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2023 - The Year That Was

Places impact you for a variety of reasons. And the same place impacts different people in different ways. This is especially true when it comes to spiritual experiences, where every single person’s experience is unique. And personally, every spiritual experience is unique, the same person can have different deeply spiritual experiences at different places, at different times. This thought has emerged because of my own experiences over the years, but especially so this year, with different and unique experiences at various places I have visited recently. I began this year with a visit to Baroda (Vadodara) with friends. It was meant to be a relaxed trip, a touristy trip, with our sons. We enjoyed ourselves to the hilt, but the highlight of that trip was a visit to the Lakulisha temple at Pavagadh. It was the iconography of the temple that I connected with, and I spent a few hours simply lost in the details of the figures carved around the temple. There was an indefinable connect with

2023 - The Year That Was

Places impact you for a variety of reasons. And the same place impacts different people in different ways. This is especially true when it comes to spiritual experiences, where every single person’s experience is unique. And personally, every spiritual experience is unique, the same person can have different deeply spiritual experiences at different places, at different times. This thought has emerged because of my own experiences over the years, but especially so this year, with different and unique experiences at various places I have visited recently.


I began this year with a visit to Baroda (Vadodara) with friends. It was meant to be a relaxed trip, a touristy trip, with our sons. We enjoyed ourselves to the hilt, but the highlight of that trip was a visit to the Lakulisha temple at Pavagadh. It was the iconography of the temple that I connected with, and I spent a few hours simply lost in the details of the figures carved around the temple. There was an indefinable connect with the sculptures which brought the temple alive.



In February, I visited our kula deivam or family temple, at Nainar Koil in Ramanathapuram district of Tamilnadu. I attended the Shivaratri programme at the temple, staying awake through the night as abhishekam was performed to Lord Shiva. The night is divided into four quarters and the second quarter’s abhishekam is traditionally performed by our extended family. Some more family members had gathered for this auspicious occasion, and as I sat awake, watching the abhishekam being performed, chanting the Rudram, there was another kind of spiritual connect I experienced. This one was very different. There was a sense of belonging, as well as a sense of responsibility, of keeping this tradition alive.

In March, I had another kind of spiritual experience, one where I went with a group of friends to Pandharpur where we sat in the mandap in front of the Lord and sang songs in his praise. I have written about that experience on the blog here. This was a totally new experience for me, and I was deeply moved by the act of singing in the hall where many great saints had sung, and where the Lord had appeared in front of them.

In April, I went to my father’s ancestral home town of Kadathur near Palani, also in Tamilnadu. The occasion was the inauguration of a new temple to house an ancient bronze sculpture of Nataraja. This experience was once again unique, because this is a temple and a village we had completely lost connect with, since my great-grandfather had moved out when he was young, and no one ever went back. I have been visiting the village and the temple since 2002 and have experienced a deep sense of coming home every time. This time, the feeling was stronger, since, for the very first time, we stayed back for the night in the village, at a distant relative’s home. I was deeply conscious that I was the first person from my family to have stayed at the village in over probably 150 years.



In May, we travelled to Binsar. This was our annual family holiday, and the aim was to relax. While there were many highlights of this trip, the spiritual connect happened at Jageshwar. We had visited the temple on an earlier visit more than a decade back, so Samhith and Shankar decided to stay back in the resort, while I decided to go to the temple again, mostly to see the museum which I had missed on our earlier visit. The museum was of course outstanding, and I loved every minute I spent there. Visiting the temple was a very standard temple experience, nothing to talk about. However, it was as I was walking around the temple, clicking pictures, that the spiritual connect happened, through a random stranger who was chanting Rudram. I joined him in chanting as I continued to click photos, and suddenly, there was a deep sense of connection that happened in the midst of the chanting. I simply sat down and continued to chant for the next half an hour or so, simply basking in the experience.


In June came our trip to Vaishnodevi, and the connect there was completely different, which happened on the walk to the temple and standing outside the entrance to the original cave. I have written about that experience in detail here.


From July to October, I was busy with studies (for those who don’t know, I am doing an MA in philosophy) and other things, and travel took a backseat. However, the spiritual connection happened through the books I was reading, especially the Viveka Chudamani by Adi Shankara, which is part of one of my papers. Shankara’s verses are not only beautifully composed, they are also deep and thought provoking, though he makes it sound so simple to connect with Brahman. This period was also marked with festivals, which kept the spiritual connection alive and busy!


In November,
I made a trip to Puttaparthi, in Andhra Pradesh, the abode of Sathya Sai Baba, my spiritual mentor. I attended the akhand bhajan for his birthday, during which people sang bhajans for 24 hours continuously. While I didn’t have the energy to sit for the entire stretch, I managed to sit for quite long stretches during the day and parts of the night. This was another beautiful experience of namasmarana, singing the name of the Lord. Here, the bhakti of the singers was palpable, and made my connect with Swami all the more effortless.

Also in November, Shankar and I visited Bidar, in Karnataka. Our main destination was the Jungle Lodges resort, and seeing Blackbucks. We also visited Solapur, Tujapur and the Naldurg fort. However, the highlight turned out to be a tiny temple which wasn’t even on the plan. We heard of this temple at the resort when they screened a video about Bidar and its surroundings. It was en route to Solapur, so we decided to stop along the way. A temple built during the Kalyani Chalukya period, it seemed to be a precursor to the more elaborate temples of the Hoysalas. It is a temple dedicated to Lord Siva, at a place called Jalasangvi, and once again, I connected with the sculptures here, which made my day!



This brings me to December, and the trip I have just returned from, to Dharampur. Dharampur is in Gujarat, near Valsad, and is home to the Srimad Rajchandra Mission, founded by Pujya Gurudev Sri Rakeshji. I had heard of them since some time, and appreciated the work they are doing, so I joined my husband and a group of his friends to visit the ashram. There is a beautiful temple to Mahavir, and to Rajchandraji, at the highest point of the ashram. While the temple is built in the traditional style, the other buildings in the ashram are absolutely modern, with a cuboid theme. Both, the modern and traditional architecture are excellent, and worth a second, and third, and fourth look. However, while I loved the architecture, it wasn’t the temple I connected with, but the massive seva activities the organisation does. We visited the 250 bed hospital, which is not only up to date with the latest technology, but built with the idea of serving everyone. Built in an area where access to good medical care is difficult, the hospital treats the locals for free, or at the most, a minimal charge. They have outreach programmes wherein they visit the villages and treat people, and bring those who need further attention to the hospital. From the design of the hospital, to the way it functions, it an example of compassion shining through seva.



If this was impressive, even more impressive is their upcoming animal hospital, which can treat 150 large and small animals at once. They already have a functioning hospital, albeit a small one, and an outreach programme where they visit farmers and treat their animals at home. The new hospital will make medical care for animals more accessible and affordable for everyone in the area. They not only take in pets, but also strays, and arrangements are being made in the hospital to house abandoned animals. Compassion for humans is seen in a lot of places, but to see it for animals is truly touching.

Compassion and love is seen in every aspect of the mission and the ashram – from the visionary thoughts to the planning and execution.

This was another kind of spiritual connect, one that took me back to twenty years back, when I first became aware of the service projects of the Sathya Sai Seva organisations. Then, my father-in-law and husband were part of the water projects happening around Karjat, and I was simply tagging along. As I saw the activities and their impacts, the first spiritual connect happened, and my love for Swami grew, and I became more and more connected with him and his activities. This last weekend, seeing the activities at Dharampur, once again I enjoyed that experience of a spiritual connect through seva.

My hands have been itching since I returned from Dharampur, wanting to write about my experience, but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to write about. Most of my thoughts are too personal to share at the moment, and I am not in the mood to simply write about the place like an informative post. I spent most of yesterday mulling about thoughts I wanted to share, and not getting anywhere. Then, last night, I had a conversation with my sister, and the topic of spiritual connect came up. We spoke about how this connection can happen in the most unexpected ways at unexpected places. Then, this morning, I woke up, and knew just what I wanted to write about. It seemed an appropriate end-of-the-year post, to reflect over the year that it has been for me, through my travels.

Besides, in November, the blog completed 16 years. It has been quite a journey, and I wanted to write a post to commemorate it.  I have come a long way since then. What I wrote about then is not necessarily what I want to write about now, and I certainly don’t write as often as I used to. But then, this space is for me to share my thoughts as they come up, and that has not changed. At this point, all I hope and pray for, is that I continue to travel and write and share the thoughts of my wandering mind with all of you.


Comments

  1. Superb. You are an expert and have written very beautifully. I felt as I was in Dharampur. Would love to vist this wonderful place asap.
    God Bless.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Annu happy sweet 16
    Beautifully penned
    for a moment I did not feel that I wasn't there with you
    It was like just like I was personally experiencing all your travels keep writing
    Love Aparna

    ReplyDelete
  3. Every single article is so beautifully written that I can't stop reading all of them. While reading I feel I myself present the place you are writing about. I must say this is one of the best blogs I have ever come across.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much , Mr. Thapa. Please keep coming back to read.

      Delete

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