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Celebrating our India pilgrimage- Appaji’s Grace!

My experience (Rachael Ann Thomas-Jeremiah)

Jaya Guru Datta!

The words, "Chalo Madam, Chalo Madam," are words I will never forget. The guards were getting ready to close the gates to the Temple and we were there just in the nick of time. They did not deny us entry but they allowed us inside. This was definitely Appaji's Grace!

For me, this was my first visit to Chamundi Hills but for even Sumanasa it was not. There was no time or energy to wonder if there would be time to visit but everything about the visit was a blessing as was the rest of the trip.

Chamundi Hills as many can attest is one that is steeped in history. Hearing the stories about Chamundi Hills is one thing and being there is another thing in itself. Appaji also sings of Goddess Chamundi (Bhajan ID 336- Beṭṭadatāyē Cāmuṇḍī and the sight of Chamundi Hills is one that can be beautifully seen from the Mysore Ashrama.

The drive to Chamundi Hills was scenic and really was filled with scenic points and small temples along the way. Like the other parts of Mysore we saw, it was clean and it was welcoming. It fit exactly what I would say is something that needs to be experienced through one's eyes rather than tainted through another's. Had we gone alone I am sure we would not have seen all that we saw. Had we gone alone I am certain that we would not have experienced all that we experienced. Thankfully one of Appaji's dearest devotees accompanied us and his presence afforded us to experience Chamundi Hills and the temples as we did. This is something we will forever be grateful for!

For me it truly was a pilgrimage site. When we got there, it was filled with lots of people and the ambience was nothing short of clean and welcoming. Vendors on the pathway to the main temple were busy plying their trade selling every imaginable thing- clothing, jewelry, Puja items and so much more.

We walked down to the steps before going to the temple and this view provided us with several memorable moments. The greenery, the monkeys on the footpath and the beauty that surrounded us all added to a sight that was nothing short of perfection and idyllic. It was scenic on so many levels and very peaceful also. Sumanasa sat on the steps by herself without fussing and for her it was laughter and clapping. Just as we were taking photos on the point overlooking Mysore City a dog appeared as though to give Kal Bhairav's blessings. He sat within close proximity showing no aggression or danger to any of us or to Sumanasa.

The view of Mysore City was amazing!

As mentioned on reaching the main temple, the guards greeted me with the words, "Chalo Madam, Chalo." That was probably the only time on the entire trip I heard those words and the urgency in their voices said it all. They were getting ready to close the gates to the Sri Chamundeswari Temple at 6pm. They did not prevent us from going in and closed the gates as soon as we were inside.

On the inside there was so much rushing as people were pushing forward for the Aarti. I felt someone tugging at the top of my clothes and though sceptical to turn around, I did. It was a female security guard who was asking if I was able to take Darshan. An oddity yes as not many would have done that but I truly appreciated her concern.

She had been observing the pushing taking place around me. Those who have experienced such can tell how that must have been but thankfully I was safe and not in harm's way. Appaji was protecting and without a doubt He was also guiding. Being able to be there at that particular time was nothing short of Divine Darshan. The Goddess looked beautiful and radiant. The ringing of the bells, the opportunity to witness Aarti and the opportunity to take Darshan- definite blessings.

As we exited the main temple there was an abundance of monkeys who were freely walking on the grounds and they were also freely climbing on the temple itself. They did it with such ease and they were not bothering anyone. Lord Hanuman's blessings were all around and some stopped long enough, giving Sumanasa a good view of them.

Our walk from the main temple led us to the two other temples. Both were sites we were blessed to see. Weeks earlier, on meeting with Sri BalaSwamiji, He told us to be sure to visit the old Lord Shiva Temple. This visit brought us to it and we unexpectedly stumbled upon it. We knew we were looking for a Lord Shiva Temple but we did not know where we would find it.

The outside did not prepare us for what we found on the inside. It truly was sacred ground and it was filled with energy. Its ancient structure was evident on the inside and the Lingam was inside what can best be described as a cave. It truly was a sight to behold and it was a priceless moment. We got to do pradakshina and say our prayers.

In addition to everything else we were able to experience in Mysore, this definitely was another blessing. Appaji guided and ensured that we reached just in time. He ensured that we were able to experience history, see the richness of the architecture, together with beauty, spirituality and a true dose of the richness of Indian culture. As always we are immensely grateful to Appaji for blessing us as He always does!

Shiva's experience (Shiva Jeremiah)

Jaya Guru Datta! It has always been a dream of mine to go to India. With my Master's Grace we were able to stay in Ashrama for nearly two (2) months.

Had we not visited India then, it may not have been a possibility now, especially in light of Covid-19 and the havoc it has wreaked on the different societies around the world.

Experiencing Navratri and Divali in Ashrama with Appaji was one of the most special things that one could experience with one's Guru. To crown it off was the opportunity to travel to Varanasi as His Holiness was inaugurating the new Ashrama in Varanasi. To be in Kashi with my Guru for this most historic occasion was nothing short of my Guru knowing my deep desire and blessing us immensely with this opportunity.

Through our visit to Varanasi, Appaji's words, "Think of Sumanasa," stayed with us constantly. These words were explained to us in great detail by one of Appaji's dear Datta devotees who showed us that our wish to visit Kashi was one Appaji would be pleased with.

Many would not be aware but one of my first associations with Varanasi was learning of Sri Paramahansa Yogananda and Sri Yukteswar on a boat sailing up the Holy Ganges in Varanasi and seeing all the ancient temples. Though ancient it was a most beautiful scene.

Being able to be on these Holy lands where great Masters and Sages walked and to be present with My Guru- Sri Ganapathy Sachchidananda, the epitome of Truth, Knowledge and Bliss and with Sri BalaSwamiji, who in every way personifies and exudes purity and divinity was a great blessing.

What made this even more special was that we could visit Varanasi at the very said time that Appaji was visiting it and at the very same time that this special Maha Rudra Yagna was being done. All in all it was a dream come through.

Having arrived in Varanasi late in the evening, there was not much to be done on the day of our arrival. We were welcomed by the Sun whose colour was the same as our Vastrams. The days that followed were very special days. The next morning we were able to take bath in the Holy Ganges at sunrise and join with hundreds of others on this the most auspicious day in the month of Kartik. In the evening we were able to see Appaji making His journey via boat on the Ganges.

Several other things about that journey are quite memorable. As one who practices meditation, being able to sit by the Ganges and meditate was a blessing and even better was being able to see the sun rise over the Ganges. It was amazing and nothing short of breathtaking!

Being able to take part in Appaji's programs in Varanasi and being able to read Sri Kashi Khand which was written by His Holiness and released on the occasion of this inauguration was not just timely, but of huge significance. Even better was being able to learn more about Kashi on a daily basis and being able to discover places mentioned in the book with Datta devotees who are dear to us.

It showed Varanasi as being steeped in history with Lingams everywhere and each with a story of its own.

We were able to visit the Jyotir Lingam at the Kashi Vishwanath Temple. It was a journey to remember with lots to see and to experience. Never in my life did I think it would happen but Appaji’s Grace made it possible.

The same can be said about having bath in Manikarnika (which literally translates as "a precious gem from the ear of Lord Shiva") and knowing the history and creation of Manikarnika (a pond created from the sweat from Lord Vishnu after doing penance by meditating on Lord Shiva.) Lord Shiva who was so pleased with Lord Vishnu’s penance said when His head shook, a gem fell from His ear and into the pond.

No visit to Kashi is complete without a visit to Lord Kalbhairav, the revered gatekeeper of Kashi. Many people were there, doing the same- making oblations and doing pradakshina. Being able to receive His Darshan- what a blessing indeed!

Another highlight of this most significant trip- a visit to the Devi- Vishalakshi Devi whose temple there dates back to Satyuga.

I am happy I was able to experience Kashi with Rachael and Sumanasa. We are blessed to receive Appaji’s and Sri BalaSwamiji’s messages on Kashi both before the trip and during the trip and we are blessed that we were able to receive blessings from both Appaji and Sri BalaSwamiji. We are blessed that we were able to be in Kashi for fourteen (14) days. We experienced the challenges of Kashi but the blessings were far more than any of those challenges put together. Jai Guru Datta!

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