Katyayani Mandir and Satsangh in New Delhi
The first temple we visited after reaching India was the Katyayani Mandir (Shree Adya Katyayani Shaktipeeth Mandir) in New Delhi.
The Katyayani Temple is spread over 70 acres and offers multiple mandirs for several deities. It has also has become a pilgrimage center and offers overnight facilities for devotees.
You may recall that Swamiji and I chanted the Chandi Path at this temple on our previous trip to India a few months back. When we had finished chanting, the priests invited us to the manager’s office and offered us prasad.
In conversation, Swamiji told them that we would be back in October with Shree Maa. This news elated the manager and since that time he had been eagerly awaiting Shree Maa’s arrival.
When we arrived, the manager and several pujaris were standing at the entrance waiting to receive us.
They very humbly welcomed us and bowed down to Shree Maa and Swamiji.
They then escorted us into the large temple complex and guided us around to each of the shrines inside.
The first shrine was the Shiva Parvati Mandir. Here we offered our worship to the Shiva Lingam.
Then we visited several smaller mandirs and offered a short pranam to the deities before arriving at the main shrine for Katyayani, the Ever Pure One.
Shree Maa had prepared ornaments and clothes to offer Katyayani Devi long before we even departed for our trip to India.
Much like she had done for the Kali Murti in the Kalibari temple in New Delhi last year, she brought a beautiful necklace from Bangalore (like the ones the Goddess’ wear in our own Devi Mandir), and a beautiful sari from Berkley.
It truly was an international puja!
Shree Maa never spares any effort in order to beautify and worship the Goddess.
It seems that each year we visit India, Shree Maa beautifies another murti of the Goddess at another temple. Last year, it was Kalibari Maa, and the year before it was the Kali murti in Shree Maa’s hometown of Digboi in Assam.
Shree Maa teaches Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram.
This means that if we live in truth (Satyam), with beauty (Sundaram), you will get infinite consciousness (Shivam).
To that end, Shree Maa creates beauty every where she goes, whether by decorating the deities at public temples, or by building beautiful altars in the homes of devotees.
We offered a complete puja and arati to the Goddess Katyayani. The pujaris helped prepare the necklace to adorn the Goddess while Shree Maa watched attentively in pure devotion.
The image of Katyayani is already extremely beautiful, but when they placed the necklace on the Goddess, she seemed to glow even more brightly. Many people were present in the temple at the time of this offering, and they all enthusiastically admired the Goddess shining in her new ornaments and sari.
After our Puja in the main temple, the manager led us to the private puja room of the Guru, Baba Nagpal, who had founded the temple. He had passed away some years ago, though Shree Maa and Swamiji had met him before he left his body.
His puja room was decorated with several beautiful murtis of the goddess that he worshiped daily. The priests were very pleased to offer Shree Maa a yellow chauder (shawl) as prasad from that room that they had offered in puja. They felt that by honoring Shree Maa and Swamiji, they were honoring their late Guru. I greatly appreciated their sentiment.
From there they showed us a special area of the temple, where they had constructed several special rooms for the Goddess. There was a waiting chamber, with exquisitely decorated chairs and a table befitting of the Goddess.
Then there was the Goddess’s main room, which was fully furnished and had a beautiful throne upon which she could sit. Shree Maa giggled as the manager innocently explained the various items placed within the room for the Goddess.
The next day would be the full moon day and in each month on the full moon this temple opens the special shrine to Mahishasura Mardini. The manager requested Shree Maa and Swamiji to come, and they fully intended to do so.
The next morning we awoke early and chanted the Chandi, and then the Devi Gita. We were having so much fun that we added on the Sundar Khand, and then a few more stotrams. Since it was the full moon day, Swami Pranavananda also performed the Satya Narayana Vrat Puja and Vishnu Sahasranam (as we do every full moon).
In the end we took a little too long chanting and worshipping (no harm done!) so we decided to put off the visit to the Katyayani Temple. We simply ran out of time and many devotees would be coming in the evening for satsangh.
Many devotees from all around Northern India and Delhi came to visit Shree Maa and Swamiji. Swamiji greeted them all and then led them in chanting the Vishnu Sahasranam. Swamiji’s even tone of chanting and clear pronunciation made it easy for everyone to join with him.
I saw several devotees who had never chanted with us before following along with ease. Afterwards we all performed arati with each person taking a turn to offer the light to the altar. Swamiji played the keyboard while Shree Maa kept the beat with one of her favorite improvised instruments – a metal plate and spoon!
Everyone smiled as they watched Shree Maa play percussion as she banged the spoon against the metal plate with childlike glee.
After arati Shree Maa sang several songs. Each time she would finish one song, someone would request her to sing another! No one wanted to stop listening to Shree Maa’s divine voice and deep love of God.
Eventually Shree Maa stopped taking song requests (it would have gone on all night!) Swamiji and Shree Maa then answered questions from the devotees about sadhana and spirituality.
Some of the people present were meeting Shree Maa and Swamiji in person for the first time, having only known them online previously.
When the questions slowed down, Shree Maa and Swamiji gave everyone tilaks and sweets as prasad, though the small sweet was by no means the end of the prasad they would be receiving!
Shree Maa had spent her afternoon cooking and these lucky devotees got to indulge in her kitchari, labra, and chutney. Some of the devotees sat at the table while others were on the floor, but all went silent as they devoured Shree Maa’s prasad.
I was holding the camera, but my mouth was watering just watching them and I couldn’t wait much longer before I joined them!
Shree Maa looked on to ensure that everyone ate before leaving. That is our Divine Mother for you – she would notice if someone hadn’t been served water or if they had finished something, and then she would quickly inquire if they needed more.
There were two young girls present who both requested Shree Maa and Swamiji to write something for them in their notebooks. Shree Maa and Swamiji each wrote blessings for them, which made them very happy.
Even after the chanting, arati, singing, satsangha and eating prasad, most of the people seemed reluctant to leave. Though it was getting late in the evening, many of the devotees were magnetized toward Shree Maa and Swamiji, and who can blame them?
Having finally gotten the chance to be near two Divine Souls, who would want to leave? However, when they learned that we were to journey to Uttarkashi early the next morning, they respectfully departed.
After everyone left, suddenly Sanjay and Neelima’s flat (home) fell silent. In this silence though, a certain beauty could be felt.
This beauty is the underlying current of joy and bliss which is the radiance that Shree Maa and Swamiji share with the world and with humanity.
By following their example, each of us can share this gift of eternal light with others, spreading the radiance and carrying the torch. I believe that this is our dharma and we could not ask for better Gurus to show us the way.
Jai Maa! Jai Swamiji!
Uttarkashi and Gangotri
From New Delhi, the city of Uttarkashi was our next primary destination.
The total travel from Delhi to Uttarkashi is about 12 hours, so we stopped for an over-night stay at Swami Ramkripaluji’s Ashram in Rishikesh.
It is always a delight to see Swami Ramkripaluji and join in his satsangh. He always welcomes us with great hospitality.
Shree Maa kept herself occupied during the long drive by performing japa, but she also had a new friend that escorted her on the trip – Ganesha!
Shree Maa carries her cute Ganesha everywhere she goes. She even performed puja to him on the plane!
She totes him around in her purse and can often be seen holding him while she performs japa.
This Ganesha was brought to India with four of his look-alike brothers. When devotees see this cute Ganesha, they simply fall in love with him.
Shree Maa has the heart of Maha Lakshmi and, as such, when she becomes aware of a devotee’s wish, she is compelled to grant the wish. Needless to say, within no time, Shree Maa joyfully gave four of the five Ganeshas to devotees – but there was one Ganesha, this last one, that had the fortune of remaining with her.
She guards over him very carefully, so much so that if she can’t look after him, she places him on Swamij’s lap and gives Swamiji the responsibility to look after him. What fun!
The road to Uttarkashi was long and winding, and as we ascended into the scenic Himalayas we all looked forward to performing sadhana here.
Uttarkashi is an ideal place for sadhana during this time of year. Its mild and cool weather, combined with a beautiful Himalayan landscape, the flowing Ganga, and graceful wildlife, creates the inspiration to worship God continuously.
The Uttarkashi ashram serves as our hub while we are in the Himalayas, and sometimes we visit other destinations such as Gangotri and Yamunotri. On this yatra, from Uttarkashi we will travel to Gangotri, the popular pilgrimage destination where the Ganges River begins to flow.
I have a special sentiment for both Uttarkashi and Gangotri as this is where Swamiji and I performed intense sadhana just a few months back and extended our asana to over ten hours.
Upon arriving in Uttarkashi, we unpacked and took rest for a few days. We were all still very jet-lagged and in dire need of some time to adjust prior to our trip to Gangotri.
This will be Shree Maa’s first visit to the sacred destination of Gangotri, and I am especially excited to show her the places where Swamiji and I performed sadhana.
The journey to Gangotri was delightful. Shree Maa sat in the back seat and performed japa with Ganesha on her lap and she occasionally held him up to the window so he could see the lovely trees and wildlife.
It was fun to watch Shree Maa take-in the breathtaking scenery of the Himalayas and the Mother Ganges flowing turbulently downhill.
As we came closer and closer to our destination, I began to recognize the familiar landmarks, though now everything was covered with much more snow compared to last summer. This made it even more majestic in my opinion.
It was noticeably colder in October, at 40°F, then when Swamiji and I visited in the summer, but the chilling cold took nothing away from our joy of receiving darshan from Mother Ganga and the Gangotri Mandir. It was so splendid and inspiring that we hardly thought about the cold.
We stayed for just a short time in Gangotri as we were eager to return to our Uttarkashi home to begin growing our sadhana. While traveling back to Uttarkashi, we had to pull over to the side of the road to let others pass through – it was pilgrims and their horses!
I recalled from my last trip how much I admired the dedication and devotion of the pilgrims who travel to Gangotri by foot to gather the Ganges water to take back to their hometown Shiva temples.
Arriving back in Uttarkashi, Swami Pranavananda worked very hard to get the electronics to work which would allow us to share Shree Maa and Swamiji’s chanting and singing around the world. We were pleased that the internet radio worked and that the broadcasting was successful.
It is our sincere wish to continue to broadcast our sadhana from wherever we are and to share this yatra with our global family.
In Uttarkashi, we expanded our chanting to include the cover to cover Chandi Path along with the Pancha Ratna Gita (the Bhagavad Gita plus its additional stotrams), sometimes with a little more added at the end, until it became a bit more than a six hour asana every morning. Shree Maa also did puja each morning. In the evenings, we did arati and sang songs or chanted sahasranams.
Uttarkashi is a town filled with temples, many of which are very quiet and ideal for chanting. While the Vishwanath temple of Uttarkashi is the most popular and well known, there are many other lesser known temples. These are not heavily trafficked by people and therefore serve as a great place for performing the kind of extended sadhana we are accustomed to doing.
Two such temples are Laksheshwara, which Shree Maa and Swamiji visit every year, and the Anandamayi Maa Kali Mandir, which we visited for the first time this year.
The Anandamayi Maa Kali Mandir is a part of the Uttarkashi Anandamayi Ashram.
With an atmosphere of total peace and tranquility, we chanted the Kali and Shiva Sahasranams along with other stotrams for Kali and Shiva.
The silence of the temple soon became filled with divine sanskrit vibrations from our recitation, and seldom were there any other sounds with which to compete.
When we finished chanting and were starting to pack, a boy who resides at the ashram eagerly approached us to tell us that they were almost done preparing prasad. He asked us to please stay and eat lunch.
We knew, of course, that Shree Maa had already made preparations for lunch back at the house, so we respectfully declined.
The boy pleaded with us and was quite persistent!
Ultimately, the Mataji who lives there, who had cooked the prasad, came and offered us each a few bananas as prasad from the temple, which we happily accepted.
As we exited the temple, we stopped to look at a picture of Anandamayi Maa which was located just outside the main temple.
Swamiji recounted that back in his earlier years he had the great fortune of meeting Anandamayi Maa several times. He even spent quite some time being a part of her satsangh.
With keen attention on the picture, he commented on how she looked so radiant and how it reminded him of when he first met Shree Maa. Reflecting back, Swamiji gently expressed, “Shree Maa has the same radiant glow, and she is just as radiant today as she was on the first day I met her.”
We awoke early the next morning and performed worship – Shree Maa performed her morning puja, while Swamiji led the chanting of the Devi Gita. Before beginning Swamiji predicted it would take us two hours to chant the Devi Gita. Incredibly, when we finished chanting, it had been one hour and 59 minutes. Pretty close!
After our morning worship we packed our asana, iPads, and puja items and left the house for yet another adventure!
This outing was a visit to the new home of Uttam Pandit, an ardent devotee of Shree Maa. Uttam recently purchased a new house in Uttarkashi so he could stay in one location and perform his sadhana. Upon hearing that Shree Maa and Swamiji were in Uttarkashi, he requested them to please come and perform puja to bless his new home.
We arrived at Uttam’s house, which is located adjacent to the bank of Ganga. As we entered the home, Uttam offered flower garlands to us, and expressed his gratitude to Shree Maa and Swamiji for coming to bless his house.
The scenery in front of the house is divine and inspiring, and sitting inside the living room where his temple is, you can hear the sound of the Ganga flowing.
Shree Maa and Swamiji took a short tour around the house and then began preparing the puja. Shree Maa had brought a beautiful new murti of Lord Ganesh to install in his home and a picture of Mahishasura Mardini from America, which she decorated herself.
Shree Maa always creates a beautiful space for God wherever she goes, including the homes for her devotees, so they have an inspiring and beautiful place to perform their worship.
Soon Swamiji began the puja. He performed Durga Puja and Kalasha Sthapana (the establishment of the pot as a container of energy) and we chanted along with him.
When the puja was finished, we all chanted the Chandi Path together.
The newly installed Durga and Ganesha shined brilliantly as they received our worship and devotion.
The house too gained a new vibrant feeling.
Many times I have heard Swamiji comment on the difference between a temple and a home.
He says that in a home, we give God a space in the closet while we live in the main room, but in a temple we give God the main room, and we move into the closet ourselves!
Certainly Uttam’s home, blessed by the new altar installed by Shree Maa in the center room, had become a temple.
Our beloved Gurus have once again demonstrated an impeccable example of integrating karma (action) with purposeful intent.
Their every action is aligned with a fundamental vision – to establish a temple in every home and in every heart.
Their every intent is focused on their mission – to inspire the worship of the divine, to teach how to worship with the greatest sincerity, and to infuse each individual with the realization that he/she is the priest or priestess of his/her own temple.
With this as an example, Uttam was filled with immense gratitude, not only for the blessing of his new home and place of sadhana, but also for the realization that he himself is now empowered to be the priest of his own temple.
I am sure Uttam will move forward with great inspiration and will always fondly remember this heart-warming gift of love from Shree Maa and Swamiji.
Jai Maa! Jai Swamiji!
A Birthday Padya Puja
Birthday celebrations are special, but could it be more special than getting the opportunity to do a padya puja to Shree Maa, cutting the cake with the Devi Mandir family, having Swamiji chant mantras, and receiving the Divine Mother’s blessing all at once?
I don’t think it could get any better than this!!
My name is Chitra and I live in Mumbai. I visit with Shree Maa and Swamiji every year during their India Yatra. I was the lucky one this year to be with Shree Maa and Swamiji on my birthday.
All the blessings of a lifetime were packed into this one day of full of excitement, lots of love, and boxes of sweets and cakes, which we binged on after the puja.
This padya puja to Shree Maa was my first ever and I was so grateful for Swami Pranavananda, who sat next to me and guided me through the process, as well as Swami Adaityananda, who assisted with chanting the mantras.
I must add that it was a very fulfilling experience being in the high hills of Uttarkashi and topped with blessings and love of the near and dear ones.
Shree Maa always has special gifts in her kitty that she takes out on such occasions as well.
Could a birthday be more special? I don’t think so!!!
2016 Diwali Celebration in Delhi
We returned from Uttarkashi to New Delhi for the celebration of Kali Puja and Diwali.
Diwali is the festival of lights, commemorating the return of Ram to Ayodhya. The night before the festival of lights, we worship Kali, the remover of darkness.
In the worship of the Nava Durgas (the nine relievers of difficulties), Kala Ratri (the Dark Night of Overcoming Egotism) precedes Maha-Gauri, (the Great Radiant Light). This is why we worship Kali first, then celebrate Diwali.
In preparation for Kali Puja and Diwali, Shree Maa led us all in decorating Sanjay’s home and altar with strings of lights (much like Christmas lights) and tea candles.
We also lit a path of lights leading to the door of the home. This is considered to be an offering to invite Lakshmi, the Goddess of True Wealth, into our homes.
Shree Maa meticulously prepared the Puja for Swamiji, making sure no item was missing.
Devotees slowly began trickling into the puja room as the time of Kali Puja approached.
When Shree Maa and Swamiji were ready to perform the puja, the room had become packed with devotees. They were all eager to give up their darkness and invite the light of divinity.
The room was just large enough to accommodate the Puja and everyone present, but no larger than that.
The devotees present had brought an abundance of sweets and fruits. They just kept stacking up! There would be no lack of prasad from our worship.
We began the puja by offering flowers, light, and incense to Kali Maa. Swamiji also performed Kalasha Sthapana, invoking Kali, the remover of darkness, to reside there during our worship.
Having thoroughly worshipped the Divine Mother and having invited her and welcomed her, we then began reciting various stotrams (hymns) for her.
We recited the Adya Stotram (the Song of the Foremost), the Kali Kavacham (the armor of Kali) and the Kali Shatanam (100 names of Kali).
Everyone was caught up in the joy of worship, being led in the recitation of the mantras by Shree Maa and Swamiji.
When we had finished reciting the Kali Shatanam, Swamiji began the worship for the sacrifice of the Ego. The ego is represented by a loki squash in the worship.
First, Swamiji worshipped the sacrificial knife which would be the tool for symbolically severing our attachment to Egotism.
In the handle he worshiped Brahma and Saraswati, who are responsible for the creation of existence.
In the middle part, he worshiped Vishnu and Lakshmi, who are responsible for the preservation of existence.
Finally, on the end of the blade, he worshiped Shiva and Parvati, who are responsible for its dissolution.
Thus, the knife came to represent the Supreme Divinity, who creates, preserves, and dissolves this entire universe.
Held firmly in the hand of the Guru, the Ego in the form of the squash was certainly no match!
With great reverence and care, Swamiji slowly raised that knife, which had now been respected as the Supreme Divinity, into the air. When it reached its zenith, he held it there. The room became silent, and Swamiji instructed everyone to take all their ego, all their darkness and negativities, and place them into the sacrificial offering in the form of the squash.
Thus the meaning of the sacrifice was firmly established. It went from an idea, to a bhavana (a spiritual feeling), to a reality. This was really the sacrifice of all our darkness.
Stillness and silence reigned in the room as Swamiji still held the knife firmly in the air. Again and again we tried to offer up our darkness as the sacrifice, waiting for it to come down, then … “Phat!” with the recitation of the mantra, the knife came down, severing our attachment to Egotism.
Swamiji placed a candle on the severed squash representing the dawning of the light within us. Then having given up our darkness, what was there left to do? Sing the praise of the Divine Mother of course!
Thus emboldened with the sentiment of the sacrifice, we began the recitation of the Kali Sahasranam (the thousand names of Kali). With attention and devotion, we continued in our recitation.
After finishing the recitation of the thousand names, Shree Maa led us in singing songs for the Divine Mother Kali. Having already performed the Puja, thousand names and the sacrifice of the Ego, it was easy for everyone to get into the Bhava (spiritual attitude) of the singing. Everyone enjoyed the eulogizing of the Divine Mother to the utmost.
When we had finished, everyone stood up and performed arati, each person taking a turn to offer the light with full sincerity. We all excitedly sang “Jai Maa! Jai Maa!” to the accompaniment of Swamiji’s keyboard, the drum and Shree Maa’s favorite instrument, the spoon and plate! The conch blew, and we all joined together in shouts of “Kali Maa ki Jai!”
Everyone then lined up, or rather gather around as the crowded room allowed, to receive prasad and blessings from Shree Maa and Swamiji. Shree Maa had also prepared prasad for everyone of Kitchari, Labra and Chutney.
The offering given by Shree Maa and Swamiji was so full, complete and perfect, that I was sure the Divine Mother must have been pleased.
She was more than happy to remove our darkness and fill us with light. Thus the meaning of Kali Puja was truly fulfilled, and we all eagerly awaited the celebration of light, Diwali.
A smaller crowd of devotees joined us the next day to celebrate Diwali. Swamiji, in a small rhyme, describes that during Diwali we worship, “Lakshmi – Ganesh, Gauri – Mahesh.” Meaning, we worship Ganesh, Lakshmi, Durga and Shiva. Swamiji performed puja according to that tradition. He made the offerings of worship to Lakshmi, but also included smaller pujas for Ganesh, Durga, Shiva and Vishnu.
We chanted, performed puja, offered arati, sang and then Shree Maa fed everyone with prasad she helped prepare. Of course, this was nothing unusual for Shree Maa and Swamiji. This is the enduring example of their lives. They show us how to worship, how to sing for God, how to celebrate divinity and how to always make a pure offering to those around us. They show the example and give us the inspiration to follow it. We all felt so privileged to be in their association, in their Satsangha, especially on the auspicious occasion of Diwali, celebrating the light.
In the evening, the sky was filled with fireworks and they continued throughout the night. Everywhere could be seen candles and diyas (small clay oil lamps). Christmas type lights profusely adorned every building and people were celebrating everywhere.
At one point during the day Sanjaya, whose home we were staying at, went out. Later when he returned I asked him where he had been, “I had to go to the office.” came the reply. Surprised, I asked him how that could be, because surely his office, like almost all offices, was closed for Diwali. He responded, “Well, we had to do Puja at the office.” What an inspiring concept!
During Diwali, even places of work became places of worship.
Shree Maa Visits Childhood School
After celebrating Diwali in New Delhi, our next destination was Shree Maa’s hometown of Digboi, Assam.
We packed our bags the night before. In the morning, as is our usual discipline, we sat to recite the Chandi.
Since our music stands had been packed, Shree Maa and Swamiji improvised using suitcases to hold up their iPads. As they say, the Chandi must go on! (Well something like that anyway.)
We flew from New Delhi to the Dibrugarh Airport in Assam.
It was a two hour drive from the airport to the hotel where we would be staying.
We all enjoyed the drive through the green and lush tea estates of Assam.
Most of the houses were of a simple rustic construction, while large parts of land were tea plantations and other farms. Cows, goats and other animals could be seen wandering up and down the roads freely.
Along the way, we came across a temple complex dedicated to Manasa Devi, the mother of snakes, to whom Shree Maa performs a Vrat (vow) of worship every year.
We entered inside and were greeted by a local woman. She told us her Guru had founded the temple and since passing on had left it in her care. Along with her family and a few other people she lived there and took care of the temple.
Inside the complex, there were many different altars and temples. The caretaker of the temple was very happy to meet us and was very impressed to find Swamiji spoke fluent Bengali.
She gave us a tour around the property and we marveled to see all the different murtis. Though they didn’t have the Cosmic Altar like our own Devi Mandir, they still had many of the same deities.
There was one altar that looked identical to the cover of our Cosmic Puja Book. There was a murti of Kali, Shiva, Ganesha, Saraswati, Manasa Devi, Mahishasuramardini and there was even a shrine for all the Nava Graha (the nine planets.) In this way the temple was filled with places of worship.
We had brought our lunch with us, and the lady happily invited us in to her home to eat. Their hospitality was impeccable. We were all mutually delighted to meet each other. After a little more conversation, we made our way to the cars to depart. Everyone from the temple complex came to see us off and to bow down and take Shree Maa and Swamiji’s blessings.
Not long after, we arrived at the hotel, where we had stayed during our previous visit to Digboi.
Two years ago was Shree Maa’s first visit to her hometown of Digboi in more than 40 years. After leaving the small town to follow her spiritual mission, she had never returned until our visit two years back. This would be the second time she had returned to her home town.
The hotel owner had fallen in love with Shree Maa and Swamiji during their last visit. He was waiting at the entrance to greet us when we arrived. He was greatly delighted that we had come.
During our stay there, between the Devi Mandir family and Shree Maa’s relatives, the hotel became transformed into an ashram. The sound of Chandi Path, arati or singing could be heard each morning and evening.
After getting set up at the hotel, we went to visit Shree Maa’s ancestral home. One of her uncles had recently built an extension on to part of their property and wanted Shree Maa to come there and bless it.
We arrived at the house and saw many of Shree Maa’s relatives present. Shree Maa’s family is spread all around India and many of them used Shree Maa’s return visit as an event for the family to gather together.
We all sat around on a few cots talking for sometime and then went to see the new extension. We returned early to the hotel since we needed to rest and be ready for the next day. We had a very special program planned, which had been the main catalyst for our journey to Digboi.
When we had last visited Digboi, we had made a surprise appearance at Shree Maa’s childhood school. When Shree Maa came, the principal had come to meet her, and eventually all of the staff and teachers as well.
During our visit they temporarily halted the whole school and let all of the children come out to the courtyard to take Shree Maa and Swamiji’s blessings. The children had all been eagerly peering out the windows of their class room to see who the special guest was, and so were very happy to get the chance to come out and see.
They were so blessed that Shree Maa had come, and they offered us tea, snacks and red and white chauders (which are commonly worn in Assam.) When they gave those chauders, one of the staff members said to Shree Maa, “This is a prestigious gift of Assam, we feel very fortunate that you have come back here after so long, and we feel this might be the only time you come.”
Well, it turns out it wasn’t! Shree Maa’s childhood school was actually our main destination for this visit to Digboi.
The school is a Bengali medium girl’s school, where classes are conducted in Bengali and Assamese, the local language. These days English medium schools have become much more popular, and the support for schools primarily using local languages has diminished greatly all over India.
Shree Maa’s childhood school was similarly facing a lack of funding, and feared having to close in maybe the next three to four years.
Shree Maa had decided to make a donation to help support the school, and for that she had come back to Digboi. She had planned to contribute $10,000, which comes out to more than 600,000 Indian Rupees (Six Lakhs).
Needless to say, for the small local school of Shree Maa’s childhood, it would be a huge amount, empowering the school to not only stay in operation, but also to expand.
In reality, Shree Maa’s offering not only supported the school of her childhood, but would help to preserve the local language, culture, and arts (like classical dancing and singing) things which are often lacking in English medium schools.
It would also help support the education of girls, who often do not get the same educational opportunities as boys, especially in remote parts of India. It was certainly a worthy and respectable cause.
We left from the hotel in the morning after chanting the Chandi and headed to Shree Maa’s school. I didn’t realize as we were traveling there just how much the entire school had prepared for Shree Maa and Swamiji’s visit.
When we arrived, the principal was standing at the main gate to receive us with some of the teachers and staff. From a distance, I could see a few students were also there. The principal’s face lit up brightly as she saw Shree Maa and they both shared a hug.
As I approached further, I was astonished to see all of the students lined up along both sides of the walk way holding their hands in Pranam. Incredible! Yet, that was only the beginning.
They were trying their utmost to express their gratitude to Shree Maa and Swamiji, for both their financial contribution and spiritual presence in their humble school. They led us to their main hall. Upon arriving there, it was clear that they had prepared some special program in Shree Maa and Swamiji’s honor.
Soon all the students, teachers, and staff came and sat in the hall. At the front was a stage and a deep (a light filled with oil or ghee.) They gave an introduction welcoming Shree Maa and Swamiji and then asked them to light the lamp, as symbolically their support was keeping the light of wisdom burning.
What an incredible program followed after that! There were several performances by students. Watch the slideshow below:
Some performed classical dance and others sang classical Bengali and Assamese songs. There was even interpretive dance.
I later learned that their tabla player was the math teacher! The whole school had come together to put on this program in appreciation of Shree Maa and Swamiji and their offering of support to the school. From the teachers and staff to the students, they all put forward their utmost effort to express their gratitude.
After the first few dances, they paused and asked Shree Maa to address the student body and introduce a little about herself.
Shree Maa deferred to Swamiji, who told the students how Shree Maa had gone from being a young girl studying at this same school to a Guru of an international congregation. He implored them to gain as much knowledge as they could and to move toward what inspired them.
At the request of Swamiji and the staff, Shree Maa also spoke shortly, giving her love and blessings to everyone present.
A few more groups of students and teachers gave performances and spoke, then came Shree Maa’s turn. We all took to the stage and Shree Maa led us in singing several songs. Instead of the normal school classes, their whole student body got the opportunity to listen to songs of God from a realized Saint, who had been in the same place they were now. What an unbelievable blessing they all received!
When Shree Maa had finished her songs, she invited the principal to come up to the stage. Shree Maa handed her the check with the donation for the school. The principal was deeply touched.
Then Shree Maa invited all the teachers and staff to come up one by one. She gave all of them chauders, rudraksha, prasad and a tilak.
When all the teachers had received their blessing, they called the entire student body to line up and take prasad. Shree Maa had brought some large bags of candy from the US and had plenty to give to everyone. Shree Maa gave the candy while Swamiji gave them each a tilak.
The line of students was quite long, but Shree Maa had brought more than enough for everyone. They came quickly and efficiently through the line and it was finished without much delay.
Then the principal of the college in Digboi (which Shree Maa had attended) also came to speak. He was beaming with delight from having seen the program. He expressed what an incredible honor it was for Shree Maa’s childhood school to have her presence and blessings there. How wonderful it was to listen to her singing and to get to hear about the example of her life. He extended his invitation to Shree Maa to also come and bless her former college (where he was the principle), as she had just done for this school.
Shree Maa had definitely given the school more than just support financially. She had also given each girl the inspiration that they can become something great even though they come from a small town and humble beginnings.
She gave them all – staff, students and teachers – her blessings, personally, one at a time, even though there were hundreds of students. The magnitude and impact of Shree Maa’s offering was beyond measure.
Other Adventures in Digboi
Though the main event in Digboi was our visit to Shree Maa’s school, we still had quite a few more things to do!
In the evening, after the program at the school, we went to the local Kali Temple, which Shree Maa often visited when she was young. As we drove there, the traffic seemed quite heavy, which was surprising for these small town roads.
As I looked closer, I could see there were many trucks driving and playing music. They were surrounded by people, some just walking, others dancing.
To my surprise, there were large beautifully crafted murtis of Kali in the back of many of the trucks!
Swamiji and Shree Maa explained that this was the Visarjan Ceremony following Kali Puja and Diwali, where they dissolve the murtis in the local lake.
These beautiful murtis had been crafted by artisans just for the specific occasion of Kali Puja on the night before Diwali. Now the images would be dissolved back to the elements from which they were fashioned.
It was incredible to see just how many people had come to attend the ceremony. It seemed like everyone from the entire town was a part of the celebration.
There is one other tradition in Bengal which is quite precious to Shree Maa. On the first or second day of the Kali festivities, they celebrate Bhai phonta (Bengali :ভাই ফোঁটা). In this celebration, sisters invite their brothers for a sumptuous meal, often including their favorite dishes/sweets.
Carrying forward in traditional style, sisters perform aarti for their brother and apply a red tilak on the brother’s forehead signifying the sister’s sincerest prayers for the long and happy life of her brother. In return brothers bless their sisters and remember their duty to protect their sisters.
Shree Maa was elated that after 40 years, she was with her brother on Bhai Phonta. Shree Maa gave him a blessing, tilak, cloth, dakshina and prasad.
Eventually, we made our way by some small side streets to the Kali Temple.
After arriving, we first went to pay our respects to the image of Kali and then to the shrine for Shiva, which is just a few steps away from the shrine for Kali.
The image of Kali was still decorated with the large shining necklace Shree Maa had offered to her two years ago during our previous visit. Shree Maa and Swamiji offered a short worship to the Shiva Lingam. We then sat down to sing songs for mother Kali.
Though most of the town was out in the streets traveling with the Kali Murtis that were going to be dissolved, there was still a small stream of devotees entering the temple area having heard that Shree Maa was coming.
The temple pujaris gave Shree Maa their microphone, which sent her divine songs over loud speakers, so that anyone nearby would hear. It was certainly the right night to do so, with all the Visarjan celebrations of Kali going on in the town.
Shree Maa sang one song after another and everyone was fully delighted. When Shree Maa began singing, I saw one of the pujaris place his phone nearby her, hoping to record the songs so he could enjoy listening to them again and again. The temple complex echoed with the sound of Shree Maa’s enthusiastic singing for Mother Kali.
We realized that it was almost time for the temple to perform their evening arati and so brought our singing to a close. Shree Maa looked around at everyone and asked them to all please dance during the arati.
One of the pujaris waved the offerings before the Divine Mother, while the other played a large drum with a rapid beat.
Shree Maa was one of the first ones to stand up and start dancing. We all soon followed suit. This was the first time we had stayed to witness the temple arati and we didn’t know quite how long it would go. We danced and danced as they played the drums and waved the lights before Kali Maa.
Eventually, Shree Maa, still dancing, led everyone up to the shrine of Kali and we began to dance and circumambulate the shrine. We had gone around maybe five or six times and still the arati continued.
Next, Shree Maa paused in front of a window, where the Murti of Kali could be seen near the front of the small temple building. We all stood there dancing, quite determined to not stop until the arati did. It was Shree Maa’s inspiration that kept everyone going.
Despite being of delicate body, Shree Maa did not hold back from celebrating the Divine Mother, and neither did anyone else. When the drum beat finally stopped and the conch shell blew, many of us were quite covered in sweat (mostly from the dancing, but it was warm outside too!)
We returned to the area where we had been singing and began packing our things to depart. As we were getting everything ready, all the devotees gathered around to bow down to Shree Maa and Swamiji. When everyone had gotten their chance, we returned to our hotel as it was getting late. We still had more plans for the next day.
We awoke early and chanted the Chandi Path together in Shree Maa’s room, where she had made a small altar. When we finished, we had breakfast and then made our way back to Shree Maa’s ancestral home.
Shree Maa had decided to perform Vishnu Puja there, to bless the new extension on the home her uncle had built, and also to install a new picture of Krishna, which Shree Maa had brought for them from America.
We arranged the room to make space for everyone and to establish a prominent place for the picture of Krishna, so we could perform our worship.
Many of Shree Maa relatives were there, as well as acquaintances, including her old school teacher! Swami Pranavananda sat in the front and performed a beautiful puja to Lord Krishna, while Shree Maa and Swamiji led the rest of us in chanting the Satya Narayana Vrat Katha.
When we finished the Satya Narayana Vrat, we chanted the Vishnu Sahasranamavali (Thousand Names of Vishnu) together, offering flower petals with each name.
The room was filled with people such that many had to stand outside and peer in as best as they could. When the Sahasranam had finished, we began the arati. People had to rotate in and out of the room so that everyone could get a chance to wave the lights before the image of Krishna.
Then, of course, came prasad! Again, people rotated in and out of the room, making sure everyone got blessings.
Shree Maa’s uncle had been sitting in the back of the room and somehow missed getting a tilak. He looked at me and asked me to please give him a license (to eat that is), jokingly referring to the tilak.
I gave him the tilak on his forehead and realized that I had heard Shree Maa make the same joke/reference about tilaks after puja many times. It seems that it was an old traditional family joke!
As Shree Maa’s family had arranged prasad for everyone to eat, we all sat to eat after the puja.
Pravir, a long time devotee of Shree Maa and Swamiji, who lives in Calcutta, was also present. Swamiji told me that Shree Maa and himself, in their earlier days traveling together used to stay in Pravir’s home, which was located in the railway station colony. It was apparently quite spacious. He was so loving and supportive of them, that he allowed them to transform his home into a temple for the three Goddesses, Mahakali, Mahalakshmi and Mahasaraswati.
Pravir described how Shree Maa and Swamiji had constructed at least three large murtis of the three Goddesses in his home where they performed worship. Pravir was really delighted to be able to offer that seva, and did not mind in the slightest.
Pravir reflected on those events and said, “You can’t imagine from where they have come and where they are now. It seems impossible! At that time they had absolutely nothing. Now look! They have an ashram, books, CDs, apps and a global satsangha. Swamiji is not a normal person at all, he can do so much! Anything he sets his mind to he accomplishes completely.”
In the evening, several devotees gathered at the hotel. Shree Maa’s school teacher in particular, Vina Pani, had requested to learn about the meaning of the Siddha Kunjika Stotram. Swamiji gave a class in Bengali on the Siddha Kunjika Stotram, which we broadcasted and recorded. This would be the first of a new series of classes in other languages Swamiji started during our travels. Listen in:
Now Swamiji’s vast knowledge on the meanings of the scriptures is becoming available to even more people! Vina Pani throughly enjoyed the class, and all the devotees present felt blessed to receive Swamiji’s wisdom. Swamiji then showed them a slide show of our own Devi Mandir.
Having known Shree Maa when she was a student or a wandering Sadhu, everyone was very impressed to see what kind of temple she had now been able to inspire and create. Everyone departed and we packed our bags, as we would be leaving the next morning.
There were a few other events that took place in Digboi. Shree Maa and Swamiji visited the mud house of a devotee, where they established a trishul in the temple room.
On another occasion, Pankaj, the owner of the hotel, had asked Shree Maa and Swamiji to perform Bhumi Shuddhi on a part of his property where he was building new rooms for his hotel. Shree Maa and Swamiji seeing his devotion and eager request happily agreed.
The construction of the building had only just barely begun. There was a hole in the ground and a support beam being constructed there. Next to it, on rough ground, Pankaj made a small tented area with sheets on the ground for Shree Maa and Swamiji to perform the ceremony.
He tried to gather all the materials for the Puja as best he could so that Shree Maa and Swamiji could just sit down and begin without any difficulty. There were many beautiful flowering plants surrounding the hotel and Pankaj had some of the most beautiful flowers picked for the Puja.
We all sat down and began chanting. Swamiji performed Ganesh Puja and then Kalasha Sthapana (establishing a pot as a container of the energy of the deity). Pankaj sat looking on as we performed the worship. If anything was needed, he would make sure it was quickly brought.
When our Puja was finished, Swamiji performed Visarjan (removing the Divine Energy that had been established in the pot back to the unmanifest). As the ground was too rough for Swamiji to walk around the property, he instructed Pankaj to have the water spread around the area, rather than doing it himself.
There was a small bowl of concrete sitting near us where we worshipped that was to be used by the men working on the construction. Swamiji took a scoop of concrete from that bowl and offered it into the hole, where the support pillar was being built, while saying the Gayatri Mantra.
Shree Maa also offered a scoop of concrete with the Gayatri Mantra. Pankaj was sure now that his new building project was certainly blessed. Indeed, I am sure anyone who came to stay in such a building, whose construction had been began by two realized souls, would surely be blessed!
We concluded the ceremony and headed to the airport. Along the way, we again stopped at the Manasa Devi Temple, which we had visited on our first day in Assam. We paid our respects to all the deities and then were on our way.
What an incredible program we had in Digboi! It had only been a few days, but they were jam-packed. It seemed each morning and evening Shree Maa and Swamiji went somewhere to perform worship and share their blessings.
I marveled at Shree Maa and Swamiji’s dedication to sharing love and divinity with everyone. It was not that they did not become tired, but rather that their love for God is so great, that it gave them the strength and inspiration to share with everyone, despite any circumstances.
From Assam, we returned to New Delhi. We arrived in the night, and had a flight to Mumbai in the morning. We were now leaving from North India and going progressively southward.
Our initial stay in Mumbai was also just a short pit stop, arriving midday and leaving before noon the day after. However, that didn’t stop Shree Maa from building an altar in the center of the living room, nor did it stop devotees from all over Mumbai, new and old, from gathering together to join us for arati, singing and satsangha.
While in Mumbai, we stayed at the home of Manish. He is an actor by profession.
We had met him perhaps two years back in Tryambakeshwar. This time we were only with him for a short time. Still, he and his family performed the fullest seva they were able to during Shree Maa and Swamiji’s short stay at their home.
Many devotees gathered in the small living room and joined us for arati, somehow squeezing in and finding a place to stand or sit. Each person took a turn waving the lights before the altar, which is how Shree Maa and Swamiji usually perform arati when visiting people’s homes. When the arati had finished, Shree Maa and Swamiji gave everyone prasad and blessings.
There was one new devotee present who lived in Mumbai and had seen one of Swamiji’s video classes on Youtube. He had sent Swamiji an email and was delighted to find out that Swamiji and Shree Maa would soon be visiting Mumbai. Shree Maa and Swamiji were filled with delight to meet this young enthusiastic man, who, if not for the Devi Mandir’s Youtube channel, would not have known about them.
It was impressive to think how the Devi Mandir has a presence much beyond its physical location. Through the website, webcams and various social media outlets, Shree Maa and Swamiji are able to share their love, blessings and wisdom with devotees, who they have met and others they have not, all over the world.
The program came to an end, and we began organizing our things for the next day’s journey. Our next destination was in the rural areas of Shahapur, roughly halfway between Mumbai and Nashik.
Kishore, a close devotee of Shree Maa and Swamiji, owns a farm house in Shahapur. It is situated on top of a hill, surrounded by beautiful flowering and fruit giving plants and trees.
There is also a Panchavati, a spot with five sacred trees planted together, which is an excellent and auspicious place to perform Sadhana (spiritual practices).
Ramakrishna had similarly practiced Sadhana under a Panchavati. As such, Shree Maa always duly worships the Panchavati at Kishore’s farm house, whenever we visit there.
When we arrived, Shree Maa set up and decorated an altar just in front of the Panchavati. She then dressed the trees in a sari, and offered them other items of worship.
The Vedas proclaim, “Paropakara Vriksha Devah, The Divinities in the trees are always performing actions for the upliftment of others.” Hence, in honor of Ramakrishna and the divinity in the five sacred trees, Shree Maa is always enthusiastic about worshipping at the Panchavati.
Shree Maa had planned ahead and brought 108 small cloth flags of red, white and yellow color. She had them hung in the trees, thus enhancing the beauty of the tree.
It was very fitting to give so much attention to the Panchavati, since it would become our main place of worship during our stay in Shahapur.
When we sat worshipping under the trees, I sometimes felt, very strongly, that this was the same Panchavati where Ramakrishna had himself performed Sadhana. From a material standpoint, it of course was not, but sitting together and worshipping with Shree Maa and Swamiji, it became true from the spiritual standpoint of Bhavana (spiritual feeling).
Each morning we awoke early before the sun rose and sat to chant the Chandi in the cool morning air, sitting around the Panchavati. It was a wonderful delight.
Everything was fully auspicious: the time (when everything is still before sun rise), the place (quiet beneath the sacred trees and surrounded by nature), the Satsangha (in the presence of our Gurus and fellow devotees), and the activity (the recitation of the Chandi and the worship of God)! It is hard to imagine a more blessed occasion.
When the Chandi was finished, Shree Maa would sit under the trees where she had constructed her altar and perform her daily puja.
Many devotees had come to join us in Sahapur and they would sit with Shree Maa as she performed Puja. Swamiji would sit nearby with others, chanting various scriptures. The atmosphere of the place was so peaceful and so filled with the love of God.
On one particular day Shree Maa decided we would perform Homa (a sacred fire ceremony) near to the Panchavati.
Swamiji, hoping to not have to sit too near to the smoke, and in order to give his disciples an opportunity to practice performing Homa in public, asked me to invoke the fire, after which we would chant the Chandi together.
I felt very honored to have the opportunity. Sitting amongst so many devotees, and with our Gurus looking on, the fire really came to life as we performed the Avahana (invitation to the Divine Fire).
When the fire was properly established, Shree Maa and Swamiji led us all in reciting the Chandi Path and offering oblations to the Divine Fire. It was a powerful recitation and the mantras really seemed to come alive as we chanted and focused on their meanings. When the Chandi was complete, we performed the Visarjan of the Divine Fire and gave tilaks of ash to everyone as blessings.
In the evening, Swamiji began giving a new class on the generals in the army of the Ego in the Chandi Path and Tattva Jnana in Hindi.
We broadcasted it on our online radio and also recorded and posted it on our website. It was our first fully Hindi class posted on the website. It was of course the right language for the audience present.
Chandi Path Class in Hindi
Tattva Jnana in Hindi
Many of the devotees present thanked Swamiji afterwards for his clear and powerful teaching on the subject.
When our stay in Sahapur was complete, we made our way to Nashik. It would again be a short stay, arriving around noon and departing the next day.
We stayed at the home of Girish and Kumudini, two close devotees of Shree Maa and Swamiji, who we visit every year when we travel to India.
When we entered through the gate, I could see they had decorated the walk way artistically with flower petals in honor of Shree Maa and Swamiji’s arrival.
When Shree Maa and Swamiji entered inside, they offered them a seat and performed a short Pada Puja (worship of the Guru’s feet) to both of them. They then offered them each a large flower mala.
Since we were only in Nashik for a short time, many devotees in the local area took the opportunity to join us for arati and satsangha in the evening.
They had a small temple room in their house, and as was often the case while we were traveling in India, it became packed full of devotees, with some lingering outside the door looking in.
Many people played drums and other instruments during the arati including Ish, Girish and Kumudini’s young son.
When the arati had finished Shree Maa began singing songs. At one point, an older women and her family stood up, getting ready to leave.
Shree Maa was very excited to hear this, as we also do Santoshi Maa’s Puja on Fridays at our own Devi Mandir.
Shree Maa asked the lady to please stay and told her that we would perform Santoshi Maa Puja together.
In a few minutes, all the items for the Puja were ready. Swamiji, ever resourceful as he is, got his projector and put the mantras on the wall so we could all chant together. Soon we were all performing Santoshi Maa’s worship together.
After the Puja we all sang Santoshi Maa Arati together, and then brought the program to an end. The older women and her family were very delighted and pleased.
Shree Maa always loves to uphold the traditions of worship, like worshipping Shiva on Mondays, Kali on Tuesday etc. She is also so pleased whenever she meets someone in India, or any where else for that matter, who also maintains a similar discipline.
Look at how steadfast the women had been in maintaining her vow of worship!
It is no secret that almost no one will leave when visiting a saint until they get their blessings. Again, almost no one will depart from a Puja without first getting some prasad.
People often come to see Shree Maa and Swamiji just for a blessing, and after receiving it, depart fully satisfied.
Yet, without having gotten to speak with Shree Maa and Swamiji, without having gotten their blessings (directly anyway) and without getting any prasad, this women was ready to depart in order to maintain the discipline of her vow to worship Santoshi Maa, every Friday, at a specific time and place.
It may seem like a small sacrifice to some, but this lady knew full well that this may be her only chance to see Shree Maa and Swamiji and get their blessings.
However, we can see how greatly Santoshi Maa rewarded her for her steadfastness in maintaining her vow. She not only got to do the Puja, she got to do it with the very saints she had come to see!
Of course she also received prasad and blessings as well. Santoshi Maa, the Mother of Satisfaction, blessed her in such a way that she was fully satisfied in heart and soul.
The next day, we awoke early and began preparing for Homa. Shree Maa had wanted to perform Homa on the roof of Girish and Kumudini’s home before we departed from Nashik.
We gathered before the sun had risen in the sky. Swamiji began chanting the mantras for invoking the fire. We recited along with him.
Our hosts, as well as several members of their family and other devotees, all joined together with us in performing the homa.
When the sun had risen it became quite warm on the roof, sitting next to the fire, but still we continued undisturbed.
The fire ceremony came to a close and after giving everyone prasad, we again packed our bags to head to our next destination.
Unfortunately we did not stay long enough to visit some of the other places in Nashik. Last year we took a holy dip in the Ramkund, where it is said that Lord Rama bathed when he was in Nashik.
The Ramkund is on the Godavari River and is also a location for the Kumba Mehla celebration.
Another place we often visit is the Kalaram Temple in the Panchavati area. This temple is dedicated to Lord Ram and provides an excellent facility for group Sadhana.
Though our trip was short, it is always a delight to reconnect with old friends, and to worship in inspiring places.