Catching up from South India

Arrived in Chennai and even at midnight the night air was hot and muggy.  A thin layer of smog still blanketed the streets.  Apparently Bhogi revelers on Wednesday had built bonfires and fed them plastic and tires causing such a problem of smog that airplanes were delayed taking off and several of those scheduled to land in Chennai had to be diverted to other airports.   I suppose we were lucky to have been delayed in Washington D.C. and again in Frankfurt.

At the airport we had to sign documents assuring the Indian government that we did not show signs of Swine Flu.  However, there is apparently another more pervasive problem in Tamil Nadu—a mosquito born disease is spreading through parts of the district which includes Chennai. Something called Ross River Fever, very much like chikungunya which causes high fevers, facial swelling and joint pain. No one notified us about that.

We arrived quickly at our hotel. It is very nice, but we are greeted with heavy security precautions.  The whole city is on alert.  Even our conversations with our friends ended up in talks about terrorism and mosquitoes.   It revealed a preoccupation with fear that we have never seen before.   Something has certainly changed since our last visit. The Mumbai attacks have had a serious affect on the psyche of the nation. That, along with the political discord within Andhra Pradesh has made for a heavy atmosphere during the normally joyous occasion of Pongal, the colorful and tasty three day holiday of harvest in Tamil Nadu, which began on the 14th of January.

The 14th was also the beginning of the Kumbhamela in Haridwar. It began quite auspiciously with a New Moon followed by a Solar eclipse.  This combination created the perfect alignment for meditation and for charity.  No bathing was allowed prior to the end of the Eclipse at 3:35 on the 15th. After the eclipse was over the thousands of people in attendance took a quick dip in the chilly waters of the Ganges and then dried off on the ghats in the warm sunshine.  Only a few of the faithful stayed in knee-deep reading the Bhagavad Gita.  There are already so many sadhus, saints and pundits in attendance freely sharing with all who will listen about Truth and giving Wisdom teachings.

The book release function by the Yoga Siddha Research Center for the new editions of  Tirumular’s Thirumandiram in English, V.T.Neelakantan’s, The Voice of Babaji in Tamil and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and the Siddars by M. Govindan in Tamil was hugely successful.  These books were launched with a great deal of pomp and circumstance.  Over a thousand people attended the event and it was covered by several English and Tamil newspapers.  It sounds like almost 2000 copies of the set have already been pre-purchased. Because of this event, the Tamil Government is impressively beginning a program, to seek out and conserve the ancient Tamil spiritual writings and to publish the religious literary works.  Quite a number of Government Ministers were in attendance at the event, as were Brahmin scholars and it took a while to individually acknowledge each of them and their specific contribution to various projects. There were many brilliant speeches, but unfortunately most were in Tamil.  However,  the message was related well that the emphasis of all these books is internal worship and identification of jiva with Siva, and that love is Sivam. Also the Siddha’s special social emphasis on “no discrimination and no privilege,” and that love is the ultimate law was made clear.   I wondered how these messages were received by the ‘oh so privileged’ politicians and Brahmin scholars in attendance.  Love as thought is truth, love as action is dharma and love as feeling is Peace, or Siva.  The message at least was truly beautiful for all.

Today, Satchidananda and Satyananda are giving a second level Retreat and Mantra Yagna to 90 people outside of Bangalore at a lovely retreat center, called the School of Ancient Wisdom. We have spent the last five days at the Bangalore Ashram, where I have worked on editing two books.  One of the books is by Paramahamsa Vedananda Saraswati Swami, about his pilgrimage to Kailash Manasarovar — To Kailash- In Quest of the Self.  I worked over the week with Swamiji, going through his hundreds of photos and finalizing the book. It is ready for formatting and soon will be in print.  This book will be an important reference for all seekers and will be of special interest to Kriya Yoga Sadhaks.  I look forward to its printing and distribution.

Due to the fact that I had a lot of work to complete during this week, I did not choose to visit  Siddhar Mahananda with Govindan, Satyananda, Chris Brod (who over the past 2+ years has helped with the editing of the whole of the 9 volumes of the Thirumandiram), and Vinod Kumar who is the manager of the Bangalore Ashram.  The Siddhar lives in a 80 acre cavern, which contains a lake, and is found outside the town of Vallalur,  about 3.5 to 4 hours drive from Bangalore.  The Siddhar was introduced to Govindan by a lovely couple, an American and his wife living in India for the past 15 years and by one of the Siddhars closest devotees who is an extremely nice and generous man.  This devotee apparently makes the long drive to visit his Guru from his Yoga center located in Bangalore, three times a week.  The three of them, with the four from our ashram made it seven in the car to meet with the Siddhar.  

It is maintained that this highly evolved Siddhar eats no food and drinks no water at all and instead lives on Fire. He bathes in fire, three times daily to maintain his health and power.  Everyone who met with him this week was impressed with his genuine loving manner, powerful energy and clairvoyance.  He did not demonstrate however, his fire-bathing.  He is an amazing artist and architect who has carved statues of the 18 Siddhas into the entrance of his cavern and is erecting a monumental building and temple with only 30 labors onto the face of the mountain cavern.  He says he plans to cover the temple in jewels. On one hand he says he wants to remain relatively unknown, yet all the while seems to be preparing for huge crowds.

After completing the Silent Retreat tomorrow, we fly to New Delhi to meet the first group of students coming for the Kumbhamela in Haridwar.  We think there will be many Westerners visiting the Mela this year. The army is as always directing the event and maintaining the campgrounds. It is sure to be wildly interesting, once in a lifetime kind of opportunity.   Finding time to meditate in Chennai and Bangalore has been difficult, with the busy schedule, noise pollution and frenetic energy.  The energy here at the retreat center is very nice, only the songs of the many birds pierce the quiet. The group is very large, but everyone seems to be accepting the Silence; only occasionally have I overheard cell phone conversations in the woods. Cell phones are an addiction here in India.  It seems a phone call must be answered, irregardless of who is calling.  Even on the stage during the book release function, cell phones were going off; the loud cry of a baby or a catchy tune disturbing my concentration. I seemed however, to be the only one irritated by the half a dozen rings competing with the speakers.

The Retreat today has been quite sweet.  Breaking the Silence has created, I have noticed, an atmosphere that is quite tranquil and soft.  On arrival the participants were quite excitable, rather loud and chatty, minds dispersed and fatigued from the stresses of the week.  Today the voices are soft and the tone gentle and the speech is one of measured.  The faces are familiar and the smiles and pranams are genuine. The chanting around the fire is devotional and rhythmic.  The questions are sincere and some are intensely personal.

 It is my favorite part of the retreat, when communicate with each other is soulful. It makes one feel as if personal purification and transformation is possible.

  1. I’m relieved for you that it is going well – the upcoming full Moon is sure to be very ‘transformative’ – stay well.

    Much love,

    • Ram Ganapathy
    • January 13th, 2011

    I have had the pleasure of interacting with the Mahananda sidhar. Even if you discard his mythic prowess, the very fact that he manages to pool in resources to feed at least 200 to 300 hungry people every day at his premises is noteworthy.I was amazed by the simplicity of his life and his close to heart discussions about living per se. Noble path is the hardest, yet is an epitome of simplicity. Falls in line with the tag phrase of today’s world – Keep it simple stupid!

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