Namaste Friends and Family,
Our beloved Mother Shree Maa departed for India yesterday and has arrived safely at Sanjay Baba's home in Delhi. She will take rest for a few days and then head to the Kamakhya Temple in Guwahati, Assam to celebrate Chaitra Navaratri.
This is a blog post of her travels, where we will share events, happenings, learnings, pictures and videos. Stay tuned!
Travelogue #5: Other Sacred Places
While the Kamakhya Temple was the main destination for our sadhana on this trip, Shree Maa blessed many other sacred sites in the Guwahati area. This promises to be an interesting read, as we are about to enter into a temple that Shree Maa visited in her youth, as well as two ashrams where She did sadhana as a young girl.
The temples of India are vast in number and rich in variety — some are opulent, some are small village temples, some house only one deity, while others house several, some are good for sadhana, while others are so packed you have to wait in line for hours to receive a five minute darshan. Though they are all different, the string that holds the garland of temples together is the devotion of the people of India.
Shree Maa took us to the Umananda (Shiva/Hanuman) Temple, which is uniquely located on a little island in the middle of the mighty Brahmaputra River. We were headed there to perform puja to Sri Hanuman. Many of you will remember that Shree Maa and Swamiji established life into this Hanuman in 2011.
To get to this quaint little island we jumped on a community boat, which took us across the gigantic river that looks more like an ocean. Shree Maa offered flowers to the river while She chanted "Om Namah Shivaya".
It is par for the course for Shree Maa to make every action into worship, and the attentive ones who are eager to learn and share Her way of life, took note of it. In Her essence, Shree Maa's way of life merges spirituality into every activity, thus making everything She does a sadhana. It is simply a beautiful way to live.
When we got to the island we climbed many steep steps through beautiful flora to reach the Hanuman Mandir. Thankfully Shree Maa had a palki!
When we arrived at the temple, we were astounded at how clean and shiny Hanuman was. We were planning to polish him, but we didn't need to. He was already perfect.
Swami Pranava and Prashant Baba immediately prepared Hanuman with brand new clothes that Shree Maa brought for him. They also adorned Hanuman with several flower garlands.
Within 15 minutes we were ready for puja, which Swami Pranava performed beautifully. Then the place was filled with bhakti as the duo Shree Maa and Ramya Maa led the Hanuman Chalisa.
Shree Maa was telling that this is a very famous temple, as legend has it that Shiva shared many yogic teachings with Parvati onthis little island.
This little island temple is also a hot spot for visitors during Shivaratri.
As we packed up, I managed to find a cute little white and yellow flower to offer to Hanuman's feet. We then made our way back to the boat and to the mainland.
In the car, Shree Maa began to tell stories from her sadhu days as a young girl. At just 17 to 18 years old She was doing sadhana in various places in the area.
One of those places was the Bhoothnath Cremation Grounds, which She pointed out to me from the car. I managed to snap a picture as we sped by.
It looked like a lovely, peaceful place with tall palm trees and I easily could imagine Shree Maa there as a young girl performing sadhana, meditating, and learning from the sadhus. (I secretly wondered if She brought food and fed the sadhus, but didn't bother to ask!)
Another favorite spot for Shree Maa to do sadhana as a young girl was the Basishtha Temple and Ashram. This charming ashram dates back to the Vedic age and is just outside of Guwahati City.
The temple got its name from Saint Basishtha (Vasishtha), who lived in the ashram here. It is believed that Muni Basishtha went into Mahasamadhi inside a cave located in the ashram, and his shrine is the main attraction of the temple.
People line up and carefully step down into a cave where the shrine is and then they may perform short puja, pray, and offer flowers and dakshina.
After darshan of Muni Basishtha, we all headed outside to the back of the temple and much to our amazement was a flowing river gushing over huge boulders.
The Basishtha Temple is literally built right next to a mountain stream with gigantic boulders and connecting the two is a narrow bridge.
This ashram is so beautiful that I imagined doing sadhana here on a day that was not so busy with people.
Shree Maa told that She would meditate and do sadhana here on the boulders and take dips in the gushing river that turbulently flows by. She explained that the river here in this location is actually the Ganges River, but it is a mystery as to how the Ganges River got all the way into this interior location. She said scientists even to this day cannot figure it out!
Everyone followed Shree Maa's lead as She carefully stepped on slippery rocks and got deep enough to take a dip into the rushing Ganges. Everyone laughed, playfully splashed, and felt cooled and refreshed.
After darshan from Mother Ganges, Shree Maa moved into a quiet, peaceful state where she allowed herself the time to just observe everything - Her children playing in the water, the monkeys jumping to and fro, one monkey eating a lotus flower She offered, the big banyan trees with ancient roots, the sound of the river etc. This was a perfect moment of blissful surrender while activity went on around Her.
One of the funniest observations was when Shree Maa's Monkey (Sonic) appeared to have another monkey as a secret admirer. It was as if the monkey was looking at his future evolution!
For sadhana lovers, mark this place as a "must see" and come on a quiet day, sit on the rocks, chant and meditate.
Stay tuned for the final travelogue, coming shortly, where we will share one more of Shree Maa's sadhana locations in Guwahati, and then her adventures in Vizag and Mumbai.
Travelogue #4: The Tapestry of India's Spiritual Culture
In the previous Travelogues we discussed a typical day in the life of Shree Maa at the Kamakhya Temple. In this post I would like to share some random tidbits of things that made this trip so special - the people, the places, the temple details, and the way of life. For all of these aspects woven together make India a very unique experience.
Kamakhya Reflects the True Spirit of Devotion
Kamakhya Temple during Navaratri reflects the spirit of India and the love of the devotees for the Goddess. We know how awesome Shree Maa's altars are, but Kamakhya during Navaratri is Shree Maa on steroids!
Check out the beautiful flowers with vivid colors on the domes of the temple. Everything is done with 100% devotion and attention. No detail is left to chance.
In Kamakhya, even the monkeys are taking selfies!
Amazing Sadhus and Babas
Holy men come from all different traditions and congregate at Kamakhya during Navaratri. They seemed to gather around our Homa Kund while Shree Maa chanted the Chandi Path, peering in through the fence every day. Shree Maa is like a fragrant flower attracting honey bees in the form of Sadhus to Her.
I was fortunate to get blessings from several Shiva Babas. One Shiva Baba was fully clothed in rudraksha beads woven together. He wore a headpiece also made of rudraksha beads where a white bird sat peacefully (see picture below, to Baba's right side is the white bird).
One renunciate sat through the Chandi Homa everyday and received Shree Maa's blessing. Others were seen chanting scriptures throughout the temple grounds.
The experience was very rich and it would be rewarding to go back and do long-term sadhana in this location.
Kamakhya is a mecca for those who want to remember God. Visually every place you turn serves as a constant reminder of God - the flowers, the sadhus, the priests, the chanting, the offerings, the homa kund - everything.
As if that isn't enough, on the outside of the temples are carvings of Divine Gods and Goddesses which are so precious you can't help but stop and take notice. People worship these deities with flowers and kumkum as they pass by, and in the evening they perform arati.
It is part of the Hindu experience and it is likened to Shree Maa's home, where every place you look, every corner, every wall, has a picture of Divinity.
Shree Maa's Ashram Experience Included Family Meals
The Shreemoyee Inn provided a perfect family environment where we could all gather in a lovely dining area and eat together. Shree Maa set the tone for a beautiful, harmonious ashram experience as we devoured scrumptious meals with the family in perfect harmony - sharing love, the events of the day, and funny stories!
Sometimes other sadhus would be dining at the same time and when Shree Maa walked into the dining hall they would begin chanting, "Jai Mata Di! Jai Mata Di!" Then the sadhus would leave their meal and get a blessing at Shree Maa's feet. How fortunate we are to be so close to Shree Maa!
Shree Maa's Love Is Healing and Nurturing to All
Shree Maa is happiest when She is sharing love with Her children. She gives Her love endlessly and it is returned to Her ten-fold in the form devotion.
Through the nine days, Shree Maa had devotees coming and going. Some were able to stay the entire time, others just for a day, but everyone there felt nurtured by Divine Mother's pure love.
She fed babies. She blessed us every evening. She enjoyed her family. She met several new devotees. She held discussions with priests from the Temple, who revere Her with the respect and devotion of the Divine Mother.
Shree Maa's Bhajans!
No trip is complete without enjoying Shree Maa's divine voice. On one evening she sat on the steps overlooking the temple and sang bhajans for a group of devotees. On another occasion she sang in the hotel lobby with a group of devotees.
The Divine Children
The children served as a constant reminder of purity, joy and innocence. Shree Maa loved having them around her, especially playing with the baby boy who could not stop smiling and laughing. She also loved performing arati with the children who joined Her in closing prayers.
The very essence of life in India is spirituality. Hinduism is a holistic culture of spirituality that weaves the remembrance of God into everything done.
Shree Maa says that if you call on God in a pure and simple manner you will know that all you are doing is Divine work. The Hindu culture makes it easy to remember this fact as everything experienced by the five senses appears as a pure and simple reminder of God. This is the reason why Shree Maa and Swamiji love being in India and doing his sadhana here!
Travelogue #3: Kamakhya Evening Arati
One cannot put into words the extraordinary bhavana of Arati with Shree Maa in Kamakhya, so this post is filled with video clips and pictures that best represent the spirit and devotion of the temple and its devotees.
It is my hope to share with you all this experience and inspire you to join us next time we celebrate Navaratri in Kamakhya. This is a one-of-a-kind opportunity. Above all I think you will see how Shree Maa weaves fun and playfulness into Her worship, and we can at least try to follow the example by having a little fun in our own personal worship at home.
For more video clips and pictures, click HERE; consider joining us on instagram for all of the videos and photos.
Every evening at about 6:30, Shree Maa gathers everyone in Her small mandir for Arati to Her personal Kamakhya Maa.
After Arati at Shree Maa's temple, the group gathers all the Arati utensils and heads for the Kamakhya Temple which is right next door.
While the drummers beat and chime, we dance in ecstasy as we shout "Jai Maa!" and circumambulate the temple three times. Shree Maa puts on quite an arati celebration! Hundreds of people join in on Shree Maa's arati parade! Check out these videos, and especially notice how the little girls love to dance with Shree Maa.
At the end of three times around the temple, Shree Maa stops at the Devi carvings and performs full arati, followed by closing prayers. Her little Devi's love to chant with Her as they look up to Her in respect.
At the end Shree Maa blesses the world with peace.
Shree Maa then hands out sweet prasad to a crowd thirsty for her Divine Blessing. People gravitate to Her, they drop to Her feet for a blessing, and push and shove to get their outstretched hands in front of Her face in the hopes of a little prasad. Sometimes it gets a bit unruly and we have to set up a human barricade around Her.
We then all walk back to the hotel, laughing and giggling, sharing stories about the experience, and yes - sweating up a storm as it gets a bit warm with that many people crowded around us!
Shree Maa has infinite Shakti for the night is not over until She blesses us! Every evening She blesses our forehead with cumcum and hands out prasad.
Swamiji is so right when he says, "We have a Mother like no other!" This evening program is enjoyed every night of Navaratri, and we are so exhausted afterwards that we all sleep so soundly, with peaceful, blissful dreams and wake up to live it another day!
Travelogue #2: Shree Maa Arrives in Kamakhya
Shree Maa left Delhi the next morning and flew to Assam, India, home of the famous Kamakhya Temple. She will stay here through Navaratri.
She arrived a few days before Navaratri to set up Her altar, establish Her rhythm of life, and to get the darshan of Kamakhya Maa.
Shortly after arrival, Shree Maa and team visited the temple and met one of the priests who will be looking after them during their stay. This priest gave Shree Maa exclusive rights to one of the most beautiful Homa Kunds overlooking the temple! On one occasion this priest chanted part of the Chandi Path with us, as he looked over the shoulders of a few us to read the text.
Before we get too far into Shree Maa's daily life in Kamakhya, I want to back-up and explain a little about the significance of the Kamakhya Temple, and why Shree Maa likes to worship here.
The Kamakhya Temple is dedicated to the Mother Goddess Kamakhya and is one of the oldest of the 51 Shakti Pithas. It is located in Guwahati City, Assam on top of the Nilachal Hill.
Legend has it that this is where Shiva courted Sati, and this is where Sati's yoni and womb fell after Shiva's destructive dance with the corpse of Sati in his arms. So this temple is a major place to worship Shakti and to also honor the creative aspect of the female's ability to conceive.
This temple has a special connection to Shree Maa as well, for it was here that Shree Maa's pregnant mother was blessed by a Temple Priest that she would give birth to a very special divine saint, and it was here that Shree Maa received a mantra in her ear as a two month old baby. Coming to this Temple with Shree Maa is such a blessing, for this Temple represents Shree Maa's roots.
As part of Her upbringing, Shree Maa learned as a small child the art of worship (puja, japa, path) and a specific rhythm of life that is consistent, day in and day out.
First, wherever She goes Her top priority is to establish a personal altar for Her worship. Her altar in Assam is absolutely amazing as it blessed with a new three foot murti of Kamakhya Maa.
Every morning after showering, at about 5:30, Shree Maa enters the temple room and performs morning arati.
Shree Maa then performs her personal puja while Swami Pranavanada performs the Samasti Upasana (Cosmic Puja) to this beautiful Kamakhya Maa.
After breakfast, the group then heads to the temple to perform Chandi Homa.
Though our hotel is literally right next to the Temple, to get to our private homa kund we have to travel through narrow alleys, up and down stairs, through masses of devotees at the temple, and lambs - yes lambs, the Kamakhya temple is filled with cute little lambs.
Shree Maa typically has special transportation - a palki - and Her disciples wait in line for a turn to carry her.
Making our way into the temple, one can't help but notice the absolute beauty of the flower decorations. Every dome is decorated with bright flowers and even the pillars have flower arrangements.
In the early morning there are piles and piles of flowers awaiting temple employees and sevites who tend to the flower arrangements. It is the best show of "collective" devotion that I have ever seen.
The view from our Homa Kund is spectacular. It overlooks the entire Temple, and it is from this vantage point that many of the professional pictures of Kamakhya Temple are taken.
Every day Shree Maa leads the chanting of the Chandi Path while Swami Pranavananda performs the Chandi Homa. The group is getting better and better at chanting with Shree Maa.
Her bhavana is very playful, energized, expressive, and fast! Every day she picks up the pace a bit, making it more and more enjoyable. Today's chanting attracted other sadhus to join us and we all danced joyfully during Arati.
The devotees at the temple are so full of devotion, but none express it better than the children whose excitement just cannot be contained. These kids express more joy and love than a western child at Disney Land.
We stepped out of our hotel and suddenly little kids of six to eight years of age ran up to us and hugged us. Another child in the temple had a bundle of roses and when She saw Shree Maa she immediately offered Maa two beautiful roses.
Maa was so pleased with the love from this child. She held onto the roses for a while, and offered one in Her sankalpa, and kept the other one, as if She is preserving that child's love. Shree Maa's heart is pure Love and all one has to do to reach Her is express innocent, childlike, playful love.
This is a typical day in the life of Shree Maa in Kamakhya. But the day is not over until evening arati which is over the top fun in Kamakhya. But you will have to wait for the next blog. Stay tuned.
Travelogue #1: Shree Maa in Delhi Demonstrates Siddantachara Way of Life
The first of the Shree Maa travelogues is an important one, for it is rare to get to view the life of a Saint up close and personal. What do they do every day? What is their attitude? What are their actions? How do they approach life? How do they keep their life in balance?
Many of us have heard Shree Maa say "eight hours of worship, eight hours of work, eight hours of personal time, which includes bathing, eating, hygiene, and sleep" leads to the proper balance in life.
For Shree Maa, the eight hours of worship and the eight hours of work are merged into 16 hours of activities, or practices, that we call Siddantachara.
The word "Siddanta" means principle and "Achara" means code of conduct, or behaviors. So Siddantachara are the behaviors recommended in the scriptures that we should perform to quiet the mind and re-establish our internal satsangh.
These practices are also called Nitya (eternal) Karma and the chart below shows what they are:
You will notice that every Divine Incarnation will try to optimize his or her time on these activities, though the percentage of time spent on each activity may differ depending on the mission.
Wherever Shree Maa goes the first thing She does is set up an altar.
Every morning She awakens and showers before sunrise. Then She goes to the altar and offers light and incense to the Gods and Goddesses.
While doing this, She turns clockwise in a circle three times (360 degree turns), acknowledging the divinity all around her and moving the energy from tamas (inertia) to sattwa (harmonious, joyful).
After this short offering, Shree Maa will then tend to her physical body through a small snack and her medication. Shree Maa says that it is important to take care of our physical bodies as it is our vehicle for serving and worshiping God.
Next comes the morning Puja and worship. This is Shree Maa's special communion time with God and without fail She will perform a Puja every day.
Her Puja is to Lord Shiva, but in the middle of the Puja she performs mantras to Goddess Durga while offering a flower for each of the nine-forms of Durga. The entire Puja can take anywhere from one to two hours depending on if additional mantras, songs, or stotrams are included.
Other activities Shree Maa performs throughout the day are cooking, exercising, making presentations (offerings) for deities and Her children, and holding satsangh.
In Delhi, Sanjay Baba and Swami Pranavananda took Shree Maa for a walk through the Rose Garden. Much to their delight, Shree Maa found a wonderful tree to perform exercises:
Shree Maa also went shopping for Her children and for deity clothing and ornaments. Shree Maa never shops for Herself.
Swami Satyananda Saraswati always says she gives, and gives, and gives!
In this way, her activities are considered "Aparnam", which is an offering to God (see above Nitya Karma chart, last category on the right).
In the late afternoon, after lunch and a brief nap, Shree Maa chants the Chandi Path and performs Japa.
Finally, the evening time is saved for satsangh.
The fortunate devotees in Delhi got some special time with Shree Maa. They performed arati, sang bhajans, discussed spiritual issues, and shared in prasad.
Shree Maa's life is a tapestry of Siddantachara. She performs Puja and Path daily, and regularly will also perform Homa. Her satsanghs are filled with singing (Geet) and dancing (Nrit), and when She isn't doing that She is giving to Her children in the form of sharing spiritual knowledge (Pravachan). Indeed, Her whole life is an offering to God (Arpanam).
Prior to departing for Guwahati, Shree Maa blessed these devotees with a group picture. In the morning Shree Maa and Swami Pranavananda will leave Delhi and head for their destination in Kamakhya where they will celebrate Navaratri.
Thank you Shree Maa for such a beautiful example!