Shrimati Sudhamayee Sannyasini
24 Pargonas, Post Office Garia
West Bengal, India 700084
Dear Shrimati Sudhamayee Sannyasini
5 weeks in India passed in a kaleidoscope of sights and emotions.
In Delhi I met Professor Radu Miron, an eminent Rumanian mathematician, on his way to a symposium. I wonder what his Hindustan experience was like.
Varanasi (Banaras) has an eternal feeling of the soul. So many venerable Indian saints have lived there. It was thrilling just to walk around the bathing ghats beside the Ganges and attend the Kashi Bishvanath temple and the Durga temple. India is always a contradiction. In such a spiritual place with people ritually bathing (not me) in the Ganges, there is no sanitation and human waste and the occasional half-burned body floats by liberated souls. The people of Varanasi choose to ignore it, but it has become a national disgrace. Opportunities are what you make of them, so instead of buying a flute I could not play, I had the seller play a haunting ethereal Raga at dawn, as the sun rose through the mist on the Ganges. Sightseers floating by in boats were entranced by the beauty of the scene and the haunting music. My thanks and well wishes go out to Bishvanath Banerjee, Dr. Rizvi and Mr. Binod of the gracious staff of Hotel India. Much kindness was shown to me by to the true Brahmin whose home and little temple adjoins the Bishvanath Siva temple. I remember my honest, hard-working rickshaw driver Ram, and I send greeting to Toby my kind and beautiful companion to Chunar, where we explored the fort dating back to 56 BC. In a cave in the fort, I came to know, Swami Satyananda Saraswati completed his Ananda Math Kundalini Yoga. It was here where Warren Hastings, first Governor General of India set up camp.
From there I went to Ahmdavad in western India to be welcomed into the arms of the most well organized and supportive of all Indian institutions – the BSS Swami Narayan Organization. I was so impressed with these kind and well-educated swamis, lead by Ishwar Charan Swami who made me feel so welcome and organized my trip in Ahmdavad. I met Anand Swarup Swami who is so bright and makes you feel peaceful in his presence. He is the head of Akshadham in Gandinagar, a truly impressive exhibition center for Indian Culture and Research. Akshadham is surrounded by beautiful tropical gardens that are carefully administered by his dear brother Janaka Dave, my host.
My heartfelt thanks go out to Subhash Varma who provided transportation and good company and Jay, Praful Raja’s brother, who traveled 200 km to guide me to Akshadham in Gandhinagar and the monastery (Ashram) at Sarangpur.
Sarangpur is where I met Pramukswami, guru of the Swami Narayan culture –you know you are in the presence of an illumined soul. His followers worship him and for good reason – the whole aura of competence and accomplishment emanates from him. Sarangpur and all the other BSS temples I visited were clean, well run and peaceful and support a vital spiritual community. Sarangpur has a beautiful farm with water buffalo the size of small buses – you feel they could knock you over with their exhaled breath from their huge, soft, black noses. The whole of Gujarat needs water. The Narmada Project, a mammoth irrigation project, is designed to impound the disastrous monsoon floods and is 75% complete. A canal leading nowhere. The project will transform the deserts of Rajasthan but is held up by the central government – typical! In the mean time I can help BSS find and conserve artesian water.
From there I flew to Mumbai (Bombay) where I was met by Anil Patel at the airport and made to feel like an honored guest.
Indian people are so pleased if you show the slightest interest in their venerable culture - and the word had gone out from Swami B to take care of me! We went to Elephanta Caves on an island two miles off shore. This temple had been chiseled out of solid rock and is so magnificent.
Then on to Goa on the southwest coast - long tropical beaches – clean and bright where little cafes serve full course fish dinners for $1. I stayed near the beach in the PaulRina Tourist Home - neat, clean with a view of the water buffalo. I took so many video-photos of Indian kids on this trip - of kids proudly displaying fish in Goa and kids outside temples. Then I turned the camera around and showed them their image for the first time on camera – their eyes bugged out with surprise and joy. It was here that I met Yves Charboneau a handsome, articulate and thoughtful young French Canadian.
Next stop was Madras and Kanchipuram – beautiful Indian temples. In Madras airport I had the good fortune to meet the Kumar Babu now living in the States and the son of Mr. Raman, a renowned South Indian Astrologer. We struck up a conversation about his father and our mutual interests. He kindly promised me a computer program for the calculations of Indian Astrology. In Kanchipuram I stayed for two days at this one Siva temple built in the 11th Century. The major difference between India and many other cultures is that it is a living culture that is over 3000 years old. You see sculptures of Siva in a yoga pose and next to him is a monk practicing this holy science. In Egypt, for instance, you only see the Tombs. My thanks go to Syed Jaffaq Ali, the head of the Sayeed Women’s College. I fell in step with him and in his gracious company we took a memorable bus ride towards Kanchipuram. Three dollars a night in Kanchipuram buys a clean and neat room in the Sree Kusal Lodge. On the way back I realized just how many people you can get on an Indian bus! So travel by bus early in the morning.
In Puri I had fun with the Indian Tourist Board. I reported in the morning I had been cheated by my hotel, Lodge Sakar Saikate. They charged double the rate because rooms were scarce. I should have stayed in Hotel Z, a relaxed and spacious guest house off the beach. In the afternoon on the way back I reported again to the Tourist Board that I had been refused entry into the Jaganath temple and was not a happy tourist. It came as no surprise – only Hindus allowed. I consider myself a devotee of just about all religions and celebrate any opportunity. I definitely would pass most tests as a Hindu, so I was a little disappointed. So when I spied a minister of the government coming to temple on the first of the year, I pushed my way through the crowd and much to the consternation of his security guards, shook his hand and said I would like to accompany him into the temple. Yes, he was either embarrassed or confused – "Do you mean there is racism in India? Next you will tell me there is a caste system" .
Bubaneshwar Siva, near Puri, is one of the seven Mahatirthas and one of the most sacred sites in India. I fell in step with the priest for one of the major temples and got a guided tour from this friendly and articulate man. The other Mahatirthas are the Bishvanath Siva temple in Varanasi; Hardwar, Amarnath and Badrinath at the source of the Ganges; Ayodhya, the birthplace of Rama; the Jaganath Krishna temple in Puri in the east; Kanchipuram near Madras; Rameshwar in the South; and the Kali Temple in Calcutta.
At the end of the trip, I spent two weeks near Calcutta in the Ashram of Swami Satyananda Saraswati – the yogi that lived with Norma and I in Toronto when we were first married and with our whole family in Jamesburg six years later. I spent most days with Shrimati Sudhamayee Sannyasini (Iti-di) the 143 Guru in the line of the Ananda Math order of monks. The Ananda Math is so special as they have managed to preserve the ancient holy science of Kundalini Yoga that is so powerful in raising the human spirit. Judging by its devotees, the Ananda Math is a national treasure. Iti-di, thank-you so much for your many kindnesses and the honor you bestowed on me. I stayed with the Nundi Family: Phanindra, Raka, Bhaskar and Sabuu who were such gracious hosts and protected my health vigorously. As a thank-you I took them, Beauty Bose and her friend Nihil to a concert of divine flute music by pandit Chourasia. His music is out of this world. In the afternoons and on some evenings I visited Mr. Gosh a neighbor with whom I spent a delightful afternoon; Malika and her family that I have known for twenty years; and Nikhil Chattarjee, a bright and articulate trustee of the Ashram. Thank-you so much for your gracious hospitality.
At the Ashram I was honored to take part in all the ceremonies and had the honor to meet Siti (Babu) Kumar Das, a long-time disciple of Swamiji - full of wisdom and energy (Shakti) and guru-sister Anju - an expert chapati maker and rice counter. I spent a memorable afternoon visiting the home of Anand Mukerjee and his wife Anindita guided by their mercurial daughter, Riki. Anindita is a geologist and fellow demi-god. Mohesh, a monk in the Ashram, was one of the most impressive men I met. He has completed the full Kundalini Yoga of the Ananda Math along with Siti Babu and the force of his personality was obvious from first meeting.
This trip was good for many reasons. At the anniversary of Norma’s death last holiday season I needed to be somewhere new and exciting to celebrate life and learning, in the company of people dear to Norma. She spent 4 months in this Ashram before she returned to Canada and married this lucky soul. She was and still is so beautiful.
I made a number of new years resolutions:
If you would be so kind - if you have the time - please write to me
Shrimati Sudhamayee Sannyasini
Post Office Garia, Calcutta 84
West Bengal, India
Chick and I so much appreciated your kindness and hospitality on this last trip. The photographs of the trip that are enclosed prompted me to write down my remembrances.
After landing in Delhi, we headed for Haridwar, on the Ganges River - a destination for many pilgrims who come to bath in the Holy Ganges. Crowds bathing, lining the riverbank in bright sunshine, on steps that lead into the river. My first act of the Millenium was to fall in the Ganges – back pack and all!…. but briefly, as it was cold! Cold! COLD! ....I slipped on a slippery rock step. A very auspicious beginning to the new year.
The on to Rishikesh, 12km to the North, where the Ganges issues out of the Himalayas in a pristine mountain gorge. The views in Rishikesh are breath taking - the river is fast flowing and cold! We had electric, clear, warm days walking along the Ganges. We send Greeting to Lakshman Joshi - a wonderfully kind man who introduced us to his many friends on a walk up and down the river. We spent peaceful hours in the Ram Devi Ashram (monastery) where he was staying. They graciously fed these two strangers. Lakshman introduced us to Swami Virendra Nanda Saraswati. He is such a happy soul. He and I hit it off right away and I ended up staying the night in his little monastery where he teaches Sanskrit, listening to the white water of the Ganges surging by, over the wall. Before I left he said this ashram was my home and I could come and live there anytime. There is this beach there between two rocks beside the Ganges that must be one of the most beautiful spots on earth.
Chick and I were able to do some wonderful acts of kindness when we were in India - thanks to the strength of the almighty dollar. This last time, I found Ramnath, the same rickshaw driver in Veranasi (Benares) who had been so helpful and honest on my first trip to that holy city. He lives in a small lean-to shack behind the hotel we stayed in. He came with us on our trip to Chunar and acted as guide. He is hardworking. He lives a hard life and earns $3 per day and is sending his daughters to school. Of this pay he gives $1 per day to the rickshaw company, leaving $2 to live on. So we bought him his own new rickshaw - and hopefully turned his life around in one day.
We stayed in the luxury Hotel India in Benares and after our arduous trip – met friends and pampered ourselves for a few days - touring the temples, the bathing Ghats. We visited a kind brahmin, Udho Maharaj, who has a small temple, the Badri Narayan Mandir, next door to the Bishwanath Temple in Benares who welcomed these western men into his culture. Then on to Chunar where Swami Satyananda was a monk. We visited the Principle of the Sanskrit School and drank tea with his family. Chick drank more tea in 3 weeks than he did in thirty years.
In Mogul Sarai we found Siti Ram Das - a student of Swami Satyananda. We stayed with his wonderful affectionate family and enjoyed the company of his lovely wife Savitri and delightful daughters Anju and Kadambury. They helped us get through a 22-hour delay of our train. In the queue at the train station at Mogul Sarai, we met Santosh Singh, an employee of the Department of Tourism, who sorted out our transportation problems, went to help us buy blankets to withstand the cold front passing through and then sat down to lunch with us. If his boss reads this - give this man an award or promotion! In Mogul Sarai we spent an evening with Arun Kumar Munshi and his son. Mr. Munshi is a most impressive gentleman who is very knowledgeable about Tantric Yoga and Astrology.
Much against my better judgment we went by train to Rishikesh and then later on to Calcutta. Chick wanted to save money. Oh, and its cheap enough. But, after a 500-mile train ride that took 36 hour moving hours and 22 stranded hours, we arrived in Calcutta. The Ananda Math Ashram was preparing for the 100th anniversary of the birthday of Swami Satyananda. Buildings were being painted, concrete walkways poured and food ordered for the feast.
During this special time we visited many families – whose hospitality is most heart warming. Ananda’s family showed us round their tranquil house and garden that has been in their family for generations. We met three generation of Govinda's family and were entertained by his musical children. We visited Belure Math - a beautiful ashram and memorial to Swami Vivekananda and, by launch, crossed the Ganges to Dakineshwar - an impressive Kali temple. I mentioned to my friends I would like to go into the temple. They said the queue was 1-2 hours long. So I sought out the priests and sang them the Kali mantra and, beaming with joy, we (myself, four priest and a security guard) visited with Ma-Kali alone in this breathtakingly beautiful temple and was back with my friends in 10 minutes, by grace, mission accomplished. I studied with Mohesh, an accomplished yogi and one mainstay of the Ananda Math. Thank God for Mohesh! Without him beside you, Iti-di, and Subrata Ghosh, Odita Babu and Pulinda to take care of the Ashram, I would be very worried. Meeting Siti-Kumar Das again was such joy – he is so confident - he inspires trust. My haven from the mosquitoes was the Nandi household where I sat and chatted with Mister B and Raka and Baskar and Sabuj (also known as Sambu –a little joke). I visited the Calcutta Court Chambers with Srabani Sarkar and had a delightful day shopping for Bhavani and Satyam
After the Doomed train ride from Hell, it is not surprising that Chick decided to fly round southern India for the rest of his trip. For $750 for 3 weeks, he went to Bubaneshwar – a temple complex on the east coast, Madras a beautiful city with temples all around, Trivendrum in the southern tip of India – tropical beaches and Southern Indian temples, music and dance. From there he went to Bangalore - now the computer center of India, where Satya Sai Baba lives. Goa was the next stop for Chick - tropical beaches and a Portuguese influence – clean, cheap and relaxing and then on to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. Dr. Chick is still not back - I do hope he has had a pleasant experience.
Karate/Kung Fu – I am so pleased (and very fit), This is a serious accomplishment in martial arts and a testimony to my teacher, Sifu Gary Veganik. So all the training I did in the Ashram, on the roof of Siti Ram Das’s house and since I came back - paid off.
Thank you so much, Love Tapash
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