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With Baba to Badrinath

The sacred Himalayan regionThere is a distinct qualitative difference between Bhagavan Baba and all the other spiritual leaders one can think of. Baba himself was once asked about this, and he replied, “I have descended from the level of God to the level of man in order to uplift man. Others are humans trying to raise themselves up to the level of god.” Despite this emphatic declaration, in the olden days, devotees often used to request Baba to take them on a pilgrimage to holy places. And the embodiment of compassion that He is, Swami often yielded to such prayers.

One such historic visit was to the holy shrine of Badrinath, nestling in the majestic Himalayas, the abode of Lord Shiva, the home of sages, and the destination of pilgrims through the ages.
We turn to the account left by revered Kasturi, of that trip.

BadarikashramThe visit to Badrinath was first mooted by Baba in 1958 at a Bhajan session held on the sands of the Chitravathi river. He then said that He would take devotees to the place where He was doing Tapas [penance]. We were wonder-struck because that was the first time we had ever heard of Tapas associated His Earthly Career…. I was a bit confused…..

The visit became a certainty in 1961, and plans were ready; devotees who would accompany Baba had also been selected. Baba greeted them in Madras on 7th June, and sent them by train to Delhi. He announced then that He would fly to Delhi the following day and be there to personally receive the party on arrival. Rudraprayag

The train reached Delhi about six hours late, but Baba was there, shedding comfort and consolation with His smile and motherly-attention.

On the following day, the party left for Hardwar, where they were joined by Dr. B.Ramakrishna Rao, Governor of Uttar Pradesh. He too planned to visit Badrinath in the company of Bhagavan Baba.

HardwarOn Sunday, 11th June, on the lovely little lawn behind the Dam Koti Bungalow, Hardwar, tucked in between the Ganga Canal on one side and the Ganga river on the other, Baba addressed in the stillness of the night, the group of devotees He has gathered together for the Badrinath Yatra. He said,Devaprayag “Tomorrow we are leaving for Badri, a place consecrated by the Tapas of eminent sages and saints and of Sri Narayana Himself. You are all very fortunate indeed, for you are proceeding with the Manifested Form to the Unmanifested Form! There is a holy aura, a spiritual vibration, that pervades such sacred places and even Divinity acquires a new glory, as it were, when it is seen in the background of that aura. So, be ever alert to make the best of the rare chance that you have won by the accumalation of merit through many births. Be friendly, helpful and loving to all; repeat always the Name of the Lord; never loose courage or joy”. He disclosed that the Crossing the Lakshman jhoolaplace was called Badarikashram, and that Lord Narayana was supposed to be doing Tapas here.

I began to see light, and the doubt that assailed me on the Chitravathi sands three years ago about ‘Sri Sathya Sai and Tapas’ melted away in a blaze of joy!Walking up the mountain slope

Baba then described to the group, the Shrine at Badrinath, how the Narayana idol appears often as a Lingam, sometimes as the Buddha and sometimes as Sakthi. He also gave details of the various subsidiary idols that are worshipped there. He spoke of the five Lingas brought by Sankaracharya from Kailasa and installed at Badri, Puri, Sringeri, Dwaraka and Chidambaram; of the Four Vedas which he revived by appropriate ritual, the Rig at Puri, the Yajur at Sringeri, the Sama at Dwaraka and the Atharvana at Badri. He put everyone into the pilgrim mood of expectancy and elevation, of Love, brotherhood and service.

By the side of a holy riverMost members of the party had assembled at Madras on 7th June at the Yathiraja Kalyana Mantapam, Alwerpet and had reached Delhi on the 9th; there, they were joined by others from as far as Calcutta and Bombay and Lucknow. They had all arrived at Hardwar on 10th and proceeded to Rishikesh to see the holy spots there and to visit institutions like Swarga Ashram and Githa Bhavan and Paramartha Nikethan. On the 11th, they had witnessed the Evening Harathi to Ganga Matha at the Brahma Kund, a ceremony which was sanctified that day by the Presence of Baba at the sacred place, with H.E. B.RamakrishnaIn Badri on the way to the temple Rao, the Governor of Uttar Pradesh. Their Excellencies performed Harathi to Baba himself there, as a preliminary to their own Badri Yathra, along with the Bhakthas chosen by Baba.

From Hardwar to Badrinath, a distance of nearly 182 miles, every inch of the ground is saturated with history, myth and legend, all woven around the heroic endeavour of Tapas, whether by gods or men. Hardwar itself is the scene of Daksha Yagna and of the penance of the Seven Sages. At Rishikesh, Lakshmana performed Tapas. There is a Vyasaghat a few miles away where Vyasa did penance and at On the way to the river in BadrinathDevaprayag, the meeting place of the Alakananda and Bhagirathi rivers ( and what a marvellous Tapas it was, that of Bhagiratha which induced the heavenly Ganga to descend on Earth!) Sankaracharya did penance and installed a Siva – Parvathi Lingam! At Bilva – keda nearby, Arjuna went through rigorous asceticism to acquire from Siva the weapons for the up – holding of Dharma. At Srinagar, Sri Rama is said to have engaged in penance to realise Himself in the Siva Form! At Karna – Prayag where the Mandakini coming from Kedarnath joins the Alakananda, Karna prayed for years and years to get a vision of Surya. At Rudra Prayag, Narada did Tapas in order to become the Singer of Divine Glory and he won from Siva the Veena that plays upon; Nandaprayag, 33 miles away, is associated with the hermitage of Sage Kanva immortalised by Kalidasa. Rajarajeswari herself is said to have engaged in Tapas on the Saranyavathi river bank to acquire Siva as Her Lord; while, on the banks of the Virahi Ganga, Siva is described as having done penance to win Dakshayini back as His consort! At Bhavishya Badari on the way, Agasthya performed Tapas. At Joshimath, (elevation 6100 ft) Narada by His Tapas succeeded in getting possession of the Ashtakshari manthra which is the key to salvation; Markandeya performed austere penance here and Sankaracharya established a Mutt to revive and foster the Sanathana Dharma.Taking water from the river in Badrinath

Beyond Joshi Math we have Pandukeswar, reminiscent of the Tapas of Pandu, Sesha – Dhara reminding us of the fact that the thousand tongued Sesha too was a Muni so that he might realise the Lord and Hanuman Chatti where Hanuman proved His superior prowess to the second of the Pandava Brothers; finally at Badrinath itself ensconced between the Nara and the Narayana Blessing the pilgrims of Badrimountains, at the foot of the snow diademmed Nilakanta Peak ( the Queen of the Himalayas, 21640 ft high ) the Puranas declare Narasimha came to shed His ferocity and Narada, Agni and Indra did penance. King Visala by His Tapas there won the distinction of Badri being Badri Visal; King Ghantakarna by his austerity there won the honour being the watchman of the Lord. Uddhava is doing Tapas there even today by the special command of Sri Krishna. And the Lord Himself is depicted as in Tapomudra, in keeping with the elevating and inspiring mood of the entire Himalayan area for miles around and is worshipped by Gods for half the year and by men during the other half.Displaying the Lingams that He created at Badri

The Ganga from Hardwar to Devaprayag and the Alakananda from there onwards for over 138 miles keep inseparable company with the pilgrim, now coming up near the road in a surging swelling stream, now gliding deep down the yawing canyon, murmuring along a silver thread. At first, the roar of the waters is frightening but gradually the river becomes a friend and companion and the thunder of its waves is distinguished as but the recital of the Name of the Lord or of Om, His verbal symbol. O! What shall be said of the high voiced The Badri idol, the nethra lingam and the thousand petalled LotusAlakananda, the multimillionaire heiress of Kubera’s wealth, gaudily tripping the rocks, from Alakapuri, his capital? And what of the tiny tributaries: the milk white Ksheeraganga. Neelaganga, the blue, Ghrithaganga the oily, Kanchanaganga the golden, Keerthiganga the famed, Rishiganga the ascetic, Virahiganga the forlorn! Consider all the hot springs at Badri which the God of Fire spouts forth in obedience to a command by Narayana Himself in order to rid Agni of the sin of being an Omnivorous Glutton.The Badrinath shrine

What again shall be said of the magnificent ‘manorama’ of snow capped peaks and glaciers, enormous cliff’s enervating gradients escarpments and precipices, cascades and springs, and the multicoloured flower carpets that are spread by nature in every little vale? Indeed, every step of that road is a stride towards God!

To be lead by Baba along this Holy road is indeed a unique piece of good fortune and when one looks back on the much talked of calamities that lurk round every curve, the landslides and the land slips, the unheralded breaches and blockades, the bitter cold, and the pouring rain, the strain and the exhaustion, one feels specially blessed because Baba’s Abhaya Hastha was present always to stem the fall, to prop up the slip, to ward off the rain, to warm up the air, to inspire the drooping and refresh the tired.

The Divine horse riderThe caravan of cars, jeeps, buses and trucks left Hardwar on Monday, 12th June at 8AM and reached Devaprayag at noon. The bath at the confluence was a refreshing and exhilarating experience. Srinagar, the ancient capital of the Kings of Garhwal, was reached in the afternoon and we halted there for the night. The people of Srinagar organised a programme of Pahari and Tibetan dances depicting the simple hilarity of the hardy tribesmen and Baba, Their Excellencies and all of us appreciated their earnestness and sincerity. On the 13th, the party left at Sunrise for Joshimath, 86 miles off, taking breakfast on the way at Rudraprayag, bathing at the junction of the Mandakini and Alakananda at Nandaprayag and taking lunch at Pippalkoti at about 3PM. The night was spent at the sacred Joshi math.

Bardinath was beckoning us from just beyond 18 miles! ……. Eighteen miles along a narrow five foot ‘road’ ofThe golden bilva leaf manifested by Baba rubble and stone, trodden into smoothness by million of pious feet; of sudden climbs and steep declines; of ‘Danger from Falling Stones’ announced on boards enroute! The rapture of ravine, cliff and snow ever before the eye, the cheer of the torrent ever in the ear! Broad glaciers bravely descending down the mountains into the river bed itself and even mischievously lying across the pilgrim path! Streams of pilgrims from every corner of this country crossing each other with a gleam in the face when the password, Jai Badri Visaal, is uttered! Pilgrims resolutely pulling themselves along on foot, or pathetically perched on ponies trotting on the perilous edge of the precipices! Long lines of men, mules horses, yaks and goats loaded with beds and bundles, boxes, baskets and bags belonging to the pilgrims and silk and sandalwood, scents and sweets, flour, flowers and fruits for the shops at Badri Town!

All these give the Sacred Road a sublime sathsang atmosphere wherein the Lord is experienced as a constant and comforting Companion!

With the chosen onesOn the 14th morning, conveyances were booked, the mules and horses were loaded, and the party started off in high spirits, to Lam Bagar eleven miles away, where it was decided to halt for the night. Baba and a large number of devotees walked the entire length of the road. Oh! How can I adequately describe the tenderness with which He encouraged everyone along that arduous road, advising one person to get into a dandi, another to ride a horse, a third to check the pace, a fourth to rest awhile, keeping everybody’s enthusiasm in good trim by a timely quip or joke or pleasantry, or sometimes even by means of the Divinely created Vibhuthi itself.

From Lam Bagar, it was an exhausting climb and the devotees succeeded in persuading Baba to ride a horse; but, to their great disappointment, He resumed His walk within a few moments. Badrinath was reached in the late afternoon on the 15th , and the party occupied the Gujarathi Dharmasala, very close to the temple.With the holy Ganges

On the 16th, Baba gave Darsan and blessings to a large number of officers and citizens and members of the Temple Committee and He attended the evening Arathi, in company with their Excellencies. Later, Baba inaugurated the X – ray unit at the Badrinath General Hospital. The first ‘patient’ to be screened was the doctor himself; he declared joyfully, “Babaji! You are seated in my heart!” Baba said , “The X – ray can’t reveal it; but, it is a fact, Doctor, I know it”. A supreme moment indeed, in the history of that hospital and the life of that doctor!

17th June was a Day of Days, a Day that will be enshrined in the memory of everyone in the party, for years and years. In pursuance of His Mission of re-infusing spiritual efficacy in all Holy Places where men congregate for acquiring peace and joy, a Mission which took Him recently to Ayodhya, Kasi and Prayag, Baba that day re –invigorated Narayana worship at Badrinath, by means of a unique cermony, whose significance is beyond our tiny understanding!

During the morning Abhishekam to the idol of Badrinarayana, while Baba was inside the temple facing the shrine, about 8.15AM, Baba mysteriously materialised a four armed Narayana icon with Sankha, Chakra, Gada and Padma, about 12 inches , perhaps sublimating in that form the Divine Essence of the Narayana Tejas before Him. He also created a charming thousand petalled ‘gold’ Lotus, and before the wonder of the people around Him could express itself in an awe striken gasp, He waved His hand before the Shrine and, lo, there was a Jyothirlinga in His palm, which He placed on the shining Lotus. Baba came away to the Dharmasala with the devotees and the large number of officers and citizens of Badrinath. Their Excellencies also soon joined the gathering.

Materialising a ‘silver’ Abhisheka Vessel full of holy water from Gangothri itself (as He announced), Baba Himself performed Abhisheka to that translucent Nethra Lingam. He had graciously taken the Linga round to everyone and made all to wonder at its quit effulgence and at a clearly visible Eye that was somehow incorporated in it. Devotees recited Sri Rudram, Purushasuktham and Narayana Suktham, while Baba was pouring the sacred water on the Lingam. Then, Baba created 108 miniature Bilva leaves or rather replicas of that holy leaf, in ‘gold’; they fell in a lightning shower from His Palm on to a silver plate. He again waved His Hand and this time, O Blessed moment, 108 actual ‘thumme’ flowers fresh with even the touch of the morning dew, fell from that Divine Palm! With these, Baba directed Dr.B.Ramakrishna Rao, presumably on behalf of all assembled to do Puja to the Linga, the Ashtottara Puja, as mentioned in the Sastras. After Puja, Baba collected the Abhisheka Ganga and gave a share of it to each one, Himself pouring it into the mouth with His own merciful Hand.

Needless to say, the Lingam, one of the Five, which according to Baba, Sankaracharya brought from Kailasa, and which he installed in a sacred spot in the shrine to vivify the Badarikasram returned to the place from which Baba had drawn it for this epoch making ritual of re invigoration. The Lotus and the Icon, He granted to the devotees; the Bilva leaves of ‘gold’ He gave to members of the party, as mementoes of the Momentous Day, for being duly worshipped by them.

About 12.30PM, the same day, Baba condescended to come to Brahmakapal, where the devotees had arrived to offer oblations to the pitris (forefathers). He advised everyone to pray for their ancestors and departed relations, in a spirit of faith and sincerity. Every member of the party had a rare good fortune of paying off the debt to the departed in the immediate presence of the Lord Himself!

Then Baba went down to the Alakananda and took from the surging torrent a glass of water, but, lo! The glass held also a lump of Vibhuthi with the mark of Pranava on it and the til essential for ancestral rites! He poured the water on to the palms of the devotees who were handicapped by disqualifications form partaking in the Pinda Pradan, asking them to offer that water instead! Surely, the manes of all who shared in that day’s Brahmakapal ceremony are thrice blessed!

In the evening at 6PM., the Badrinath Temple Committee accorded a welcome to Baba at a formal ceremony at the Temple premises, which His Excellency Dr.B.Ramakrishna Rao also attended. About 3000 thousand pilgrims and citizens attended and the precincts were packed to capacity. Baba spoke of the five Lingas brought by Sankaracharya and of the sanctity of Badri. He asked everyone to decide for himself where real happiness lay and rigorously to pursue the path to win that happiness. He emphasised that Prema is the very essence of Bhakthi, the light with which the Lord (who is Premaswarupa) can be seen and realised and understood. He asked the citizens of Badri to appreciate the ordeals, trails, tribulations and expenses undergone by the pilgrims, the illnesses and accidents which they had braved, and the faith which heartened them from the first step to the last. He advised that they should learn from the pilgrims a part of their faith in Badri Narayana and treat the pilgrims with greater kindness and brotherliness. Dr.B.Ramakrishna Rao translated Baba’s Telugu speech into Hindi.

The Secretary who thanked Baba said that the announcement, regarding the 5 Lingams, and Badri being repository of one of them will thrill everyone and will instill greater faith in Badri in the hearts of every Hindu.

In the night Baba arranged for the feeding, on a truly lavish scale, of all the mendicants around the Temple of Badrinath and He distributed a blanket each ( or its equivalent in money) to more than five hundred peple. No wonder they all joined in the chorus of thanksgiving and cheered “Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba Ji Ki Jai”.

On the 18th, about 9AM, Baba and the devotees left Badri and, reached Lam Bagar for lunch, halting for sometime on the way to bless the organisers of a Yajna named Sri Rama Krathu. The next day, Joshi Math was reached and the return journey by bus and car was undertaken from there on Tuesday, 20th.

It is worth noting that Baba walked back the distance from Badrinath to Joshi Math and on the second day, he was among the earliest to reach the destination, ascending the steep heights of the Vishnu Prayag Joshi Math mountain road, without the least sign of tiredness.

Baba had said during the forward trek that the rains shall not come until the party was back in Rishikesh and true to His command, the rains held back, until the ‘caravan’ was within 20 miles of Rishikesh when the party got the first drops of drizzle!

It must be mentioned that while nearing Rishikesh, Baba miraculously anticipated, by a few minutes, a landslide which came down across the road causing even a slip, but only after all members of the party had safely come across the doomed spot. A party of more than a hundred devotees, mostly old and not quite sturdy could go through all the tossing and twisting in the buses and all the tramping and climbing of the hills, in strange climes and with strange foods and come back hale and hearty, as per schedule, only through the Ever present Grace of Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba.

We were all back in Hardwar on Wednesday 21st June and we left on 22nd for Dehra Dun, from where we had to entrain for Delhi. Baba encouraged all the devotees to collect Gangajal from Brahmakund so that they could take it to their homes. He had a kind word and an encouraging smile for everyone. He came to every bus when the party was on the point of leaving. He blessed everyone and commanded them to share their joy with others and to life thereafter everyday of their lives as real pilgrims towards the seat of Narayana. With our eyes full of tears of joy, we sat in the bus, unable to speak, for when the heart is full, the tongue is silent.

Baba left for Naini Tal from Hardwar; He spent three days there with Their Excellencies, but they were, inevitably busy days full of interviews with a large number of high officers and dignitaries, who had come for Baba’s Darsan. Baba also visited the ‘Githa Sathsang’ established by Swami Vidyanandaji. A welcome address in Hindi was presented to Him at the Sathsang. He addressed the members on the need for practicing the path of Sadhana laid down in the Githa.

In the discourse Baba said, “Mere scholarship is just a burden, without putting what is studied into action. It is only that part of it which is put into practice, felt and experienced that becomes one’s undisputed possession”. Baba pointed out, “The Githa was propounded to every one who is afflicted with the delusion and ignorance. Arjuna was just a representative of struggling mankind, at the crossroad of conflicting duties, without the Light necessary for discovering the right path”. “In the 18th Discourse, Krishna asks Arjuna, “Has all these been heard by you, with one – pointed attention ? Has the delusion caused by ignorance of the Reality been destroyed?” This shows that the purpose of the Githa is to destroy Moha, or Delusion, which is the result of misunderstanding the unreal as real, the transitory as the permanent, the source of sorrow as the source of joy” Baba concluded. He said that the Githa was a Universal textbook of Spiritual Science which could be studied and practised by people of all climes and creeds. The only qualification needed was a yearning for the higher ideals and an earnestness to discover the source of lasting joy.

Baba returned to Delhi on the 26th and emplaned for Madras on the 27th. He reached Madras just in time to meet the members of the party who arrived by train from Delhi the same evening, and to send them with His Blessing to their respective homes.

Baba reached Puttaparthi at noon on 3rd July and the Bhakthas there welcomed Him with great Joy. On the 4th, Baba gave the devotees a graphic description of the journey and an inspiring account of the Three Eventful Days at Badri. He wanted that everyone should draw inspiration from the devotion and faith of thousands of old, decrepit and poor pilgrims who brave the dangers and disasters of the road every year, just to get a glimpse of the Lord in the Badri Narayana Form. He said that those who visit Holy Places must prove in their daily lives that the holiness has entered their hearts and changed their habits and thoughts for the better. He said that Sankaracharya installed the Narayana idol at Badrinath, and every one must install the Name of Narayana in the Shrine of the heart. Then, He gave every one the Theertha of Gangothri with which He had performed the Abhisheka at Badri as well as the prasad of Badri itself.

That was the blissful consummation of the Badri Yatra for all.

With the Manifested, we proceeded to the Unmanifested! At every step among the Himalayas we experienced the Prema of the Lord whose was with us! At every turn, His Grace guarded and guided us.

May He be our Guard, our Guide and our God forever!


Volume - 2 Issue - 5 Radiosai Journal - PSN 2004