Assam is a state in the north-eastern region of India, connected to India mainland through West Bengal.
This beautiful land is located south of the eastern Himalayas and is well-known for its tea plantations and the conservation of wildlife, such as the rare one-horned Indian rhinoceros, Asian elephant, Bengali tiger, and a variety of bird species.
Though Digboi was a two hour drive away from the airport, no one seemed to mind as the luscious green panorama was a real treat for our eyes.
As I looked out the window, I noticed the landscape here was in far contrast to the busy city of New Delhi, as if the short plane trip had transported us into a whole new world. This world was serene, quite, and contained one of the most majestic landscapes I have ever seen.
The rolling green tea plantations upon the rural landscape went on for as far as the eye could see. God’s love surely is expressed in the beauty of nature. This breath-taking view served as a reminder to me to stay aware of the hidden grace which becomes manifest through unadulterated nature.
The beauty was magnified by the arduous field workers who, in peaceful acceptance of their dharma, tended to the fields with great attention and love as they picked tea leaves under the sun.
As is typical in India, there were free-roaming cows and goats who meandered on the side of the road, often searching for food. Sometimes, these sacred animals of India would walk into the road, but the occasional “beep-beep” from the car horn would alert them to slowly move to the side.
Another diversion from the two hour car journey came in the form of an attempted Sanskrit conversation with Sushil.
We took advantage of our time in the car with Sushil to try to practice and learn.
In the most joyful and playful way, Sushil would correct us when we were wrong and applauded us when we had spoken it correctly.
He was like a proud parent teaching his children how to talk, and it made our sanskrit learning very entertaining, especially when we broke out into hysterical laughter!
As we approached Shree Maa’s birthplace, not only did our anticipation grow, but Shree Maa herself was touched by the excitement of seeing Her childhood home.
She had not been to Digboi since She left the state in Her younger days, and She was so much looking forward to visiting Her family, childhood friends, classmates, and devotees.
The hotel owner was very sweet and became deeply inspired by Shree Maa’s devotion. Despite the fact that throughout the hotel we could be heard chanting and singing, our hotel owner did not mind in the least.
One time Swamiji inquired to the owner to see if our chanting was disturbing his hotel and he responded, “Who cares, makes this place your ashram while you stay here!”
This could only happen in India – for sure a Hilton, Marriott, or any other hotel located in the United States would have demanded our silence.
There was much joy in the hearts of Shree Maa’s family when we arrived at Her childhood home.
They graciously took us on a tour through this rustic home with several inter-connected rooms. As they did, they began sharing special family events and funny stories that a family holds in their memory banks as precious. They even showed us the room in which Shree Maa spent Her time as a child.
As the family bonding continued, the stories grew rich in humor and Shree Maa could even be seen sitting on a bed with Her family just laughing and giggling like a school girl.
Our home tour continued to the outside where we walked over to a cute small pond adorned with lovely flowers all around it.
Shree Maa’s heart blossomed as She relived the days of how, as a child, She would walk to this pond every day, look at all of the flowers, pick the choicest ones in full bloom, and offer them to God in Her puja.
When the home tour was done, Shree Maa and Swamiji worshiped the various images of divinity in the house and led everyone in singing the Hanuman Chalisa and other songs.
We then took a tour of other sites that were instrumental in shaping Shree Maa as a child. We visited her grade school, a Kali Temple where she used to practice meditation, and a Ramakrishna Ashram.
When we arrived at Shree Maa’s grade school, we were unsure if we would be allowed to go into the school as the teachers were in the middle of teaching and the students were engaged in learning.
The Headmistress (Principal) of the school invited us in and was happy to talk with Shree Maa.
Little girls in their school uniforms could be seen staring out from all the classroom doors and windows. As they peered through the windows, their inquiring minds were wondering who had come to their school that was so important that all of the teachers had left their classrooms!
Finally, some of them must have recognized who Shree Maa was because as Shree Maa walked around the school, the children were staring at Her and became overwhelmed with excitement. Also, when Shree Maa passed by a classroom, many students would come out and touch her feet.
Swamiji stopped in one classroom to talk to the students. He told them that Shree Maa had studied in this same school and She is now a world renowned spiritual teacher.
The students stared with complete attention as Swamiji spoke. Not only were they amazed to hear about Shree Maa, but here was a white sannyasi from America in their classroom speaking Bengali!
What a memorable school day this was for those sweet children!
As we were about to leave, the school administrators called us back into the office. One of the men said to Shree Maa, “I think this is the first time you have come back here, and I am afraid it might be the only time you visit us. Please, let us pay you some respect to you before you go.”
Because we were now outside, the teachers decided to let all of the students out and suddenly a flood of students came running from their classrooms eager to watch.
Prior to our leaving, Swamiji chanted a blessing for all the students and then explained the meaning to them in Bengali. After a large round of applause, the Headmistress bowed down and touched Shree Maa’s feet.
I am sure it was the most exciting and inspiring school day those students, and even teachers, had enjoyed in a long time.
Our next stop was the Kali Temple where Shree Maa often worshiped as a child. We offered a puja to Kali, and Shree Maa brought a huge bright shining necklace as part of the offering. We then sat down to recite the Kali Sahasranam.
Exciting news travels quickly in small towns, and it seemed that the news was out that the beloved Shree Maa was worshiping at the temple.
By the time we finished the Kali Sahasranam and began singing some songs, a large group had gathered.
Shree Maa lovingly spoke with them, blessed them, and compassionately listened to their troubles.
Our last visit of the day was to the ashram of the local Ramakrishna order.
Sadly, this ashram was virtually vacant, as if very few people were living here. Even the arati was done by a recording.
Our large group added some bhavana to the arati by singing along with the recording. Shree Maa then led the group in songs for Ramakrishna. We could see residents peering into the temple with a look of shock, as if new life had returned to the ashram.
And so, though our chapter in the town of Digboi has come to a close, the spirit and bhavana that Shree Maa left behind will endure in the hearts and minds of all She touched.
Her love, Her compassion, and Her devotion enveloped Her childhood town and breathed new life and invigorating energy into it. Such is the grace of the Universal Mother. Such is the grace of Shree Maa!