From Mumbai we came to Coimbatore, in the state of Tamil Nadu in the far south of India. Coimbatore would be a temporary stopping point for us on our way to the Nilgiri hills, just an hour or so away.
The place where we stopped in Coimbatore was the home of Vasant and her family, beloved devotees of Shree Maa and Swamiji. She had recently purchased a home in a retirement community called Vriddha, founded by the Divine Life Society of Swami Shivananda of Rishikesh.
The entire area of Tamil Nadu, and especially Coimbatore and the Nilgiri hills, are extremely concerned with ecology. There are signs everywhere about not littering, keeping the area plastic free, and protecting the environment. It was very nice to see such clean and well-kept places. The area in terms of environmental conservation is well ahead of many other parts of India, for that matter, many places in the world including the US.
The community where Vasant has her house is a planned community with all of the houses falling into a few specific designs and is meticulously well-kept. It is a very beautiful area, just at the base of the Nilgiri hills. Looking from the rooftop, I could see a very famous temple for Kartikeya.
From there we drove to the home of Selvaraj and Parvati in Ooty, which is a city in the Nilgiri hills. It is an incredibly natural and beautiful place, with rolling hills and mountains.
There are many tea estates, as well as beautiful plants and trees growing on the green hills. Located at almost 9,000 feet, it stays quite cool.
There is also an array of wild life living in the area, such as the Indian Gaur (the largest bovine mammal in the world), tigers, monkeys, barking dear, large rabbits, the endangered Indian Giant Squirrel, and many other animals. Much of it is untouched pristine forest.
When we entered the home, Parvati and Vasant performed Pada Puja (worship of the Guru’s feet) to Shree Maa and Swamiji and offered them flower malas (garlands).
Afterwards, as is her way of life, Shree Maa began turning the front living room into a temple with an altar. Only when the altar was complete did she retire to her own room. Each morning Shree Maa performed puja to this newly constructed altar, and then we sat there to chant the Chandi Path together.
Most of the local people, including Vasant who was chanting the Chandi with us each morning, do not read Devanagari/Sanskrit. As such Vasant and another devotee named Venkat had taken on the project of translating the Chandi into Tamil quite some time ago. Each morning Vasant sat with her Tamil Chandi book and chanted along with us without omission. It was a wonderful project that empowered many to understand and perform the sadhana of the Chandi Path.
Just behind Selvaraj’s house is a temple dedicated to the Shirdi Sai Baba, a saint who is widely worshipped all over India and in the Nilgiris in particular.
In the temple there are also altars for Ganesh, Shiva, and Devi (the Divine Mother).
Selvaraj conducts a satsangha there every Saturday evening, which we had the privilege to attend.
They began the satsangha with a simple homa chanting a mantra which Shree Maa had given them some years back for Shirdi Sai Baba. The mantra is “Om Sai Ekaatma Parabrahmane Swaahaa,” meaning Om Sai Baba, the One Soul, the Supreme Divinity, I am One with God.
They chanted the mantra slowly and melodically.
As people arrived, they each took a turn offering oblations of ghee with the mantra into the fire. When the homa first began only a few people were present. However, as it continued, more and more people came to attend the satsangha. The homa would only be the first part of their program.
Many people came. A great majority of them were women. When they had finished with the homa, they began reciting the Shri Rudram, which is two chapters from the Rudrashtadhayayi which we chant. The chapters are known as the Namakam and the Chamakam.
They chanted them with the Vedic system of Udgita, which has a low, middle and high tone added to the chanting. They were simply local people who had come there out of their love for God, not trained priests, and yet they chanted the Shri Rudram with such precision.
As a part of their satsangha, led by Selvaraj, they had all dedicated themselves to learning to chant the Shri Rudram. Selvaraj later told me that this particular Saturday had been their first complete recitation of the text, as before they had been practicing it part by part. He told me they had been waiting for Shree Maa and Swamiji to do their first complete recitation.
It may not be automatically understood just how amazing this is. It is often the case in South India that only male Brahmins can enter a temple or do worship there, like at Jagannath Puri.
Many people think that mispronouncing sanskrit is dangerous and do not attempt to chant it. However, this temple was filled with local people, not Brahmin priests, on top of that mostly women, all chanting the Shri Rudram together, not for money or respect, but simply because they wanted to make an offering of their love to God.
It was such a beautiful and inspiring sight. In such cases, where we are only there to offer our love to God, mispronouncing does not negatively effect us in any way, though of course we could benefit from increased understanding if we pronounce it correctly.
When the chanting was finished they invited Shree Maa to sing some songs. Shree Maa began with the song “Narayana, Narayana, Narayana”. She edited the words and made the song as an offering for Sai Baba, using the words “Sai Ram, Sai Ram, Sai Ram”.
Everyone present sang along with great enthusiasm and joy. Shree Maa sang several other songs and then they continued with the normal routine of their satsangha, singing their own songs.
Swamiji addressed everyone, telling them how much he appreciated what they were doing and how much he appreciated the way they were conducting their satsangha.
He told them that it was because of these kinds of efforts and this kind of devotion that the Sanatana Dharma is Eternal (“sanatana” meaning eternal). It is the efforts of all of us to learn, practice, and understand the meaning of the sanskrit scriptures, as well as employ the meanings in our lives, that keeps the tradition alive and thriving.
When the satsangha came to a close, Shree Maa and Swamiji gave everyone blessings of sweets and a tilak. The people attending the satsangha had also brought food that they offered to Sai Baba and then gave to everyone as prasad.
We returned home, a short walk away, with hearts full of joy and appreciation for the beautiful satsangha we had been privileged to share.
Selvaraj told me that this satsangha and homa were directly inspired by Shree Maa and Swamiji, who had told him to conduct them and showed him the way. He and everyone present were so grateful to Shree Maa and Swamiji for their example and inspiration.
Reciprocally, Shree Maa and Swamiji were also so grateful to them for really following through and acting on that example and inspiration. Such is the beauty of the relationship between the Guru and their disciples.