1) From America to New Delhi
We all knew that this was going to be a tour like no other, but what we didn’t anticipate was that the Divine Mother would make it so much more memorable in so many ways that none of us could have ever imagined.
So many devotees from all around the world were planning to join Shree Maa and Swamiji for the third year of their three-year Chaitra Navaratri Sankalpa at the Kamakhya Temple in Guwahati, India. But due to the coranavirus, plans got changed, shifted, and many plans were eventually cancelled.
As you can imagine, many devotees from around the world were looking forward to the Kamakhya Navaratri experience. We have written about this experience in previous Travelogues, but in case you missed it, Shree Maa and the devotees stayed in a hotel just adjacent to the temple. This allowed them to easily walk to the temple and perform their daily homas.
They could also easily participate in the inspiring evening arati, which included exclaiming “Jai Maa! Jai Maa!” to the heavy-pounding of drums, causing the devotees to dance in ecstasy while circumambulating the temple. What a joyful experience, and one we were all looking forward to this time around too.
Here are some scenes from 2019 Navaratri at Kamakhya Temple:
Fast forward to mid-March, 2020 — the year of the Coronavirus. Boom!. The world was fast coming to a screeching halt as countries began to shut down travel. We all wondered — what will happen? Will we get to the Kamakhya Temple? Will the temple even be open? But despite the uncertainties, a few of us traveling with Shree Maa carried forward.
Shree Maa, Swamiji and a small group of US devotees were originally going to depart SFO (San Francisco) on British Airways on March 14, 2020. On March 11th, luckily some Devi Mandir family members alerted us to the fact that India would be suspending tourist Visas beginning on March 13th because of the Coronavirus. Therefore our flights to India on March 14 would be cancelled.
Upon hearing this news, we scrambled to negotiate seats on one of the last flights out of the US to India. It was a non-stop Air India flight the next morning from SFO to New Delhi. By Divine Mother’s grace we got some of the last remaining seats on that flight.
The one casualty was that Swamiji was not able to join us. With the uncertainty of international flights being allowed in and out of both India and the United States, Swamiji decided that it would be best to not leave His aging Mother’s side for too long.
As much as He wanted to go to India, Swamiji made the selfless decision to stay back in Los Angeles so He could take care of his 100 year old Mother. We were very sad that He could not join.
That next morning, March 12 at 7:00 am, Shree Maa and a small group of devotees entered the SFO airport. As custom, Sonic (a.k.a. Monkey) came to help Shree Maa and Swami Pranavananda with the luggage and see them off.
This grand airport, which is usually bustling with action and energy from international travelers scurrying to catch their flights, was eerily empty — quiet — as if the world had come to an end. The only action to be seen was a T.V. news reporter who was interviewing a European man, asking him about his travel plans and what he had done while he was in the United States.
Though the huge airport seemed empty, our flight to Delhi was actually packed as Indian nationals tried to get back home before the flights to India were stopped for the foreseeable future.
The airport and flight itself seemed like something from a sci-fi move as the attendants were geared up with face masks and gloves, as were about half of the passengers. Shree Maa herself looked adorable in Her mask and we could not resist snapping a picture of Her.
When we arrived in India 16 hours later, it took us maybe an extra 15 minutes to leave the airport as they did a health screening (temperature and body heat checks) as well as required us to fill out forms detailing the location of our stay, passport numbers, etc., so they could track travelers’ whereabouts because of the virus.
We were informed later by a family member that within hours of us leaving the airport, the line to get through the health checks grew from a 15 minute wait to an eight hour wait. Whew! Divine Mother once again bestowed Her Grace upon us, shuffling us through the Delhi airport so quickly.
Thinking back on all of this, this whole trip was by the grace of Mother. Just the fact that we arrived in India at all, as we were on one of the last flights allowed into India, was a miracle.
Shree Maa joked that if She couldn’t fly to India She would have walked! In Shree Maa fashion, She was demonstrating the intensity of Her devotion and Her commitment to fulfilling Her Sankalpa.
From March 13 to March 20 we stayed at Sanjay’s house in New Delhi. Unfortunately Sanjay was not there when we arrived. He had been admitted to the hospital for a few days just before our arrival, but he so generously let us use his home without him even being there. Thank you, Sanjay!
We stayed in Delhi for close to a week so we did get to enjoy Sanjay’s darshan for at least a few days before we left for the Kamakhya Temple in Guwahati.
Life at Sanjay’s home was simple and sweet, and provided a much needed break from the hustle of the international travel amidst a pandemic. His home has a separate Puja room so Shree Maa had ample space to perform Her daily worship.
Lakshman, Shree Maa’s Indian cook, so graciously cooked and served our meals, which were scrumptious as always.
Nanda Maa from California also flew to India to be with Shree Maa. Nanda flew into Delhi and graced us with her presence prior to continuing onto South India to be with her parents. Nanda Maa was to visit her parents for a week prior to re-joining Shree Maa.
The world shifted on us once again as word of a lockdown in India reached us. It became clear that we needed to keep our group of people as small as possible. So as a result, we were very sad that Nanda Maa had to stay back. Lakshman too was not able to go with us to Guwahati. Divya Maa, a devotee local to New Delhi who helped us a lot with local shopping while we were there, also had to cancel her trip.
During our stay in New Delhi, devotees old and new visited Shree Maa to get Her blessings. Two devotees from Brazil, Stephanie Maa and Ganga Maa, who have taught Chandi classes in Brazil from Swamiji’s book, by chance were in India when they came to learn that Shree Maa was nearby. So they spontaneously came to meet Shree Maa for the first time.
Their love, sheer gratitude, and awe to meet Shree Maa was so tangible. How honored and humble they were to meet both Shree Maa and Swamiji (via phone call), and receive their blessings. It’s no wonder God arranged for this synchronistic meeting. It was a perfect example of the Law of Attraction at work.
While in New Delhi we had the honor and privilege to go to a sacred Kali Temple. When we got there we were the only ones in the whole temple. Shree Maa gave cloth to the priest who put it on Kali Maa, who looked like the sister of the Dakshineshwar Kali and radiated a tangible energy.
Shree Maa began to recite the 1,000 names of Kali. When done, I turned around and saw the temple had quietly filled with people while we were absorbed in Kali. They came in so quietly and respectfully, it was inspiring to see.
What a blessing to behold Her as well as the Krishna Murti and Shiva Lingam complete with Nandi.
As Shree Maa walked by the Nandi Murti, She lovingly gave it a kiss. Sooo sweet. I didn’t want to leave this holy place as I was so moved by the energy in this temple and respectfulness of the people.
As much as we were enjoying our stay in Delhi, we began hearing talk that domestic flights within India could be canceled because of the Coronavirus. We started debating whether or not we should fly to Guwahati early. Shree Maa jokingly exclaimed, “If we can’t fly to Kamakhya, we’ll drive there!”
Shree Maa didn’t bat an eyelash knowing it’s a two to three day drive from New Delhi to Kamakhya! She has a willpower, commitment, and determination like no other!
And we almost had to do just that — drive. As Swami Pranavananda attempted to check us in at the airport for our domestic flight from New Delhi to Guwahati on Friday, March 20th, there was a problem. I (Krista) was American. Just that day they started restricting foreigners from flying because of the virus. It took Swami Pranavananda about 45 minutes and talking to a manager before they agreed to allow me to go.
Swami Pranavanada explained how we were on a spiritual mission to Kamakhya Temple. They finally agreed to let us go. Thank you, Pranavanadaji! I was the only Caucasian person in the airport. Shree Maa dressed me so I blended in as much as possible.
Once again we were graced by the Goddess as this was one of the last domestic flights out. Later that day all domestic flights in India were suspended. We got out by the skin of our teeth! Again, God was holding our hands.
Now the big concern was about the status of the Kamakhya Temple itself. Would it be open? We really didn’t know as things were changing so quickly.
When we learned it was shut down, we thought, “now what?” What to do?
Well, if you have ever traveled or spent time with Shree Maa, you know that the worship continues and life moves on! She creates Her own celebration. She beats to Her own drum, and for 2020 Chaitra Navaratri celebration She did not miss a beat!
Our Sadhana, our worship, our own small private celebration was very special despite the fact that we could not be at the Kamakhya Temple itself during Navaratri. Stay tuned for our next post about our life in Guwahati.
Travelogue 2: Shree Maa’s Navaratri Amongst a Global Pandemic
Shree Maa has been in Guwahati India since mid-March awaiting the opportunity to get Darshan of Kamakhya Maa. She has now blessed Guwahati with two Navaratri Celebrations.
This blog is written by Krista, a long-time devotee who was with Shree Maa and is writing about the Chaitra Navaratri celebration. Enjoy!
Upon arriving in Guwahati, because of the virus, the hotel next to the Kamakhya Temple where we had planned to stay was temporarily closed to the public.
After about an hour of making phone calls to various hotels we finally found one in downtown Guwahati – about 30 minutes away from the Kamakhya Temple.
At the hotel we were met by a long time devotee, Prashant, who also caught one of the last flights into Guwahati. Little did we know stepping into the hotel on March 20th that we wouldn’t leave the hotel for a few months. The lockdown happened soon after we arrived in Guwahati and we were fortunate to arrive here and find hotel space.
Shree Maa’s family is so sweet and takes such good care of us. Shree Maa’s brother, Paltu and his wife, as well as Shree Maa’s sister Bula and her daughter Pallavi, have spent countless hours helping us get comfortable. They bring us deliciously prepared food, fresh produce, and flowers every day. A local devotee by the name of Bhaiti also helped us by bringing us food and flowers.
It is so inspiring to witness the selfless, loving service that Shree Maa’s family demonstrates – true Seva in action. Divinity clearly runs in the family.
The hotel also has room service so we are eating very well indeed. Prashant and Paltu go out to the market as needed to buy other supplies like water, milk, soap, snacks, etc.
We were sad that so many devotees that planned to meet us here couldn’t come because of lockdowns and threats of quarantining those who traveled. Monkey, a devotee from California who has been devoted to Shree Maa for years, had helped see Maa off at the start of Her journey and was so disappointed when he learned that he couldn’t join Her in India.
God clearly had a plan for the best use of Monkey’s time for Monkey is a nurse and apparently those nursing skills were very much in demand back in California as he recently got assigned to a Covid19 unit in a hospital in San Francisco.
Our beloved sweet, angelic Ramya Maa and Srini Baba also regretfully could not come because of the travel restrictions.
About a week after arriving in Guwahati, on Sunday, March 28th, at about 10:30pm, I suddenly heard men speaking loudly outside our hotel room. Pranavanandaji and Prashant have separate rooms right next to the room in which Maa and I are staying. I didn’t dare open our door as, although I don’t speak their language, I could tell by the volume and tone of their voices that this wasn’t a friendly meeting.
A little scared, I listened in on these men from the Indian government’s health office. They had come to check to see if we had symptoms of the virus. They checked the temperature of both Pranav and Prashant and asked them what seem to be a lot of interrogating questions.
These men also wanted to check Shree Maa and me too, but Prashant and Swami Pranava told them that we were sleeping and luckily they respected that. As the men left, I breathed a sigh of relief.
But – false sense of security – the Indian Health Department showed up the next morning but at least this time it was mostly women government personnel, about five or six total. What an overkill!
A very nice lady met with Shree Maa and me separately and asked us if we had any cough, fever, etc. Then we had to each fill out a form with information from our passports, dates of travel, contact information, and questions about our current health. (I was secretly waiting for Shree Maa to feed them and give them blessings! Ha Ha!)
These ladies asked us to not leave the hotel until Saturday, April 4th – basically to self quarantine. They also asked us not to run the air conditioner! OMG! So for about a week we had some warm days in our hotel rooms, with temperatures reaching 86 degrees (30 degrees C) inside our room in the middle of the night. Me being a relatively comfortable American, found the heat unbearable, but I kept my faith in God.
Even though we completed our self quarantine, the city of Guwahati was still in lockdown during Navaratri. Luckily we were able to acquire a large supply of marigold flowers just before the lockdown happened so that we had enough flowers for Navaratri. By God’s grace, ever present with us, we had the materials needed to celebrate Navaratri!
Shree Maa was sooo happy and joyful to be able to complete her three year sankalpa by coming to Guwahati for Navaratri. It was so moving to be a part of this sacred ceremony while for nine days, March 25 – April 2, 2020. Our little band united together with Mother’s energy as we performed a daily Homa and invited in each of the nine Durgas:
Day 1: The Goddess of Inspiration
Day 2: The Goddess of Sacred Study
Day 3: The Goddess of the Delight of Practice
Day 4: The Goddess of Purifying Austerity
Day 5: The Goddess who Nurtures Divinity
Day 6: The One Who is Ever Pure
Day 7: The Goddess of the Dark Night of Overcoming Egotism
Day 8: The Goddess of the Great Radiant Light
Day 9: The Goddess who Grants Perfection
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On each day of Navaratri we performed a mini Homa in the hotel room with incense sticks. On the eighth day, for Ashtami, we did a full sized fire ceremony on the roof top balcony of the seven story hotel in which we’re staying.
The hotel manager even had his staff help us get set up for the event. He is very devoted to God and is delighted to have Shree Maa in his hotel. Shree Maa even gave him and his staff blessings after the ceremony.
What an honor, privilege, and joy it was to witness this full sized fire! The fire truly felt alive and intelligent. It was an honor to be in its presence. I thought of Lord Shiva as I contemplated a deep feeling of missing Swamiji, who loves to do Homa like no other. I had so much wished He was with us.
After the nine days of Navaratri were finished, Prashant and Paltu went to a nearby river to set our offered flowers and flower petals free.
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Even though we’re not at Kamakhya Maa temple, it doesn’t matter much. We made our own temple. Sitting in front of the altar really feels like a temple. When we look into Durga Maa’s eyes, She is right there with us, a part of us, and so it really didn’t matter that we were in a small hotel room. What really matters is what is inside our heart and mind.
Shree Maa’s example demonstrated that all that is really needed to make a temple is pure love and devotion. Our Sadhana goes on, ancient temple or hotel room – it matters not. Our worshipping of God goes on just the same. Our Sadhana goes on unaffected.
It is extremely inspiring to watch Shree Maa pray and chant with such one pointed concentration, devotion, and pure love. Waking up at all hours of the night to worship, Shree Maa is a true spiritual warrior. She made a beautiful altar in the hotel room complete with Sri Ramakrishna, Chandi Ma, Durga Ma, Shiva lingam, Nandi, and Ganesh.
During Navaratri Shree Maa chanted the Chandi three times a day in addition to her other pujas, and japa. Now that Navaratri is over She still chants the Chandi once or twice a day, does pujas, and japa.
She is such an inspiration. Jai Shree Maa!