Construction of Ganga Darshan

Literally Ganga Darshan means 'view of Ganga'. From the hilltop you can see Ganga clearly, as she appears to garland the hill with a mala of her holy waters. According to the scriptures, however, Ganga is associated with pingala nadi. It was due to pingala awakening, that Swamiji had so many experiences when he came and sat on this hill during his parivrajaka days. So you can say that Ganga Darshan was under construction in Swamiji's mind for the last 25 years. Similarly, it was always in the swamis minds. Every time we sat on the terrace roof in Sivanandashram, we would gaze over at the huge fortress on the opposite hill and think how someday that would be our ashram and how we would build it.

The problem of overpopulation

From the time that the old ashram became karma yoga orientated, the population started to grow. Every year more sannyasins would come, but now very few of them ever wanted to leave. They had their work so there was no need to think about going. But the trouble was that Sivanandashram is very small with very little open space. It was suitable for about 20 sannyasins and a small number of students. Beyond this, it really became a tight squeeze, with sannyasins sleeping around stairwells, in corridors and on verandahs. A private room was unheard of. But no one complained, for the problem of over population was felt by all equally. New floors were added to existing buildings but the ashram was still bursting its seams.

In order to accommodate the growing number of aspirants who sought admittance, it seemed necessary to purchase a larger property. Therefore, in 1978, after much consideration, it was decided to build a new ashram on the hill overlooking Sivanandashram. Later that same year the legal transactions were finally made and the ancient site of Kama Chaura, with its dilapidated palace and several small buildings, was handed over to the Bihar School of Yoga. Because of its spectacular, panoramic view of Ganga, Swamiji renamed the place, Ganga Darshan.

Re-inhabiting and rehabilitating a lonely hill

At that time, what had once been an area of attraction for the whole district, full of tall stately trees and fruits and flowers of every variety, had fallen into such neglect that only brambles and thorns remained as witness to its former glory. The estate which had once covered hectares of beautiful parks and gardens was now reduced to the hill itself. And the old palace, where once kings and generals had sported, had become a centre of corruption. In fact, nobody even dared to go there after 4 p.m.

Some swamis shifted here, along with chaukis, chairs and bedding etc., on 26th January 1978, Republic Day. On the first night that the swamis spent at the new ashram site, they were too frightened to sleep. But Swamiji said, 'Just do kirtan, there's no need to be frightened.' And they did such a powerful kirtan that all the bad vibrations melted away. Everyone soon felt calm and quiet. From this experience we realised that kirtan, chanting of Om and mantras does change the vibrations of the mind and heart and frighten away all the negative elements from the atmosphere. But still we were somewhat afraid. Swamiji said that all the swamis and students had to sleep in different places but no one dared to sleep at the main gate. By morning time we found that we had all brought our chaukis together in one spot. After some days Swamiji came to visit Ganga Darshan and he walked through all the broken down buildings, rooms and halls. After that everybody felt at ease to sleep anywhere.

At that time there was no electricity, but in a few days we got a temporary connection. There was no source or facilities for water on the hill either. So we had to go for water to a nearby well. For bath we went to the pond, and for toilet we went outside in the field with one mug of water. The water connection was very necessary for construction and gardening. After one month we got our first small pump. There was also no telephone. When we had to consult Swamiji at the old ashram we went by cycle. However, within a very short time we got a telephone connection.

Then we started cleaning the buildings and surrounding land. Many repairs were made and doors and windows fixed on the old buildings. Many times we had to face foxes, vicious dogs, snakes and scorpions, but they never harmed us. Swamiji always said not to kill anything because animals are not an enemy of man; only fear is the enemy of man. So we became free from fear of these things. We prepared some plots for vegetables and planted bindi, eggplant, gobi, bhaji, corn and peas. Also we started planting trees - mango, lichi, jack fruit, bale, guava, ashok and papita.

Swamiji used to come to Ganga Darshan two or three times a day; in the early morning he would bring all the sannyasins with him. He used to keep them busy in the garden clearing new plots or removing huge piles of bricks and rocks from one spot to another. After that there would be an enormous nasta and he would encourage everyone to eat as much as they liked.

The new ashram meant a large scale plan, so we printed an appeal asking help from people in the form of donations of money, materials or work. At this time many people were starting to come for satsang with Swamiji in the old building or in the garden. They also enjoyed working with the swamis in the garden. We prepared many little straw kutirs in the midst of the garden and Swamiji often spent mornings and evenings quietly sitting there, or giving satsang to whoever came. Three months later construction began.

Bricks, mortar, sand and cement - well almost!

First we needed one place to take classes. At that time classes were conducted outside, sometimes in the garden or at the rifle range. So the first building to be constructed was the sadhana hall. The site selected for this was the ancient Kama Chaura platform. After that came the boundary wall, and then Swamiji's kutir.

In July 1978, Swamiji decided to celebrate Guru Poornima at Ganga Darshan. All the local people of Munger were invited. Guru Puja was conducted in the half-finished sadhana hall, with swamis chanting from early morning. For three to four hours there was a constant stream of people flowing in and out to pay their respects and receive Swamiji's blessings. This was the first time in hundreds of years that so many people had collected at this place for a program. Thousands attended the evening program and the whole hill was literally covered with people. They were even sitting in the branches of trees, on broken parapets and the roof of the old building. In the evening program, Swamiji spoke about the history of Ganga Darshan and future plans. He said there would be sadhana halls, accommodation for students and patients, research centre and library, etc.

After that Guru Poornima, due to local misunderstandings a section of the community petitioned the Government to make Ganga Darshan a national monument. So the Archaeological Department came. They dug and tested the soil and bricks for two years and read all the ancient history of this place. What they said was that this property had never belonged to the Government. It had always been a private property and therefore it could not be nationalised. Finally they concluded that this site was a spiritual place and it had to become a spiritual place once again. People were looking for a monument in a limited sense (even a hotel and restaurant were suggested); now instead of just a national place of interest, it is becoming an international monument on the path to spiritual enlightenment.

Although we had to face many difficulties and obstacles at this time, we never gave up because we realised that yoga had to come here. Swamiji always used to say that if you want to be a saint or a realised person you don't have to do sadhana or go to Gangotri, you just have to face the difficulties. We even received instructions from the local government officials to stop all construction, and not to dig more than six inches into the ground. Swamiji said at that time, "I can move the ashram anywhere, but the people of Bihar should think about their future. Because if I remove the ashram not even one swami will come here ever again." After two years the local people realised that all this was a misunderstanding. They started coming to Ganga Darshan for classes and construction was resumed.

A spiritual monument takes shape

The bulk of the construction began in the year 1980. The boundary wall, kutir, sadhana hall and motor room were finished. The old palatial bungalow, however, was crumbling rapidly. Half of the roof over the main halls had already fallen in and we were banned from climbing on the roof to have darshan of the Ganga. This year also saw the foundation of the Well House and Yoga Arogya and a whole lot of earth cutting, to shape the hill and make level ground for construction and plantations.

Hunting for both material and labour contractors, labour, management, marketing, stores, payments and supervision began to play an increasingly large part in our daily lives. You can say the work of the construction department started here. Marketing became the most challenging job. Sannyasins looked all over the country for the best materials. They went to Patna, Pakur, Jamshedpur, Kota, Calcutta and Delhi; and even to the teak forests to purchase and load the trees for our doors and windows. Full-time labourers are difficult to find as most of the labourers are also cultivators. But even from the opposite bank of the Ganga they come here to work - in all seasons. Each morning they arrive at 8 a.m. and work till 5 p.m. in the blazing sun.

At the foot of the hill a large well was blasted for pumping of water, drinking and gardening purposes. Nearby a small two-storey house was built with 8 rooms, 2 halls and verandahs, to house the pump. This was followed by the construction of three large residential buildings. The first of these was Yoga Arogya with two floors and over sixty rooms. It was the first major construction and it taught us a lot: plan reading, shuttering, rod-binding, plumbing, electricity, etc. Next was the Kitchen building which contained a large kitchen and storeroom, five dining halls, and a large verandah surrounding the bottom floor; with over thirty residential rooms on the second floor. The third building was actually built to house the old BSY Press on the bottom floor with over thirty residential rooms for female sannyasins and visitors on the second floor. These buildings were all completed between 1980 and 1983, and are quite sophisticated, with beautiful elevations, conduit plumbing, teak doors and windows and distempered walls.

On Guru Poornima, which was celebrated at Ganga Darshan in July 1982, Swamiji laid the foundation stone for the main seven storey building at the top of the hill, where the dilapidated palatial bungalow had stood. Demolishing and dismantling what was left of it required an army of destruction labourers and months of work. A number of tractors were engaged to remove the steel, timber and brickbats (broken bricks). This main building is to house a Yoga Research Institute, Research Library, Publications Department, Management offices and Sadhana halls. At the top, on the seventh floor, Swamiji's apartment will be constructed. It is a complex and sophisticated structure built upon solid granite. Earth was dug till the surface of the rocks showed and a network of tie-beams was cast. Upon the tie beams the building stands, with huge columns, beams and a well designed elevation. 1983 was the year of heavy construction and to maintain the pace, we bought various machines: cement mixer, vibrator machine and the hoist. Even so both men and women still carry cement, sand and bricks to inaccessible places.

A realisation

We all work day in and day out; no it's not work but karma yoga. We work for the sake of working and not for its fruits. People often say that sannyasa is escapism. They should come and see Ganga Darshan - see the sannyasins working, experiencing the same problems as themselves. Solving those same problems in various ways but with one main difference - detachment. People are coming. They are arriving in droves from all points of the globe to construct or reconstruct their inner building.

Now we are casting the fourth floor of the main building and hope that this enormous construction will be finished by November 1984. Before leaving on his foreign tour, Swamiji said, "Wire me as soon as the main building is complete. I shall come the moment I receive your message."