It was the summer of 2008 when I first saw Avva. We were on a trip to Anegundi and Navabrindavan. On the way back, our boatman told us about Chintamani and the cave where Rama met Sugreeva for the first time. We were excited and wanted to visit immediately.
When we reached , we found a temple had been raised ahead of the cave in later times, housing a beautiful Shivalingam, and Annapoorani. Both these shrines, were clean and decorated with fresh flowers. There were no other visitors at that time. I looked around to see Avva, sitting under a tree.
It was close to noon and extremely hot. Avva chided us for coming in the hot sun and showed us around. She told us about the Swamiji who had built the temple and about how he had gone into one of the caves below the temple and never returned.
My son, wanted to go into the cave and see what was inside. Avva told him gently that it would not be appropriate for him to do so. For a lady of her age (she told us she was over 80 years), Avva was extremely agile and cheerful. She climbed the steep steps quickly, while we panted our way behind her.
Avva then took us, into the cave where Rama and Sugreeva had met for the first time, when Rama and Lakshmana came to Kishkinda looking for Sita. It was here that Sugreeva showed Rama, Sita's head jewel (Chintamani) that she had dropped while being carried away, and so the place came to be known as Chintamani. The cave is also significant because it was here that Sugreeva introduced Hanuman to Lord Rama and Rama agreed to help Sugreeva by killing his brother Vali.
Avva, made us sit in a semi - circle around the stone where Rama sat and we listened to her in rapt attention as she narrated the various incidents in Ramayana that were related to Chintamani. She showed us Rama's foot impression at the spot where he stood and shot an arrow to kill Vali.
We never asked Avva her name. She was happy to be called Avva, and delighted when my husband wanted to take a picture with her. She had been living alone in the temple for over sixty years.
|My husband with Avva|
Avva said, as a young girl, she had seen people come to drink and sleep through the day at the Chintamani cave and having heard of its significance, she used to clean the cave, place lamps and flowers on the Rama stone, and drive those people away.
I was amused when she said she had got help to move a statue of a hunter and huntress to the entrance of the cave to stay guard during nights.
|The hunter and huntress who were Avva's Security guards!|
Avva's life revolved around the cave and the temple. She had moved in permanently when the Swamiji came there - helping him with food, flowers and cleaning of the temple. She did not know where he came from, by merely said that he was a great man - her Guru.
I was so impressed by Avva's simplicity, grace and a sense of responsibility - when all other people in the village had treated the cave merely as a place to drink, sleep and make merry, she had possessed the interest, self-will and determination to protect the sanctity of a holy place and maintain it with minimal support.
Avva said her family members stayed in the village and she did not want to leave the temple alone (!) and so stayed and took care of it. She did not know a word of English or Tamil and spoke a mixture of Telugu and Kannada. But we were able to perfectly understand what she was saying - her eyes and hands spoke volumes and the medium of speech was barely necessary!
After that visit, I made it a point to tell my friends who visited Navabrindavan to go to Chintamani and meet Avva - a saint in her own way. My friends came back with exciting tales to share - how wonderful she was and how delighted they were to meet her!
Last summer, I got an opportunity to travel to Hampi. An author friend of mine, had suggested taking a person from Anegundi as a guide. When we reached Anegundi I was eager to meet Avva again. So as soon as the man got into the van, I told him we first wanted to see Chintamani.
When we reached the temple, I ran inside. The spot where Avva usually sat was empty. There were dried leaves, and old flowers lying around and it looked like the place had not been cleaned for a few days. I was puzzled. Something was wrong.
I turned around, and asked the guide " Where is Avva...the old lady who used to take care of the temple? "
" Oh, she died", he said.
I froze in silence. The noble and selfless soul, had mingled with the divine consciousness at such a holy place. All her life, she had wanted to clean and maintain Chintamani and it was only deserving that she got moksha at the shrine she loved the most! I stood for a couple of minutes under the tree, to pay homage to Avva.
|Avva, a simple woman, a selfless soul!|