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“Twenty years ago, I had my first reading of The Autobiograhy of a Yogi by Paramhansa Yogananda. I was so overwhelmed by the book that I made it the Bible of my life, reading, and rereading it over and over again. All the descriptions made about Kolkata were so vivid in my mind’s eye that I felt I had seen them all -- Dakshineshwar, Kalighat, Serampore, Garpar Road etc.” Now Ketaki Jayakar takes you along on a real spiritual journey to these places.
Needless to say, I follow the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda and have taken his Kriya Diksha. I have visited the Ashram at Ranchi, but not the one at Dakshineshwar, Kolkata. So I jumped at the chance when my Bengali friend invited me to visit Kolkata, specially Dakshineshwar, since her parents stay a stone’s throw from the Ashram.
My joy knew no bounds. She had booked me in the Ashram for three days and the rest of my stay would be with her parents. My tickets were booked, and I was all geared up to visit the city of my joy, the city where my Master grew up, had meditated endlessly and was blessed with the divine vision of Goddess Kali in the Precincts of the Dakshineshwar Temple. Just two days before leaving, my friend rang up and apologised profusely that she could not show me around Calcutta as her bhabhi had to undergo an emergency surgery. I requested her to get me an extension of stay in the Ashram, which she did. She also arranged transportation from the airport to the Ashram.
Heaven on Earth
The Gates of the Ashram opened to a world that can only be described as Divine. The sprawling premises overlooking the Ganges, the main building, a grand old Haveli, probably of a Bengali zamindar, with a huge hall with pillars, and two upper floors, and the parlour behind the hall, used for meditation, took my breath away. From here one can see the Ganges flowing gently with big sailboats silently gliding past, indeed a scene from the film Amar Prem. The trees in the garden bowed down with the weight of flowers, spreading fragrance in the cool breeze -- Mogra, Champa, Naagchampa, Bakul, all vying with each other to soothe your senses. At the corner of the garden was a small pavilion where you could sit and meditate while concentrating on the sound of the waves lapping the compound wall of the Ashram. The living quarters, the office, the reading room, the dining hall with mouth-watering vegetarian fare, were all upto international standards. A lovely lotus pond surrounded by huge trees stood in the centre of the Ashram. The whole atmosphere was so serene to recharge your body, mind and soul.
I decided to make the most of my five days in Kolkata. In a spiritual quest, one has to travel alone -- Ekla Chalo Re…! I went first to the Dakshineshwar Temple. The queue would have shamed the Siddhivinayak line! But I had to take darshan of the Divine Mother who had blessed my Master with her vision. I stood there in the scorching afternoon heat, barefoot, waiting for the temple doors to open and the serpentine queue to inch on. Suddenly a priest came out and signalled me to enter from the side entrance. No money was demanded for this favour. I went inside and stood in front of Kali of Dakshineshwar, the black idol with huge eyes and a red protruding tongue. I was stunned into silence, seeing Dakshineshwari with my own eyes at such close quarters, overwhelmed to experience the moment of joy.
A Spiritual Link
The Dakhineshwar Temple is a huge precinct with a cluster of smaller temples. Beyond that flows the Ganga. There is a small ghat outside the Temple from where boats ply across to Belur Math alias Ramkrishna Math. The boat journey was idyllic, with the Ganges gently spraying me with her sacred waters, and took about half an hour to cross.
From the jetty, the Math is hardly of five minutes walk. The statue of Thakur, as Shree Ramkrishna Paramhansa is lovingly called, was a poem in marble, sitting serenely in a lotus pose. One of the Monks of the Mission told me that Paramhansa Yogananda’s Paramguru, Mahavtar Babaji, had been instrumental in giving Kriya Diksha to Shree Ramkrishna. No wonder, I had been attracted by the same link of Kriya Yoga!
Next morning I took a taxi to the very ancient Shiva temple of Tarkeshwar, about 57 km from the Ashram. The road was lined with huge trees on both the sides, bordering huge green fields growing potatoes and other vegetables, with small ponds, providing fish to local people. The scenery was so idyllic, the pace of life so slow and peaceful that for the first time, I understood the verses of Vande Mataram by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee -- about a land of abundant crops, flowers, cool breeze, peace and joy. There was music everywhere, in the rustling of leaves on trees, in the chirping of birds, in the flowing of waters, even in the croaking of frogs.
The Shivlinga of Tarkeshwar was more like a round hat box. It was so dark in the gabhara that I could hardly see. The Autobiography notes that Master had not paid obeisance at this temple, thinking the Divine is within you so you need not seek Divinity outside. But his onward journey became so tedious that he was instructed by a noble soul that each seeker on the spiritual path felt his was the only correct path to God-realisation and this inflated ego stopped him from realising that the divinity within is the same that appeared without. When he realised his mistake, he returned to Tarkeshwar, did sashtang namaskar before the Shivling, when he received the Cosmic darshan, says his Autobiography. Since I was not satisfied with the darshan in the dark, I came back for a second round when I saw the Shivling in all its glory in a bright light in the gabhara. I quickly took out my camera, but by then the light went off and it became dark again. Well, Master had taken good care to arrange for special lights for my darshan!
From there I travelled to Serampore, to the Ashram of my Master’s Guru Shri Yukteshwargiri. Here, both Guru and Shishya had performed great austerities, and were blessed with the vision of the Divine Mother. I met an aged devotee who told me that this was indeed the ‘Shakti Sthal’ which was full of powerful vibrations. I just sat there and took in the energy generated by the spiritual activities of the Ashram and the presence of my Himalayan Masters.
My next halt was the residence of Paramhansa Yogananda at Garpar Road, in the Maniktala area of Kolkata. His family still resides there and receives visitors who come to see his home. I saw every room described in his Autobiography -- the bedroom where he had the vision of the Divine Mother; the room where Mahavtar Babaji came to bless him before he left for America. I also saw the vividly described little attic. I had carried mangoes as offering since I knew Master loved Mangoes. I left them in front of his photo in the attic. Thank God I was travelling alone! I could sit anywhere as per my convenience, spend as much time as I wished.
Early next morning, I took a taxi to Kalighat. Considering Kolkata’s traffic, my driver had advised to start early and reached there by 7 am. It was crowded but I could manage to enter the Temple premises. Reaching the gabhara was a circus act, with the floor all wet and slippery and my hands holding the flower basket and taking care of my purse. I looked obviously a visitor and had been advised by well wishers to be very careful of the Pandas of the Temple, the biggest nuisance and hindrance in the darshan of Maa Kali. To top it, the gabhara was very small, barricaded by the Daan Peti, and beyond that was the sea of devotees in the sweltering heat, pushing and jostling with each other to catch one Divine glance from the Trinetra. I was definitely not going back without seeing her. Suddenly I was pushed from behind and barely managed to get a glimpse of Kaali, when a Panda standing in the gabhara came forward and made room for me to enter it. Lo, behold! There I stood shaking like a leaf, face to face with the world renowned Kaali of Kalighat. Her three open eyes and her protruding big golden tongue and her black hair free from all bonds, stunned me into silence. I could not bear to look at the energy pouring out of those lustrous fiery eyes! I shut my eyes tight and felt tears rolling down my cheeks. I was sobbing with the sheer joy of being so close to the Divine Mother, alone, a totally lost speck in the teeming devotees thronging her temple, but being Her chosen one to stand face to face with her. I took whatever she gave me and returned to the Ashram satiated with joy. I still continue to enjoy that Divine bliss!
On the last day, I attended the Satsang at the Ashram, indeed a grand finale to my pilgrimage. The spiritual discourse as well as Swamiji singing the Guru stotra to the music of tanpura while the Ganges flowed gently by, were very uplifting. Looking back in time, I remembered seeing the Ganges gush forth in all its youthful fury at the Gangotri, and I was equally surprised to see the same Ganges flowing peacefully, a vast expanse of water, assimilating within itself all the sins of the people living off it, lapping the feet of the inhabitants residing on its banks, yet remaining the pure Ganga revered by humanity. It was indeed a very unique experience to stand aside and observe the confluence of nature, divinity and humanity!