Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Following the Steps of Paramahansa Yogananda in Calcutta: 1st Part


Thursdays are a day off for the volunteers at the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta but instead of going to explore the city I decided to do a one day pilgrimage to follow the steps of Paramahansa Yogananda. I wanted to visit all the places that he mentions in his autobiography like the Dakshineswar Temple, Yogoda Math and Serampore, where his guru used to live while Yoganandaji was a college student.

I had already done this pilgrimage ten years ago, during my first trip to India, but now that I was back in Calcutta to volunteer at Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity for ten days in March, I was not going to miss this opportunity to do this pilgrimage again. I also wanted to visit for the first time Belur Math, the Headquarters of Ramakrishna Mission.

Visiting Dakshineswar Kali Temple

So on Thursday morning after a quick breakfast I went straight to the Esplanade Bus Terminus and took the bus to Dakshineswar. It was about an hour and half ride.  My first stop was the Dakshineswar Kali Temple.

Dakshineswar Kali Temple
The nine-domed temple of Kali

I first heard of this temple when reading Paramahansa Yogananda's autobiography and years later I also read about it while reading Ramakrishna's Gospel. Ramakrishna Paramahansa is one of India's greatest sages. He is considered a divine incarnation and he was the guru of Swami Vivekananda, another great master.

Ramakrishna was a bhakta, a devotee of the goddess Kali and he was the priest of the Kali Temple. He had so much love and devotion for the goddess that many times the stone image took a living form and talked with him. You can still visit Ramakrishna's room inside the premises of the temple.

Paramahansa Yogananda talks a bit about Ramakrishna in his autobiography, and about his own pilgrimages and spiritual experiences in this temple. About his first visit to the temple in company with Master Mahasaya he writes:

"Master Mahasaya was a disciple of a Christlike master, Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa. The four-mile journey on the following morning was taken by boat on the Ganges. We entered the nine-domed Temple of Kali, where the figures of the Divine Mother and Shiva rest on a burnished silver lotus, its thousand petals meticulously chiseled. Master Mahasaya beamed in enchantment. He was engaged in his inexhaustible romance with the Beloved. As he chanted Her name, my enraptured heart seemed shattered into a thousand pieces."

On another occasion Yoganandaji took his sister and her husband to Dakshineswar with the hope that the influence of the Goddess Kali inside the temple will somehow open her husband's heart so he could start to believe in her divine presence. But first he wanted to commune with the divine mother. After hours of meditation he felt discouraged because he had not received any response from Her.

When five hours had passed, and the Goddess whom I was inwardly visualizing had made no response, I felt slightly disheartened. Sometimes it is a test by God to delay the fulfillment of prayers. But He eventually appears to the persistent devotee in whatever form he holds dear. A devout Christian sees Jesus; a Hindu beholds Krishna, or the Goddess Kali, or an expanding Light if his worship takes an impersonal turn.

Reluctantly I opened my eyes, and saw that the temple doors were being locked by a priest, in conformance with a noon-hour custom. I rose from my secluded seat under the open, roofed hall, and stepped into the courtyard. Its stone floor was scorching under the midday sun; my bare feet were painfully burned.

“Divine Mother,” I silently remonstrated, “Thou didst not come to me in vision, and now Thou art hidden in the temple behind closed doors. I wanted to offer a special prayer to Thee today on behalf of my brother-in-law.”

My inward petition was instantly acknowledged. First, a delightful cold wave descended over my back and under my feet, banishing all discomfort. Then, to my amazement, the temple became greatly magnified. Its large door slowly opened, revealing the stone figure of Goddess Kali. Gradually it changed into a living form, smilingly nodding in greeting, thrilling me with joy indescribable. As if by a mystic syringe, the breath was withdrawn from my lungs; my body became very still, though not inert.

I joined the long line of hindu devotees to do my puja, an offering of flowers to the image of the Goddess. Then I walk around to visit the twelve Shiva temples and finally I sat to meditate for a little while in the portico that fronts the temple of Kali, the same colonnaded hall where Yoganandaji used to sit in meditation.

Dakshineswar Kali Temple

Dakshineswar Ganges Ghat

To know everything about the Dakshineswar Kali Temple and the visiting hours please visit: Dakshineswar Kali Temple Visiting hours. Be aware that bags, cameras and smartphones are strictly prohibited inside.

Visiting Yogoda Satsanga Math

Later on I took a cycle rickshaw to go to Yogoda Satsanga Math, guruji's ashram that sits right next to the river Ganges. My plan was to have lunch at the ashram, then go to Serampore to visit Sri Yukteswar house and then later on visit Belur Math. But the manager at the ashram reception told me that it wouldn't be possible to visit all those things in one day since it was already late, I would have to choose.

But I didn't want to choose, I wanted to visit all those places, specially Belur Math cause I had never being there. So I asked if I could stay at the ashram for one night so I could visit Serampore the same day and Belur Math the next day, after leaving the ashram.

I had to have an interview with the swami of the ashram to see if they would allow me to stay. Normally only Self Realisation Fellowship (SRF) or Yogoda Satsanga Society (YSS) members are allowed to stay at the ashram. Since I'm a SRF member that wasn't a problem at all.

You can read more about the ashram in: Yogoda Math, Paramahansa Yogananda's Ashram in Kolkata

Visiting Serampore

Luckily I got a ride by car from the ashram to Serampore. The first stop was the house of Guruji’s uncle, Sarada Prasad Ghosh, where he stayed for some time. The whole building is now property of YSS and guruji's room is now a meditation room called Anandaloka where visitors can sit to meditate for a while.


Anandaloka

Anandaloka

After this a guy working at YSS took me to Sri Yukteswar's residency/ashram on Rai Ghat lane (3A Buro Bibi). There is no ashram anymore but in the same place a small temple was constructed in 1973, the Sri Sri Swami Sri Yukteswar Smriti Mandir. Yoganandaji tells about his first visit to Sri Yukteswar's ashram:

"Here I was, heart pounding, standing within his courtyard on quiet Rai Ghat Lane. I entered for the first time the hermitage where I was to spend the best part of the next ten years with India’s Jyanavatar, "incarnation of wisdom.""

A bit further on Yoganandaji writes about the ashram routine:

"Daily life at the ashram flowed smoothly, infrequently varied. My guru awoke before dawn. Lying down, or sometimes sitting on the bed, he entered a state of samadhi. It was simplicity itself to discover when Master had awakened: abrupt halt of stupendous snores. A sigh or two; perhaps a bodily movement. Then a soundless state of breathlessness: he was in deep yogic joy."

Sri Yukteswar Smriti Mandir

Sri Yukteswar Smriti Mandir
Sri Yukteswar Smriti Mandir

Sri Yukteswar Portrait

Paramahansa Yogananda Gurus


From Sri Yukteswar's Mandir we walked towards the Ganges and stopped at the Rai Ghat where Mahabatar Babaji appeared to Sri Yukteswar after he had completed his book The Holy Science. The Banyan tree at the Rai Ghat is the same tree that Sri Yukteswar mentioned while sharing the story to his disciple Yoganandaji:

"As I passed beyond the site of the large banyan tree near the river bank, a strong impulse urged me to look back. There, under the shade of the banyan, and surrounded by a few disciples, sat the great Babaji! “‘Greetings, Swamiji!’ The beautiful voice of the master rang out to assure me I was not dreaming. ‘I see you have successfully completed your book. As I promised, I am here to thank you.’"

Rai Ghat
Rai Ghat

Rai Ghat Banyan Tree
Rai Ghat Banyan Tree

Then we walked to see the remaining of the Panthi boarding house for students, the house were guruji lived while he was a student at the Serampore College.

Panthi boarding house
Somewhere in this building guruji had a room while he was a student at the Serampore College

Panthi boarding house

After visiting the Panthi boarding house I had to make my way back to the ashram, it was too late to visit the Serampore College. I took a cycle Rickshaw to the Serampore train station and followed the journey back to the ashram. Luckily the guy working at the ashram reception wrote me a detailed note so I would know how to come back to the ashram. I think the whole journey took about one hour.

Serampore Train Station
Serampore train station


Back in Yogoda Satsanga Math

Once I was backed at the ashram I joined the long meditation. The meditation started at 5pm and lasted till 8pm. I arrived a bit late and I was too tired to meditate so after about forty minutes I went back to my room, and since I was feeling a like catching a cold I decided to skip dinner. The pollution in Kathmandu had already taking its tall on my health, but nothing too serious.

This is one of Yoganandaji's advice. Whenever you feel like getting a cold or some type of throat infection the best thing to do is to fast, or at least skipping a meal to allow the body to heal itself. Whenever I feel I'm getting sick I apply this instruction and it always helps.

I had a wonderful sleep and I woke up feeling much better. I joined the ashram routine starting with the energisation exercises and a group meditation. Right after the meditation I went for breakfast and then it was time to leave the ashram so I could go and visit Belur Math.

Visiting Belur Math

To go to Belur Math from Yogada Math I took a cycle rickshaw to Dakshineswar Kali Temple and from there I walked towards the Ghat to take the ferry to Belur Math but the ferry had just left and I was supposed to wait for 40 minutes for the next one. I asked for alternatives and they told me that I could go to the bus stand and take the bus to Belur Math.

And so I did. Big mistake! There was a lot of traffic and not a single bus, rickshaw or taxi was going to Belur Math. Finally after 30 minutes or so I managed to get a taxi. So if you miss the ferry to go to Belur Math you better wait for the next one.

Belur Math is a huge ashram. It's like 20 times the size of Yoga Math. Ok I'm not being really technical here but it was quite big, and clean and well maintained, which is quite surprising in India, and specially in Calcutta.



The main temple is the temple for Ramakrishna. There are two other smaller temples. One for Swami Vivekananda, Ramakrishna's chief disciple and another one for the Mother, Ramakrishna's wife.



A dustbin in India? Really?

By chance I noticed some people lining up to meet a swami. They were actually lining up to receive a blessing from Swami Atmasthananda, the fifteenth President of the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission. I didn't know anything about him but I joined the line and after a few minutes I was inside.

He was really kind and friendly. Next to him there was another swami. In a demonstration of humbleness and respect both of them were telling me that they don't know much but that he (the other swami) is very knowledgeable. Swami Atmasthananda noticed the mala on my neck and gave me some instructions, quoting Patanjali Yoga Sutras, on how to use the mala to meditate on Om .

To know everything about the Belur Math and the visiting hours please visit: Belur Math Visiting hours

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Back to Calcutta centre

After my short visit to Belur Math I took a bus back to Calcutta centre. I was surprised, the bus from Belur Math to Calcutta centre took only 30 minutes while the bus from the centre to Dakshineswar took one hour and half! So if you decide to do the same trip as I did probably the best is to start with Belur Math, then ferry to Dakshineswar and then a cycle rickshaw to Yogoda Math.

The next day I continued with my volunteer work with the Missionaries of Charity but two days before living Calcutta I decided to complete my pilgrimage by visiting Paramahansa Yogananda's house in 4 Garpar Road. I'll tell you everything about my visit to guruji's house in the next post: Following the Steps of Paramahansa Yogananda in Calcutta: 2nd Part

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