Narmada Parikrama – Book Review: Walking With the Immortals

Do you know which is the longest river in India that flows from east to west? Do you know which river is considered holier than Ganga? Have you ever heard that Ganga Mata (The deity of the holy river Ganga) visits this river to take a bath once a year to get rid of all the sins that she has accumulated from those who bathe in her?

It is the river Narmada, that originates in Amarkantak (in Madhya Pradesh), flows westwards through 3 states (Madhyapradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat) and ends in Arabian sea, covering a running distance of 1312 kilometres.

A Tamilian undertakes Narmada Parikrama

It may be quite a surprising piece of information for most of Indians (except for the people who are blessed to live in the nearby areas of the banks of Narmada) that there is a very age old spiritual custom practiced across countless generations — of circumambulating this holy river by walk (known as Narmada Parikrama). Many people living in the banks of Narmada do it matter-of-factly and many nurture a desire to do the parikrama at least once in their life time.

How about a Tamilian from Chennai, a retired Military officer (Captain) cum social worker, undertaking this massive journey (which is traditionally done over a period of 3 years, 3 months and 13 days) bare-footed, without carrying money, eating food through alms and completing it successfully just in 131 days covering a total distance of 2528 Kilometres by walk?

That’s the thrilling experience offered to you by Captain K K Venkatraman (ex- coordinator, Vivekananda Kendra, Arunachal Pradesh) through his book Walking with the Immortals.

An interesting element of this book is that it has been very recently published in English after a passage of 27 years when Captain Venkatraman actually undertook the parikrama (in 1987-1988)!

The Origin of holy river Narmada at Amarkantak. The Parikrama begins here

The English and Tamil Versions

Actually, Captain Venkatraman’s parikrama experiences were originally serialized in Tamil (translated from his English version) in the Spiritual Magazine Ramakrishna Vijayam (published by Sri Ramakrishna Math, Chennai) during the year 2007 and it was subsequently published in book form in Tamil by RK Math in 2013.

This original English publication (First print: Feb 2015) contains more elaborate details of his journey, route maps, copies of letters he received from his well wishers etc. This publication from Vivekananda Trust, Wakro, Arunachal Pradesh is a sort of “thanks giving” gift by the alumni of Vivekananda Kendra Vidyalayas of Arunachal Pradesh, to their beloved “Captainji” for all that he did as a teacher and guide for their welfare decades ago.

The book and the writer – The photo of Captain Venkatraman taken just as he completed the parikrama (1988).

Thrilling experiences

As one reads this book, one is bound to get hooked to it for several reasons; the prime among them is the unfolding of the divine grace that comes in abundance for the welfare of a person who sacrifices all the worldly comforts, takes up the dharma of a sanyasi (renunciate) and goes about walking around the banks of the river with total faith and surrender to Mother Narmada.

Next comes the various emotional experiences of the traveler (love and affection of the village people, their respect and the care on the parikramavasis, their generosity in offering food and their reverence in Mother Narmada despite poverty and so on). You will also find the traveler’s interesting encounters with robbers, a fake Sadhu, adhivasis and a host of interesting people from the richest to the poorest.

Another striking aspect that one cannot miss while reading this book is the sheer meticulousness of Captain Venkatraman, coupled with self discipline and determination so reflective of his military training; these qualities are in addition to his innate humility, simplicity, friendliness and thankfulness that you cannot miss grasping while reading the book.

His thorough planning and consultations before undertaking the journey, his ingenious ways of maintaining postal communication with his near and dear ones as well as with people on the route of parikrama (remember: those were the days of no cell phone), his systematic diary writing (to record the places he visited and the names of persons he met) has helped him to trigger and recollect all the happenings in his long journey and reproduce them afresh from his memory as if they were happenings of yesterday) etc are so striking that they can become valuable lessons for the readers to admire and imbibe.

Why is this title “Walking with Immortals”?

There is a firm belief that all the Chiranjivis (immortals as per Hindu puranas) viz. Parasurama, Hanuman, Vibhishana, Ashwathama, Mahabali, Kripacharya and Vyasa are continuously doing the Narmada Parikrama and protecting the Parikramavasis. (Hence the title of the book — “Walking with the Immortals”)

About his experiences, Venkatraman concludes: “It is really a great joy to me, even today, after the lapse of more than 25 years, to share my parikrama experiences, as it provides me an opportunity to relive the most useful and joyous moments I have ever had till now”.

When we finish reading this book, we too are bound to share the joy of Captainji’s labor of love.

Details about the book:

  • Book Title: Walking with the Immortals – The Narmada Parikrama
  • Author: (Captain) K K Venkatraman
  • Published by: Vivekananda Trust, Wakro (792 104) Arunachal Pradesh
  • No. of pages: 160 (3rd edition)
  • Price: Rs. 150.-
  • For copies, contact:
    Author: [email protected] (Mobile: 094455 61454) (Chennai, India).