Teerth Yatra … To the land of Yamuna and Ganga… – 5

From Wardha, the young monk Svatah Prakash went to Amarkantak, the source of the sacred Narmada river. A serene place, it captivated his heart.  There he came across a leper who was in great distress. He decided to stay there and serve this man. With great love he would clean his wounds, apply herbal medicines, seek Bhiksha and feed him etc. He had said later that he has never found so much peace as what he found in serving this man…

From Amarkantak. he found his way back to the region of Ganga… The book on Chaitanya Mahaprabhu had opened up for him the infinite heartspace of devotion. His Hari bhakti was in flood. Returning to the region of Anupshahr, he set anchor…. There, devotees found their way to him, and he spread the way of Bhakti… He would be so consumed by bhava of Krishna bhakti, that he would behave as a man possessed. In the great meadow region in the vicinity, he would wander around, jump into waterbodies, with the bhava that he was jumping into Yamuna of Krishna. He would ask strangers whether they had seen Krishna anywhere… He would weep… Seeing a villager tilling the soil, he would go upto him and request him to ‘please chant the name of Hari’, and in return he would take over the plough from the man and do his job.  He would be seen jumping from tree to tree, perhaps in the bhava of Hanuman…. Krishna Leela and Chaitanya Mahaprabhu Leela also started happening. It was evident that the great Mahaprabhu had awakened in his heart. The transformation was complete. Swami Svatah Prakash became Hari Baba…

Once, the region was suffering from severe lack of rains.  Praying for relief, the people there gathered around Hari Baba. Hari Baba said that the samkeertana of Hari would surely answer their prayers. He told them – “When Naama Bhagavan is with you, why do you have any anxiety! What is impossible for the Naama Bhagavan to accomplish? Chant the name and be free from fear!” He organized the people into a Samkeertana group. The group, led by Hari Baba, started walking around the village, singing the name of Hari. They had only milk for food. At appropriate times, they halted and had Hari Katha sessions. The plan was to do this for seven days. On the eighth day, they would gather in the Nava-vrindavan meadow nearby and the whole village would gather for a community bhajan and feast. On the eighth day, rain clouds filled the sky, and it poured.

Word spread. People started flocking to Hari Baba. People of all communities… Around 1917 or so, during one of the Leela sessions, one person was possessed by bhava of Siva, and he told Baba that he should do the Leela of Setubandhan (the building of bridge across the sea to Lanka by Rama and the monkeys). Hari Baba smiled and said that he would do so….

Rameshwar was a young teenager, son of one of his devotees, Lala Kundan Lal. He suffered from epilepsy and was so severely affected that he could not move from his bed. His father, Lala Kundan Lal, has spent thousands of rupees in medical treatment, but nothing worked. As a final resort, he put the case to Hari Baba. At that time, Krishnananda Avadhoot, a monk in the lineage of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, was present. Hari Baba consulted him, and decided to start a Naama Samkeertan, praying for Rameshwar’s cure. The day the keertan started, Rameshwar had severe fits. Baba put his hands on him, and the fits ceased. The Keertan carried on, day after day. After three months, many devotees left. Baba continued. Five months elapsed. One afternoon, during the Samkeertan, Baba was in full swing. All the devotees there were possessed by the bhava. One of them, Khoobiram of Nizampur, went across to Rameshwar, who was lying down prone on an easy chair. Khoobiram went to him and said – “Our Bhagavan (Hari baba) is dancing in the keertan. And you are lying down here on an easy chair? Indeed you are a rich man’s son!” Saying so, he pulled Rameshwar by his hand and dragged him to the floor of Samkeertan. Rameshwar had not set food on the earth for the last nineteen months. Khoobiram dragged him and slapped him hard. Rameshwar stood up. His legs were unsteady. Music was in full flow. At that time, Hari Baba fixed his eyes on Rameshwar. Something electric passed from his eyes to Rameshwar, and Rameshwar started dancing.  He, who had not walked for such a long time, started hopping around like a deer. A miracle had happened. All the devotees were mad with joy. Hari Baba was cool as always. His reserved countenance did not change a bit. He continued his keertan, as if nothing was different this day, and at end, he just went off to his hut without another glance at Rameshwar.

The next day, Rameshwar came and fell at his feet. Baba told him – “Brother! God has given you a new birth! Never forget his compassion! And listen! Always be alert, attentive (to the divine), for Maya of God is incredibly powerful”.

From that day, Rameshwar dedicated his life to Baba.

After this event, came the time for the birth of a new Leela.

The region of Ganga in Anupshahr / Badaun was a stage of periodic disaster. There were miles and miles of lowlands, and every year Ganga, during times of flood, would overrun the lands. Some five or six years before the episode of Rameshwar, a part of the  Ganga  had cut across and mingled with Mahava river in Badaun. As a result some 700 or more villages had been submerged in the river. Every year, during floods, hundreds of villages were affected, and the villagers has to be at the mercy of elements, sitting on trees and raised-platforms, waiting for the river to subside, living on what providence may provide. Baba was moved by the plight of the land and the people.

You may recall the Bhava episode, where a person who had been possessed by bhava of Siva had asked Baba to perform Setubandh leela. The time for that had come….

Sometime in the month of Paush (December) 1922, Baba called for a meeting with local devotees. And announced his plan to build a Baandh (dyke, dam) in that area. This was a herculean aim, for not even the Government has been able to do anything like this. The place had no rail connection. Without railway connections, getting construction materials etc here, would be impossible. It was also impossible for railways to set up lines here, as the lands were undulating, and there was not enough time between floods for complete construction to happen. These and such were the problems voiced by his devotees. Baba was not deterred by this. One of his devotees, Pandit Lalitaprasad, used to get the bhava of Hanuman. Baba told him that he would be crucial for this project. That he would need to invoke Hanuman in his consciousness and get on with the task. Baba quickly put the plan into motion and inaugurated the project. He put some key devotees as organizers. He said that he would take care of collecting funds. The devotees would have to gather others and get into the job of building the baandh. He himself went from village to village to galvanize the community. The method was through Samkeertan. In Hindu villages he would sing the name of Rama. In Muslim villages, he sand “tera zaat paak hoon”. A retired engineer from public works department was also inducted. Survey was done and the project area marked out. One and all got into the project. The rule was that the baandh had to be built by singing the name of God. One and all had to chant God’s name and bring mud and apply on the baandh. Baba had told the community that they should know that the Baandh was God’s own form. That they would have to offer service with a sincere heart. He said that the Baandh Bhagavan would give boons, and their prayers for worldly and spiritual gains would all be answered, provided they applied themselves in all sincerity…. Within weeks, more than a thousand villagers were on the job.

Baba announced his vow, that the mud-work would have to be completed by Rama Navami, which was but a few months away. What this meant was that 34 Kms of baandh mud-work would have to be built, along with six cross bandhs. Some parts of the baandh has to be much higher and broader…. Baba announced that if the work was not completed, he would give up his life.

The name of God filled the air. The community was in motion. One is reminded of the bridge built from Rameshwaram to Lanka during the Ramayana time.

The night before Rama Navami came. Baba got up and went to a specific area of the baandh. And he found that the work there was far from complete. He has announced earlier that he would give up his body if work was not completed by Rama Navami. In keeping with this resolve, he himself started working and announced that he would give up his life doing that work, if the work was not completed that night. Word of this spread like wildfire in the villages around. Villagers rushed to the baandh and joined the work… In some hours, a mountain of mud was ready and before nightfall the work was completed.

Night before Rama Navami (which fell on 26th March 1923), the Baandh mud-work was complete.

Baba started the stone-work the same date. Mounds of stones started getting accumulated at the site. By the dussehra of Jyestha month, most of the stone work was complete.

By sheer dint of the divine name, by the force of community participation, a 34 KMs long baandh has been constructed along the route of Ganga. An incredible achievement…

On Vijayadashami day of the month of Ashvin (Oct 1923) the first festival was held on the baandh. Since that day, countless festivals have been held here. Holi was celebrated with great festivity. This is the day of Jayanti of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. The day preceding Holi was the Jayanti of Hari Baba. Guru Purnima and other festivals were all celebrated in a grand scale at the Baandh. Akhand naama samkeertan, pravachan-s by sages and scholars, Raasleela, Krishnaleela, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu Leela etc were regularly enacted. Hari Baba would be completely immersed in the bhava of the Leela. He would be fanning the idol or the person acting the role of Krishna etc, for hours on end. During the keetans, he would be dancing and striking his heavy gong bell (ghantaa) – swinging round and round, and the whole orchestra of drummers, instrumentalists and singers would keep beat with him…. Each day was a celebration of God….

The greatest of sages of North India have graced the Baandh with their presence during these festivals. Udiya Baba would come . Without him, Hari Baba would not conduct any festival. After 1946, Anandamayi Ma also came regularly to the Baandh. Hari Baba became deeply devoted to Ma, who he saw as Jagadamba. Among other great spiritual personages who came to the baandh were Krishnanand Avadhoot, Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh, Brahmachari Prabhudutt ji. Paramahamsa Baba Avadhavihari sharan, Baba Gauraangdas, Shri Bhole babaji, Swami Shastranandaji, Swami Shukadevananda ji, Maharajshree Swami Akhandananda Saraswati and many others.

Baba laid great emphasis on regular maintenance of the baandh. Villagers would regularly work on applying mud, reinforcing stones etc. He also laid great emphasis on Cleanliness. He involved every single devotee in the task of keeping the whole length of baandh clean. The band of Hari Baba devotees became renowned for ‘cleaning’. Wherever they went, Baba would ask them to pick up brooms and clean the place before participating in any festival!

Sharing a clip form youtube, which shows Hari Baba at the Baandh during the later years.. People are seen doing shram-daan (offering of work), working on Baandh maintenance. Anandamayi Ma is also seen, visiting the baandh.

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During the baandh festivals, many divine happenings were seen. Episodes of people hearing anklet sounds, sudden fragrances filling the air, devotees seeing their Ishta Daiva etc. Any number of people had their prayers answered by coming here, participating in Baandh cleaning and maintenance, and joining the samkeertan… Baba laid terrific emphasis on sincerity and devotion. At times, when he could not tolerate the vices of some of the people in the area, he just walked away. Once, in 1937, he simply set off to Rishikesh and walked non-stop and reached there in five days, covering a distance of 150 miles on foot. He ate nothing on the way. From Rishikesh he set off up the mountain… And his devotees finally found him in Uttarkashi, and begged and pleaded with him to come back. He finally relented and agreed to return later, and proceeded with some of them to Gangotri. After sending his devotees back, he stayed in Gangotri for a month. Taking bhiksha once a day, taking bath in ice old Ganga by dipping again and again, wearing no wool, using no angheeti (coal heater) – he stayed there. He had promised to return back to Karnavas to the presence of Udiya Baba by Guru Purnina, which he did. But the Baandh was his home. All in all, Baandh Bhagavan, as it became known, truly was the Divine in the form of a baandh.

It is to this Baandh that we are headed in this blog journey….

Sree Rama Jaya Rama Jaya Jaya Rama!

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