Beautiful Badrinath - Part 2
Please read this after going through Part 1 of the article. Then the experience will be complete...
The queue for darshan however extended to almost a kilometer from where I was standing! The shrine was so close and yet so far!
An important tip for those that want to enjoy a good darshan of the shrine:
There are different worships that one can offer at the shrine - almost 18 of them and they cost different prices. What we did was the best - we bought ‘tickets’ for the Sahasranaama Pooja. (worship with the 1000 names of the Lord). The idea was that since it would take at least 20-25 minutes for the priest to complete the 1000 names, we would get maximum time in the sanctum sanctorum. (All the other worship types were grander maybe, but they would be completed within 3-5 minutes.) Nice idea right?
And so, for Rs.250 per head, we could skip all the lines and also sit in the sanctum sanctorum. As I sat in the sanctorum, I strained to see the idols. They were so decked in ornaments and flowers that I could not see them at all. Sitting there, I realized of our great fortune of having easy darshan at the shrine of our master - Swami! Everything is free and we get so much time to sit in peace and absorb the vibrations. We often do not realize the value of things we have till we lose them!
Anyway, before getting into the sanctum, we were all made to wait in a courtyard. Was I thrilled here! This was exactly the place where Swami had sat 50 years ago, in 1961 and had charged the Netra-Linga! He had miraculously procured the Thumme flowers, golden bilva leaves and the holy water of the Ganges to perform Abhisheka (worship). Closing the eyes, one can feel the Divine Presence here.
As you exit the sanctum sanctorum, there is a temple of Ghantakarna. Ghantakarna’s statue is on the right side of the gate at the Badrinarayan sanctum. He is the door-keeper. Ghanta means bell and karna means ear. He is also known as Ghantyaal or Ghantawala. Ghantakarna was a ferocious demon who used to wear bells on his ears so that he does not have to hear the name of Vishnu. This demon caused death and destruction wherever he went. Although he hated Vishnu, he was a devout follower of Shiva and spent thousands of years in worshipping and meditating on him. How a hater of Vishnu came to become the door-keeper at a Vishnu shrine is an awesome story in itself.
Badrinath also forms the boundary of India in a way. The last Indian village along the northern front is located just 3 kms from Badrinath. After this village, the territory belongs to erstwhile Tibet which has now been usurped by China. The Mana village is not only historically significant, but has some astounding spots of mythological and spiritual significance. I welcome you all to tour this awesome village with me.
You can easily reach this ‘last village’ by road and you will be greeted by a host of crows or ravens. But hey! Wait a minute - These crows have yellow bills instead of black ones! It was only later that I came to know these birds belonged to the crow family but were actually Alpine Choughs.
Receiving their welcome, as one proceeds further, there is a 2 kilometer trek to be made and it can get a bit tiring for those that are bit elderly or have problems with the leg.
The Lord’s abode however always presents solutions along with the problems. Welcome thePittus who carry you on their backs for a sum of Rs.200! These are real heroes with great stamina. One's heart melts at the way they work.
The point is that these people have only 6 months in the summer to work and make up earnings for the whole year. So at times, when one has to pay Rs.50 more also, it does not make one feel so bad - after all, it is going for a good cause and real hard work!
Thanks to my age, I needed none of that! Proceeding into the village you come across two caves separated from each other by a distance of about 300 meters. The first of them is called the Ganesha cave and the second is the Vyasa cave. It is believed that the peerless Veda Vyasa dictated the great Mahabharata from this cave and Lord Ganesha sat in the other cave writing it down.
We visited the Ganesh Gufa (cave) as it is called and knowing the history of the place made me feel a kind of thrill. But the best experience was at the Vyasa Gufa (cave). It was dark ( I know all caves are but Ganesha Gufa was not so dark!) and at the end of the cave was a small oil lamp burning steadily. A modern door had been installed at the entrance and we moved in.
The priest there was welcoming people in batches and narrating the story of how sage Veda Vyasa began to compose and write the Mahabharata. Once my eyes adjusted to the dark, I saw an extremely beautiful statue of the sage. Instinctively, I took the camera and was about to take a picture when the stentorian voice of the priest boomed,
“No photos sir! NO PHOTOS. Please put your camera away.
I meekly obeyed and sat down, listening to the story he was narrating. At the end of the 10-minute narrative, we made a request to him,
“Sir. Can we chant the Purushasuktam here?”
“Oh! You know Purushasuktam? Definitely, go on...”
Thus it was that the four of us, Swami’s students in the group, began to chant this mantra and soon were joined in by the other members of our group. The next ten minutes were simply awesome and the chants resounded and echoes in the small cave. At the end of the chant, as we opened our eyes, we saw that the priest was in tears. After a minute of silence, the priest spoke,
“Sirs! This is so beautiful. I pray that somewhere in my lineage, I get a child that can chant the Vedas so well. Vedas are everything and you are all blessed to chant this way.”
He called us aside and gave us special prasad (offering made to the Lord and partaken by the devotee as a token of blessings). Then he turned to me and said,
“I stopped you from taking a photograph. I have no right to do so. Please take the photograph as you desire.”
I was stunned. I was touched. With prayers of gratitude to the Lord and His instrument, the priest, I post this photograph.
(Please, treat it with the greatest reverence and do not use the picture as Facebook profile image, G+ image etc. It has been given to me in trust and I am sharing it with all in the same trust.)
At the far end of the Mana Village is the Bheem Pull (literally means, ‘the bridge of Bheema’.) It is believed that the Pandavas moved through this spot on their final journey towards heaven (Swargarohini). The river Saraswati makes its only external appearance here.
A brief about river Saraswati. The Saraswati River (Sanskrit: सरस्वती नदी) is one of the chief Rigvedic rivers mentioned in ancient Sanskrit texts. The Nadistuti hymn in the Rigveda mentions the Saraswati between the Yamuna in the east and the Sutlej in the west, and later Vedic texts like Tandya and Jaiminiya Brahmanas as well as the Mahabharata mention about the same Saraswati. The goddess of learning, Saraswati was originally a personification of this river, but later developed an independent identity and gained meaning. It is believed that the river Saraswati flows underground, emerging again at Triveni Sangam (in Allahabad) where it meets the Ganga and Yamuna.
It is near Mana that the river Saraswati makes its brief appearance above the ground. And Bheem Pull is the bridge that Bheema made over this river!
The magnificence of the river Saraswati as she gushes down
Seeing the river Saraswati as she gushes down rocks into a steep waterfall is an amazingly thrilling experience. Some of us, in our devotional bravery ventured across the bridge to go as close as possible to the falls. We sat there and briefly meditated as the river thundered down. It is amazing how one is able to tune into the depths of silence in an environment of such crashing sounds! Adding color to that beautiful scene was a rainbow that formed at the bottom of the falls! Beyond the rainbow, the river entered the realms of the underground worlds.
A small clip of River Saraswati entering the underground via a waterfall at Mana Village
The Alakananda river with its freezing but pristinely pure waters can be seen gushing down the mountains. It is believed to originate at Alakapuri, the abode of the Lord of Wealth - Kubera. From Mana there is also a 5-kilometer trek to Vasudhara Falls. The waterfalls is almost like a spray and it feeds a glacier. It is very difficult to go close to the falls. Legend has it that the water from this falls will touch the bodies of only those that have led a Dharmic life (righteous life). The best one can hope for is to go as close to it as possible and hope that the breeze or wind carries the spray to oneself.
Anyway, I did not get to check that out because we did not have enough time to trek to the falls. It is a hard trek of 3-4 hours of continuous walk. Please carry water bottles with you if you decide to do this beautiful trek because in the snow-clad mountains, it will be a case of ‘water water everywhere and not a drop to drink.’! Doing this trek is the reason why I said in the previous part that one must stay at Badrinath for at least 48 hours.
Ah! I almost forgot! For those that like to sit at ‘famous’ spots and take a chill pill, there is a super tea-shop at Mana. This is the LAST TEA SHOP IN INDIA! All of us sat there comfortably and sipped tea. There were at least 50 others doing the same. It feels good to drink tea here and even I, not a big fan of tea, had my own cuppa!
That, in brief, is the marvel and beauty that Badrinath holds.
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© 2012 Aravind Balasubramanya
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