Amala Offerings

The sun rises above surrounding hills to illumine our third and final day at the world's largest cow ashram, as I call it. By 7am Swami and I arrive at the yagasala where all of the ritual events take place. Hundreds are already walking around the cows, rubbing their legs, doing arati to them. Each cow is officially in the care of one or two families who are given large bowls of a sweet feed mix to offer their charge. Today the cows are less eager to eat the offerings, perhaps because they have feasted for the previous eight days on this rich meal. The devotees seem a little disappointed that their efforts are shrugged off so blithely.

We move nearer to the priests who are chanting, dozens of them. Today, unlike previous days, they are all dressed in fresh white and red dothis and have tripundra on their forehead instead of the Vaishnava marks. 

We are taken to the 19-year-old cow who has stopped eating, and offered a seat next to the Pathmeda founder. We are all seated in the sand (there is only sand in Rajasthan, no soil), near the cow and a special offering begins with the arrival of large open pots filled with ripe amala fruits. Just as a million bananas were offered the day before, now we offer a million amala fruits, one at a time, in synchronicity with the mantras of the priests. Earlier as we entered, dozens of volunteers were sorting through hundreds of baskets of the fruit, obviously brought in during the night by local growers. 

When the fruits are all given, large bowls of grain take their place and we continue the offerings, ending with an arati, hundreds of trays in the yagasala all at once. It is a fitting and strong crescendo.

Then off to we know not where, driving to, it turns out, a large and mature amala grove, the trees laden with fruits. We are here to honor the trees for their gifts, and swami has the devotees sit around a tree, about 12 or 15 people to a tree, again with arati trays, all following the priests mantras. 

Shri Gopal Sharan Maharaj asks Swami and I to chant some slokas which we do, clearing surprising all present. Some fundraising ensues followed by a snack under the trees with the swamis. 

Off again goes the cavalcade of cars, along the sand roads, returning to the giant tent where Swami Rajendra Das ji, one of the most learned Swamijis of the Ramananda tradition, has held his four-hour kathaa for eight days straight. Inside, there are some 1,200 devotees waiting. Swami and I are brought to the cow who presides on an elevated cow-dung circular stage in the back, and we do go puja with the swamis then return to the stage.

This is the ninth and last kathaa and there are dozens of accolades before the talks. We are asked to address the audience, to speak of Hinduism Today and Hinduism outside of India, a topic we feel competent to speak on. The kathaa follows, today going closer to five hours as we sit on the stage, unable to understand a single word. We ask Swamiji how many days of the year he conducts kathaa. Over 300 he says. Amazing discipline, we reflect silently. 

Lunch is late, 4:40pm and soon the evening is upon us, a final purnahutha and some satsang with the swamis inside their thatched kutir. We have two more interviews to do, important ones and we work to make them happen, the second being the all-important message from the founder of this amazing place, Swami Datta Sharanananda ji.  We start at 6pm and by 9 we have finished the two interviews.

Tomorrow we leave at dawn, taking the four-hour drive to Ahmendbad to catch our flight to New Delhi. The monks make a special farewell dinner for us and serve in our room. They are visibly sad we are leaving. We go to sleep, only to be awakened at 10:30pm with a loud knock on the steel doors. They have gone to find us ice cream, and brought it to the room, a gesture of love which we are deeply moved by. The hospitality we have had here is hardly believable. We are reminded that the rest of the world has forgotten the art of treating the guest as God. Here that culture is flourishing. We have much to learn. 

Our Interview and More

Finding a neem tree with shade, we hold a Hinduism Today interview
with Rishi, one of the key volunteers and a veritable treasure trove
of bovine lore and science. Palak asks dozens of questions and I add a
few. Great material for our article in a future issue.

Finally we return to the road for our journey back. But wait, a stop
at a milk factory and full tour of their butter and ghee making. Back
on the road we are soon informed of a mandatory stop at the Nandi
Goshala where 17,000 bulls and oxen are looked after, the largest in
the world.

Cow Sanctuary

The day begins with the arrival of our appointed hosts inspiring us to inquire, as guests do, "What's the day's plan?"

"Yes, yes," comes the answer, eager in tone and full of more promise than useable information. So off we go along the narrow lanes that are called roads, wide enough for one car but magically able to allow two large busses to pass in opposite directions. 

Ninety minutes later we arrive at Pathmeda, the original gosala site and home of some 150,000 Indian cows, all pure bred stock.

We are joined by three busses of foreign visitors and devotees and soon come to realize we are part of a day-long official VIP tour. 

Together we are given an historical overview (in Hindi) and then lead on a long walk around the perimeter of a 50-acre series of pens, each holding some 100 cows with feeding stations, salt licks and lime. 

The group is so enthusiastically, chanting loudly "Gomata, Gopala" together as they bravely march (in full sari regalia) in the hot sand and sun. 

We halt at the hospital where serious cases such as injuries, gun shot wounds, cancers and broken legs are tended to. There are three giant sheds in which hundreds of cow patients are being treated. They have a massive x-ray machine and operating table in the back and while we are there a cow ambulance arrives with an injured animal from somewhere (traffic accidents are common, they tell us). It's so grim that Yoginathaswami and I back out and find shelter under a lone neem tree.

The more courageous visitors stay in the sheds, sitting on the sand in their expensive saris, chanting or singing softly to the cows who seem to enjoy the attention. It is taught here that like a person, a cow will heal noticeably faster if it feels cared for and loved. Swami and I reflect that these are the most fortunate of hurt cows on the Earth. 

Off to Rajasthan

Tales from our traveling Swamis. It's a little hard to get full-sized photos from where they are, but these will still give you a good idea of their adventures.

"The long journey brought us today to Rajasthan. We left Delhi and flew to Ahmedabad, then took a 4.5 hour drive through the arid lands of India's Western shore. When we arrived a raucous group of youth greeted us at the gate, twenty or so teens, with ear-piercing shouts and chants they garlanded us and then we followed them to our quarters in the dark. They were all standing in the back of a truck, jumping up and down, happy to have the swamis from Hawaii finally arrive.

"Then into a massive yagasala to be greeted by dozens and dozens of swamis of every sampradaya imaginable. The thatched yagasala was large, perhaps 150 feet on a side, and within it there were 61 beautifully decorated indian cows, all pure breeds, lying and standing with utter calm as hundreds of people worshipped them with arati, flowers and such. We joined in the joyous mood as the swamis all gathered around, asking when did you arrive, are you rested, did you eat? All affectionately wanting to welcome the Swamis from afar.

"Then they took us on a three-round walking pradakshina of the cows, passing each one as we walked, placing a hand on her blanket or hip for blessings. Two among them were what they call Nandis, fully-functioning and massive Brahma bulls, giants by any measure, but also calm and unflustered by all the attention. Still, the wise took a wide circle to avoid them, knowing how powerful they are.

"Then we sat with the sants, as devotees came for blessings of the 43-year-old founder of this amazing place, Swami Dattasharanananda, a tall, fit swami with a red turban and deep, compassionate eyes (which we cannot show as photos of him are never permitted.)

"I sat next to a delightful swami who is on more or less permanent mounam, but so expressive, using a little tablet to write on. We had a great conversation, me talking, swami writing and a disciple behind him shining a light on the little iPad sized writing tablet he used. Great handwriting, too. He told me he reads every issue of Hinduism Today, every word of every edition. He helped me with the Hindi that was flying about us, writing down the words when he sensed I could not understand.

"Off to meet the most respected swami here, Swami Ranganatha, said to know fully all the sacred texts nearly by heart, plus a musician and master kathak performer, the best in the world they tell us. We meet more swamis, then more, several who have dedicated their life to cow protection, one who has bullet wounds from his efforts to remove cows from smugglers."

Sadasivanathaswami and Yoginathaswami
Off for Month-long India Mission

Paramacharya Sadasivanathswami and Sannyasin Yoginathaswami departed for India today for a 30-day mission. They are going the long route via San Franscisco, New York to Delhi. The primary goal of the trip is to take Bodhinatha's place for an invitation sent to him to attend a giant conclave of Hindu religious leaders at the Shri Pathmedha Godhaam which is a giant (thousands of acres) cow protection site. Yoginathaswami also needed to visit the Iraivan temple carving site, so both of these missions were added to the trip. Then, an additional invitation was sent for us to join the World Hindu Council event gathering in New Delhi. Along the way the two swamis will meet with many of our key associates in India. It is an action packed trip! Stay tuned... hopefully we will get images from the team on the road.

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