Archive for the ‘Travel notes’ Category

Monoliths with no name

October 30, 2015

Some forty years ago, when my father was bringing us all back from some pilgrimage, I saw a landscape with some standing rocks that looked so fascinating, that their memory etched in my mind. We were returning by car, and I remember that we were either going to or from Vellore in Tamil Nadu. Now, these rocks were like four ancient pillars, standing next to each other, like sentinels of time, withstanding erosion of eons.

That memory remained with me, and I did ask Cyril, a friend of mine in Ranipet (near Vellore) whether he had sighted any such rock formation. He said he may have, and tried to locate that site by asking others. But the trail led to a blank.

And then, last Sunday, on 25th Nov, when I was on the road on the way to Tirupathi, in the horizon, I saw them…

IMG_20151025_102223

That’s it, I said…

Driving nearer, I clicked again

IMG_20151025_102218

*

These are pretty tall monoliths. I guess they would be a hundred feet or more in height.

Here is a picture from the other side.

Monoliths TN 2

*

Had this been America or Europe, it would have become a place of importance from Geology point of view, and made into a tourist attraction. Perhaps, souvenir replicas would have been sold, small restaurants sprung up, and in a controlled manner, a rope-way or some way to go to the top… But this is India… One should be thankful that these have not been blasted by Granite quarry men. (One could see that granite quarry folks had cut into rocks in that area. But for some mysterious reason, they had spared these monoliths…)..  In a country where hundreds of temples that are hundreds (some thousand and more) years old are all in various stages of neglect, what chance do some stray monoliths stand? Sigh..

But who knows. Maybe the site is documented by the authorities as geologically important and declared a protected site in some Government circular. Let me grant the benefit of doubt.

I guess that we were probably traveling from Tirupathi to Vellore when I saw them the first time, decades ago. But yes… After four decades – magic happened, and I saw these monoliths from my memory spring back into matter.

Signing off with one more pic. Jai Ho!

Monoliths TN 1

Advertisements

Teerth Yatra … To the land of Yamuna and Ganga… – 7

May 23, 2015

3 Arp 2015, Friday, Uttara Phalguni day

Around 2 PM, or so we start from Hari Baba baandh… To return to Brindavan…

Bobby, our Guide, has updated his mind’s road encyclopedia with the vagaries of the day, and has suggested a slightly different route for the return trip… And we are on our way….

Sometime around 4 pm or so, Bobby gets a call on his cell. He  speaks excitedly, and after the call is done, he tells us that there is a terrific hailstorm in progress in Brindavan…. He says the whole courtyard of the Asram is under ice… It’s a white carpet, he says….

Where we are, there is no rain….We drive on, unconcerned.

About half an hour later, Bobby gets one more call. Its is Shyamji from Brindavan, asking whether we are all ok. He is concerned about the Swami-s… He says he hail has been severe, and he asks if we are stranded, do we need any help, should he send any vehicle to fetch us etc etc… Well, we were perfectly fine…. No problems at all…. We were maybe 20 or 30 kms from Brindavan.. And we had experienced no rain… What were these people talking about….

And then, around 5 30 pm. when we entered Brindavan… The deluge… Water, water everywhere… Rains has stopped… But we could see hailstones all over the place… We stopped the car, got down, to check out.. Huge hailstones, the size and weight of golf balls… And it was at least half an hour since rain had stopped.. Yet, the place was a lattice of white hailstones… As we made our way to the Ananda Vrindavana Asrama, we noticed the damage. Cars with windshields broken. Houses with windows damaged…

See for yourself…. (The damaged car was parked in Ananda Vrindavana Asrama… The other pics were shared by my good friend Sanjay, who got it from his Brindavan brotherhood).

Click on any picture, and browse… Have a look….

.

When we entered the Asrama, we found most people to be appearing shell shocked. They had never seen anything like this… Everyone had a war story to tell… It was as if the God’s had singled out Brindavan for this aerial bombardment…

A news article in a local Vrindavan news site reported  “It was around 3.30 p.m on Friday, the sky became dark then the hailstorm began with thunder. The base ball sized hail pounded on the roof, roads and fields of Vrindavan for two hours. The glasses of many vehicles were broken. The plastic water tanks out on the roofs were not spared either. It made holes in the water tanks….”

“The hailstorm was so severe that it killed four persons including a woman, while 150 others were injured. Hundreds of pigeons and other birds were also killed, which also included three peacocks….”

“The majority of crops were destroyed in the hailstorm. The actual loss of the farmers couldn’t be ascertained….”

Vrindavan Experience, a Facebook page, mentioned “Heavily beaten monkeys, dead birds, shattered windows and car wind shields, a cover of green leaves that got all shaved off of the trees and shredded, all in just 5 minutes. Wires ripped apart, no electricity at some parts, internet cables torn apart. And no, things like this doesn’t happen regularly…

Here is a video clip of the hailstorm shared in Facebook page of Vrindavan Experience.

.

.

No, thing like this don’t happen even remotely rarely….

When we were in the shelter of the main building in Ananda Vrindavana Ashram, an elderly devotee came to pay his respects to Swami G. His car had been damaged severely by the hail. He looked a bit shaken, but was was floating with the lightness of being that comes to one when one has seen  an ‘act of God’, which demonstrates how powerless one really is… And talking to Swami G, he mentioned that they had escaped lightly. He wondered, how it would have been, few thousands of years ago, when Indra had unleashed his fury on Brindavana by a dam-burst from the sky…. And how, by an act of supreme mercy, Krishna, the boy, had lifted Govardhana hill and held it up like an umbrella, under which the all creatures could take shelter…. Swami G blessed him profusely for reminding us of this divine incident….He praised the Bhakti of this devotee, that he had remembered something that had occurred to none of us… Overcome with emotion, in extreme humility, the devotee just fell on Swami G’s feet and wet it with his tears….

Around 7 pm or so, we left Brindavan, to return to Delhi…. We decided to take the  Yamuna Express Highway route for our return trip…. Inching our way out through the heavy traffic (many cars with broken glasses, bonnets with crater depressions), we made our way to the highway, after which it was a smooth drive….

An hour or so later, when we stopped at one of the highway toll-booths…

“Radhey, Radhey” said the boy in the toll booth… “Heavy damage in Brindavan, huh?” he asked… Ah yes, the word had traveled….

After reaching Delhi, I spent a few days there. When I showed some friends the pictures, they could not believe what they saw…. No newspaper, TV, had mentioned anything about this hailstorm. Who cares about what happens in a small town in UP, especially one that is an ancient center of Hindu reverence.

We had started off the morning (refer the first blog post of this series) by whatsapping a picture of Krishna holding up the Govardhana Giri… Krishna Leela it is, that we ended the day, with a small experience of what it might have been on that day of storms….

Signing off this post, and series, with the same picture…. Govardhana Giri Govinda!

.

Krishna.

Bolo Brindavan Dhaam ki……    Jai!
Krishna Kanhaiyaa Laal ki… Jai!
Bankey Bihaari Bhagavan ki… Jai!

Jai Jai Sri Radhey!

Teerth Yatra … To the land of Yamuna and Ganga… – 6

May 17, 2015

From Ganga snaan at Narora, we were now proceeding to Hari Baba Baandh at Gavaan-Badaayoon.

We backtracked to Dibai, and turned towards Gavaan. Soon we were in the town of Anupshahr. The town seemed to be one long market road, which just went on and on. There were shops on both sides, and the road was narrow. One was wondering what would happen if any vehicle came from the opposite direction. As it happened, there was just enough space for two cars to pass, so there…

Anupshahr is another ancient place. Originally known as Bala Bhadra nagar, the place has been known since times of Mahabharata. Bala Bhadra Nagar was named so because Balarama, Krishna’s brother, is supposed to have done teertha yatra here and done tapasya. Later, during Mughal times, King Jehangir had given this place to Gujar King Anup Rai, whose valor had greatly impressed Jehangir. The name of the town was changed to Anupshahr.

Anupshahr is famous for its Karthik Poornima festival. Around 10 Lakh pilgrims come here for the festival every year, to have Ganga snaan here. A vibrant mela is held, and it is a feast for the heart and senses. Now, who in urban India or in mainstream media, is aware of this? India carries on despite the “educated elite” who usually know little (or do not care) about the culture that they belong to….

Be that as it may…

Coming back to our group.. We are seven in the Toyota Innova… The driver Praveen and Siva in front. Swami G and Swami M in the middle row. Soota, Brahmachari R, and Bobby. Bobby was our local guide. He ran a cab himself, and knew this area well…. But for him, we would not have known how to get to the Baandh… Such are the best kept secrets of spiritual India…

For those readers who have not kept up with this blog thread, a brief explantion… Hari Baba Baandh is a baandh (dyke) of around 34 kms length, built by Sage Hari Baba. He motivated the local communities to volunteer and build this. The entire work was carried out in just six months (in 1923), and entirely done by people chanting the name of God. Every bit of mud and stone here is soaked in God’s name, and the whole feat is a repeat of the Rama Setu built by the vanara sena during the times of Ramayana. The building of this baandh saved hundreds of villages that would be regularly submerged by floods in Ganga. The entire region prospered after this baandh was built. The baandh itself became a great centre of pilgrimage. The list of God-Realized Sages who used to visit this baandh is too long to mention. Akhanda keertana has been going on here till date. The name of the Lord, sung non-stop, on the banks of Ganga… You don’t get more holy than that…

We see a large tract of Khaadar ( Khaadar or Khadir are plains that are low-lying next to a river. Khadir areas are prone to flooding and sometimes include portions of former river-beds), and then we see baandh, low and long… We drive on to a road that is on the baandh itself…

`

Baandh

.

And crossing the baandh perimeter, we drive a bit and enter the rear gate of the holy Ashram at Hari Baba Baandh.

Word has reached that the Swami G and Swami M are coming here… The managing people at the Ashrama are waiting for our group with a rousing welcome. All I can say is that nothing in the world prepared me for the kind of welcome that was given that day…. The chanting of Lord’s name (Hari Bol) greeted and swallowed us…

See for yourself…. The wonder that is India…

.

.

You can see in the video above, our being welcomed and led to the Bhajan hall…. Akhand Keertan is going on here… Non-stop…. At least eleven people sing Bhajan all the time…. Each day a different village has the turn for doing this keertan…

You can see in the hall, the altar with a banner on top… The first line on the banner reads:

हरेर्नाम हरेर्नाम हरेर्नामैव केवलम , कलौ नास्त्येव नास्त्येव नास्त्येव गतिरन्यथा।

(Hari’s name, Hari’s name, Hari’s name alone! In Kali Yuga, there is no other, no other, no other, way or goal)

And the next line has the Mahamantra –

hare kṛṣṇa hare kṛṣṇa kṛṣṇa kṛṣṇa hare hare      hare rāma hare rāma rāma rāma hare hare

From the bhajan hall, we come out and enter the inner complex…

We find a cluster of temples. Brahmachari boys from the veda pathashaala here are standing in front of a shrine.

That shrine is the Samadhi of Hari Baba… You can see a statue of Hari Baba installed here… The Samadhi is an enclosure….

`

1-20150403_113858

As the Swamiji-s are with us, the Ashram authorities open the enclosure and allow all of us to go inside to pay homage to statue and the Samadhi…

Here is Hari Baba…

`

1-20150403_114047

.

After we come out of the Samadhi, the Swamiji-s are once again given a welcome – a Vedic welcome… Veda Pathashala boys chant Swasti Vacana from Veda, north Indian style…

Here is a video clip…

.

.

After the swasti swaagatam, we are taken on a tour of the Ashrama. I am walking barefoot… Someone notices and asks me about it. I tell him that I had noticed Brahamachari R leaving his footwear in the car and I decided to do likewise… Brahmachari R smiles and says – “Tapobhoomi!” ,and we all nod….

Have a glimpse of Ashrama… Click on any picture in the gallery below, and browse….

.

.

At one place we find a board that lists all the villages that have given Anna Daan here in 2014. It is a list of over 200 villages….

.

1-20150403_122843.

Around noon, we are given prasad Lunch…

One of our hosts tells us that he has been serving the Ashrama since his childhood. He is a landlord in this region… He tells us about his peculiar diet… He only takes milk as food. No rice, wheat, sabzee etc. He has milk many times a day. Other than milk he does take Prasad of sweets or dry fruits. That’s it. And he had been on this diet always… He is well over 70 and looks stronger than most of us…

The food served to us is simple, wholesome and delicious.

After food they give all of us some gift. What can one say…

How does one describe the ambiance of the baandh… There is expanse… There is peace… There is the Ganga in the horizon… There are simple villagers sitting in the shade, here and there… Young boys in the veda patashaala, now playing cricket…. Peacocks walking around… And the constant sound of bell of Hari Baba going clang-clang-clang, as the akhand keertan goes on…. One is tempted to borrow that statement about Kashmir, and proclaim – “Gar firdaus, ruhe zamin ast, hamin asto, hamin asto, hamin asto” (If there is a heaven on earth, it’s here, it’s here, it’s here).”

Around 2 PM or so, after a feast for the palate and the heart, we are now ready to take leave of Baandh Bhagavan…

A large group of people come to see us off….

Before we leave, we go into the Bhajan hall once again, to get one more taste of the keertan

.

.

Ready to go… Next stop, Brindavan… And we do not know that God has some interesting plans for us there….

** To be continued **

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

May 4, 2015

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.

.

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!

Teerth Yatra … To the land of Yamuna and Ganga… – 4

April 26, 2015

It was most probably in the month of Karthik, Vikram samvat 1965 (corresponding to Oct-Nov 1908 AD).

The young Sanyasi, Swami Svatah Prakash came by train and got down at Rajghat station near the bank of Ganga, not far from Narora in District Bulandshehr. Then he walked along the Ganga, northwards, and arrived at the village of Bheriya, which is some three miles south of Anupshehr. And as destiny would have it, the great Brahmanishtta sage Udiya Baba ji (Swami Poornananda Teertha) came walking to this place from the East, at the same time. This was a momentous meeting in spiritual timelessness.

`

udiya baba

Udiya Baba, like Ramana Maharshi, was a spiritual colossus. Ever established in Non-dual Brahman, he was like the Sun of Jnana. And Swami Svatah Prakash, when he became Hari Baba, was the full-moon of Bhakti. It was a meeting of Ganga and Yamuna. There struck a relationship between these two sages, which was to last all their lives. Such was the love they had for each other, that Hari Baba has said of Udiya Baba that “No one in the world has loved anyone so much, ever, as much as Udiya Baba loved me.” And Udiya Baba on his  part, had the greatest respect for Hari Baba. No festival of Hari Baba was complete without the presence of Udiya Baba. It is incredible to read that in all the decades of their acquaintance, Hari Baba never once spoke directly to Udiya Baba. He would have his face down, and speak through a second person. So great was his respect for Udiya Baba… To give an example of how much respect Udiya Baba had for Hari baba, consider this… Udiya Baba, like Jagadguru Kanchi Paramacharya, had taken a vow to only walk. He would never ride on any vehicle – car, bus, train etc.  He walked hundreds of miles, month after month, all his life. While he stayed largely in the banks of Ganga, towards the end of his life he settled in Brindavan. In 1947, when Hari Baba was planning to celebrate the Sivaratri festival in the Baandh, he found that Udiya Baba would not be able to come, as he was very ill. But Hari Baba could not dream of having any utsav without Udiya Baba being present. So he and Anandamayi Ma came to Brindavan. Hari Baba tried to convince Udiya Baba to come with him in his car. But Udiya Baba has his vow, and he was in no condition to walk the distance from Brindavan to the Baandh (around 150 kms). So while Hari Baba went on pleading, Udiya Baba kept Mauna (silence), and it became midnight. Seeing how disappointed Hari Baba was feeling, Ma told him – “Pitaji! Now you may please take rest. Whatever is to happen tomorrow, shall happen by itself.” On this advise, Hari Baba retired for the night.

In the morning, when Hari Baba awoke to find that Udiya Baba had already left during the night. Ma laughed and told him – “See Pitaaji! I told you that whatever is to happen will happen by itself!”

What had happened was that Udiya Baba could not bear seeing the disappointment of Hari Baba. So, at 2 O’clock in the night, he started off in another devotee’s car, and left for the Baandh. He broke his lifelong vow of never riding a vehicle, just to keep Baba’s heart. Who can understand this love! Needless to say, that Sivaratri festival in the Baandh was observed with all joyousness, and this was followed by the festival of Holi, which too was attended by Udiya Baba.

Coming back to Bheriya, the first meeting place of Ganga (Udiya Baba) and Yamuna (Hari Baba)…

This meeting in Bheriya was at the place where a venerable sadhu from Bengal had his hermitage. Known as Bengali Baba, his sanyasi name was Sri Ramananda Giri. He was an aged monk, who was held in great reverence by all Sadhu-s in the region. The young Hari Baba came to his hermitage and sat down under a tree, absorbed in inner contemplation. Bengali baba recognized the spiritual fire in young Hari Baba, and asked one of his sanyasi disciples to discreetly care for this young Baba.

Bengali Baba was a great ascetic, who laid great store by Madhukari Bhiksha. He would say:

भिक्षाहारो फलाहारो भिख्सा नैव परिग्रहः |
सदन्नं वा कदन्नं वा सोमपानं दिने दिने ||

Bhikshaa (food got as alms), is equivalent to a meal of fruits. It is never an acquisition (bondage). Whether the Bhikshaa food is pure/good or impure/stale, eating that is like having a quaff of the nectar of Gods, day after day!

Bengali Baba’s asrama was a confluence where many Sadhu-s would gather. One of them was Swami Achyuta Muni. He used to stay in a boat anchored near Deeppur Ghat, a few miles from Gavaan (where the Hari Baba baandh is now). Swami Achyuta Muni was a highly respected sage, well known in the Ganga region. His blissful countenance, deep scholarship, and childlike simplicity attracted many a devotee to him, scholar and lay. The Muni was holding classes on Vedanta treatises like Brahma Sutra, Panchadashi, Vritti Prabhakara etc. Young Hari Baba, who would go to Ganga for his morning bath, joined these classes.

After some time, Achyuta Muni was to leave this place and go to Wardha. He extended an invitation to Hari Baba to come there, and continue his Vedanta tutelage. Hari Baba agreed, and came away to Wardha.

.

Achyuta Muni

.

Achyuta Muni was a man of discipline. His rule was that his Vedanta class would commence exactly at Sunrise. Interested students would have to be there punctually. Hari Baba was as sincere as anyone could ever be. He would be up at 2 AM, walk six miles to the river to have his bath etc, do his morning exercises, meditate and be ready for the class at dawn.  After the class, he would contemplate on the subject being studied. After lunch, he would take some rest, do some svadhyaya and then again attend Achyuta Muni’s class from 3 to 5 PM.  After that, in the evenings, he had no fixed program. He came to know that in a place called Hanumangadi, which was nearby,  there was a Satsangha where akhand (non-stop) chanting of “Shree Rama Jaya Rama Jaya Jaya Rama” mantra was going on, for last few hundred years. This place had been associated with Satguru Samarth Ramdas (saint of 16th-17th century, Guru of Chatrapati Shivaji).

Hari Baba went for this Satsangh, and his life changed.

Feeling great joy after his first Satsangha, he started going there regulary. He was being helplessly drawn into Hari Bhakti. His Guru (Swami Sacchidananda Giri) too is supposed to have had a vision of Radha-Krishna in Brindavan, but his outward leaning had been towards Jnana. Hari Baba too had, therefore, been devoted to the path of Knowledge. But now, in Hanumangadi, he was being turned over completely.  He started experiencing Bhava Samadhi during the sankeertan (music and chanting). He lost control over himself. At one stage, he started exhibiting all eight Sattvik Bhava-s of pure Bhakti together. These are Ashru (tears), Pulaka (horripilation), stabdhataa (stunned stiffness), svedha (excessive sweating), kampa (trembling of body), svarabhanga (choking of voice), vaivarnya (discoloration) and, finally, moorccha (fainting).

Sri Paranjape, who was in-charge of the Satsangha there, was amazed at this sight. He, along with other devotees there, lifted him and made him lie down on a mat there. Soon, Hari Baba started making Humkaar thunder-like sounds, got up, and went and sat on the altar of the Lord. He became possessed by the Lord. Sitting there, he ordered the devotees to offer Bhog, and then asked them to seek whatever boon they desired. The assembled devotees were all immersed in waves of devotion seeing this unique happening. The singing was charged now. Soon Hari Baba got up and started dancing. The crowd was in bliss. Some fell at his feet, some were laughing or crying uncontrollably – all were lost in the mood. This went on the whole night, and when the Sun rose next morning, Hari Baba fell unconscious.

Upon regaining consciousness, he felt extremely embarrassed.  But Paranjape ji consoled him.

Thereafter, he started attending this satsangha every evening. Soon, these happenings reached the ears of Achyuta Muni. When Hari Baba went for his Vedanta class, the Muni asked him about it, whether it was true that he had been going to a Mutt and engaging himself in singing and dancing. Hari Baba remained silent. Taking his silence as affirmation, the Muni asked him to express his view. Hari Baba then conveyed, in all humility, his views. Paraphrasing what he conveyed, Hari Baba’s view was that there is no distinction between Nirguna and Saguna. In sum – ‘The One reality, is worshipped with many names. He said that if we examine the views of all our ancient Acharya-s, there too we will find that there is no distinction between Jnana and Bhakti. There can be no Jnana without Bhakti, and no Bhakti without Jnana. It is only when Brahmanishtta becomes ripe, does one find the right way to contemplate Saguna Brahman. “ In his own case, he conveyed that the bliss he had experienced in Bhakta Mandali was beyond expression. And that experience had only strengthened his Ahamgraha upaasana, Brahmanishtta.

Achyuta Muni ji conveyed that he had no complaints against that path, and that he too had done Japa of Lord’s name one lakh times every day. By that practice, even now the Japa of the name was going on automatically. But the path of practice of pure Vedanta was divergent from the path chosen by Hari Baba, and so he was free to pursue his path. Hari Baba, then took his permission to leave, and went back to Hanumangadi.

There, Paranjape ji gave him a book about Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. It was a book titled “Lord Gauranga”, written by Sri Shishir Kumar Ghose….

** To be continued **

Teerth Yatra … To the land of Yamuna and Ganga… – 3

April 19, 2015

भर्जनं भवबीजानामर्जनं सुखसम्पदाम्
तर्जनं यमदूतानां राम रामेति गर्जनम्

Destruction of the seed of transmigratory life-death cycle,
Acquisition of wealth and happiness,
Frightening away the messengers of death,
(Such are the effects of ) “Rama! Rama!” roar!

As we continue on our blog journey to the Baandh of Hari Baba, let us begin this post with a darshan of three Jeevanmukta saints… This is a short clip from a video on Sri Anandamayi Ma (1896 – 1982). This clip is from the most holy occasion of her 60th birthday, observed in May 1956. We have the joy of seeing Ma, Hari Baba, and Maharajshree Swami Akhandananda Saraswati…

`

`

आत्मारामश्च मुनयो निर्ग्रन्था अप्युरुक्रमे।
कुर्वन्त्यहैतुकीं भक्तिमित्थम्भूतगुणो हरिः॥

(Srimad Bhagavatam Canto 1, Ch 7, Verse 10)

The Muni-s (the silent sages), delighting in the ‘Self’
Unfettered from all book-knowledge (of any “other”)
Even they, without any reason, perform bhakti
To Hari, of wide strides,
Such are the wondrous virtues of the Lord (Hari)….

The above verse fits to a “T”, the great sage Hari Baba – a Jeevanmukta, one who delighted in the abidance as ‘Self’, who nonetheless, walked and preached the path of Hari Bhakti…

Hari Baba was born in Shukla Paksha Chaturdashi of the month of Phalguna in Vikram Samvat १९४१  (this would correspond to February 28, 1885 AD), in a village in the District of Hoshiarpur in Punjab. He was born in a Sikh family, of Ahluwalia lineage.  His great grandfather Sardar Budh Singh served in an important position in Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s  army. Budh Singh had been born as a blessing of an  Avadhuta ascetic. His father Baba Pahlu had been childless and one day this Avadhuta walked into his village, seeking Madhukari Bhiksha food. Even as Pahlu Baba prepared some Roti, the Avadhuta walked away. Baba Pahlu went after him, and when the Avadhuta stopped somewhere,  Baba Pahlu caught up with him and offered him bhiksha. The Avadhuta laughed and asked him what he sought. Baba asked him to bless him with progeny. The Avadhuta told him that Baba Pahlu was destined not to have any child for another few births as well, but he would bless him with a child, and that he himself would be born in his family, as his great-great grandson, and traverse the path of God. He also gave him a bow, a flute, and a scripture-book for safekeeping in the family. This was handed down the family line. It is said that Hari Baba’s mother, before he was born, heard a deep voice which said that ‘I had given your forefather a bow, flute and a scripture. I shall now be born as your child’…

It is said that when Hari Baba was born, an idol of Lord Rama fell into the courtyard of the house from the sky.  It is also said that his parents had divine vision of Rama in their dreams, when he was in the womb.

On his birth, he was named Diwan Singh (pronounced Deevaan Singh).

As a child, Diwan was the youngest of five sons in a family of five sons and three daughters. Diwan was different from other children and was often found sitting in silent contemplation. When he was four years old, he had the first darshan of his Guru, Brahmanishtta Swami Sacchidananda Giri. Seeing the innate goodness of the child, his Guru lifted him with love and blessed him.

Diwan did his schooling in Hoshiarpur, and went on to join King Edward Medical College in Lahore for his professional education.  He would return often to Hoshiarpur and visit his Guru. His mother tried to fix a marital alliance for him, but he sternly refused to be drawn into married life, and that was that. He left his medical education in the final year, gave up material pursuit, and came away to his Guru. He stayed with his Guru and served him in every way. So deep was his Guru Bhakti, that it is said his Guru gave him oneness with his own state.

Upon his request to grant Sanyasa, his Guru declined, saying that he did not give Sanyasa to anyone. And that when the right time comes, Diwan would become a sanyasi by himself.

With permission from his Guru, Diwan left for Kashi. He joined a college course in B.Sc and also started offering tuition to make a living. But the fire of dispassion was burning so furiously in him that he could not pursue a worldly life anymore. Giving away all his material things, he adopted Vidwat Sanyaasa himself. Living on alms, he chose a temple, the Shoolakanteshwar shrine of Siva, as his place of stay.  When he stayed there, a Bengali Sadhu of name Shankaranand, gave him a kamandulu and invited him to his Ashram in Prayag (Allahabad) Draupadi ghat. Sadhu Diwan went to Prayag and chose a cave near Shankaranand’s Asram for his stay. There, he performed intense spiritual practice, living a life of terrific austerity. He would take Madhukari bhiksha once a week. From the Roti-s collected, he would bury what was left over. Each day he would take out one Roti, wet it in water, and eat. That was his food for the day. A snake was his co-resident in the cave, and was even seen sitting on his head when he was immersed in Samadhi in meditation. After staying in Prayag for three years, he started his parivrajaka life again and returned to his Guru’s Ashrama in Hoshiarpur. While immersed in bliss in his heart, he was in some trepidation as he came to his Guru. Afraid of what his Guru would say on seeing him as a Sanyaasi, he came to him in the night and fell at his feet weeping. His Guru, however, was overjoyed, and told him – “Son! You have attained the aim of human birth. And by this act, you have brought fruition for me too! You have been a Sadhu even since birth. And now, since you have taken Sanyaasa yourself, you shall be called ‘Svatah Prakash’ (Self Radiant)!”

After staying for some time with his Guru, he started on his ‘wandering’ again. He went to Anandpur Saheb and served in a Gurudvara there, and continued his austerities. He would narrate the stories of Sikh Guru-s to pilgrims coming there.  He took on the service of cleaning the huge vessel used for Langhar. In the icy cold of Punjab winter, he would bathe in the Gurudvara pond at 3 AM, and then sit for meditation.

After Anandpur Saheb, he went to many other places, and came to Vraja in the region of Brindavan. There he decided to be of service to an ailing, elderly Bengali Sanyasi, a monk of the Gaudiya order. In his dwelling, he was intensely drawn by a picture of a saint. The Sadhu told him that the picture was of Swami Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.  Hari Baba immediately recalled reading in the press in his Lahore college days, a statement of Swami Vivekananda. Swami Vivekananda had said that the Bhava-samadhi of his Guru, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, was like that of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.

After Vraja, Swami Svatah Prakash (Hari Baba), now a monk in his early twenties, went to the region of Ganga. Going past Aligarh, he came to the region of  Anupshehr, and then on to a village  named Bheriya. This is near the current location of Hari Baba Baandh (where our blog journey is headed)…

More on that in the next post…

Signing off this post with a picture of Hari Baba as a young Sanyasi – Swami Svatah Prakash… He is seen with his head tilted slightly to the right, eyes down, gazing within, a pose that was characteristic of him throughout his life…. Which you would have seen in the video clip above as well…

`

1-Hari Baba young sanyasi

… To be continued …

Teerth Yatra … To the land of Yamuna and Ganga… – 2

April 12, 2015

We start now from the Ganga at Narora, to the hermitage of Hari Baba, the “Baandh” (dyke) that he built on the Ganga, near the village of Gavaan-badaayoon…

Hari Baba (1884 – 1970) was one of the great sages of twentieth century India. He was a Jeevanmukta, one who has attained liberation while still alive. He was the humblest of humble servants of God. He attained self-knowledge at an early age, and thereafter was immersed in the path of devotion to God. He advocated the path of Bhakti, with special emphasis to Samkeertana, singing of God’s name. It was he who mobilized communities of villagers to build a dyke in the land of Ganga, to save hundreds of villages which used to be submerged in floods year after year. And this was done without any Government funding or help… It was done by common people from villages all around, singing the name of God, as appropriate to their path and religion.

When singing God’s name, he would always be seen with the “ghantaa” – a gong bell struck with a mallet… At all times, his eyes would be downcast, towards the heart….

`

Hari Baba

`

How is one like us to even comprehend the glory of this sage…

Let us see what Maharajshree (Swami Akhandananda Saraswati of Ananda Vrindavana Asrama) had to say about Hari Baba…

“Among all the sages that I have had Darshan of in my life, Sri Hari Baba Maharaj, was a distinctive Mahapurusha, completely non-worldly.

People knew of him as “Baandh waale Baba” (The sage who built the Dyke on Ganga), or as a sage who preached the way of Keerthana (singing the name of God). However, I have seen him as a personification of complete non-attachment. In his life, he had no attachment whatsoever with anyone. He may offer worship, do Saashtaang-dandavat prostrations (full length on the ground, like a stick, with eight parts of the body touching the ground), and then he may well quietly walk away. He may make someone sit on the Simhasana (altar of God), and look upon him as God Himself, and then again, he may thereafter stop meeting or speaking to that person. He could well detach himself in a moment from his greatest of devotees, and just walk away.

His faith and devotion to Guru remained firm and steady – he would wave the fan-whisk of worship to someone, but contemplation would be on his Guru. Dedication to Vedanta became second-nature to him even from the time of his youth. In his conduct, he was the mirror-image of Lord Sri Ramachandra. When he was immersed in Samkeertana, there would be the manifestation of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. While his speech, smile, glance would be dripping with affection, absolute samyama (self-restraint, a self-fettering, eyes-closed approach to the world) was also patently seen in him. Such was he, that on coming to his vicinity and protecting presence, even pretenders would become true devotees. The service that has been rendered by him to poor people, farmers, and villagers is indeed matchless.

I have seen in His life, the ideal life that a satpurusha should lead. As a Jeevanmukta (self-realized sage) adopting appropriate role-play with one and all in his dealings in the world, in the same manner was the persona/role-play of Hari Baba in all his activities. He filled his time with the God’s-name, Satsangha (the company of sages and good people), and with the lore of sport of God.

By his remembrance, one’s heart becomes cleansed.

*

It was to his Baandh that we were proceeding to.

As it happened, the initial idea was to visit the Baandh on Saturday, the 4th of April. That was a full-moon day (Poornima) and also Hanuman Jayanti. A very auspicious day. The plan was to reach Brindavan on 3rd evening, stay overnight, proceed to Hari Baba Baandh on 4th, and keep the return plan open. Perhaps return on 4th or 5th.

As one came closer to the date, I was coordinating with Brahmachari R on the logistics, and called him when I was in the car, returning from work… He told me that there was an issue. A monk from Udiya Baba asrama had mentioned that 4th was the day of Grahana. He wanted to know if that was indeed so. I said ‘yes’, 4th was indeed the day of lunar-eclipse. He wanted to know the exact time of eclipse. Thanks to technology, I browsed the Net and called him back, confirming that it was sometime in the evening, between 6-40 and 7-15 PM. Further conversations, back and forth, and it was decided that it would not be wise to travel on the day of eclipse. The Shastra-s do not advise that. On a grahana day, all temples would be closed too, till the eclipse was over. So it is that we preponed the trip by a day. Siva and I reached Brindavan on 2nd (Thursday) and left for Baandh along with Swami G and M, Brahma R, and Bobby the guide, on 3rd of April, which was ‘Good Friday’.

As we drove from Brindavan on 3rd morning, we talked about the day. It was the festival of “Panguni Uttiram” (Uttara Phalguni), indeed a very auspicious day. It was the day of Sita-Rama wedding, as per Valmiki Ramayana. It is the day that Rama decided as auspicious to start off on the march to Lanka. It was the day Arjuna was born. It is the birth day of Lord Ayyappa, the son of Hari and Hara. It is a day sacred to Lord Subrahmanya, the son of Siva, who was born in the bed of reeds in the banks of Ganga. And we were going to Ganga… We were going to the bandh on Ganga which had been built with the name of Rama and the chanting of Mahamantra. A dyke that was known as “Baandh Bhagavan” – God himself. It was Bhageeratha, Lord Rama’s ancestor, who had brought Ganga down from heaven to the earth…. From Krishna Yamuna, we were proceeding to the Rama Ganga…

Signing off this post with a youtube share of Soota’s narration from Ramayana… An audio recording about the ‘Birth of Rama’….

`

`

Sri Rama Jaya Rama Jaya Jaya Rama!

<To be continued >

Teerth Yatra … To the land of Yamuna and Ganga… – 1

April 5, 2015

Thu, April 2, 2015…

Siva and I started from a very hot Delhi-Gurgaon at around 4 : 45 PM for Brindavan.

We took the Mathura Road (the old road to Mathura, that goes beyond Faridabad),  a road which is rather like a poor, neglected second cousin of no one knows who. It plays and important role but has little recognition. There aren’t many milestones and the roadside amenities are ‘kya bataoon’.

We were expecting to reach the Brindavan turn by around 7 15 PM. Many phone calls from Brindavan to check out where we were etc, and we finally hit the turn around 7 45 PM.

And soon we ran into ‘as heavy a traffic as heavy can be’. Just to move less than 500 metres took us the best part of an hour. Looks like everyone in Delhi and everyone’s uncle has taken a car and come over to Brindavan for the long weekend. There was no way we were going to get out of this one and find our way to our Asram – the most sacred Ananda Vrindavan Asram, the abidance of Maharajshree (Swami Akhandananda Saraswati). By the infinite compassion of Swami G, a young man was sent to guide us. He found our car in the melee, jumped in, and then systematically guided us through some lanes known only to native Brindavanians and we arrived in the Asrama by 9 45 pm. Happy to say that we were not agitated at all because of all this. After all we had come here to log out of time.

A nice room had been allotted to us.

Lovely pictures of Udiya Baba and Maharajshree blessed us from the stately wall.

`

1-20150402_213100`

Asram had kept dinner for us. Happy after Roto-Sabzi we retired for the night… Siva was busy with his iPad, and I put on Maharajshree’s discourse on my laptop and listened…

Electric power was playing “now I am here, now I ain’t” the whole night. The sky tore apart with some terrific sequences of long thunders. And it rained….

We were up by 4 am, to get ready for the Yatra of the day.

I do the morning ritual of sending whatsapp greetings from Brindavan to my near and dear whatsappians. I browse the net for a suitable picture, and settle on this one, because it brings to mind the magic of ‘Brindavan’ to anyone’s mind. The rain of the night was not in my mind.

`

Krishna`

Just before 5 30 am, there was a knock on our door, and we were overjoyed to have suprabhaat darshan of Swami G, as he walked in smiling. We did traditional saashtaang namaskara to him. He had come to fetch us… Time to leave…

I then ran with Brahmachari R to have darshan of Nritya Gopala, the main deity in the Asrama. This idol of Krishna was sculpted in accordance with the direction of Maharajshree many years ago, based on a vision of Krishna that he had had.

Here is a picture of my darshan of Nritya Gopala.

`

1-20150403_054242`

We then went to the other shrine, of Lord Siva – Bhava Bhaveshwar Siva.

We then went to our car – a Toyota Innova, seven seater.

And all seven seats were manned. Front was the Praveen, the driver, and Siva.

Middle were two Sanyasi Swami-s, Swami G and Swami M, both very senior monks of Maharajshree order.

Last row, were Brahmachari R (Brahm R), myself, and Bobby. Bobby was a local person who ran a tourist car agency. He knew the roads of UP.

We moved at 5 40 AM or so. The plan was to visit Hari Baba Baandh in interior UP, by the banks of Ganga. But right now, we were negotiating the inner lanes of Brindavan, and soon were driving past a bridge on the river Yamuna

`

1-20150403_060126`

With Swami G’s permission one chanted Purusha Suktam and Narayana Suktam and had the joy of an appreciative nod from Brahma R. As soon as that was over, Swami G pulled out a CD for being played in the car stereo. And soon we were listening to an audio discourse from 1960. This was a discourse by Karpatri Maharaj, a very great scholar-sage of Kashi.

A couple of photographs of Karpatri Maharaj, young and old.

`

karpratri-maharaj-dual`

Swami Karpatri Maharaj was a sage of great vairagya. Born sometime in early 1900s, he took to serious spiritual life and study at an early age, spent time in solitary spiritual practice, living in the regions of Ganga and Himalaya, and was recognized as a Paramahamsa even before he was initiated into the monastic order at the age of 24. He was a great scholar and has written over 40 books and hundreds of articles. He was an Advaitin who rooted in Sanatana Dharma and was very much in the Shankara order of sincere Saguna Upasana in daily life. He was instrumental in convincing his Guru. Swami Brahmananda, to accept the position of Shankaracharya and revive the Northern Shankaracharya Peetha of Jyotirmath, the seat of which had lied vacant for over a century and a half. The present Shankaracharya of Dwaraka and Jyotirmath, Swami Swaroopananda Saraswati, was a student of Karpatri Maharaj.

Along with his severe ascetic life and spiritual practice, he was also a social activist. He even founded a political party, the Ram-Rajya Parishad in 1948, and his party fought elections. He was in the forefront of the movement for abolition of cow-slaughter, and was jailed for many months on two occasions. One may have differences with Karpatri Maharaj’s orthodox positions on issues, but no one would doubt his spiritual stature, courage, selflessness, and resolve.

Sharing a youtube video that one came across on Karpatri Maharaj.

`

`

Coming back to our drive from Brindavan….

We were listening to a series by Swami Karpatriji, titled “Gopigeet’ – the songs of Gopi-s….. Appropriate theme for a journey from Brindavan….

Now, in interior UP, you are best advised to go with a local guide, and for us, the guide was Bobby. There is nothing permanent about the state of roads or rivers, in the sense that what was fordable last month may not be navigable this month. And so you have to be alert and figure out the best alternate route of the day. With these and such in mind, Bobby took us via Hathras, and then on to Aligarh… Aligarh seemed to be a place frozen in time, like Old Lutyens Delhi. Old British style buildings, bungalows, the college campus, government offices – all speaking a silent language of long gone Sahebs…

Going past we reached Dibai… The roads were quite all right… The weather was nice and the scenery beautiful. Fields of wheat, orchards of mangoes… Nature’s call answered in the natural way, parked by the fields, spmewhere near a handy hand-pump… Life is good. Siva had picked up some nice Bananas from Aligarh, and that was our breakfast for the day. It must be said that it was Siva and I who seemed more keen on appeasing our hunger. The two Swami-s, Brahma B, Bobby and Praveen seemed quite unconcerned. Power of simple living…

Meanwhile, a few phone calls, and folks at Hari Baba Asram were informed of the two Swami-s and group’s being on the way to the Baandh.

There was a question as to whether we should have Ganga snaan first and then visit the Baandh, or visit the Baandh and then go for Ganga snaan. The question was put to the senior Swami, Swami M, who did not immediately respond, leading one to wonder whether he had heard the query. He evidently had heard, for after being lost in silence for a minute or so, perhaps looking within for guidance. he spoke… He said that it would be better if we had Ganga snaan first, and then go to Hari Baba baandh. For Ganga snaan, there were a few options. After some discussion, Swami M decided that it was best that we go a few kms further on, to Narora. For in Narora, there was a pucca ghat, facilitating ease of bathing…

Time was around 9: 30 am, when we reached Narora.

Narora, in District Bulandshehr, has always been well known in hinterland India as a place of pilgrimage to Ganga. In recent times, it has been in the news for the Atomic Power Plant built here in 1991-92. [ One shudders as one remembers the two accidents in the plant, one in 1993 and the other in 1999 (For a brief on that, click here )… One feels good that the plant has since won some awards for environment preservation… ]

Narora is also famous for Sri Sangaved Sanskrit Mahavidyalaya , a great centre for traditional learning. Among other great scholars, Swami Karpatri Maharaj graduated from here….

Coming back to our Ganga anubhava…

Even as we grihast (house-holders) were scrambling around to unload our bags and bathing gear, the two Swamis and Brahmachari R had vanished. Before we could say “Har Har Gange” they were already in the river…

`

1-20150403_093826`

Ganga at Narora is magnificent. Here is a very short video clip…

`

`

We must have been in the waters for about half an hour or so… Sometime after 10 AM, we walked back to the car. Swami M had some Prasad for us… Puffed rice and sweets… He asked me to cup both my hands together and poured a generous helping, which could only be eaten by taking the cupped-hands directly to my mouth, and lapping the eats, animal like… Back to one’s elements!

Large cans of Ganga filled, we got back on to the car and the road.

Destination Hari Baba Baandh…

<To be continued>

Arunachala in December – A picture post

December 28, 2014

Namaste.

The year 2014 comes to an end, and we go for a short visit to Arunachala…. To Sri Ramanasramam (Asram).

26 December… Start off on Giripradakshinam, the holy walk around Arunachala

.

20141226_164707.

Half an hour or so into the walk, we come across a shrine that’s closed… Draupadi amman temple… A Soota moment…

.

20141226_161357.

An hour and a half into the ‘valam’, we come to the Adi Annamalai temple, the old temple of Arunachaleshwara, 180 degress on the other side of the mountain from the main Arunachaleshwara temple…

.

20141226_173559.

A large group of Europeans are having a ceremony of sorts inside the temple, opposite the Goddess Apitakuchamba shrine. A European lady is sitting right next to the sanctum and is absorbed in meditation… This is the ‘Idea of India’ that Soota understands… Soota and friend walk around the outer ‘praakaaram’ chanting Rudram, seeing the mountain and the temple… This is heaven…

Setting off again…. A nice view of Arunachala…

.

20141226_180717.

We return to the room at around 9 pm… Nidra time…

27 December…

We are up at 4 am… For the plan is to visit the big temple of Arunachaleshwara. This being the month of Margazhi, the temple opens at 3 am. We are in the temple at 5 am.

20141227_051155.

Entering the inner courtyard, we are greeted by the sight of hundreds of pilgrims lining up in a queue…. We are late… No hope of having darshan for another hour, at the very least…

We amble around the temple, taking in the sights…

Here is a picture of devotees, in the morning darkness, lighting ghee lamps near the shrine of Navagraha… Today is Saturday, and folks light lamps for Shaneeshvara…

.

IMG-20141228-WA0026.

We return to the Asram.. See the morning Puja… Have breakfast… Stroll around…

Some sights..

A peacock strikes a philosopher’s pose on top of a thatch roof of one of the dwellings in the Asram. Today is Shashti… the day of the month sacred for worship of Lord Subrahmanya… Who is identified with Ramana as well…

.

20141227_062346,

A view of the Asram Gosala…

.

20141227_065137.

After some silent time at the Asram halls, we come back to the Arunachaleshvara temple at around 10 am. This time, we somehow manage to have Darshan… Wonderful… Especially the darshan of Goddess Apitakuchamba, the consort of Lord Arunachaleshwara… Darshan of Her feet, from up close…

A few pictures from this visit to the temple.. Click and browse.

Around 12 Noon we return to Asram for Lunch. Delicious prasadam… Blessings of Bhagavan..

Picture time..

One, of a Caucasian child posing on the Iluppai tree in the front yard of the Asram…

Me Tarzan… You Jane… Lovely…

.

20141227_101115.

Signing off for the year with a little video clip… Of Deeparadhana… Puja offered at Ramana Sivalinga…

Sacred sound and light….

.

Wishing all a very happy 2015!

Om!

Thirukkakara – the place of the Holy Foot

September 28, 2014

Today is a Saturday in the Tamil month of Purattaashi. A day sacred to Lord Narayana…

Let us then visit a Vishnu temple, shall we?

It was last Sunday, 21st Sep, when this blogger was in Kochi. His place of stay, a service apartment, was in a suburb of Kochi, in a place called Kakkanad. He had returned from a trip to munaar, and was set to return to Chennai that evening. There was a gap of a couple of hours after lunch when he could make time to get a feel of Kakkanad…. And as luck would have it, two old friends, Joseph and Unni , natives of Kochi, gave him a taste of Kerala by taking him on a visit to a temple.

Have you come across a temple of Lord Vamana? Vamana avatara was when Vishnu came as a dwarf Brahmana, to ask for three steps of real estate from King Mahabali. And on being granted his wish, he assumed cosmic form and measured the earth and sky with two steps, and the third he placed on the King’s head on his request. The King was consigned to Patala, and the Lord in turn, in gratitude, agreed to stand as his door guard forever. The King in turn requested that he be allowed to return to earth once a year. And it is this occasion that is celebrated as Onam, when all of Kerala welcomes King Mahabali on his annual visit.

And here we are, at the temple of Vamana, at Thirukkakara, in Kochi-Ernakulam…

`

20140921_141236

`

Thirukkakkara is derived from Thiru-kal-karai, meaning – where the Holy foot of the Lord was placed. It is this place where Mahabali offered his head to Lord Vamana for putting his third step. Thus it is that Lord Vamana is known in Kerala as Thirukkakkara appan. Indeed, when Onam is celebrated, an idol of Lord Vamana is installed at home, and this Lord is referred to as Thirukkakkara appan….

So here I am, at Kakkanad – the country of the Holy foot – setting off to visit the temple of Kakkara appan.

We went there sometime around 2 pm… And the temple sanctums was closed. But the temple gate was open…

`

20140921_141247

`

The whole atmosphere was serene, like a sleepy afternoon scene from RK Narayan’s Malgudi… Stepping inside, we were greeted by the darshan of the temple flagstaff in front of the main temple…

`

20140921_141442

On the top of the temple outer wall, there one could see the representation of Vamana avatara.

Here is a close up.

20140921_141541When we went in, there was a large group of devotees who were seated in the courtyard, in shade. And they were singing bhajans.

At the temple front, there was a shining peetham ..

20140921_141633

`

And a beautiful hanging lamp…

20140921_141644

The temple has main shrines for Vishnu as well as Siva. The Siva shrine houses a Siva Linga which is said to have been worshipped by Mahabali himself. And as such, all devotees visit bot the main shrines. Needless to say, there are several other shrines as well. For Bhagavati, Mahalkakshmi, Ganapathi, Subrahmanya etc,

The main temple being closed, we decided to offer pradaskhina – walk around the main temple.

It was hot…. We were barefoot… Walking around the temple, one noticed the thousands of oil lamps all along the walls… On a festival day evening or night, when all these lamps would be lit, it would be a sight for the Gods. Kerala – God’s own country all right…

On the west of the main temple (assuming temple is North), there was the temple shthala vriksha – the temple tree – a peepal.

20140921_141849

`

Walking further, we came across a shrine for Naga-s – Serpent deities. Under a tree.

20140921_142023

`

And it looked as if worship had been offered recently. “Ayilyam” said Unni – indicating the star of the previous day, which is sacred to Naga devata.

20140921_142318

`

Walking around, on the North-east end, we saw the temple tank… Known as Kapila teertha. One of the legends associated with the temple is that Kapila maharshi performed penance here…

20140921_142450

`

On the South east side, one noticed a shrine dedicated to Brahma-Rakshasa. This is for a Brahmana who became a ghost. On enquiry, a story emerged. Apparently, once upon a time, a yogi was in this temple was suspected of stealing some golden bananas that were meant for the Lord. The matter was reported to the King. The Yogi, unable to bear the accusation, gave up his life and issued a curse that the Kingdom would come to ruin, which apparently it did. The Yogi became a Brahma Rakshasa. To appease him, a shrine was built specially for him, and all offerings to the main temple are also offered to the idol here.

*

The temple of Vamana is ancient. There are stone inscriptions here, which date from 10th century AD.

It is one of the 108 Divya Deshams – sacred temples of Mahavishnu.

And the Lord here has been praised in song by the first of Azhwars – Nammalwar.

Shall we enjoy one of these verses? ‘

வாரிக்கொண் டுன்னை விழுங்குவன் காணில்’என்று
ஆர்வுற்ற என்னை யழியவென னில்முன்னம்
பாரித்து, தானென்னை முற்றப் பருகினான்,
காரொக்கும் காட்கரை யப்பன் கடியனே.

vArik koNDu unnai vizhu’nguvan kANil enRu
ArvuRRa ennai ozhiya ennil munnam
pArittu, tAn ennai muRRap paruginAn
kAr okkum kATkarai appan kaDiyanE.       (tiruvAi. 9.7.9)

The sage sings:

Eager as I was, to gather you completely in my arms
And eat you up, no sooner I set my eyes on you!
But you, O Lord, were quicker.

Spotting me even before I could spot him,
In one gulp, he swallowed me complete –
He, the kAtkarai Lord of the hue of dark clouds,
the deft one who leaves no task unfinished.

What a beautiful verse!

The very same sentiment is expressed by Ramana Maharshi in one of the verses of Aksharamanamalai…

He says

சாப்பா டுன்னைச் சார்ந்துண வாயான்
சாந்தமாய்ப் போவ னருணாசலா!

I came to have you for food, but you ate me up for good,
Now I have attained peace, Arunachala!

Indeed the verse represents the highest teaching of Vedanta.

As Sri Ramana Maharshi says in uLLatu nARpatu

காணலெவ னூணாதல் காண் ( kANalevan UNAthal kAN )

Which means :

How is one to see (God, the Supreme Reality)?
Becoming food (unto the Lord), See!

*

But are we fit for becoming the Lord’s food? No…. And so, in his infinite compassion, He feeds us. Yes, one of the highlights of Thirukkakara temple Onam festival, is the Onasadya, where thousands of devotees enjoy a delicious feast, as Lord Vamana’s prasadam…

Om Trivikramaya Vamanaya namah…

All Glory to Thiru Kakkara Appan!