I went on a pilgrimage with Swami Paramasukhananda (Anand Maharaj) of Ramakrishna Math, Ulsoor, along with nine other volunteers of the Math. It was an excellent trip. Here is the list of places visited:
Ramakrishna Mission, New Delhi – This is the place where Swami Ranganathananda gave lectures for several years. His lectures used to be attended by great leaders of the nation here. The mission has a lot of social service activities like hospital, library, tuitions, etc., apart from spiritual activities like temple, book stall, lectures, etc.
Akshardham, New Delhi – This is a poetry in stone. A trip to New Delhi is not complete without visiting this place.
Ramakrishna Mission, Jammu – Ramakrishna Mission runs a charitable dispensary and tuitions for school children here.
Vaishno Devi Temple, Katra – The temple is on a mountain. It need trekking (or riding on a pony). The deity is in the form of set of three natural pindas representing Lakshmi, Sarasvati and Parvati. A lot of people were visiting the temple as a token of gratitude for fulfilled prayers.
Ramakrishna Mission, Srinagar – Ramakrishna Mission run a charitable dispensary here. There is an old Shiva temple within the premises.
Ksheer Bhavani Temple, Srinagar – The deity here is in the middle of a small pond. The color of the water in the pond is said to change naturally. If the color is red or black, it indicates some impending calamity. Swami Vivekananda visited this temple and spent a few days here. There are interesting incidents in his life that happened near this temple.
Sankaracharya Temple, Srinagar – This beautiful temple is on the top of a hill. The top of the temple can be seen from Dal Lake. Adi Sankaracharya did tapas here. He meditated on the condition of the country and on how to revive the glorious Indian culture, religion and spirituality. It is here that occurred to him to found four monasteries at the four corners of India – Badrinath, Puri, Sringeri and Dwaraka, establish the Dasanami system of monastic traditions, etc. In this way, this temple is to Sankaracharya, as the Vivekananda rock at Kanyakumari is to Swami Vivekananda, sitting where, he meditated for three days on reviving the Indian society.
Sharika Devi Temple, Srinagar – This is a the base of the Hari Parbat. There is a natural Sri Chakra on a rock face, which is the deity here. Srinagar is said to have got its name from this temple.
Amarnath Temple – The coolest Shiva temple. 🙂 The deity is in the form of a natural ice stalagmite in a huge cave. The form keeps growing and melting away in summer. When the form is there, it called darshan with form (sahaakaar). When the form is not there, it called darshan without form (niraakaar). When we went the Lord chose to give us niraakaar darshan. There are two route to the cave. The route from Baltal is a short (14 km) but strenuous one. It takes one day to go and one day to return. The route from Chandanwari is a long one (46 km) but a smooth climb most of the way. It takes about three days to go and two days to return. Both the routes are very scenic. We took the Baltal route. Along the way there are bhandaras where people provide free food, drink and stay. Their zest to serve the pilgrims is something which should be seen to be believed. They keep announcing on a mic-system “Hot chapatis freshly made are ready. Please come”, “We provide bed and blankets for your stay. Please come and stay with us.”, etc. The variety and quality of food they serve is amazing. These bhandaras are a unique experience.
Chinmaya Mission, Sidhbari, Himachal Pradesh – This beautiful ashram over looking majestic mountains has the samadhi of the great teacher of Vedanta – Swami Chinmayananda. They run a free residential three year course of Vedanta for men and women of age 20-30 in Hindi. Chinmaya Mission at Mumbai runs the same course in English. Check it out if you are interested. The Chinmaya Organisation for Rural Development (CORD) does a lot of social service activities in this region.
Kangra Devi Temple, Himachal Pradesh – This is one of the Shakti Peethas. Sati Devi’s feet are believed to have fallen here. The deity is in the form of a natural round linga.
Cintapurni Devi Temple, Himachal Pradesh – This is one of the Shakti Peethas. Sati Devi’s chest is believed to have fallen here. The deity is in the form of a natura round linga.
Jwalamukhi Temple, Himachal Pradesh – This is one of the Shakti Peethas. Sati Devi’s tongue is believed to have falled here. The deity is in the form of natural fire burning at several places in the sanctum.
Baijnath Temple, Himachal Pradesh – This is a beautiful Shiva temple with wonderful architecture and sculptures.
Aghanjar Mahadev Temple, Himachal Pradesh – The deity in this temple is a dhuni (fire place) which is being kept burning for more than 500 years. A beautiful fast stream runs behind the temple. The place is very scenic. We had a nice talk with the mahant of this temple. He made nice tea for us. He spoke a lot about service to others.
Chamunda Temple, Himachal Pradesh – This is beautiful temple in a very scenic place.
Buddhist Temple, Himachal Pradesh – This is the seat of the Dalai Lama of Tibet, who lives in exile in India. There is a nice museum on Tibet here.
Golden Temple, Amritsar, Punjab – The holiest place of the Sikhs. This beautiful temple in the middle of a huge pond, plated with gold, with beautiful paintings and precious stones in-laid in marble is a place to visit several times. Constant bhajans and reading from holy books is done by devotees in and around the temple. The bhandara (langar) here serves simple food to all visitors. The specialty is that the entire langar is run by volunteers – cutting vegetables, making dough, cooking, serving, washing, etc are all done by volunteers. Anyone is free to take part in this work too.
The entire trip was filled with a lot of travel with the company of Anand Maharaj and other friends. Anand Maharaj was telling a lot of stories, discussing deep philosophy, giving a lot of instructions on spiritual life, etc. It was a very good satsangh for 15 days.
Two things I observed as the running theme of the entire trip:
1. Almost all the temples we visited had no human-like form of the deity. Almost every where God in the sanctum was in the form of a small natural stone without any definite shape, fire, ice, words, etc. When the train was crossing Godavari river there was a big commotion in the train, with everyone trying to get a glimpse of the holy river, worshiping, dropping coins as offering, etc. It was an amazing sight to see. My humble salutations to the spirit of India which sees God in everything in the world.
2. Almost every where, we could see the spirit of service to devotees and other human beings. Every monk we had a chance to talk to was talking of service to other human beings as the highest worship of God. Almost every temple that we visited had people putting this concept into practice. My humble salutations to the spirit of India which sees God in every human being.
You can see a selection of photos of the places here: http://picasaweb.google.com/gokulmuthu Pick the right albums based on the date. All the albums of this trip were uploaded on August 16th 2011. At almost all the temples in Jammu and Kashmir, cameras were not allowed for security reasons. So I could not take pictures.