1989 began with a pilgrimage to Mathura mandal or Vraj where Lord Krishna took avatar in the Dvapar yuga, and where he enacted the entire Vraj leela. The Lord himself has staled in Varahi Purana that there is no other place in all the there worlds dearer to him than Vraj or Mathura.
The crystal blue waters of Yamunaji from Yamunotri flow freely through this town, and sitting on its bank I delved deep into the nostalgic memories of the playful leela of Krishna with Radha, which has been lyricised by renowned poets time and again.
Everything in Vraj resounded with the blissful memories of Krishna consciousness whether it was a darshan of Gokul, the first home of Krishna where he acquired the name 'Makhan Chor'; or Vrindavan where he slaughtered Kaliya and enacted his rasa leela with the gopis, and acquired the name 'Rasiya'; or a parikrama of Govardhana Parvat where he protected his people from Indra's wrath by lifting the mountain on his finger, thus acquiring the name 'Giridhar'; or a stroll through Barsana where his favourite gopi, Radha, lived.
I spent 12 days in the land of Krishna, at Swami Akhandanandaji's ashram, and during that time the entire Bhagwat katha came alive with its stories of a legend that will forever umpire me. It was here too that I had darshan of the great saint, Devraha Baba.
Prayag, the confluence of Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati, the symbols of ida, pingala and sushumna, has been forever eulogised as the king of teerthas or Teertharaj. The Padma Purana states:
Just as the Sun is supreme among the planets and the Moon is supreme among the stars, Prayag is the supreme teertha.
Poorna Kumbh Mela is held at Prayag every 12 years when the planetary positions of Brihaspati or Jupiter in Vrish Rashi and Surya or the Sun in Makar Rashi are affected. This year was especially auspicious as Somavati Amavasya took place after 172 years.
I took part in two 'Snan parvas' or bathing festivals, that of Makar Sankranti on January 14th and Somavati Amavasya on February 6th. The charged waters of Sangam electrified my whole body and I could easily feel the truth of the saying that a bath here gives man rebirth in this life itself.
I had called Swami Niranjan to be with me during this momentous occasion and to have darshan of Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati Devi. During the rest of the days we jostled with millions of devotees who had come there like me, and being a midst them was in itself a moving experience. Throngs of people from every culture, race and creed, with just one thought in mind - to bathe at Prayag, gave me the unique vision of witnessing faith in motion, and I could easily conceive the idea of that 'faith' which is a dynamic principle and has been known to move mountains.
I also had the darshan of many sadhus and saints who had all gathered there, including Mahant Godavari of Juna Akhada, Devraha Baha, the Jagatguru Shankaracharyas and many other tapasvis and tyagis. For days after wards and even now when I close my eyes, I can re-enact that vision of the crowds milling through the sandy bed of Ganga and all the devas, gandharvas and apsaras gathered in the sky to witness this great spectacle.
I took a few days off between the two Snan parvas at the Kumbh to pay a visit to Pitambari Peeth at Datia for the Anusthan of Tripura Sundari who has been enshrined there.
The swamis accompanying me chanted Saundarya Lahari for the success of my anushthan.
After my second bath at Kumbh Mela, where I made the sankalpa to throw off the mantle of a guru and don the robes of a parivrajak, I travelled to Katni at the invitation of Sri Agarwal to inaugurate his yoga school. Although I have totally abandoned preaching, teaching and initiating disciples, I kept this appointment as I had already committed myself earlier.
The land where Lord Krishna migrated from Mathura with the entire Vrishni clan, to set up his kingdom and enact yet another episode of his leela, for which he was given the title 'Ranchornathji', or one who fled from the battleground.
The images of Baal Gopal and Kanhaiya are replaced by that of Dwarkanath, or king of Dwarka. Sitting on the banks of the Gomati river, I relived the era when the city of Dwarka which is now submerged, flourished as the kingdom of the Lord. Amidst the chanting of folk songs, I had darshan of the Chaturbhuj image of 'Ranchornathji' glamorously decorated with 108 different types of bhog, yet another aspect of the divine.
My stay at Dwarka was rendered in three hours, from 7:15 to 10:45 p.m. The temple doors were closed during this time, so as not to disturb the Lord, and sitting in my hotel room I lost myself in naam smaran and a deep inner vision of Vishnu, reposing on an eclipsed moon.
Somnath, one of the Dwadash jyotirlingas, having a history which fades into legend, is said to have been originally built out of gold by Somraj, the moon God, himself. Today, despite the repeated raids and ravages of destruction that the temple has faced, a stone jyotirlinga majestically glows in the temple precincts. I spent my days at the seashore in reflection and chintan.
The samadhi of Sai Baba, who has been heralded as an avatar, was the first teertha I visited in Maharashtra. It is said that not just the temple but the entire town of Shirdi resonates with the spiritual vibrations of the great saint Sai Baba.
Sitting at the eternally lit dhuni of Baba I did feel a strong spiritual energy field which could only have been created by the tapasya and vairagya of a maha purusha. The early morning aarti which I attended was filled with the shraddha and love of thousands of devotees who had gathered there.
Beautifully housed in a temple of black slab stone, the jyotirlinga of Mahabaleshwar is also said to be the source of five rivers: Savitri, Krishna, Venya, Koyan and Gayatri. As a result, this jyotirlinga, which bears the mark of a Rudraksha Aakar, is continually bathed by the sanctified waters of these rivers.
It is said that Brahma, Mahesh and Vishnu are eternally present here and the stark beauty of the valleys, the shady and dense forests, the streams, all lend probability to this belief. I spent many hours here at Mahabaleshwar, walking through the forests which are beautiful but sinister, and few dare to venture there. I saw the spot where Brahma held a yajna and one day I accidentally came across an abandoned Shiva temple overlooking the beautiful Krishna valley.
My next teertha was to the holy cities of Nashik and Trayambakeshwar where Godavari, one of the seven holy rivers of India, originates. It was here in Panchavati, that Sri Rama spent eleven, years in exile and it was here too that Sita was abducted by Ravana.
After archana at Kushavrat, the source of Godavari, I had darshan of the jyotirlinga of Lord Trayambakeshwar, which is unique on account of three lingas emerging out of a single stone. Here I conducted a special pooja, with chants of Rudrashtakam. Later I did parikrama of the mandir and had darshan of many mahatmas residing there.
A pilgrimage to Bhimashankar was like a journey back to nature. The lush green forests at Bhimashankar, unspoiled and untarnished by modern civilisation, radiated peace and harmony. Surrounded by hills where the rakshasi Dakini is known to reside, is the jyotirlinga of Bhimashankar. The temple itself is very ancient, and unlike other tirthas where one has to ascend to worship the deity, here the devotee has to descend a flight of steps before having darshan of the jyotirlinga.
Although this place is less known among the jyotirlinga, the tranquil setting and the spiritual vibrations of the place make it an important teertha. Shiva is known to have rested here after slaying the demon Tripurasura.
Named after a bhakta called 'Ghushma', the jyotirlinga at Ghushmeshwar was a boon she received from Shiva for her unflinching devotion. It is also known as Shivalaya, because Shiva promised her that he would be eternally present here.
Near this temple are the famed Ellora Caves which I also visited after many years. The beautiful sculptures carved out of gigantic mountains spread over an area of one mile are breathtaking and a soothing sight for the eyes.
The seat of the Vallabh Sampradaya renowned for the rites and rituals adopted by the Pushti Margis, Nathdwara gives one the feeling of actually being in the presence of Lord Krishna. The rich folklore which recounts the legend of Lord Krishna is sung daily in the courtyard which houses the deity, while devoted pujaris tend to every need of the Lord, such as bathing, dressing, sleeping, eating, and even tanning him while he reposes on his silken bed. Devotees are even given darshan of the decorative headgear, jewellery and costumes of Lord Krishna amidst showers of cool water sprinkled with khas and rose fragrance, a wonderful experience for a bhakta.
According to legend, the black stone image of Sri Nathji was brought here from Mathura in 1669 and, when an attempt was later made to move the image, the wagon carrying the deity sank into the ground up to the axles, indicating that the image preferred to stay where it was.
A little further down from Nathdwara is another important seat of the Pushti Maryi sect which houses an image of Dwarkadheesh. It is a simple temple with the tame elaborate ceremonies as in Nathdwara. I saw here for the first time a beautiful painting which speaks of an incident when Sri Krishna received the prasad of bhang from Lord Shiva. Strangely enough, the Charanamrit given to me here was thandai with bhang. I sat in the temple precincts for many hours amidst the chanting of Krishna bhajans in the local dialect.
The temple of Sri Eklingji is spread over a vast area and houses images of almost every deity. The main deity in the garbha griha is that of a four-faced image of Shiva emerging from a black marble shivalingam. The deity is elaborately decorated every day and mantras are chanted as a part of the ritual. To enter the garbha griha, I was given a special robe by the pujari and I had personal darshan of Eklingji Maharaj.
Just as Prayag is known as the king of teerthas, Pushkar is renowned as the Guru of all teerthas. No pilgrimage is complete without a visit here. Its main importance lies in the fact that the only Brahma, temple in India is found here. It is said that Rishi Agastya had his ashram here.
After a dip in the Pushkar lake and a bath at Agastyakund I had darshan of Brahmaji and conducted a special pooja at the beautiful temple.
In the artistic and majestic Jain temple of Dilwara I meditated in front of the big dark statue of Lord Mahavir. Here I was inspired to further walk the path of self-discovery, filled with renunciation (tyagabhawa).
Here also, I had darshan of the cave and place of austerity of Lord Dattatreya, which is now under the patronage of Niranjani Akhada. I had stayed here in ray previous wanderings many, many years ago. I feel that my future is being directed by Lord Dattatreya.
After my time at Pushkar, I went to the Dargah of Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti and offered a chadar. Thousands come to this place to pray, forgetting their caste and religion. In the atmosphere, filled with devotion and faith, I did japa and dhyan.
This lap of my teertha was terminated by a visit to Rishikesh, my guru's ashram, Gangotri and Badrinath. I had called Swami Niranjan to accompany me on this trip. There I met many saints and mahatmas and bathed in the icy cold waters of Ganga at Gangotri and the steaming hot water of the Tapt kund at Badrinath. At Badrinath I also had darshan of Saraswati udgam at Manas where she emerges with full force out of the mountain - a sight to behold!
Now my chaturmaas begins and I have been invited by a great mahatma of Juna Akhara, Mahant Shivgiri, to stay at Neel Parbat, Trayambakeshwar. Neel Parbat is set amidst a lush range of mountains on all sides. Several of the mountains are naturally shaped like shivalingams. Neel Parbat itself is a jagrat and siddha place, and I have chosen a small gaushala to stay in for the next two months. It is a small room, 8' x 8', and here I will remain in 'Agyat Vaas' and continue the next lap of my sadhana of naam smaran and remembrance of the Lord. My good wishes to all.