I recently got back from a visit to Chennai (capital city of Tamil Nadu, India) and feel the urge to write about it here. It was a trip with mixed emotions – happiness, sadness, exhilaration, disappointment, excitement – all were a part of it. Let me elaborate.
I and my parents started out from Allahabad in the afternoon of 10th December, 2013, by Spice Jet flight 2637 to Delhi, from which we took flight 309 to Chennai. This was very new for us, as this was the first trip where we reached Chennai the very same day we left Allahabad. I know it sounds weird, but Allahabad is a small town (it is growing, but nowhere close to biggies like New Delhi or Chennai) and regular reliable flights to New Delhi have recently started (thank you Spice Jet).Till now we either took a train from Allahabad to Chennai whenever we wanted to visit Master, or we reached New Delhi by train and took a flight from there for Chennai. So this time around, despite a long wait at Indira Gandhi Airport, New Delhi, we reached Chennai in speed and comfort that I had never experienced before in a journey of this distance. If you don’t get what I am talking about, go experience an Indian railway station.
One thing that I should mention here is that I’m extremely child-like when it comes to air travel. I am sure in all my air travels, my co-passengers think it’s my first time in an airplane. I am super excited about anything and everything to do with airplanes. As an illustration, let me tell you that I once spent an entire 3 hour flight not even glancing at the in-flight entertainment but continuously focusing on the real time flight information. Who cares about Bheja Fry when you can check out the plane’s speed, altitude, outside temperature, and the goddamn city we’re flying over! Similarly, at airports, I’d much rather look at the runway and the airplanes on it than TVs or shops, or even people! So, of course, as soon as we boarded the aircraft at Bamrauli Airport, Allahabad, I took a photograph of the propellers of our little plane.
We landed in Chennai at 10.30pm and were at Babuji Memorial Ashram nearly an hour later. Thanks to correspondence undertaken well in advance, a room was available for us for our week long stay. It was a simple room with 3 beds and 3 mattresses, a light and a fan, 2 plug points, and nothing else. It had a balcony overlooking the neighboring Larsen and Toubro building, specifically their outdoor recreation facility – a basketball court and a cricket ground. Every evening we’d hear the players’ shouts of derision and screams of jubilation.
Life at the Ashram is a contrast from our normal everyday life. The most obvious aspect of stay there, which hit us our first morning in the Ashram, is that there’s nothing that we’re supposed to be doing. There is no pressing schedule, no classes, no meetings, not even places to visit like in usual holidays – once you are in, you don’t feel like leaving, such is the atmosphere in the Ashram. So the place to hang out at is the canteen. It’s a great place at the center of the Ashram, from where you can see the Meditation hall, the Master’s cottage and the dining hall. So you can relax and enjoy the delicacies available (which you have to purchase, unlike the 3 meals served at the dining hall everyday) while being updated about the three fundamental aspects of life at the Ashram – meditation, Master and, well, food.
My parents at the canteen:
The schedule in the Ashram is this:
6.30am – 7.30am: Meditation
7.30am – 8.30am: Breakfast
9am – 10am: Meditation
12.30pm – 1.30pm – Lunch
4pm – 5pm: Tea
5.30pm – 6.30pm: Meditation
7.30pm – 8.30pm – Dinner
9.30pm – “Go to sleep” bell.
If you are roaming around in the Ashram after the 9.30 bell, somebody might ask you to go to sleep! This happened to me only once even though I could not resist spending time out after hours almost everyday (ignore the almost).
Let me elaborate the visit in terms of the three aspects mentioned before, in no order of significance.
Two places to eat – the dining hall and the canteen. I can’t say where I ate more, but I didn’t miss anything at either. Something had happened to my appetite, I became insatiable. The breakfast at the dining hall comprised of some South Indian food item, such as idli-sambhar, or rice-sambhar. Lunch often consisted of rice-sambhar, with mattha (buttermilk). Dinner was most often roti (chapati) with sambhar and vegetable. Nothing special about the food this time around. Though I must say, most of the times the food in our Ashrams is spectacular.
The canteen is a different story altogether. Every item was breathtaking! Everything was prepared with so much love (and so much high quality desi ghee), I wonder if my rise in appetite was due to the assortment in the canteen! From milk, tea and coffee to chilled soft-drinks, from dosa and uttapam to samosa, khasta-kachauri and gujhiya, from boondi-laddu to kaaju katli, everything was, as that old TV commercial says, finger-licking good!
In the canteen you would sit not just to eat, you would just sit there. You would look at people from innumerable countries from all around the world, who are brought there by the love they have for and the love they receive from the Master. You would observe parents of little children and realize what a full-time job parenthood is. You might find yourself in earshot of elderly abhyasis discussing the system, and you might realize how well-read some people are. You would then feel hungry, curse your suddenly elevated appetite, realize you’re out of coupons, buy some, and spend them all on some new thing you want to try. Of course, in all the above lines, when I say “you”, I mean “I”.
There are other things to try too. Such as naariyal paani (coconut water) which is available right outside the Ashram. But after so many trips to South India, stuff like that is mostly in my “been there, done that” list.
I will write about the Sahaj Marg system and Shri Ram Chandra Mission at a later date. But I think it would be best if you visit the following websites to gather first-hand information, if interested – * www.sahajmarg.org * www.srcm.org
Three times a day, the Ashram bell would be sounded to indicate that meditation will commence in 15 minutes at the Meditation Hall. It is a simple process, which is presided over by a permitted abhyasi, a Preceptor. What an abhyasi (practitioner, like me) is supposed to do here is to close the eyes and focus briefly on this thought – “by the grace of Master, divine light from his heart is entering my heart, and is completely filling it”. There is no need to continuously dwell on this thought, focusing on it briefly at the beginning is enough. In case a lot of distracting thoughts come to mind, an effort can be made to calm the mind and reinstate the thought. Meditation sessions last anywhere between 45 minutes and 1 hour.
Experiences may vary – from a deep meditation, or a blissful session, to restlessness, or something else.
It is said that while these meditation sessions are important, it is the atmosphere in the Ashram that actually works on your soul. What does this mean? While it is highly recommended that you attend all the meditation sessions, or Satsanghs, it might not do much good if you simply go to the Ashram at the time of meditation, and do not spend time in the Ashram at other times. This is my understanding, which is very limited, hence I may be wrong.
Here is an image of the Meditation hall when Satsangh was not going on.
This is the Meditation hall from outside. It is not the front though – that view is epic, with the stairs leading to it and the golden lions at the entrance. I had no idea that I would start blogging, hence did not take many pictures. Sad.
There are many theories among abhyasis about whether one should try to meet the Master or not. Some say a visit isn’t complete without a mulaqaat, while others say that He knows you have come, don’t impose your presence on him, don’t use him to fulfill your need to feel important, and respect his age and the limitations of the human body, specially at his age of 86. I choose which “school of thought” to listen to depending on what my heart tells me to do at any particular moment. Master too may send confusing signals, not unlike in a romantic relationship. After all, the Guru is an eternal lover. He may appear ill and frail, but at the same time ignite a deep restlessness in your heart to see him. In your confusion (or clarity), you take action.
He often sits in the porch of the Master’s cottage (generally once a day). One evening when he was sitting there, my parents sent their name on a piece of paper and he called them in. I followed. He conversed informally with people seated there at the time and spoke to my parents too for some time. He asked my father about his hospital (he is a surgeon and owns a hospital) and his mother (my grandmother). It is amazing how with hundreds of thousands of abhyasis in the Mission, hundreds meeting him every week, he still has the love to remember these details about us. This meeting lasted about 30 minutes and we were very happy and content. And we were grateful.
Next day, a familiar feeling started forming inside me – “I want to meet Master again.” This time, parents were not ready to cooperate. From being followers of the first school of thought, they had now, understandably, switched to the latter. Why disturb Master again if we have already met him once? But the heart wants what the heart wants. Just like my experience at Tiruppur Ashram a couple of years back, where I was at the right place at the right time, at multiple times, this time around too I was at the cottage gate at the right time, said the right things, security obstacles melted, and I was, like magic, seated at His feet. What times those are! Just sit there, look at him, listen to what he says, observe elderly people asking child-like questions, often childishly. I wonder at such occasions if I have a question too, but it’s like a part of the brain has been wiped clean and I can’t remember any. Once the gathering seemed to be dispersing, I introduced myself to him, and he extended his hand for a handshake. We shook hands for a moment and that was it.
So I had these two very nice meetings with Master. Almost no words were exchanged between us, but what the heart feels reveals more than any number of words can. For these experiences, I cannot thank my Master enough.
Here is an old photograph of my Master, Shri Parthasarathi Rajagopalachari, from a book cover. This photograph is at least fifteen or twenty years old. His appearance has changed a lot now, but he still is as handsome as ever. Will upload a recent photograph later, as I need to find out certain things about copyright related instructions from the Mission.
We were supposed to leave from Chennai on 16th December – flight to Delhi and then a train to Allahabad. Thanks to Spice Jet (not saying this sarcastically, really, thanks!) for delaying the Chennai-Delhi flight to such an extent that we’d have missed the connecting train. So sitting in our room at the Ashram, we changed all the reservations. We left from Chennai on 17th morning, reached Delhi at noon, and another flight from Delhi to Allahabad. No railway station, more flights – what more could I have asked for?
Here is my only photograph of the trip. When you are the one in your group holding the camera, everybody gets clicked but you. Sadly, no photographs of me in the Ashram (I mean sadly for me). This one is in Chennai airport, when we were waiting for our flight to start boarding. I am trying my best to hide my excitement – I am at an airport, after all.
Reached Allahabad at 3pm on 17th. Terrible feeling. Coming back from His abode to the world. There are always after-effects of a visit to the Master. It is said that when you feel like that, all his work is settling in – the work that He has done on you when you were there. I was completely lost for two days. Was meeting people, went out with friends one evening, but could not remember simple details later on – such as, which places we visited, did we make plans for later – all lost, as if these details were never registered. Now, a week has passed, and everything is back to normal.
Will visit Chennai again, and again. Must be with Master at least thrice every year. If it was up to me, I’d visit Him every month. Or better still, just be with him for months on end. In such visits I realize the importance of achieving financial freedom as fast as possible. Career and money should not be in the way of me and my Master. They will not be, soon.
With love, and gratitude to the Master, and to you for reading this,