June 4 to 12, 2014 – 9 days at Devi Mandir, Napa, California.
The much awaited day was finally here! A long awaited desire to be with Shree Maa at the Devi Mandir in Napa, California had been fulfilled. All three of us, Manoj, Vinayak and myself were overwhelmed with excitement and could not wait to take off on our maiden journey to the Devi Mandir (at least for Vinayak and myself, as Manoj had visited there 9 years ago).
As we mentioned our plans to Shree Maa, despite Her very recent operation of the hand and Swamiji’s surgery, we were deeply touched by Shree Maa’s most welcoming and loving response. Mother’s concern and affection were all too evident from Her constant communications ensuring that we reached safely and comfortably and be well received. My heart was beaming with joy and nostalgia at the thought of being with Mother.
At the last minute, we found Vinayak and myself taking off five days ahead of Manoj, due to his sudden work commitments. As we landed at 9:15 am at the San Francisco Airport, Praveen was already there, very much on time, to receive us. Whilst the luggage was still coming, there was a hot case of goodies waiting for us – samosas, cookies and juice – Praveen mentioned that Shree Maa had prepared it all with her hands. We were deeply touched and Vinayak and I polished it all off in ten minutes, loving every bit of it.
The journey from San Francisco to NAPA was about an hour and a half long. The beauty of the Bay Area was slowly descending on us and it was thrilling.
As we pulled along further, there was more in store. The country side was even more breath-taking. As the car wound its way through the wine country, with its perfectly aligned vast expanse of vineyards both on the plains and hillocks, green and yellow in color, it was an incredibly beautiful sight.
Well, this was only the beginning as it was nothing short of “DIVINE” ahead.
As we finally drove up the hill to Number 5952, Devi Mandir, Napa, we were warmly welcomed by “Red Ganeshji,” standing out literally amongst the flora and fauna of the area. There was forest all around and the hilly area and gravel sprawled roads and pathways made it all so enchanting.
A homecoming it was indeed! As we stepped out of the car and entered Shree Maa’s cottage, the lean figure of Shree Maa clad in her “yellow and red border saree” and flowing salt-pepper hair, emerged – “DIVINE FROM HEAD TO TOE AND IN SPIRIT” Shree Maa’s voice quipped “Welcome to your home children” and her very warm and instantaneous hug overwhelmed me so much that I felt I could almost cry with joy. She made us feel so very warm and welcome – MOTHER’S TOUCH AND SENSATION WAS ALL PERVADING.
Shree Maa at first took us for Darshaan at Devi Mandir. As we entered, the atmosphere was charged with austerity and divinity. The large hall resonating with Shre Maa’s singing playing in the background, with the Gods and Goddesses all around, so beautifully adorned and each vivid in spirit and color as though communicating with us. We bowed and paid our respect and were fascinated by the devotion and spirituality pervading the air. This was a different world all together.
As Shree Maa stepped out of the Mandir, we could see the peacocks fluttering around, spreading their wings as if in full bloom, squeaking for “prasad,” a most exquisite and rare sight for us. Out came Shree Maa’s potpourie of almonds and nuts, generously feeding the peacocks. The shy deer could be seen in the background, rather frightened perhaps, to see more company than usual.
Shree Maa then led us personally to our room and told us to have a quick shower and be in Her house to have lunch with Her and Swamiji. Shivani, a very pleasant and friendly member of the Devi Mandir family greeted us there. Shree Maa’s touch and blessings were evident from the “bowl of hawan bhabhoot” and “Morpankh” and “huge pots of nuts” in the room. Each of us was given a pair of slippers to move around.
We had a quick shower and reached Shree Maa’s house. Soon enough Swamiji walked in – the father figure of the Devi Mandir, making sure it was smooth sailing all around always. All the hard work behind his cool and quick witted and jolly, laughing nature was visible. Swamiji had lost weight since our last meeting with him but was as cheerful and full of beans. We greeted him and all sat for lunch.
The meal was so tasty and its purity and simplicity made is delectable. Even the simplest “dal” was delectable and so were all the vegetables – kalmi saag, okra-mooli, eggplant with bitter melon and potato veggies, rice and topped with mango and water melon. The meal began with the “Shanti mantra prayer” thanking Annapurnadeviji and Shree Maa offering Mahadev Prasad to Swamiji. We all had a hearty lunch despite all the snacking at the airport. The flight from Newark to San Francisco had left us quite grubby.
It was now time to rest and Shree Maa told us to be at the Mandir at 6 pm as Swamiji would be on air in a live webcast on the “Bhagwat Gita.” We were really looking forward to an interesting evening. Lo and behold, were woken by Shree Maa as we had overslept and missed the discourse, overpowered by jetlag.
It was at this time that we met Parvatiji, whom we had met in India some years ago, a most dedicated and hardworking soul, seen around Devi Mandir in her “Gopala Express” doing numerous little errands and offering rides to the walkers as she drove past. Shree Maa called her a “real panditji,” always alert and active on the Hindu calendar and auspicious days and events and perpetually in Shree Maa’s service.
MAA and Parvatiji took us for a walk around Napeshwar.
It was a delight! It was 8 pm in the evening as we walked through the serene forest. Except for the chirping and hooting of the birds and peacocks, there was silence all around. As we walked around the ups and downs, I marvelled at Shree Maa’s energy, always time for each one and a personal touch and warmth beyond compare. As she led us through, explaining the topography, terrain and the landmarks, we learnt that all the roads had been personally constructed by Swamiji himself. It was incredible to witness the creativity and the concept.
As we walked the path leading downwards from the family kitchen, through the flower beds of marigold, roses and canare, fruit trees laden with apples, figs, pears and apricots waiting to ripen, we witnessed nature at its best. Huge trees, little bridges across, and creeks, dry at this time but soon to turn into the “holy Gangaji of Napeshwer.” As we walked down, our first halt was at Napeshwar – there was a huge Shivling standing out in the middle of the forest with Ganeshji, Kartikeyaji and Nandiji and Parvatiji surrounding. We offered jal and sat all around. It was so beautiful to be perched there and hear the chirping of the birds and little squirrels and an occasional dear and peacock fluttering nearby.
As we walked, the “Ram Darbar” appeared, followed by “RadhaKrishanji, both beautifully adorned. As we turned left, across the little bridge, we came around full circle and back, towards “Lord Jesus” next to the little pond. It was truly an abode of the Gods. Shree Maa’s and Swamiji’s houses were close by.
We then went back up further to go to the goldfish pond, where we fed the fish and could see the water turn orange as they converged together in huge numbers to grab the “goodies” we could offer. Adjacent to the pond, the pomegranate trees with red flowers were in full bloom, looking most exquisite. The deer family, baby, mother and father peeped from the tall trees and then disappeared in a hurry.
Next morning it was Ashtami day and I wanted to make my humble offerings to Maa Santoshiji, it being Friday.
As I entered, the Devi Mandir was vibrant with the divine chants by Shree Maa, deeply absorbed in Shiv Puja. Swamiji was reciting the Chandi Path.
All of the devotees of the Devi Mandir family – Nandaji, Parvatiji, Shivani and Praveen were also performing their morning puja. I sat and performed my humble prayer, completely captivated and mesmerised.
I then waited for Shree Maa. As Shree Maa came with Swamiji, we offered our humble little to Maa Santoshiji. Shree Maa then taught me Santoshi Maa Puja. I enjoyed every bit of it and was touched by Her patience and ever-willing spirit to dissipate her knowledge despite her busy schedules. I felt privileged to be “LEARNING AND LIVING WITH THE SOUL.”
In the evening we attended Swamiji’s class on the Bhagwat Gita. It was such a learning experience and Swamiji’s method of touching the soul through his words of wisdom and driving home the point he had to make was wonderful. He touched every mind and many interesting questions followed on the live webcam from the world over. What a way to use technology to spread the message and share the learning. Swamji had deployed the latest techniques to ensure Shree Maa and his reach to the universe literally.
As usual, Shree Maa’s treats were out of this world. We had a simply wonderful lunch and dinner with all the specialities by Mother. No calorie counting as Shree Maa said “Khao Bacho, Maa key hath ka Prasad hay, khub khao.” We ate with all our heart.
On Saturday, there was a special Hanuman Puja in the afternoon. We all joined in and were overawed by the perfection and “bhav” in the recitation of the mantras.
But the best part was yet to come- it was a special day as Shree Maa sings on Saturday in the kirtan and bhajans performed in the evening at 6 pm. We were told that it was the special day of the week when the Devi Mandir opens to all. Many devotees came in and the hall was soon full. The instruments had been arrayed all around and everything was perfectly organised. It was being aired live on the webcam.
Soon the atmosphere was full of energy as Shree Maa’s extraordinary voice rang through the air and held everyone in “captivation” – her voice touching the senses very deeply. I had tears in my eyes as this was a really special moment that I was waiting to experience.
Shree Maa started with Ganeshji Vandana and slowly as she sang the Bhajans and Kirtan, it was simply enchanting. All the musical instruments -the sitar, guitar, tabla, dholak, drums, harmonium , keyboard, flute, tambourine, manjira were being played – it was a divine fusion of the East and the West. Many a devotee were so enthralled that they rose to their feet dancing. It was a delightful evening. Then came a special moment as Shree Maa sang a bhajan written by Manoj in her enchanting and soul stirring voice.
After the kirtan, there was AARTI and then Shree Maa blessed everyone with prasad.
I also took a few moments to look at the delightful publications written by Shree Maa and Swamiji – the Chandi Path, Shiv Puja, Santoshi Maa Puja, Rudraashtdhayi, and numerous others – so reader friendly and explicit and vivid in expression. This was such a treasure house of knowledge and wealth. The soft versions of all the books along with ipad applications were all available – so anyone willing to learn, there was so much Devi Mandir offered.
During my stay, I read a most beautiful book “Before becoming this”. It was truly inspiring and an insight into Shree Maa’s life- nothing except pure devotion and a manifestation of love. I started my Santoshiji MAA puja with my new prized possession- a lucid writing on Santoshi MAA puja. The beginners guide to Shivapuja was equally inspiring for me and I have since taken to it with all my heart and soul.
As was customary, one of the devotees had got dinner for everyone and it was a “Mexican food Bhandara” that evening. The striking feature of all this was how the East and West combined to spread such joy and happiness. Everyone loved what they did and there was utmost enthusiasm infused in every little act. It was so inspiring and a great feeling.
Sunday morning was equally special as it was the weekly group Chandi Path. It was a lovely morning and all women poured in, dressed in white and red Bengali puja sarees while the men were clad in white kurta –dhotis/pyjamas. It was a delight and I too donned a saree I had carried with me. It was a three hour nonstop Path but one did not feel it at all. We felt truly blessed to have been able to partake of this very special Path at Devimandir. After Aarti and Prasad distribution, Shree Maa had cooked some special “Kadhi with tofu and potatoes” for all of the devotees. She also prepared other other lunch treats. The community lunch was followed by “Shiva puja” at Napeshwar by Vishveshwarji, a dedicated Shiv Bhakt. In the evening, Shree Maa recited the Vishnusahasrnam.
It was a delightful weekend with a lot to learn and imbibe. The perfection in everything and discipline was evident by the hard work of Swamiji coupled with Shree Maa’s unmatched devotion and love and the sincerity and indefatigable energy of each member of the Devi Mandir family. “Gautaum”- a very quiet and unassuming member of the family would be seen doing the littlest task with utmost sincerity.
We looked forward now to Monday and for Manoj to join us that day.
I was again lucky to get a first hand learning from Shree Maa on Shivpuja. She taught me each step and I tried to imbibe everything with all sincerity.
After Shiva puja and breakfast, I got my little recipe book out, where I had penned the delectable dishes from Shree Maa’s kitchen. I sat down with Shree Maa to perfect my scribblings, adding all the missing ingredients and spices. As She put it “Go back to India and become a Mother’ –spreading the joy and treats every Mother gives to her children. I realised how little I knew and how much I had still to learn. The learning never ends and every moment of life there is so much to learn. I was very motivated to go back home and implement all my learnings at Devi Mandir.
Her simple and deeply relevant message “Be Simple, Be True and Be Free” had been my guiding force so far. I could see the little messages all over Devi Mandir trying to help one to achieve this motto: “The Qualities of an Ideal Human Being,” “Kitchen Rules,” “Self help is the best help,” “Cleanliness is next to Godliness,” “ Feel this is your real home,” The little but important messages for everyday life were deeply motivating.
We were now all eagerly awaiting Manoj’s arrival. As usual, Shree Maa’s goodies had been stacked up for him and Praveen carried the freshly churned out pakoris and patties from MAA’s hands. Both Praveen and Vinayak went to receive him at the airport.
As I ate lunch with Shree Maa and Swamiji, She suddenly rose and picked up the phone, to greet Manoj with “Welcome Home.” MAA had sensed his arrival at the airport.
He freshened himself upon arrival and performed his puja before meeting Shree Maa. Before we knew, Shree Maa arrived in the “Gopala Express’ with Parvatiji to give Darshan. She had risen early from her afternoon routine rest to greet her son. What a special feeling it was to be so loved and cared for.
After rest, we attended Bhagwat Gita Path by Swamji. It was a most invigourating class, providing so much food for thought and action. It was time to sleep after the special meal with Shree Maa and Swamiji. Shree Maa had prepared special dishes for Manoj that evening –okra , bitter melon, potatoes. Dal, eggplant.
I was noticing how Vinayak was loving every moment at Devi Mandir. We had planned to make a visit to Los Angeles on two days in between our stay at Napa at Vinayak’s insistence. He wanted to cancel that and stay on at Devi Mandir instead. We were extremely happy with his thoughts. He did his puja regularly and wanted to partake of the knowledge and learning. He even participated in little chores, trying to assist, and wanted to dress in a “Dhoti’ for the puja. He enjoyed all that nature had to offer and, of course, stole his little moments trying to get “Wifi” for communicating little messages. I blessed him for recording MAA’s kirtan for me.
The next morning Manoj did his Chandipath at Devi mandir and Vinayak and I joined him. Then Shree Maa called and said that today was a test day and that I was to cook all I had learnt.
I was much excited and very eager to try my hands at all that I had learnt. Both Parvatiji and myself had to cook. We got down to the task. We had decided to prepare okra with mooli, kalmi saag, bittermelon with eggplant, dal and rice pulao. We ran through the recipe trying to be as diligent and perfect as Shree Maa.
As I started, I chanted “Jai Maa,” the buzzwords at the Devi Mandir. I hoped we could do well and give it Mother’s touch. Parvatiji helped with the chopping of all the vegetables. Once we had got the chopping done and were ready with the ingredients, we got on with preparing each dish, trying to follow directions meticulously. It took us about two hours to get done. We thought the first seemed fine but it was the taste that should meet the test. We sent the food to Shree Maa’s house and waited. As She returned from Her visit to the doctor, we got a call. It was a most exciting moment and a reward when Shree Maa said “Excellent!” We were both overjoyed and happy to serve to all.
We all ate and then rested.
In the afternoon, we enjoyed the bounty of nature. We walked about Napeshwar trying to assimilate all of its abundant beauty and divinity to take back home as a treasure full of fondest memories.
That night Shree Maa made Chinese food for Manoj. It was no wonder that MAA knew that he enjoyed Chinese food.
It was now time to bid goodbye to Napeshwar. The next day we were to all go to San Francisco with Shree Maa and Swamiji. We rose early and Manoj performed Chandipath at Devi Mandir. We then packed and felt nostalgic as the time had come to part company with the abode of the Gods, the flowers, forest, the dancing peacock and peahens and deer. The Devi Mandir stood entrenched in our hearts as also each one of the family.
We felt delighted that Shree Maa and Swamiji were taking us about to see San Francisco from where we were to depart onwards to Washington-New York and then homebound to India. We would get that much more time with them! We were touched that they were cancelling all of their appointments and coming along. It was indeed heartening. I was going to miss Shree Maa and the Devi Mandir immensely.
At 2:00 pm sharp, after a hearty special South Indian meal including dosas, sambar, idlis and vadas, it was time to leave.
We bowed before “Devi Maa” and departed from Napa until we meet again.
Swamiji was driving us down to San Francisco. Soon, we were back to the hustle and bustle of city life as we reached San Francisco. We stayed at the home of Shree Maa’s devotees – Ashishji and Abhaji –a most hospitable and gentle couple and so very dedicated to Shree Maa.
After tea in the evening, MAA was full of energy despite the journey to go about San Francisco for sightseeing. She said “I have never seen San Francisco myself.”
Swamiji as always was very sporting as Shree Maa’s wish was his command.
I marvelled at Shree Maa’s energy and enthusiasm to make everyone so happy and enjoy themselves. She was so spirited always and inspired me immensely. Her eternal mission only to spread love, joy and happiness all around- “Mother Goddess, an eternal giver!”
We had a great time together driving around the Bay Area and sightseeing. We stopped at the museums, lakes, Pier and interesting monuments and buildings including the Golden Gate and the famous War memorial. Shree Maa enthusiastically encouraged us to click. I was glad to have captured a treasure house of memories in my camera.
We then retired home to rest and had a grand dinner at Ashishji’s house. Despite their very busy schedule, both of them had worked hard to organise our stay and taking us about. Tanya also joined us, whom we had earlier met at satsang at the Devi Mandir- an extremely gentle and kind soul and keen devotee. A little indication from Shree Maa was enough to get her devotees flocking around her enthusiastically. How blessed we all felt.
The next morning we all offered our prayers and ate breakfast and once again stepped out for a drive around San Francisco.
Shankariji, another avid devotee joined us and kept company and drove us around.
Soon enough, it was time to have lunch and for Shree Maa and Swamiji to go back to Devi Mandir.
Our Navratri with Shree Maa was coming to an end and we now looked forward to have her with us in India for another Navratri. We were going to miss her a lot as after the nine days of bonding and being pampered, we suddenly felt alone and helpless without the guiding light. But we realised that we have Her blessings always. We bowed and once again received her blessings to take forward all that we had learnt from her in these nine days and try and implement her simple but meaningful thoughts and actions each day.
Even as She left, She had organised our snacks for the flight from San Francisco to Washington. Mother’s touch!
We are now back home and to our daily routines. But the Summer of 2014 was indeed a blessing – Our Navratri with Shree Maa and Swamiji at Devi Mandir!
Each day reminds us and fills are senses with memories from the Devi Mandir as we strive to observe some of the well of knowledge we got back with us.
We bow in reverence!
“DEHI SAUBHAGYAM AOROGYAM DEHI MEH PARMAM SUKHAM
ROOPAM DEHI JAYAM DEHI YASHO DEHI DISHO JAHI”