Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Sweeping Healers of the Agni Theertham in Rameshwaram!

The grimy filthiness beneath my feet bothered me.

Instinctively, my toes curled up in crankiness even as I sneaked my way through the sacred shores of one of the most prominent pilgrimage centres in India of the Hindus. I heaved a sigh of huge relief when I was instructed to ‘just sprinkle a few drops onto yourself’ (and not bathe!) as the gushing waters of the sea (Bay of Bengal) didn't look very clean and hygienic and there was a strange nauseating stench floating in the environs owing to the blatant disposal of untreated sewage from the nearby areas.

Ironically enough, I was partaking in the mandatory sacramental ritual of cleansing my body at Agni Theertham, one of the most visited Theertham (sacred holy water body) of Rameshwaram in Tamil Nadu before proceeding to pay my respects at the Ramanathaswamy temple.

A Kaleidoscope of faith at Agni Teertham in Rameshwaram

Blessed were the magnificent sands on which I was walking, I was very well aware. Various references to the place could be traced back to the sacred Hindu Texts or Puranas like Skanda Purana illustrating its infinite powers of absolving all sins and purifying the heart. Countless number of believers had walked on it before, including the celestial Demi-God Agni or Fire – washing their sins away - cementing this hallowed waterfront with their faith, belief, conviction and devotion.

And yet, no matter how hard I tried to evade... this murky feeling of dirtiness that creeped within this city-bred girl’s senses as she made her way past the cacophonous edge of the beach through to the glorious temple corridors of 17th century Ramanathaswamy Temple in Rameshwaram... just refused to subside.

The grimy filthiness beneath their feet
never seemed to bother them.

Women Cleaners at the Rameshwaram Agni Teertham

I ambled aimlessly on the same hallowed seashore later that day and also towards the evening, after my coveted temple darshan earlier in the morning. That’s when they caught my attention. They kept to themselves, totally engrossed in what they were doing, unmindful of the frenzied world that guzzled around them. Unmindful of me.

On this bright, balmy and auspicious day of Diwali in the month of November, the shores of Agni Teertham at Rameshwaram wore a festive look. People, belonging to different age groups, having travelled from different parts of the world, merged and mingled in a colorful rendezvous by performing reverential acts showcasing their steadfast faith towards the divine water body. They asked for a child and they pleaded for deliverance of their ancestors... joyously, they bathed, chanted mantras, mumbled prayers, performed poojas and floated flower/leaf diyas with a conviction that their prayers shall be heard and they shall be blessed.

In this culturally nuanced kaleidoscope, my gaze was arrested by two women, clad in shirts worn over their saree. Between them, they were carrying a basketful of 'kachra' (trash).

My eyes met theirs,
and they lowered their eyes...
to the world, perhaps they didn't want to exist.

Women cleaners at job at Rameshwaram Agni Teertham

But to me, they did.
And, I continued to follow them,
I was hooked.

I continued to walk, pausing at one point this time, for a long time… albeit from a distance and zoomed my vision on the clothing, garbage and debris heaped at the edge of the shore. Standing right in the middle of this garbage heap, was an old man, in a grey shirt coupled with a lungi half-folded and tucked in to his waist, continually sweeping his digging fork to and fro, sifting and collecting the garbage at one single place. 'Wasn't it smelling awful for him?' I wondered, feeling a bit nauseous myself at the same time. The sight was awful. The same grimy filthiness slowly creeped in the senses of this city-bred girl again. But this time, not with a silent contemplation...

Hadn't I wallowed myself in pitiful misery
over the trite adversity of filth and dirtiness
as opposed to the overwhelming feeling of faith and devotion
today morning itself?

And why just today?
how many times in life had I cribbed about where I was
and what I was doing?

A man cleans the Rameshwaram Agni Teertham

The more I thought about it,
the lower I drowned in my self-built well of shame.

I also felt the pain of the sea in those moments of perceptive contemplation. I felt her wounds - how the mindless disposal of waste and litter gashed her being - she was wounded deep, bruised by the adulterations she could no longer swallow, she was not well, and she needed help. The unshed tears in her existence cut my heart too.

Like a patient in an operation theatre, she needed treatment from a doctor, willing to get his hands, literally, dirty. A doctor who had the strength not only to bear the stench once the wound is cut open but also the gift to clean it with a beatific smile.

The sweepers or the 'bhangi' for the world,
there! they were her doctors of the Teertham,
the healers of the sea.

A team of cleaners around at Rameshwaram sea, Agni Teertham

Engrossed in doing their stressful arduous work of healing the sea.

What a relief it must be for the sea! I thought and exclaimed 'Bahut Achha' in a tone audible enough to reach the ears of the old man from the group whose attention I had managed to catch during my introspective reverie. In response, the man threw me a surprised look and a string of words in Tamil which I couldn't comprehend. Disappointed at my failed attempt to successfully communicate my earnest appreciation but not losing hope just yet, I decided to try one more time, conveying the same in a different manner this time. More universal. Sign language! No sooner did I flash an excellent thumbs up sign with my fingers than the old man’s wrinkly face beamed in an ecstatic smile. I panned my camera on him suggesting that I wanted to click his picture. Excited, he motioned to one of the women of the team to see and face the camera along with him and together, they just turned, moving slightly closer, and in those moments... the world around us disappeared.

And... she blushed.

The Rameshwaram sea cleaners at Agni Teertham

No fame, hardly any money and a job that’s looked down upon
by a major chunk in the society...
So what it was that drove them - from within?

The glee sparkling in their eyes told me of the massive riches they had nurtured in their hearts, the pride and peaceful content for the highly significant job that they were doing… As Martin Luther King had once famously remarked -

If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper,
sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures,
sweep streets like Beethoven composed music,
sweep streets like Leontyne Price sings before the Metropolitan Opera.
Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry.
(And if I were to add - sweep streets like Lionel Messi plays football.)

A sweeper posing at the Rameshwaram sea, Agni Teertham

Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say:
Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well.

And indeed! Their reliable, self-driven work preventing the pollution of the holy Theertham ensured a greener, cleaner and more sustainable environment for me and countless more, before and after me - weren't they the pioneering leaders of Narendra Modi's 'Swachh Bharat Abhiyan'?

I vowed to not just crib and get cranky about the grimy filthiness
that bothered me that day.
But, to make an active contribution towards the work,
in the best of my capacity,
as a pilgrim, as a blogger,
... and ... above all,
as a human with a heart.

Ramanathaswamy  temple and Agni Teertham in Rameshwaram during sunset

Today ... I have long left the shores of Agni Theertham but the luminous wave of immense blessedness continues to revolutionize the sullied shores of my heart. And every time that happens, I am reminded of the incredible joy and the infinite privilege that was... to have encountered, conversed and been positively touched by the sheer dedication and passion of these great men by the sacred shores of Rameshwaram - the sweeping healers of the sea!

--------------------- *** ---------------------

Tata Motors #madeofgreat GIVEAWAY!

If you are in the mood to win a Rs. 750 Amazon Voucher for yourself, here is the chance!
Just try your hand at answering this simple question:

What do you think of Tata Motors association with Lionel Messi?

That's it, put your entry in the hat and keep your fingers crossed.
Who know's, you might just get lucky ~ Good Luck!

* The prize is courtesy IndiBlogger and Tata Motors and ends on 25th November midnight. Hurry!

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  1. Beautiful ode to the unsung heroes, Arti. What must they endure every day... And yet they do it all without expecting so much as a "thank you" from us...

    You made their day by clicking them. I wish they could read what you wrote :)

  2. Salute to these cleaners who are doing a selfless job and still are not respected in our society, and many thanks to you to bring a subject totally neglected by our society. The cleaning workers have no gloves, no health insurance yet, they work to keep our surroundings clean.

    As for the tata motors association with Messi I think it is a great idea, two stalwarts in their respective fields meet for something great.

  3. So thoughtful Arti. Sweeping Healers of Teertham, so true. Loved the way you showed that sweeping healers are like doctors. Photos are just so powerfully expressing in synchronization with your words.

  4. Very much lucky to have come across this post. It is really praiseworthy to see the plight of sweeping community. Very well illustrated the need of change in attitude of people. We look down upon them but they are the ones giving us clean atmosphere. Very rightly said. I remember having been confronted by a man early morning as I drove my Bycicle and he had greeted with jai shri shyam and i had said good morning and a conversation had started. He asserted me to leave good morning and say jai shree shyam. I had asked of him to see shyaam in good morning. He saw a sweeper sweeping road that moment and asked me why don't I see shyam in sweeper as well. I said yes, the day you see shyaam in sweeper and embrace him infront of others, you yourself will become god. A brilliant apt post indeed.

    As to association of Lionel Messi I donot have much to say. I think this much will be enough that they won't be disappointed. They have hooked up with a flawless gem and his radiance will shine the brand in all aspects.

  5. This is by far, the most unique take on the topic which I've come across, Arti.
    It is amazing in its own right that you've been able to present an entirely different viewpoint on #madeofgreat.
    You should win this hands down!
    Best wishes for the same. :)

    As for the expression of views towards the question, I would like to answer through a stanza or two of verse:

    ‘What drives us from within is what makes us great’
    Belief in oneself, the zeal to put up a brave face,
    In the face of adversity, to stand strong against fate,
    That’s how life is – it’s an excellent goal to chase!

    To create a name for oneself, from the soil your feet dampen,
    To let critics enhance your effort, not let your spirits dampen,
    It’s the journey that counts, more than having scaled the peak,
    To persevere so that it’s your actions that have the loudest shriek!

    To sum up, I feel that this age old adage rings true whenever I think of this beautiful alliance of an Indian Global Brand – Tata Motors and a Global Argentinian Sportsperson – Lionel Messi

    “Our Similarities bring us to a common ground; Our Differences allow us to be fascinated”

    That realization is truly #madeofgreat. :)

  6. A truly thoughtful post on that section of society that is turned a blind-eye. I resonate with your thoughts as you have written this post very well.

    As for my thoughts on Tata Motors association with football great Lionel Messi, both are well established brands BOLTing ahead of competition which is an INDICAtion of their ZEST for reaching the upper echelons of success by exhibiting constant zeal from the word (INDI)GO.

    Do hop over to my blog and share your thoughts on my post

  7. Hello,Arti,
    You have shared very interesting photos of your country. I enjoy them and especially like the fifth. Lovely people.

  8. Arti, Nice read your post.
    Great post and photos.

  9. Cleaning is one of the most toughest jobs and in some weird way most unrespected in india...which should be the other way around!!

  10. Arti, you have an eye for detail and a human with a heart. 👍

  11. You are such a wonderful soul, Arti. The way you have understood these people and expressed your feelings in this post is beyond amazing. It was a treat to read this post :)

    Here’s my answer: The association of Tata Motors and Lionel Messi is indeed an amazing one.When two heroes combine together, the result will surely be extravagant. Moreover, the name of Lionel Messi will instill a lot of trust and reliability in the mind of customers for Tata Motors because Messi is a great, dedicated and hardworking sportsperson. People love and admire Messi for his single minded focus. Therefore, the collaboration will surely be very beneficial for Tata Motors.

  12. The story of the Legends in themselves - that's how I will describe it in a short sentence. Very well written with the pics which enhances the simplicity yet greatness of these people..Salutations and very happy for you to have got inspired and bringing out your best in life.

    My answer: Tata is a name which any and every person can rely on for its honesty, commitment and perseverance. Lionel Messi is a legend who has carved his name in history books with total dedication to the game, simple living and improvisation which is seen with each game he plays. The association of Tata Motors and Lionel Messi as their Brand Ambassador will definitely give an edge to the Tata group over its competitors solely because the brand Ambassador also holds the same reputation of not letting his fans down ever, like Tata Motors who have given the best to the world over the decades. Its an exemplary association par excellence.

    You can choose my answer as the best if you feel I described it all well.. :)

  13. this post totally kept me hooked till the end Arti.... i love the way you bring life to words and the pictures are also too good. I love the blush on her face...when posing for the photo...those are the most innocent kind of smiles you get to see in the grown up world...

    and yes..truely said...they are made of great!!!

  14. Oh such a wnderful post from a 'human with a heart'! God bless you Arthi!

  15. The best and most real post for this topic Arti. We need to broaden our horizons and try to look beyond our own lives, there is indeed lot of great work that go unnoticed.
    Thanks for sharing it. :-)
    Best Wishes.

  16. Thank you everyone for reading and all your comments, really appreciate it! :)

  17. Another wonderful post, I love how you get at the heart.

  18. Whoops! I somehow managed to click on publish before I'd finished. I had meant to say I love how you get at the heart of these stories, of the people and places you feature.

  19. Indeed a nicely written post. I wish you good luck for the contest
    Here is my answer
    The association of Tata Motors with Lionel Messi is that of two greats. Lionel Messi has been exceptionally talented who with his hard work, determination and sacrifices has got better and tougher in his chosen sport so is the Image, reputation and quality of TATA Motors that have transformed brilliant ideas into masterpieces of engineering and created a brand and products that we are so proud of as Indians. Lionel Messi has transformed his body and the mind body co-ordination into a masterpiece of precision and excellence it would not be wrong to say that Lionel Messi is the TATA Motors of sports where as TATA Motors is the Lionel Messi of vehicles both giants in their own spheres driven by the drive to excel and lead by example. So Lionel Messi is the best choice for becoming the brand Ambassador for TATA Motors

  20. Wow. It's truly a beautiful place where you can meet and interact with so many locals. Love it!

  21. Oh Arti dear... "But to me, they did" How I love reading your blog- you have a way of seeing humans, describing emotions... And bring it through. Your pictures are amazing as usual too - love the use of colour... Keep writing my dear friend. Semding you warm thoughts, and big hugs

  22. Well-written Arti! There are so many people toiling around us night and day, making our lives easier, and even when we walk past them, we simply see through.
    As far as Tata and Messi are concerned, I just have one thing to say, when Durability meets Excellence, the only way is ‘Forward’!

  23. My Answer to the question :

    Tata Motors has earned the goodwill from giving the best and innovative Automobiles and it is also known as one the best Automobile Manufactures. And if you see the Lionel Messi , his throughout dedication, zeal , targeted goal of life and technically soundness make him big, achiever and remarkable position in the world.
    As per me, the association of Tata Motors and Messi is a grand amalgamation of two legendary entities of the world, and their amalgamation will definitely break down the clutters and affect the cut throat competition of Tata Motors. Tata motors will sure get a huge preference by the fans of Messi. This will sure make a record of Tata motors in the world of production or may be the highest selling automobiles.
    Tata motor’s main target is to give an impression on the large amount of crowd and this can be achieved only through the Messi, because the youth generation is crazy for MESSI and this can be smart move and a great achievement for Tata Motors they positioned MESSI as their BRAND AMBASSADOR .
    In the nutshell, Tata Motors , Messi joining hands will definitely give more soundness in technicality of promotional strategies and Messi’s influence will influence the audience for choosing Tata Motors and expand the business drastically.

  24. We owe it to them, for our future generations would be able to get 'purified' just because of their selfless efforts.

    I am always worried about Ganga and hope the initiative from Govt works out for it too.

    Thank you bringing this pleasing post to us!

  25. Arti Ji nice share, I regularly read your posts, The pics are just awesome. The content you wrote is really good and inspiring. Keep continuing writing such good stories.

  26. Arti, a wonderful post. brining into light the unsung heros and with apt fotos too.

    very well expressed

    Then, here’s my answer for the legendary assioction between Tata Motors and Lionel Messie:

    Tata motors being the first Indian brand to associate itself with an international sports icon is truly being envied!. Yes! When two people with identical qualities merge, the brand power increases enormously. Just as expected Tata Motors is tasting it by the reach and vibrations it has created with its association with Lionel Messie.

    With both’s determination, dedication and power to conquer in their respective fields- their collaboration is surely a big hit and #madeofgreat indeed

    and if you haven't read mine..please drop in at

  27. I always stop by to read your blog.
    Answer to the question:

    Tata Motors & Lionel Messie have the same ambition "goal" to reach to the epitome

  28. Your post describes #madeofgreat so well that it has winner written all over it. Good luck for your entry.
    Here is my answer.
    Like minds think and act alike looking at the track record of TATA Motors it has stood the test of time and built a business that was built using bricks of hard work on a foundation of trust. Authenticity, reliability, simplicity, as well as its commitment to innovation are the trademarks of brand TATA Motors. These same qualities are present in Lionel Messi who with his immense talent has made a mark for himself on the international football field .Facing all hardships he has worked hard toiling on the fields and in training sessions facing injuries and pressure to come out trumps and be a winner. Thus these two greats Lionel Messi and TATA Motors are made for each other .There association is a bond of two legends
    In case you pick me a winner my email id is :
    Fingers crossed :)

  29. Your post defines #madeofgreat to the hilt. Goodluck for the contest
    My answer is:
    Authenticity, reliability, simplicity, as well as its commitment to innovation are the pillars of strength on which TATA have built a brand that has put India on the global map. It is a brand that has stood the test of time just like Lionel Messi who tackles opposition on the field with his skill,agility,strategy,brilliance and raw power to reach and score a goal so has been the track record of TATA motors who has become a brand leader and a global giant. These qualities make TATA Motors and Lionel Messi perfect partners who stand for the same set of values thus Lionel Messi is the perfect brand ambassador to represent TATA Motors.
    Hope my best to be a winner here; do contact me for the prize at
    fingers crossed

  30. India is known as a country with unique culture and unusual points of view. That is why is looks weird for us, the people of different culture and attitude to the environment. However it is interesting to try to live like they do. I could only understand how it felt if I lived there for at least a half a year. By the way here is the post I can strongly recommend for reading if someone is interested go to

  31. A very thoughtful post, Arti! This was a unique take on this subject! Best of luck for the contest!

  32. Their contribution is undoubtedly ignored. But truly saying its an important contribution. Thanks a lot for sharing and giving an ode to them, Arti. All the best for the contest.

    Regarding the answer to your question, please find it below:

    Tata motors is driven by excellence and innovation, same also holds with Lionel Messi. With consistency and vigor brought in by Lionel Messi and the toughness and elegance by Tata Motors, I believe this is a wonderful combination of two brands coming together and will definitely flourish.

  33. Only you can write such a post, Arti!

    But to me, they did.
    And, I continued to follow them,
    I was hooked.

    There are many such people in the society who keep themselves engaged in jobs so that we can live in a clean environment. Have you heard of manual scavenging? I wrote about it in my post about "Swachh Bharat". Still there are some people who are forced to scrape human excreta from the latrines with bare hands!! And, they are looked down upon...upper classes do't talk to them.

    Kudos to you for writing this. Wish you all the best with the contest, dear... :-) <3

  34. Nice photos

    My rameswaram travel photos

    Thanks for sharing

  35. Really i appreciate your sharing this post. Thanks. Keep writing.

  36. Wonderful post, Arti. Loved your little lines in between. Indeed they are #madeofgreat.

  37. The travelogue is so soulfully written. One would just read and read! The write up has been elevated to another level by the poetic lines interspersed in between. One needs to imbibe the visual treats that nature and the people around present us with to be able to sketch them on a blank space. Beautiful!

  38. Very touching post, I must say! It’s really a great feeling to see how the neglected part of our society, the sweepers are wholeheartedly busy cleaning the dirt at the shore. The beautiful clicks of them show the innocence of their face.


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