“You are done, my child.” Father said.
As the pyre was dazzling, I could hardly see his face at the opposite end. The ash, smeared fresh from the fire made his body glow like camphor. The locks on his head looked like snakes slithering around. Sitting at the opposite side, I asked,”What now, Father?”
“And?” I asked, confused, staring at him, hoping to get a more clear instruction.
He looked indifferent, got up from his asana, took his trident and went away.
I sat beside the pyre still pondering what did Father mean by travelling south. I adore him when he is a father, so warm, caring and pampering but when he takes on the role of the Guru, he becomes indifferent to everything around him and treats his disciples in the way they are needed to be treated. No special treatments or favours are provided. Even I Heard from Nat and Khem that he punished Maa too for her inattentiveness while taking a class.
“Kishori” called a familiar voice. I looked back to find Nandi.
He came near me and looking at my confused face, sat near me in vajrasana. He asked,” Did Swami told you something that’s bothering you? You can tell me. I understand. When Swami becomes a Guru, his conduct becomes imperceivable even by Mata. Narayan is the only one who can understand his actions and the cause of it.”
“I know, Nandi” I replied with a smile. “What father says, has a deep insight. It’s for us to find out what it is. He doesn’t say anything without a reason.”
“And here I thought, you would be disappointed by Prabhu’s indifference towards you” said Nandi, relaxed.
“Don’t worry, Nandi. He is doing what needs to be done. And hence, I ,must also do the needful.”
“So, what now?” asked Nandi.
“Travel South and discover the cause of his instruction.”
“Then let me prepare the Ganas. We will accompany you.”
Nandi stood up and was leaving the space when I called him. As he looked back, I said,”No Nandi. This time it must be me and me alone.”
Nandi was shocked. He said,”But Kishori, we can’t let you and moreover, Mata won’t let you either.”
I got up and said,” I think, this time, she will.”
We got out of the cave and went towards the lake and found Maa staring at the lake.
I looked at Nandi and nodded. Nandi replied with a nod and went away. I approached Maa.
Hearing the clanking of my anklets, she said,”Are you ready for the journey, daughter?”
She looked back, smiling but I could distinctly sense her pain of parting with her daughter.
I hugged her tight and she caressed my hair.
“Don’t worry Maa. I will be fine.”
“I know child but even I can’t console a mother’s heart from not worrying for her child’s safety.”
“Then just think if you had to part with me for good, then?”
As soon as I said it, she held my mouth with her hand and said,” Please don’t say such things, daughter. I have already parted with many of my daughters. I don’t want to lose you.”
I replied, smiling,” Don’t worry, Maa. I am not going to leave you, anytime soon.”
She replied back, smiling,”Good. Now, have you prepared for your first solo journey? And have you decided when will you leave ?”
“Yes, Maa. I will leave by the first light of dawn.”
“Then I have to go to prepare the necessities for your journey.”
She kissed my forehead and left. I sat by the lake watching the couplet playing in the waiter. The moon was in its waxing phase so it threw some of its soothing light wherever it could: on the rocks and crevices, on the trees and on the lake.
As I was enjoying the scenery, a firm voice called my name,”Kishori”
I looked back to find none other then Vishweshwar himself.
I approached him and touched his feet. He placed his hand and said,”Kalyan no, putri. Have you prepared for your journey?”
I got up and said,”Yes, Lord. Maa has gone to prepare some essentials for my journey.”
“Father, if I may…”
“I don’t know what will happen in this journey but I am assured that it is going to play a significant role in my Sadhana otherwise Maa wouldn’t have allowed me to go.”
He was indifferent again to my statement.
“Open your palms, Kishori.”
I opened my palms’ He collected the ash that was smeared on his hands and was going to give it to me when I stopped the Lord. I quickly placed my Angavastram on my palms and he put it on the cloth. I knotted it.
“You will know what to do with it when the appropriate time comes.”
“Now I must take my leave. I have to situate myself into Samadhi again.”
I touched his feet again. He blessed me and left. Meanwhile Maa arrived with a satchel. She handed it over to me and said,” Daughter. I have placed all the essentials in this satchel. It contains Akshaya Patra. During the journey, if you want to eat something of your desire, just ask it and it will be filled with it. And I have also kept my Dushala and Angavastram which doesn’t get dirty so that you don’t have the hassle to wash it. And…”
I held her hand and said, smiling,”Maa, I know. You have arranged everything for me. If it was on you, you would have arranged me a flying palace so that I don’t have to do anything on my own.”
“Well it’s not a bad idea. Let me summon Deva Shilpi Vishwakarma.”
I replied, astonished, ”Maa, I was joking. Have trust on your daughter as well as on your parenting. You have trained me in 64 Martial arts as well as Maya Vidya. No one can even dare to come near Shiva and Shakti’s daughter. And even if they do, I will get some dummies to test my training skills.”
She caressed my head, smiling, teary eyed. I hugged her tight and said,” Don’t worry, Maa. I would be back before you even realise it.”
She kissed my head and I touched her feet. Placing her hands on my head, she said,”I assure you, my daughter. You will be invincible. No one will be able to stop you. Every time they do, they will find me as their doom.”
I smiled and said,”I know, Maa. When Mahadevi’s blessing is with me. No harm can come to me. Now, please allow me to take leave.”
She nodded smiling and looked sideways. Nandi and the associate Ganas were standing.
“Nandi” Maa called. Nandi approached asking,”Yes, Mata?”
“Escort Kishori out of Kailash.”
“Yes Mata” said Nandi and asked me to come with him. I bid Maa a last goodbye and while leaving looked at the mountain cliff covered in snow. I offered my obeisciences and left.
As I descended down Kailash, I stopped at the banks of Devi Bhagirathi to drink some water. As I touched the water, a whirlpool started and instead of taking things downward it was projecting the lotuses upwards around me. Soon, a beautiful and elegant Devi manifested from the river. I offered my obeisciences to her as she approached me.
She placed her hand on my shoulder and said smiling,” Daughter, can you recognise me?”
“Why not Maasi? You are situated in the locks of my Father’s head and you had the privilege of washing Mahavishnu’s feet. How could I not recognise you?”
She smiled and asked, “What brings you here?”
I replied,”Father has asked me to travel south. Why? I don’t know.”
She smiled and said,”Travel down by my bank and you will find many villages. Once you reach the 5th one, travel west and you will get to know what to do next.”
“As you instruct,Devi” I said folding my hands.
“Kalyan ho” she said and merged in the river.
I came down and reached the adjoining villages. Till that time, one Prahar had already passed. I crossed the 5th village and as instructed by Devi, headed west. After walking for almost two muhurtas, I reached the edge of the forest. I could see a trail into the woods but couldn’t find any humans nearby. The sun was at the top and dazzling fire on me. So, I rushed into the forest.The soothing environment and the lushness of the vegetation overwhelmed me. It was as if I was in my cave. The sun peeped its sun rays through the veil of leaves but couldn’t affect me. I was in joy and hence danced my way through the woods. Soon, deer, birds and even the predatory animals like tigers, leopards and jackals gathered near me. I didn’t’t know what was happening. It seemed as if they were inebriated by looking at me. As I danced my way, I became very thirsty and started looking for a water source. Soon, two cobras came down from the trees and started hissing. As I looked, they started slithering down. I followed them and soon found a lake. The distinct feature however was that the lake had turned yellow but when I touched the water, it was as clear as Devi Bhagirathi’s. By that time, the sun was setting so I thought I would make a stop for the night alongside the lake and do my Sandhya Vandan. I stepped into the water, gave my libations and took 3 dips. As I came out, I heard a giggle. I looked around but found no one. I came out and wore the Angavastram and Dushala packed by Maa. It was ochre yellow in colour. As the sun set, it started to become dark. I arranged firewood from the forest and lighted it with the Agni Bhuta Siddhi that I attained during my initial years of Sadhana. As I sat near the flame, I noticed a distinct smell, a smell that resembled Maa. As I looked around, I found many Jasmine trees. I collected some of its flowers and sat near the fire to make a hair garland for Maa. As I was putting it in my satchel, a voice called,”Where are you taking my flowers without asking me?”
Draped in a yellow saree with garland of jasmine around her neck and her head, she looked enchanting. Her complexion resembled that of the radiant sun. If I would state that maybe her radiance was the source of the Sun’s illumination itself, it might not be an exaggeration. Although she was radiant but with it, she carried a sense of soothness. I couldn’t think straight. It looked like the world faded and all there was, was her.
She called me again,”Where are you taking my flowers without my consent?’
When I heard her again, I came to my senses. I replied, astonished,”Your flowers, Devi?”
“Yes, mine” she replied with a smile that carried a sense of innocence.
“Everything that is there in this forest is my property. And what you have done is an act of theivery” she said with a firm voice.
I took out the garland and put it at her feet. Although, she was about my age, still, she had a sense of authority that made me bow down to her.
I replied, apologetically, hands folded,”Pardon me, Devi. If I had known that you are the owner of this forest, I would not have taken the flowers without your consent. I was just preparing this as a souvenir for my mother. However, if you don’t give your permission, I won’t take it with me.”
She took the garland from the ground and smiled. She observed it carefully and said,”Wow, the garland is beautiful. Hence, I am taking it as a sign of your atonement. Can you tie it around my hair?”
“Of course” I replied with a smile. I got up and tied the garland around her hair. As I was tieing it up, she asked me,” Why are you here? Usuually, no one comes here.”
I said,”Actually, I also don’t know. I am just following the instructions of my Guru.”
I finished tying it up and sat near the fire.
“Oh I see” she sat near me. I saw her sitting on the ground so I offered my Kushasana. She sat on it. The Prodosh muhurta was over and I felt hungry. I took out the Akshaya Patra and was going to ask when I looked at her. I remembered what Maa had taught me that when I am with a stranger or a guest, I should make sure that I satisfy them first. So I asked her what she would like to eat.
She replied that she liked sweets but had a typical preference, she wanted it to be of yellow in colour. I didn’t think much of it and prayed to the Akshaya Patra. In a moment, it was filled with sweets made of Besan. I offered it to her and she took it with delight. After she finished, I partook the remaining.
After the meal, she said, grinning,”I am very pleased with you. No one comes here. I stay here all alone and seldom do I find such delicacies to taste and someone to accompany me. But today, you not only fed me but made me a garland.”
I replied, smiling,” It was my pleasure.”
She asked,”Will you be my friend?”
I happily obliged. tI doesn’t happen every time that you get a friend who is of your age but has a character and radiance which surpasses your experience many folds.
She became very happy. She got up and came near me and said,”Since we are friends, I want to gift you something.”
“What is it, Sakhi?” I asked.
“Close your eyes”
I did as she asked me to do.
“Now open your eyes.”
As I opened, I saw garlands of jasmine lying on a yellow cloth on the ground. She took one of the garlands and said,”Today as a taken of our friendship, I will decorate you with these garlands. Will you take this offering, Sakhi?”
I happily accepted. From hair to toes, from ears to nose, she decorated me with ornaments made of jasmine flowers. As she finished, she took me near the lake and asked,”Sakhi, look at the reflection and tell me, how does my Sakhi look?”
“Mesmerising” I looked at her and said again, overwhelmed,”Your Sakhi looks mesmerising”
We came back at the fireplace and she said,” Now since we are friends. I must help you.”
“But how will you help me?” I asked, confused.
She said,”As you get out of the forest, you will find an ashram. A Rishi lives there, ask him what your Guru said and he will be able to help you. He is very pious and a great devotee.”
“But how will he know me?”
She chuckled and replied,”For the veneration, he comes everyday to collect flowers from the forest. When he will see the garland on you, he will know that it is I that has sent you to him and will surely help you.”
I held her hand and said in gratitude,”Thank you, Sakhi.”
She held mine and said,”Don’t say thanks. It is what friends are for. Now get some sleep. We will leave at the break of dawn.”
I nodded and slept on the Dushala.
My sleep was disturbed by a growl. When I opened my eyes, I saw a wolf approaching me. It came near me and was standing two hands apart. It’s growl indicated that it was looking for a prey to satisfy its hunger and I was the chosen one. I couldn’t move because if I, it would jump on me. As it came at one hand’s distance, someone giggled. As it looked up behind me, it seemed as the wolf was petrified. It couldn’t growl nor bark nor howl. I could even see its pupils. It came to a standstill. No movement whatsoever.I sat up and looked. It was her. She was staring at the wolf fiercely. Seeing her piercing glance on the wolf, I called her out,”Sakhi!”
As I called her, it broke her stare and she looked at me. Meanwhile, the wolf regained its senses and fled.
She came near me and asked, worried,”Sakhi, are you okay?”
I replied affirmative.
By then it was already dawn. She said,”Let’s go. The ashram is a muhurta far.”
I got up, arranged everything and left with her. As we reached the ashram door, she stopped.
“Why did you stop here, Sakhi? Let us go inside.”
She replied smiling,”This is as far I can accompany you. From here, you must go on your own.”
I smiled and replied,”As you say Sakhi, but?”
“But what?” She asked.
“I didn’t ask your name. What is your name?”
She chuckled and answered,”I have many names but you can call me Lalita. And if you are interested to know more about me, ask the Rishi who owns the ashram. Tell him that I said so and he will do the needful.”
I nodded and hugged her. She hugged me back and said,”Now I must leave otherwise someone else will steal flowers from my turf.”
I grinned and she left.
I went inside the ashram. It was serene. I saw Sadhakas learning and reciting hymns while others practised Veena and Mridangam. Some were sweeping the ground and others were collecting firewood for the yagna ceremony. I could see the idol of Devi Saraswati under the peepul tree at the center. I went and offered my obeisciences. A Sadhaka approached me and asked,”Devi, who are you and who do you want to meet?”
I replied courteously that I wanted to meet their Guru and he asked me to wait. He gave me an asana and went to call his Guru.
As I was looking at the disciples practising various chandas, a familiar voice called my name,”Kishori!”
I looked back and was surprised. I hurried up to him and touched his feet.
“Keertimaan Bhava” he said, smiling.
The disciple was surprised and asked his guru,”Gurudev, do you know her?”
He said, smiling,”Parbat, the one who is standing before you is the extension of Har Parvati herself, Devi Kishori.”
He offered his obeisciences to me and I reciprocated it by doing the same.
“So what brings Devi Kishori to Narada’s ashram?”
“Devarshi, actually father instructed me to travel south..”
As I was saying, I noticed Devarshi’s glance switched to my garlands given by Lalita.
“From where did you get it, Kishori?” He asked, surprised.
“Lalita gave it to me.”
“Lalita!” He asked, surprised.
“Yes, she was the one who told me to visit you. She is the owner of the forest that surrounds your ashram. And she also said that you can help me and also tell me more about her.”
Devarshi Narada chuckled and said,”I see but first I want my dakshina.”
“Dakshina?” I asked, puzzled.
“Yes. I think you have something that might me” saying this, he indicated to the knot on my cloth.
I remembered the ash that was provided by father. I said to Devarshi,”Devarshi, it contains the ash given by father but what use is an ash to a Vaishnava?”
He smiled and said,”Let us open it first, child, shall we?”
I obliged and opened the knot. To my surprise, it was not ash that remained but Ashtagandha. The fragrance of it filled the entire ashram. Devarshi placed his palms in the mode of bhiksha and I poured it. Getting the ashtagandha, he was overwhelmed. He placed it on the yellow cloth brought by a disciple and asked him to keep it on the altar.
Looking at my puzzled expression, Devarshi replied,”You forget Kishori that your father being Mahadev is the Pradhan Vaishnava, the most staunch devotee of the Lord and to ascend in my Lord’s devotion and mercy, there is no better substitute than the dust of the Lord’s most favourite devotee, your father. I was praying for it and my wish came true through you.”
I was very happy to hear it. I said,”Ohh, so this was the reason father sent me here.”
“Not exactly” he said, smiling.
He pointed at the garlands and asked,”Do you know Kishori who Lalita is?”
I nodded negative.
He smiled and said,” It once happened that a storm started devastating Mrityuloka so Shri Hari, being the sustainer, decided to do penance and please your mother. He sat at the lake and invoked Maa Tripursundari. Maa tripursundari being pleased with Hari expanded herself into a new form which came out of the lake and paused the storm. The one you call Lalita is none other than Devi Bagalamukhi herself, she is Vaishnavi herself. She is the 8th Mahavidya and is the goddess of Stambhan, the skill of astriction. She is also called as Brahmastroopini, the weapon of the Divine herself and she destroys the intellect of the enemies by enchanting them. It was not a mere incident that she decorated you with the flowers that please her the most. It is a clear indication that she wants you to get initiated into her sadhana and I think, it is also your father’s will too.”
“But Devarshi, you?”I asked, puzzled.
Seeing me confused, he laughed and replied,”You forget Kishori. Apart from being a devotee, I am a Rishi too, not only any Rishi, a Mantra Drashta Rishi. The syllables that your father produced through his damru are the basis of all the mantras that are present in the existence. When I was in my deep samadhi, Devi Bhagavathi in the form of Maa Pitambara appeared before me and blessed me with her mantra. Hence, I became the discoverer of Her mantra. And this is the reason, your father sent you here so that you can get initiated into the next Mahavidya sadhana under my guidance.”
I touched his feet and said humbly,”Then, Gurudev. Will you take me as your disciple and initiate me into Maa Vaishnavi’s sadhana?”
He placed his hand on my head and said,”Shubhasya Shigram.”