Written by Rajesh Kamath
Both our groups reached Swamy Thyagananda’s ashram late in the night. It was in the outskirts of Hyderabad. As soon as we entered the ashram, they received us with a lot of respect and reverence. The ashram was a quaint cozy place. There was a sacred homa kunda (fire pit) near the entrance of the ashram and a nice landscaped garden next to it. Further down, there was a dining hall to the left and the main building behind it where the temple and living quarters were. There was a beautiful ancient idol of Lord Ganapati on the way leading to the main building.
Swamy Thyagananda took us to the sacred homa kunda and performed a ritual offering for our group. There was a beautiful idol of the Divine Mother, in the form of Maa Durga, in front of the sacred homa kunda. Various offerings were made to the Divine Mother amidst the chanting of Vedic hymns by Swamy Thyagananda and his disciples. The place was brimming with divine energy from the fire ritual. Swamy Thyagananda honored Mohanji with a turban, shawl and garlands; and welcomed him to the ashram.
We then moved to the main building and headed to the main temple room where a beautiful image of the Divine Mother was installed along with the photo of his Guru. Swamy Thyagananda did a small puja for the Divine Mother and his Guru. All of us prostrated and took the blessings of his Guru and the Divine Mother.
The red carpet was literally laid out for our group in the ashram. Even though the ashram had modest facilities, they offered us the best rooms that were available. Swamy Thyagananda offered his own room to Mohanji and he stayed outside the ashram. All the ashramites lovingly attended to our every need and ensured that no stone was left unturned in making us comfortable. They had thought about every detail, including having hot water ready for washing our hands and feet. We were treated to a sumptuous multi-course Andhra vegetarian meal. Absolutely yummy! Post the meal, we retired to our rooms. With all the travel, Mohanji was tired and decided to retire for the night.
With all the divine events that took place, we found it hard to settle down with all the surplus energy. We huddled around Thyagananda Swamy. He told us that incarnations like Mohanji happen once in thousands of years. He told us that we were very lucky to be connected to a Guru like Mohanji and that we should hang on to him with all our might. Describing the energy transfer to Mohanji in Kuruvapuram, he said that he had the experience of Mohanji becoming Adi Shesha (King of all Nagas and the resting couch for Lord Vishnu) and himself becoming the Divine Mother. He could feel the dissolution of their human forms and the merger of their respective energies into one. Most of the discussion was in Telegu with a bit of intermittent English. I tried to keep up as best as I could with the help of the lady from our group who translated important points for me. I was attending to Mohanji so I reluctantly decided to head back towards our rooms and call it a night.
In the morning, Mohanji came down to receive Swamy Thyagananda when he entered the ashram. Swamy Thyagananda hugged Mohanji deeply and showered a lot of love on him. He tenderly kept touching Mohanji and pouring his blessings. They walked together to the main temple. As he entered, Swamy Thyagananda gave a soulful call to the Divine Mother like a child crying out to his mother. It truly touched our hearts. Swamy Thyagananda then performed a puja for the Divine Mother and his Guru. Hearing the chants pouring forth from his melodious voice made it a truly blissful experience. He then garlanded Mohanji with the garlands that were offered to and wrapped around the Divine Mother.
We then proceeded to have a delicious South Indian breakfast of dosas, idlis and some very yummy chutney. Following that, we settled down next to the two masters. Swamy Thyagananda kept pouring his love to Mohanji. He was very sad that we had to leave soon. He kept telling Mohanji to take him along since he would feel all alone once Mohanji left. Swamy Thyagananda said that there was a significant energy transfer done in Kuruvapuram last night and Mohanji would feel its effects on his body for a while but it would eventually stabilize. Swamy Thyagananda did mantra chanting for Mohanji to stabilize the energy transfer and also to shield Mohanji from its effects. Then Swamy Thyagananda gave each of us a crystal bead necklace intuitively based on our requirements.
Finally it was time for us to leave Hyderabad. Swamy Thyagananda did a small ritual with Mohanji in the sacred homa kunda. We took the blessings of the Divine Mother and headed to our car. Swamy Thyagananda was very reluctant to let Mohanji go. He told us that he would be going over to Swamy Poornananda’s ashram (his Guru’s Guru) near Sri Sailam in a few days and requested Mohanji to join him there. There were heavy hearts and many sad goodbyes and we eventually headed out for Ahobilam.
It was a long drive to Ahobilam but the weather was really good with bright sunny skies and a cool breeze. Mohanji asked the group to wear, in turns, the garlands of the Divine Mother which had been offered to him by Swamy Thyagananda. He said that the garlands were very powerful and full of divine energy. He asked us to wear them for as long as we could. We kept doing annadana wherever we could when we took our pit stops – mostly stray dogs with a few humans.
Through this journey so far, I got into the unfortunate trap of comparing experiences. The spiritual experience of the lady in Kuruvapuram made me very jealous and insecure. I felt like I was not getting my fair share. Another thing that I noticed was the energy beggar in me. I was actively seeking out trinkets, blessings and mantras. It was as if the trinkets like the crystal necklace, the garlands saturated with divine power, etc. and the mantras were a shortcut to spiritual growth. Same goes for the blessings from the masters. I was very happy when I received the crystal necklace from Swamy Thyagananda. I was like, “Dude, I got one too”. When we huddled around Swamy Thyagananda in the night, I knew that my job was to be around Mohanji and help him as much as I could to make his stay comfortable. That was my defined role for the trip. But I chose to stay around Swamy Thyagananda for a longer while so I could have some more blessing shekels thrown my way.
During our drive to Ahobilam, Mohanji unexpectedly gave me the dope straight up. He specifically addressed me and said that I want you to remember two things – 1. All realized masters pour out their blessings without asking. You get as much as you need and as much as you can receive. You don’t need to ask. 2. Your Guru always gives you more than your due. Don’t expect anything because you don’t know what to expect. He burst my bubble right there and addressed my insecurities.
Moving on… We stopped at a wayside restaurant for lunch. Our waiter was a scrawny man whose dress had equal holes and cloth. When we finished and paid the bill, Mohanji asked us to tip him the rest of the money – a big tip for this remote part of the country. His toothy smile stretched from end to end and genuine happiness beamed from his face. When I mentioned this to Mohanji, he was matter of fact. But I really felt touched and grateful to witness a simple thoughtful act bringing so much joy to someone.
Swamy Thyagananda called multiple times all along the way. He spoke mostly in Telegu which was translated by a lady within the group and sometimes in halting English. He kept saying that he was feeling very bad that Mohanji had left. He kept asking Mohanji when he would come down next to visit him. He reiterated his request to Mohanji to join him on his trip to Swamy Poornananda’s ashram near Sri Sailam. In one of the calls, Thyagananda Swamy bestowed the title “Vishwa Kalyananda Bharati” (which translates to “the savior who works for the welfare and happiness of the universe”). He said that he had been asked to do so at the behest of Sri Chakra Meru (the goddess in her form of Shri Lalita or Tripura Sundari – the highest aspect of the Divine Mother). He explained to us that Mohanji was an avatar (divine incarnation) whose mission was focused not only on earth but also in several other dimensions of the universe. It will be very difficult for people to recognize him let alone understand him.
Along the way, we were informed by one of the people from Hyderabad (who had come to Kuruvapuram) that he had arranged for VIP protocol for Mohanji for his visit in Ahobilam. He had also made arrangements for our accommodation and for a priest to accompany us for the darshans (seeing a holy saint or image). I was supposed to coordinate the accommodation and had no clue till that morning on where we were supposed to stay. But grace flowed from Mohanji and everything was arranged for us in picture perfect fashion.
Towards the evening, my mind was in a tumult and I was praying to Lord Hanuman all through the evening to help me surrender to Mohanji. We reached Ahobilam in the night. We passed by an old temple at the entrance to Ahobilam. Mohanji asked me to get down from the car and pray there. Guess what? It was a temple of Lord Hanuman. The idol was very beautiful – an ancient stone idol with golden paint on it. I felt very grateful and prostrated before Lord Hanuman. When I returned to the car and told Mohanji that it was Hanumanji’s temple, he smiled at me with twinkling eyes and said, “I know. That’s why I asked you to go”.
The police party and priest met us at the entrance and took us to our accommodation. It took us a while to settle in the hotel. In the meantime, they arranged for our food. Since we were tired from the long journey, we had our dinner and retired for the night.
In the night, my mind was still quite restless and I stepped out to the terrace adjoining the hotel room for a smoke. I took some extra bananas along with me for the monkeys. When Mohanji gets on your case, you can’t but be shaken up. Being close to the blazing volcano at such close range is not for the faint of heart. With the kind of failings that I have, you need a strong hide and an even stronger backside. I was praying to Lord Hanuman to help me with surrender. At that moment, a monkey descended on the terrace and sat on the railing as if waiting for me. I handed him the bananas which he accepted, ate and moved on. I took it as a sign that Lord Hanuman was listening to me. With that happy thought, I went off to sleep.
A brief background of Ahobilam is in order. Ahobilam (aka Ahobalam) was blessed to be the scene for the Narasimha avatar (the fourth avatar of Lord Vishnu). Lord Vishnu took the Narasimha avatar to save his devotee, Bhakta Prahlada, from the demon Hiranyakashipu who was Prahlada’s father. The demon had secured a special boon from Lord Brahma that detailed a very complex set of criteria and circumstances that had to be met for his death. Hence, Lord Vishnu had to take a very peculiar avatar to meet those complex requirements. The place is unique in that all aspects of the avatar’s life happened within Ahobilam itself. A famous shloka (verse) that explains the name is – “aho veeryam aho shouryam aho bahu parakrame, naarsimhah param devam ahobilam ahobalam” (Oh what bravery! Oh what valor! Oh the powerful arms of the Supreme Lord Narasimha! Oh what a cave! Oh what strength”) Hence, the name refers to the powerful energy of this place as well as to the caves where the svayambhu (self-manifested) deities reside. This place is also known as Nava Narasimha Kshetram signifying the nine temples of Lord Narasimha. A visit to Ahobilam involves a visit to these nine temples which usually takes a couple of days. Legend has it that the nine planets that determine human fate worshipped these nine Lord Narasimhas. Hence, anyone who takes darshan of these nine Narasimhas is exempt from the evil effects of planetary malefactions.
The police party and the priest arrived early in the morning to escort us for the temple visits. We headed to the first of these temples and the main one – the Ahobila Narasimha Swami temple. Bhakta Prahlada had meditated here and Lord Narasimha, pleased with his devotion, had appeared in front of him. We passed through winding mountainous roads with picturesque surroundings as we drove to the main temple. Once we reached the temple, we had a splendid breakfast at the Brahmin canteen outside the temple. These canteens provide free meals to the general public. Mohanji gave money to the people serving in the canteen and they prostrated before him and took his blessings. Mohanji also donated money to the canteen for annadana. Mohanji asked us to buy a lot of biscuits to perform annadana along our journey.
We then headed for the temple. We took a small tour of the temple before entering the sanctum sanctorum. There are small temples of various Vaishnavite (worshippers of Vishnu) saints and deities all around in the temple complex with the main temple in the center. In one corner, you can see the chariot that is used for taking the Lord out on the Rath Yatra (ritual procession of the Lord). The main temple is a beautiful ancient structure replete with intricate carvings and sculptures on the stone pillars, walls and ceilings. We were told that the idol of Lord Narasimha in the main temple was installed by Lord Srinivasa Balaji (the presiding deity of Tirupati) himself. There were some obstacles to his marriage and he was asked to visit Ahobilam to take Lord Narasimha’s blessings. There is a mandapam (platform) in the temple precinct where Lord Balaji’s wedding took place. While we were taking our tour, a group of local women accosted Mohanji, prostrated in front of him and took his blessings. An interesting fact of this temple is that there is a Shiva linga within the temple. This is supposed to have been installed by the sage Adi Shankara himself. This is a unique one of its kind feature since Shiva is generally never worshipped alongside Vishnu by Vaishnavites.
We headed towards the sanctum sanctorum of the temple. The sanctum sanctorum was a small cave where 8-10 people can stand. Since Mohanji had VIP protocol, the police party proceeded to clear the place and make way for us to enter without any wait. Mohanji asked the police party not to stop the worshippers from praying. So the worshippers were allowed to finish their prayers and the place was gently cleared so we could enter.
There was a man already in the sanctum sanctorum standing next to Mohanji in the left corner near a metal barrier. He offered pranams to Mohanji and asked Mohanji if it was OK for him to stand there since the police were nudging him to leave. Mohanji told him that he could stay there with him for the ritual offering. All of us felt that he had an uncanny resemblance to the Narasimha idol in front of us and he and Mohanji were respecting each other. In the sanctum sanctorum, we gave our offerings to the priest and he made a ritual offering to the deity. Then the priest blessed us and garlanded Mohanji and our group with the garlands and shawls that were on the deity. Mohanji asked the man, “Are you happy?” He said, “I am very happy”. Then he told Mohanji, “I want to speak to you”. Mohanji said, “Come with me”. After our offerings, he offered his prayers along with us and followed Mohanji outside the sanctum sanctorum. From there, we proceeded to the place where the Sudarshan Chakra was installed and then on to the Devi temple.
As we got outside the main temple, he got into a conversation with Mohanji and started telling him and our group the story of the Narasimha avatar and the different locations in Ahobilam that mapped to each part of the story. He explained that Lord Narasimha emerged from the Ugra Stambha and pointed to the stony structure at the top of a distant mountain which housed the spot. Lord Narasimha then challenged the demon Hiranyakashipu to a duel at a point which is the site of the Jwala Narasimha temple. They had a fierce duel using various weapons which finally ended in a hand-to-hand combat. In the end, Lord Narasimha defeated the demon, placed him on his thighs, ripped his entrails with his long sharp nails and drank his blood without spilling a drop. Even after killing the demon, Lord Narasimha’s anger was still raging and he roamed through the forests in a mad fury. His anger frightened the Gods and they begged Goddess Lakshmi (the wife of Vishnu) to pacify his anger. She appeared before Lord Narasimha in the forests and appeased him.
We felt as if Lord Narasimha was relating his story to us through this person and letting us know about the important points of Ahobilam. The interesting part was that this person’s story had a strong resemblance to the story of Lord Narasimha. He told Mohanji that he was from out of town. He had come down to Ahobilam and had been living there for quite some time. He said that he had performed austerities here and had been roaming with a restless and uneasy mind for a long while in these forests by himself until he settled down. He resembles Lord Narasimha in the temple, honors Mohanji, comes out with us, and explains the story of Lord Narasimha and the associated places. Who exactly was he? Was he a tour guide or Lord Narasimha himself? These are the miracles associated with Mohanji to any sacred place.
Finally, the person embraced Mohanji and took his leave. Mohanji gave him a packet of biscuits and some money. He said that this was not necessary but accepted it on Mohanji’s insistence. There were a row of beggars outside the temple. Mohanji asked us to distribute the biscuits to all the people there and to feed the dogs and monkeys around the temple precinct. Mohanji then asked us to get a particular oil for the temple lamps and donate it to the temple. As a result of this detour, our cab driver, who had not accompanied us, also got a chance to come down and had a great darshan of Lord Narasimha. He mentioned that Lord Narasimha was his family deity which made it all the more special.
Mohanji then went to the mandapam where the marriage of Lord Balaji took place and meditated there for a while. The police party was with him along with some members of our group. As he sat down to meditate, a group of monkeys descended and sat around him. Mohanji fed them biscuits. Soon he was joined again by the Lord Narasimha look alike. He came with a banana that had been offered to Lord Narasimha in the temple and told Mohanji that you deserve to have it. Mohanji took one piece, gave him one piece and the rest was distributed amongst our group. We felt like Lord Narasimha wanted Mohanji to have prasad from his temple.
The person then started detailing his wish of seeing Lord Vishnu installed in the four directions of India. He mentioned that Lord Vishnu was present in Puri (East), Dwaraka (West) and Ahobilam (South). Now he wanted Ayodhya (the seat of Lord Ram in the North) to regain its past glory and its rightful place as Lord Vishnu’s place in the North. He drew an intricate picture of a throne that he wanted installed in Ayodhya for Lord Ram and explained its significance. He discussed his plans in this regard and requested for Mohanji’s assistance in this noble intention. Mohanji promised him all help in this regard and gave him the contact details of his secretary. After that, he thanked Mohanji and left.
We then moved on to our next temple visit. The trek to the nine temple shrines is very scenic since they are located in the Nallamalla forest range. It is a thick forest with beautiful rivulets and mountain streams flowing through it. The place is still pristine probably because it is inaccessible to modern transportation and most of the temples can only be reached after a strenuous trek. We were taken by the natural beauty of the place. However, the place also gets quite hot and the trek can be sapping.
We walked by some old mountain trails and through an old wooden bridge. We passed by some ancient ruins that were inns built in ancient times by kings of lore but were now in a state of dilapidation. A few more scenic routes and we found ourselves at the Krodaswamy (Varaha) Narasimha Swamy temple. The place was swarming with school kids who were out on an excursion and having a lot of fun. The police party got us into the temple and we had a very nice darshan with the priest conducting the ritual offerings for us.
At that point, we realized that a child in the group was not wearing footwear. Mohanji thought that it would not be wise for her to continue forward since the mountain trails would be painful on bare feet. So it was decided that I and Mohanji would continue ahead with the priest while the rest of the group would walk back and wait for us at the Ahobila Narasimha Swamy temple (much against the child’s wishes who wanted to continue on ). We did the grueling walk up to the Jwala Narasimha Swamy temple. It was a very beautiful and pristine route but the heat and the gradient made it tiring. At one point, the road forked with one leading to the Jwala Narasimha temple and the other going upwards to the Ugra Stambha. The priest told us that anyone who does a circumambulation of the Ugra Stambha is freed from the birth and death cycle. He said that most people don’t do the circumambulation the right way but he could tell us how to do it right to get the desired result. However when we told him we wanted to go there, he didn’t look too enthusiastic in taking us up to the Ugra Stambha. He tried to dissuade us by telling us that the walk up to the temple was strenuous, the circumambulation was treacherous and the trail was only a foot wide at some points with a steep drop on the other side. Mohanji finally decided that we skip the Ugra Stambha trek since he did not want to tax himself especially with the amount of travelling that he had done prior to this trip and his failing health. The thought of release from the birth death cycle was tempting so I told Mohanji that I was ready to skip provided he ensures that I get liberated.
As we approached the Jwala Narasimha temple, we saw water streams trickling from the mountain rock faces. It is said that Lord Narasimha washed the blood off his hands here after killing the demon. Even today, the rocks are tinged with red. We slaked our thirst by drinking as much water as we could and also filled our bottles with it. The water was cool and pure and tasted like nectar compared to the bottled water that we had been drinking so far. We fed the monkeys and dogs along the way. We finally came to the Jwala Narasimha temple but the temple was closed since it was noon time. The priest brought the key and opened the door for Mohanji and our group. Few people who walked with us also got the darshan. The monkeys here were more aggressive but thankfully the dogs kept them at bay allowing us to enter the temple safely. The priest explained to us the salient points of the temple and the history associated with it. He also explained the significance of the different idols associated with the Narasimha avatar inside the sanctum sanctorum. Then he performed a ritual offering to the deity, blessed us and offered us prasad. Mohanji fed some dogs and monkeys in the temple. One of the monkeys came and asked to be fed in the mouth to which Mohanji obliged.
We then headed back to the Ahobilam Narasimha Swamy temple. As we walked back, we explored the forest route along the way. The priest showed us some trees that were oozing sap that is used in making incense. The sun was at its peak and made for a beautiful spectacle as it shone high above in the mountain range. A cool breeze was flowing through that made the heat bearable. We took a lot of pictures along the route and the light around Mohanji made some of them look other worldly. We made a brief stop at the Malola Narasimha Swamy temple. The temple was closed since it was noon time. The priest called upon the local administration and got the temple open for Mohanji and our group. As we took the darshan, the priest performed a ritual offering to the deity, blessed us and offered us prasad.
We then headed back to the Ahobilam Narasimha Swamy temple. As we reunited with our group, there were a couple of people waiting for Mohanji back at the temple. One of them was a well known homeopathic doctor from Bangalore who supposedly cures even incurable lifestyle diseases like diabetes with his treatments. The other one was one of his patrons from Bangalore. These two happened to strike a conversation with the child’s mother and find out about Mohanji. They were intrigued and waited for almost two to three hours to meet Mohanji.
So the innocuous return of part of the group was not just accidental but had a specific divine purpose. I have been witness to similar synchronicities when someone is destined to meet Mohanji. They had a long, engaging conversation with Mohanji on several metaphysical points and on sadhana. I can’t elaborate much on the details of the discussion because my mind was focused on my hunger pangs and glossed over the specifics. Finally with their spiritual hunger satisfied, they took leave of Mohanji after taking his secretary’s contact details and the contact details of the people associated with Mohanji in Bangalore. We then proceeded to satisfy our terrestrial hunger in the Brahmin canteen. The food tasted divine especially after all that physical work. I packed a lot of extra food testing the tensile strength of my digestive system. Mohanji donated money for annadana in this canteen as well. Our group then left for the hotel.
Mohanji wasn’t feeling good and suggested that he would rest at the hotel. He asked us to continue and visit as many of the remaining Narasimha temples as we could and return back by early evening. The priest then took us to the Yogananda Narasimha Swamy and the Chatravata Narasimha Swamy temples. We also went across to a temple that had idols of all the nine Narasimha temples in a single place along with the significant planet for each idol. Since the priest accompanied us, he helped us in getting beautiful darshans and arranging for the ritual offerings and pujas (worship) to the deity. After the darshans, we returned to the hotel but we were a bit late in coming back. Mohanji was not feeling well and we realized that we forgot to arrange for his dinner. We quickly scrambled to get his dinner. After we had dinner, we offered the surplus food to the monkeys on the terrace. Then, the police party came in the room to take Mohanji’s blessings. The priest also came down to take leave of Mohanji. Mohanji asked us to tip them well for their sincere and diligent services. After they left, we retired for the night. In the morning, we had our breakfast and headed for Puttaparthi
[To be continued]