Paschima vaahini

Most of the major Indian rivers flow eastward. Of course we do have the Narmada and Tapti and the Punjabi rivers, and several smaller ones in the western ghats (Sharavathi, etc.) but most of the major ones flow eastward. To put it objectively, the total quantity of river water that is flowing eastward in India at any given point of time is much much more than the total quantity of river water that is flowing westward in India at any given point of time. This means that when a major river takes a west turn, the point is considered holy.

Perhaps the best known such point is Prayag (or is it Varanasi?) where the Ganga is supposed to flow westward for a short distance (i’m not sure of this funda – please correct me if i’m wrong). Another such point, which is much closer (to my) home is a place called Paschima vaahini. Situated close to Srirangapatnam, the Kaveri is supposed to flow westward here for a short distance (paschima vaahini – west vehicle/stream). And it is perhaps the most popular destination near Bangalore for immersing the ashes of the deceased.

It is a fairly dirty stream (what else do you expect downstream in an indian river?). It is fairly shallow which means that it’s easy to wade in and take a dip. And there are several people who are taking a dip there, and people washing clothes a short distance upstream. And you are supposed to take a dip in this to cleanse yourself! The floor of the river is slippery with moss but there are enough rocks to hang on to so it’s ok.

The business part of this little village is monopolised by one family – a woman called Kaveramma (appropriately 😛 ) and her son Kumar. All the priests report to Kumar, and he in turn acts as the frontman and solicits business. Kaveramma and Kumar also run the only “restaurant” in that place.

It is hard bargaining with Kumar and we settle at Rs. 400, a 33% discount on his original ask (and a 33% premium on our initial bid). And we are sent to take the dip and “cleanse ourselves” in the stream while the “arrangements” are made. The priest assigned to us is one Satish. Looks young but he says he has ten years of experience in the “business”. And he seems like a pleasant chap, until a certain point of the ritual that is.

From my limited knowledge of Sanskrit I understand that most of the chants are targeted at calming the spirits. He uses the word “Preta” very often (I was told that means ghost). And talks about “shantifying” (or whatever) it. The ritual seems quite elaborate (personal opinion).

The trouble starts when Satish asks us to make a daana (offering), which obviously will go into his pocket. We offer 20. He demands 100. We strike a compromise and offer 50. He is still not satisfied. And starts muttering about how purohits don’t have a future nowadays. He keeps cribbing as the rituals are completed and food is offered to the crows (who swiftly swoop down and attack the rice and ghee and bananas and stuff).

Lunch is in the “restaurant” run by Kaveramma and Kumar. We are told to go to the hall upstairs. We later figure out that where you sit depends upon your caste – and Brahmins get to sit for lunch upstairs (first thing Kumar asks you when you get there is your gotra so he knows your caste). Lunch is pretty ok and not having had breakfast means I thulp putits. I also notice that of late i’ve developed a strong liking for red horse gram chutney – I love mixing it with rice and thulping it. Maybe its the 1/(2^n) gultness in me that is at work.

The drive back isn’t as pleasant as the onward journey. Maybe we are tired by now. The road between Bangalore and Mysore is fantastic, except for a small stretch inside Mandya town. It’s only afternoon, so traffic also is fairly thin, and it’s a good drive.

And I continue to maintain that a Sumo (despite being cheap) is a sucky vehicle. Strong “pulling” but weak when it comes to comfort, space, etc. Especially if you are slightly tall and have recently recovered from a case of deep vein thrombosis. ?? ??