Friday, October 22, 2010

The Goddess who replies in writing

This is a wonderful article shared by a friend. The original post is at the following url:

I am reposting the article here verbatim with pictures from the Dhyanapeetam site:

Interactive Goddess :
A Beautiful Pilgrimage to the Temple of Chowdeshwari

- Ma Nithya Sudevi

In Karnataka, South India, there is a beautiful temple to a goddess called Chowdeshwari. Here, both practicing Hindus and reverential seekers from around the world are welcomed in to have darshan (see, pay respects to, and receive blessings from) Chowdeshwari Ma. But she is no ordinary temple deity: Chowdeshwari interacts with those who make the pilgrimage to see her. Of course, there is no such thing as an ordinary temple deity- all aspects of the manifest and unmanifest divinity are unique and beautiful... and of course, on a subtle level, each one interacts with those who make a sincere attempt at connection. But nevertheless, Chowdeshwari is a rare and amazing example of interactive divinity.

Her name first entered my consciousness at the beginning of the Living Enlightenment Program. Nithyananda Dhyanapeetam ashram was buzzing with her story; it seemed everywhere I turned, someone was talking about this miraculous Devi.

Chowdeshwari is famous in India for her writing. Not the writing which she did while living in human form on Earth, but the writing which she does now, through her idol, in a temple near Bangalore. Her energy is so powerful that she literally writes in response to questions put forth from seekers. The Q&A process is incredible: two illiterate village men hold her while the visitor asks a question. (The question can be posed in any language- Hindi, English, Tamil, Japanese...) Sometimes, as the question is being asked, Chowdeshwari flips over, tapping the head of the querent with the top of her head-dress; other times, she rests her head in the visitor’s hand, or she will simply look on and listen. When the question is complete, she sets the top of her head dress on a table, which is covered in a thin layer of rice flower. In the flower, with the top of her head, she begins to write. The two village men hold her firmly, as she shakes, jumps and thrashes from side to side. The results of her movements are perfectly formed words, written in the local dialect- Kannada- in the flour. Amazingly, the words written always answer the question asked, even though the men holding Chowdeshwari know nothing of foreign languages.

The reason her name started to spread like a wild-fire of enlightened excitement around the Dhyanapeetam ashram is that dear Devi Chowdeshwari is totally and completely in love with our guru, Nithyananda! Shortly after the scandal, she began shaking and jumping one day, even though nobody had asked her a question. Her handlers lifted her to see what she had to say, and she quickly flipped into the rice flower to make a request: she wanted to see Nithyananda. She was insistent- she had to see Him soon. So, her temple priest contacted the ashram, and made the arrangements. First, Nithyananda Swamiji paid a visit to her temple. She was thrilled to see Him- absolutely ecstatic; He invited her to Dhyanapeetam. Promptly, she accepted the invitation. (Truly, she accepted; of course, it was her priests who made the travel arrangements, carried her in the car, etc. etc., but when a temple deity is as animated as Chowdeshwari, once she makes up her mind about something, they honour her decision, and comply.)
Once she was at the ashram, Chowdeshwari only wanted one thing: to be around Swamiji. Everyone who was there at the time describes it the same way: it was as if Chowdeshwari was a love-struck teenager, and Swamiji the object of her affection. She insisted on being carried around Him wherever He went- sitting next to Him, walking next to Him, not letting Him out of her sight... she even wanted to sit in His car as He drove from one place to another. Some ashramites describe the scene as somewhat comic- she, a goddess, was acting the way program participants and visitors to the ashram act when they try to follow Swamiji everywhere! To see a deity act this way is just unheard of! A goddess acting like a school-girl!
Anyhow, beyond the humor in the situation, Chowdeshwari’s visit brought everyone a deep level of comfort at exactly the time when it was most needed. Swamiji was out of jail on bail, but the charges illegally filed against Him had not yet been dropped, and public opinion of both Him and His organization was quite low. Many ill-informed locals actually believed He was guilty. So, when the famous, beloved and highly respected Chowdeshwari not only insisted on going see Him, but also declared her love, and wanted nothing but to be near Him, all were forced to re-examine their stance on Nithyananda. People can lie; deities cannot. If Chowdeshwari insists on Nithyananda’s innocence, then He is innocent. (When asked, she stated in her rice flower, that Nithyananda committed no crime; He will be free; all charges will be dropped; Dhyanapeetam will succeed!)

The more that I heard about this amazing idol, the more I wanted to see her for myself! The mystical way she communicates, the love she has for the one whom I most love- Nithyananda- and her impeccable timing (to come to Him right after the scandal) all added up to a deep yearning in me to pay her a reverential visit. So, when my friend Abirami invited me to go see Chowdeshwari the day after the LEP process concluded, I jumped at the chance!

On the morning of October 11th, Abirami, myself, and our friends Mahima, Raquel and Dale piled into a cab and set out on a voyage to see Chowdeshwari. Before going, I prayed to Swamiji for something to offer her that she would truly enjoy receiving. It’s customary to go to a temple with an offering. Typically, if the deity is female, we give her coconut and other foods (in a pot called poorna kumbha- the pot of fulfillment), jewelry- usually bangles, money, kumkum and other spices, flowers... But since dear Chowdeshwari had done such good to seal the faith of those who remained with Swamiji throughout the scandal, and gave a big sign of His innocence to those who went astray, I wanted to give her something beyond the typical.

“Please, Swamiji, let me know exactly what to offer Ma Chowdeshwari...” I prayed on my mala as I perused the ashram gift shop. I bought her a small pendant with His photo- surely, since she loves to be near Him, she would love to see His smiling face on a pendant? Before putting the small token in a bag, I touched it to His padookas, energized sandals, as if taking His blessing for the gift, then went on to meet my friends for our voyage.

Somehow, though, the little pendant didn’t seem like enough. Deities are traditionally ornamented in fine jewels- my budget didn’t allow for such finery to offer her... They are garlanded in ornately strung fragrant flowers- we didn’t have time to go to a fancy florist... What could I give to really let her know just how much we, the devotees of Nithyananda, appreciate and revere her? I was still pondering that when I entered the welcome center, and saw Abirami filling out our ashram departure form. On the desk in front of her, I saw it: an envelope with the beautiful, radiantly smiling face of Nithyananda, and the words “Navaratri Dasara.”

Navaratri Dasara is the traditional Indian celebration of Devi, the goddess, which takes place over nine nights and ten days. That was it! I would give her a Navaratri card with Swamiji’s picture on it! She is Devi, and she loves Nithyananda- perfect combination. I opened one of the cards, and saw that it was actually an invitation. It said, “The disciples and devotees of Nithyananda invite you to the Navaratri Dasara celebrations at Nithyananda Dhyanapeet...” I gasped: it had felt like the right thing to give her... but was it appropriate? Who was I to invite Chowdeshwari to Navaratri at the ashram; she has her own temple! If she accepted the offer, it would be a big nuisance for her priests, and possibly for Swamiji (as she would no doubt insist on following Him everywhere!) and the media would swarm... Ah- but the media. Imagine the headlines if one of the most popular Karnataka goddesses chose to spend Navaratri with Nithyananda. (The last little bit of public uncertainty about Him would surely dissolve.) There was no time to consult with anyone from the ashram- I took an invitation, and said to my mala, “Swamiji- if I shouldn’t give this invitation to Chowdeshwari, please stop me from doing it. Let a gust of wind blow it out of my hand, or let me see a strong sign to leave it!” But neither happened...

As the five of us, Abirami, Mahima, Raquel, Dale and I made our way through the picturesque South Indian countryside, the conversation was buzzing with excited ideas of what to ask. It’s not every day that you drive through stunning tropical vegetation en-route to an historic goddess temple in which the deity will answer any question you have for her. One amongst us decided to ask about her marital future; another her education path; one her husband, another her health.

As for me, I had no question, just a thank-you, and the invitation- which stirred up a bit of controversy in one of my fellow pilgrims. “I really think you should have asked someone at the ashram before bringing that to her.” She said. “There wasn’t time. But, I told Swamiji over the mala. If I shouldn’t bring it, something will stop me.” See, many refer to the mala as a direct line to Swamiji- like a cosmic cell phone. They say that when we talk into the mala- the string of rudraksha seed prayer beads which He energizes to hold enlightenment- our words go straight to Him. Many miracles have happened by contacting Swamiji this way. I was sure that He would intervene if I was about to do something wrong after first consulting the mala!

When we got to the temple, though, it seemed our plans had been spoiled. Chowdeshwari was in silence until the end of Navaratri. We were told we could see her, and give her the fruit and flowers we had brought, but that any questions would have to wait a week- a week which those of us flying back to North America didn’t have. Resigned, we agreed that since we had gone that far already, we would at least see her and offer her our humble gifts. I said to my mala, “Alright. It wasn’t meant to be.”

We waited about ten minutes, and were led into a small room, where Chowdeshwari sat motionless, beautifully clothed and garlanded, over her rice flower tray. The man presiding over her motioned for us to put our heads to her feet, which we did, one-by-one. Burying my head in the soft jasmine flowers at the base of her carriage, I whispered, “Chowdeshwari- thank you for visiting Nithyananda Dhyanapeetam after the scandal. Since you’re in silence, I know that what I came here to do was wrong... I came to invite you to Navaratri at the ashram, but...” I was interrupted. She started to shake a little bit, and the temple guru walked in with the two men who hold her when questions are asked. They locked the door, and invited the five of us to sit on an elevated spot behind Chowdeshwari, saying, “You can all ask your questions.”

What followed was a scene I’ll remember for the rest of this life. Raquel started, with the first question, posed in English. For the sake of my friends’ privacy, I won’t reveal their questions, but I will say this: one by one, they asked what they had to ask, and without the question being translated into Kannada, these Karnataka men held Chowdeshwari on her head, and she wrote answers that exactly replies to the questions asked! I knew I was witnessing something truly out of this world.

I was last to go, and still not sure whether to give the invitation or not. During Navaratri, major decisions should be avoided, and travel is avoided completely; it was a potentially offensive and ignorant act to give her a short-notice invitation at that time. I thought, I could pretend to be an uninformed westerner, unaware of the Navaratri customs; but that would go against my sathya vow, the vow of speaking the highest truth.

Then, I remembered my work. Professionally, I read tarot cards for a living. Sometimes, my clients struggle before their readings, telling me that they aren’t sure whether they should ask their question or not. Whenever that happens, I give them the deck, and walk them through a specific process to determine whether they should have the reading or not, a way of asking the energies that work through the cards whether it’s in the highest good to go forward with the question. I appropriated that technique with Chowdeshwari. I asked:

“Do you know why I’ve come here?”

She replied, “Yes.”

I went on, “Should I give you the invitation that I’ve brought, or would it be wrong?”

Without my question being translated, she replied, “Please give it.”

Then I started to speak, “I’m a disciple of Paramahamsa Nithyananda...”

Before I could get even another sentence in, she started to jump and shake so powerfully, I thought she might jump right out of her handlers grip! We were all surprised by just how physically she responded to the guru’s name. I could barely finish what I was saying,
“and I’m so grateful to you for visiting His ashram earlier this year. Before coming here today, I prayed to Nithyananda for something worth giving you, and when I saw this invitation to Navaratri Dasara at the ashram, it seemed like the perfect thing to give...”

She wrote rapidly and excitedly, and the translation came as, “You have my anugraha.”

Anugraha is defined as meaning blessings and grace. It was very sweet; after she wrote, she put her head in my hands, which I had held cupped in front of her. She rested there for a few seconds, and I could feel very loving energy coming through her. As we left the temple, we were served delicious coffee, and offered prasadam. (Prasadam is energized consumable, like a blessed souvenir of the temple. In this case, it was crystal sugar candy and kumkum- the vermillion powder used for bindi, the red dot on the forehead used to awaken third eye energy.)

I felt that although a Devi cannot leave her temple during the Navaratri celebrations, Chowdeshwari had blessed me for giving her a sincere invitation to a place she loves; that she had responded to the sincerity with which the offer was extended, from one who loves Nithyananda to another.

When I returned to the ashram, my friend Sugandhi, who is well versed in Sanskrit, asked me what I had asked Chowdeshwari, and what she had replied. When I finished the story, she was thrilled, and said:
“Anugraha means blessings and grace... but it also means acceptance! As in, an acceptance to a request or invitation! She could be coming!”

Someway, somehow, Chowdeshwari might just spend the festival of the goddess with her most loved gurudeva after all. If you’re in the Nithyananda Dhyanapeetam ashram during Navaratri, stay on the alert- she might just astrally visit on the sacred Dasara day!

Posted by Sudevi at 12:34 PM

Strange experience in Thiruvannamalai

A couple of years back, in November of 2008, Surya, Me, Neeraja and my uncle and aunt from the US had gone for a visit to Thiruvannamalai.

On the night of the 10th, we spent a lot of time in the temple and sat for a while at the Kalabhairava shrine near the temple tank. I was telling Surya about the Kalabhairava temple we went to in Varanasi with Swamiji and the story of how he took away one of Brahma's heads.

The next day a little before 6 am we all started on the 14 km Girivalam or circumambulation around the Arunachala hill. A few minutes into the trek just as we crossed the South Gopuram, a small beige dog started following us. My first instinct was to shoo it away. It moved back but kept tagging along. After a while I felt sorry for the dog. After all we were in the territory of Ramana who was friends with all animals in the area. So I stopped shooing it. I figured it was hungry and following the visitors was an adaptation by the animals to get food. At a small shop on the way we got some biscuits and placed them before the dog. It sniffed the biscuits a little and moved away without eating them. Odd I thought. But maybe biscuits were not its thing. At any rate I was not wasting more money on the dog. It was Pradosham that day and we ourselves were planning on not eating through the day till evening.

After a little while, the dog ran ahead of us and we found it waiting for us outside the Dakshinamurthy shrine before Ramanashram. Having found the dog there, we went inside the temple to have a Darshan and some Vibuthi. As we resumed our walk, the dog continued following us. It did this walk ahead and stop routine in a couple of other temples on the way - including some like a Ganesha temple that was to give one a lot of wealth which I hadn't noticed on earlier trips.

I was getting a little curious about the dog as time went by. Every 100 meters or so, it would be attacked by the dogs of that territory. For a small dog, it was very brave and would snarl back. Though it looked timid, it had unusually large, sharp and menacing teeth. Most dogs got scared of that. When the attackers were too many in number it would lie down meekly and let them gather around him and bark away to glory till they realized that he wasn't planning on staying in their turf but was just a transit passenger. This ritual happened every 10 minutes and was pretty scary. After the first couple of times when my aunt - who is mortally scared of dogs - reacted strongly to the dogs, he would cross over to the other side of the road whenever dogs attacked so that the confrontation would happen away from us. This itself was very strange awareness on its part.. but at that time it didn't strike me as too odd. I had read enough about animals being sensitive to humans.. and I thought this might have been a lost pet that was trying to become friendly with us.

Half way through the walk the rest of the group had moved ahead and it was just Surya and me with the dog. Surya had by then taken a liking to the dog and named him Kala - given that the Vahanam (or mount) of Kalabhairava was a dog.

Somewhere a little before the mid point, he suddenly went off into a narrow path that led away from the main road towards the hill and the rougher "inner path". Having been used to the follow-kala routine by now, we went along to see where it was going. After walking for 5 minutes or so, we came to a small lake and the path got less defined and more thorny. Since we were not wearing slippers our speed slowed down considerably. After a little more time, a number of other dogs started gathering around us in a distance and it looked like a showdown with Kala was going to happen again. I got scared and decided to get back to the road. As we walked away Kala tried to stay put indicating that we should follow him.. But when he realized that we were not staying, he ran ahead of us, stopped and then amazingly did a full sashtanga namaskar to the hill - with both his front and back legs flat on the ground. I have never seen a dog do anything like that before. He stayed that way till both me and Surya did the same.. and then he trotted back on to the road.

By that time I realized that this was no ordinary dog.. But my logical mind came up with numerous other possibilities such as that it belonged to a local swami and hence was just following the path taken by that person etc.. And we walked on..

It was now four hours since we had started. Once more we tried getting food for Kala. This time we got some chappathis. But he wouldn't touch them. The fights with the local dogs kept happening on a regular basis. Another strange thing that happened was that he would be totally pissed off by monkeys and crows. Whenever any of them came near us he would bark at them and drive them away for a 100 feet or more. I still don't understand why he did this.

Then at one point we saw that he wasn't following us anymore. We looked around and couldnt see him anywhere ahead or behind. We traced back our steps to the Kubera Linga temple. And there we realized that the abhishekam was going on and they had had a screen in front of the deity. We had left the temple earlier because we were getting late. But Kala has stayed on outside. He was not let into the temple.. so it is unlikely that he could have seen that the screen had been drawn in front of the deity. But as soon as we came, the screen was opened and we could see the deity. And when we left this time, we had Kala tagging along right behind!

I was now worried about Surya getting too attached to the dog. I was also thinking that as we got into the bus, the dog would try to follow us back to Bangalore. But then I had learnt enough over the last year not to worry too much thanks to the wisdom of my Guru Swami Nithyananda whom I was totally hooked to. We walked the next few kilometers back to the starting point - the north gopuram of the Arunachala temple. Just as we came close to the main gate, Kala walked under a small deserted stall and lay down quietly. He wouldn't come out even if we called. We realized that it had been 6 hours since it had taken any food or water and bought some other food. Again it didn't touch it. In awe we went to the temple to tell the others who had gone ahead about what happened.

I have no idea how to explain the incident or what it meant. Later on I read a story about how in Ramana's life there was a dog that used to eat from Bhagavan's plate. And how one day it committed suicide by jumping into the well because one of the disciples had criticized it for eating from his plate. Bhagavan apparently chided the disciple and said that the dog was a Siddha who had taken birth just to be with him. So perhaps Kala was another such being that was hanging around Thiruvannamali just to go around the hill.

I have heard about such strange incidents happening around there in books. But having seen it first hand was something indescribable for me and Surya. It makes us realize how little we know of the amazing and mystical world we live in..

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Why do I have a new name?

Ananda Mokshapriyan

Well.. a lots of things have changed over the last couple of years for me. I have different interests. Many a times, I am blissful for no reason. I think differently.. or rather I think a lot less than I used to. I feel I look quite different too - especially after doing an intense 48 day yoga course recently. The name is perhaps the simplest of the changes. But one that is most noticed.

Goes on to show how deeply our sense of self - which in turn is built mostly on what we think others think about us - is tied to some random set of characters.

My new name was given by my Guru, Paramahamsa Nithyananda. And a spiritual name, Swami says, serves two purposes. For one, like I said before, it breaks old conditionings that are subtly held together by your name.

Secondly it is both a statement of who you are.. and your path.

Who we are... Thats an interesting topic. In life, we are often at conflict with ourselves. Our biggest object of fear, if we are honest about it, is ourselves. We want things that are contradictory. And this in turn is because many of our wants have been fed into us by parents, siblings, peers and mostly by us slurping up all the programming and insecurities fed to us by advertising and media. The upshot of all this is that we keep undoing any progress we make towards desire X in the morning when we pursue desire Y in the afternoon.

We want to retire, we want to be rich and famous. We want to smoke.. but want health at the same time. And so on. This leaves us with a feeling of frustration. And many a times, even if we manage to strike off desire X from our to-do list, it doesn't leave us as elated as we thought it would because of the other conflicting desires that were put down to get this one done and more importantly because desire X wasn't even really our own desire.

The Vedic tradition postulates - and this agrees quite nicely I presume with what many of us experience - that each of us is born with a set of desires that is innate. And that satisfying these makes us feel good as opposed to the borrowed desires that makes us feel dull and empty.

What the Guru does, is to meditate on your being and pick out what your core is. And this is part of what constitutes your spiritual name. Apart from describing your basic nature, it is also a path that can take you deeper than your basic nature. To an unconstrained state of freedom where we can perceive the universe in a true way without the limitations of our individual programming.

As I contemplate on my new name, I realize how true it sounds to who I am. Ananda means bliss. Moksha is liberation. and Moksha-priya is one who loves liberation. Ananda Mokshapriyan is one who is blissfully fond of liberation. When I scan through my life, it is obviously to me that I have always tried to break free of things that bind me and do my own thing. Maybe most of us do it. But it has been a very violent need in me. Most of my decisions in life were taken so that I could be free of situations and constraints. And while I have often sought freedom from the outer world, what I have seen of late is that being free from the compulsions of the mind - wanting praise, doing better than people around me, being scared of failure etc - brings me greater happiness.

So looks like this is my path.. and my goal. Becoming free and realizing my freedom.

It feels great to know about yourself... and it is nice to have your name remind you of it constantly.