்த்யாலோகே நயநமத₂ தே பாத₃துலஸீ-
பரிக்₄ராணே க்₄ராணம் ஶ்ரவணமபி தே சாருசரிதே || 7||
Meaning in English
O Lord! Be graceful to remove all my afflictions so that my two feet will take delight in reaching Thy temple, my hands in performing worship to Thee,my eyes in seeing Thy enchanting form, my nose in enjoying the fragrance of the Tulsi leaves offered at Thy feet and my ears in hearing the stories of Thy glories and great deeds
“The magic of music can bring about that experience of contention-free connectedness to the whole …
I see music as a blessing of Ishvara for the self-conscious, self-judgmental human to survive and experience, for the time being, the reality of the oneness with the total, the Lord, without any qualifications for it.”
Swami Dayanananda Saraswati, the composer thus spoke about music. His compositions have simple, yet soul stirring verses.
Here is one on Lord Rama. My understanding of the composition and translation in Tamil is presented here for the Rama Navami Festival.
சிறந்த யோகிகள், முனிவர்கள் போன்றவர்களின் இதயத்தில் என்றும் வசிப்பவளும், வேண்டும் அனைத்துப் பொருட்களையும் தருபவளும், எல்லாவிதமான பூக்களாலும் அழகு பெற்ற திருவடிகளை உடையவளும், நாராயணனாலும் அருச்சிக்கப்பட்டவளும், நாதபிரம்ம உருவானவளும், உயர்ந்ததிலும் உயர்வானவளும், அனைத்துப் பொருட்களிலும் உள்நின்று இயக்குபவளும், கருணைக்கடல் ஆனவளும், பெரும் செல்வம் ஆனவளும் ஆன மீனாட்சியை அடியேன் எப்பொழுதும் வணங்குகிறேன்.
Meaning in English
5.1: Residing within the hearts of various great Yogis and Munis, She bestows various Siddhis (spiritual accomplishments),
5.2: Her Lotus Feet adorned with various Flowers (of Devotion of Devotees) is adored by Narayana Himself (Who is fond of Pure Devotion),
5.3: She is the embodiment of Nada Brahman, beyond all Existences, pervading everything as their innermost Soul (i.e. innermost Essence),
5.4: (Meditating on Her within the heart) I Bow down again and again to Devi Meenakshi, Who is an Ocean of Compassion.