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.
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.
The train reached Delhi about six hours late, but Baba was
there, shedding comfort and consolation with His smile and
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
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,
“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 place
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!
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
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.Ramakrishna
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 Devaprayag,
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.
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 mountains,
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.
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 Alakananda,
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
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.
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’ of
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
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.
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,
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
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
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!