Next morning, I began my trek once again and reached Courtallam before midafternoon. God had blessed Courtallam with a number of waterfalls. The water from monsoon rains in Kerala on the other side of the Western Ghats provided a steady supply of water to the falls. Courtallam is one of the very few places in India where people can find waterfalls to take bath at ground levels. I went straight to the main waterfalls. I saw many people massaging their head and body liberally with ‘gingili’ oil, before they had their bath. The crowd was not much. I went straight and stood under the mighty waterfall for a long time. The water was quite cold and I shivered. I folded my hands in reverence in the cool waters and prayed. Suddenly I felt lost for some time. After the bath, I felt invigorated.
The Kutralanathar temple was just at the foot of the hills close to the waterfalls and was closed after the midmorning offerings to Lord Siva. I had to wait till four in the evening to have my first meeting with HIM.
Suddenly, I found a small crowd of people rushing somewhere and on enquiry, I learnt that annadhan was taking place in a nearby hall. Offering food to the poor (annadhan) was practiced by many, either as part of their way to salvation or as reparation for their sins. Feeling rather fortunate, I helped myself generously with the delicious meal.
After a small nap in the temple corridor, I was ready to meet the Lord when the main gates of the temple opened for the evening. I went straight to Siva. I was in no mood to look at or appreciate the temple architecture. There was hardly any soul inside the temple. The priest had not arrived yet. Everything was still and quiet. The air was thick, humid, and smelled pungent. Barring a few oil lamps shimmering in front of the idols, the temple was mostly dark.
I closed my eyes and stood silently before the Lord.
“I have never travelled outside my small village, but YOU have brought me here. I am now before you now, as you wanted. This is the first leg of my seven meetings with you, as you ordained. What next?”
It didn’t even occur to me that I should thank Lord Siva for what he did for me. He healed me miraculously from my pain. I was too immature to not realize the magnitude of my mystical experience. After all, I thought it was just a dream. But how was I healed instantly? It was a reality. I continued to ponder over the question without any answer. The astrologer had told me, “God has strange and miraculous ways of saving His devotees.” That must be true.
‘Was I a devotee?’ I wasn’t sure. But, HE also left me as an orphan. Why did he do that? What was my mistake?
I stayed before HIM standing and closing my eyes for a long time. Thoughts were pouring out, waves after waves. Suddenly I opened my eyes and I saw hazily a sadhu entering the sanctum sanctorum. I continued to stand there for no reason. After some time passed, the sadhu turned around, came out of the sanctum sanctorum and seemed to be approaching me, his eyes fixed on me. I recollected immediately that he was the same sadhu whom I had seen the previous evening in the congregation under the banyan tree on my way to Shencottai. As he passed by my side, he looked straight into my eyes for a moment. His look was penetrating and it blinded me for a moment. He didn’t stop by me, but I heard him telling, ‘Meet me at Chithra Sabhai’ as he passed by.
I was puzzled. ‘Did I hear him right?’ But he had gone and disappeared.
I continued to stand there as though my feet were clamped to the ground; I felt stuck. I had no inclination to move too.
When some more time passed, I was confused and I decided to get out.
When I took the first heavy step, I heard the sudden sound of a thunder inside the rock solid temple and along with the sound of the thunder, came the voice, ‘No, you can’t go!’
Where did the voice come from? Was it my own imagination? Was I hallucinating?
Suddenly I felt very weak. My knees caved in. My whole body buckled and everything blacked out for me. I felt I was sinking and lost all consciousness even as I collapsed to the floor
I would never know how much time passed by and I opened my eyes when someone sprinkled water on my face. I saw a temple priest and he was trying to gently lift me up. He gave me some water to drink and some energy returned to me. When I felt better, I told the priest about the thunder and the celestial voice I heard.
The priest hesitated for a moment and then said, ‘Strange are HIS powers! Who knows, may be Lord Kutralanathar wants you to be here for some more time? Are you planning to go somewhere else, my dear son?”
I briefly told him my story - about the acute stomach pain I had, about my dream where Lord Siva appeared and offered to cure me on the condition that I met with him in seven of his places. I told him that Courtallam was my first destination and that I was planning to visit other places of Lord Siva. I also told him about the sadhu who ordered me to meet him in Chithra sabhai.
The priest looked bewildered, but soon recovered his composure. He then gently told me, “You seem to be an innocent village boy. What do I tell you about Lord Siva appearing in your dreams? Strange are the ways, things happen on earth. Hearing thunder inside the temple was bizarre and incredible. The sky is very clear outside. There is no possibility of a thunder or lightning. I suggest you don’t unnecessarily tell anyone outside, about your experiences. They will think you are out of your mind. But, if that was what happened to you really, ……. why don’t you stay here in Courtallam for some more time and see what happens? This is a lovely place. But be careful with sadhus. I am born and brought up here. I have also heard lot of stories about sadhus. There had been unique sadhus here in the past in this place and elsewhere. Courtallam is known for ‘Siddhars’ who had siddhic (mystical) powers. There is historical proof that many siddhas had mystical powers. Sage Agasthya was known to have lived in this place Courtallam and sanctified the whole hill. He had also written several books, and many of them were medical books. There are fakes too. One needs to be careful with the sadhus.”
With that, not wanting to have to do anything more with me, he abruptly turned back and went inside the temple to tend to his work.
I circumambulated along the inner and the outer walls of the sanctum sanctorum of the temple. I had a darshan of the kurumpala tree, the sacred jackfruit tree of the temple. On the back side, there was a corner and there, over the tall temple walls, I could see the waterfalls rolling down the rocks and hear its roaring sound.
I came out of the temple. ‘I need to know where Chithra Sabhai is’, I said to myself.
The sky was bright and clear outside, with no sight of any cloud. ‘Where did that thunder come from?’