Inspiring songs from Paramahansa Yogananda’s Collection

It was only years after I became a kriyaban that I came to listen to Paramahansa Yogananda’s voice and songs. The narration about music in his Autobiography of a Yogi has stunned me that someone who had never had a formal education in music could write with so much clarity on the subject.

When I began to visit YSS satsangs, I cherished listening to and singing Paramahansa Yogananda’s bhajan songs. The light harmonium background and melody in the songs have always touched my soul. To those of you who are looking to listen to songs of Paramahansa Yogananda, here are five of my most favourite songs from the collection.

  1. I will sing Thy Name
  2. Listen Listen Listen
  3. Spirit and Nature Dancing Together
  4. So Do Thou My Lord
  5. Who is in my Temple

Each of these songs have filled my heart during several cherished moments. Most often, I begin the day by listening to this song collection. As reiterated by Paramahansa Yogananda, chanting is an important step in spirituality. His songs have been inspirational to me, for several years now, in yearning for the love of the divinity. Through his voice, he speaks to each one of us, who seek God with faith. The one who had remained a mental image got manifested with life through his devotional songs. During times when the forces of delusion, pull me away from spirituality, all it needs to get back to the path of light is listen to the songs just once.

As said often, music is a form of expression that can open the blocked energies from our nadis. Especially, while singing with true love and devotion to God, I’ve felt that the heart and throat chakras shed off their blockages and pave way for our souls to connect to higher centres.

In 1926, Paramahansa Yogananda writes about his experience of chanting together “O God Beautiful” with his devotees in New York,

“For one hour and twenty-five minutes, the thousands of voices of the entire audience chanted…in a divine atmosphere of joyous praise….The next day many men and women testified to the God-perception and the healing of body, mind, and soul that had taken place during the sacred chanting, and numerous requests came in to repeat the song at other services.”

Source: http://yssofindia.org/

One can buy the CDs from any of the YSS centres or through the online website of YSS or SRF. Though listening to his voice directly from a CD is a soul-lifting experience, I also recommend you to attend a near-by weekly satsang where devotees sing the devotional songs in chorus.

This blog post is inspired by the blogging marathon hosted on IndiBlogger for the launch of the #Fantastico Zica from Tata Motors. You can apply for a test drive of the hatchback Zica today.

Wake up to a Gold Morning!

When I look back, all the mornings of my by-gone years have passed in cooking, packing the lunch boxes and getting the children and husband ready. After I got over with such duties, my true spiritual life began. From my experiences, here I give a few mantras of waking up to a gold morning that’s peaceful and meaningful, to aspiring spiritualists:

The fire to follow a spiritual path might be burning in you. But constant responsibilities might bog you down from focusing  in a practice. By the time you wake up, you would already have a huge list of duties waiting for you. Be it a home maker or a professional, everyone have busy routines these days. However, remember that every small step which you take towards spirituality is fruitful. If you continue feeling stuck up in the mundane duties of life, you will have to wait for several years and even then you will not be sure when all your duties will end. Hence, make a decision that no matter how difficult it gets, you must spend some time for seeking the ultimate, everyday.

Of course, early morning hours are the best time for spiritual practices. The quiet outside world is what you need as a beginner. And that can be sought only by waking up early. My basic mantra of gold mornings is to wake up early. Most of the times, the moment we open our eyes, we are ready to wake up. But the laziness in us pulls our will down and puts us back to sleep. The first step towards spiritual realization is to follow your instinct to wake up the first time.

Refresh yourself with clean brushing* and face washing even if you wouldn’t be able to have a bath. Find a place, anywhere at your home where you can be left alone. Whatever spiritual practice you follow, yoga asanas or rajya yoga meditation, or breathing exercises, or any method you are able to acknowledge, begin it without any second thoughts. Even if it is only for ten minutes, pursue it. That’s the small step that you can take today for a fruitful tomorrow. In the beginning, your mind might wander elsewhere. Refrain from getting impatient. Come again the next day to the same place. Pursue your path. Such determination is the only mantra that can turn your ordinary mornings to gold mornings.

Remember this saying of Paramahansa Yogananda at those times when you get discouraged.

Self-Realization

 

Photo Courtesy: divinedaytripper.blogspot.com

*Check ‘Colgate 360 Charcoal Gold toothbrush’ which gives a thorough cleaning including to your teeth, gums, tongue and cheeks for #Colgate360GoldMornings!

Dakshineswar, Kolkata – the abode of Ma Kali!

Dakshineswar
Dakshineswar

Two of my dream places that I always wanted to visit were Dakshineswar and Kolkata, yes to experience the land that has been hallowed by great saints like Ramakrishna Paramahansa, Swami Vivekananda and Sarada Matha. Ever since I read the accounts of Sri Paramahansa Yogananda in his Autobiography of a Yogi about his experience at the Dakshineswar Kali Temple, I felt compelled to visit Dakshineswar. Believe me, till today, the few hours I’d spent at the two Kali temples were of immense memory that I shall name Dakshineswar and Kolakatta as my favourite places.

Dakshineswar Kali Temple Entrance
Dakshineswar Kali Temple Entrance

The Drive to Dakshineswar

From Kolkatta Airport, we reached the other side of the road by an auto Rickshaw, from where we boarded a local bus to Dakshineswar. The journey to Dakshineswar has stayed fresh in my mind, like the feeling of a new bride returning back to her parental home for the first time. Hailing from the South, we were total strangers to this land. But it was easier to make our travel to the place than we would have in our own place. People of Kolkatta were unbelievably friendly. Even strangers on the bus could strike casual conversations with each other as though they were neighbours for several years; something that I’ve seen in the South. And when I touched the soil of the temple premises, it was an awe-inspiring feeling! Every wall and every air I had breathed inside the temple, I was reminded of the presence of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa. Though we could get Ma Kali’s darshan for just a few seconds, Her presence could be felt everywhere in Dakshineswar.

Dakshineswar Kali Temple Entrance
Dakshineswar Kali Temple

The Dakshineswar to Kolkatta Connection

The best boat ride I’ve ever experienced in my life is from Dakshineswar to Belur. The warmth of the waters and the joy seen in the little boys enjoying their dives still permeates through my being. The scenic boat ride proved a great connectivity option from Dakshineswar to Kolkatta instead of taking the road route. One that we could easily reach Belur to witness the land of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa and also we could cherish half an hour’s time through the serene waters. Again from Belur Mutt, we could easily get a tuk tuk to reach the main road from where a local bus took us to the main city of Kolkatta.

The Design of Kolkatta

We were never stranded on the roads in Kolkatta. Local buses, tram, ferry rides, yellow taxis, trains, tuk tuks…….the city is greatly designed for fantastic transport systems. Howrah station is reachable from almost parts of the city from where we could travel by train to anywhere. I admired the dynamic connectivity that Kolkatta offers its residents and tourists. Especially, yellow taxis were abundant and the rides were of reasonable rates.

Our visit to the Kalighat Kali temple was another dream-come-true place. Though a small temple, the divine vibration of Ma Kali was all powerful. For an ardent devotee of Ma Kali, Dakshineswar and Kalighat temples were like the birth place of Kali Ma. What I missed to witness was the city during the times of Navrathri. Certainly, my next visit to Kolkatta would be during Durga Puja.

Ramayana retold through Mccian Snacks

I don’t remember the days when I narrated Ramayana and Mahabharata to my children. As a matter of fact, I don’t actually remember if I ever did. Perhaps, our parents did that job for us or they grew watching them on the television. However, today, as I write this post, I am deeply content to have vividly narrated the story of Ramayana to my 5-year old grand daughter. And it wasn’t just a simple narration; it had illustrations too. And not just simple illustrations; it was a grand feast of foody illustration with McCain snacks.

Join our feast and listen to this granny if you really want to know briefly about what happens in each of the seven kandas (books) of Ramayana.

“What’s Diwali, Ma (that’s what she calls me)?”

“Diwali is the festival of lights.”

“Hmm….why Diwali?”

“Why Diwali?”

“Hahn, why do we celebrate Diwali?”

“Okay. Diwali has a story behind it. Rama returns back with Sita and Laksman after their 14 years of exile. That’s what we celebrate as Diwali.”

“Who is Rama? What is exile? Why 14 years?”

That’s how it all started!

Children are a store house of questions. Our grandchildren’s constant questioning ability often make my sixty years’ of life experiences and knowledge go dry. But for once, I was happy that she asked me about something that I knew well. It gave me an elated feeling of self-worth that I am able enough to justly answer her question. Yeah, a moment of triumph!

I’ve been her story-teller since she was two-years old and yes, she’s been the cross-questioner since then, catching me red-faced every now and then. However, most often she would doze off before I would complete the story. Once, for almost two months, I had tried to tell her the thirsty crow story but she was never awake to hear the crow drinking the water 😆

So, this time, I managed to do an interesting illustration of the story since I didn’t want her to miss hearing the great epic. I chose her favourite McCain snacks – French fries and Veggie Nuggets! I made two packets of McCain veggie nuggets and french fries. The best part was that it was quick and easy to make them. No need to thaw and I knew when exactly to drain them from the oil – yes, 3 minutes! In addition, 0% cholesterol and no trans fat! After the frying, I dried using paper napkins to make sure they are made oil-free as much as possible. Okay, I used the nuggets for circles and french fries for lines and that’s all is required to depict Ramayana! I can’t believe it too!

I would make some figures with these to explain a particular scene and after the narration, I would change the arrangement of the nuggets and fries to make a new scene. With every change of the shape of the french fries and nuggets, my grand daughter jumped in joy to see a new illustration appear. And yeah, we did a lot of munching in between! It was a fun time for all of us at home and I am confident that she shall never forget Ramayana for lifetime. I had formed several images using McCain snacks and had described the epic in less detail for her age. However, in order to maintain the brevity of this post, I am including one significant illustration for each kanda.

I explained to her that Ramayana includes seven books called kandas, each describing a part of Lord Rama’s life.

Bala Kanda

Rama was born to Dasharatha, the king of Ayodhya. Rama and his brother Lakshman learn from sage Vishwamitra, the art of combating deadly demons. Janaka, the king of Mithila, arranges a swayamvara for his daughter, Sita. It was only Rama who could break the heavy bow, which was the test of strength and power for the bridegroom, and eventually marries Sita.

Sita's Swayamvara

I made a figure using McCain french fries (as limbs) and nuggets (as torso) with black pepper corns (for facial features) to depict Rama. A bow and arrow made of french fries, placed next to Rama’s figure forms the swayamvara scene. 

Ayodhya Kanda

When king Dasharatha becomes old, he decides to commemorate Rama as the king of Ayodhya. However, on the eve of the ceremony, his step-mother, Kaikeyi cunningly makes her son, Bharatha to the throne and also sends Rama and Sita to exile into the forest for fourteen years. Thus, Rama and Sita along with Lakshman move to the forest. Sadly, king Dasharatha passes away after this incident. When Bharatha hears about the happenings, he goes into the Panchavati forest to find Rama. He pleads forgiveness and requests Rama to come back. However, Rama refuses to break the law.

Rama goes to exile

I made a hut and trees using french fries that forms their place of dwelling in the Panchavati forest. I’ve made three figures – Rama, Sita and Lakshman. Sita stands in between the two.  

Aranya Kanda

At the forest, a rakshashi called Surpanakha, Ravana’s sister, enters their place with evil intentions. However, Lakshman cuts off her nose and ears to warn her and also kills Khara, Surpanakha’s brother who comes to attack them. Ravana is enraged by what happened to his sister and brother. He sends a rakshasha called Maricha to attack Rama. Maricha disguises in the form of golden deer to trap Sita. However, Rama finds Maricha’s intention and chases the deer away. One day, when Rama is away, Sita insists Lakshman to find for Rama as she feels Rama is unsafe somewhere. Reluctant to leave Sita alone, Lakshman draws a white line beyond which, he instructs Sita, not to go. Then comes Ravana in the form of a sadhu, asking for food. Sita, unfortunately, decides to cross Lakshman’s line in order to offer food for the sage and gets kidnapped by Ravana who takes her across the ocean, to Lanka. The vulture, Jatayu tries to save Sita but fails. When Rama and Lakshmana return, they hear the news from Jatayu.

Ravana kidnaps Sita - Lakshmanrekha

With the hut and trees made of french fries at the background, Sita stands within the boundary of Lakshman Rekha. Ravana is the figure on the right. He comes disguised as a sadhu asking for alms. 

Kishkindha Kanda

Rama and Lakshman go in search of Sita. They meet Sugriva and Hanuman, the monkey people. The whole of Kishkindha kanda is about what happens at Kishkindha, the place ruled by Valli, Sugriva’s brother. Rama helps Sugriva is killing Vaali so that Sugriva becomes the king. In exchange, Sugriva promises to find Sita.

Rama killing Vaali

Rama kills Vaali from behind a tree in order to help Sugriva claim the throne of Kishkindha.

The initial search for Sita yielded no results from the North, Eat and West directions. Later, Hanuman learns from Sampati, Jatayu’s brother, that Ravana has taken Sita to Lanka.

Hanuman

I tried to make the figure of a flying Hanuman using nuggets and fries. And the triangle is the mountain that’s always seen carried by Hanuman 🙂

Sundara Kanda

Hanuman takes in charge of crossing the ocean to Lanka. He finds Sita at Ashokavanam. Ravana persuades Sita to marry him. But Sita refuses as she considers Rama as the only man of her life. Hanuman gets caught by Ravana’s warriors who set fire to his tail. Hanuman escapes the battle and reaches back to Kishkindha.

Sita in Ashokavana

Sita is seated at the Asokavana that’s made of the french fries trees. Hanuman peeps in from the tree on the top right. 

Yuddha Kanda

Rama’s army along with Hanuman cross the ocean to attack Lanka. After the fierce battle between Rama and Ravana, Rama kills the ten-headed Ravana and brings Sita back. Their exile time gets over and they return back to Ayodhya where Rama becomes the king. Their return is what celebrated as Diwali.

Ravana

The ten-headed Ravana stands fierce to be slashed by the mighty Rama soon. Faces of Veggie nuggets were a delight!

Uttara Kanda

Uttara Kanda was not a part of the original Ramayana. It was added later. After Rama becomes the king, the moral values of Sita are rumoured bad as a result of which Sita is sent exile to the forest. Sage Valmiki gives her shelter in the forest. Sita begets twins Lava and Kusa who are mentored by Valmiki. Valmiki teaches them the Ramayana. Once, Rama conducts Ashvamedha yagna during which Lava and Kusa recite the Ramayana, revealing their identities to Rama. Soon after both Rama and Sita leave the world as their purposes of birth is gets fulfilled.

Lava and Kusa are depicted in sitting postures, next to each other, in front of the Ashvamedha yagna. 

My grand daughter’s shrills and laughter continued till I finish. Yes, I was happy she didn’t doze off; happy that after all this old lady wasn’t a boring story-teller for the first time 😆 And of course, there were unimaginable questioning sessions every now and then, however my Ramayana knowledge saved me from turning red every time.

Ha! A great family togetherness to rejoice. Some simply heart-warming smiles to relish. Thank you, Lord Rama and of course, McCain Snacks!

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A Step Forward in Life

No matter how much wealth we may accumulate or how many houses we may buy, one question that must dig us deep is what do we need at the end of life. What would we long for on the last day of our lives? I don’t think anybody would want wealth and houses nearby. Most might feel good to have our loved ones near while we depart. However, for one who realizes that even loved ones cannot join us beyond the grave, there is only one solace – God! Yes, when we know that the Supreme power that we had trusted so long is going to be ever with us, no more will we be afraid of leaving our family and friends.

In my journey, what I consider far superior to any material things and may be in par to human love is God’s love. I know I haven’t still crossed the boundaries of human love. But that doesn’t curb my love for God either. There can be no bigger and better joy than connecting with the divinity that binds the whole universe.

My discipleship to Paramahansa Yogananda and to his organization YSS came to me as a gateway to proceed in the path of light. Years before, my husband was introduced to the book, Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda. From there began a slow spiritual transformation in all of us in the family. Over the years, I began practicing the basic exercises of YSS. I continued the practices on and off, whenever time permitted me to. However, lately, I have realized the importance of keep everything else on hold while concentrate on my spiritual practices in a full swing.

By God’s grace, six months before, on a beautiful day I was initiated into the Kriya Yoga technique given by Mahavatar Babaii and passed generation to generation by my other Param Gurus. That was one of my most cherished moments of life. It is indeed a great blessing to trend the path that saints and sages have trailed from time immemorial.

Certainly, my practices have found a new dimension and I am not the same person as before. It feels as if life has changed  drastically since the time of my initiation. With the initiation, there has come a regularity in my practices. I keep my routine intact in such a way that never would I miss the specific place and time, I had set aside for my practices. I am hopeful for a new shift in my consciousness, what had appeared elusive all these years. It feels I am connected with Guruji all the time. After all, life has no greater meaning without the spiritual freedom one can experience in the form of having a higher source behind all our thoughts and actions.

The day of my initiation graced me with that kind of a freedom that I can look forward for the rest of my life.

So do Thou My Lord

It was during one of the early days of my spiritual practices that I felt depressed about not seeing the God in me that saints and sages speak about. I was, in fact, obsessed during my daily practice to experience fantastic divine visions like Mahavatar Babaji blessing me and Paramahansa Yogananda smiling at me. Least did I realize then that I was still a child crying for a candy. But probably, all spiritual seekers go through such periods of obsession and depression during some phase of their journeys. And today I am not ashamed to share what I felt years before.

With time, maturity and wisdom began creeping in. I slowly started to realize that it is not the visions and magical experiences that I must crave for. Rather, I should crave for the one that creates such mystical experiences. I am here to seek God and not God’s creations.

Though I came out of the silly obsessions I had earlier, my heart was still craving to meet Him. It was consoling to read Paramahansa Yogananda’s experience in his Autobiography of  Yogi when he meets Master Mahasaya and cries to him to speak for him to Maa Durga. And on the next morning, Paramahansa Yogananda will get a vision of Maa Durga. Even our great Guru had gone through such tumultuous moments. Thus it consoled me that I am not wrong in my desires.

I must say it was a slow journey of learning and unlearning up until one day something happened that gave me hope in my body, mind and whole being, for the first time.

On one particular day, as I sat to read Autobiography of a yogi, I turned to the page where Guruji talks to AnandaMayi Ma. It has always been a pleasure to read that chapter again and again in which the subtle love between God and His devotee could be literally felt. After I finished reading the book, as I was drenched in the love of the Blissful Mother, I closed my eyes and remained in silence. It was then that for the first time, I experienced divinity in its true self. It is an indescribable state of emotion where everything else around me remained unimportant for me. How many days have I longed for this moment of life?! And what joy this ecstatic state of bliss gives one, is boundless.

AnandaMoyi Ma                        Photo Courtesy: viagensculturais.wordpress.com

That was the day of my hope! Hope of life, love and the world! The only purpose of existence for my life is to become one with the Lord at the end of this life. Before that holy day, my hope was only a dream. But it marked the beginning of a new ray of hope in me. Ever since that beautiful day of my life, I have never fell short of hope. I know He is ever with me and I can always look up t Him at all times.

You can look up here for more stories on hope.

A Divine Scrutiny!

May be it’s true that God tests those seek him earnestly, lest why somebody like me who is far averse to mountaineering, trekking and adventures should have landed upon such a risky task in life?!

I’ve been always scared of heights – anything that has the potential to make me distant from earth. It brings the hell out of me even to imagine going up a hill which doesn’t have a proper path or stairs. I’ve avoided hill stations at all possible times throughout my life. I knew I had to overcome it one day or the other, but did not find the right chance to do it until an opportunity to take that risk came my way.

Courtesy: www.flickr.com
Courtesy: http://www.flickr.com

A few years before, we visited a relative’s place at Thenmaathimangalam. Having come so close to Parvathmalai, we were suggested not to miss a dharshan at this 2000 years old temple. Parvathamalai is a hill of around 3500 feet above sea level and is located near a small village in Tamilnadu, Thenmaathimangalam. This is 20 km from Polur, which is again 35 km from Thiruvannamalai. Lord Mallikarjunaswamy ,who tested my devotion in a dreadful way is seated at the top of this hill.

As a devotee of Lord Shiva, it was definitely an alluring suggestion. but we were also warned that the path is going to very tough and that one needs real courage to do this. There I was, completely stuck at first. But sooner, I decided this is a crucial task I need to do in order to battle that inner fear in me. A guide was sent with us to help us with the route on the hill. I thanked the Lord for this surprising invitation from Him. But also was afraid of looking down from above, though I did not lose my determination to win it at any cost.

It’s a dense hill with trees and rocks. The rocks are so huge and steep that it’s dead scary for any first time hill climbers. So it was to me! There are no clearly paved paths like in most other popular hill-top temples in India. So it’s a step-on-rock kind of a walk throughout. Of course, the heat was at its peak at that season of the year which did no good to us. I prayed a little and whined a little to Shiva to help me get to Him somehow. Merciful enough, he granted my wish. Well, just to reach Him, because that’s what I prayed for!

Courtesy: http://www.panoramio.com/photo/103304653
Courtesy: http://www.panoramio.com/photo/103304653

However, the most fearful, terrifiying, dangerous, risky, breath-taking episode of my life was yet to unfold – climbing down the Parvathamalai. I wonder why climbing down is usually spoken lighter than climbing up, may be because of the energy consumption levels. But to climb down a hill of this sort must be one of the real adventures of life. It was steep throughout with no place to bare. Nine out of ten chances is that you step with an intense grip of fear. As I keep my next step, I should make careful efforts to balance my whole body weight within the limits of my feet with indomitable grip. And there’s nothing to hold! With fear rising all through my nerves, my imagination traveled from slipping down the hill to lying dead to people mourning at my funeral and afterlife. I know wasn’t prepared yet to leave my children and family; so with all my possible efforts, I continued stepping down.

How I wished gravity was a myth and I can jump as if on Moon! Once, I slipped down a little distance before I could collect myself up. Almost a narrow escape from death! It’s still a wonder how I managed to reach the foot hill. What a relief it was! I finally did it! I am not sure if I will again take the risk of climbing a mountain but I am certainly sure I can look down the earth from a height without fear. I’ve did it once and it wasn’t as terrible as I assumed it to be all along.

We heard from the guide that several pilgrims visit Parvathamalai throughout the year and there has been no history of deaths or injuries at this place. Miraculous indeed! I am fond of Lord Shiva for the visions he has bestowed upon me years before. And it’s certainly a treat to my soul to worship Lingams at holy shrines. There are several Shiva temples that stand apart in my memory, to name a few, the mighty Brahadeeshwar temple at Tanjore and the ever-ecstactic Arunachaleshwar at Thiruvannamalai. However, one temple which stands victorious in my memory is the Parvathamalai temple of Lord Mallikarjunaswamy.  An important battle and victory in my life.