Off to Rishikesh, Land of Sages

We reached Dehradun airport after a day of flights from Chennai and were escorted into Rishikesh, just half an hour away. The two swamis from Kauai Aadheenam were generously welcomed by the disciples of Sri Swami Omkarananda, whose story has been told in the pages of Hinduism Today and whose Swiss ashram was a part of our story on Hinduism in Europe. Bodhinatha has been to their Rishikesh Ashram, but this is our first visit. We spoke with the swamis about publishing, about guru bhakti and more.

Upon our arrival at the Dehrahdun airport we were greeted by Nageshwari (Padmarajah's wife--from Malaysia) and a local devotee. She is spending several months at the Omkarananda Ashram doing seva. 

We were greeted by three of the senior resident monks who have lived here for decades: Swami Vishveshvarananda, Swami Satchitananda and Swamini Somashekari. We attended their evening 6 pm arati at the ashram's Kamakshi Amman temple. The temples here all follow the South Indian tradition, and the ashram is rightfully proud of the traditional form of the temple. The founder and guru, Swami Omkarananda, is originally from Andhra Pradesh, though he settled in Switzerland and Austria for many years. Right now they have 20 local priests doing the nitya puja and havan. 

After a light dinner, we were taken to a delightful kutir--very clean! We can see the Ganga flowing from our kutir. The ashram is supplied with water from Ganga. So we were fully immersed in sacred water!

The ashram is not exactly on the banks of Ganga but about 600 yards away. They do have another property with a padashala that sits right on the bank of the river. It looks like an ancient Vedic-age place with incredible scenery. Within just a few steps one can walk into the holy waters. They have a four story building that is functional and are building a couple more. The first two floors are utilized by padashala boys, while the top two stories are reserved for monks.

Chennai Gatherings

Yoginathaswami and Sadasivanathaswami are deeply impressed with the scale of development in India. Here in Chennai there is a massive rapid transit train initiative underway that goes for miles and miles, something that will transform the landscape (traffic) here.

Having settled in for a few days, we were able to catch up with our reporting from the road and to sit with many good souls, begin some projects, end others and just spend friendly time with families in the area.

We are in the Chennai airport, online due to our Airtel modem which works everywhere (something that is priced beyond reach for the monks in the US). Swami and I will sleep on the banks of the Ganga tonight, a fact that would certainly have confounded the early sadhus and sannyasins who explored Bharat on foot in those early days. Not to mention that not that many decades ago it would have been unthinkable that this report, replete with photos, could be in your hands within moments of completion.

With infinite blessings from Bharat Mata to the many who are, in fact, but part of the One...

Atritex & Our Special Visitors

Yoginathaswami and I were a bit amazed at the level of technology here in India. Our room, for instance, is run entirely from an iPad, everything from lights and sounds, room service, laundry, every single thing that happens in the room is on the iPad. In this, India is far ahead of the US. 

Our room boy was enamored by the Gurudeva shrine we keep in the room, and said he would offer a surprise. When we returned from the temple, we found he had made an elephant out of two towels!

Ponni Selvanathan, wife of our Sthapati, came to meet with us along with her younger son Raja Ganapathy and her nephew, who is a marking silpi. Her son is being groomed to become a sthapati.  So encouraging to see that young men still are dedicated to the ancient arts. Even his older brother, now an airline pilot, plans to do the same after he has seen the world.

Details of the Temple Builders' bronze Memorial were worked out and we asked Pooni about the idea of having cows present at the opening of temples and homes (for our article in the magazine on cows). She is enormously knowledgeable and offered many insights to us.

Around 10:30 am we were met by the founder/owner of Atritex, Mr. Satya Narayanan and his partner, Srini, and together the four of us drove to their offices. Atritex has been instrumental in working with the Ganapati Kulam on transferring all of our books and resources into ePub formats. This is the first time we are meeting them in person. 

Satya is a PhD in technology and a brilliant head of this small but innovative company. Yoginathaswami said: "He is one of the most intelligent, eloquent and ethical businessmen I've ever met."

We were introduced to his team of 25 youthful nerds, all amazingly focused. Satya has intentionally kept them close, in two rooms working side by side in a home, not a corporate office, so their culture would be that of a family.  

He showed us an incredible tool they use for creating ePub files from PDFs, something they have cobbled together from various sources. It's a game-changer in the digital publishing industry and you will be hearing more and more about them in the future. I am under confidentiality vows to say no more!

That afternoon we met with Kulapati Ramesh Sivanathan and his family who are on a 21-day pilgrimage to all the major temples of South India and then spent a valuable hour with our respected  Sabarathnam Sivacharyar, who guides us on all matters regarding Vedas, Agamas and vastu tradition.

We told Sivachariya about our cow article in the magazine and he offered to give relevant references from the Agamas which have much to say on the subject. 

Chennai Temple Blesses the Wanderers

Arriving in Chennai we settled in for five days of project meetings and satsangs, empowered by a morning at the famed Kaalikambal Temple. This is the temple managed by the family of the famed Sri Sambamurthi Sivachariyar, who did our Panchasilanyasa puja in 1996, preparing the spiritual foundations for Iraivan Temple. In his life, he conducted more than 1,000 temple kumbhabhishekams.

Accompanied by Nellaiappan, we were greeted by large groups of Sivacharyars, both young and old. They were gathering here from several gurukulams for 10 days of homa and puja to bring peace to the world and for the well beings of the all beings. It seems we arrived on the very auspicious opening day, a blessing since there were many shrines being prepared, home kundas and more. We were greeted with kumbha, garland, chanting, special country style drumming (really loud!) with damaru and, of course, the traditional nadaswaram and tavil. We felt we had arrived at an inner world. In fact, we had!

Led by Shanmugam Sivacharyar (youngest son of the late Sambamurthi Sivacharyar), we had darshan of Siva and Sakti at five shrines. The chants inside the stone chambers were potent, pure, empowering. We were told the nine-days were about protection of humanity from calamity and distress, and later at the hotel Sabharatnam mentioned the power of this particular deity and that such pujas, according to the Agamas, could only be held at the outskirts of a town, never in the center. The Adi Saiva community here is clearly grateful to Kauai Aadheenam for the support over the years by Gurudeva and Bodhinatha's recent help to revive and now translate the Saiva Agamas, a project the several gurukulams are fully committed to completing. 

That night we had satsang at the home of Sheela Venkatakrishna. It proved a unique time. A storm moved into the city, with rain, thunder and lightening. Only the bravest of souls could make it through that challenge, and they came to a home filled with light but not the external form of light, as the electricity failed for the night.

Sheela brought candles into the space and in the dim light we heard four priests chanting the Vedas. I gave a short talk on light and on the guru's work to bring us into the light, out of the darkness, reading Gurudeva's words on the importance of the guru to guide us through the shadows of the mind into the radiance of our soul, often shrouded, ever brilliant at its core. It proved a blessed time, made more memorable by the unusual circumstances of the evening.

Jai Gurudeva! Jai Sambhamurthi Sivachariya!

We Visit the Golden Temple

On the morning of November 10, we were invited to attend Shree Jayendrapuriswami's daily Sri Chakra puja, an elaborate two-hour puja made fascinating by two young boys, barely 8 and 10, who handed each item to Swami in perfect timing and grace.

As we were departing, Swami took us up to the roof, where he has installed a solar field and a solar steam generator which used four 9-foot-in-diameter concave mirrors. The steam is the main energy for his kitchen. We departed Bengaluru with Senthil and Thurai heading to Sripuram in Vellore to visit Shakti Amma and her Golden Temple. 

We tour the massive complex, beginning with an anthill where Narayani Amma had a profound spiritual awakening at the age of 16. Then off to several temples. Finally we reach the Golden Temple, a breath-taking gem sitting in a spiritual garden and surrounded by a 1.5 kilometer six-sided prakaram that we follow to reach the sanctum at the enter. The guide tells us it cost 300 crores of rupees. The full story of this spiritual oasis and its remarkable founder was published in the January 2011 issue of Hinduism Today. 

At 9pm we are taken to meet Narayani Amma, offering a gift of Hawaiian Macademia nuts and a terabyte drive containing nearly a million palm leaves that we digitized two years back Amma tells us, with a big smile, that this is the "the best gift Amma has received all year," then asks lots of questions about how we achieved this important feat. Lots of questions followed about our life at the monastery, every detail seems important to Amma: when we wake up, how and what we eat, how do the kulams work and more.

We joined Amma for a "light dinner" that will take care of our breakfast, lunch and dinner for the next day as well! 

The next morning we attended Sri Puram's daily cow puja. We note how much cows have been present in our travels, probably because at the outset we were faced with the journey and decided to go for it. After saying aloha to Senthil and Thurai, we are greeted by Nellaiappan who takes us  off to Chennai, writing this report on the highway. 

We conclude with this recent news report which shows that the Indian government itself is taking cow protection seriously:

Modi Govt. launches $107,000,000 project to protect Indigenous cows.
Towards fulfilling the Bharatiya Janata Party's poll promise to protect the cow and its progeny, the Government on Monday announced the Rashtriya Gokul Mission to protect the ‘indigenous' breeds.

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