Guru Kripa hi kevalam
Our journey of Madhukori started from 6th of April 2017, where Tres, Lloyd and Joshua had organized an evening gathering of Baul poetry and songs at Tres’s studio in Birmingham. Forecast of the weather for this day was intimidating, as fiery thunder storms were predicted through the day. Still figuring out my sleep patterns in the early morning in my bed, I heard sound of the storm. But, as the day unfolded, bright sun accompanied us into the evening. At Tres’ studio, over 70 members were present and received the songs with much calmness. Parvathy Maa manifested world of intense peace through her songs. She opened with invocation to the Divine feminine and after one hour, ended with gathering all the audience to join her in chanting the name of Krishna. After the conclusion, there was impeccable silence that lasted for few minutes, before the applause erupted. Joshua took to the stage to share with all about the purpose of Parvathy Maa’s visit. He rightly emphasized a very important point about how she procured the land for Gurukul in Bengal, only through the resources she gathered in the past 10 years, without any help of donations. He stated , learning this fact, how he felt compelled to ease weight on her shoulders, so that she need not travel so hard in the future and could spend more time nurturing the dream of her Guru.
Nippersink – Retreat on the banks of Little River
Joshua chose a very special place, very old lodge in a calm serene place called Nippersink. This is where he attended the marriage of Lloyd and Lillis almost a year ago. It was at this place, after the hectic marriage celebrations, they apparently deliberated about doing something together. Now here they were almost after a year, organizing an immersive retreat to experience the messages of mystic saints of Baul tradition from Bengal.
On 7th afternoon, we drove from Birmingham to Nippersink – meaning Little River. When we arrived, it was cold yet serene and scenic. We walked down to the bank of the river and spent few minutes. Then we were received by some of the participants who already arrived there. Aditi Devi, Kali Sadhika, was also amongst the participants of the retreat. She brought her students with her and remained with them every step through the journey. There were also students from Lee Lozowick’s spiritual community from Bozeman. As I met more people, more I realized it was very interesting composition of the participating group. We had artists, researchers, opera singer, poets. With over 30 participants, we spent a wonderful evening filled with reflections, followed by dinner, which was preceded by collective prayers.
Prayers were part of the retreat all through. There was chanting prayer, song prayer, poem prayer, silent prayer. Prayer when we meet in the morning, prayer when we disperse in the night, prayers as part of yoga, and prayer in any occasion. One evening Parvathy Maa shared about one of the last messages she received from her guru Sanatan Baba, who spoke to few sadhaks, who were waiting for his message, after remaining silent for a long time, he said “ make your whole life, a prayer.” A two and half a day retreat at Nippersink, I felt, in essence was humble effort to absorb this deep message of the Guru.
Yoga session started our day at 4.45 AM. Parvathy Maa guided us through comprehensive yoga routines which demanded the participants to transcend their limitations, in a gentle way. Followed by the refreshing Yoga session and breakfast gathering, we embarked on collective musical journey of learning Baul songs. The first song she chose to teach was song which invokes the Divine mother in the morning. Written by a mystic poet Babha Pagla, who lived in the tree trunk for many years absorbed in sadhana. In the afternoon session Parvathy Maa took a delightful decision to gather beside the river and learn the song there. All the next learning sessions were conducted at the bank of the Little River, which inspired us with its calming presence.
When we were hesitant to open our voices, she asked us to call out to the other side of the river and wait to hear our own voice. She said the spirit of calling the Divine should be similar to the spirit of child in the dark room calling out for its mother. These words filled with clarity kept pouring in often, it depended on us if we were present to receive them at that moment. All of us were transcending the barriers of language, as the poems were in Bengali, barriers of pronunciation, challenges of melody and rhythm. We did this all together, by repeating the song countless times. Even when we thought we arrived at our destination of learning the song, she went on repeating the song. This was not just process of passive learning, underlying this was a teaching to receive patiently, what the teacher is giving, without complaining.
After arriving at a state of reasonable absorption of the song, she wanted us to learn some basic dance movements (Kriya) to integrate the song into the body. This was a session that just unfurled as a total surprise, in fact a challenging surprise. We were pushed to our physical limitations, but as the time lapsed these movements had some magic in them, they had potential to channelize energy without much exhaustion. One could reach a point, where body was just in a flow of the movement.
These essential lessons were followed by evening satsang. On the first evening Maa wanted Aditi Devi to share her story as a Sadhika. Her journey to India and how she embraced or rather was embraced by Kali, The divine Mother, is an inspiring story. After she narrated her experiences, there took place a beautiful conversation between Maa and Aditi Devi. Parvathy Maa lovingly acknowledged that how she was pleasantly surprised at Aditi Devi’s decision to bring her students to a Baul retreat. Then endearingly Aditi Devi responded, saying how important it was for her to give to her students which she cannot give herself. She said “it is the responsibility of the mother to take her children to places and meet people where they can learn and grow in their practice.” She also expressed deep gratitude to Maa, as she said “it was her long time wish, that as part of the practice she was wishing for a component of music to be integrated and this wish was fulfilled through this meeting.” It is at this point I understood, I was awakening to the truth that for all the participants, this was in many ways a defining experience.
On 9th of April, after a brief walk in the afternoon to the nearby waterfalls all the participants bid good bye, with cherishing memories of such intimate and intense collective journey.
Journey into the Cave
Annette Reynolds, volunteer and participant at the retreat, has formed a wonderful bond with an ancient cave which was very close to Nippersink. She invited us to visit this ancient place, as this cave had a connection with native Americans using it for their scared practices and rituals. When we arrived at the cave, standing outside I had no clue to what to expect from this visit. But as we entered, we saw a huge stalagmite formation resembling that of 40 ft. Shivalinga. This cave was a living energy in many ways. This also had a historical connect of building safe houses inside with food and water supplies stored during cold war era. There were chamber like stone formations, which had magical resonance where stones turned into musical instruments. My hand still bears the memory of thumping this stone to generate rhythmic patterns, which after sometime turned meditative. Annette indicated this possibly was one of the ritual worship spaces. As we entered the possible ritual chamber, we all sat down and Parvathy Maa sang an invocation of the Divine Mother. I too joined in chanting the Vedic Mantrapushpam – Garland of Mantras. While in the cave, I felt that true strength of USA lies in tapping the spiritual potential in its Natural diversity. This land might have not borne many civilizations and rich traditions, but it certainly has a deep connection with Universe embedded in the psyche of Natives and silent witnessing Nature which bears memories of journey of earth’s many phases in its bosom. Nature in USA is a priceless blessing.
California via Berkley
Our team left Birmingham to San Francisco on 10th April, the journey by flight spanned over 6 hours from Atlanta to San Francisco airport. En route, Joshua and Bhaskar Ghosh shared with us on many facets of California. How it is considered one of the most progressive states in the country, though small how it was the source point for many reformative movements of the country. How this state alone is one of the biggest GDP of the world economy. The spread of spiritual schools from east and from Hindu and Buddhist cultures have been established here for many decades. How the success stories of innovation and technology were set forth in this land. As soon as we landed in San Francisco and walked towards baggage claim, I observed the signage for a dedicated Yoga room! I got the pulse of the place.
On 12th April, we visited Rudramandir and met Natha Ji, who is a Sadhak. Maa was going to perform at Rudramandir in the evening and Natha ji benevolently offered his sacred space totally free of cost for this event. Natha Ji’s guru was a disciple of Swami Nityananda of Ganeshpuri. As we entered this sacred space, Parvathy Maa observed the picture of Swami Sivananda Guru of Siddha Samaj, kerala who was the spiritual guide of Swami Nityananda. Natha Ji received us with love and offered us tea. Over the tea he kindly shared with us stories related to His Guru and about his journey to India, especially to Ganeshpuri. When we visited performance space together, he actually set up the chairs arrangement for the evening and also climbed the ladder to fix the lights, all by himself, with love. When we were planning to arrange the altar, he offered to cover the images of Gurus of his lineage, and Maa suggested that she will be happy with their presence and them watching her sing!
In the evening, we saw hard work of Joshua and team bearing fruits. Prior to the trip Joshua had organized few gathering events at Berkely, to intimate friends about Parvathy Maa’s work and her plan to visit USA. In Balram, we had one more enthusiastic volunteer who held the logistics coordination for Berkeley events. He too attended the Baul retreat in Trivandrum a year back. These efforts resulted in healthy turn out for the Rudra Mandir event. People from diverse backgrounds attended the event. Maa presented the music and poetry of the Baul masters and after the offering spoke to the audience about the purpose and need of the Gurukul in the current times.
On 13th April, Chowdary Center for Bangaldesh studies, UC Berkely organized Parvathy Maa’s performance followed by a very engaging interview conducted by research scholar Sukanya Chakrobarty.
Palo Alto –Stanford Chapter
Finally, all of us visited Stanford campus, where famous Kabir singers from Malwa region of India lead by Prahlad Singh Tipaniya Ji were presenting a concert in honor of Linda Hess, who contributed immensely in spreading the philosophy of kabir in USA. She was retiring after a long stint as the professor in Stanford. It was in recognition of this occasion that Parvathy Maa was presenting on 15th April.
On 15th April, we had special visitor. Dr. Debashish Banerji, who is a Haridas Chaudari Professor of Indian Philosophy and Culture at California Institute of Integral Studies and a sadhak of Sri Aurobindo’s Philosophy of Integral Yoga, met us at Bhaskar Ghosh’s home. Meeting with Dr. Banerji was in itself a guided one. I started reading his book on Sri Aurobindo’s sadhana path. His approach was very holistic in approaching the subject and I realized he is in USA and I wrote a what seemed to be just a thank you note for such wonderful book and in the process, I mentioned to him about my visit to USA along with Parvathy Baul. To my surprise, he responded that he just received the news about Parvathy Baul’s performances in bay area and he is located nearby and he would be definitely attending these events. Thus many unseen yet shared paths were converging and the time spent with him reflecting on some aspects of sadhana were very beautiful. He graciously shared his journey as a youngster entering into Sri Aurobindo’s fold.
Before the concert, Maa had to attend a conference to present her views about Baul in the concluding session. This conference was facilitated by Linda Hess at Stanford campus. Just as the session was concluded, one lady approached me talking to me about Shree Maa, who is a sadhika of Kali and her journey has been through song and music. I was not sure if I could commit Maa’s meeting with her, as I thought schedule was very difficult. However I asked her to mention this to Maa directly. As soon she heard about Shree Maa, she was exuberant, but felt she cannot make it as Shree Maa’s ashram was atleast 2 hours drive from Palo Alto.
On 15th April concert at Stanford commenced with Linda Hess introducing Parvathy Ma, by fondly recollecting the times they spent many years ago during Kabir yatra in Malwa region. As Maa took to stage, she opened the concert with very unusual but popular song Mon Chalo Nija niketano – Oh my my heart, let us return now to the true abode. At the merchandise counter all the books were sold, and we could also spot many people who followed Maa’s performance all along Berkley to Stanford.
Satsang at Palo Alto
16th April was a big day for us. Soumya Chakravarti, our dear elder friend and close associate of Maa and disciple of Sanatan Baba drove all the way from LA along with his wife Katherine. Many volunteers came together and set up the whole evening. It was magic, in just 30mins time the venue was decked up with incense, flowers, altar for Gurus and candles and Maa’s paintings, wood cut prints, food court, registration desk. All of them worked as if they knew Parvathy Maa for many years, or as though it was setting up their own house for important festival. It was sheer joy and a humbling experience when Universe embraces you with such warmth and love. Brinda di, Gayatri and Bhaskar Da spoke few words and invited Maa to lead the evening. This was a uniquely structured program. The duration was that of almost 3 hours. But it felt 3 hours passed through in 3 minutes. She sang the poetry, shared her experience and with the Soumya Chakravarti on dotara, together they taught a Baul song. Then followed a very interesting Q& A session.
Back in Bhaskar Ghosh’s home in the night, all of us were reflecting how it all unfolded and what moved each one of us. This collective reflection, expression and articulation was a interesting phenomenon, it kept happening spontaneously and gave deeper insights into what each one of us were holding with in.
On 17th of April after taking stock of the entire tour, my heart filled with humility and feeling of contentment surrounded me. I could see everyone was happy, however such linear description about others feelings will fall short significantly on what this trip meant to many of us. Each of us were moved and acted in our own big little ways. Each of us had a purpose that manifested this association. In the afternoon, Joshua gathered energy to drive us to nearby red wood forest. To end the trip in the lap of the Nature was a befitting conclusion I felt, as the essence of America, I felt was in the woods.
On 18th April, me and Maa said thanks and good bye to Bhaskar, Joshua and Gayatri who dropped us at San Francisco airport. We were all together more closer and connected deeper. I felt it this way, when we said good bye.
By: Ramachandra Roddam
Ram studied management in Sri Satya Sai Institute of Higher Learning. He grew up with the philosophy and teachings of Sri Satya Sai Baba, Mother and Shri Aurobindo. At present, he does seva at Sri Satya Sai Sowbhagyam, Center for Human Development and Sri Satya Sai Sanjeevani Hospital, Raipur, which offers free heart care for children.
Since 2013, he has been closely associated with Ekathara Kalari and Parvathy Maa, and has been doing seva for the Baul path.