29/08/2020 – Sri Badrika Ashram, Himachal Pradesh.
It’s a Saturday morning and I’m sat at my altar in my room at the ashram, in floods of tears. This is not uncommon for me, I tend to have my moments when I’m overcome with gratitude or an emotion that I can’t describe, and I can’t contain it. But this time the fire is blazing more intensely than usual. Why? Because all of a sudden, a beautiful memory came wafting back to me and carried me with it back to the place from whence it came.
I have never written anything publicly before, but because of the wave of devotion it overwhelmed me with today, I felt I had to share this memory with those who know and love Swami ji too.
The following is a copy of an email that I had sent to Sadhvi Vrinda ji and some loved ones after a trip to the Dakshineshwar Kali temple in Kolkata, exactly four years ago next month.
(Anything written in brackets are the edits I’ve made today.)
08/09/2016 – Hotel, Kolkata
“I saw my Ma’s beautiful face for the first time last night after praying to Her photo for almost a year. A little drizzle of rain welcomed me as I walked towards the tall towers of Dakshineswar mandir, as if She was already blessing me.
My heart had been racing all day with an eagerness to see Her and since the plane had landed at Kolkata airport I just wanted to drop my luggage at the hotel and rush there as fast as I could.
You would not believe — or, now knowing Swami ji’s leelas, you would — that as I was in baggage claim, a random, middle aged man with a pleasant, smiling face, came up to me and said that he saw me last month at the Om Swami ashram in Himachal Pradesh. It had been his first visit there; he had been persuaded by his wife to go, and he told me that he was in love with Swami ji from his first meeting. He was almost in tears talking about Him. He showed me Swami ji’s face on the wallpaper of his phone. It was as if Swami ji Himself was welcoming me to Kolkata. (After a year of being either in solitude or living at the ashram, I was apprehensive about leaving the safety of the ashram grounds). I may be outside of the ashram but Swami ji is showing me that I can’t get away from Him that easily! 🙂 I thought to myself.
The man so kindly helped to arrange my taxi and told me that he has offices here so if I was stuck for anything, to contact him; his team would be able to help me. I felt so safe. All His grace.
So, I dropped my bags at the hotel, freshened up and rushed to Dakshineswar. By the time I was able to reach there, the evening aarti had ended and the temple was dark and quiet, just perfect for my first intimate mulaqaat with Ma with no distance or distraction.
I had come to Dakshineswar almost exactly one year ago (before visiting the ashram for the first time) and was unable to take even one step towards Her sanctum as it was so busy, full of people eager for Her blessings on a Saturday night, close to the start of Navratri and the month long Durga Puja celebrations that are so famous of West Bengal (I knew about Navratri but I didn’t know when it was and I didn’t know anything about Durga Puja or the significance of a Saturday at that time.) There was a sea of people and they were waving their diya plates full of offerings to Her from way outside the gates. There was no hope of a chance to see Her.
(And honestly, at that time, I went there more out of curiosity than anything else. I didn’t even know what the word bhakti meant then.
After having met Swami ji for the first time, I was in England, at home with my family, and all I did was cry constantly. I didn’t want to meet up with anyone or go anywhere. I would sit at home and try to meditate or chant Om for as long as I could, and I watched all of Swami ji’s YouTube videos and read all of His blog posts.
In one of His videos, Swami ji mentioned somebody called Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa, and something took a hold of me. I was an emotional wreck. My family absolutely thought I’d lost the plot! 😀 I insisted they watch Swami ji’s videos, I read aloud His memoir and some of His posts to them. I made them watch anything I could find about Sri Ramakrishna on YouTube. I felt I had to find out everything I could about this saint that Swami ji had mentioned — they clearly didn’t get what all the fuss was about at the time! (By the way, they do now 🙂 ) — After reading that Sri Ramakrishna had lived in Dakshineshwar temple and worshipped The Mother Goddess there, the calling in my heart deafened everything else and was too overwhelming to ignore. I booked my flight to Kolkata and arranged my first trip to the ashram; I told my family that I didn’t know when I would see them again and left. . . . Anyway… that’s a whole other saga. Back to the story at hand…)
I’ve had to make do with praying to a photo of Her this past year. (Someone very special brought the photo of Her to me in my first few weeks at the ashram. I hadn’t told anyone that I’d arrived there from Dakshineshwar and that I didn’t get to have Her darshan. And now here She was, handed to me, and She had lovingly made a home on my altar. Pic above.)
And We’ve built up such a relationship together, Ma and I, sitting on the floor of my hut at the ashram, pouring out my innermost everything to Her. The photo has been hugged and kissed to death and laid on my chest when I wanted Her close.
Waves of nerves rippled through me at the thought of seeing Her murti in all Her glory for the first time (I’d never visited any other Ma Kali temple nor seen an idol of Her). I had to tell myself to calm down in the taxi on the way there.
Finally I had reached Her holy gateway.
I checked in my sandals and phone at the counter and walked through the courtyard to Her majestic towers. And this time I was completely ALONE! There may have been no more than a couple of other devotees who came and went the entire time I was there.
The emptiness of the vast space, the rain and soft dim lighting just made the whole atmosphere mystically eerie and all the more beautiful. I walked up the steps with my heart beating, not knowing how I would react.
And then I saw Her, just through the metal bars at first. My hand clasped itself over my mouth stifling my tears and trembling, almost out of disbelief that I was finally seeing Her for real. Then I realised that I could go around the bars and stand in front of Her sanctum doors and there She was in all Her Glory. Her black faced, four armed form, shining back at me just like our Sri Hari Bhagwan at the ashram, only with Hari peeled back, and Mother Divine, the Holy, Divine Feminine energy that I had felt akin to all my life, now ablaze with radiance and red lined eyes and Her red tongue out, smiling at me and welcoming me back. She was draped splendidly in green and gold and covered in jewellery and flowers.
As the aarti had ended some time ago, the pujari began to remove the flower garlands and some of Ma Kali’s outer garments. It was perfect timing. It was as if She wanted to reveal Her true Self to me, without the need of all Her ornaments and distractions. Just my Ma and I, raw and real.
She is SO beautiful, so magnetic and enigmatic I cannot even describe. Her photo does not do Her justice at all. I joked with Her, “Ma, You’re not very photogenic are You.” 🙂 She keeps Her true beauty hidden until the moment comes to reveal it, then one becomes addicted.
When I saw Her I wanted to give Her everything I had. All of me. I offered Her my ego and my heart full of afflictions. I opened my purse and without counting, emptied it out to Her. I totally forgot I had to keep three rupees to get my phone back which was checked in — I had to beg it from someone at the end of the night. It kind of felt good. Like a sannyasin who has to drop their ego to beg from others — I wanted to completely empty myself to Her. I would have given Her my own head and every drop of blood in me if I could have.
After paying my initial obeisance to Her I stood staring at Her for a few minutes, unable to move, just a waterfall of emotion. Then I came to a little and remembered to put my glasses on, and to see Her now in High Definition set another tide rolling in me over again!
I exhausted myself then leaned against the temple door just a few feet in front of Her, sometimes crying, sometimes laughing or singing to Her and talking with Her until they had to shut the mandir for the night. More than an hour passed like that… absorbed in Her.
Thankfully Sri Ramakrishna and His mad antics in bhakti had set a standard all those years ago, so no one thought I was a lunatic, just a lunatic for God. The temple priest told me I could stand there to one side as long as I liked and I even got extra prasadam and a sip of the water Ma had been bathed with — You act like a mental health patient in this world and you get medicated or locked up, but become insane for God and you get divine goodies! 🙂
When it was finally time to say goodnight and the temple doors were shut, I felt my heart had been wrung out. I didn’t want to leave Her. I turned back and fell on my knees at the bottom of the temple steps and wept like a child whose mother had just died. I left reluctantly and was in a daze for the rest of the night. This is the power of Shakti.
I know She is the force in our dear Swami ji and He has His reasons for not showing me Himself from the start (I clearly wasn’t ready then, and far from worthy, even now), but I’m slowly beginning to feel it —THEY ARE ONE. As Swami ji says, “Love at first sight fizzles out. True love lasts forever.” He’d given me a year to build up my love.
I vow to continue to purify myself and let Ma do with me as She pleases. I don’t even know my own desires, only She does. I don’t know my past or my future I only know this moment. I don’t know anyone but the holy trinity that is my childhood love Krsna; my everything in human form, our Om Swami and the Awesome Power that is Ma Kali. I have felt the power of Her ego slaying and I have seen how Her Love transforms. I have felt such a sense of peace, love and joy at the feet of the ones who have surrendered to Her. I thank our dear Sadhvi ji for much of these experiences.
I know that the next step of my journey has only just begun, I still have a long way to go but I cannot wait to see what Mother Divine has in store for me. I’m even looking forward to the hurdles and challenges that I know will come, just so I have more opportunities to be mindful for Her sake and make Her a proud Momma of me 🙂
Jai Sri Hari!”
29/08/2020 – Sri Badrika Ashram
A couple of years and A LOT of never-ending ego pounding later 🙂 , I was embraced by Grace and dropped my old name and worldly ties and was initiated into monastic robes by my Guru, my Holy Father, My Divine Mother, my God, my everything, Om Swami ji.
I know my journey is still long and I know it will never be easy (the ego bashing is still never-ending!) But I have never been more content or less afraid. I don’t know what I have done to deserve this much beauty in my life. There are no words for the gratitude that I feel. My prayer for every sentient being in the entire Universe is that at some point they are blessed enough to experience the transformational, loving, healing, ever-kind power of Swami Ma.