Peace on the rocks: The Swami Vivekananda Memorial
Against the backdrop of a tumultuous sea, the Vivekananda Memorial is an oasis of tranquility, says Ranjeni A Singh
The last few rocks of the Indian peninsula are special. It is where the Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean meet and merge, as though proclaiming India’s unity in diversity. Sanctified by Goddess Parvati’s footprints, the rocks now also symbolise the spirit of Swami Vivekananda, who, against all odds, ventured to create awareness of Hindu philosophy and ancient Indian culture wherever he went.
My trip to the southernmost tip of India was an unscheduled one but it turned out to be truly enriching. I was on a bus, travelling from Nagarcoil to Thiruvananthapuram, when an old friend called up to say she was in Kanyakumari and urged me to break my journey and join her. Since I had never been to the Vivekananda Rock Memorial before, I agreed.
Point of confluence
Kanyakumari and its surroundings are believed to be part of the land unearthed by Parasurama, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. I had heard that Kanyakumari signifies virginity of mind, body and soul. But the sight of crowds of tourists and noisy hawkers peddling seashells put me off. “This place is so commercial. How can anyone feel spiritually charged,” was my first reaction. “Relax! Be with yourself and forget the crowd. Try and experience the breeze, the mellow sun, the murmuring sea…” said Shanti, my friend. She was right. It took me just 30 minutes to feel what she said I would feel. It began to seep in — that Kanyakumari symbolises the confluence of not just the waters, but also the confluence of body, mind and soul…
Next morning, we set out to witness the legendary sunrise. It was still dark. The cool air soothed and refreshed us as we sat there, waiting for the sun to show itself. And then we saw a red speck on the horizon. Everyone cheered as the Sun God emerged from the waters, now fully visible, a resplendent red. The waters turned crimson and for a moment, the dividing line between heaven and earth blurred. I have seen many sunrises but none as beautiful and relaxing as this! I am told that from atop a hill called Murugan Kundram, one can view both sunrise and sunset throughout the year.
After a typical breakfast of masala dosai and kaapi (filtered coffee), we weave our way through a maze of shops selling seashells and more seashells, to reach the ferry that would take us to the Vivekananda Memorial, about 500 metres from the mainland. “Avar samiyar, avar neechal panni ponaru, unaku ellam thevai ille” — “He was an enlightened soul, so he could swim to the rocks. You don’t need to try to do that” — said the ferryman to a teenager who was bending over the railing of the ferry, poised as though he was about to jump into the water. He was right, it seemed impossible to negotiate the choppy waters — but Vivekananda had done just that in the December of 1892. His mid-sea meditation seems to have played a seminal role in his transformation from seeker to one of the greatest philosophers of the era. He dedicated most of his life trying to awaken the inner soul.
The idea of building the Vivekananda Memorial Rock temple was conceptualised by Eknath Ranade during Vivekananda’s birth centenary in 1962. The structure was completed in 1970. Its architecture is a blend of both traditional and contemporary Indian styles. We land on the rock after 10 minutes and take the flight of stairs to the huge, windy terrace. The view was fantastic — the end of the Indian sub-continent with fishing boats dotting the shores and the endless ocean on three sides. The waters appeared overpowering.
The rock has been venerated as a great place to meditate through the ages. It was originally known as Sripada Parai or Rock with Divine Footprint. According to legend, Devi Kumari, a manifestation of Goddess Parvati, stood on one leg in penance on this rock to get a beautiful husband, Shiva. The impression of her footprints can be seen through the glass enclosure.
Inside the main Vivekananda Mandapam complex is an imposing statue of Swami Vivekananda. As I stepped inside after removing my shoes, suddenly everything was quiet. It seemed as if even the sea and wind had stopped roaring as if in deference to the monk’s presence. It did look as though the soul of this great philosopher was present inside the hall. Perhaps, empowered by the energy inside, many people were seated in meditation in front of the statue itself.
As you go farther and take a flight of steps down, you will enter a dark little room called the Dhyan Mandapam or meditation room. Inside a carpet is laid out for people to sit and meditate in front of an Aum symbol in fluorescent light — that compels you to focus. My eyes closed automatically to visualise the green Aum. I seemed to have lost all sense of time and space…but with my short attention span, I was soon back in my surroundings. Much as a part of me wished to sit there forever, there were other worldly engagements waiting that needed my attention.
Once I was outside, the contrast was stark — the intense and soothing quiet of the memorial’s Dhyan Mandapam and the loud crashing of waves against the rock face. Perhaps the thrashing waves are symbolic of our chaotic lives, and the need to maintain inner calm in the face of external disturbances, as was so evident in the meditation room.[via Times of India]