Saturday, 31 December 2011

A Collection of True Stories - Part IV

When I was led by an Unknown Beam of Light – a true story
By Vijay Khosla (Part –IV of the Story)

The tone and my declaration was a plain stupid thing to do. I do not know what got into me that I was behaving so adamantly. Aunt Nirmala was very upset. The shadows of anger and sadness were clearly visible on her somber face. It was almost as if she was on the verge of leaving me for my disgraceful behavior, that something changed her mind and she looked back at me.  

She said very sadly almost in resignation, “Alright son, what will I gain by remaining back when you are unwilling to stay for the night. Don't forget that we started this journey together and we ought to finish it jointly”.

I felt sorry and was uncomfortable upon hearing that. I replied:

“No aunt, please don’t do that. Considering your age, you are already tired. Take rest tonight and start afresh your pilgrimage to Bhairon Nath Temple and other places first thing in the morning tomorrow”.

But she did not agree to my suggestion. Instead, she got up and tied carefully her shawl around her. Then she picked up her staff of bamboo stick and looked inquiringly at me as if asking me to make a move. I was taken aback at this show of strength and will power. There were no visible lines of tiredness on her face and she looked fit enough to take on the return journey as well.

Today, when I think over the whole chain of events, it surprises me to the hilt that how could have I been so naïve and foolish that I did not recognize her for what she was and who she was! What a foolish lad I was and perhaps a man I am, even to this day!

But, as the turn of events and time might have it, I just over looked the things.

Mountain-Trek - Courtesy:
 Well, we commenced our return journey. The dusk was spreading its wings and a very little day light was left. The sun had gone behind the hills and the birds were flying back to their nests. A soft cool breeze was blowing through the hills.

After reaching at the first stone stair-case leading down the slope of hill, I preferred stairs to descend the hill and asked aunt Nirmala to follow the plain pathway. Aunt Nirmala was not pleased and instead offered to follow the stairs along with me. I requested her to reconsider my suggestion but she refused plainly. It pricked a little and made me to think how much strong this old woman is at this age? Rather I praised her for that.

We started descending stairs together. I was ahead and she was a step behind. She had advised me to descend slowly, a step each at a time since it had started getting dark. But my youthful stance was almost a slow trot down the hill in place of a single step each time. I was covering multiple steps and after reaching eight to ten steps ahead of her, I used to halt and wait for her slow but steady descend. When she reached up to my stair level, I used to start my trot again playfully.

At one of the stairs level, when she had reached me and I was about to descend the next step,

Oh God, I slipped!

I had already slipped the step and was on the verge of beginning my fall. Within those micro seconds, it flashed in my mind that I am going to fall and hurt myself. I was afraid and my eyes got closed.

The inevitable fall had begun and my eyes were shut with fear, when a strong hand caught me by the shirt collar and held me! The grip on my collar was rock solid. And slowly she helped me to gain my balance. She called my name repeatedly and shook me as if trying to wake me up. I opened my eyes and stared at my surroundings unbelievingly. I got up and stood shakily on my feet. My body was shivering with fear. Whatever had transpired was just unbelievable!
An old and frail woman had just saved me!!

I was trying to recover when I heard her admonish me and she said,
“This was the reason I was not leaving you alone even on these stair steps. I knew some odd is due, but when and where… never knew”.

Now, listen carefully my boy, once we finish this set of stair steps, follow the plain mountain road. It is almost getting dark and I do not want you slipping again. No more descending through the stairs. Is that clear to you?

It was a stern order and I was already shaken. I did not have the courage to think otherwise. I was like a meek lamb.

I thanked her time and again for saving my life.

                                                                                                                         Cont'd to Part...V

Sunday, 4 December 2011

A Collection of True Stories - Part III

When I was led by an Unknown Beam of Light – a true story
By Vijay Khosla (Part –III of the Story)

We reached the Bhawan in the late after-noon. As the custom would have it, we also prepared ourselves to take a bath to cleanse ourselves, since most of the pilgrims prefer to take a bath before proceeding to Sanctum-Sanctorum of Maa Vaishno Devi for Darshans. In 1973, the pilgrims used to take a bath at the Bathing Ghat, with the water that flows from underneath the feet of Maa Vaishno. With the passage of time, new Bathing Ghats and other amenities have been provided. Attempts have been made to channelise the water from the Holy Cave to all these new Bathing areas. The traditional Bathing Ghats have also been enlarged as many pilgrims still like to take a bath at the original ghats.

After our bath, Aunt Nirmala took the command to lead me to the holy cave for Maa Vaishno’s blessings. While on the way to the Sanctum Sanctorum, one crosses a small patio type of structure on the right hand side of which is a Cave opening. It is said that the big boulder lying at the entrance of Cave opening is the body of Bhairo Nath. This is the original Cave leading to the Holy Pindies. In the olden days, the pilgrims used to reach the Sanctum Sanctorum through this cave only.

The Holy Cave - Courtesy:
 We crawled inside the cave through that narrow opening. The cave is like a tunnel and said to be 98 feet long. The symbols of a large number of Gods and Goddesses of the Hindu pantheon can be seen in the holy cave. The pilgrims have to wade through water after entering the cave. Aunt Nirmala was ahead of me and I was following her like an obedient son. The path leading to Holy Pindies was almost dark. Yet, a continuous chant of ‘Jai Mata Di’ mantra was giving courage to keep me moving. Since there was no rush of devotees at that time of the year in 1973, myself and Aunt Nirmala were the only pilgrims inside that holy cave. At last we reached the blessed place!

A single earthen oil lamp (Deepak) was burning and spreading its glow on the Holy Pindies. A high priest was seated there to accept the offering of devotees. It was very peaceful. No noise to name it, as if you are all alone with the Mother Nature! I approached the small flat surface in complete silence and extended my arms towards the priest with my offerings. While doing so, suddenly I wished to sit there to feel the calm and peace of that pious atmosphere, as if I wanted to merge my entity in the pervading serene air….I wanted to drink that pure pious air like a thirsty boy. I bent with eyes closed and folded hands. I bowed my head and prayed for Maa Vaishno’s blessings earnestly. I never wanted to get up. In the same state of mind, I extended my hands and touched the Holy Pindies out of devotion and reverence. A child was reaching out to seek the blessings of his mother!

My actions annoyed the priest and he came to his feet angrily. He patted me on the back and almost tried to bring me to my feet and ordered sternly to leave the cave. 

At this that old woman, the Aunt Nirmala roared on the priest like a lioness and said: O foolish priest! How dare you touch this boy? Don’t you know how far has he traveled to come to this abode? Leave him alone and let him offer his prayers!

There was something in that commanding voice of Aunt Nirmala !

The priest just looked once at that old grand lady and folded his hands in deference. He stepped back and bowed his head in silence. Aunt Nirmala patted my shoulder affectionately and smiled, as if assuring me to go ahead with my prayers. 

I too was impressed by the Aunt Nirmala and realizing the quietness of the priest, I sat once more near the Holy Pindies and tried to visualize Maa Vaishno in my mind, but couldn’t concentrate. I must have sat there perhaps for a minute or two with my eyes shut and folded hands, when I felt a soft hand on my shoulder as if asking me to get up. I opened my eyes. There was complete calm inside the cave. No other sound was perceptible excepting a soft sound of water gushing forth through some hidden channel. I was completely at peace. Therefore, out of respect and my regards, I touched the feet of priest and Aunt Nirmala to seek their blessings.

And we came out of the cave.

There is a tradition that every devotee of Maa Vaishno sleeps for a night at the Temple site. Presently, there are very good arrangements of boarding and lodging with free blankets to keep you warm. But, on that February evening of 1973, I was not prepared to stay for the night at the temple premises. I wanted to get back. Though, Aunt Nirmala tried very hard to persuade me to stay back, but all arguments to hold me fell on deaf ears. I declared adamantly to Aunt Nirmala that I am going down the hill and if she wishes to stay back for the night, she may do so!  

                                                                                                                  To be continued to Part- IV… 

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

A Collection of True Stories - Part II

When I was led by an Unknown Beam of Light – a true story
By Vijay Khosla (Part –II of the Story)

We reached ‘Katra’ and left our baggage with a local priest to commence our journey to the holy shrine of ‘Maa Vaishno Devi’. In 1973, the town of ‘Katra’ was a small sleepy place with a single bazaar to cater to your needs. There were no tiled or cemented pathways and no provision of electrical-lights at night as it is today. The whole journey was conducted almost on your own. The pilgrims use to carry torch-light while travelling at night. At places, the ‘kutcha-pathway’ used to be covered with pitch-dark blackness during moonless nights. Yet, there was never a dearth of pilgrims to the holy shrine. A famous holy chant giving courage and energy to cover that 13 km trek through the mountainous region is given below:

Paudi Paudi chadh da ja,
 Jai Mata di Karda ja”!

Paudi Paudi chadh da ja,
 Jai Mata Di Karda ja”!

Jai Mata Di… Jai Mata Di… Jai Mata Di… Jai Mata Di…”


(Have courage and)
keep on climbing the stone stair-case step by step…
(you will reach at your destination).
(Forget all worldly things… keep on Chanting the pious Mantra…)
Glory to the Holy Mother! Glory to the Holy Mother!!

Note: The whole trek has a stone stair case as well as a plain path cut on the mountain surface. No one knows who cut those stones to fabricate the stair case. The plain path has been provided to make the journey a bit easy on the pilgrims and goes round and round the ‘Trikuta Mountain’. The pathway used to be an unpaved gravel filled mountain road with no facility of electric poles and lights to facilitate illumination at night back in 1973.

It is equally surprising that millions of people visit the ‘Maa Vaishno Devi’ shrine every year and just keep on reciting the above said pious mantra to cover this arduous and tiring journey and they do make it successfully.

Well, coming back to the original story, me and the Aunt Nirmala (the old woman’s name was Nirmala and I started addressing her as ‘Aunt’ to pay my respect to her age) procured the ‘Prasad’ (our offering to the deity) from the bazaar as well as took on rent a bamboo stick along with a pair of P.T. Shoes to enable our climb.

Both of us got our names registered as devotee at the base camp at Katra and started our climb.

Ban-Ganga - Courtesy:
 Baan-Ganga – 1 Km. from Katra

Our 1st. halt was at Baan-Ganga situated at an altitude of 2800 ft. It is a small stream of fresh mountain water. The devotees are expected to take a bath in the stream water to purify themselves before commencing their onward journey. Aunt Nirmala insisted upon taking a bath in the stream but I refused on the pretext that I had already bathed, back at the hotel room.

Ardh-Kuwari – 6 Kms. from Katra

The 2nd halt was at ‘Ardh-Kuwari’ situated at an altitude of 4800 ft. The place is taken as the middle point of the entire journey. It is also famous for its ‘Garbh-Gufa’ or the Womb-Cave as it is shaped like a womb. The pilgrims visit the temple at ‘Ardh-Kuwari’ as well as enter the narrow cave of 15 ft. length famously known as ‘Garbh-Joon’. We rested for a while before continuing our onward journey to the shrine.

Sanjhi-Chhat – 9.5 Kms. from Katra

The 3rd halt was at ‘Sanjhi-Chhat situated at an altitude of 6200 ft. It is the highest and toughest part of the journey. The holy cave of ‘Maa Vaishno Devi’ is almost 3 Kms. away from this place and a downhill slope at this junction welcomes you for a change. The downhill journey starts from this place up to the temple.

Sanjhi-Chhat provides a scenic view of the mountains and valleys. We stopped for a while to recover our breathes and refreshed ourselves with water and a steaming cup of tea.

Bhawan – The Holy Shrine – 13 Kms. from Katra

The Holy Bhawan… the main temple houses the Sanctum Sanctorum – the Holy cave which is the ultimate destination of all the pilgrims. Inside the Holy Cave the Goddess has revealed herself in the form of Holy Pindies manifesting 'Maa' in her three forms Maha Kali, Maha Lakshmi and Maa Saraswati.

A pilgrim is greeted with the first glimpse of Bhawan around 1.5 Kms before his actual arrival. The first sight of the Holy Shrine engulfs anybody with sudden upsurge of energy and all the hardship borne on the strenuous climb of 13 Kms evaporates immediately as if by a magic. The fact that the last 1.5 kms. of the route is a gently sloping downwards pathway, which is a big relief to those tired muscles. The feeling of having almost reached there fills the devotees with extra fervor and devotion. The last 1.5 km distance is then covered as if on wings and in no time the devotee reaches the Holy Shrine.

To be continued….in Part- III

Monday, 14 November 2011

A Collection of True Stories - Part I

When I was led by an Unknown Beam of Light – a true story
By Vijay Khosla (Part – I of the Story)

This story belongs to that period of my life when I was merely a lad of 23. A care free young man serving in the eastern part of the country. I was posted at a famous hill station named ‘Shillong’, the Capital of the state of ‘Meghalaya’ in India. The year was 1973 and the month February.

During one of those cold winter nights, I dreamt of the holy shrine of ‘Maa Vaishno Devi’ and heard a voice beseeching me in my dream to come and visit her shrine. The sound of the voice was soft and filled with love but at the same time it was commanding too. It was like a mother calling her kid from a doorway... and that ‘call’ couldn't go ignored….it had to be followed.

I was awakened from my dream by that 'call'. It was early in the morning. I couldn’t sleep after that. I kept on thinking about the dream and finally decided to visit the holy temple of ‘Maa Vaishno Devi’ in Jammu & Kashmir, India. So, I made arrangements for my travel to the most holy shrine.

 Maa Vaishno Devi shrine is considered as one of the most holiest and sacred places in the world. It is located in the mighty ‘Trikuta Mountain’ at a height of 5200 ft. above the sea level. The journey to the shrine starts from a small town named ‘Katra’, which is 61 kms. in the north of Jammu. From Jammu to Katra you can reach by a bus. The distance from Katra to the holy shrine is 13 kms. covered normally on foot.   

The actual story starts from Jammu Bus Stand.

As told earlier, I was a young lad of 23, single and care free. I had reached Jammu to start my onward journey to Katra. It was around 08:30 in the morning and I was feeling fresh and joyful after having my breakfast of ‘Aloo-paratha’.

I was waiting for the bus at the bus-stand when a weak voice called me from my back and enquired whether I was waiting for the bus to Katra too?

I turned back and found an old woman of around 65 who had put the question to me. She was a little frail than strong in appearance. I gave my answer in affirmative. Then she enquired again that if I was alone and did not mind an old woman tugging along as a companion to visit ‘Maa Vaishno Devi’s shrine’? At this, I looked her up once more and seeing her age and health, suggested her to hire a palanquin for herself at Katra as I wished to cover the journey on foot.

Oh No! aloud she cried out. She firmly declared that she will cover the journey along with me. I requested her again to heed to my advice of hiring a palanquin for herself. At this, she got annoyed and almost ordered me to ‘keep shut’ and she is accompanying me by all means and that is final.

There was something in her way of talking that bore the tone of authority, as if my own mother was ordering me. I did not offer any more excuses and submitted to her demand of traveling together.

To be continued….in Part - II