Holy Pilgrimage - Hindu temples in USA
Kali Mandir, Laguna Beach, CA
P.O. 4700, Laguna Beach, CA 92652 U.S.
Phalaharini Kali Puja is an important festival at Kali Mandir for many reasons. During this puja, it is very auspicious to offer the fruits of one’s actions to Ma. The first Kali puja in Laguna Beach in 1993 was Phalaharini Kali Puja when the murti of Sri Ma Dakshineswari Kali was ritually awakened by Sri Haradhan Chakraborty, the late main pujari of the Dakshineswar Kali temple. During Phalaharini Kali puja in 1873, Sri Ramakrishna worshipped Sarada Devi as the Universal Mother Goddess.
On the eve of June 5, 1873, Sri Ramakrishna and his nephew Dinu made preparations for the worship of Kali in his room at the Dakshineswar Kali temple. It was a hot summer night, yet Sri Ramakrishna closed all the doors and shutters. He sat near the western door of his room, facing east. The deity sitting before him on a colorfully painted low stool was his young wife, Sarada Devi. She was in a deep spiritual mood and followed Sri Ramakrishna’s instructions as if in a trance.
Sri Ramakrishna sprinkled her several times with holy water and then addressed her with folded hands: “Oh Divine Mother Tripurasundari! Oh Eternal Virgin, possessor of all power and beauty, open the gate of perfection. Purify her body and mind and manifest Yourself through her for the welfare of all.”
Then Sri Ramakrishna performed the ceremony of nyasa – touching different parts of Sarada Devi’s body with mantras and mentally identifying them with the different parts of the Divine Mother. He worshipped Sarada Devi with 16 items as the veritable manifestation of the Mother Goddess. He applied alta, a red dye, to the soles of her feet and put a vermilion mark on her forehead. Sri Ramakrishna offered her a new sari and, using sandalwood paste, he wrote his name on bilwa leaves and offered them at her feet. After making a food offering to Sarada Devi, Sri Ramakrishna also ate. Both lost outer consciousness and went into samadhi.
A long time passed while Sri Ramakrishna and Sarada Devi remained in deep spiritual absorption. When Sri Ramakrishna slowly regained consciousness, he prostrated and, offering the fruit of his austerities and his rudraksha mala at Sarada Devi’s feet, he addressed her: “Oh Consort of Shiva, the most auspicious of all auspicious beings! Oh Doer of all actions! Oh Refuge of all! Oh three-eyed goddess of golden complexion! Oh Power of Narayana, I salute You again and again.”
During this night Sarada Devi became the Holy Mother, the Universal Mother of all. Years later, she was asked by her disciples whether she felt shy during the worship. Holy Mother replied, “Oh no, I saw the Master doing all this but I had no inclination to even utter a word.”
The marriage of Sri Ramakrishna and Holy Mother was a divine relationship and was not consummated in a worldly sense. One day Sarada Devi’s mother was lamenting that she will not see grandchildren. Sri Ramakrishna told her that Sarada Devi will be called “Ma” by so many children that her ears will burn. To this day, Holy Mother is most beloved by all of Sri Ramakrishna’s devotees.We celebrated Shyama Kali Puja on the moonless night of November 13 in the auspicious month of Kartik. With love and prayers, we invoked and worshipped the benign form of the dark Goddes. Shyama Kali Puja is performed every year on Divali, the Hindu Festival of Lights. Garlands of red lights adorned the outside of Ma’s temple, and Her altar glowed with candles and festive oil lamps. This special night of Kali worship brought a record number of devotees to Kali Mandir.
The Divine Mother Comes HomeA sweet Bengali legend holds that every autumn Mother Durga takes leave from Her husband, Lord Shiva. She leaves Mount Kailash high in the Himalayas to visit Her ancestral home to spend time with Her family. Ma gets a fervent welcome-home party with blowing conches, drum rolls, bells, chants and prayers. Kolkata comes to a standstill for four days. All of Kolkata pays homage to Ma Durga. People dressed in their finest new clothes are out in the streets to receive the Goddess in their homes and in their hearts. Ma has come to kill all the demons that lurk even in the darkest corners of our hearts. The battle rages for nine days and nights (Navaratri). On the tenth day, Ma Durga emerges victoriously. All Her children are happy and lovingly exchange gifts and feed one another.
At Kali Mandir, we observed Devi Navaratri, with special homa fires & nightly talks on the Chandi, celebrating the Divine Power’s victory over the forces of darkness. We worshipped Ma Durga with full hearts along with Lakshmi, Saraswati, Ganesha and Kartikeya. A crowd of devotees attended this elaborate ritual which included Kumari Puja, in which the Goddess is worshiped in the form of young girls.
Establishing a deity in your household creates auspiciousness all around. By keeping the altar clean, taking care of and worshiping the deity, you automatically reap the benefit of establishing a deep relationship with God. And when God comes, magic happens. There is an Austrian proverb: “Where birds are, more birds flock!” meaning where there is wealth, more wealth accumulates.
In our case, Kali Mandir may not be wealthy from a worldly perspective, but what we have is priceless. It all started with the arrival of Sri Ma Dakshineswari Kali in June 1993. Little did we know then that Ma would surprise us and bring Her whole family of gods and goddesses to Kali Mandir.
Soon after Ma was installed, a devotee named Shunmugan brought a beautiful wooden altar he had made himself containing three Kali murtis – a main large one and two smaller ones embodying the sun and the moon. The next deity to appear was Lakshmi in the form of a giant ancient conch that came out of the earth in Ma’s garden. Next to arrive were a beautiful shalagram and a black Shiva lingam from Benares.
One day, when Usha was feeling bad, Ma surprised her. The mailman rang the bell and delivered five heavy parcels without a return address. Since Usha wasn’t expecting any deliveries, she thought that someone may be playing a prank and opened the parcels outside the temple. Wow, what joy! As Usha unpacked seven beautiful black Kali murtis, she thought, “Ma is here, who cares if things go wrong!” We never found out who sent the murtis. Swami Bhajanananda Saraswati once received a call from a man named Ramakrishna. “Come and get Ma Kali!” How can you refuse when Ramakrishna is calling? Swami went and brought back the beautiful Kali murti which resides in our library.
Soon after, a brass Durga murti arrived, a Narmada Shiva lingam and a large shalagram. When forty-five shalagrams arrived, we distributed most of them to other temples and devotees. The Shiva lingam under the holy tree did not entirely come by surprise. Fulfilling a cherished dream, our beloved devotee Giri carved this Shiva lingam which was installed on the 4th of July in 2005 – a year before Giri left his body.
One really big surprise came in June 2007 when we received a call from an unknown person, asking us if we wanted a 300-pound Hanuman statue. “Yes, yes, yes!!!” Hanumanji arrived in a truck the day before Guru Purnima. We
commented on how much we liked the beautifully carved sandstone image. “It took me six months to get the ‘guck’ off when I first got it,” said the person who had kept this murti for 30 years. We understood that the ‘guck’ he referred to was sindhur and that this murti must have been worshiped before. The moment the truck left, we started to apply sindhur. There was no need to perform a special installation ceremony. He was already alive.
Early in the year of 2009, a Sai Baba devotee offered to give us ashes of Neem Karoli Baba she had buried under a rose bush in her house in Valencia. We arrived with shovels, dug up the soil, and brought the holy presence of Baba to Laguna Beach. Baba is now established under the holy tree at Kali Mandir.
The same year during Spring navaratri, a devotee we hardly knew asked Prakash to help her unload a heavy crate containing a Narmada Shiva lingam that had been sitting unopened in her garage since its arrival from India. Just as Prakash rolled the heavy crate on a dolly through Ma’s front gate, Kirit Patel arrived with two Swami Narayan sannyasis who had not been to Kali Mandir before. Swami Bhajanananda and Prakash carefully pried open the crate and unpacked a giant black Narmada Shiva lingam while the two visiting Swamis chanted mantras. After we performed abhishekham in the courtyard, the Swamis and devotees carried the heavy lingam – anywhere between 200 to 300 pounds – in a blanket inside Ma’s temple. For the longest time, Shiva was lying on his side because we were afraid he would fall over. We tried to procure a gauri peetam but were not successful. When Pandit Venugopal Devdhar, head of the Sringeri Math of North America, visited Kali Mandir the following year, he asked us to put the lingam upright. We took that as Shiva’s command, and Prakash quickly built a wooden box to support the lingam
standing upright. We’re still anticipating the arrival of a granite gauri peetam to install Shiva properly.
It’s hard to tell this story in this small space – so many gods and goddesses have come to Kali Mandir over the years. Lord Ganesha arrived hand-crafted by the artist Jan Stewart. Commissioned by a South Indian devotee, she made this murti thirty years ago when there were no Hindu temples in San Diego. After this devotee passed away, Ganeshji came back to Jan, and she requested us to keep and worship him at Kali Mandir.
One navaratri, a beautiful marble Durga with eighteen arms came to us, brought by a devotee from Cerritos. Our gardener came one morning with a magnificent bronze murti of Mahishasura Mardini Durga. “I found this among scrap metal in Santa Ana,” said Emilio. “I think you like this statue.” Just recently, Girish brought ten beautiful Narmada Shiva lingams, and we’re in the process of finding a place of honor for them in an already crowded temple.
We worship God in the form of murtis, and we worship God in the form of the devotees. May God be pleased with our worship, and by the grace of our Divine Mother Kali, may we continue to love and serve well.
When we are children, we dream of being grown up, of becoming a movie star, a fireman, a space traveler or perhaps even the president — and then we will be happy. When we are teenagers, we rebel against our parents’ control and dream of being free to do all the mischief we want — and then we will be happy. As adults, we dream of becoming rich and famous, living worry-free in luxury — and then we will be happy. When we get old, we get depressed and dream of being young and desirable again because then, and only then, we will be happy.
All through life, we run breathlessly after our dreams never quite catching them, and if we actually do get what we want, we are not satisfied and start runnng after yet another dream. This madness does not stop until we do. Sri Ramakrishna used to say, “People run after all sorts of things. They are mad for money, husband, children, but they call me mad because I am mad for God.”
When we fall in love with God, life becomes sweet. We may get what we desire from the world or we may not get it. It does not matter when the heart is deeply happy within. Go to the office, clean the house, stress over a test at school, work at an unpleasant job — these activities comprise only the hard shell over the lava of love that flows underneath.
Sri Ramakrishna said that in this dark age of kali yuga the forms of God most awake are Ma Kali and Gopala Krishna. If you earnestly pray to Ma Kali, to baby Krishna, you will get quick results.
One of the devotees here at Kali Mandir has a very special relationship with Ma Dakshineswari Kali. Some time ago, he came every day in the afternoon and swept Ma’s courtyard. When he stopped, we asked him about it. “I promised Ma that I’ll sweep Her courtyard every day for a week if She gives me a job.” Yes, he got the job he wanted. Some time after, we saw him sweeping again. “Did you lose your job?” we asked. “No, but my friend needs a job.” When we did not see him sweep again, we guessed that the friend also got a job. This devotee has such a childlike dependence on Ma. She cannot help but respond quickly to his needs.
Ma is here for all of us. If we just call on Her with a longing heart, She showers Her love and blessings. If we just exhibit a little bit of shraddha, She puts us on Her lap and takes care of every little detail in our life. What is preventing us from sitting on Her lap and living the dream? The only thing that stands in our way to the highest bliss is our ego. Let it go.
(Uttarakhand Flood Relief Work – 2013 -
by Ramakrishna Mission, Belur Muth)
Flash floods killed at least 1000 people in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand and stranded 90,000 people. Many of the stranded and dead were on a pilgrimage known as Char Dham Yatra, which takes Hindus to four of the holiest shrines in Uttarakhand between May and November. Worst affected is the Kedarnath temple and the Kedarnath valley with entire villages wiped out all the way down to Rudraprayag. Here are two first-hand accounts by survivors taken from articles printed in the New York Times:”Four of my friends, who are priests, are missing,” said Naresh Kukreti, a priest at the Kedarnath temple. “We don’t know whether they are alive or dead.” After the ritual evening prayer on Sunday, June 16, he had been filled with unease. “I had a strange feeling something terrible was about to happen. Suddenly a deafening noise shook everything,” he said. “It felt like an earthquake.”
Kukreti and about 800 pilgrims sought refuge in Lord Shiva’s stone temple, which was built in the eighth century 11,759 feet above sea level. “Within minutes, a river of black water and big stones followed us into the temple.” The temple survived the assault, but when the water receded after a cold night of prayer, Kukreti found himself standing among piles of dead pilgrims. “Everywhere I looked I saw dead men, women and children,” he said.
Most of the buildings around the temple were destroyed, and the town of Kedarnath, which has grown around the temple, was submerged. After braving cold, hunger and grief for three days inside the temple, Kukreti and the other pilgrims hiked a few miles to an emergency landing pad, and rescue helicopters flew them to a relief camp.
On the morning of June 15, Arijit Shashwat, a 34-year-old software engineer from Patna in the northern state of Bihar, began a 14-kilometer trek from Guptkashi village in Uttarakhand to the Kedarnath temple. He was part of an entourage of 15 people, including his 61-year-old father.
It was raining intensely as Shashwat and his family began the uphill trek at 10 a.m. Several laborers carried his elderly parents and uncles up the mountain in palanquins. Twelve hours later, Shashwat and his family reached the Kedarnath temple. The rain did not stop. They found a guesthouse adjacent to the temple and checked in. On the morning of June 16, Shashwat and family visited the shrine and offered their prayers. The rains continued. Local authorities forbade them from moving around. Even a downhill stroll in the pilgrim town of Kedarnath could be dangerous. They spent the day between the temple and their guesthouse. Shashwat and family returned to the Kedarnath shrine around 7:30 p.m. for the ritual prayers and got back to his room around 8.20 p.m. He was jolted by the earsplitting noise of cloudburst and blinding lightening. “Within moments, I saw an enormous amount of water pouring into our guesthouse,” he said.Shashwat and his family ran out of the guesthouse, toward the temple complex. Water tore down their guesthouse within minutes. The ancient rock temple seemed the only place of refuge.
Water poured into the shrine. Massive rocks tumbled inside and damaged the courtyard. But the inner areas of the shrine remained intact, and they remained with many other pilgrims huddled in the shrine praying to Lord Shiva throughout the night. They had no food, no water and no news of several members of their entourage who had gone missing. Furious torrents of water pushing enormous boulders charged toward the Kedarnath shrine and town. “Inside the temple, the water levels began to rise. I held my son in arms at the waist level. The water rose further, I lifted him on my shoulders”. The volume and velocity of the water carried away many pilgrims hiding in the temple. “When the water receded we saw the piles of dead bodies,” Shashwat said. “My aunt and uncle lay dead at the main entrance of the temple.”The pilgrims moved the dead to a corner of the temple and spent another night consoling each other. They wanted to call their families and seek help, but their phones had stopped working.
“We ran out of phone batteries and the floods had destroyed the phone towers,” Shashwat recalled.
Three days later, on the morning of June 18, the rain stopped. Shashwat found a muddied packet of biscuits outside the temple and fed them to his son and nephew. Around noon, a chopper surveyed the area and flew away. A little later, a small helicopter tried hard to land but failed. A man jumped out of the chopper and told the distressed pilgrims in the temple to walk uphill in a certain direction, where the rescue helicopters could collect them.
The only ones who could rescue the stranded pilgrims in these narrow mountainous valleys at these high altitudes was the Indian military. They employed more than 40 helicopters to airlift thousands of people – a difficult task, indeed. One of their rescue helicopters crashed trying to evacuate injured pilgrims trapped on a stretch of broken road in the Kedarnath valley. Frustrations ran high as families throughout India were rantically trying to track down their missing relatives.
The devastating flood that claimed thousands of lives and obliterated entire villages destroyed two large ashramas of the Bharat Sevashram, one in Kedarnath and one in Gaurikund. “We lost many monks and workers in the flood,” said Swami Purnatmananda, a senior monk of Bharat Sevashram Sangha West, Brea, California. “They got swept away as they were saving lives of pilgrims.”
For those who would like to support the victims of the Himalayan disaster, we recommend donating to the Ramakrishna Mission and the Bharat Sevashram Sangha. Perhaps the most respected spiritual organizations doing relief work, they serve afflicted people all over India without much publicity, worshiping God in the distressed. Both organizations have set up special funds to go to help those in Uttarakhand who have lost everything. While most stranded pilgrims have been evacuated and are home safely, the locals and villagers of the afflicted areas are struggling to keep alive. To learn how you can help, please click on the following links:
Himalyan Flood Drive
The Bharat Sevashram Sangha West, CA
Om Tat Sat
(My humble salutations to the great devotees , wikisources and Pilgrimage tourist guide for the collection )