Written by Madhusudan Rajagopalan
When we first heard that Mohanji was planning to attend the Kumbh Mela this year in Nashik, we immediately decided that we shouldn’t miss the opportunity. After all, the Kumbh Mela happens in Nashik (just 3 hours away from Mumbai) only once in 12 years. One has read about Kumbh and seen striking visuals, but we knew we would hardly ever take the initiative to visit on our own. Of course, there are rich historical and Vedic traditions attached to the significance of the Kumbh Mela – of how amrit (celestial nectar) drops fell in 4 places (Haridwar, Allahabad, Ujjain and Nashik) in a battle between devas (demigods) and asuras (demons) after the churning of the milky ocean. Kumbh Mela is also believed to be a time charged with positive energy, with several saints and spiritual masters coming out of seclusion to bless ordinary pilgrims.
For us, though the clincher was an opportunity to spend a week in the presence of Mohanji. How could we let that pass? We had a minor challenge about how we would handle our children in that period; dear Mamu (head of Mohanji’s management office) solved that by granting us permission to bring them along. With that out of the way, plans started unfolding at a rapid pace.
This write-up is a modest attempt to share some of my experiences – both at a group level and a personal level – through this entire process. I’ve grouped them as episodes, clubbing a few similar events and experiences together – each one a blessing, and a lesson on living Mohanji’s teachings in practice.
Episode 1: How seeming chaos morphed into perfect solutions, at exactly the right time and at the right place
When the planning for the trip started, given my location in Mumbai, I volunteered to help with some of the logistics arrangements for the group travel. The first item in any such plan is to secure hotel rooms. Given that Kumbh Mela happens once in 12 years, the tendency of hotels to charge super normal rates is quite common, ruling out most options for us. Plus, our program involved stay during the 2nd and 3rd shahi snans (holy dips), two of the most crowded days in the entire Kumbh Mela. While Mamu was obtaining quotes from different places, I began some homework at my end too. And the first set of “coincidences” began. It so happened that I had happened to visit Nashik just a few weeks ago for a weekend outing and then connected with an old friend who was working with a PSU. So one conversation led to another and voila, thanks to my friend’s connections, we had rooms at preferential rates at a high quality business hotel. We also got the flexibility to change the number of rooms multiple times as the group participation picked up – no penalties, no supernormal tariffs, a superb location and high quality, just outside the traffic blockades so convenient access as well. Could anything have worked out better?
But that wasn’t the amazing thing. After all registrations had been closed, the final tally of rooms had space for 1 extra participant each on both legs of the Nashik trip. A day before the trip, we had a last minute sign up for the first leg. Midway into the trip, a group member decided to extend her stay for the entire program, filling up the other empty space as well. Having seen events play out from when the planning began, I know that nobody could have possibly planned it to this level of perfection. Optimization at work? Or higher grace?
We had a similar experience with our travel logistics as well. Our tour itinerary involved a visit to Dandakvan Ashram, located in Vansda in Gujarat (a neighbour state to Maharashtra, where Nashik is located). Apparently, travel operators need to obtain RTO (Regional Transport Office) permits for entering each state. After our Shirdi visit, we were in Sakori in Upasni Maharaj’s ashram where we had spent a blissful 45 minutes. Just before we are ready to leave for the ashram, our van driver came up to me and said “Sir, I believe you are going to Gujarat. This vehicle can’t enter Gujarat without a permit, and we didn’t get one because nobody told us about your Gujarat plan”. Normally, a RTO permit requires at least a day’s notice and the original has to be carried by the driver. Plus it was past 1.15pm that day (RTOs stop issuing permits at 1pm usually). What followed was a flurry of phone calls to our travel operator in Mumbai to figure out a way out of this impasse. In parallel, dear Mamu began to work out a back-up with our key contact in Dandakvan Ashram – this would have involved a transfer to another vehicle at the Gujarat – Maharashtra border, frankly more excitement than we would have wanted at that point. Anyway, for some reason, both Mamu and I were confident that something would work out – after all, it wasn’t really for us to find a solution, we had greater powers watching over us. Mamu decided to start the journey, as they would need to break for lunch, and it was a 200km+ journey. I was staying behind to wait for Mohanji and a few others who were reaching from another appointment in sometime. I decided to use the time to visit the Ekmukhi Datta temple there and meditate – my 15 minutes there were quite interesting. One half of my mind was busy visualizing scenarios where our vehicle was at the state border and people were jumping from one vehicle to another – clearly a residue of too many movies, and the other half of my mind was praying for a clean solution that didn’t involve such acrobatics. Well, it took a little longer than 15 minutes, but within 30 minutes, I got a call from my travel guy that he had sorted it out – we would need to pay the RTO directly at the border, and the rest of the paperwork could be taken care of when we returned to Mumbai. And talking of things working out to perfection, if you remember, I had mentioned earlier about one member extending their trip for the entire duration – the incremental fees from that member more than covered the extra costs incurred for this new permit!
One could easily attribute these events to stray coincidences and dismiss them. But having been in the thick of things and after replaying these events in hindsight, they are just too many in close succession to just ignore; then it is truly hard to not see the elegance of the higher powers behind the scenes. As Mohanji always says “There are no coincidences. When you go with the flow, things happen on their own”. Later that day when I met Mohanji and thanked him for helping us out, all he had to say in response was a disarming smile and a cryptic “Nothing to worry, its all taken care of!”
Episode 2: Shahi snans in Kumbh Mela, a happy anti-climax
The primary objective of this entire trip was to take our holy dips during the shahi snan days (13th Sep and 18th Sep, 2015) along with Mohanji. On each of these days, over 2.5-3 million people were expected to take dips, so before D-day, we were mentally ready for crowds, jostling and long waits. We were told that traffic restrictions would stop all cars 8-10km short of the bathing ghats, so Mamu had arranged for vehicle passes that would allow us to get closer. One of our group members, Rajesh, had done a full recce the previous day to identify a spot where our group could take their dips, and mapped a route to the closest official parking area (about 2.5km from the bathing spot). In addition, with two small kids in tow, we had a full routine rehearsed- one parent holds one kid, the other jumps in with the other kid, then a reversal of roles. We prepped the kids with clear instructions on “don’t ever leave our hands, stick to our group, etc”! At some level, there was a fear about whether we’d even done the right thing bringing them along, but then we also knew that if they had come with us, they had been given “permission” from above, so it didn’t have much to do with us anyway.
On the day of the first dip, 13th Sep, our group was all ready to leave at 3am, as Mohanji had clearly instructed us that the holy dips should be in the brahma muhurtha time (3-6am), and he also wanted us to beat the rush. Once we started, for some reason, our navigation didn’t go to “plan” and we deviated from the mapped out route pretty quickly. However, as we were so early, the traffic restrictions weren’t enforced yet, so we were able to take roads that were blocked the earlier day in the recce. Our alternate route took us through narrow streets that threatened to end in dead ends. But within a few minutes, we realized that where our vehicles stopped were just 5 minutes walking distance from our bathing spot! We proceeded quickly to the ghats – our identified spot seemed to have been “reserved” for us, with hardly anyone around. Our entire group finished the dips (a minimum of 3 dips – for ancestors, for living family members and for oneself – to as many as one wishes) within 20 minutes. Our children enjoyed the early morning stroll and their dips, and soon we were ready to head back. In this entire period – which included changing, posing for group photos etc – no stranger even came near our group. We were back in our hotel within 90 minutes. The story repeated itself on the day of the second dip (18th Sep) where we were back within 75 minutes with even more space and water to ourselves at the same spot!
Later at the breakfast table, we all had silly grins plastered on our faces, with equal parts of fulfillment and amazement. We were just left racking our brains – “What just happened? Did we really just finish our dips in the holy Kumbh Mela? Where are the millions of people that were supposed to be here? What happened to the road blocks?” All we could do was to take Mohanji’s blessings and thank him for giving us such a wonderful experience – we experienced the best part of the Kumbh without coming anywhere close to the not-so-nice parts of it!
Episode 3: Darshans – physical, astral and others
After the dips, the next most anticipated section of our trip was our visit to Shirdi, especially with Mohanji. We knew that this period was among the most crowded and were told that we had passes for the kakad aarti that happens at 430am in the morning. When our group reached Shirdi, we were asked to meet at the administrative office to complete the formalities for the passes. We were a group of 32, including 5 visitors from Pune and our local contact who was to join us for the aarti. That’s when the penny dropped – our local contact hadn’t actually been able to get hold of passes!!
But then, why worry about local contacts when we had bigger contacts working for us! As our group waited at the office, they realized that foreigners were entitled to get some passes – that made it 5 x 5 people each i.e. 25 people. Then they realized that one of our group members was from the defence establishment, which allowed him a pass for 6 people. So out of the blue, we had passes for 31 people again- i.e. for all our core group members! The only person who couldn’t join us for the aarti was the contact who was supposed to originally get our passes done…. clearly the divine works in ways that go beyond our limited understanding.
Our whole group had a blissed darshan the next morning at the Samadhi mandir, but some of us had a darshan even earlier, and without even visiting the temple! That night, after we reached our hotel, we heard that Mohanji was planning to visit Dwarkamai with whoever was interested. I’d read his blog about his miraculous meetings with Sai Baba at Dwarkamai and was keen to go. But we had to wake up really early with children, so we decided to skip that trip. I recall that I went to sleep thinking of how I was going to miss this opportunity. As it turns out, the group had a spontaneous satsang which was a laughter fest, and the Dwarkamai plan was cancelled. But while I was asleep, I visited Dwarkamai in my dreams with a group of people. Mohanji always says that astral travel happens to many people but you only remember what is necessary for you. When I woke up in the morning, I had a distinct memory of the Dwarkamai trip – of walking in, seeing the dhuni, some other chatter with family and some conversation with Mohanji – but the only words I could remember were Mohanji telling me at some point “Don’t open your eyes now!” I guess that was to save me from abruptly ending my trip; thankfully I followed his instructions otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this story! Next morning when we met for the kakad aarti, I thanked him and said I missed the satsang but visited Dwarkamai. All he said was “I was working, you know!” in typical nonchalant fashion. Yet another example that he’s always listening to our desires.
The day before our Shirdi darshan, we visited the Shani temple at Shani Shignapur directly from Nashik. A few of us had the privilege of going in the same car as Mohanji, a great opportunity to soak in his presence. Midway through our journey, we decided to consult google maps to navigate and took a right turn from a fork on the road. A few kilometres down that road, we saw a long procession of kaan-phata sadhus (ascetics with a split ear lobe). These sadhus belong to the Nath tradition and are renunciates with their own methods of spiritual practice. There was a certain pattern to these groups – some were walking alone, some were in groups where a central set of sadhus was surrounded by others, some were walking in pairs or smaller groups. We took in the sights and clicked a number of pictures.
Shortly after that, Mohanji asked us to stop for a break – to stretch our legs, use the rest rooms and dose up on tea/coffee as per our preferences. In some time, the procession crossed us again and we saw Mohanji observing some of the groups with interest. By the time we finished our break, the entire procession had crossed us. Our driver then realized that we had come down the wrong road and we would need to retrace our path for about 15-20 minutes to get back to the right route. Before we got into the car, Mohanji commented “There were some higher order swamis camouflaged as humans in the middle of that group. Did you spot them? Did you see me in that group?” So it seemed like the entire “wrong turn” had been engineered to allow us to see the procession!
Or perhaps it was for Mohanji to meet some other Masters, and we were just bystanders or ignorant witnesses to this meeting! We spent some time poring through our pictures to spot them, but then if they were higher order swamis, they would not let themselves be seen by mere mortals that easily. It was easier to just take blessings from the swami that was in our car and visible to us
Episode 4: Of satsangs, planned and impromptu
One of the most coveted experiences in any retreat / trip with Mohanji is the satsang. Typically, this follows a meditation session when people are blissed out already, and then they get to ask him questions – ranging from the banal to the profound. Irrespective of the nature of the questions, the hallmark of Mohanji’s satsangs is the clarity and simplicity of his explanations to any question. Further, his answers always cover questions that are in the audience’s minds but not yet expressed verbally. The Kumbh Mela trip was one where we were moving about literally every day, so only one satsang was planned. It’s a different matter that he spontaneously created another satsang in Shirdi (the one that I missed).
However, the special feature of this trip for me was the opportunity to have multiple mini-satsangs with Mohanji, be it conversations over a breakfast table, chats while he was resting or waiting between appointments, walking to destinations and in multiple other circumstances. The topics across all these satsangs ranged from how to questions on day-to-day life to karma to the origins of animal sacrifice to the nature of God.
Further, I was fortunate to be the designated driver for 4 of the 7 days and had the unique opportunity to soak in his presence over 100s of kilometres and see him in action during that time. When Mohanji talks about being purpose bound, he truly lives it. In spite of maintaining a punishing schedule and being physically tired, he would judiciously respond to messages from across the world, take calls and advise people on their problems. At least those are the parts we could see for he would say that “Even if I am physically resting, I am still working”. A guru is known to guide people spiritually, but I also had the Master help me literally with navigation – including teaching me some long overdue lessons on relying on common sense more than technology While all the conversations may not make it to the public domain, they no doubt reaffirmed his stature to us laymen, and also served to reinforce the good fortune that we have in being able to access our Guru so easily, when so many people may spend lifetimes without knowing whom to turn to.
Episode 5: A special visit
On the day of 2nd dip, we were supposed to leave at 3am from our hotel in Nashik. But as it was the last day of our trip, we had stayed up late chatting with our friends and gone to bed very late the previous night – well past 12.30am. Our kids were also awake till then and we were not sure if we would be able to rouse them in time for our trip to Ram Ghat. We spoke to our children and told them that we would wake them up at 2.45am and ask them if they wanted to come. And if they said no, they could continue sleeping and we would come back for them after our dip. We gave the elder one my wife’s cellphone, and asked her to call me if she needed anything when we were away. But with all this planning, we were still not comfortable with leaving them alone. When we woke up at 2.30am, we decided that we were not equipped to deal with this and would just go to Mohanji and ask him to take care. So when he emerged from his room, we prostrated at his feet and asked him to help us. He said in his usual brief manner – “don’t worry, they will be ok, you proceed”. So we went ahead for our dip and zipped through the entire shahi snan in fast-forward mode. We got back at 4.15am and saw our elder daughter sitting up in bed. She said she’d been awake for 5 minutes, and within a minute of talking to her, she was back asleep. Meanwhile Preethi entered the room and went into the bathroom and called me to see a messy floor – the drain covers were both out, the entire floor was wet, and there was dirt all over the floor. First, my thinking mind assumed there was a drain malfunction and something had reflux-ed after flushing the toilet. Then Preethi came up with this brain wave that Shiva Ganas were in our room for protection. Again my mind rejected the notion – how could this be possible? Even if they did come, why would they leave physical traces? I got busy cleaning the floor… And then I looked at the shower cubicle and saw that there was foam on the floor, esp at the corners, as if someone had taken a bath! We knew that nobody else could have come into the room – we had left the key card inside (so that power wouldn’t get cut off) and had a new card made at the front desk when we returned from our dip. Now this was too much to fathom, even for the mind. I went next door and called Mamu to check and get his view – now Mamu is often as cryptic as Mohanji and all he said was “this is an indication for you”, whatever that meant. One of Sherlock Holmes’s most famous quotes goes “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth”. So what could this really mean? I was beginning to believe that Preethi’s hypothesis was maybe true, and was hungry for some real answers – I had had enough of riddles for an early morning. I waited outside Mohanji’s room for him to emerge from his shower and freshen up. The next 10 minutes seemed to take a long time to pass! Finally, when I got my chance, I asked him to please explain what was going on. He went “You asked me to take care of the kids, I sent two people to do that job. They just left 5 minutes ago, which is when your daughter woke up. They have gone now to attend a surgery – someone else was praying to me this morning”. I asked “were they ganas?” and he just smiled – which was an answer in itself. So, we just had two divine beings (who we’ve only read about) actually stay in our room and protect our children – how cool is that!
Later Mohanji explained “In this incarnation, I am a Rajayogi. So just like a king gets protection, I always have protection protocol. When you asked me this morning, I asked them to stay back in your room to protect the children. And two others came over to my protection detail. As I always tell you, I do my job.” Wow!! I had had some astral experiences with Mohanji in my dreams, including one just a couple of days ago at Shirdi. Each time, he had confirmed them to me, so I knew it was not a projection of my mind. But this was the first time I had seen a miracle with physical evidence.
So what does one take away from this? For one, Mohanji is no ordinary person; he may put on that guise, with his easy demeanour, everyday attire, his jokes and his nonchalant comments. But he is a true sadguru, firmly connected to the divine; this episode was a clear pointer to his actual stature. Second, the importance of faith and surrender can never be explained enough. As he always explains, any genuine intention that is unselfish is always granted. That morning, we asked him for his help with all sincerity and with no pretence of us having any alternative solution. And he answered. Third, we got this experience for a reason. In my head, I had been guilty of doing a comparison thing of why some others were getting to see some unbelievable things and I hadn’t yet gotten lucky. This was clearly the Master’s way of putting me in my place, but with grace and kindness. He could have easily told me – “don’t crave for experiences, they can be distractions from the actual path” and I would have listened, but my mind may not have. This way, he not only solved a problem of handling children at the dip, but also gave us an opportunity to experience something that our minds cannot process. And when one sees things beyond the realm of the mind, it can only confirm your faith and conviction of the path. And for that, we are immensely grateful to our Guru.
In closing, its only appropriate to quote from the Sri Guru Gita; incidentally we had bought this booklet from Ganeshpuri months ago, and had not noticed it till yesterday, when it caught our attention and came back to the table from the recesses of our book shelf. As someone who has now begun to believe in signs and guidance, I took it as a signal for me to read and close with these shlokas:
Dayaa – saagara-vrddhaye,
(#48 – I fold my hands in salutation so that the oceans of the Guru’s compassion may increase. By his grace, a mortal being is liberated from the diversified world)
Tasmai sreeguruve namah.
(The Guru is Brahma. The Guru is Vishnu. The Guru is Shiva. The Guru is indeed Parabrahman. Salutations to Shri Guru)