It is with great joy that we begin another year of exciting Travelogue posts! Travelogue is a series of posts which are designed to share highlights of the events and the sacred places that Shree Maa and Swamiji visit on their trip through India.
Included below are 17 exciting Travelogue Chapters. Enjoy reading chronologically, or click on a chapter of interest. Let’s get started!
Chapter 1: Shree Maa’s Inspiring Phone Call
Chapter 2: The Journey to Vaishno Devi
Chapter 3: Morning Worship at Vaishno Devi
Chapter 4: Other Temples in the Jammu-Kashmir Region
Chapter 5: Arrival in Rishikesh
Chapter 6: Daksheswara Mahadeva Temple
Chapter 7: Satsangha with Swamiji
Chapter 8: Kali Worship and Diwali
Chapter 9: Griha Pravesh Puja
Chapter 10: Kali Bari Temple, New Delhi
Chapter 11: Vrindavan
Chapter 12: Shree Maa’s Childhood Home in Digboi
Chapter 13: Mumbai
Chapter 14: Tryambakeshwar
Chapter 15: Nilgiri Mountains
Chapter 16: Bengaluru & Mysore
Chapter 17: Highlights of the 2014 Yatra
Back to Top Chapter 1: Shree Maa’s Inspiring Phone Call
Shree Maa and Swamiji landed in Delhi on Saturday, October 11th. I was thrilled to receive confirmation from Swamiji that they arrived safely and Shree Maa was in excellent spirits.
They were taking rest in Delhi for a few days, in anticipation of the start of a long journey to Katra. Here, they planned to worship at the Vaishno Devi Temple and receive Darshan of the Goddess.
This ancient temple is located in the city of Katra, located just outside of Kashmir. It is located deep into the mountainous region at an altitude of 6000 feet.
The original temple dates back to the primeval days, and was located in a cave. It is believed that this temple was built by the Pandav brothers from the Mahabharat Epic. But, through time, the temple was transformed into a concrete structure.
The journey to the mountains began on Tuesday, October 14th, at which time Swamiji’s email went silent.
Having not received an email from Swamiji since that time, I knew they were in a remote location with no internet connection.
Then, this morning, my phone rang and I heard “Namaste! This is Shree Maa calling from Vaishno Devi!”
Our blessed Mother had phoned!
The excitement and joy in Her voice pierced through the phone like I had never heard before.
Words cannot describe Her joy, Her happiness, and Her bliss as she expounded on Her experience at the Vaishno Devi Temple. Here is Her loving divine message to us all:
And so, it is our beloved Mother who has inspired the first of many 2014 Travelogue posts!
Her Divine words serve as a reminder to me, and I am sure you will agree, that what really makes the Divine Mother happy is pure devotion and sincere love.
I am certain that when internet connection is available, the devotees traveling with Shree Maa and Swamiji will send both pictures and their experiences.
Stay tuned for more exciting posts as we march our way together through the sacred lands of India.
Chapter 2: The Journey to Vaishno Devi
Ardent devotees trekked up a steep 12 kilometer (equivalent to 7.5 miles) mountain path with their personal belongings as well as prasad for the Goddess.
This walk would have been very difficult for Shree Maa, so fortunately there is a modern day alternative — a helicopter!
A most dedicated devotee, Sanjay, made convenient arrangements for us all to get to the top of the mountain within minutes.
After Shree Maa, Swamiji, and Swami Ramkripaluji were comfortably seated inside the helicopter, the rest of us packed in.
We all eagerly awaited this exciting journey. As the helicopter lifted, I noticed the breath-taking landscape. I was peaceful with the recognition that this location, this mountain, is a beautiful and most befitting home for the Goddess.
The helicopter delivered us to our final destination, close to the Vaishnav Devi Temple, in just a few short minutes. I know some of us (me) wished it would have taken longer to grant us additional time to enjoy the lovely scenery.
The city itself looks like a small town which is built into the side of the Himalayan Mountains. It has many stairs and winding paths in which we enjoyed our walks.
Due to a recent knee injury, Shree Maa was not able to walk up and down all of the paths and stairs. Luckily she didn’t have to! Sanjay to the rescue again!
This time our thoughtful Sanjay arranged for a small palki to be constructed for Shree Maa. A palki is a raised platform with a comfortable seat. It has poles to each side so we could carry her from place to place. She was in heaven — and so were we!
It is a tradition when on pilgrimage to Vaishnav Devi to continuously call out “Jai Mata Di!” which means Victory to Mother. Led by Ramya Maa, we continually chanted “Jai Mata Di!” while carrying Shree Maa through the streets of this quaint village.
Both to ourselves and to onlookers, it seemed like the Divine Mother herself, accompanied by shouts of Victory to Mother, had come to Vaishnav Devi.
We arrived at the temple in the evening, just in time for Arati.
These three rocks represent the same three Goddesses as the front row of the Devi Mandir’s Cosmic Altar – Mahakali, Mahalakshmi and Mahasaraswati.
As the Arati began at the temple we were pleased that it involved many stotrams and a few songs with which we are very familiar from our own worship in the Devi Mandir. They chanted stotrams from the Chandi, like the Devya Kavacham, Argala Stotram, Kilakam and others. We eagerly chanted along with them.
Swamiji later explained to me that if you learn to chant in our tradition, you will be able to chant with anyone. I definitely saw this to be true. We had no problem modifying our chanting to match that of the Pujaris leading the program.
One of the songs they sang was the Mahishasura Mardini Stotram, which is one of Shree Maa’s favorite songs. She was so delighted to hear the singing that she forgot about her knee injury and spontaneously stood up and began to dance! Obviously the Goddess was quite pleased with their Arati worship.
After Arati the head priest came over to greet Shree Maa and Swamiji. He was a very aged and kind man.
He showed us the various murtis of the temple and explained about the cave temple of Vaishnav Devi.
Everyone was filled with so much loving devotion that I could hardly wait for an opportunity to worship here.
Stay tuned for the morning worship and chanting!
Jai Maa! Jai Swamiji!
Chapter 3: Morning Worship at Vaishno Devi
The next opportunity to worship at the Vaishno Devi Temple came on an early morning excursion. Having experienced such a wonderful Arati on our first visit, we all longed to witness the morning puja and offer our own worship to the Goddess.
Shree Maa gleefully sat on her palki and was more than happy to be the star of the “palki photoshoot,” as one of the devotees quickly snapped a few adorable pictures of our smiling Shree Maa.
We carried our Mother that crisp early morning through the streets of Katra to the Temple, all the while chanting “Jai Mata Di! Jai Mata Di!”
Morning worship was sublime. Shree Maa was very delighted to see how the pujari’s meticulously performed puja to the Goddess, offering their hearts and souls along with all of the tangible offerings. She was so pleased to see the devotion of the pujari!
While at the temple, we were so fortunate to have an opportunity to chant some of the verses in the Chandi Path! Swamiji has written a few words of this experience that he so kindly wanted to share with us all:
And so, after experiencing another beautiful day of worship in one of India’s most revered temples, my heart was touched knowing that everything that Shree Maa and Swamiji teach us — all of the mantras, the exquisite chanting style, and the method of pranayama — can efficiently be modified and adapted to the styles and traditions of temples all around India.
I am sufficiently inspired, as I hope you will be, to keep learning, growing, and practicing in the path that our Guru’s have shown. For sure, we can make a difference!
Jai Maa! Jai Swamiji!
Chapter 4: Other Temples in the Jammu-Kashmir Region
There are several other notable temples in the city of Katra and the larger region of Jammu-Kashmir that we simply were not able to visit due to time constraints. But Shree Maa and Swamiji cleverly narrowed down the temple selection to a few quiet temples in which they thought we would be able to worship without the large crowds.
It was mid-morning, the air was brisk, the sun just coming up over the mountain top, and the birds were actively awake and seemed to be chirping “Ram, Ram-Ram, Ram!”
As we approached the temple, I looked down and noticed a beautiful dome with a red flag flying at the top. This was it!
My heart raced as I knew that soon we would be inside the temple chanting sacred mantras to Lord Ram.
We were all so eager to worship that our pace seemed to pick-up to a brisk walk as we approached the doors to the temple.
Upon arrival, I noticed that this temple has a warm, cozy feeling with its pure white walls and red carpeted floor.
Shree Maa lit a big candle, offered it to Lord Ram, and placed it in front of the altar.
Sitting on Her comfortable palki, which now was conveniently functioning as a chair, She and Swamiji led the group in the recitation of the Chandi Path.
There was another temple which afforded us the opportunity to worship. This was a Durga Temple located directly below Vaishno Devi. We chanted the Chandi Path here as well.
Shree Maa took the occasion to tell us a story about how Lord Brahma once created six Shaktis to do battle with the asura Jalamdar. My mind could not help but wonder if there was a correlation between this story and the six divine Durga’s on the altar, but before I could ask I found we were quickly getting set-up for worship.
With great vigor and enthusiasm, Swamiji started the Chandi Path. Listen as Swamiji shares this Chandi Path, and the related events at the Durga Temple, with you all:
After the worship in the Durga temple, we had a small satsangha where Swamiji explained that he had done many things in his life. He had many experiences and a variety of different accomplishments. But, he explained, at the end of the day, the very best experiences, the ones in which he is most grateful, were those in which he was able to sit and sing to God.
As Swamiji expressed himself with complete sincerity, my heart resonated with his words. It occurred to me that every moment of our lives can be a divine song to God – in every event, in every activity, in every thought, and in every emotion. Whether or not our particular situation allows us to be physically singing, certainly it is our choice to let our hearts sing no matter where we are and what we are doing.
As a final departure from Katra, together Shree Maa, Swamiji, and Swami Ramkripaluji, went back to Vaishno Devi to meet the head priest and extend to him our appreciation. Beloved Shree Maa sang a song in Her pristine voice.
The priest couldn’t help but ask for more! He suggested She sing three more songs — one for each Goddess! Shree Maa gladly obliged and her voice lifted our hearts in devotion to the Goddess.
Swamiji offered the priest cloth and dakshina while chanting the appropriate mantras with great enthusiasm and devotion. The head priest was deeply touched, as only someone connected with devotion from the heart can understand.
Watching this humble priest be moved to tears, I had a flash of insight. I realized the great gift that devotion offers back to us — it connects our human hearts together like nothing else can.
The priest then lovingly gave prasad from Vaishnav Devi to everyone present and our hearts soared with joy.
With joyful hearts, we departed the temple, packed our belongings, and were transported to the airport. It was time for our departure from the city of Katra.
It was a bitter sweet moment — sad because we were to leave this spiritual center tucked away in the middle of the Himalayan Mountains, but sweet that our next stop afforded spectacular views of Mother Ganga from Swami Ramkripaluji’s ashram in Rishikesh. Indeed, Rishikesh to many of us feels like home, and so we always look forward to our time there.
At the airport itself, there was a small obstacle that arose. We were all surprised when Swamiji had trouble getting through airport security. Enjoy Swamiji’s interaction with the Airport Security in Jammu:
I guess it’s a “small world” when you translate divine scriptures for a global audience!
We laughed all the way to the gate about Swamiji’s airport security incident, and recalled all of the “magic moments” experienced on this first leg of our journey.
We give thanks to Vaishno Devi for the blessings bestowed upon us and the entire Devi Mandir family.
Jai Mata Di! Jai Mata Di!
Chapter 5: Arrival in Rishikesh
If you have ever had the occasion to listen to the joyous bantering between Swami Satyananda and Swami Ramkripaluji, I am sure you will find our arrival at Swamiji Ramkripaluji’s ashram quite amusing. As we arrive, par for the course, the joyous teasing ensued:
So began our delightful stay in Swami Ramkripaluji’s ashram on the bank of the Ganga in Rishikesh.
The interior of this space is ideal for Shree Maa and Swamiji because it has one big room which serves as a temple, satsang, and dining area. It is in this magnificent room that we perform our morning worship, invite guests for satsangha and kirtan, and also enjoy scrumptious meals with family and friends.
First and foremost after arriving, Shree Maa put all her focus on setting up the altar. Wherever Shree Maa goes, she first makes that place into a temple. Once she makes it into God’s place, she is happy to stay there.
Shree Maa is a master at creating beauty in any space. She began with the most beautiful pink silk cloth and quickly attached it to the wall.
After placing a yellow silk cloth, she followed it by a pink sheer overlay. Then came all of the pictures, murtis and flowers. Wow! It was simply gorgeous.
As Shree Maa created the altar, Swamiji and I set up some equipment and very soon, in addition to our beautiful altar, we had a working microphone system and a projector for the iPad. Not only had we made a divine temple, we had also made a very functional one as well!
This technical set-up has become a very important tool in the group worship which we perform in India. It allows us to share our worship with those in attendance through projecting the sacred mantras and songs on the wall. We also create videos so we can share the highlights of our journey with the rest of the family.
During morning worship, Swamiji projected the Cosmic Puja (Samashti Upasana) on the wall, and we all chanted together. We would then take turns in rotation as to who would be the pujari placing the flowers on the altar each day.
During the evening Arati he displayed songs, stotrams, and sahasranams on the wall, allowing us to sing and chant together. People from all over India, and other parts of the world, were able to join our singing, enabling the satsangha to be filled with enormous joy and devotion!
On one special occasion, a group of devotees from Romania, who were visiting Rishikesh, came to see us. Shree Maa asked them to join us in singing the English song “Mother of the Universe.” We projected it on the wall and everyone happily joined in.
In between songs Swamiji explained to them the seven parts of Siddhantachara (Puja, Path, Homa, Sangeet, Nrit, Pravachan and Arpan) and the reason we perform them, which is to unite with God in all of our activities.
Swamiji’s teachings in India are especially delightful because his global audience often speaks different languages. To get the message through, Swamiji shifts between languages, always speaking in the tone, moderation, and content that his audience can easily comprehend and quickly grasp. It is simply amazing to watch how everyone understands and nobody is left out.
No matter where devotees come from, Swamiji is able to communicate significant spiritual insights which will change the destiny of their lives.
Often, in her quiet silence, Shree Maa plants the seeds of divinity in their hearts, which will blossom at the right time and place.
This is what it really means to be Savarni – he who belongs to all colors, casts, creeds, and tribes. This is Shree Maa and Swamiji. This is their divine gift to the world.
Jai Maa! Jai Swamiji!
Chapter 6: Daksheswara Mahadeva Temple
There are a few temples in the area of Rishikesh that are especially loved by Shree Maa and Swamiji. They almost always visit them whenever they come to Rishikesh, and even when they don’t, they send other devotees to these temples on their behalf with their blessings.
The favorite temples in the Rishikesh area are the Daksheswara Mahadeva Temple in the city of Kankhal, Rishi Kund/Ram Mandir near Triveni Ghat, Durga/Hanuman Mandir near Peeple Ghat, Tapkeshwara in Dheradun, Chandi Mandir in Haridwar, and Nilakanth Mahadeva in the nearby Himalayas. We highly recommend you visit these temples should you take a pilgrimage to Rishikesh.
Of these, I would like to share with you our visit to the Daksheswara Mahadeva Temple. This famous temple, located in the city of Kankhal, just outside of Haridwar, is the location of Daksha’s Yajna.
The story goes that the egotistical Daksha, one of the sons of Lord Brahma, attempted to perform a Yajna long ago. But things went awry when Daksha Prajapati insulted his divine daughter Sati Devi and her husband Lord Shiva by not extending an invitation for Lord Shiva to attend the Yajna.
As a result of this insult, Sati Devi, consumed her body in the fire of Her tapasya and a distraught Lord Shiva destroyed the Yajna.
The parts of Sati’s physical body eventually became the Shakti Peethas.
There is no greater storyteller than Swamiji, and you may enjoy listening to him tell this fascinating story of Daksha’s Yajna in his own words: Daksha’s Yajna Video Excerpt.
Following Her puja, She assembled delicious sandwiches and other savory snacks which we were to carry with us on the road. We were leaving bright and early that morning, at 6:00 am, and she wanted to make sure everyone had something to eat along the way.
Swami Ramkripaluji had generously offered one of his disciples to be our driver, though it left him without much help for needed tasks at his own ashram. This act of giving, this loving sacrifice, did not go unnoticed. Shree Maa, Swamiji, and the rest of us, were immensely grateful.
This fine driver navigated us seamlessly to the temple, as he gently weaved the car back and forth in a few of the rough areas to avoid the “big bumps” which can jolt the body a bit.
Upon arrival at the temple, we were warmly greeted by the priests, who easily recognized Shree Maa and Swamiji from past visits.
It is like a special kinship is formed at the temples we visit every year, and the priests in this particular temple were overjoyed to see us again and to know that we had come to perform worship.
They gave us the customary blessing of a tilak, which is a mark on the forehead. We were happy that in this temple, the mark was in the shape of the three lines which Lord Shiva wears on his forehead. The three lines represent that His mind is beyond all the three gunas.
Shree Maa performed a short puja, offering light, incense, flower garland, and flowers to the murtis near the havan kund.
When Shree Maa offered the cloth in worship, She accidentally placed the cloth in such a way that it covered the front and back of the small murti, rather than covering his two sides as intended. Upon noticing, the humble priest stood up from his seat and gently turned the cloth to face the proper direction. Shree Maa smiled and giggled when she realized what had happened.
When the puja was complete, we all gathered inside the main temple to recite the Chandi Path. In this location there is a lot of foot traffic, as devotees walk in and out, but we always manage to find a place to sit.
Shree Maa and Swamiji have a favorite location for their worship in this temple — they always tuck themselves on a wall that has a signature yantra displayed in the background. This allows them to face the deities in worship, and though devotees continuously walk by, they have trained their minds to focus and concentrate, so they don’t even notice.
The Chandi Path was complete in a little over two hours, at which time Swamiji stood up, gathered an offering of cloth and dakshina, and made his way over to the head priest.
In his most energetic voice, Swamiji made an offering from his heart while chanting the sacred mantras. Interestingly, while Swamiji was chanting the mantras, this divine priest simultaneously was putting the blessing of a tilak on Swamiji’s forehead.
Having completed our beautiful puja, and after experiencing the vibrational bliss created from our Chandi Path recitation, it was now time to enter the main mandir where Mahadeva resides in the form of a Shiva Lingam.
This part of the temple is just a few short steps away, and as we entered, we paid our respects to the beautiful white marble Nandi, who obediently overlooks the Shiva Lingam.
There is enough room for about 20 people to gather around the lingam, and a pujari is always in attendance offering continual puja. Shree Maa and Swamiji managed to get close enough to be able to make their own offerings and chant the mantras in our tradition.
The pujari was so delighted to hear our chanting, and to witness our worship, that he offered us a box of sweets. This wonderful prasad had been offered to Lord Shiva by another devotee, and the priest, in turn, offered it to us.
Our worship at Daksheswara Mahadeva Temple was now complete. As we slowly strolled back to our car, I reflected back to early morning, which now seemed like ages ago.
In contemplation, it is easy to recognize the beauty of giving which is so naturally expressed by the people of India.
From the early morning sandwiches that Shree Maa made, to the impeccable service of our driver offered by Swamiji Ramkripaluji, to the sharing of joy, love, and a Tilak from the temple priests, to our own offerings at the temple, and finally to the sweets offered by the Pujari – it is apparent that the art of giving actually lives!
It lives in the hearts of the people in India and in Her holy temples.
Imagine what we could create if we made a sankalpa (committment, vow) to be a mirror of India, and to reflect Her “giving nature” in all we do.
I can think of no greater way to say “thank you” for the privilege to be in the company of such a divine global satsangha.
Jai Maa! Jai Swamiji!
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Chapter 7: Satsangha with Swamiji
It was nice to breathe in the fresh air, which gently rolled off the river as if it were blessing us with its darshan. I felt doubly blessed this beautiful morning to also receive Swamiji’s darshan.
The group headed on foot to some of the charming temples which are located in the center of Rishikesh, within 1/2 mile from Swami Ramkripaluji’s ashram.
As we made our journey, whenever we passed by people who were walking in the opposite direction, Swamiji, with a huge grin on his face, would lift his hands to his heart in prayer posture and say “Namaste” or “Shubh Prabhatam,” which means good morning in sanskrit.
Some in our group were new devotees, having just met Shree Maa and Swamiji a few days back. As we walked, occasionally one of them would ask Swamiji a spiritual question. Swamiji’s answers were profound, as he shared his wisdom in such a way that all could understand. He always gives 100% to the extent of his capacity, and this time was no different.
It had two peepal trees next to it, where sadhus can often be found sitting, sleeping, or doing sadhana. Peepal trees are considered sacred in India, so sacred that Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita said, “Of all trees I am the Peepal tree.”
Swamiji became quiet for a moment, and then reminisced that a long time ago he had placed his asana under these trees and performed countless hours of sadhana.
Seeing the twinkle in Swamiji’s eyes as he recounted those glorious days, I felt spontaneously compelled to pray to the Divine Mother for one wish — that Swamiji be given the opportunity to spend time in quiet sadhana here again. And yes, I confess, I selfishly requested for me to be able to join him!
At the Durga Mandir, Swamiji led the group in chanting the Devya Kavacham. He chanted slowly and deliberately so as to teach them how to break the anusthup meter, and how to chant with pranayama.
When Ritika was finished, Swamiji delivered a discourse on the Nine Durgas. With full attention, the group listened and absorbed Swamiji’s explanation of how the Nine Durgas outline a path to perfection in any endeavor we choose to undertake.
Swamiji encouraged them to follow the path of the nine durgas: first we get an inspiration, then we begin studying, next we start practicing. Then we refine the practice, and that practice begins to nurture divinity. From there we get really good at it and it becomes ever pure. Next comes the giving up of the Ego, and then we become one with the Great Radiant Light in everything we do. The last Goddess is Siddhidhatri, the Grantor of Perfection.
It was a quick but powerful lesson, and Swamiji gently urged them to study our website article: Attain Perfection in All Endeavors – Understanding the Nine Durgas, which explains the path in greater detail.
As we headed to the next temple, I took advantage of the opportunity to chat with the new devotees, most of whom are from the country of India. They were astonished at Swamiji’s wisdom of the scriptures. For so many years they had longed for a sadhu, a priest, or a guru to explain the essence of the scriptures in a way that they could understand. Now they have found Swamiji!
Through my travels with Shree Maa and Swamiji, I have heard this same line of thinking from many Indian devotees. They are deeply touched and immensely appreciative of Swamiji’s interpretations of things that they had always taken at face value. I have to admit, I second their thoughts!
It is in this sacred location of Triveni Ghat where it is believed that the three rivers, Ganga, Yamuna, and Saraswati, merged together.
Not surprising, this is Rishikesh’s hot spot for taking a holy dip, praying, and offering flowers and ghee lights to the river.
Rishikund, one of the oldest temples in Rishikesh, is located right next to the Triveni Ghat. Inside this ancient temple is the Ram Mandir, and it is here where we planned to do our sadhana.
We quickly realized that there was not enough room for the group to sit in this location, so we decided to perform our sadhana at the Lakshmi-Narayan Mandir, which is in the same building, but right next door. It’s hard to believe that we were here, in this very same temple, at about the same time last year.
We all took our seats and Swamiji led the group in chanting the Sundar Kanda. Rather than singing the Sundar Kanda, as we often do at our own Devi Mandir, we chanted it much like we do the Chandi Path, using pranayama.
As we chanted these wonderful verses Swamiji playfully started acting out the words to remind us of the meaning.
The powerful vibration of the mantras, along with Swamiji’s joyous reminders of the meanings of the verses, filled us all with a great energy. So great it became that we started chanting louder and faster. It was so exhilarating that it became difficult not to burst into song.
There are always certain verses in the Ramachritamanas (Note: the Sundar Kanda is one episode of the seven included in the Ramachritamanas) which are so fantastic, so filled with wisdom, that they almost require some special emphasis. One of my personal favorites is this verse:
“Hey Dear One, take all the pleasures of heaven and even those of liberation and count them as one, all of them together cannot be equal to the pleasure gained from satsangha, from the communion with beings of truth” ~ Sundar Kanda, Doha 4
As we, ourselves, were amidst a great satsangha, we could not have agreed more with these words!
By the end of the recitation, it felt as if our hearts were leaping with joy, much like how Hanuman leaped across the Ocean of Worldliness in a single bound!
When we had completed the recitation, to demonstrate our appreciation, Swamiji instructed one of the devotees to give dakshina to the priest. The priest happily blessed us with prasad from the deity.
It was now early afternoon, the sun was directly overhead, and it was time to start the journey back to the ashram. We knew our beloved Shree Maa would be waiting for us, ready to feed our hungry stomachs and eager to hear all about our experiences.
We will all treasure the special memories of this satsangha with Swamiji, who sets a pristine example for all sadhus to follow. He not only genuinely cares about the devotees who approach him, but he also has a great passion for teaching spiritual wisdom.
This combination makes him extraordinary — so extraordinary that a few years back Shree Maa said to me, “Out of all the sadhus in India that I have ever met, Swamiji is the purest; you will NEVER find a better teacher than Swamiji.” She was right!
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Chapter 8: Kali Worship and Diwali
Diwali is a time to celebrate the sharing of our light with others. In our tradition, and in many parts of India, prior to celebrating Diwali we first worship Mother Kali, The Remover of Darkness. Kali Maa is the great mother who takes away our negativity so that the light can shine.
This is one of the most remarkable celebrations that Shree Maa and Swamiji perform every year. It is remarkable because when Kali Maa is invoked, we can feel Her intense energy envelope us.
This is what Diwali is all about — sharing our love.
Since childhood, Shree Maa has participated in grand Diwali celebrations, and this 2014 celebration performed in Rishikesh was equally comparable.
Shree Maa knows how to throw a party, and She left no stone unturned as She planned for this one. In preparation for this festive event, Shree Maa gathered a small group of devotees nearly every day for almost a week to teach them Kali bhajans.
We practiced and practiced to get the correct pronunciation, the precise rhythm, and, most importantly, to infuse ourselves with Shree Maa’s bhava.
In addition to our daily bhajan practice, every evening we participated in satsangha with Shree Maa and Swamiji, and chanted the Kali Sahasranam and the powerful Aparajita Stotram. Afterwards, we would also sing the Kali songs that Shree Maa so lovingly taught.
The group was prepared — we could chant in unison and were able to sing in a way that lifted the spirits of all in attendance.
Finally, the destined day had come! The time to perform the Kali worship and to celebrate Diwali was upon us. Though every beat of my heart pounded with excitement, I tried my best to suppress it in order to remain focused on my seva, for, on this day, I was given the privilege to help set up the homa and to ensure the electronic equipment worked properly.
Shree Maa segmented the program into three main parts: in the early afternoon we performed the Kali Puja at the altar, in the early evening we went outside near the bank of the Ganges River to perform the Homa, and then later we were back inside for a final puja and arati.
There were a little over 20 devotees who gathered to celebrate. During the puja, several devotees concentrated near the altar so they could see first-hand Swamiji make the offerings on behalf of our group. Swamiji encouraged participation by projecting the puja mantras on the wall.
Many of us chanted along with Shree Maa and Swamiji, but I noticed some of the others drew silent. It was as if a deep peace penetrated their minds and they became mesmerized just listening to the sound of the mantras.
When the puja came near to its conclusion, Shree Maa asked everyone to offer pushpanjali (a handful of flowers) with the last of the mantras. Everyone together made their offerings to Kali, praying for Her to remove all darkness and illuminate the light.
There were a few short hours between the puja and the homa and we wasted no time in preparation. Shree Maa instructed Ramya to decorate the balcony with tea lights to invite Maha Lakshmi’s golden light into the ashram, while others, including myself, helped Swamiji set up the Kali homa.
We had picked out an ideal location for the homa. It was just outside of Swami Ramkripaluji’s ashram, in front of the majestic Ganges River, and adjacent to a near-by cement block wall.
We first set up a Vedi, which is a raised area for the fire, and got our hands a little dirty as we carefully crafted the mud into a ~ 3 inch high square platform. After clean-up, we began to transport all of the homa ingredients to the site location, as well as electronic speakers, a projector, and several mats upon which we could sit.
But our most important delivery that day happened to be our beloved Mother Shree Maa, who wanted to participate in the homa set-up. With a big smile on Her face, Shree Maa sat on Her much cherished palki, and we carefully delivered Her to Swamiji at the homa site.
She sat calmly, in perfect stillness, as She watched all of us help Swamiji with the homa preparations.
Occasionally Shree Maa would express a desire for something to be done and, as you can imagine, we all dropped what we were doing and raced to Her side to try to fulfill Her desire. At one point, She took a handful of marigolds and began making a beautiful AUM sign on the top of the homa vedi. It turned out lovely.
As we set up the electronics, we cleverly hung a white sheet on to the brick wall, which would serve as our projector screen. We also set up a computer so that we could record the homa for our global family.
They recognized the homa pit, but they could not imagine why a computer and an iPad were in the vicinity of a homa pit. They were also puzzled by the mysterious white sheet hanging on the dirty cement wall.
Be it adults, children, or sadhus they all wanted to know what we were up to, and some even gathered the courage to come over and ask us.
I must admit, I am very proud of the creative inspiration which allowed us to marry modern technology with ancient systems of worship.
This empowered everyone in the nearby vicinity, be they Sadhu or passerby, to join in our worship. The mantras were clearly projected on the white sheet, there was ample room on the mats to sit, and we had extra masala for offering to the fire. In this way, anyone who wished to join would be able to.
It was now approaching early evening and the waning sun cast pink, gold, and peach highlights upon the distant sky. The devotees began to arrive and they set up their asanas, music stands, iPads, and books.
It was quickly growing dark, and though it wasn’t yet chilly, I was hoping the crackling fire would keep us toasty through the evening. Then, I noticed Shree Maa and Swamiji look into each other’s eyes, as if in recognition that the time had come to start the homa. With a deep breath, I internally said the words “Jai Maa!” and then Swamiji began.
Everyone was spellbound as Swamiji established the Divine Fire. As the fire roared, Swamiji led the group in the Kali Sahasranam (1000 Names of Kali Maa), and we offered oblations with an enthusiastic “Swaha!” after each name.
But even louder was the sound of the names of the Goddess reverberating through the atmosphere.
Even brighter was the light shining in our hearts as Kali Maa removed our darkness.
The objective of our Kali Homa is to offer our negativity to the Divine Fire. I wanted to keep focused on this objective, while welcoming anything that was meant to be on that great evening, even the fireworks.
Without judgement, without evaluation, and with pure acceptance, I began to enjoy the fireworks that were exploding around us. I integrated the fireworks into my worship, rather than rejecting them, or becoming frustrated with the noise. When one “popped,” I would envision negativity being lifted from me, or I would envision Maha Kali becoming more and more pleased. In this way, I grew to enjoy the unique situation that was presented to us.
When the 1000 names were complete, Swamiji began reciting the mantras for the sacrifice of the Ego, which was represented by a lauki (a kind of squash).
He explained to everyone that they should place all of their Ahamkara, all of their darkness and egotism, into that squash and let it be the sacrifice to God.
Swamiji recited the mantras and drew the sacrificial knife up into the air. A dramatic pause followed. Swamiji had told me on a previous occasion, “No matter how much you want to bring the knife down, it just won’t go until the Divine Mother gives the order.”
Everyone sat waiting for the knife to come down. Despite all the fireworks and noise going on around us, it seemed as if there was utter silence … still the knife hung in the air … then “Phat!” Swamiji chanted the mantra loudly as he brought the knife down.
Shree Maa shouted out “Kali Mata Ki …” and everyone responded with a resounding “Jai!”
Swamiji held up the two pieces of the sacrificed lauki and, with a big smile on his face, said, “The Ego is gone!” He then chanted the Gayatri Mantra while cutting the lauki into several pieces. These pieces were distributed to everyone, and they eventually offered their egos, in the form of the pieces of squash, to the Divine Fire.
Our spirits were soaring as we packed up, but amazingly, the divine festivities were not over yet!
We all gathered back at the ashram for a puja and performed the 108 light arati. Now that our darkness was removed, it was time to celebrate the coming of the light.
Shree Maa and Swamiji sang and danced for Kali, inspiring everyone to follow their example.
Upon the seeing the sparkler, Shree Maa continued the arati, but this time with sparklers!
Her face was beaming with a radiant smile and child-like glee as she participated in the sparkler arati.
And so, this grand Diwali celebration was a huge success.
It was easy to see the shift in everyone who participated.
Their darkness was removed, the light of bliss was revealed, and the child-like innocence was lovingly expressed as we joyfully played with sparklers, sang “Jai Maa,” and even headed back outside to light our own fireworks.
As I grew ready for slumber, I challenged myself to remember these precious moments, knowing that my real journey begins when I come down from the spiritual mountaintop, enter the world where the work must be done, and apply the light as a gift to the weary and to the difficult situations that present themselves.
As Shree Maa and Swamiji teach, it is our responsibility to share and give back to the world. Why not share our light continuously? We don’t even have to wait for Diwali to do it. We can start now!
Chapter 9: Griha Pravesh Puja
Our stay in Rishikesh was drawing to a close. Devotees from all over India were calling from their hearts for Shree Maa and Swamiji to come see them, and we knew it was time to move forward on our journey.
First though, prior to departing, Swami Ramkripaluji made one small request of Shree Maa and Swamiji. He requested for them to perform the special Griha Pravesh Puja in the new apartment flat which some of his devotees had obtained for him.
This special puja purifies the space and invites God into the residence. Many saints and devout Hindus will not make use of a new home until this puja is done.
Swami Ramkripaluji was so overcome with joy that his face lit-up with an “ear-to-ear” smile that seemed as wide as the Himalayan Mountain range!
With excitement in his voice, he repeatedly said, “Thank You Maa! Thank You Swamiji! Thank You!”
Shree Maa loves the devotion of Swami Ramkripaluji, and I knew She would make this a special event for him.
Upon arriving in Rishikesh, Shree Maa had received a fairly large-sized beautiful five metal murti of Lord Ganesh. As part of Her daily puja, She had been worshipping Him all of the days while in Rishikesh.
As many of you know, Shree Maa never goes anywhere empty handed, and on this special occasion She decided to bring along Her Lord Ganesha!
He was heavy, so it took two of us to carefully wind our way down three flights of stairs to the cars.
We gently placed Ganesha, The Remover of Obstacles, in the back seat, keeping the front seat open for Swami Ramkripaluji. As we were getting into the cars, Swami Ramkripaluji saw the murti of Ganesh and recounted that Ganesh is the Agra Devata.
The word “agra” means foremost and front, meaning Lord Ganesh is the first to be worshipped in any puja. Because of this, the devout Swami Ramkripaluji requested us to move Lord Ganesh to the front of the car.
There was an obstacle though. The Ganesha murti was quiet large. So large that He could not sit on the dashboard, nor between the driver and passenger seats.
As we debated what to do, Swami Ramkripaluji simply sat down in the passenger seat and requested for us to place Lord Ganesha on his lap.
In the blink of an eye, the obstacle was removed! Jai Ganesha!
Swami Ramkripaluji could once again be seen with a child-like grin on his face as he escorted Lord Ganesh on his lap down the bumpy roads of Rishikesh.
It wasn’t too long before we reached the apartment. We immediately assisted Lord Ganesh out of the “lap of divine luxury” and into the apartment, while Shree Maa scoped out a most befitting location for Ganesh in a quiet corner of the main bedroom. She placed a sparkling red and gold cloth for his seat and instructed us to carefully place Ganesh on top of it.
We took a quick tour of all of the rooms of the apartment and then sat down to perform the Griha Pravesh Puja.
This Puja can vary in degrees of complexity, but at its most basic level it involves a puja to Ganesh, Kalasha Sthapana (Establishment of the Pot) and Prana Pratistha (Establishment of Life). After which, the water from the pot is spread around the house as a blessing.
At the end of the Devyarthavashirsham it states: “If it (the Devyarthavashirsham) is recited at the time of establishment of life within a deity, life will be established.”
After the puja, we sang the song Jaya Ganesha Ganapati Daya Nidhi, which is the first song we sing at Saturday night kirtan at our own Devi Mandir.
As is typical, Swami Ramkripaluji requested Shree Maa to sing his favorite song, Atma Nivasi Ram. She sang with such great intensity that Swami Ramkripaluji, who sang along with Her, went into devotional ecstasy.
Swamiji then performed Visarjana, the returning of the Divine Energy to the unmanifest, to the pot where he had established life.
He then took the pot, which is filled with water during the Puja, and with a flower, sprinkled the blessed water around the house while reciting the Gayatri Mantra as we walked behind him also reciting the mantra.
In this way, Swamiji purified the house and established the divine energy from the puja throughout the premises. Now it had become a fitting place for a Great Soul like Swami Ramkripaluji to reside.
As we were leaving the apartment, Swami Ramkripaluji looked at me and said, “You have forgotten the murti of Ganesh! Don’t you need to take Him with you?”
I respectfully told Swami that the Ganesha is a gift from Shree Maa and Swamiji, who had established Him here to bless his residence.
Swami Ramkripaluji’s expression was filled with awe, as if he was in total disbelief. With great reverence and appreciation, he bowed to that beautiful murti of Ganesh, which was now alive and infused with divine energy.
The sacred gift, in the form of the puja and the Ganesha murti, was Shree Maa and Swamiji’s way of saying, “Thank you” to Swami Ramkripaluji for his genuine hospitality.
From letting us reside at his ashram, to the usage of his cars, to the offering of the service of his own disciples, Swami Ramkripaluji demonstrated great respect and loving seva toward Shree Maa and Swamiji.
I think back to our arrival at the ashram, to that humorous moment of joyous bantering between the two Swamis, and further to Swami Ramkripaluji’s words, “No! No! Swamiji! I am only saying that you should consider this your own place. You are most welcome here.” Swami Ramkripaluji lived up to those words. He truly meant it!
In turn, it was inspiring to see the way in which Shree Maa and Swamiji demonstrated their deep humility and sincere appreciation to Swami Ramkripaluji through the puja and the murti.
And now, it is time to depart. We will greatly miss Rishikesh – its beauty, the comfortable ashram, the impeccable hospitality, and, above all, the beautiful smile of Swami Ramkripaluji, which can light up even the darkest of rooms.
But, just like leaves fall from the trees in the wintertime only to re-sprout in the spring, we pray that our departure from the holy land of Rishikesh will eventually lead to another blossoming for us here next year.
Jai Maa! Jai Swamiji! Jai Swami Ramkripaluji!