Walking to a temple to celebrate devotional fervor is a well-understood facet of Hinduism in India. This very devotion drove over 6000 Indian-Americans to walk together to celebrate the festival of thaipoosam with great fervor. Thai is the Tamil name for the month that extends between January 16th to February 15th each year, while poosam is the name of the star poosam in the astrological chart. Bay Area devotees undertook a walk from San Ramon to the Shiva Murugan temple at Concord. The walk has grown exponentially since its start in 2011.
Says Solai Alagappan, the founder-organizer, “In 2011, I participated in a kavadi walk in Singapore, and that was the primary inspiration. With the help of a few friends, we found the trail (Iron Horse regional trail) by biking throughout to make sure that we could navigate the way from San Ramon to Concord without hitting highways or crowded roads. About 150 of us walked in 2011, and this year, we had over 6000 people participating.”
Since last year, I have been volunteering to serve refreshments at one of the snack stations that are set up en route. I helped serve rose milk and sukkumalli coffee (dry ginger coriander coffee) a unique Tamilian recipe for coffee. At our station, we also had small oranges which devotees could eat to restore their energy. From 8.30 am onwards, there was a steady flow of devotees. Some of them stopped at our station to rub vaseline on their feet to avoid sores, others adjusted the multiple layers of socks to fit just right, and all of them refilled their water bottles to continue their trek. Some preferred the cool rose milk, while others made a beeline for the coffee. Either way, what emanated was a sense of camaraderie and a shared sense of community and well-being. Many families had young children with them; some parents were even pushing their youngest in strollers as they walked.
Excellent arrangements through the tireless work of volunteers helped support the devotees. Over 100 volunteers had signed up for various tasks to support the 20+mile walk. There was a bike patrol, car parking patrol, and several volunteers who helped serve breakfast, lunch snacks and water along the way. Breakfast was served in San Ramon. After walking eleven miles, at Las Lomas high school in Walnut Creek, a traditional hot lunch was served on banana leaves and plates to over 2500 people. The lines were orderly and were kept moving smoothly thanks to the volunteers who worked tirelessly. When they reached the temple, the devotees received darshan of Lord Muruga, and shuttles ferried them back to their original parking spots after a long day.
Given the growth of the walk and the enthusiastic support of Indian-Americans, a non profit (http://pathayathirai.org/) has been set up to run the activities every year.
A wonderful yatra to keep alive the devotional fervor, community spirit and the spirit of volunteerism within the community.
Nitupama Vaidhyanathan is the editor of India Currents magazine.