Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Devi Mandir, Napa Valley

My visit to Shree Maa’s Devi Mandir at Napa Valley, California was a long awaited one. Finally it was in June 2011 that I called up Maa when she asked me to come in and spend a weekend in the Ashram. A 90 minute bus journey from San Francisco Intl. Airport through the city, hills, coastline and countryside brought me to the Napa Valley bus stop. I loved the journey… and for a moment it felt as though I was in some city in India… the streets, the houses, the architecture and the vegetation everything looked so familiar. And all along the way I kept thinking how wonderful it would be to meet Maa after about 10 years or so.

At the Napa Valley bus stand, I met an elderly gentleman –Gautam, who had come there to receive me. Maa’s Ashram was about 40 minutes or so from the bus stand and we caught up on our own stories of how we came to know Maa. This drive was through the forest with its narrow roads, along the hills with blind turns and lots of trees. Gautam told me stories about life with Swamiji and Maa and the Ashram. It was fun listening to him. Amidst all our conversations, a turn on the same road brought us to a gate… we were at our Devi Mandir.

Though it was quite dark when we entered the Ashram, Gautam tried to show me Maa’s and then Swamiji’s residence, the community kitchen and the Devi Mandir as we drove towards the Guest House. I was shown my room by Parvati. And I instantly liked it! My room had everything that I would need for as long as I wanted to stay in the Ashram –a comfortable bed, a study table and chair and an attached bath. For a moment I felt as if I had checked-in in some nice hotel. I freshened up and went to the kitchen… Maa and Swamiji were there.

After 10 long years, I met them. Last time it was in Baroda, India, and now –thousands of miles apart in Napa Valley. Swamiji was still the same as I remember seeing him, but Maa had grown weaker. However when she spoke… the voice was still so ever sweet and lively! Here in the kitchen I met Kamalaji as well –another resident of our Ashram. Everybody had had their dinner and as I sat there to have mine, I was served 3-4 varieties of very yummy food. Before I started, everybody chanted a prayer on my behalf. While I had my dinner we kept talking about my family… wife, mom, dad, bro and then our relatives and cousins… who was where and how. We were to continue our conversation for the remaining of the weekend.

The next day I woke up with the sound of the peacocks screaming at the top of their voices; anybody who would have heard a peacock would know what I mean. Gautam had told me while we were on our way to the Ashram that early in the morning I would be seeing a lot of these peacocks as Maa came out of her Devi Mandir. She would be feeding them almonds. Maa later told me that feeding the birds is a way to clear your karmic deeds.

The air outside smelled fresh! We were in a forest by the way. Now I was able to see the temple and the place where the Havan is done, the many alters of gods and goddesses and finally right in front of me laid more than 25 feet in length… the Cosmic Alter. If I state that the Cosmic Alter is magnificent, that would be an understatement. I have never ever in my live seen any Alter which is much more beautiful than the Cosmic Alter. Moreover the statues of the gods and goddesses are so lively and why would it not… after-all they were all made by my Maa. Throughout my stay I spent a lot of time in front of the Alter, mesmerized in its beauty.

One morning Parvati drove me to the nearby Monticello Dam and the stream adjacent to it. On the warm sunny morning sitting there on a rock besides the stream with my feet dipped into the cool waters I felt at peace. The only sound was that of the water flowing past me.

For the rest of the days I spent in the Ashram, I was almost outside of my room exploring the place. Right besides the Devi Mandir is the Guest House and in front is the Community Kitchen. Behind the Devi Mandir you’ve got this small pond with a lot of beautiful fishes. One morning after Maa’s puja, we went there besides the pond and fed them some bread. Ramya was also there with us. Behind the Community Kitchen we’ve got Gautam’s garden of fresh vegetables… and about 5 minutes walk along the same route takes you to the huge Shivalinga –Napeshwar! Swamiji’s place and Maa’s place are a little further near the entrance of the Ashram on the right side of the narrow road that brings you to the Guest House from the main gate. By the way, the property is heavily wooded and once early in the morning I was lucky enough to spot a herd of deer with a couple of little ones as well. Peacocks are in abundance in this place and are quite used to people being around them.

I also got to visit Maa’s place for a nice and filling breakfast. Maa prepared Masala Dosa in the simplest of the ways and as usual, it was yum. Over my stay there Maa prepared a lot of other delicacies for me and it was an honor to be having them right from Maa’s kitchen. Maa’s front room opens into a small balcony where you get a view of the little valley right in front… and with the small terrace garden in place, this was a great place to spend some time. Later Maa showed me the Shiva statue that she had… and believe me, it’s the prettiest I have ever laid my eyes on. I called up my mom and my wife from Maa’s kitchen to tell them about the fun that I was having. Spending time with her is absolute bliss… and her voice is angelic. I remember my mom used to say, when I was young and had not met Maa that you have to hear Maa’s voice to appreciate what sweet voice means. She’s the sweetest!

Swamiji’s place has a huge hall followed by a relatively smaller work area which overlooks a window to the same little valley. I just loved the place! This is where the two of us discussed on a variety of spiritual subjects. Swamiji would be the first spiritual leader to be so technically advanced. How many Gurus have you found carrying an Apple iPad from where the e-books of the mantras are read out? Swamiji explained the true meaning of Ashtang Yoga taking me through each of the eight limbs with proper examples to reinforce my understanding. He also took me through the 3 debts of our lives and the 7 kinds of Karma Yoga. The two hours spent in his company was so rewarding. I mean, here you’ve got a Guru who is doing his best to teach you of the things of life which go so un-noticed, but are nevertheless very important. I would have spent a lot of time there but it was time for me to go back with the thoughts, the teachings and digest them… one by one and chalk out my course with these learnings. Now as I write this and think of our Swamiji, I have to say… he’s the coolest Swamiji you are ever going to meet! He’s our modern day Swamiji who talks a lot of sense and is not disconnected from the ways of the world!

Though there are only 5-6 permanent residents of the place, over the weekends a lot of people drop down to spend time with Swamiji and Maa. On Saturday early evening a lot of people started trickling down into the Ashram. The bhajan is preceded by a long meditation where some 15 odd people gathered in the Devi Mandir with their musical instruments. The bhajan is one of the attractions of this place where the enthusiasm is nothing less than that of a festival. We got Maa singing with her sweet melodious voice while the others joined in with whatever they had… voice, clap and instruments –guitar, tabla, and violin while Swamiji kept the tempo alive with his synthesizer. The feeling of being among these devotees and the Gurus as everyone joined into the music is something that should be experienced… words fail to do justice to what I had felt… intense emotional peace.

Sundays are for Chandi Path and we had a lot more people coming in for the Havan which was led by Swamiji. People gathered around the Havan-kund to offer ghee to the fire while chanting praises to Maa Durga and her various manifestations as she destroyed the feelings in mankind which are known to do evil to the progress of humanity. Chandi Path took some 90 odd minutes and for someone as unstable as me, sitting in one position was absolutely impossible. Not only did I lose the track of the Chandi Path a few times before someone brought me to the right page, I also kept changing my sitting position atleast once every five minutes. After the Chandi Path we all lined up for Prasad and blessings from Maa and Swamiji. I was lucky to have spent my birth-day there on the same Sunday and as I cut the cake, two cute little unknown girls in front of me wished me a happy birthday. J

Earlier the same day Maa had called me to wish me and bless me on the occasion. She gave me a couple of gifts –a rudraksha mala and a small statue of Shiva. Along with the mala Maa also gave me a mantra to chant 108 times, thrice. She also corrected my understanding of the duties of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. I still have her gifts close to me.

That was all about my short stay in the Ashram with Maa and Swamiji. I was supposed to leave the same Sunday and Shaun was handed over the task to drive me down to San Francisco airport. Thanks to his Volkswagon, his driving and the empty roads we were able to spend some-time enjoying a drive through the Golden Gate and photograph the same before making it barely 30 minutes before the scheduled departure of the flight. Maa had specifically asked Shaun to be with me till as long as he can while I did not find any reason why he should be coming into the airport… I mean he could have just dropped me off. When I suggested that to him he just said that Maa had asked him to do this… and when Maa says something he just does it.

Later as I got into the airplane, I realized a few things –as the plane started moving out of the bay within minutes of me being seated. The SFo airport is quite big and without Shaun it would have taken me quite some-time to figure out where the boarding passes are being issued…. and where the security entry was. I mean, having Shaun close by was a good idea. I realized this as the plane taxied onto the runway… Maa suggested this more than 4 hours or so back. And as I thought this… and every-time I think of this, Maa’s smiling face comes in front of my eyes as if she’s there… just in front of me.

Jai Maa! Till we meet again!

[please visit http://www.shreemaa.org/drupal/ for more!]

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