Greetings to everyone…by Mother’s grace, Guruji Swami Bhajanananda and I are in good health and are now in Delhi at the Ramakrishna Mission. We’ve returned here after having a wondrous adventure in the Himalayas!
After a pleasant morning train ride to Haridwar on the 22nd, we spent some days at the Kankhal Ashram. A day trip to Rishikesh was very nice (despite the massive development–hotels popping up like mushrooms)…complete with Ganga bath and even my favorite street-vendor fresh butter cookies!
A chance/pre-destined encounter with our friend Victoria was fortuitous. Among other things she introduced us to lemon ginger mint honey tea at a tiny makeshift cafe on the footpath on the swarg ashram side. We sipped tea with an eccentric westerner–not unlike our Russian friend Igor, except this fellow had an unplaceable accent…he’s been in Rishikesh since 1974, and has seen a lot…”The world needs more storytellers and shamans…there’s enough clever people in the world.”We returned to Haridwar. The next morning I inquired about a car to Ukhimath, not far from our beloved Kedarnath. Within ten minutes it was all arranged, and we had the best driver we’ve had in the Himalayas, a young, sweet devotee named Harish.We left Kankhal a little after 6:00am, and before 8:00am we were having hot alu parathas andchai for breakfast in the little village of Byasi….(which, you’d be surprised, boasts one of the cleanest public bathrooms I’ve seen—even in America!)
We continued on, and I was struck by how clear the weather was…I’ve never seen the air so clear…even from Haridwar you could see the snow peaks peeking through….But there were some low clouds snaking through some of the valleys, far from us on the road, but very beautiful.
But at around 9:00am Harish pulled over and we got out looked out to the vast canyon—actually three canyons meet here…they call it “Tin Dhara”….and right at this moment, at 9am the clouds and fog were burning off and being driven by the wind…the effect was like nothing I’ve ever witnessed: in the valley below, the Ganga snaked its way, but above that was this river of clouds, swirling, swelling, rising and falling….like a time lapse film, only happening in real time. All the clouds were glowing white in the morning sun, and when they would dance their way apart and reveal the Ganga below, she was catching the sun like a sunlit ribbon of sliver and gold….absolutely breath-taking! I took some pictures and some video…hopefully it will convey something of what we witnessed. So rare are these moments….to be there at that point, at that time….such grace!
And then we got back in the car…and within ten minutes we had our first glimpse of the Kedarnath peak! I’ve never seen him below Devprayag….that’s how clear it was! We didn’t stop at Devprayag…we decided to stop at Rudraprayag on the way up and Devprayag on the way down.
We had a wonderful bath at Rudraprayag before noon, and thought of everyone with each dip.
By 2:30pm we had reached Ukhimath and were eating lunch at the GMVN gust house….
Our little cottage, number 3, has its own little porch, and little open space next to it….and there, right there, framed perfectly in the hills….is our Kedarnath Mountain! Such a stunning view….that was our television…the moods of this mountain at morning, afternoon, in evening alpine glow….even by the light of the full moon (our first night)….I took I don’t know how many pictures and videos….but mostly we sat and did japa and drank in the darshan!….after eight years, I cannot describe what it was like to see this mountain…my eyes are tearing up just thinking of it….and from our little GMVN cottage, He looks so close! So clear…the play of shadows on snow and rock….and a form that has nothing to do with shadows or snow or rock. Truly amazing….such grace.
On the second evening Guruji and I put a cloth down on the lawn…and with cymbals and a mini dholak drum, we sang kirtan to Lord Kedar, to the mountain…the manager of the GMVN sat nearby and joined in…it was so incredibly lovely…at some point during the kirtan, a flock of emerald-green birds flew up and over….at this point Kedar peak was crowned with clouds.
And though the mornings and nights were cold…the days were quite warm. The food was simple, lovingly prepared…the best chai we’ve had in India so far…and many interesting people….That morning, a young Bengali man approached….and after some talking, he said that he knew Guruji Haradhanji! “Oh Haru-da! Yes…I knew him…there was no pujari like him!” Very sweet man, named Asshim. We gave pictures of Ma Dakshineswari, and took down info.
In the morning we visited the Ukhimath temple…had a puja performed on behalf of all the devotees. Very nice darshan!
That night after dinner Asshim introduced us to the man he and a lady friend were traveling with: a Dr. Sen, a Bengali doctor who has spent the last forty years walking the paths of Garwhal, and is considered one of the main experts of the Panch Kedar…the five mountain shrines to Siva. Dr. Sen has written many books on the region, and published books of his photographs….one of them is being sent to Kali Mandir….Dr. Sen is quite a trip…he connects on a mystical level to the nature and spirit of this region…he says this place is like the crucible used by alchemists to turn base metals into gold….those who come here are changed, transformed….the same person does not return…He has seen these peaks from every angle at all times of the year….he’s walked to the Panch Kedar shrines many many times. He also gave some good points about traveling, and encouraged us to one day see the panch kedar shrines. Very unique person. He quoted a Baul song: “Those who have seen Radha and Krishna in a red hibiscus have seen Them…..those who haven’t, haven’t.”
The next morning, the mountain was hidden in clouds and they sky dark….yet another mood!
After breakfast we left Ukhimath.
At noon we took our bath at Devprayag, where the Bagirathi and Alaknanda rivers meet, and Ganga officially begins. We walked up to Raghuvir temple and saw arati.
We made it back safely, and were back in the Kankhal Ramakrishna Mission before evening arati.
Now we’re resting in Delhi. Soon it will be on to the next adventure. And Swami Shantatmananda Ji told us that tomorrow Swami Chetanananda Ji will be visiting the Delhi center, so we’ll be able to see him!
We’re thinking of you all and missing you…and with every holy dip and every temple darshan, you are there with us. We hope all is well, and we’ll write again when we can…
Jai Jai Ma!
Yours in Mother,
We celebrated Shyama Kali Puja on the moonless night of November 13 in the auspicious month of Kartik. With love and prayers, we invoked and worshipped the benign form of the dark Goddes. Shyama Kali Puja is performed every year on Divali, the Hindu Festival of Lights. Garlands of red lights adorned the outside of Ma’s temple, and Her altar glowed with candles and festive oil lamps. This special night of Kali worship brought a record number of devotees to Kali Mandir.
The Divine Mother Comes Home
A sweet Bengali legend holds that every autumn Mother Durga takes leave from Her husband, Lord Shiva. She leaves Mount Kailash high in the Himalayas to visit Her ancestral home to spend time with Her family. Ma gets a fervent welcome-home party with blowing conches, drum rolls, bells, chants and prayers. Kolkata comes to a standstill for four days. All of Kolkata pays homage to Ma Durga. People dressed in their finest new clothes are out in the streets to receive the Goddess in their homes and in their hearts. Ma has come to kill all the demons that lurk even in the darkest corners of our hearts. The battle rages for nine days and nights (Navaratri). On the tenth day, Ma Durga emerges victoriously. All Her children are happy and lovingly exchange gifts and feed one another.
At Kali Mandir, we observed Devi Navaratri, with special homa fires & nightly talks on the Chandi, celebrating the Divine Power’s victory over the forces of darkness. We worshipped Ma Durga with full hearts along with Lakshmi, Saraswati, Ganesha and Kartikeya. A crowd of devotees attended this elaborate ritual which included Kumari Puja, in which the Goddess is worshiped in the form of young girls.
We are excited to announce the release of Naren’s (our Kamalakanta) beautiful first CD of Shyama Sangeet.
The land of Bengal in eastern India can truly be called “Motherland.” It is here that for millennium, and unbroken tradition of worshiping God as the Divine Mother Kali has given strength and solace to its people. Over the centuries many great mystics took birth in Bengal, leaving a timeless legacy of wisdom-teachings, tear-soaked poetry, and ecstatic communion with the Mother. From this legacy a new form of sacred music was born, called Shyama Sangeet, “Music to the Dark Mother”, The most famous of these poet-saints were Ramprashad Sen and Kamalakanta Bhattacharya of the 18th -19th centuries. They cried directly to the Mother, often reprimanding their own restless minds or revealing esoteric experiences of yogic awakening. Soaring in unparalleled joy or crashing to earth in great despair, these songs reveal the often-winding road traveled by the devotee.
Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa often sang Shyama Sangeet, weaving this sacred music into his teachings that sparked India’s spiritual renaissance. When his heart overflowed in a ecstatic moond at he Dakshineswar Kali temple, his songs enthralled those seated nearby. When his disciples, such as Swami Vivekananda, would sing, Ramakrishna often danced or wept before entering blissful Samadhi. Decades later, Paramahamsa Yogananda was born into this spiritual revival. He sang Shyama Sangeet as a child and continued to do so throughout his life in America where he adapted much of it into his English poems and songs for the West.
Eso Ma is the first recording by a westerner of India’s most enthralling love songs to Mother Kali. Naren K. Schreiner sings vocals and plays harmonium and is accompanied by Pankaj Mishra on sarangi and Adikeshava on khol mridanga. Proceeds from the sale of this CD go to support the worship of the Divine Mother at Kali Mandir.
Establishing a deity in your household creates auspiciousness all around. By keeping the altar clean, taking care of and worshiping the deity, you automatically reap the benefit of establishing a deep relationship with God. And when God comes, magic happens. There is an Austrian proverb: “Where birds are, more birds flock!” meaning where there is wealth, more wealth accumulates.
In our case, Kali Mandir may not be wealthy from a worldly perspective, but what we have is priceless. It all started with the arrival of Sri Ma Dakshineswari Kali in June 1993. Little did we know then that Ma would surprise us and bring Her whole family of gods and goddesses to Kali Mandir.
Soon after Ma was installed, a devotee named Shunmugan brought a beautiful wooden altar he had made himself containing three Kali murtis – a main large one and two smaller ones embodying the sun and the moon. The next deity to appear was Lakshmi in the form of a giant ancient conch that came out of the earth in Ma’s garden. Next to arrive were a beautiful shalagram and a black Shiva lingam from Benares.
One day, when Usha was feeling bad, Ma surprised her. The mailman rang the bell and delivered five heavy parcels without a return address. Since Usha wasn’t expecting any deliveries, she thought that someone may be playing a prank and opened the parcels outside the temple. Wow, what joy! As Usha unpacked seven beautiful black Kali murtis, she thought, “Ma is here, who cares if things go wrong!” We never found out who sent the murtis. Swami Bhajanananda Saraswati once received a call from a man named Ramakrishna. “Come and get Ma Kali!” How can you refuse when Ramakrishna is calling? Swami went and brought back the beautiful Kali murti which resides in our library.
Soon after, a brass Durga murti arrived, a Narmada Shiva lingam and a large shalagram. When forty-five shalagrams arrived, we distributed most of them to other temples and devotees. The Shiva lingam under the holy tree did not entirely come by surprise. Fulfilling a cherished dream, our beloved devotee Giri carved this Shiva lingam which was installed on the 4th of July in 2005 – a year before Giri left his body.
One really big surprise came in June 2007 when we received a call from an unknown person, asking us if we wanted a 300-pound Hanuman statue. “Yes, yes, yes!!!” Hanumanji arrived in a truck the day before Guru Purnima. We
commented on how much we liked the beautifully carved sandstone image. “It took me six months to get the ‘guck’ off when I first got it,” said the person who had kept this murti for 30 years. We understood that the ‘guck’ he referred to was sindhur and that this murti must have been worshiped before. The moment the truck left, we started to apply sindhur. There was no need to perform a special installation ceremony. He was already alive.
Early in the year of 2009, a Sai Baba devotee offered to give us ashes of Neem Karoli Baba she had buried under a rose bush in her house in Valencia. We arrived with shovels, dug up the soil, and brought the holy presence of Baba to Laguna Beach. Baba is now established under the holy tree at Kali Mandir.
The same year during Spring navaratri, a devotee we hardly knew asked Prakash to help her unload a heavy crate containing a Narmada Shiva lingam that had been sitting unopened in her garage since its arrival from India. Just as Prakash rolled the heavy crate on a dolly through Ma’s front gate, Kirit Patel arrived with two Swami Narayan sannyasis who had not been to Kali Mandir before. Swami Bhajanananda and Prakash carefully pried open the crate and unpacked a giant black Narmada Shiva lingam while the two visiting Swamis chanted mantras. After we performed abhishekham in the courtyard, the Swamis and devotees carried the heavy lingam – anywhere between 200 to 300 pounds – in a blanket inside Ma’s temple. For the longest time, Shiva was lying on his side because we were afraid he would fall over. We tried to procure a gauri peetam but were not successful. When Pandit Venugopal Devdhar, head of the Sringeri Math of North America, visited Kali Mandir the following year, he asked us to put the lingam upright. We took that as Shiva’s command, and Prakash quickly built a wooden box to support the lingam
standing upright. We’re still anticipating the arrival of a granite gauri peetam to install Shiva properly.
It’s hard to tell this story in this small space – so many gods and goddesses have come to Kali Mandir over the years. Lord Ganesha arrived hand-crafted by the artist Jan Stewart. Commissioned by a South Indian devotee, she made this murti thirty years ago when there were no Hindu temples in San Diego. After this devotee passed away, Ganeshji came back to Jan, and she requested us to keep and worship him at Kali Mandir.
One navaratri, a beautiful marble Durga with eighteen arms came to us, brought by a devotee from Cerritos. Our gardener came one morning with a magnificent bronze murti of Mahishasura Mardini Durga. “I found this among scrap metal in Santa Ana,” said Emilio. “I think you like this statue.” Just recently, Girish brought ten beautiful Narmada Shiva lingams, and we’re in the process of finding a place of honor for them in an already crowded temple.
We worship God in the form of murtis, and we worship God in the form of the devotees. May God be pleased with our worship, and by the grace of our Divine Mother Kali, may we continue to love and serve well.
It was the new moon night (5 June 1887), an auspicious occasion for Phalaharani Kali Puja. This special festival is also observed in the Kali temple of Dakshineswar. The Master made a special arrangement for privately worshiping the Divine Mother as Shodashi in his room rather than performing it in the temple. At the right side of the worshiper’s seat, a low wooden sear, beautifully painted with rice powder pigment, was placed for the goddess to sit on during worship. The sun had set and the new moon night arrived in a veil of deep darkness. It was 9:00 in the evening when the preparation s for the mystical worship were complete. The Master had sent a message to Sarada beforehand to be present during the worship, and now she arrived in the Master’s room. The Master sat for worship.
The Master finished the preliminaries and sanctified the articles of worship by repeating the mantras. He then beckoned for Sarada to sit on the decorated wooden seat. While she was watching the worship, Sarada had already entered a semiconscious spiritual state. So without fully knowing what she was doing, she moved like one who is spellbound and sat facing north on the right side of the Master, who was seated facing east. According to the scriptural injunctions, he repeatedly sprinkled sanctified water on her from the pitcher placed in front of him. He then uttered mantras and invoked the deity with the following prayer:
“O Divine Mother Tripurasundari! O Eternal Virgin, possessor of all power! Please open the gate of perfection. Purify her body and mind, and manifest Yourself through her for the welfare of all.”
Then he performed the ceremony of nyasa in accordance with the injunction of the scriptures, and worshiped Sarada with sixteen items as a veritable manifestation of the Devi. After offering food, he took some of it and put in in her mouth. Sarada lost outer consciousness and went into samadhi. While uttering mantras in a semiconscious state, the Master also wend into deep samadhi. Thus, the worshiper and the worshiped became fully united and unified in the Atman, the Existence-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute.
Some time passed in this way. It was long after midnight when the Master gradually regained partial consciousness of the world. In that semiconscious state he offered himself to the Devi manifested in the person of Sarada, and then forever surrendered at her feet himself, the result of his sadhana, his rosary, and everything else. He then bowed to her with this prayer:
“O Consort of Shiva, the most auspicious of all auspicious beings! O Doer of all actions! O Refuge of all! O three-eyed goddess of golden complexion! O Power of Narayana, I salute You again and again.”
The worship was completed. The Master’s sadhana culminated in this worship of the Divine Mother in the body of a woman who was an embodiment of spiritual wisdom. Both his divine and human aspects had archived ultimate perfection.
Ramakrishna and His Divine Play by Swami Saradananda (Translation by Swami Chetanananda)
When we are children, we dream of being grown up, of becoming a movie star, a fireman, a space traveler or perhaps even the president — and then we will be happy. When we are teenagers, we rebel against our parents’ control and dream of being free to do all the mischief we want — and then we will be happy. As adults, we dream of becoming rich and famous, living worry-free in luxury — and then we will be happy. When we get old, we get depressed and dream of being young and desirable again because then, and only then, we will be happy.
All through life, we run breathlessly after our dreams never quite catching them, and if we actually do get what we want, we are not satisfied and start runnng after yet another dream. This madness does not stop until we do. Sri Ramakrishna used to say, “People run after all sorts of things. They are mad for money, husband, children, but they call me mad because I am mad for God.”
When we fall in love with God, life becomes sweet. We may get what we desire from the world or we may not get it. It does not matter when the heart is deeply happy within. Go to the office, clean the house, stress over a test at school, work at an unpleasant job — these activities comprise only the hard shell over the lava of love that flows underneath.
Sri Ramakrishna said that in this dark age of kali yuga the forms of God most awake are Ma Kali and Gopala Krishna. If you earnestly pray to Ma Kali, to baby Krishna, you will get quick results.
One of the devotees here at Kali Mandir has a very special relationship with Ma Dakshineswari Kali. Some time ago, he came every day in the afternoon and swept Ma’s courtyard. When he stopped, we asked him about it. “I promised Ma that I’ll sweep Her courtyard every day for a week if She gives me a job.” Yes, he got the job he wanted. Some time after, we saw him sweeping again. “Did you lose your job?” we asked. “No, but my friend needs a job.” When we did not see him sweep again, we guessed that the friend also got a job. This devotee has such a childlike dependence on Ma. She cannot help but respond quickly to his needs.
Ma is here for all of us. If we just call on Her with a longing heart, She showers Her love and blessings. If we just exhibit a little bit of shraddha, She puts us on Her lap and takes care of every little detail in our life. What is preventing us from sitting on Her lap and living the dream? The only thing that stands in our way to the highest bliss is our ego. Let it go.
The famous door to Haradhan Chakraborty’s room at the Dakshineswar Kali temple is closed now. When Haradhanji was alive, it was always full of devotees who brought their troubles & burdens. Some came for an affectionate hug, blessings or just for a quick chat and a tiny clay cup of milk tea.
Haradhanji was always there for everybody who came to him. He refused none. For seventeen years, he travelled from Kolkata to Laguna Beach to perform the annual Kali Puja for us. He gave us love, affection and awakened our Sri Ma Dakshineswari Kali for us.
Moreover, he demonstrated how a mere mortal can have a truly intimate relationship with the Divine Goddess Kali. None of us who witnessed his pujas will ever forget the experience. Haradhanji is with Ma & lives on in our hearts.
These old photos of the Dakshineswar Kali temple under construction arrived via e-mail one morning. We took it as Sri Ramakrishna’s special grace. The courtyard has not been tiled yet, and construction workers still have their wooden tents in front of the temple.
It’s exciting to look at these photos and turn back time. The workers in the picture don’t yet know the impact the temple they are building will have on the world, but we know. Ma Bhavatarini Kali, the Great Goddess of the Universe, is about to awaken. Sri Ramakrishna, the modern avatar of unknowable depth, is about to arrive and demonstrate how to love God.
The photo showing the temple in its unfinished state, helps us better understand the difficulties involved with building such a large, beautiful compound. By Ma’s grace, the impossible is possible. Perhaps some day Kali Mandir will also be successful in building a large, beautiful temple for Sri Ma Dakshineswari Kali, hopefully at the location of Anneliese’s School where we hold our annual Kali Puja festivals.
Dakshineswar is a holy place where God likes Her temples to be built. This village sprung up around a Shiva temple built by the legendary King Banraja (king of the forest) who lived about a thousand years ago. Prompted in a dream, the king miraculously found a Shiva lingam which he then had installed by the name of “Dakshineswar.” To this day, Baba Dakshineswar is worshipped in a small temple on the banks of the Ganga north of the Kali temple. Sri Ramakrishna visited this temple during his stay in Dakshineswar.
King Banraja was not the only one who got prompted by God to build a temple in Dakshineswar. Rani Rasmani, a wealthy lady who lived at the Janbazar palace in Kolkata, also had a dream just as she was about to go on a pilgrimage to Benares. Ma Kali appeared in her dream and asked her to build a temple for Her.
After a long search, she bought a 20-acre plot of land along the Ganges in the village of Dakshineswar. The Rani hired the contractor Mackintosh & Co, and temple construction began in 1847. It took eight years at great expense to complete. Rani Rasmani spent 50,000 rupees for land, 160,000 rupees for building an embankment along the river, 900,000 rupees for the Kali temple complex and 226,000 rupees for property used as an endowment for the maintenance of the temple.
As the temple construction progressed, the Rani contracted a sculptor to make the Kali image. The image was finished but the Rani was still dealing with construction and not ready for the installation. One night, she had a dream. Ma Kali appeared and said, “How long will you keep me confined in a box? I feel suffocated. Install me as soon as possible.” When the crate which stored the image was opened, workers found the statue of Kali moist with perspiration. Ma Bhavatarini Kali was quickly installed with great pomp on Snan Yatra, May 31, 1855. Sri Ramakrishna’s elder brother Ramkumar officiated as the priest.
In the early 1900s, Ma appeared in a dream to Annada Thakur, an Ayurvedic doctor, saying, “I am Adyashakti and want to be worshipped as Adya Ma.” In another dream, Sri Ramakrishna told him to build a temple to Ma. Annada Thakur bought a plot of land in Dakshineswar and began construction of the Adyapith temple in 1928.
Dakshineswar today draws millions of pilgrims from all over the world who come to see Ma and get Her blessings.