The next temple we visited in Uttarkashi was Kedarnath Mandir (not to be confused with the Jyotir Lingam by the same name, though there is a good reason for the name!)
The alley ways to reach the temple were narrow, and only navigable by the smallest of cars (generally they are a place of foot traffic and motorcycles). We reached the temple, and saw the Ganga was flowing nearby. Between the temple and the sacred river, there is a Banyan Tree with a concrete Vedhi built around its base.
Interestingly, there were some black cloths hanging from its limbs. I had seen many a Banyan tree decorate outside a temple with red cloths from Puja, but never black ones.
I asked Swamiji about it and he said he hadn’t seen it before, but it was probably an offering for Shani (Saturn). We asked Uttam who was with us, and he affirmed that Swamiji was correct, they were offerings to Shani.
We came to the large doors of the temple and realized it was already closed. Some of the larger temples in the area close and reopen during certain times of day, while many of the smaller temples simply stay open. Luckily for us, Uttam was familiar with the temple and they allowed us in, despite it not being open to the public.
First, we went to meet the main sadhu who lives at the temple, Bhagavandas. He was seated in a small room with his few belongings in it. I could see there were also some puja materials here and there in his room.
His eyes were bright and he had a humble and sweet disposition. He and Swamiji sat together and conversed for some time, enjoying each other’s company.
Bhagavandas explained that when the Shiva Lingam (which the temple is built around) had been discovered, they dug down almost 9 feet under the ground searching for its end. After digging so far and not finding the end of it, a number of snakes appeared from underneath the lingam, and they decided not to dig any further, but rather built the temple around it.
Though we were only with Bhagavanas for perhaps a half hour, he and Swamiji related as if they were friends for lifetimes as they posed for one final photo together.
After hearing this fascinating story of the temple, we gave our pranams to Bhagavandas and made our way to the Shiva Mandir to perform our worship. Since the temple was technically closed, there was no one in the Shiva Temple, not even a pujari.
Usually the larger temples have a pujari constantly on duty. We felt very lucky to have the temple to ourselves! We set up our broadcast equipment and we were soon lost in the joy of worship. We recited the Shiva Sahasranam and other stotrams for Shiva.
While chanting, eyes fell again and again on the Shiva Lingam, which had a very interesting form. It was a very powerful place to perform worship.
Again looking at the Shiva Lingam, I remarked to Swamiji that it was one of the first truly Swayambhu Shiva Lingams I had seen. Swayambhu means “self born”, meaning, it is a Shiva Lingam which has come to be on its own, not carved or (supposedly) even placed there by man.
I have seen many temples that proclaim that the Shiva Lingam there is Swayambhu, though by and large, they are just claims. This one, however, was certainly a naturally occurring Lingam! Though its shape may seem strange to some, Swamiji recounted that it looked just like the Jyotir Lingam in Kerdarnath by the same name.
The small room built around it looked the same as well, and Swamiji commented that it also had the same bhavana (spiritual feeling or attitude) as Kedarnath. How amazing that we had this gem of a temple all to ourselves! No sound could be heard except for our chanting which echoed powerfully through the small enclosure of the temple.
Adjacent to the Shiva Mandir, there was a beautiful Ram Mandir, where we made a small offering after finishing our Sadhana. After paying our respects to the Ram Mandir, we again returned to meet with Bhagavandas before leaving.
Swamiji made an offering of dakshina to him. He looked at Swamiji and said sincerely, “How can I accept this offering from you when I have not yet given you anything? You have come and performed worship in the temple and now are making this offering, but I have not yet been able to give anything to you. Please eat here in the temple.”
Swamiji smiled, and said “I have only come here seeking your love and blessings, that is more than enough me. I am completely fulfilled with that.”
Bhagavandas was contented with that response and smiled. We gave our pranams to each other and returned to the main temple area.
While we waited for Uttam’s return so we could depart, we stood looking into the small worship area around the Shiva Lingam. On the wall outside the Rudrashtakam was written in Sanskrit. Swamiji began chanting it and I joined with him. We stood there happily chanting the Rudrashtakam, when Uttam came.
When Uttam approached, he did not realize we were chanting from the sanskrit on the wall, and he inadvertantly stood in front of the wall. Swamiji smiled and gently moved him to the side, and then Uttam looked around and realized what we were doing. He smiled and also began to chant with us. We finished the stotram, and took our leave of the temple.
During our travels, Swamiji constantly exemplified the teaching “Being spiritual means giving more than you take.” He has given an example of sadhana, dedication, love, humility and inspiration everywhere we have gone.
Normally, pujari’s collect dakshina for performing worship, but Swamiji gives dakshina to every sadhu, ashram, and temple we visit. This is his expression of appreciation for the opportunity to worship in the temples and to share his love.
Everywhere we go, the local people want us to stay in their ashram and will not even charge us for it. I am not surprised – who would want to send away a Swamiji who is really truly spiritual and who is always giving more than he takes?