Friday, July 31, 2015

Guru Purnima: Sai Baba of Shirdi, Shraddha and Saburi.

Dhyanamoolam Guru Murti
Pujamoolam Guru Padam
Mantra Moolam Guru Vakyam
Moksha Moolam Guru Kripa

~ Guru Gita, Guru Strotam

The Guru's form should be meditated upon
The feet of the Guru should be worshiped
His words are to be treated as a sacred mantra
His grace ensures final liberation.

Today marks a very auspicious occasion in the Hindu Calendar, it's the full moon night of 'Guru Purnima', a festival dedicated to the great Indian sage, Vyasa, the author of the Mahabharata and the Brahma Sutras. It's a day that celebrates the 'Guru-Shishya Parampara' or the 'Teacher-Disciple relationship' by reinstating the ideals of honesty, commitment and dedication in this time-honored relationship... a relationship that calls for inner growth and learning but is never marred by tangible material influences. The blessed land of India has been incredibly rich in this regard producing several spiritual Masters over the course of history, who have selflessly imparted their wealth of wisdom to sincere students helping and guiding them through their personal journey to enlightenment.

One very notable among them is Sai Baba of Shirdi, the Spiritual Guru, very much alive in the heart of His countless devotees, not in form or flesh but in words... eternal treasures that continue to enrich the poverty-ridden feeble minds even today. Baba considered Himself the servant of the Father and stressed on the moral principle values of 'Shraddha and Saburi': Complete surrender to your Teacher (Shraddha) by truly practicing what is preached coupled with patient perseverance (Saburi) for your efforts was His ultimate lesson to all His students in humanity.

Even as we speak about Guru Purnima, commemorating the occasion is a huge gala celebration in the pilgrim town of Shirdi today, with a swarm of devotees gathered to express their heartfelt gratitude and seek blessings from Sai Baba in their own individual ways. Though I could not attend the festival in person, but could never miss this festive opportunity to express my sincere gratitude nevertheless -a little poem... a gift from my heart, in His feet...

My humble reverence to Thee.

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When life spirals out of control,
And, I find no answers for questions deep inside your soul. 

When yesterday is gloomy, today pressed,
And, tomorrow seems messed.

When there appears no promising way,
And, plans go frighteningly astray.

When there’s no one to hold,
And, life acts nothing but confusing and cold.

When I have done my best,
And, I got no option but to leave the rest.

That is a golden time…
A time I remember the two timeless words,
Those that Shirdi Sai Baba said,

- Shraddha and Saburi -

A poster of Sai Baba from the markets of Shirdi
"Look to me and I will look to you." ~ Sai Baba.

In the therapeutic resonance of faith,
I find my sanity, 
In the tranquil echo of patience,
Peaceful trails I tread.

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Happy Guru Purnima!


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

... From the Ghats of River Godavari in Nashik: Who Am I?

Who am I?

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Godavari River, Nashik

I am someone who was born years ago,
by the grace of Lord Shiva and the penance of Sage Gautama,
from the Western Ghats at Trimbakeshwar
in the beautiful family of the Sacred Rivers of India.

Highly inspired by River Ganga - the eldest of all my sibling sisters, who had already successfully carved her own renowned course through the mighty Himalayas – and charged with the pure pristine energy of the Divine Feminine, I gathered the courage to break free and chart my own trail as well.

Lord Shiva at Godavari River Ghat, Nashik

An innocent leap of faith and lo! I was on my way – tumbling and rollicking, zooming past graded mountains, rocky terrains, craggy villages and cavernous valleys… my expedition leading me in the main city where I have taken a seat today -

Godavari River, Nashik

- Shri Ram’s city of Nashik – I feel blessed!

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Who am I?

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Flowers at Godavari River Ghat, Nashik

I am someone who is used to be at the central focus – dancing away to my own tunes as my sons and daughters rejoice, singing glories with open arms and joyful hearts.

Mornings begin with my beautiful brethren huddling themselves around my banks and lovingly offering their prayers, accolades and salutations unto me. Regardless of race or religion, I embrace all who come to me for a cuddling dip… breaking open their own inner barriers of consciousness, sweeping it off with sanguine waters permeated in infinite grace, love and belonging.

People bathing at Godavari River Ghat, Nashik

Soft murmurs of sacred chants infuse the entire incense-lit environ with such strong vibrations such that it is easier to transcend. My banks are garlanded with a necklace of holy temples dedicated to different deities – Lord Ganesha, Lord Shiva, etc. – all of them alive with an insurmountable current of faith and the ricocheting of the melody of temple bells singing glories unto My Master.

Godavari River Ghat, Nashik

Gleaming diyas, carrying sincere hopes, wishes and prayers, flowing ever so gently… ornament me in the finest of my ensemble.

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Who am I?

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Puja rituals at Godavari River Ghat, Nashik

I am someone who can feel her heart balloon with a heavy flood of pride and gratitude, whenever she experiences sincerity and purity in the behavior of her children
as was the will of The Father.

To be at the receiving core of such limpidness in actions and thoughts boosts my energy to greater heights and out pour unabashed blessings for all in the form of prosperity, riches and affluence – not only material but the spiritual as well.

Lord Shiva Temple, Godavari River Ghat, Nashik

Tears of happiness well up in my eyes as I recall His exact words - Absorb your mind and heart in Me, become My devotee, offer propitiation to Me, just give humble obeisance unto Me, and surely you will come to Me. I promise this in truth to you, being very dear to Me. ~ Bhagavad-Gita, chapter 18, verse 65.

Clearly, many here are on their relentless path to Him!

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Who am I?

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Ancestral rituals at Godavari River Ghat, Nashik

I am someone whose everyday life is manifested in a colorful carnival that bursts forth in the form of rituals, prayers and spiritual hymns for the Creator.

Festivals are a part of our daily routine, transforming existence from the realm of the mundane to the astonishing.

Have you ever visited the biggest among these – the festival of Kumbh Mela – a rare event only occurring every 3 years which see millions of mortals – enlightened and otherwise – walk in unison with their mind, body and soul with a single aim of getting closer to the Supreme? It's an event ongoing right now, even as I am writing this, a time when many yogis, ascetics, sadhus and sages bless my waters with a touch of their Divine Presence and in turn, I pass on my current of joy from my overflowing cup of blessings with the downtrodden, corrupt and the depressed absolving them of their sins forever.

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Who am I?

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I am someone who can’t be grateful enough for all the things that she has been blessed with…. but, but there is a different side to this story too.

One that hurts, no matter how much I try to avoid.

I no longer feel youthful or sprightly as I used to at one stage. On the contrary, I feel weak and feeble; my spiritual current is now diluted, thanks to the many kinds of impurities floating all around, also within me.

Callousness of people at Godavari River Ghat, Nashik

That makes me sad… I want to give, how I want to see you happy and show you the creative beauty that resides within you but alas! I feel helpless today; I don’t feel strong enough to do all that for you.

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Who am I?

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I am the River Godavari –

Temple of Godavari River on Ghat, Nashik

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Mother of my children

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A soulful celebration

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A manifestation of the Divine Feminine

 AND –

A reflection of THAT which glows within YOU,

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Gleaming Diya, Godavari River Ghat, Nashik

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WHO ARE YOU?

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The above photo-story and the video montage (presented below) was compiled as my humble tribute to Mother Godavari (In Hinduism, many sacred rivers - known to embody the Divine - are revered as a Goddess or a Mother) on the celebratory occasion of 'Kumbh Mela' that is LIVE in the holy city of Nashik right now.

The celebration is a great time to bring forth the reminder of how our Mother River, in spite of all the gracious beauty contained within her, is also painfully struggling with her identity owing to the plague of contamination and pollution. In such a scenario, the celebration becomes a good time to reflect and introspect on our own behavior as well, on a more individual level: What has been my relation with my Divine Mother? How does this relation then play out in the entire spiritual scheme of my life?

Below is a video photo montage stitched together from images I clicked while wandering on the bustling ghats of River Godavari in Nashik earlier this year. A sincere heartfelt pledge to keep her clean will go a long way in sweeping the dirt out of our hearts too. After all, happiness is the ultimate gift that we can ever receive and ironically enough...

Happiness doesn't result from what we get, but from what we give. 
― Ben Carson


River Godavari: A Photo-Montage.


Thursday, July 16, 2015

Kande Pohe, Masala Dosa and Maharashtrian Thali at MTDC's Neem, Shirdi

Wander around in the little town of Shirdi and you will come across a lot of eating options aimed at catering to the growing crowds coming from all over the country. Our driver pointed out to a very recently opened fast food joint called Mukta Foods which I saw, stretched itself for 3 stories towards the sky. But for hygiene and freshness – we preferred the safer option of Neem (where we have eaten many times before) for our meals.

Entrance to MTDC's Pure Vegetarian Restaurant in Shirdi - Neem

Attached to MTDC’s budget hotel, Pilgrim’s Inn - Neem is their in-house restaurant serving all kinds of pure vegetarian dishes at affordable prices
in a laidback peaceful environment.

Though we chose to stay at Airbnb’s Shirdi rental home this time around, I must also add from my personal experience – MTDC’s Pilgrim’s Inn is another very good option if you are looking for a good value-for-money budget hotel close to Sai Baba's Samadhi temple in Shirdi.

MTDC Pure Vegetarian Restaurant in Shirdi - Neem

Stepping into MTDC’s pure vegetarian restaurant, Neem – a bubble of peace was quick to cocoon my weary bodily jaunt of the day. There is ample parking space available in their courtyard which acts as a wonderful insulator against the mad honking rush outside.

Menu card of MTDC's Pure Vegetarian Restaurant in Shirdi - Neem

At the eating table, the menu of Neem offers an array of dishes ranging from North to South India at affordable prices; I tried out more of the local Maharashtrian flavors that the restaurant had to offer in addition to the others - let's see how it all fared!

1. POHE:

A widely eaten Maharastrian delicacy - Pohe is a heap of fluffy rice flakes, soaked and drained, spiced up with green chilies, tomatoes and roasted peanuts and tempered with a dash of mustard seeds and a host of other flavorful spices – Pohe is very light on the stomach and hence makes for a great breakfast starter of the day!

Kande Pohe in MTDC's Pure Vegetarian Restaurant in Shirdi - Neem

As appetizing as Kande Pohe might sound to you, sadly,
in Neem, it wasn’t really interesting.

Though the served portion was generous but the taste was not exactly enjoyable. What’s more - the very essential ingredient onion or ‘kande’ was astonishingly missing from the delicacy as also were the toppings – crunchy Indian crackers sev and freshly chopped coriander.

Verdict: Give it a miss!

2. MASALA DOSA:

After my failed sojourn with the Kande Pohe, I decided to opt for the more ubiquitous Masala Dosa. Typically a dish from South India, I was happy to get my option right this time.

South Indian Masala Dosa in MTDC's Pure Vegetarian Restaurant in Shirdi - Neem

The dosa was fresh and crunchy and tasted nice when dipped in the semi-watery but spicy sambhar curry, palatable potato masala and coconut chutney.

Verdict: Certainly a better option than Kande Pohe; can try.

3.  MAHARASHTRIAN THALI / TADKA DAL / JEERA RICE:

But what I really enjoyed eating at the restaurant was their Maharastrian thali which was a simple solid homely affair. My plate came neatly packed with 2 vegetable currries (neither spicy nor sweet), one lentil dal, one bowl of sweet dish (semolina kheer), wheat flour chapatti, a plate of biryani and a bowl of buttermilk.

Maharashtrian Thali in MTDC Pure Vegetarian Restaurant in Shirdi - Neem

Everything tasted good and I finished my plate sooner than I had expected. Wholesome and nutritious, the meal never left me with any feeling of heaviness in the stomach.

Cool Buttermilk - MTDC's Pure Vegetarian Restaurant in Shirdi - Neem

The coolly salted buttermilk at the end worked great as an after-meal digestive appetizer.

We helped ourselves with a serving Dal tadka and Jeera rice along with the Maharashtrian thali and enjoyed it as well. The hot and medially spiced Dal tadka was simple yet full of flavors and made for a delectable accompaniment with the cumin flavored rice.

Verdict: EAT!


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Have you been to Shirdi?
Do you have any good eating places to recommend?
If yes, please do leave a comment - I'd love to hear from you!


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