11 Nov 2012

Second part of the Pilgrimage

East India with Swami, November 2012, Part 2

This morning we should have left as early as 7.30am, but due to „Indian“ circumstances we left at around 8.15am, after all the luggage was loaded in the bus. Our first stop was at a Jagannath temple outside of Kolkata. The sister of one of the waiters at the hotel gave us this „address“. When we arrived, we were warmly greeted and led into the temple. The cousin of the waiter who was there explained us the history of the temple. It was not so easy to understand what he was saying, we all understood only bits and pieces, which I try to recreate here: The temple is based on a dream-vision of Ramakrishna, however, the temple was built by another saint who miraculously „received“ the wood stem from which the Jagannath murthi was carved from the river. Ramakrishna later also visited this temple. Just like in the “real” Jagannath temple which is situated in South East India, in Puri, also here Lord Jagannath is carried once a year in a procession to his “cousin” in a temple nearby where he stays for about one month before being brought back again. 
We hit the road again and drove to Tarakeshwar to see one of the 12 Jyotir Lingams. The journey took us longer than expected, and we had “mixed” information as whether Non-Indians are allowed to enter the temple or not. The bus had to be parked quite far from the temple and we had to walk for about 15 minutes, crossing the Tarakeshwar train station, to reach the temple. On they way there, Swami found it quite funny that nobody could tell us whether we'd be allowed in there or not. One person whom we “picked up” on the way became our guide. After buying some prasad and flowers to offer there, we were finally led into the temple. The priests were friendly and let us enter the temple without any problems. Guruji took the prasad and went into the sanctum itself with a priest to offer the food and flowers while everyone else waited outside a few meters in front of the sanctum. The lingam itself was covered with a cloth and nicely decorated. Finally we walked back the long way to the bus, having some fresh bananas on the way. 
Back in the bus, our “Swami Sri Yukteswar” adventure began... The whole day and the day before already, Yamuna and our guide spent on the phone, trying to locate the house where Swami Sri Yukteswar lived. With every phone call, we got a little “closer” to our goal. Finally we reached and got out of the bus. We had to walk about 5 minutes through the town of Serampore which seemed to still look the same way as it did when Yogananda and Yukteswar walked these streets. The buildings are very old, built during the colonial times by the British. Finally we reached the house where Yogananda lived as a boy. It is being nicely kept by the Yogoda Satsanga Society that Yogananda had founded. We sat a few minutes in his room to meditate. 

Then we walked onwards to the residence of Swami Sri Yukteswar which was a few minutes away. However, we couldn't get into the house where he actually lived as it was locked. We found out that this is house had new owners and the apartments in it were rented out. The man working there told us, that nobody was home. Beside it stood a small temple in memory of Sri Yukteswar that we visited instead. Not quite satisfied, on Swami's instruction, Reena and I went to the house again to speak with the man who told us the same thing again. Despite of what he said, Reena knocked at the door, when suddenly an old lady came and opened the door for us. We called Swami and the rest and we were all able to enter into this historical house. We stepped up the stairs just like Yogananda and his secretary Richard Wright once stepped up to be received by Swami Yukteswar when he was still alive. We walked along the balcony and came to the room of Yukteswar. It was locked but we were able to peek through the window. We lit it up with our torches and could see a simple altar and some boxes and suitcases. Otherwise the room was empty. After everyone had had a look inside. Standing on the balcony, Swami pointed out the place down in the courtyard where the Guru used to meet with his disciples to give satsang and teach them in the discipline of Kriya Yoga and Spirituality.
Yogananda attributed Yukteswar's small number of disciples to his strict training methods, which Yogananda said “cannot be described as other than drastic”...
We left the house again and went for lunch (it was already 5pm, so it was dinner rather). Before I could eat anything, Swami asked me to accompany Reena once more in order to find out the telephone number of the owner of Yukteswar's room, so we went there again, accompanied by Swami's driver (Swami is sometimes driving in a separate car during the pilgrimage). Again we, or rather our driver, talked to the man near the house. Finally, he instructed another man to lead us to someone else, who apparently knew more. A few houses later we arrived. That other man called into the house the name of another man... After waiting two minutes, he came out. The first thing I remarked was his nose which somehow reminded me of Swami Sri Yukteswar and I thought for a second that he looks like a relative. As we were talking, he told us, that Swami Sri Yukteswar was his great grandfather! Of course we were happily surprised to hear that... But not only that, he told us, that he knew that we were coming and that it was Yukteswar's grace that we found here. He said we should come back with our whole group to show us some of his great grandfather's personal items... This we did, and one by one, we could receive the blessing/darshan of Yukteswar's pujaconch, Gita bookholder, pot, plate and his ink & pen holder. He explained to us that the room in the
original house is locked due to some unresolved family matters. We thanked him for his kindness and hospitality, but he just pointed to Yukteswar and said that it was all his will. 

After this nice experience we again took the bus to drive to Halisahar, the birth place of Sri Ramprasad Sen, the “bard of Kali”, who wrote many poems and songs to his beloved Mother Kali and Tara. Unfortunately we couldn't make it as lack of time & very bad roads on the way didn't allow us, so we headed straight for our Hotel in Krishnasagar However, Swami managed to visit the temple of another Vaishnava woman saint. At the hotel we got a very good, late meal and then finally to bed.

This morning we all left “on time” at 7am! The bus ride was only 30 minutes and we arrived in Mayapur, birthplace of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. And that was the first temple we visited, Chaitanya's birthplace. He was born under a Neem Tree which is also the center of that temple there. There we met with Swami Govinda, a former student of Sathyanarayanaya Das. He was very kind in showing us around in all of Mayapur and Nawadwip. 
After Chaitanya's we went to the main ISKCON temple in Mayapur. It was very impressive to see the huge size of the whole temple complex. At the moment they are building a new temple, the biggest one ever, which will contain a planetarium and a huge dome. The current main temple with a huge Radha Krishna, Narasimha and Gaur Nitay was very nice to see and spend time in. We also visited the Pushpa Samadhi of ISKCON Founder Srila Prabhupada (see picture). His main Samadhi is in Vrindavan and in Mayapur are only flowers that were put on his body and then brought there. Yet the Pushpam Samadhi is huge and the statue of Prabhupad apparently made of real gold. 
We then walked for about 20 minutes through dirt and mud until we reached the “port” at the Ganges river. There we took a ferry boat that brought us within about 10 minutes to Nawadwip. There we took Bicycle Rikshaws, always two people together, and drove to the samadhi of Srila Jagannath Das Babaji Maharaj. It was good fun to drive through the narrow streets of the town. 

In the temple, Swami told us that Babaji Maharaj was a Siddha (perfected being) who attained everything by chanting the divine names. When he was already very old, his disciple servant carried him in a basket on his head from Vrindavan to Nawadwip. As a siddha he was able to make himself very light so that his disciple had no troubles to carry him. Although on the way he sometimes teased his disciple by making himself heavier. Short before his mahasamadhi he called this disciple and asked him, if he wanted to attain Gaur Nitay, or if he wanted to be rich. His disciple, who never had any money in his whole life, asked his Guru, if it was really possible for him to give him money, as his Guru never had any money either. Jagannath Das Babaji assured him, that he could make as much money for him as he desired. His disciple said he wanted to see that. So at the next morning, the Guru asked him to go down to the river to a certain place. He went there, and as instructed, he opened the cave there, and saw that it was filled with gold, gems and other valuables. Shocked, he ran back to his Guru, fell at his feet, and declared that he wanted nothing but to attain Gaur Nitay. Immediately his Guru made him attain them and they appeared in front of him. Srila Jagannath Das Babaji took mahasamadhi at the age of 157 years.
We again took the rikshaws and went to another temple, the house where Chaitanya's wife Vishnupriya lived. They told us, that when Chaitanya decided to take sannyas, his wife asked her husband, what she was going to do now, as he was her everything. He gave her his padukas and told her to worship them, and that he would always be with her. She did as he told her. Her devotion was so strong, that she finally merged into the sandals. All that was left of her was her nose ring which is now adorning her murthi. After telling us the story the priest there blessed us with Chaitanya's padukas which are still kept in this temple. The energy there was very sweet, with a very devotional atmosphere. 

We then went back to the boat which drove us back to Maypur. Back in the bus we all
got a wonderful meal. Everyone got rice, mixed vegetables, potatoes, chapati, pickles, salad and a small dessert. The road that we had to take reminded me of the moon landing and how to astronauts drove through the craters with their moon vehicle. We did not have a moon vehicle, but we definitely had a lot of craters to drive through! Even Yamunashree, who traveled already a lot in India and Nepal, had to admit, that she had never experienced such a bad road before. We reached our destination, Tarapith, at around 10.15pm. Unfortunately the temple was only open until 10.30pm, so we had to go for dinner and take our rooms and had to wait to see Ma Tara until the net day. Some found out that the first abishek on Ma would start at 4.30am the next day, so I set my alarm clock for that time.
However, for some reason my phone automatically changed its time zone (it had finally realized that it was in India) and I missed the prayers... : (Few others however were luckier and made it there in time. They made contact with a priest who would then arrange the Darshan of Ma for our group. We had breakfast in the hotel and then went to the temple. After buying the prasad we were led into the temple. Swami and I bought two idols of Tara Ma to be blessed on the murthi of Tara in the temple. Once inside the temple, we saw the most beautiful silver image of Ma Tara... We received her Darshan, blessing and also the blessing of Her padukas. We also were able to put our statues on the padukas and the murthi itself, getting them blessed. After the Darshan we could sit in the temple complex for mediation for about 15 minutes. Within the temple complex are several shrines, also one for Mahavishnu, Garuda and Bhama Kepa (Bhamdev), the local saint. All the prayers that are offered to Ma Tara are finally offered to Maha Vishnu. Afterwards we visited the local smashan (cemetery) where the Aghori Babas do their sadhana. Tara once promised to Bhama Kepa, that whoever does sadhana at this place would attain siddhi.
After that we did some shopping, and then some of us took a motor rikshaw to a village about 2km from there to where Bhama Kepa was born. We were received warmly by the great grandson of Bhama Kepa's brother. He showed us where Bhama Kepa was born and lived for the first 20 years of his life. When he was still a child, he was sick and his parents brought him to Tarapith in their desperation. Tara appeared to his mother and told her, that her son would be well, but that in due time he would be hers. She agreed and her son got well. Once he was in bhava, and he imagined himself to be helping Hanuman setting fire to Lanka and set fire to the rice paddies of the village. Another time he took all the village deities to the river and declared that they told him that they were thirsty. When Bhama Kepa was about 20 years old, his mother had to fulfill her promise and let her son go with his assurance, that he would come whenever she called for him. He became the disciple of a Tantrik Guru who arrived at the village and performed sadhana at the local cemetery. All the people from the village were afraid of him, only Bhama Kepa wasn't cause he felt that this man could help him attain his beloved Tara. The Guru recognized Bhama Kepa and accepted him as his disciple as he knew that Tara had sent him there to teach him. Bhama Kepa mastered all what his Guru taught him and became himself a siddha. He spent most of his life at Tarapith. 
Once he visited Dakshineshwar and met Ramakrishna. He said that he liked Kali there very much and asked Ramakrishna to give him the murthi of Kali so he could bring her to Tarapith as Kali looked like the sister of Tara. Ramakrishna touched his eyes and in that moment Bhamdev could see that they were one and the same, his Tara and Ramakrishna's Kali... On another occasion a person with a severe stomach illness came for healing. Bhamdev kicked the person in the stomach several times and shouted “go away”. In reality, he shouted at the illness to go away, and the person got completely cured after that. Bhama Kepa lived for about 80 years.

(Bhama Kepa's brother's grandson & his wife who look after the temple)

After packing our luggage we left Tarapith and stopped about 20 minutes later to look at
Nityananda's birthplace. Unfortunately the temple was closed, but we were able to see his birth house. On the way back to the bus we were attacked by some angry cows and Jyaanaprakash nearly lost our expensive camera to an unhappy cow. Finally, at 3pm, we could start our 400km journey to Gaya, which would take us 12 hours of bus ride, out of which were 3 hours again on dirt roads with gigantic holes... Finally we reached Bhod Gaya early in the morning, had a breakfast and could catch some sleep.

(a big "Thank You" to Paartha for this wonderful report!!!)