Monday, 23 June 2014

Kumaon Himalayas - the divine land where everyone seems to be aware of Sri Sathya Sai Baba

The ‘Himalayan people’ have a high spiritual quotient

One of the first things that strike you when you travel to the Himalayan regions is the unbelievable grandeur and beauty of nature. I have made two such trips so far - once to the Garhwal Himalayas and the other to the Kumaon Himalayas - and on both the trips, my breath has been taken away by the mesmerising sights. There is another thing that strikes you with equal force when you undertake such a journey, though it might not hit you right in the beginning. That, in my opinion, is the main reason why this place, Uttarakhand, is called Daivabhoomi (the divine land). And therefore the amazingly high spiritual quotient of the people here.

The beautiful temple-complex at Jageshwar where it is believed that the central shrine houses a Jyotirlinga. 
“Hey! Hold on there”, you will ask me, “how do you know that? Do you know a way to measure the spiritual quotient of people?”
No! I do not have any means to actually measure the spiritual quotient of people, though the 12 symptoms of spiritual awakening are good indicators of the same. Based on those ‘symptoms’ I have a personal rule-of-the-thumb which I use for my judgement. I know that I am myself guilty of violating the ‘10th symptom’ (i.e. A loss of interest in judging others) when I use my thumb-rule.

But anyway, here is my personal thumb rule. Whenever people who are hitherto unknown to me ask me about Swami (my Master, Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba), I try to see through the tone of their questions. Also, when I speak about Swami to these people, I try to gauge their openness. In my opinion, the more open, the more appreciative, the more spontaneous, the less conflicting, the less critical and the less judgemental they are, the higher is their spiritual quotient. (And I hope that you are open and appreciative towards this thumb-rule and not critical and judgemental about it! Hehehehe)

A rare photo of the Jotirlinga at Jageshwar which the priest allowed me to take
Coming back to the spiritual quotient of the people in these Himalayan regions, it is amazing how open, friendly and inquisitive they are. They do not disbelieve others opinions and faith. They accept all paths because spirituality, for them, consists of multiple paths leading to the single, same peak of Self-discovery. And so, each interaction regarding Swami with any hitherto unknown person in this region has left me wiser, happier and more thrilled. As we travel through some beautiful places now, it will be my endeavour to share two such wonderful interactions.

Overwhelmed at Bageshwar

Situated on the confluence of the Gomti river with the Sarayu river, Bageshwar is famous for the Baghnath temple. ‘Bagh’ means tiger and ‘Nath’ means Lord. Legend here details how Sarayu Maa (Mother Sarayu or Goddess Sarayu) stood still in her tracks because the sage Markandeya was engaged in deep meditation in the river’s path. In order to ensure that the sage’s meditation is not disturbed and, at the same time, Sarayu gets her right of way, Lord Shiva devises a plan. Goddess Parvati assumes the form of a cow and Lord Shiva becomes a tiger in pursuit of that cow. Hearing the pitiable moans of the cow, the sage is moved. He rises from his seat to protect the cow from the tiger. He comes to know of the divine plan and sees that his seat has been submerged in the river. However, he is happy because he is blessed with the darshan of Lord Shiva and Mother Parvati. Thus, the place is named Bageshwar or the “Tiger-Lord”.

A depiction of the legend of Bageshwar on the wall of the Bageshwar temple. 
A mention must be made here of the fact that the entire Himalayan kingdom (with the exception of Badrinath) is dedicated to Lord Shiva. One will come across numerous shrines and temples with a deep and varied history and mythology. One such was the awe-inspiring temple-cluster at Baijnath which, legend says, is the place where the bridal party of Goddess Parvati rested for a day before the divine wedding.

A sweeping view of the Baijnath temple-complex.
The river Sarayu flowing at Bageshwar.

At Bageshwar, we just completed a dip in the cool waters of the Sarayu and had a darshan of the linga in the centuries-old temple. The weather was warm though we were technically in the Himalayas! The Kumaon Himalayas is not as high as its Garhwal cousin and so, it gets quite warm in summer. I wanted a drink to refresh myself. Reaching the bus, I asked my wife whether she would like to have a cool drink.
“Yes! A Sprite for me please.”

Off I went to a shop nearby. There was no shopkeeper and I called out,
“Anyone here?”
“Coming”, came a voice from a distant home. An elderly gentleman came rushing to service his customer.
“Do you have Sprite?”
“Yes! I have everything here.”
Instantly, he pulled out a bottle.
“How much is it?” I asked.
“Forty rupees...”
I saw the neck of the bottle. It clearly stated - MRP 35/-. (the Maximum Retail Price)
“Forty rupees? It says only 35 here...”
“I need to take my 5 rupees...”
I knew that since this was a hilly region with irregular electricity, spoilage due to lack of refrigeration would be higher. Understanding his need to charge higher, I said,
“Ok bhaisaab! You can keep the 5 rupees you need.”

In an instant, his eyes lit up.
“You are so different from others.”
Even as I was assuming that the others might not have paid him those extra 5 rupees, he said,
“It is not as if the others have not paid this extra amount. They have to because, in this place, nobody sells at the MRP. But the pleasing demeanour with which you spoke has pleased me. Tell me, where are you from?”
Ah! That question that often leads to my thumb-rule of people’s SQ!
“I am from Puttaparthi.”
The man just smiled and nodded.
“Do you know Puttaparthi? Sri Sathya Sai?”
The man seemed to have some faint connection being made within him. To help him on, I pulled out my wallet and took out the photograph of Swami that I always carry. I showed it to him,
“This is Sathya Sai.”

His whole being underwent a transformation.
“This is God! This is my God”, he said as tears welled up in his eyes. He reverentially took the photograph into his hands and pressed it reverentially to his eyes. He then handed it back to me.
“Thank you sir! Today I got the darshan of my God.”
I just smiled and was struck with wonder as to how Swami had managed to capture such a special corner in the heart of this person who was living in some remote corner in India. As I picked up the bottle and turned to leave, he called out to me again.
“Sir. I feel like embracing you. I am so happy. Can I?”
I nodded and we embraced warmly.
“I got something much more than 5 rupees from you”, he said.
“Me too”, I replied.
There was a spring in my step as I went to the bus.

Even as I returned from the holy dip and darshan, I saw a kite swoop down and grab a fish from the waters.
When silence conveyed more than words

Another place of tremendous spiritual vibes that we visited was located at a distance of a few kilometers from Dunagiri or Dronagiri. It is believed that the rare Sanjeevani herb that was necessary to revive the unconscious Lakshmana during Lord Rama’s war with the evil Ravana was growing on Dronagiri only. So this is the mountain that Lord Hanuman actually lifted. Dronagiri is the mountain that is depicted in a million paintings, images and idols! The most famous temple here is that of Dunagiri Devi, considered as another Shakti Peeth.

Part of the 400-steps pathway that leads to the temple of the Dunagiri Devi. There are bells lining the path entirely.
The Dunagiri Devi temple on top of the hill. Unlike shrines in the south of India, these temples are not very
ornate and decorated. But the vibes inside are powerful.
The detailed history of Dunagiri throughout the yugas is an interesting and inspiring read in itself. However, the place of ‘tremendous spiritual vibes’ that I mentioned is the meditation cave of Mahavatar Babaji, considered as an ageless and timeless, Self-realized Master who continues to appear and guide serious aspirants. In fact, Sri Paramahamsa Yogananda (of the ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’ fame) is the direct disciple of Sri Yukteshwar Giri who is the direct disciple of Sri Lahiri Mahasaya who is the direct disciple of Mahavatar Babaji! About an hour’s drive from Dunagiri is the cave in which this Master spent a lot of time meditating.

The final 3 kilometers to the cave is a walk along a hilly path while the last half a kilometer is an exerting trek to the cave. Two busloads of us landed and we began the long walk to the cave. Since we pilgrims ranged in ages from 25 to 75 and consisted of both men and women, our walking speeds varied. Soon, what started off as a clustered group of people became a thin line spanning almost two kilometers in length. Pooja and I were somewhere in the middle.

Sitting in meditation in the cave. My camera flash illuminated the otherwise
dark cave. Maybe it gave the feeling of en'light'enment to the meditators!
The long walk had a fulfilling culmination when we sat for a few minutes in our own meditation in the hallowed cave. The walls were chilling cold and yet, the cave filled the heart with warmth. A few minutes in there (because we had to make way for the dozens who were streaming in gradually) was enough to refresh and rejuvenate us. Walking out of the cave, I saw that thick clouds were gathering in the sky. I had carried my camera bag with me and though it is waterproof, I did not want my camera to be the guinea pig to the manufacturer’s claim! So I told Pooja that we better hurry. And that is precisely what we did - we got out of the cave and began hurrying towards our bus. On the way back, we encountered several people who were still headed towards the cave. We encouraged them, egged them on and continued on our return journey. I was sure that at least a dozen would have reached the bus by the time we got there.

Midway through our journey, the clouds opened up! Big drops began to pelt down upon us and I was worried about my camera.
“We have to take cover”, I shouted above the thunder to Pooja.
“There”, she pointed to some tree roots that were jutting out of the corer of the hill path, “I think we can easily shelter till the rain passes.”
The entrance to the cave of Mahavatar Babaji. The Yogoda Satsangha Society
has taken charge of its maintenance. 

As we rushed towards that, two little girls came from the opposite direction and took that very shelter for themselves. They must have been 6 and 8 years old respectively. I was wondering what to do when the elder one beckoned to Pooja, creating space by her side. I found another shading root a few meters to the side and sheltered there. I was watching as the little elder girl began to look intently at Pooja’s gold chain.

She pointed to the pendant of Swami and sought Pooja’s permission to touch it reverentially to her eyes. Pooja was stunned.
“Do you know Him?” she asked
The little girl did not say a word. She just nodded in manner which was almost like,
“What do you mean? Everyone knows him.”
She then folded her hands in prostration, bowed to the pendant and smiled. When the rain reduced, she held her sister’s hand, waved a quick goodbye and was off.

“What was that?” I asked Pooja.
“She knows Swami as any devotee! Wow!”

The little girl’s silent actions spoke a lot about her SQ according to my thumb-rule!

God is available to all those that seek Him

During the entire trip, one thing became amply evident to me - that God seeks the devotee with the equal intensity with which the devotee seeks God. How else could I explain so many people in these regions recognising and ‘knowing’ Swami even? Just a few months before, when I had made a revealing trip to Hampi and Uravakonda, I had met a person in Anantapur (80 kilometers from Puttaparthi) who had got just rudiments of information about Swami after the ‘Mahasamadhi’. And here, more than 1300 kilometers away, people were living in absolute knowledge of Swami - after not visiting Puttaparthi even once.

I felt that these subjects of the Himalayan kingdom were like bees travelling great distances to collect honey from the Lotus flower while many of us are like the frogs that hop around the same lotus flower, only gathering slush! With a prayer of gratitude to Swami for the experience of meeting His devotees, Pooja and I wended our way back to the bus.

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  1. very nice Aravind. The pictures of the Baijnatha & river sarayu are riveting & i felt a surge of joy ( can't explain) within me for a few moments. Thank you.

  2. Excellent.We have a feeling as if we have visited these places. Jai Sai Ram

  3. Thank u once again.i too visited these spots recently and your photos and narrations are so wonderful,like swami is speakingTo me.

  4. Lovely. Got goosebumps reading this article, twice.

  5. Great story, Aravind, as always

  6. rekha shanbhag24 June 2014 at 11:09

    Really felt very nice reading the article.Felt as if we had visited the place.As age progresses we never know if it will be ever possible to visit these places. It is just Swamis grace that we are getting to see these places through your vivid narations.

  7. Sai Ram Aravind, thank you once again as I too felt that I too have visited Uttarakhand, the divine land. It will be a big miracle if I ever get to visit these blessed places so I am truly grateful to you for sharing your visit with us. chandan aunty.

  8. Sairam Aravind Well done on describing these timeless holy sites. Are you aware if Swami has ever spoken of Mahavatar Babaji. There seem to be so many Western devotees who have come to Puttaparthi, after reading 'Autobiography of a Yogi' which was Babaji's gift to the world. There has to be some connection between them.

    1. I also feel that there has to be a connection though I am not yet aware of anything that Swami has mentioned about Mahavatar Babaji...


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