Monday, 4 November 2013

A much awaited travel to THE ASHRAM

Sundar and I were very excited with the fact that we were going to make it to the ashram this time by HIS will. This was our third trial to visit the ashram. The first one was cancelled because of cheeru’s health. The second time, we were unfortunate not to make it as I had official commitments. As Vedanta and sastras point out, getting guru’s anugraham is extremely difficult. One can get the darshan of the LORD, but to get a GURU’s blessings and approval, one should have a sense of total surrender. Probably if we had opted to stay outside the ashram, we would have seen Lord Arunachala sooner. The blessings of Ramana got a little delayed, hitting out on our ego and lack of absolute surrender.

The hospitality in the ashram is very good. People are pious, polite and helpful. The stay was very pleasant with neat and well furnished rooms. Food is sumptuous and tasty (On the lighter side, if one wants to get away from the kitchen cookeries for a day or two, then this is an ideal placeJ).

The Ashram
The ashram with the serene atmosphere has a constant flow of people for all walks of life that defies tradition, culture, race, colour, religion. All that speaks in the ashram is silence and faith. To add to the beauty are the majestic peacocks. You never get so close to them anywhere else. They also seem to have got greatly influenced by the Ramana way – absolutely peaceful and calm. As I get a closer look at their necks and feathers, I really feel that there can be no greater engineer than GOD. Even the best artist with all his creative brain cannot add up to the colours of the peacock’s neck and feathers.
The Narayana seva at 10.30a.m everyday is a part of the ashram program where the poor and hungry are fed. The food is of good taste and quality with chips, sambar rice, and others being served. This is a very noble act of feeding the needy. But sometimes I fear if it initiates people into laziness?? What if it does? How can one differentiate if a person eats free food because he is lazy to work or he is really forced into begging. Looks like we have to give the benefit of doubt to the other side!!.
The book shop inside the ashram premises has a decent collection of Shri. Ramana’s life, short stories as told by HIM and also philosophy in varied languages.


We also went for girivalam in our car. There are eight lingams around the hill which represent the 8 directions. However, we could visit only 6 of them as the road beyond was diverted and we had to bypass the remaining 2 temples.

The Skandaashram

The trek to skandashramam was another eventful journey. Though it was painful, as a great man quoted, there was no suffering. The entire path was rocky and narrow. Nature was at its best with rich flora and fauna. Trekking after so many years was giving me an elated feeling. I was so over whelmed at the beauty of the Arunachala temple from atop the skandashramam. The temple looked so grand with its 4 raja gopurams, and 5 inner gopurams. It was a typical photographic picture and it was difficult for one to lift eyes off the divine sight.
The ashram was in absolute silence with a small but constant stream of visitors coming there for mediation. Bhagavan ramana lived here for around 20 years and did a lot of meditation here. His mother served him here as a devotee and attained Samadhi. Words fail me to describe the ashram to its befitting nature. At one point, I felt, how great is ramana’s mother to having given birth to such a great and renounced saint. As you enter the small rooms where ramana lived, your hairs stand up giving you a feeling of divinity within you. You feel one with the Lord, in absolute calmness and can feel the peaceful nature of the self. Just imagine, if we, who, as mere mortals feel so ecstasy after experiencing the inner self for a moment or two, given the right environment, imagine a person who is in this ever blissful state irrespective of the environment for a whole lifetime. I wondered - “Will ever attain this state??, Will I ever be in paramanandam ?? - Probably after a few tens or hundred births

The Virupaksha cave

The virupaksha cave which is slightly away from the skandashrama is also very enthralling. Ramana meditated here in the dark rooms of the cave. It is so dark inside that you cannot make out if anyone is sitting inside or not. What a place to meditate and attain siddhi!!! Each and every place where he lived is so appealing and heartening that any atheist would be initiated into meditation.
Coming down was inevitable. We trekked down with a heavy heart. The body alone was going dowhill, but the heart and mind was still with ramana – wondering, curios and waiting to be one
Come to think of it, a visit to such places gives a feeling of where you actually belong. A sense of true knowledge engraves you, though for a short period. The spiritual vibrations are so strong in such places that it makes you think and introspect more about life and its goal.
But where is the starting point – Well, I guess for people like me, the starting point is Karma Yoga. I have duty calling me now and got to go!!!..

Monday, 19 August 2013

Refreshing Rendezvous with a Renounced Recluse

The Shirdi Retreat

India – A land of great saints and acharyas. A land which is the birthplace of many religions. A land wherereligion and spiritual practices bind people together.  Saints born in this land are innumerable. Every part ofthe country has saints to boast of. They have poured their vibrations into this soil making this a spiritual destination to millions across the world.

The saints of the previous yugas gave us the rich teachings of the Vedas and Vedanta – Valimik, Vyasa bagavan, patanjali, agastya, bharadwaja, vasista, vishwamitra, parashurama etc etc the list is endless. In this kali yuga itself, we have seen many saints making their presence felt. They have strived for human welfare and have always been a torchbearer of reforms. Adi Shankara, Ramanujacharya, madhwacharya, raghavendra, gyaneshwara, mukta bai, meera bai, namadev, eknath, tukaram, the alwars and nayanmars of the south – oh..This is another endless list. Among the recent years, we have Vivekananda, Ramakrishna paramanhamsa, Shirdi baba.

We were looking forward for this trip for a long time and it happened today. It had to be a long journey in the lokamanya Tilak express from Cantonment to Daund and another 3 hour travel from Daund Jn to Kopergaun, our final destination. Shiridi is around 20Kms from Kopergaon. Since we went during the monsoon season, the land was fertile and green.

After checking into the hotel room, and refreshing ourselves, we left for the dhoop arathi that we had booked online.  He sure is a crowd puller. People for different parts of the country were there to have a glimpse of their sad guru. The arathi takes around 25 minutes with soulful arthi songs being rendered by the priest there. After having darshan of sai, we went to visit the museum, dwarakamai, chavadi, the dhuni and the neem tree. All these places have always been with sai. He is one of those souls who never travelled outside shirdi. He drew large crowd from where he was. His teachings spread far and wide and so do his blessings, When we see the utensils used by him, the cot he slept, the robes he wore, the place he made prasadam for all, it gives us a feeling of belongingness. Were we also a part of this in some birth of ours? Wouldn’t it have been nice if we were one of those simple, innocent and devoted people during his times? 

The shirdi temple

Out the dwarakamai

The next day was supposed to be super exciting as we were going to panchavati in Nashik where we would be seeing few places which are important to Rama and Ramayanam. We began with a quick visit to the Birla temple (Ram kund) which houses all the GODs and important places like the 12 jyotir lingams, the Himalaya dharshan, the vaikunta dharshan.

The next stop was at the Godavari ghat which was flowing with full happiness. Though it looks serene, it was a bit polluted given the fact that it was flowing in the heart of the city. The triveni sangam i.e. the confluence of godavari, aruna and varuna takes places here. The Kumbh mela (held at Ujjain, nashik, Allahabad and dwaraka once a year) takes place once a year at this place and lakhs of people come here to take a holy dip. It was here when Ram performed the last rites for his father when in exile.

We then went to kapalesshwara temple. North India has a different way of worship in that devotees can enter the garbha gudi and perform abhishek for Lord Shiva unlike south India where we are not supposed to enter the sanctum Santorum.

We then proceeded to Sita Gupha. When surpanaka’s nose was cut off by lakshmana, she complained to her bothers khara and dhushan. The brothers along with 14000 rakshasas came to fight Rama. Rama then made a cave for Sita and kept her here in hiding. This entire region was the dankaranya forest mentioned in the Ramayana where Rama stayed for the last 2.5 years of his exile. The name Nashik is evolved from nasikah meaning nose. Since surpanaka's nose was cut off here, this place came to be known as Nasik. The cave initially is a very narrow one but then as we proceed down, it opens up to three beautiful idols of Rama, Lakshmana and Sita along with Hanuman. Children had fun time going into the cave a couple of times while I read the sankshepa Ramayana at this place.

We then went to Goraram temple and the Kalaram temple. The ram idol installed in the kalaram temle is a swayambu. Here Ram holds his right hand on his chest and his left hand downwards. If we surrender to his feat, he promises us full protection and happiness. The temple is very beautiful and is well maintained.

 The Kalaram temple

When then proceeded to the tryambakeshwar to see one of the jyotir lingams. The crowd was huge with heavy rain too. We thought that we may have to come back without the darshan of the lord but a priest helped us at an extra cost. We were taken into the temple without any hassle and had a good darshan. The linga is quite unusual here that the mound is not seen outside but is dipped inside like a grinding stone. It was humbling to see that inspite of heavy rain, people didn’t lose hope or walked away, they were all patiently waiting to have a glimpse of the lord. The brahma giri hils at the backdrop with Godavari taking birth as small streams is a pleasant sight to the eyes. The entire belt between shirdi and nashik is green and green. We could see many sugarcane fields which seem to be the main produce here. All along the way, we could see small shops which have put adhoc swings for children to lay and have a nice natural cane juice. No maxhines are used to make the juice. Cows are used to trun a gear box which crushes the sugarcane to make juicy juice. It was a very nice experience to have a fresh breath of village life.

The next day was the visit to shani shignapur. This temple was not very crowded. Here Lord Shani is in the form of a huge stone. None of the shops have doors and the claim is that even houses don’t have doors. People believe that everything is taken care by Lord shani. Amazing!!!!
The next day was our return trip to Bangalore. Children thoroughly enjoyed this trip and want to come back to shirdi. What we want is a dream but what happens to us reality. I have always wanted to be under the guidance of a guru. I have heard people telling that having a guru is absolute bliss. You need not worry for anything. Everything is taken care of. But I still haven’t had the benevolence of a guru. How is my guru, how do I choose my guru? How do I know that I need to trust this person as my guru? Well, we are not elated souls to choose our  guru. It is the guru instead who chooses us. I am still waiting for that moment when my guru will spot me and give me that absolute blissful experience.


Sunday, 17 February 2013

Dwarakamai Vruddhashram

We will also be old one day!!!

Thayagaraja Aaradhana - A yearly tribture to the trimurthis (Shri Thyagaraja swamigal, shri muthuswami dikshitar and shri shyama shastri) and also to the  father of carnatic music shri purandara dasar. If we today we enjoy music at its best , it is because of the ragam, thanam, bhavam filled songs of these great saints of carnatic music.

Like every year, shriram's mrudangam teacher, Vidwan. Shri gopalakrishnan, also celebrated this festival but in a different way. People generally celebrate this in temples, big halls and other places but this man did it in his very own old age ashram called "Dwarakamai Vruddhashram" in chikkaballapur. It was attended by an elite group of people having a sound musical knowledge and lead by mrudanga vidwan Shri. T.S. mani and his wife Vidushi. Smt. Rama Mani

Now, this post is not to elaborate on the arrangements or grandeur with which it was celebrated. Neither it is meant to talk about the songs sang or about the vidwans who sang. It is about the people and the kind of care that they are given.

This ashram is entirely and solely run by Shri. Gopalakrishnan's son murali and his wife. Shri gopalakrishnan also is very much a part of it. This is around 14 years old (i think). Old people who are abandoned by children resort to this place and are taken care like children. There are actually two wings. One wing has all old people whose children have left them to be totally forgotten. Even if they were to die, it would be the ashram inmates who would perform their last rites. According the Shri. Gopalakrishna, in the last 10 years, he has performed rites to around 800+ people. We saw people who have no legs, some who were totally bed ridden, one who could neither hear, see or speak and was being fed by one of the volunteers. It nearly brought tears to our eyes. Time and again, we are reminded of how gifted we are and what we need to give back society.

The other wing is a more decent one where people live by paying some meager amount. So, this ashram is entirely run by donations. Money is not asked but flows -little by little. There is a shirdi temple within the ashram and everyone here believes that it is Baba who takes care of them and their needs. We could actually not spend time with the old people as the celebrations were ongoing and had to leave to our far destinations. But the underlying point is that this man single handedly runs the show with the help of family members. It is pure selfless service.

Many a times, parents are hurt by harsh words. Their advice is unwanted. They become people of boring speech as they grow old. They become a burden. But little do we realize that it were these same mother and father who taught us to face world, who held our hands when we were down, who patted our backs and lifted us when we failed, who rejoice more than us when we found small success in life. They lifted all our burden and made us what we are today and we when we are independent, we find them to be a burden. We don't even realize that we will also travel the same boat few years from now. We will also have to undergo the same treatment from our children because we set an example to our children. We plan so much for he future and claim to be so foresighted but ignore such human values and relationships which will reap the same harvest in future.

Through this blog post, I would like to tell people that if you are interested in donating to this sai ashram, you may do so. You can contact Shri. Gopalakrishna. (Mob: 9886275899). By the way, you do get a 80G IT exemption for your donations.

For many, this post will definitely be a matter of non-attachment and a casual read/comment. It would be like any other NGO who are doing yeomen service. I am not trying to promote this ashram or try to associate myself. This is only to create an awareness in people about this home, their selfless work and their commitment. Out of your many whole hearted charity that you do for varying NGOs, this can atleast be at the end of your wish list.