Congress chief Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday performed the ‘bali tharpanam’ ritual for his late father and other ancestors on the banks of the ‘Papanasini’ here, nearly three decades after the ashes of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi were immersed in the sacred stream.
Gandhi, who is on a whirlwind two-day tour in Kerala as part of Lok Sabha poll campaigns, took time off his hectic schedule to offer prayers at the famed Thirunelli temple and performed the sacred ritual to pay obeisance to the ancestors of seven generations.
Known as the “Kashi of South”, the Thirunelli temple, located in a picturesque valley surrounded by mountains and thick forest, is dedicated to Lord Maha Vishnu.
According to Hindu belief, performing the ‘bali tharpanam’ (paying obeisance to departed souls) ritual for ancestors in the ‘Papanasini’, the stream attached to the forest temple, is sacred.
Gandhi, who is contesting polls from the Wayanad Lok Sabha constituency this time, besides his family bastion Amethi, arrived at the forest temple in a helicopter, accompanied by his party leaders, in the morning.
Wearing a traditional dhoti and draping a ‘kasavu’ (silk) shawl, the 49-year-old leader prostrated before the sanctum sanctorum and offered ‘kanikka’ in the temple ‘hundi’.
After having a brief conversation with the priest about the rituals and traditions of the ancient shrine, Gandhi proceeded to the sacred stream, located about 700 metres from there.
The security officials had a tough time leading the bare-footed leader through the undulating terrain, paved with huge rocks and boulders, inside the thick forest, notorious for Maoist presence.
Television visuals showed Gandhi listening as the priest chanted the mantras and followed his instructions to perform the ‘tharpanam’.
Besides the rituals for Rajiv Gandhi, rites for Indira Gandhi, former prime minister and Rahul Gandhi’s grandmother, were also held.
Gandhi spent around 45 minutes at the hill shrine before leaving for a party meeting at the Sultan Bathery, around 45 km from Thirunelli.
“Besides Rajiv and Indira, the AICC chief performed the ritual for the jawans who lost lives in the Pulwama terror strike and lakhs of party workers who have died,” Congress leader K C Venugopal, who was among those who accompanied Gandhi, later told reporters.
Former chief minister Oommen Chandy said Rahul Gandhi had expressed keen interest to offer prayers at the shrine during his last visit to Wayanad.
“We could not make it last time when he came to submit the nomination papers on April 4 due to security reasons,” he said.
“Gandhi really wanted to visit the shrine and perform the ritual at Papanasini, where his father’s ashes were immersed,” Chandy added.
An urn containing the ashes of Rajiv Gandhi was brought here in 1991 and they were immersed in the Papanasini, which translates to ‘destroyer of sins’.
Rajiv Gandhi was killed in a suicide bomb blast at Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu on May 21, 1991 during an election campaign.
Surrounded by the Kambamala, Karimala and the Varadiga peaks, the Thirunelli temple near Mananthavady embodies traditional Kerala architecture, according to the Kerala Tourism Department website.
The shrine, nestled in the scenic mountains, is shielded by 30 granite columns and the ground is paved with huge square pieces of granite.
Gandhi, who addressed four poll rallies Tuesday, would address party workers in Palakkad and Malappuram besides Wayanad on Wednesday.