The day finally arrived when I would begin my journey! It was a strange journey – one that started all alone, then with a whole lot of strangers in tow and to a strange far away land! We were visiting a little village called Karnali, in Dabhoi taluka of Vadodara district in Gujarat. But some part of me was excited and, at the same time, curious to go through this unknown experience! After meeting some of my fellow campers at Bangalore Airport, with pleasant exchange of “Hari Om!”, we then boarded the flight. Our entire group from Bangalore and Mysore was united only near the exit gate of Vadodara airport. This was the first time that I met Asmita ji, who was busy herding all of us together. We all then assembled at a point and met and greeted each other. Asmita ji’s keen eye spotting me as the odd young man in the group, she immediately told me that she would give me a lot of seva work to do – to which I nodded smilingly! Then we boarded a big red bus with luggage secured and proceeded towards the camp. Looking up the name of my camp site, Shiva Kripa (SK), my eyes twinkled as incidentally, I had also stayed at a place by the same name during my recent visit to Isha Yoga centre, Coimbatore – from where I had left with good memories. With hope filling my heart, we then reached our destination, well after lunch time.
Arrival at Shiva Kripa Guesthouse (SK)
As soon as we arrived, I saw one man with medium built and average height, very busy and constantly moving about like a bee, instructing the bus drivers and all others around him. This was my first glimpse of our dear Kirit ji (Mr. Kirit Patel), who I found is always busy as a bee in the loving service of all devotees of Bhagavan. When he asked for some help to move the baggage of the sādhaks from the bus to SK premises, I immediately drew some inspiration and energy from him and got into action! After securing our luggage in front of SK office, with hungry bellies and assurance from Kirit ji that our baggage kept in the wide open would be safe, we then proceeded towards the Annakshetra (dining hall). Once we were inside, I heard one sādhak start to chant the beautiful verses from Chapter 15 of Shrimad Bhagavad Gita and the rest of us immediately chimed in. This practice was followed on all days of the camp just before lunchtime A sumptuous lunch awaited us, giving us an inkling that our stomachs would be well taken care of ahead – thereby freeing our minds to focus on the higher things in life!
Post lunch, we hurriedly collected our room keys and checked into our rooms. We were told by Kirit ji that there was a nice Peepal tree somewhere nearby, along the banks of river Narmada. After a brief rest, I came out and saw what the other folks were doing. I heard someone exclaiming that the given rooms were not meeting their expectations! I humbly said that, in such remote places our expectations should be kept low. I asked some folks around, if they wanted to visit the Narmada river bank and soon found Priyanka ji from our group, who was up and ready and also willing to visit the same. I immediately took a liking to the ever-cheerful Priyanka ji, looking upon her as my elder sister. I saw that she always tried to beat down her own ego while speaking to others and was able to do it in a humorous way! She had found a way to cheerfully laugh at her own faults – a skill developed only by a blessed few! One of the useful life lessons that I learnt was, to cheerfully beat down and crush our own ego to a pulp and then offer what remains at the lotus feet of Bhagavān!
First visit to Narmada from Somnath Ghat
We both then proceeded towards Narmada from the Somnath Ghat side – along a long winding, sloping road. At the ghat, the first close-up glimpse of Narmada ji filled my heart with a strange kind of joy, one that I had not experienced earlier! The holiness of this place was silently speaking to all the eager and curious ones! Then while walking on the bank, Priyanka didi, who already knew a lot about Narmada ji, commented that every stone at the riverbank was considered holy – just like a Śiva-linga! This pleased me at first but also made me a bit uneasy, as I found myself trudging along on these very stones – choiceless due to lack of any other path to walk on! We then saw a beautiful sunset and later made our way out towards SK via the outer steps on Kuber Bhandari temple ghat.
First Satsang at Dakshinamurthy Ashram (DA)
On reaching the SK campsite, I happened to see the timely message sent by Asmita ji, kindly informing the group that a few people had gathered to meet Swami Aparajitananda at Dakshinamurthy Ashram (DA). Following the shared Google Maps pin, and joined by a few others, we then immediately proceeded towards the Ashram. It was past dusk when we reached there, and the lights had also gone out. We could barely see each other. I could faintly see someone in an orange robe in the distance and thought that, this might be Swamiji. But I somehow couldn’t make myself to go near him and offer my praṇāms (respectful greeting) due to the enveloping darkness. Though I knew Swamiji well – through his talks and remembered him during my prayers, a thought entered my mind that he may not really recognise me, that too in the dark! When it’s dark, you usually approach only one whom you know closely and who in turn also knows you well! Intuitively realising my discomfiture, the merciful Swamiji immediately exclaimed, “Prabhuji!” and to our surprise, the lights also came back at that very instant – as if drawing energy from him! I immediately did praṇām to him and then we took a seat. Seated next to Swamiji, I saw a slim aged man, dressed in all white, who was looking at all the people gathered there with twinkling compassionate eyes!
All asked Swamiji to speak about some topic. Some asked him to speak about his spiritual journey. Swamiji very diplomatically mentioned that he would talk for the next few days anyway and why to talk again now! He then graciously asked Kirit bhai to take over and to also introduce the man in white – Mr. Vinod Joshi and to explain to us the significance of this holy place.
A determined Sādhaka fulfilling his Inspiration
Kirit bhai spoke about the inspiration sprung in his own heart to conduct one Jñāna Yajña at this place in Karnali – almost three to four years back! But somehow due to various reasons, it had not materialised until this very moment. Seeing his inspiration and long-cherished desire finally finding fruition, he looked as joyous as a Sādhaka who had now become a Siddha, after meeting his Maker in his own hallowed mind!
He then launched into a brief introduction of Vinod ji describing that it was the good fortune of all of us that the latter was present with us today. He started by describing Vinod ji’s amazing feat of completing a full parikramā (circumambulation) of Narmada river – spanning a whopping distance of about 3,500 kms just by walking barefoot – taking him about 157 days to complete! He added that unlike now, this was done at a time when there wasn’t much infrastructure available for the parikramā vāsīs, as they were called. I came to know later that they were very similar to parivrājaka sannyāsīs, who carried only a couple of clothes and some minimal items with them during their yātrā. Most of them didn’t carry any cash or card and were wholly dependent on God and Narmada ji – to take care of them during this strenuous journey! What a great faith and sādhanā demonstrated by them towards Narmada ji! Inspired by Narmada ji, the local people take care of all their needs and provide them shelter and the parikramā vāsīs in turn, bless all by doing satsang and visiting holy spots, all along the way! Thinking about them makes my head automatically bow to them and then find myself mentally prostrating at their feet!
Glory of Mother Narmada
Kirit bhai then passed on the stage to Vinod ji. Vinod ji greeted everyone humbly and was a bit reluctant to talk that evening – though he loved to talk about Narmada Mātā, as we found out later. He exclaimed that, the others from the camp, who had not yet arrived at the campsite, would miss this topic – showing the ample compassion for all in his heart! After being goaded by both Swamiji and Kirit bhai, Vinod ji slowly started talking. He mentioned that unknown to many, Narmada ji is one of the holiest rivers in the world! As many know, Ganga ji is regarded as pāpa mukta nadī (the river who frees you from sins!). In comparison, Narmada ji is regarded as śrāpa mukta nadī (the river who frees you from curses!). This immediately caught everyone’s attention! He went on to describe Narmada ji as the daughter of Bhagavān Shiva and Mother Ganga. He mentioned that as per Narmada purāṇa, Ganga ji comes once in a year to meet Narmada ji to cleanse her own sins! Please refer  where the above has been described in more detail. A daughter who has clearly exceeded her approving mother in holiness and purity! I later heard from Vinod ji that when Bhagavān Shiva was performing the Tandava nritya (dance), Narmada ji was born from the sweat of Shiva. I listened with rapt attention and was thrilled to hear about all this – as I loved pauraṇic stories! A divine spark of devotion was instantly lit in my heart and Narmada river became Narmada Mātā (mother) for me, from thereon. Vinod ji then went on to explain that she, being the holiest of the rivers, was frequented by the great sinners of this world since times immemorial. Among them were Kuber and Indra, who did tapas for a long time on the banks of Narmada Mātā and finally got Mukti (peace) from their sins. He then mentioned the well-known Ashvatthāmā from Mahābhārata, whom many consider as the greatest of all sinners! Though being a Ciranjīvi (one who could live eternally in a human body), he had been cursed to be a Brahma-rākṣasa due to his evil deeds. He had roamed all the three worlds looking for some peace, but had found it nowhere. It was only on the banks of Narmada Mātā then, that even he could ultimately find some peace! Vinod ji mentioned that some people had even seen him here as a very tall and well-built figure walking along the banks by himself silently. Vinod ji, during his parikramā yātrā, had also seen the footprints of a tall, large man that he believed were Ashvatthāmā’s. I later felt some compassion for Ashvatthāmā in my heart – though he had done a very heinous act post Mahābhārata war; he had also repented and suffered indeed for a very long time – almost for five thousand years! I was glad that he found some peace here.
Vinod ji then went on to briefly introduce Kirit bhai’s wife, Indu ammā – who had got an opportunity to serve Mahātmās like his Guru, Śrī Shantvan ji Mahārāj, at a very young age during her childhood itself – indicating that she was indeed blessed! This reminded me of Nārada ṛṣi who had done something similar and had then attained greatness.
We later proceeded to SK where the sādhaks from Mumbai had just arrived and we were then served a wholesome dinner at the Annakṣetra there. I met my roommate, Rajesh ji during dinner and found him to be a quiet, contemplative soul, with whom I could connect to easily. He had a very compassionate heart and tolerated my faults silently and patiently while staying with me as my roommate in SK.
Being handed the Tea sevā
After dinner, Kirit bhai sought me out and asked me to perform the sevā of giving early morning tea to the sādhaks, staying in nearby campsites other than SK. I intuitively agreed for the same almost immediately, not knowing at that time what a great service he did to me! I had never been an early morning waker in this lifetime, except for a year in boarding school, where they made an unwilling boy wake up at five a.m.! Though I usually slept not more than seven to eight hours daily, I was too disorganized and had a weak desire to make an honest attempt to sleep early in order to automatically wake up early the next day. This sevā, was a God-sent opportunity for me to create a daily best practice of waking up very early, which I realised only later. My learning here was that God tests us by giving various opportunities for our improvement and then watches us – if we are making an honest attempt at it or not. And though we never know it in the beginning, the realisation of why He gave us a particular opportunity only comes later, upon doing silent mananam (reflection).
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