Archive for the ‘Mahabharata’ Category

Listening to Mahabharata : Audio recordings

August 9, 2014

Vyasa-Ganeshaनारायणं नमस्कृत्य नरं चैव नरोत्तमम् |
देवीं सरस्वतीं व्यासं ततो जयमुदीरयेत् ||

Bowing to Narayana (Krishna), to the greatest of men Nara (Arjuna), to Goddess Saraswati, and to Vyasa, let Mahabharata be told thereafter.

Some of you may know that Soota has the joy of narrating Mahabharata… Few years back there was a write-up in The Hindu ( Click here to access)

This Soota’s narrations commenced sometime in 2001 and went on for ten years… The whole of Mahabharata… Narrated once a week, around 40 plus weeks every year.. And these were recorded in audio, as home recordings, live, while the narrations were done…

One part of the recordings was available briefly through an online channel that was later discontinued. These were a subset of episodes related to the great war of Mahabharata… (A blogger wrote a post about her experience in listening the stories. Click here to read that post )…

That version had 18 episodes, which were a part of the overall 50 episodes War set…

Now the whole set of 50 is available..

Folks in India who are interested in the recordings can now buy it, MP3 in Audio CD form, marketed by “Rasa – Experience of Art…”

In addition to the “Great War of Mahabharata” set, two other sets are available.

So: Overall: The following are available now…

– The great War of Mahabharata ( a series of 50 episodes )

– The story of Nala and Damayanti ( a series of 11 episodes )

– The story of Savitri and Satyavan (  a series of 8 episodes )

Each episode is around 50 minutes of audio….

If you would like to buy mp3 audio CD recordings of the above, visit the Rasa – Experience of Art website, by clicking here….

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I had earlier blogged about the first set of 18 recordings.. You can see the post by clicking here.

To quote from that post:

In my experience over these years, I have seen the Mahabharata stories deeply touch people of all ages. From teenagers, to regular adults, to senior citizens….

Such is its sweep and appeal, that Soota Ugrashrava says in Mahabharata:

श्रुत्वा त्विदमाख्यानं श्राव्यमन्यन्न रोचते |
पुम्सकोकिलरुतं श्रुत्वा रूक्षा ध्वाङ्क्षस्य वागिव ||

Having heard this story, one does not relish listening to any other. After hearing the song of the Koel (cuckoo), who would be interested to listen to the caw-caw of a crow?

न तां स्वर्गगतिं  प्राप्य तुष्टिं प्राप्नोति मानवा: |
यं श्रुत्वैव महापुण्यं इतिहासमुपाश्नुते ||

Not by attaining heaven do men achieve satisfaction, happiness, as much as they do after listening to this great PuNyA, The Mahabharata!

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Welcome to Dharmakshetra! Where there is Dharma, there is Krishna! Where there is Krishna, there is Victory!

Listen to the day-by-day unraveling of the greatest war ever written about…So welcome to Kurukshetra! And experience the sky filled with the sound of Sri Krishna’s great conch, Paancajanya!

Listen to the story about Nala – the great King, horseman, gambler, connoisseur of food… Who lost his all in a great bout of gambling… Who too was exiled to the forest and suffered even more than Yudhisttira did… Who is known as Punyashloka  – one who is so holy, that hearing his name is gives Punya…

Listen to the story of Pativrata Savitri… Which Maharshi Markandeya relates to Yudhisttira, in reply to his question on whether there has ever been any lady as great in virtues as Draupadi… The story of Savitri, who dialogues with Yama to get her husband back from the land of the dead…

Once more:

If you would like to buy mp3 audio CD recordings of the above, visit the Rasa – Experience of Art website, by clicking here….

Or the related link on the blogroll of this blogsite.

Right now it is available for sale only in India… As mentioned, these were recorded in non-studio, home conditions, live.  The recording quality would vary here and there… Requesting listeners in advance to forgive any deficiencies, and enjoy the great words of the greatest of  epics – Mahabharata…

Jaya!

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Maanasa Kailasa Yatra – 30

April 8, 2014

Om Nama Sivaya!

Blog date – 8/April/2014… Rama Navami!

‘Adhyatma Ramayana’, Ramayana of Self-Knowledge, is the story of Rama as narrated by Siva to Parvati at Mt Kailasa! Parvati wants to know from Siva, the reality of Rama… Siva begins the Ramayana exposition, saying : ““Indeed you are blessed, and are a worthy disciple, for you have a desire to know the reality of Rama. None has asked me before, to reveal this profound secret, which remains ever concealed. You have questioned me with devotion and so I shall tell you. First I salute Sri Rama, the greatest of Raghus! Rama is the Self Supreme, Bliss, The One Supreme Being, Beginning-less….”

Thus spake Siva at Kailasa.

And Rama came to Kailasa too. After the battle of Lanka, he, along with Sita, Brahma, and Deva, comes to Kailasa on Pushpaka Vimana.. Shiva. along with Parvati, riding the bull Nandi, welcomes Rama. Rama, seeing Lord Shiva, immediately gets down from the Vimana, and offers obeisance. Shiva embraces Rama, as do Parvati and Sita…

Ah yes, this Shiva-Rama twosome are indeed not two. One in heart, one in consciousness, one in reality. To this day, when Bilwa leaves are offered in formal worship to Kashi Vishwanatha, each leaf has the name “Rama” inscribed on it… And Tulasidas, the great sage poet, composed Ramacharitamaanasa in vernacular on the order of Kashi Vishwanath. (He started the work on the Ramanavami day of 1575 AD, which fell on a Tuesday, like it does this year as well.) And on completing composition, in 1577 AD, he read it out to the Lord. And tradition has it, that when traditional scholars opposed the idea of this vernacular composition, Kashi Vishwanath Himself blessed that composition by writing ‘Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram” on the treatise…

And that Maanas of Rama, is this Maanas of Kailasa.. Manasarovar… Right by the side of which is the lake of Ravana, the Rakshas Taal…. Under the eye of silver dome of the great peak of Kailasa…

Yatra date – 2/July/2013…

We are in the first day of Parikrama (Kora) of Kailasa…

We now move forward, having passed through the portal of Yama, into the valley of divinity – The Lha Chu valley… The valley is so named, after the river that flows through it – the Lha Chu river… ‘Lha’ means ‘divine’ or ‘God’ and ‘Chu’ means ‘river’… God’s river, that flows from Mt Kailash, down this valley, is joined by other tributaries, and finally flows into Rakshas Tal – the lake of the demon! Welcome to Kailash!

Date : 2/July/2013… It is cold – brrrrr – cold….. The group of co-yatris have split… Each is walking at his or her own pace… The valley horizon is far-far away…. There is but the silence-song of the mountains… Soota walks on with the pony man coming alongside… They come near a tent which appears to be a food joint. The pony man, Kedar, a Tibetan nomad, decides to break for lunch, and walks in… Soota waits outside for a while, and then decided to carry on… After some sign language communication, he manages to convey this to Kedar, and starts walking off down the valley way… Soon, the tour guide comes running and hands Soota his walking pole that he had left behind, forgetful as he is. Soota gets a mild reprimand as well, which he richly deserves! Pole in hand, he walks on…

Some info about the Lha Chu Valley… Is also known as the “Amitabha” valley… The valley, as we walk north, has Nyenri (Nyen Mountain) on the left (west) and Kailash  and the peripheral envelope mountains on the east… The Lha chu river is gurgling its way southward….

Pandit Rajmani Trigunait, disciple of Swami Rama, the Himalayan Guru, had extraordinary spiritual experiences while walking this valley… His Guru, who was no more in body, had once told him that he would take him to their ancestral cave, which was by the Ganga, on the western side of Mt Kailash. Now, Ganga, as everyone knows., does not flow from Kailash… However, years afterwards, when the time came for Pandit to realize the promise, he came to Kailash… And walking down this valley, he talked to the guide and the local yak men… And then he came to see ‘light’… Nyenri was associated with a warrior God, who was son of Demchog (Siva) and Parvati, and he was also son of Lha Chu… Some more information, led Pandit to realize that the warrior God was Skanda (Sanatkumara) , Karthikeya… and that Lha Chu was Ganga… Pandit was also blessed with vision of a Yogi high up on Kailash, and also of Siva’s three eyes…. This is a divine valley all right…

Now, shall we see some pictures… Click on any picture and use arrow keys to browse, Esc to return..

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Kailash is hidden by the mountains that surround it…. It is visible only from certain points along the route…

Pandit was blessed with visions… As have been others… Each according to his merit… Soota, needless to say, is struggling along… Kailash does not bless him with a view, as the sky is completely overcast…

But the corridor of God is extraordinary… The gurgling Lha Chu…. It’s like you are walking down an open corridor of God, with massive temple gopurams on either side, and the Ganga flowing right by….

Lama Govinda, the german Buddhist Monk, writes in his book, the ‘The Way of the white clouds’ –

Entering the narrow valley on the western flank of Kailas, the place assigned to Amitabha, whose colour is red, he finds himself in a canyon of red rocks, the structure of which is so architectural in appearance that the pilgrim feels as if he is walking between rows of gigantic temples. They are adorned with elaborate rock-cornices, pillars, and ledges, and high above them there appears suddenly the dazzling ice-dome of Kailas.

Its shape is remarkably regular, as if it had been sculptured out of one immense block of ice, and towards the west two deep hollows, like the eyeholes of a perfectly shaped white skull, look mysteriously down upon the pilgrim, who is thus reminded of the terrible aspects of Shiva and Demchog (Mahasukha) who are both adorned with skulls, symbolising the wisdom of sunyata, the realisation of the emptiness and transitoriness of all phenomena.”

Soota walks on…. A few hours… The pony and the handler have not come.. He is by himself… Oxygen levels being low, the walk is a struggle… It is very cold as well… But in the ‘aloneness’ of being in the presence of divine, there is extraordinary peace…

He spots a few birds, blending with the rocks… Click the picture… Focus… Spot the bird camouflaged in the landscape..

Talking of birds, a short walk after Yamadvar, on the west, up the Nyenri mountain rockface, is perched a gompa – a monastery – that looks like a bird’s nest… It’s called Chuku Gompa… This Gompa has some connection with General Zoravar Singh….

Who is General Zoravar Singh, you ask? He is a legend, although not well known now to his countrymen. General Zorawar Singh is considered as one of the greatest army leaders Asia has seen… This great man was a General in the army of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, and served his tributary King, Maharajah Gulabh Singh of Jammu and Kashmir…  He extended the territory of the Sikh empire, by conquering Ladakh, and much of Tibet…This was in 1841 AD….

About him, Alex Mackey, writes in the book “History of Tibet” – “General Zorawar Singh conquered about 720 km. of the Tibetan territory (linear distance) in about three and a half months. The first thing Zorawar Singh did after the conquest of Misra was to take a holy bath in the lake Manasarovar and offer a golden idol at the Kailash temple. On The mobilisation of his troops into Tibet he had already announced his intention to perform a pilgrimage of the Hindu holy places of the Kailash-kshetra. He now proudly fulfilled that resolve. Thus, by fighting out his way to these holy places and earning the merit of the pilgrimage of Kailash, to which the heroes of the Mahabharata had also retired after attaining the glory and fame in the battlefield of Kurukshetra, General Zorawar Singh had earned both sanctity and renown. He had achieved the height of fame.’

In the book, “Buddhist Western Himalaya” by OC Handa, we learn that when General Zoravar Singh was in Kailash, his wife Asha Devi joined him. She did Parikrama of Kailash and returned to Kashmir…

On his way of conquest towards Maanas-Kailash, he came to Takklakot, where he won a famous battle… And near Takklakot is the village of Kojharnath where there is an ancient monastery – Khorchag Gompa, also known as Khechari Teertha… Kailash yatri-s often visit this shrine as well…. The Hindus consider the idols here to be that of Rama, Lakshmana and Sita…. Here, Zoravar Singh offered his gold locket to the deities….

Signing off this Rama Navami post with a picture of the Khojarnath deities, that I found on he Net.

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khocharnath-rama

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Jai Sita Rama! Om Nama Sivaya!

**** To be continued ****

 

 

Maanasa Kailasa Yatra – 27

February 17, 2014

July 2nd, 2013… We are at Darchen…

Had it been a clear sky, we would have had a wonderful view of Mt Kailash… Like the picture below (Source: wikipedia link here)

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Darchen-from-wikipedia

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With just our backpack, we board a bus… The bus will take us to the start point of the walking, some  eight kms or so from Darchen (marked as D in the map in the previous blog post)… This is the site of Tarboche (or Darboche) flag post…

This (blog) post is about that (flag) post…

On the full moon of the fourth month of the Tibetan calendar, a flag post is erected here at Tarboche, the base of Mt Kailash, which marks a great festival… Pilgrims from all over Tibet and elsewhere come here for this ceremony… The ceremony also marks the traditional opening of the kora around Kailas.

The Tibetan calendar is a cousin of the Indian lunar calendar. The new year in the Tibetan calendar is called Losar, and is one of the most important days in their culture. As best as I can make out, the Losar commences on the new moon day of the lunar month on which the spring solstice falls. Spring solstice is that day of the year when the Sun crosses over the equator from South to North. The Northern journey of the Sun, commences in the Winter Solstice (of the northern hemisphere) sometime in end of December… This is  known as the Uttarayana in Indian astronomy… At that point in time the Sun is in the Southern hemisphere. And then, in its northern journey, the Sun crosses over the equator, onto the Northern hemisphere on the spring solstice day. That marks dawn in North pole – the start of the long North pole daytime… . The lunar month on which this occurs is observed as the new year in Tibetan calendar.

Now, the fourth month of this calendar, heralds a very important festival. On the full moon day of the fourth month, Tibetans celebrate the festival of ‘Saga Dawa’ (literally, the ‘fourth month’). In their tradition, Saga Dawa is ‘Vesak’ – or the holy day of the triple events of Buddha – his birth, enlightenment, and release (Nirvana)… This date may or may not coincide with the Vesak (Buddha Purnima) date of the Indian lunar calendar… May be the same or a month this way or that… But the event celebrated is the same – that of Buddha Purnima…

On this day, in Mt Kailash, a great celebration takes place… A flag post, around 80 feet or so in height, is raised up with great ritual fanfare. Pilgrims from far and wide come here to participate in this event… The flagpole from the previous year would have been brought down earlier, and raised again on the saga dawa (purnima) day…

A Lama from the nearby monastery is in charge of the ritual procedure… A great number of devotees gather here, and circumambulate the flag pole, as it lies on the ground.  Hundreds of prayer flags that were attached to the flag pole the previous year are removed, and new prayer flags attached… The pilgrims also throw ‘windhorses’ up in the air… These are colored paper flags with Buddhist mantra written on them…

Under the supervision of the official Lama, the pole is slowly raised, using ropes and fixtures. An “A” structure is moved below the inclined pole to keep it at that angle… Then the folks take some rest, and then the start again, raising the pole higher, and push another “A” structure to hold it up at a higher angle. All the while, there is a great festive atmosphere, traditional musical instruments are played, the child in one and all emerges, and there is a lot of happy hooting and cheer…. In the final tug, steel cables are attached to the pole, and are pulled by two trucks…. Pilgrims hold on and to pull other ropes so as to ensure that the pole does not slant in any direction… Under the guidance of the Lama, accompanied the joyous whoops of pilgrims, the great flag pole finally is made to stand erect….

Check out photographs below, of the Saga Dawa pole raising festival, taken from the Net ( Click here for source gallery ) .

Click on first picture and use arrow keys to browse, ESC to return…

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If the flag pole stands bolt upright, then that is said to be a good omen for Tibet… Good prosperity that year…. But if the pole stands tilting in any direction (either towards or away from Kailas), then that is said to be a bad omen. All will not be well for Tibet that year… That is the belief…

After the flag is upright, the pilgrims go around the pole in great festive joy. Pilgrims throw windhorses again… And they also throw Barley flour in the air, a tradition known as ‘Dra Lha Sol’… Horsemen join the festivity by thundering around the pole…  The season is open… The pilgrims shall now start on the kora around Kailas!

Here is a youtube clip of a saga dawa festival…

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The flag pole raising ceremony of Saga Dawa has been celebrated for more than a thousand years.. Soota wonders if this flag-post raising festival is a part of a cultural continuum of the Indian subcontinent where the flag pole of Indra has been raised to launch festivals. This has been a tradition for thousands of years, as can be seen from references in Ramayana, Mahabharata and other ancient epics. The Indra Dhvaja, the flag of Indra, which is hoisted during Indra festival, is mentioned in several places in Ramayana. It is specifically mentioned that the flag is raised during the full moon of the month of Ashvin, and is brought down after the festival. This festival of Indra is seen to have been celebrated all over the Indian subcontinent. The most ancient of Tamil literature mention Indra vizha, which was celebrated during the new year (the month of Chaitra) for 28 days. The festival was commenced by people hoisting the Indra Dhvaja (the flag of Indra). The details of the festival have been given in Manimekalai and Shilappadikaram (two ancient Tamil Sangam classics). ( Click here to read a good blog post about Indra Vizha of ancient Tamil people )

The Indra dhvaj festival is still observed in Puri Jagannath and other temples in eastern India. There is the festival of “Indra Purnima” during full moon of Bhadrapad month, which is preceded by Indra Dhvaj puja a few days earlier.

In Nepal, the Indra Jatra is a spectacular festival. This is also celebrated from Bhadrapada month… The festival is flagged off by hoisting a tall wooden pole (thirty six feet or so, in height), that has been chosen with ritual care from a specific forest every year. This pole is the Indra Dhvaja and is also known as the Linga (siva linga). This is pulled up by the people and is dismantled at the end of the festival.

Another festival called the Bisket Jatra, marks the beginning of the new year (the chaitra month…)  and  is celebrated in Bhaktapur, the old capital of Nepal. There too the Indra dhvaj (linga) is hoisted up. This festival corresponds in time with the Indra vizha of the ancient Tamil culture. The hoisting of Indra Dhvaj on new year has been a part of Indian tradition for sure.

Do see this youtube video of the Indra flag pole hoisting in Nepal…

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Soota conjectures that the Tarboche flag pole hoisting is perhaps a part of the same cultural continuum of Indra Dhvaja hoisting….

Take a look at this picture of a Lama in Saga Dawa festival

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Lama... With treatise.. And a vajra of Indra

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Notice the instrument (that seems to be like a paper weight) on the manuscript in front of him. That is Vajra, a symbol of Buddha and a weapon of Indra.

When Sister Nivedita visited Bodh Gaya in 1904, accompanied by Ravindrananth Tagore and JC Bose, she was inspired by the Vajra. With that symbol she designed the first national flag for India… Here it is… The Vajra in the middle, with the words “Vande Mataram” written in Bengali…

nivedita-india-flag-1904

Her idea of a flag for India was an Indra Dhvaja….

Here is another interesting data point… The Indra dhvaja  hoisting has been an integral part of Indian theater (Natya) tradition. As per Natyashastra, the very first drama in the world was staged on the occasion of Indra Dhvaja Mahotsava, the great festival of the flag of Indra…

Let us move in time, and have a glimpse of Kattaikuttu, one of the folk drama tradition (terukootthu, or street theatre) of Tamil people. Here rural artistes perform all night drama festival depicting scenes from Mahabharata, as handed down in local traditions since ages… One of the important depictions is that of the penance of Arjuna.  During the forest exile of the Pandava brothers, Arjuna proceeds to Himalaya to do penance and please Lord Siva, whereby he may acquire celestial weapons from Him. On the way he overcomes temptations meant to divert him from his task, and finally reaches Mt Kailas. He climbs Mt Kailas and does penance. In the folk theatre, Mt Kailas is represented by a long pole, which is called as “Tapas Maram”, or the tree of penance. In the theatre, the artiste acting as Arjuna, climbs this long pole, goes to a platform on top, and  enacts doing penance there.  It is then that Siva and Parvati, come in the guise of a hunter and his spouse, and a fight ensues between Arjuna and Siva, over a boar. They both shoot it at the same time and fight for the prize. Siva flings Arjuna into the air, and he is caught by Parvati… And then Siva and Parvati shed their disguise and reveal their real ‘presence’ to Arjuna, and bless him with great Pasupata Astra… And btw, Arjuna is Indra’s son….  (More about this drama scene can be seen in this link here   )..

So, the wooden pole in Kattaikoottu represents Mt Kailas!

Here is  a picture of Arjuna climbing the Tapas tree ( Click here for source )

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tapas-tree

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So, let us come back at the pole of Tarboche… The flag hoisting of Saga Dawa…. The start of the season of Kora. Pilgrims will circumambulate the Pole and then commence on the circumambulation of Mt Kailas…. Saga Dawa in the year 2013 was on May 25th … Soota and co-yatri’s have been dropped off at the Tarboche point by bus to commence the kora… The date is July 2nd, 2013…

Signing off this post, sharing one more youtube video, which has lovely photos of the Saga Dawa festival some years earlier…Enjoy the tour…

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Off next, on the kora.. Om Nama Sivaya! Om Mani Padme Hum!

** To be continued **

Messenger Krishna

February 17, 2013

On Feb 3, 2013, there was a celebration of centenary of Justice KS Venkatraman ICS, at Chennai. Justice KSV was a highly respected Jurist, who retired as a Judge of the High Court of Madras. He was also a great connoisseur of art – music, drama, upanyasa…

The event was held in Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan and was attended by a packed audience. A report on the event can be seen in this link of Mylapore Times (Click here for a pdf copy of the paper)

As a part of the event several eminent Jurists shared their tributes. There was also short sessions of music, drama and story telling…

Yours truly was given the task of “story telling”… The topic given was “Krishnan Dootu” – from Mahabharata. This is set in the Udyoga Parva, where Krishna comes to Hastinapura as an emissary, a messenger of Pandavas, to broker peace with Kauravas. Its a long and fascinating series of scenes, and Justice KSV was very fond of this…

To cut to the story, giving below a youtubed upload of the recording of the story-telling (upanyasa). As the whole episode could not be covered in half an hour, one conveyed a snap shot of three scenes… First is when Krishna comes to Duryodana’s palace, on a courtesy call. Second is the Vishwaroopam that Krishna takes, when Duryodhana tries to capture him. Third, is the message that Kunti sends for her sons, through Krishna.

Athato… krishna jigyaasaa…

Ganga Yatra – Part 4

May 13, 2012

One more view, from the hillock of Ganga Devi Mandir, and then we shall go down….

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Let us now come down the stairs, and drive a km or so, back into the Garhmukteshwar village…

We arrive at an arch entrance of a place called Nakka Kuan.

Posters are stuck on the portal… Announcing a Bhaagavata Puraana Katha by Jagadguru Shankaracharya Divyananda Teerthji of Bhanpura Peeth…

Stepping inside the arch, one walks back in time…

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Walking down this path, leads us to a nice courtyard…. A holy tree, some shrines…. Peace….

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We notice an elderly Sanyaasi, cleaning the courtyard… We ask him which is Nakka Kuan…. He points to a small gate… We peer through the gate, and notice this well…

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This is Nakka Kuan, originally known as Nahusha Koop… King Nahusha of very ancient times, is said to have constructed this well, in the premises of Mukteshwar temple (which is also in this complex).

Who was King Nahusha? Ok… Time for stories…

The story of King Nahusha is given in detail in Mahabharata… Here’s a short version..

King Nahusha was one of the forefathers of the five Pandavas. He was a very great King and performed ever so many Ashvamedha Yagya. At that time, Indra, the Ruler of Devaloka, lost his position because of some circumstances.  The Devas then approached Nahusha to take up the position of Indra, for he had accumulated so much merit that he was eligible for taking up the position of Indra. Nahusha wanted to decline the offer, but was persuaded by the celestial deities (Devas) to accept. He then took up that position.

As he got comfortable in that position, the power of that post started going to his head… He started behaving with great arrogance… Finally, he decided that as he was now the King of Devaloka, he has a right to Indrani, the wife of Indra. He sent word to her to come to him, as he was now the Lord of Devaloka. In fright, she sought the refuge of Brahma… Nahusha was pressurizing her and threatened all with dire consequences if she did not agree to his demand… She pleaded with Brahma, and then on his advice, she also took some steps to get advice from Indra who was in hiding, and then she sent word to Nahusha, that she was in-principle not in disagreement… She would accept him, provided he came to her in regal glory, carried in a palanquin by the Seven great Rshis (Saptarshis)… He was in seventh heaven and ordered the Seven Rshis to carry him… Thus it is that by the trick of Indrani, Nahusha was made to commit this great blunder of asking the Saptarshis to carry  his palanquin…

The Sapta-Rshis agreed… One of the Rshis was the great sage Agastya…In Agastya’s matted locks, Bhrgu Rshi was hiding… Nahusha found that Agastya being clumsy, and kicked him, urging him to go faster… The sage and Rshi Bhrigu then cursed him to fall from his position and become a serpent and languish on earth.

No sooner did Agastya utter the curse, Nahusha fell… Even as he fell, he realized his folly, and pleaded with Agastya for mercy. Agastya was all compassion, and told him that he would be relieved of this curse one day, when the great King Yudhisttira would come and answer all his questions on Dharma… He also blessed Nahusha with continued memory, and the ability to overcome any prey.. By Agastya’s boon, any creature that would be caught by Nahusha would lose all its strength of body and mind….

So it is that Nahusha fell on earth and became a massive Python…. And lived on the chance creatures that came his way…

Many, many years later… The Pandavas, who were of his lineage, were on their forest exile period…. 12th year or so… Having spent a month in Badarikashrama (Badrinath), they went to other parts of Himalaya and then came down…. One day, Bheema went hunting… And as destiny would have it, he came to the region of Nahusha, the snake… Nahusha had seen no prey for a long time, and was famished… Seeing the well endowed Bheema, Nahusha grabbed him, and in a second, Bheema was caught in his coils, and  also lost all his strength… Stunned, he asked the snake who he was, and the snake told him all about himself…

Meanwhile, Yuddhisttira found that Bheema was missing… He also saw many evil omens.. Asking Arjuna to guard Draupadi, he left, searching for Bheema. Following Bheema’s trail was not difficult, ahd he soon found him in the cage of a python’s coils… Then follows a dialog between Nahusha and Yuddhisstira… Yuddhisttira replies to all the complex questions of Nahusha… Yuddhittira realizes the great sagacity and knowledge of Nahusha and in turn asks him many questions.. Nahusha clarifies all his questions… As a part of the dialog Nahusha tells Yuddhisttira:

सत्यं दमस्तपो दानं अहिंसा धर्मनित्यता |
साधकानि सदा पुंसां न जातिर्न कुलं नृप ||

“O King! It is Truth, Control of mind and senses, penance / austerity, charity, abstention from doing injury to any creature, and constancy in virtue, that are the means by which man achieves success / salvation, and not his race or lineage!”

At the end of his conversation with Yudhisttira, Nahusha is pleased and releases Bheema.

By the boon of Agastya, Nahusha is also released from his curse upon meeting Yudhittira, regains his lustrous form and leaves for higher regions….

The story is long and fascinating…

It is this King Nahusha who is supposed to have built this well, the Nahush Koop, or Nakka Kuan… The waters are from Ganga that flows nearby… A holy well, as ancient as time….

Lets have one more look at Nahush Koop…

*

If only the Government Authorities took some interest… So much tourism potential in India…. Sigh….

There has been a constant drizzle…. Starts becoming heavier…

Next stop, the mandir of Mukteshwar….

**** To be continued ***

himAlayAtrA – Call of the Mountain – Part 9

October 22, 2011

तेषां तु गच्छतां शीघ्रं सर्वेषां योगधर्मिणां
याज्ञसेनी भ्रष्टयोगा निपपात महीतले ||

They (the Pandavas and Draupadi), observing the way of Yoga, were walking fast, and suddenly, Yaajnaseni (Draupadi), fell from Yoga, and fell down onto the earth.

This shloka of Mahabharata occurs in Mahaprasthanaparva – the great journey of the Pandavas, when they renounce all worldliness, and set off on foot, to the world beyond… They start off from Hastinapura, and first go east, all the way to the eastern ocean of India. Then they walk South and go all the way to Rameshwaram… Then they set of along the west coast, and go right up to Dwaraka… and then going North west.. They reach the foothills of Himalaya… And they start the great climb… And then high up, at one place, Draupadi falls off the path, and is the first one to pass on from this earthly life…

Legend has it, that this happened in the region of Bheem Pul… and that is where  we are headed to, from Vyasa Gufa….

*

From Vyasa Gufa, the way is downhill.. And so we are at ease as we walk along….

This is the view of the mountain… What a glorious sight… Click on the picture for a large size view…

*

Here’s another view… Some of the Mana village folks working…

*

We walk on… And a short time later, we sight the Bheem Pul region…

*

Notice the bridge in the picture above… Thats Bheem Pul… Legend has it that when the Pandavas came here during that great final-journey, they found Saraswati river cutting the mountain, and thundering across… To cross it at this point would have been too dangerous… And to find a place to cross it would mean walking a long way downstream, and Draupadi was not up to it… So Bheemasena, picked up a huge rock and placed it across the river… So that Draupadi could cross…

The bridge you see above is across the Saraswati river. The bridge-of-bheema, renovated over time…

As we near the bridge, we spot a cave… An ash smeared Sadhu is staying here…. Its cold… He’s unconcerned about that…

*

We go near the bridge…

And we see the Saraswati river as it gushes down the mountain… This is the source of the river…

*

Notice the river picture above… And notice the rock in the middle… A twin-rock embrace, making a bridge of sorts.. At first I thought this was the Bheem Pul…

Later, I read a signboard that said otherwise… The current pucca bridge is built on the original rock of Bheema.

Here’s a picture of the actual Bheema rock from the other side.. Arrow pointing the rock

*

On the other side of the bridge is a temple… A Saraswati temple…

*

Its a little temple with an idol of Saraswati Devi… The Goddess of  the River… The River of Knowledge… The Goddess of Knowledge… A priest gives us Abhisheka water… Water of Saraswati river, he tells us… We bow to the Goddess… And so from Badrinath, we have completed the circle of bows…. Narayana, Nara at Badrinath… Vyasa at Vyasa Gufa… And Saraswati here… Perhaps we should have first come here and then should have gone to Vyasa Gufa to follow the sequence of the Mahabharata verse…

नारायणं नमस्कृत्य नरं चैव नरोत्तमम् |
देवीं सरस्वतीं व्यासं ततो जयमुदीरयेत् ||

Bowing to Narayana (Krishna), to the greatest of men Nara (Arjuna), to Goddess Saraswati, and to Vyasa, let Mahabharata be told thereafter.

**

Up on the hillside beyond the bridge, one sees a few small structures… A local person tells me that that’s the shrine of Draupadi… To mark her departure to the great beyond…

*

The Draupadi temple (low, white) can be seen near a tree cluster in the right end of the picture above. half way up…

We leave the bridge and walk down to the village Mana….

On the way at a shop we find some flowers.. A very special flower…  Said to bloom just one night in a year, in the plains… Grows more in the Himalaya heights… The flower of Brahma, that grows from the navel of Vishnu… A real rare flower… The Brahma Kamal, the state flower of Uttarakhand…

Here it is… Not sure if it is the real thing… Lets say it is… Whatever…. A flower in the mountain…

*

We walk on to the waiting cars, looking at the Saraswati river, as it flows down the mountain, for its meeting with Alakananda, at Keshav Prayag…

Signing off from this post with a nice video clip…

Of the Saraswati river,  near Bheem pul… Put up the speakers… (Click on the four arrows on the bottom right to maximize and see on full screen)

** To be concluded **

himAlayAtrA – Call of the Mountain – Part 8

October 16, 2011

नारायणं नमस्कृत्य नरं चैव नरोत्तमम् |
देवीं सरस्वतीं व्यासं ततो जयमुदीरयेत् ||

Bowing to Narayana (Krishna), to the greatest of men Nara (Arjuna), to Goddess Saraswati, and to Vyasa, let Mahabharata be told thereafter.

**

17/Aug/2011…. Today, we walk the path of the Pandavas.

Welcome to Mana (pronounced mANA माणा) village .

*

“Jai Ghanyaal! Welcome” proclaims the arch sign at the entry to  Mana, which is a few kms from Badrinath.

Mana is also known as Manibhadrapuri, and is  named after the Yaksha Chief Manibhadra… All this is ancient Yakhsa land, the land of Kubera…

Its morning time, and the sky is clear today… Or now, I should say… For weather can change in  minutes…

A steep road ahead of us… A mountain man from here, asks if any of us would like to be carried in a basket…

*

A broken sign board, gives us Mahabharata directions… To Bheem pul, Ganesha Gufa, Vyas Gufa, Satopant, Mucukund Gufa…. Soota feels like a bird in the sky…

*

Walking up the yaksha path, we soon arrive at Ganesha Gufa.

A signboard outside says that this is the cave where Ganesha wrote down the Mahabharata as dictated by the great sage Vyasa.

A portico leads to the cave… Its dark inside… Its time for some silent contemplation of Vyasa… And of Ganesha, who said “Om!”, when he accepted the request to take down Vyasa’s dictation….

*

We climb 0n… One of our co-yatris has twisted her ankle badly… So, very reluctantly, she agrees to be carried in a porter-basket…. The climb is arduous all right…

*

We pass by the houses of the local people. Mana village has people of Bhotiya community. Mana is the last village of India before the Tibetan border. The Bhotiya (also known as Marcha) community folks live here during the summer months and (I am given to understand) go down to a place near the district headquarters near Gopeshwar during the winter months… They are experts in weaving and knitting wool, and it is people of this village who have the traditional right to prepare the woolen blanket for Lord Badri Vishaal. They alone can weave that woolen blanket, known as Ghrt Kambal, which is soaked  in clarified butter and wrapped around the holy idol of Lord Badrinath… What a lovely community… Picture below, shows  a lady of that community standing in the courtyard of her house.. And yes, she’s knitting wool…

*

We walk on…

We come across a tea shop, whose sign board has a poignant message…. “India’s last tea shop”

*

Walking past that we arrive at Vyasa Gufa…

*

This is the cave of Vyasa… It is here that he is said to have composed many a Purana…

You can see that the outer rockface of the cave looks like thin slabs resting on top of one another… “Vyasa Poti” says a sign on that rockface. They symbolize the palm leaves that would have been used for writing the epic compositions of Vyasa…

Outside the cave entrance, a signboard….

*

The board has the opening verse of Mahabharata, quoted in the beginning of this blog post… It also has two verses from Chapter 7 of first Skanda of Srimad Bhagavatam… The two verses convey that Vyasa had his Ashrama on the western bank of Saraswati river, at Shamyaapraasa, a place conducive to penance by Rshis. There, surrounded by Badri (berry) trees, sat Vyasa, and focused his mind (contemplating the supreme transcendent reality)… A para below, in Hindi, says that it was in this cave that Vyasa compiled the Vadas into four parts, wrote seventeen Puranas, invoked Ganesha for writing Mahabharata, and then at end, seeking peace of mind had written Bhagavata,

Lets see now what the Mahabharata says about the place of composition of Mahabharata,

पुण्यः हिमवते पादे मध्ये गिरिगुहालये

विशोध्य देहं धर्मात्मा दर्भसंस्तरमाश्रितः

शुचिः सनियमो व्यासः शान्तात्मा तपसि स्थितः

भारतस्येतिहासस्य धर्मेणान्वीक्ष्य तां गतिम्

प्रविश्य योगं ज्ञानेन सोऽपश्यत् सर्वमन्ततः

“An the feet of Himalaya, halfway up, in a holy cave, Dharmaatma Vyaasa, after cleansing his body, spread a mat of Dharbha grass and sat on it, and in proper manner became immersed in meditation. Entering union with the self (yoga dhyaanena), with the vision of Dharma, he beheld the whole happening of Mahabharata, from beginning to end”.

We are at that cave. Soota is at his temple.

*

We enter the cave.

In the dark we can make out an idol of Vyasa. And some pictures and other little idols. A young priest is sitting there. He ushers us to sit, and then gives a small discourse.

We offer prayers and come out…

Outside, Soota sits on one side, and gives a small pravacana… Vyasa Gufa is a most holy temple for him, and he has to offer his worship by relating something from Mahabharata. So he speaks of some part from Udyoga parva…

After enjoying the ambiance, the group moves on from Vyasa gufa…

himAlayAtrA – Call of the Mountain – Part 7

October 8, 2011

Early morning… 16/August/2011… Badrinath… Its been raining all night… Morning mist….  A view of high heavens… Have a look…

Welcome to Himalaya!

**

Its a nice hotel we are in…. The Sarovar hotel…

On one of the mountains opposite the hotel, we spot a red colored dwelling high up, halfway up one of the tall mountains. Considering that Badrinath is at a height of over 10,000 feet, the red dwelling is probably a few thousand feet higher… Zooming with my lil camera, here’s a hazy picture…

We ask one of the hotel boys what that place is.

He tells us a Baba stays there. “There?” we ask, incredulously. “Yes… The Baba stays there the whole year around. Once in a while he comes down to Badrinath for a bath in Alakananda, and then goes back…”..  Welcome to Devabhoomi!

Morning sees us doing whatever we can to organize a rescue… Our co-yatris eventually get rescued by lunch time….

But in the meanwhile, the four of us who are safe in Badrinath, go for our first darshan of the holy temple, and the Lord…

The temple is on the right bank of the river Alakananda. One has to cross a foot bridge from the town side, go across Alakananda, to the temple complex…

Here is a view of the temple…. The temple stands between Nara and Narayana mountains…

The  mountain seen above, behind the temple is the Narayana mountain…

Nara and Narayana, who are but twin aspects of Vishnu, performed tremendous penance here. Absorbed in Nirvikalpa Samadhi, Badrinath was their abode…. The temple of Badrinath has the main idol of Badri Narayana, showing Narayana in Yogasana, absorbed in meditation… On the left are two idols of Nara and Narayana…

It was Nara and Narayana who came as Arjuna and Krishna, to rescue the mother earth from its massive burden of oppressive human population… And so happened the great war of Mahabharata…. The mighty epic has many a reference to Badrinath… Known also as Vishala, the Lord here is referred to as Badri Vishaal too…. Jai Badri Vishaal! Hail Nara and Narayana!

Opposite the temple is the Nara mountain…

*

Here’s a closer picture of Badrinath temple…

And a side view…

*

Badrinath is cut off from the rest of the world today… Due to the rains and the landslides… So throng of devotees is not so much…. And we have a very relaxed and nice darshan of the Lord….

Here is a view of Alakananda river, on whose banks is the great temple…

*

Lets bring this picture to life, shall we…

Here’s a lil video clip… Of Alakananda, as it thunders down this mountainside, next to the holy temple of Badri Vishal.

*

After darshan of Lord Badri Narayana, we walk down the steps towards the river, and visit the residence of Shri Raawal, the chief priest of Badrinath temple. We are ushered into a nice hall, where Shri Raawal meets with devotees…. We wait for a short while in this room…

There is a statue of Adi Shankaracharya in a glass case, in the centre above.

Adi Shankaracharya, who walked the length and breadth of the country, established the Badrinath temple, and appointed Namboodri priests from Kerala to be the chief priests here, and this tradition carries on to this day. The Rawal who is chosen to be the chief priest would be a Brahmachari and only he can offer personal worship to the idol of Badri Narayana…

We have an audience with the Rawal…

A very nice, soft spoken gentleman.. My co-yatris are from Kerala, and they strike a good rapport with him straightaway, and we tell Shri Raawal about our other co-yatris who are caught in the mountain. Raawalji calls up a few people and assures us that help would be on its way…. And it is… He is kind enough to see to our accommodation at Neelkant Guest house…

Its raining again…. From Shri Raawal’s place steps lead down to the river….

*

Down below, next to the river, on the left is the Tapta Kund… Hot water spring… A bathing place has been constructed there, and one can see the steam from the hot springs…


*

Very near the Taptakund is a rock, marked as Narada Shila – where Devarshi Narada is said to have performed Tapasya. Next to this rock is the Narada Kund, from where Adi Shankaracharya is said to have recovered the idol of Badri Narayana, and then established the temple…

*

After our Darshan, we get back to the hotel. We are four of us. Rajesh, JK, Mini and I. Rajesh and JK leave for the rescue mission. Mini has not eaten since yesterday afternoon… Waiting for the others to come across safely…. Which they do by around 1 pm… They go directly to Neelkant guest house… Mini and I check out of Sarovar… And meet with the whole team in one of the bazaars, as they are busy buying windsheeters, sweaters, caps and jackets…. We then have a good meal… Get to Neelkant guest house for a short break and are back in the evening for Darshan of Badrinath, and more audience with Shri Raawal…

Signing off this post with a picture of Badrinath temple that evening…

Click on it, and see it full-screen…

**

** To be continued **

himAlayAtrA – Call of the Mountain – Part 5

September 26, 2011

August 14th… The day we set off from Kathgodam to Dwarahat… And then on to Babaji’s cave…

Also happened to be the day of Gayatri Japa… So the drive from Kathgodam to Dwarahat was accompanied by the mind’s rosary… Made the trip up the Himalaya even more special…

Our original plan was to drive down to Kathgodam the next day, take the night train to Hardwar, reaching there during the wee hours of 16th August… Visit Vasishta Guha, near Rishikesh…. Take the night train in 16th and return to New Delhi… That was the plan….

But the ‘Icchaa Shakti’ of Himalaya had other ideas…

On the way back from Babaji’s cave, a thought presented itself to our group… Why not go to Badrinath from here? And that thought became word. And that word flew from lip to lip and crystallized into an intent…

End of day – August 14th… Returned to Ashram… Meditation….Had a light dinner…

My cell phones have decided to take a vacation too… I try every trick I can… No luck… Radio silence… The other folks phones are ok… Just mine has decided to rebel… Chalo, this too is ok….

**

15/August/2011….

Morning 5 am or so…

We are ready to leave… Drive to Badrinath…

The cab drivers have assured us that it will be a five hour drive. Maybe six. Not an issue… So the idea is to reach Badrinath by say 10 or 11 am… Have darshan… Leave Badrinath in the afternoon or maybe next day, and go down to Rishikesh. Sounds good. Sounds great, in fact….

So we are off… Three cars… Two taveras and one innova…. A brief halt at Dwarahat market for some tea…. And then off we go…

The weather is not so good…

*

Persistent drizzle…. Pitter-patter, pitter-patter, all along, everywhere…

Whats the distance from Dwarahat to Badrinath? Data stretches with the mountain… One says 100 km. Another says 250 km… Whatever the distance, the drivers say that they can do it in five hours or maybe six…

But its raining… And misty… The roads are not at their best… We encounter many a broken stretch… Our drivers are used to this… They maneuver the  vehicles across breaches and brooks… The going is slow…

A bridge on a river….The Ramganga river…

*

Tara, the driver in my car, talks of some places in the vicinity, or on the way…. Masi… Pandukhol… Pandukhol is another place associated with the Pandavas. No getting away from them anywhere in the mountain…

Its the 15th of August 2011… Anniversary of India’s independence day…

At many a place we see school kids… Marching on the mountain roads, on the way to school, to participate in the Independence day functions…

*

Bright, young, patriotic kids… Walking in the rain… Celebrating the birth of their motherland ….

The rain is stepping up….

*

Some three hours or so into the journey, we stop at a restaurant, for some breakfast… The place is called Gairsain… Saliyana bend, Gairsain…

And the restaurant –

*

Hot Aloo Parathas, some dahee, and pickle…

All is good…

Fast broken, energized, we drive on… A short respite from rain… Some lovely mountain views…

*

River view and river sounds, play hide and seek as we drive along… The Ramganga river originates somewhere nearby… It flows along into Corbett National Park… It is the lifeline of an ecosystem the includes  a great variety of fishes, animals and birds… Flows down the Kumaon hills, and in the plains, goes joins the Ganga…

*

The mist and the mountain paint such beautiful scenes….

*

The mountain also shows us the rough side….

A landslide…

Somewhere now, one of the cars, the Innova takes a hit. Stepping out, one notices that the fuel tank is leaking. The car has a low suspension, and some rock hits the fuel tank below. Jugaad to the rescue… The drivers use some soap and such to temporarily seal the hole… We drive on…

We have long overshot the planned time…

Some fifty kms or so from Gairsain…Time is around 10 am … And we are crossing Simli, some 8 kms or so from Karnaprayag… Karnaprayag is the confluence of two great rivers – the Pindari and the Alakananda… Picture below… Pindari… Pilgrims can be seen, down below, by the river…

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A lovely suspension bridge…

*

Karnaprayag is one of the PanchaPrayag – the five holy river confluences in the Himalaya… The five are Vishnu Prayag, Nandaprayag, Karnaprayag, Rudraprayag and Devaprayag… All five along the path of the Alakananda river, that goes on assimilating other rivers… Till it reaches Devaprayag, where Alakandanda meets Bhaageerathi and thereon, is known as Ganga.

Karnaprayag is named after the Mahabharata hero Karna… He is said to have performed Tapasya here. There is a temple of Karna near the confluence of Pindari and Alakananda, here…

As we cross Karnaprayag, we start noticing many Sikh pilgrims… Many of them wearing saffron turbans…  On motorcycles, cars… Some walking up the mountain… All in great joy… What a spirit! They are on the way to or back from Hemkunt Sahib, the great pilgrimage site devoted to Guru Gobind Singhji.

We drive on, past Nandaprayag… and then on to Chamoli, the capital of the district of the same name… Badrinath is in Chamoli district…

A signboard says: Badrinath – 94 kms, Joshimath – 50 kms, Kedarnath – 130 kms…

Driving on, we pass Pipalkoti and many a brook and waterfall…

*

Waterfalls, yes… Also, landfalls…

*

The going is slow. Although we have had no stoppages yet, the roads have taken a beating… Eroded by rains and shredded by rocks and stones that have rolled on to the roads… We pass an accident site…. A tourist van lies on its side… And then we see the amazing sight of people pushing the van back to position (the pictures you may have seen in Part 1 of this blog series).

Time is around 1 pm…

Up in the distance, across a few bends in the mountain, we see a row of cars…. Stationary… Waiting for a landslide to be cleared…

*

Our cab driver decides to stop at a row of shops on the way… With a view of the distant queue. Wait and watch… The car radio sings:

ज़िंदगी के सफ़र में गुज़र जाते हैं जो मकाम

वो फिर नहीं आते, वो फिर नहीं आते

The name of the place is Helong…

We stretch our limbs…. Hunger beckons… And we locate a restaurant…

And have some proper chow… Roti, daal, sabji, dahi etc … Eating our fill… Up to the gills…

A bridge nearby shows the way to Badrinath…

*

Joshimath is just 13 kms from here… But is far away in terms of time…. For the road remains blocked… Today is Sunday. Moreover, it is the Independence Day… Government Holiday either way…. The rescue machinery in the mountain will be slow, at best… We just have to wait… However long it takes…

A river thunders down the mountain and under the bridge…Maybe Alakananda, or a tributary…

A video break… Pump up the volumes..

Rains have started in right earnest…Past 3 pm… A landmover has gone past us… There is hope…An hour and a half gone.. Waiting…

We join the queue.

*

Around 4 pm or so… Rain is heavy… Looks like the roadblocks have been cleared… A sudden mood of enthusiasm relays itself down the caravan of cars… And then we start…. Slow and  steady….

We come face to face with slush that was a road… The landmover is parked on the left…

*

Here is a better view of the slush that we gingerly make our way through…

*

Even a seasoned driver like Tara is nervous… He is all alert as he makes his way forward… The little picture of Hanuman on the windshield gives us hope and courage…

*

The rains are coming down nice and steady… Evening has set in…

We reach Joshimath to find the gate to Badrinath closed, and a long line of cars waiting… The gates are open only till 4 pm, after which no vehicles are allowed up… Its past 4 pm now, but we are given to understand that the gate may open  one more time today… Some forty five minutes or so into the wait, the gate is opened… And we make our way to the last lap of this journey today… 44 kms to Badrinath….

The roads are very difficult to ride… Broken by rains… We drive ever so slowly….

Going past Vishnuprayag, Govindghat, we reach Hanuman Chatti, a shrine of Hanuman… Some 18 kms or so before Badrinath… The Sun is going down. The roads are bad… The rains are steady…. The mountain is a sight to see…. At one point we could see scores of waterfalls across the mountainscape. Looked like Sahasradhara – a thousand springs.. What a sight!

Night sets in… We come to a halt at a place where there has been a rockfall. Some folks go and do their best to make some path, by removing some of the rocks… It is icy cold out there. We are not equipped with woolens.. Its brrrr ccKoldd. Somehow, we cut a way through…

And the just a few kms short of Badrinath, we encounter a sight….

A stream in flood  is thundering down the mountain and cutting across the road…. The road is broken….A van ahead of us makes its way slowly across. Our group is in three cars.. We are first, in a Tavera. Behind us is an Innova. And then another Tavera.

Our turn now….

Tara is like a tiger creeping up upon a prey. All attention… He maneuvers the vehicle like a rock climber, and some hard engine howls, some tyre slips and heaves, and suddenly we are across. Jai Bajrang Bali!

And then, our second car.. The Innova starts…. Gets into the waters… And gets stuck…. No can move….. Its night time…. Car is stuck…  What are we to do…

We, in the first car, decide to go ahead to try and get some help… Its raining hard…. Asking here and there, we manage to make it to a Police station… Rajesh and I walk in… We explain our predicament…. We tell them about the place where the car is stuck…The cops are asking us why on earth did we have to come during the monsoon time…  They tell us that the breach where our car is caught is notorious. Kanchanganga canal, they say… From Kanchanganga glacier….”Baraf… Glacier kaa paani… Ice, ice…Last year, same day, August 15th, the waters swept away a car along with the occupants … We have it on video, would you like to see?”, they ask…

But they are helpful…. They get hold of some stout ropes, get their jeep, and then we take our car and we go towards the breach… A side of the mountain is on the move…. Rocks are falling… And its raining hard…  Our cars cannot make it to the breach… The cops leg it… With a megaphone they announce to all those who are stuck to return to HanumanChatti…. We find our car abandoned in the watercourse. The occupants have gone…. Some phone calls later.. The driver comes…  A bus is also in the waiting line… The bus driver is requested to help pull the car out…. He refuses… Then the trade talks begin and an agreement is reached…. The ropes come into use… And the Innova is pulled out, backwards… The car is out of danger now… But they cannot cross over to this side… The fuel tank is leaking too… They cannot go back to Hanuman chatti because there are landslides behind as well….

That means our two cars and their passengers, and twenty or so other cars, are all stuck out there on a cold mountain road….

Nine of our Yatri group, four of them women, would have to spend the night in the mountain… Our group has no wool. They have not brought any food either… Its raining like only a Himalayan monsoon can… And its ice cold….

The police, their work done, leave….

We too leave for Badrinath and check into the first good hotel we see…. We manage to eat some dinner…Time is past 10 pm… Our drivers had promised to bring us to Badrinath by 10 am. They were off by just twelve hours. Hail Himalaya!

We have no option but to to wait till the morrow for helping our friends…

Meanwhile, we pray to the Lord of Badri, to keep them safe… May Nara and Narayana protect them…

** To be continued**

himAlayAtrA – Call of the Mountain – Part 2

September 4, 2011

New Delhi.

Saturday, August 13th, 2011.

It is Avani Avittam day. Its Raksha Bandan day.

Morning sees me perform yajur veda upakarma at home. After lunch, I take a cab to the Puranee Dilli (Old Delhi) Railway station. Built more than a hundred years ago. the British modeled it in the style of Lal Qila (Red Fort). Servicing a couple of hundred thousand passengers every day, this is a buzzing hive of humanity.

Not much traffic on the road. Raksha Bandan is a local holiday. Offices and shops on the road to Old Delhi are all closed. Smooth drive. The transition of culture from New Delhi to Old Delhi is very visible. Old Delhi feels more Indian, in an earthy sense.

As I get off in the station, I notice a long queue of people, lined up to enter the station. I can’t believe it. Its a long-long queue. If I join this one, I might end up missing my train. I talk to a porter and we arrive at a deal. He takes my little luggage and navigates into the station through another gate, bypassing the queue, and I breathe easy.

I join my fellow Yatris, who are waiting in the railway platform.

The last time I visited the station was more than twenty years back, when I had come to see off a friend who was going to the IAS training academy in Mussoorie.  Now, standing on the platform, getting used to the density of humanity, wishing that the train would come quick…

The Uttarakhand Sampark Kranti express (Old Delhi to Kathgodam) is the train that we take. Leaves Old Delhi at around 4:30 PM. We are all booked in 3t A/C. Quite comfortable.  My fellow Yatris are a wonderful bunch of people. From Australia, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chennai and Delhi, its a close knit group of Sai devotees. Along with me, we are a group of thirteen. Most of the folks are Malayalee. And I know no Malayalam. That would change a bit by the time the Yatra ends 🙂

Suresh of our group is a professional singer. Has a voice like Jesudas. (Do all Malayalee singers have Jesudas like voice, I wonder…). And on popular request he sings and we listen. Soon, others are singing too, as do I, and time passes. Evening sees us having some Idli dinner, thoughtfully bought and packed from Saravana Bhavan, Delhi. Night, 10:30 pm or so, we reach Haldwani where 99% of the passengers disembark. We proceed and get off at the terminus, Kathgodam. Time is around 11 pm. Rajesh, is the chief organizer of our group. With a terrific eye for detail, he has tied up everything, well in advance. Three cabs wait for us at Kathgodam station. We take the cabs and check into a hotel. We are to get up early, and leave at 5 am or so. Its a neat hotel, not far from the station. As we  sleep, I am woken up at around 3 am or maybe 3:30 by loudspeaker music from  some local public place. They belt music at super volume for almost an hour and a half. My roommate of the day Balaji, sleeps through it all. He is a blessed man.

Kathgodam means “Timber Godown”. Guess the British would have built it for storing timber (esp the Devadaru trees) that they would have chopped off the hills of Kumaon and shipped back home to England… Oh, the empire!

Sunday, 14th August. 5 am, and we are off. Our destination, Dwarahat, in the hills of Kumaon.

As the sky turns twilight blue, we are driving up the hairpin bends of the hills of Kumaon. Kumaon is one of the two principal regions of Uttarakhand state, the other being Garhwal. Derived from the name Koormanchal (the land of Koorma Avatar, the incarnation of Lord Vishnu as a turtle), Kumaon is a land of enchanting beauty…

As we go up, we see the Gaula river flowing from the hills and far into the plains…

Its my younger brother’s birthday. I phone him around 6 am, and wake him up to wish him. Searching for his voice, he manages to mutter a groggy “thanks, thanks” and cuts me off. My good deed for the day done, I sit back to enjoy my first morning in the mountain….

(Click on the pictures to get a larger view)

The distance from Kathgodam to Dwarahat is around 120 Kms and our plan is to reach Dwarahat by around 10 am. On the way we should be passing Ranikhet, which is around three two thirds of the way up.

An hour or two into the drive, we pass a beautiful lake, Bheemtal. Named after the Pandava prince Bheema, Bheemtal is the largest lake in Kumaon. As per local lore, the Pandavas came here during their exile period. Bheema dug the earth here to get water, and so the lake came to be. There is a little island in the lake, and a temple of Bhimeshwara Mahadeva (said to have been first built by Bheema) adjacent to the lake.

Here’s a glimpse of Bheemtal…

Bheemtal is said to be a better holiday spot than the more famous Nainital. Water birds, boating, treks…. A few kms from Bheemtal is Nal-Damayanti Tal, associated with the great King Nala. Not far off is Karkotaka hill, named after the serpent Karkotaka, which bit King Nala during his exile. A few kms from Bheemtal is Hidimba parvat. Named after Hidimba, the noble Rakshasa wife of Bheema. The Himalaya is Mahabharata country! And as a narrator of Mahabharata, the Soota is in me is happy to be home! Jaya!

Bheemtal is an ancient town all right… It was a linkage halt for hill travelers to Kumaon, Nepal, Tibet for a long-long time… It is said to have been, perhaps, a part of the Silk route…

We drive on…

Somewhere near Bhowali, we stop at a bunk… Stretch… Breathe chilled air… Gaze….We spot Langurs gliding across the tree tops….

On the other side of the road, a homely tea shop….

We are in three cabs.

Two Tavera cars and one Innova. I am in a Tavera, and the driver is Tara, a Kumaoni….  He has a picture of Neeb Karori Baba on the car windshield, and a little image of Hanuman standing on the dashboard. Tara is a devotee of this great Baba.

Some 10 kms or so from Bhowali, when we reach a place called Kainchi he stops…. Down below, is the Ashrama of Neeb Karori Baba… On the road, a chai shop on hand… Parathas for breakfast… A lovely mountain stream flows nearby.

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I see my  fellow Yatri JK walking across to the Ashrama.

After having some tea, I too decide to go to the Ashrama of Neeb Karori baba. A little foot bridge over the brooke leads the way to the Ashram, a lovely dwelling perched in the hills…

Neeb Karori Baba was a great sage, a Paramahamsa, who lived here for many years, and built this Ashrama. A great devotee of Hanuman, and a preacher of the liberating power of “Raama” naama, he built over a hundred temples of Hanuman in many parts of India. The Kainchi Ashrama is one of the two Ashrams that he constructed, the other being in his Samadhi sthal in Brindavan.Also known as Neem Karoli Baba or Maharajji, you can read more about him by clicking here or here.

It was in 1942 that Neeb Karori Baba is said to have first thought of building an Ashrama at this site in Kainchi. This is the site where two great sages, Sombari Maharaj  and Sadhu Premi Baba had lived and  performed Yajna. Here it is that Neeb Karori Baba decided to build a temple of Hanuman… He did that in 1960s and the temple was inaugurated in 1963.

Here is a closer view of the Kainchi Ashrama.

The shrine you see immediately inside the gate is that of Goddess Vaishnavi. Some folks are singing Bhajan in the Vaishnavi shrine… There are also other shrines in the Ashram complex, of Hanuman, Rama… Peace…

Kainchi means “scissors” in Hindi. The Kainchi town is at the intersection of two hills that forms a scissor shape, and so the name, says one source. Another says that the place is so named because there are two very sharp hairpin bends on the road here. By the holiness of the Ashrama, may this Kainchi cut the Hridgranthi of all pilgrims… To know more about this Ashrama click here.

And now, shall we have a first hand feel of the ambiance here? Here’s a little video of the stream gurgling by the holy Ashrama of Neeb Karori Baba, at Kainchi. Put up the speakers and listen to the waters…

Click on the picture below to play.

*** To be continued ***