Swamiji asked me, Cidatmananda, to write about the beautiful experience of walking through a South Indian subtropical forest to a small Shiva temple on top of a hill. This quaint temple is located just outside of Ooty, in the Nilgiri Hills.
This adventure made a deep impression on me, with both its scenic beauty and the wonderful devotion expressed on the trail.
We started from the amazing Shirdi Sai Baba temple of Nandishwarananda, formally known as Nandu for the old timers at the Devi Mandir.
The local devotees started by creating a palki for Shree Maa. A palki is a chair on two poles used to carry someone. This palki was to make the pilgrimage through the rough terrain comfortable and easy for our precious Mother.
They ingeniously created her vehicle by lashing a lounge chair to two long poles. Shreemaa’s palki was hoisted up by four local men, who were using their day off to perform this seva.
At first we had to walk through a tea plantation.
At times, the walking path was extremely uneven and narrow – less of a trail and more a furrow!
I was worried about Shree Maa being held aloft by four strangers. The men, however, were able to expertly handle the situation. Very soon it was clear to me that my Teacher was in very good hands.
As soon as we made it to the woods, the local devotees broke into spontaneous call and response chanting. The lead women called out with a loud melodious voice, “Om Namah Shivaaya!”
The group of about 50 devotees responded by chanting back, “Shivaaya Namah Om!”
A long line formed behind, consisting of maybe 50 or so local devotees.
This chanting continued through the entire yatra (journey) to the temple. This walk embodied the mantra Satyam Shivam Sundaram, with emphasis on the word Sundaram or beauty during the hike to temple.
The beauty of the forest, the beauty of the voices calling out to Shiva, and the beauty of the name of God itself, were all examples of Sundaram. God himself has become all of this beauty.
On we went chanting through the thick green woods with light shining between the branches highlighting the forest flowers. These delicate forest flowers kept reminding me that the Divine MOTHER Herself is worshiping Lord Shiva with the woods’ own natural puja of flowers! What beauty!
After a slow walk uphill for about a mile and a half, we came to a small Shiva temple on granite clearing in the woods. When we walked over to the temple many became dejected upon seeing that it was locked and we had no key.
Our Gurus were not deterred in the slightest. Swamiji started chanting the Puja with the hundred names of Shiva as Shree Maa made offerings between the bars of the temple door to the Shiva Lingam.
The group became transfixed on the worship of the Lingam in this mountain retreat. This part was a reminder of the same mantra all over again Satyam Shivam Sundaram. With an emphasis on Satyam, or Truth meaning reality, what really exists.
The mantras are Real and True because they accurately reflect the Truth.
The mantras take you to a place of bliss and beauty that is more Real and True than the pain and pleasure that most of us live with daily.
At the end of the puja, like always, everyone had prasad.
It was an experience I will never forget.
It seems to me that nature Herself conspired with my teachers to teach us these lessons in life.
But, it did not end there.
During our walk to the temple there was a lovely married couple with a friend tagging along who just happened to be a Shinto Priestess with her own temple in Japan (no kidding, yes this really happened).
They came over to the temple to see what all the noise was about, and having met Shree Maa and Swamiji, they asked them to come over to their meditation hut and bless it.
So on the way back down the hill, we all made a slight detour to see this wonderful little hut in the middle of the forest. Seeing it, it was clearly created for the sole purpose of sadhana.
When we arrived, the Shinto Princess and her husband performed arati to Shree Maa.
Then, Shree Maa sat for some time in front of their tiny altar and offered yellow flowers with mantras.
This reminded me of that mantra Satyam Shivam Sundaram once more – this time with the emphasis on Shivam. Not only is Shivam the name of the beloved deity, it also means Infinite Goodness.
Going out of our way to support and bless others is a reflection of Shiva. When we harmonize our lives with the Truth of Reality and the Beauty of Existence how can we not spread this Goodness everywhere we go? That is part of the example that Shree Maa and Swamiji give us.
For me, this was one of my favorite experiences with Shree Maa and Swamiji in India. It spoke to me on so many levels.
I feel blessed to have experienced the special beauty of the walk to Lord Shiva’s temple, reminding me of the nature of God, Satyam Shivam Sundaram.