14 Nov 2012

3rd part of the Pilgrimage

East India with Swami, November 2012, Part 3
After arriving at about 7am in Bhod Gaya, we went straight to the hotel. After a big breakfast all of us fell in bed half dead. We were lucky as the beds were very good and comfortable. The hotel was completely new, so new that they did not yet have internet access (only in the managers office, that's where I sent the last report from) and the third floor was still a construction site. 

At about 2pm we met again and after lunch we left to the town. There we visited the most important Buddhist pilgrim site: The place where the Buddha got enlightenment. There's a large temple and behind it is the giant banyan tree under which Buddha was sitting when he got enlightened. The whole temple complex had a very, very serene atmosphere. There weren't any priests in the temple doing any puja and it was quite different from the Hindu temples, that sometimes resemble market places with greedy priests waiting for money. We sat for about half an hour with Guruji beneath the tree alongside other pilgrims, mainly from Asian countries.

After meditation we did some shopping and finally drove with the bus to our next destination, Vishnu Padam, where there is the foot print of Vishnu. As the bus couldn't enter the narrow streets, we walked the last bit to the temple. The sanctum of the temple is round shaped with a rock on the ground on which there is the foot print of Vishnu. The puja is done in such a way, that the devotees give a donation, put Tulsi leaves and flowers on the rock around the foot print, and the priest then puts a white cloth on the foot (the foot is painted red) on which then appears the foot print of Vishnu. This cloth is  then given back to the devotee who can take it home.

The next morning we left at 10am and took the road to Varanasi The drive was about 5 hours long. 
We again had lunch packets that were served in the bus. Finally we arrived in Varanasi. Before entering into the city one passes a lot of poverty along the roadside some people living only in a shack, others without any roof, lying on the plain floor. Near the Ganges we had to leave the bus and continue on foot and then take a boat. The „old town“ of Varanasi is built along the Ganges and one cannot access it with buses. 
During the boat ride we got a first impression of the holy city of Varanasi, which used to be known as Kashi and also as Benares. The city is dedicated to Lord Shiva and his wife Parvati. Many Hindus come here before dying to be cremated as the atmosphere is very sacred. One can feel the effect of the many saints that have graced this place. 

After about a 20 minutes boat ride we reached „Rana Mahal Ghat“ where our guest house is situated. The „ghats“ are the steps that lead from the city down to the Ganges where the people go to have a dip in the river. We climbed the steep steps from the river towards our guest house. Its name is „Palace on steps“. Although from outside it does not look like a palace anymore, inside it is very nice. Guruji found out, that it was built by the royal family Ranaprakab Singh who were the in-laws of Meerabai Devi, the famous saint. We checked into our rooms. Swami got one of the round „corner rooms“ with a wonderful view on the Ganges. 

Right after check in we went again down to the river and took a short boat ride to the main ghat. There the aarti was performed to Mother Ganga as it is done every evening. There are about 12 priests and each one of them is doing the aarti, while
many devotees gather and sing bhajans or dance for Ma Ganga. After the aarti is finished, all the people that were watching from the boats light a small butter lamp which is placed on a little basket with flowers and offers it to Ganga. It was very beautiful to see all the little lights floating on the river. 
When we got back to shore, we took the ghat before and walked a bit through the narrow streets. There are many shops where one can buy just about anything. Suddenly we turned into some kind short side road. At the end was a big door that read: Sribendu Lahiri. We entered into a beautiful courtyard. Inside there were two mandirs, one was dedicated to Shyamacharan Lahiri (Lahiri Mahasaya), his son Tinkori Lahiri and grandson Satyacharan Lahiri, the other was dedicated to Mahavatar Babaji. 

The temple, which was built by Lahiri's great grandson, contains the ashes of all three of them. It was a wonderful, peaceful atmosphere inside and we sat with Swami for a while in meditation. Then the person who looks after the place showed us the original of the famous photograph of Lahiri Mahasaya. 

When we got back to the hotel, we found out, that the nowadays hotel used to be Lahiri's Ashram, and the room that Swami chose, was the room where Lahiri used to meditate!

At night we had a good meal which we ate on the terrace of the guest house. The restaurant is caged as for the monkeys not to steal the food. The hotel staff showed us also the rooftop which is a great place to meditate, overlooking the Ganges river.
The next morning we started early, at 6am, to make a boat tour along the river. That way everyone who has never been there got a first impression of the city. Besides the merchants that come by boat to try to sell their things (see a DVD and CD sales boat on the picture), we also encountered some Asian pilgrims who liked our bhajan singing that they even started dancing on their boat:

After breakfast we went to the most important temple in Varanasi: Kashi Vishwanath. It is a Shiva temple which contains one of the 12 Jyotir Lingams of India. We had to go inside in groups of 10 persons. First we needed to register our passports as they are very strict not to let any Muslims enter the temple due to tension between Hindu und Muslim community. In the past history the temple had been destroyed and a mosque was built instead. Now the temple is just next to the mosque. It has a roof which is gold plated with 900kg of real Gold which was donated by a Maharaja some time back. There is quite a lot of police and military presence around the temple. Europeans are normally not allowed, only in exceptional cases if they follow the Hindu tradition. We were allowed however. 

We had a short Darshan of the Lingam as there were many people trying to push through. But it was definitely very nice to see and feel this special place. Photography was strictly prohibited. After Vishwanath we strolled through Varanasi and visited a few other temples. One of them was the ashram of Shri Satuwa Baba where we were received very warmly and got a cup of tea from the
Brahmacharis there. The afternoon was free for everyone (first free time on this trip) and most people used it for some shopping. Some people went also to the aarti in the evening. 

The next morning we started at 10am. First we visited a small ashram nearby. Unfortunately I dont remember the name of the saint who founded the ashram, but he is a quite famous Vaishnava Saint. One of the Brahmacharis showed us around. We sang some bhajans in their temple and the Swami was gifted with a personal shawl of this saint. They said that he was the first one to propagate the Mahamantra “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna Hare Hare, Hare Ram Hare Ram, Ram Ram Hare Hare” in our times, even before Srila Prabhupad.
Next on the program was the “Kashi Dham, Shakha ashram” of another local saint, and then we went to a small temple which was the house where Ramakrishna stayed in when he visited Varanasi. He lived in that room for three months and performed regular Puja on a Saligram there. The granddaughter of the man who hosted Ramakrishna back then welcomed us warmly and showed us the padukas that Ramakrishna was wearing while being at that place. 

After leaving that place, we went to Krim Kund. It is the place where Aghorachara Baba Kina Ram practiced his Aghora Sadhana and introduced the Kinarami Aghor tradition. Baba Kina Ram received his instruction directly from a manifestation of the great Dattatreya (a manifestation of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva together). Baba Kinaram (1563-1714) revived the Aghora tradition which existed already before. It said to go back to Shiva himself and having been propagated by Dattatreya. One of the meanings of Aghora is: A & Ghora: Ghora = Difficulty, A = “not”, therefore it is said to be the path which is not difficult, but easy, a simplified worship. Aghoris do not believe in any “formalities”.

At the Krim Kund Guruji and some of us had a very nice and fun chat with an Aghori for almost an hour. He explained us a lot about their tradition. He said that a true Aghori does neither need to smear himself with ashes and pretend to be crazy, nor does he need to display his spirituality as a “show” in any other way, but just be simple and “normal” towards the outside, while of course the inside burns with love for the Divine. He said that they (the temple) did not accept any donations from government or foreigners in order to remain independent. I told him that my donation of Rs50 was accepted at the temple, upon which he laughed and said that he could even give me a donation of Rs1000, and I said I could give him Rs1500 back... He said that he has the “power” to generate whatever he needs for himself and doesn't need anyone to look after him, but that nature looks after him. The only one they really believe in is the Guru. Even the Gods are secondary, cause they can only be attained through the grace of the Guru. This reminded us again of the utmost importance of the sadguru. It also reminded me of Vijaya Krishna Goswami (a Vaishnava Saint of Bengal) who said about Ramakrishna, that because of his accessibility, people do not recognize his greatness and importance. If he were to live in the Himalayas, people would appreciate him more. And again, I thought of our Guru, and how he is only waiting that we sincerely long and pine for God, not wanting anything else, so that he can pour his grace in us.
The founder, Baba Kinaram, said when he was alive, that his 11th successor will be his reincarnation. We found out, that the current head (Aghoracharya) Sidharta Gautam Ram Jee, is in fact the 11th head of the Aghors after Baba Kinaram, and therefore considered the reincarnation of the great saint Baba Kinaram, and we were able to arrange a meeting with him for tomorrow Tuesday.

After this refreshing and fun conversation, we walked further about 5 minutes and reached the ashram of Anananda Moy Ma. The mandir was closed so we just sat there some time in meditation. 
Later on we took a boat to another ghat. There we visited Trailanga Swami Math. Trailanga Swami (or Telang Swami) is probably the most famous saint of Varanasi. He became about 280 years old, others say that he was over 300 years. He always walked around naked, innocent like a child, not caring about the outside. Ramakrishna called him the “walking Shiva of Varanasi”. To sit in his math, where he used to worship, was very, very beautiful. There is a huge Shiva lingam which is said that Telang Swami carried himself from the river to the temple, a task only possible for someone who can defy gravity. Only by touching it one could feel its power and sacredness. Telang Swami also installed a HariHara, a murthi of half Krishna, half Shiva, of which there are only two in whole of India. Besides this murthi, he installed also an image of Kali. Before he took mahasamadi, he asked his disciples to build a big (he was very large) wooden coffin for him. When he died, they put him in there. Upon opening the coffin a few days later, instead of a dead body, they found it full of fragrant flowers. Some people, up until today, have said that they have seen him on the shore of the Ganges...

After leaving Trailanga Swami's muth, we took again the boat and came just in time to again participate in the Aarti. Swami got a special seat just next to the singer. 
I am not sure if there will be more reports, as on the 14th we will already be flying back to Kolkota, and from there to Europe.