Another “Agasthyayanam” has been completed. The 24th trek or pilgrimage. Every year, the mountain converses with the heart invites motherly affection. The heart leaps, excitement drums up in the mind and yet another pilgrimage begins. Even without us consciously knowing.
As usual, this time to there is a fifteen-member team accompanying from Agasthyam Kalari. 26km walking trail from Bonacaud Forest Station. First-day halt at Athirumala base camp after crossing Karamana, Vazhapindi, and Attayar rivers and the large grasslands.
It is a tougher climb on the second day. Through rocky outcrops and bamboo forests, we ascend above the clouds to witness the majestic summit, Agasthya Darshanam, towering above with an embedded history of eons. It’s a dreamy landscape of immense beauty. Situated 1868m above sea level on the Western Ghats.
UNESCO declared this beautiful ecosystem named after the creator of Tamil grammar and pioneer of Siddhar tradition, Sage Agasthya, as a biosphere reserve on March 19, 2016.
Agasthyakoodam is the source for major rivers like Karamanayar, Neyyar, and Thamarabharani that flow to Thirunelveli in Tamil Nadu. The mountain is home to more than 300 bird species, around 2000 medicinal herbs, and orchids like Paphiopedilum druryi.
The ecosystem spans wildlife reserves of Senthuruni, Peppara, Nayyar, and Kalakkad. They are home to 50 species that are under threat of extinction. Thick forests are home to tigers, elephant herds, and leopards. Considered the world’s oldest surviving tribals, the Kanikkars, inhabit these mountains. The British had established an observatory here in the 1850s owing to the spectacular unpolluted night sky views.
One trip is enough for anyone to recognize the richness of this ecosystem with the rarest medicine plants and biodiversity.
Agasthyakoodam and Buddhism
Agasthyakoodam is also called Pothiyan Malai in Tamil. Pothalaka and Pothiyal are two other names. According to Buddhism, Agasthyakoodam is the abode of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshwara. It is astounding to learn that Mount Potalaka, worshiped by millions of Buddhists around the world, is Agasthyakoodam.
There is no doubt that Buddhist pilgrims used to visit this mountain. We can find evidence of this in Chitale Chathanar’s Manimekhalai, in Chola empire’s Veerasoluthin by Buddhamitra, and in the travelogues of Huang Sang. In the Buddhist text of Tarasookyam, Bodhisattva is called Pothalagirinivasini. Similar references are seen in the Mahavypulyabudhavathamaka sutra.
Each trip, I have kept a keen eye for evidence of Agasthyakoodam having been a Buddhist holy site. The mysterious shapes among the rocks in the jungle near Athirumala seemed to beckon. I see them as abandoned idols that were shaped by human hands thousands of years ago.
A vast repository of gods, goddesses, and animal icons that have fallen from prominence now weathering under the green canopy. Undoubtedly, they point to a once flourishing culture that existed in these parts. Hopefully, the scholars and authorities will take note and investigate these further.
Timeless Agasthya towers as a beacon of answers for the seekers. With an immeasurable wealth of wisdom and wonders, he shines within as the unquenchable fire…the Aga Thee..the inner fire in each, Agasthya!