REMINISCE FROM SRI CHITRAKOOT YATRA WITH SRI SWAMIJI IN SEPTEMBER 2023
Sri Sathguru Maharaj Ki Jai !!
In this article, I have made an humble attempt to pen down some of my sweet memories from the recent Chitrakoot yatra that my eyes and ears were able to capture and store in my heart which I carried home, besides many priceless gifts such as Gurukripa in abundance, holy water from the rivers, prasadams such as Tulasi, flowers and sweets and savories distributed in Sita Kalyanam celebrations as part of the Ramayana Parayanam.
The moment we hear the name of this Divya Dham, Sri Chitrakoot, we are at once blessed with the thought of Lord Sri Ramachandra Prabhu and the Divine mother Sita Mata. I was fortunate to take part in Srimad Ramayana Navaham (nine-day Parayanam of the Ramayana slokas) that happened at Chitrakoot from September 20, 2023 for nine days, in the august presence of our Satguru Maharaj His Holiness Maharanyam Sri Sri Muralidhara Swamiji (Sri Swamiji). During this nine-day satsang, everyday Sri Swamiji blessed everyone with His nectarine Pravachanam, Parayanam, Nama kirtanam and with the darshan of the Procession of Sri Rama Padhukas (Sri Sri Anna’s Holy Padhukas) carried by Sri Swamiji Himself on His head and the Gaja Vahanam (elephant ride) of Sri Ram Parivar led by Sri Swamiji to the Mandakini River for Sri Rama Pattabhishekam and Avabrita Snanam on the concluding day.
Sri Swamiji primarily organized this Chitrakoot satsang to celebrate the Ramayana lekhanam (writing of Srimad Valmiki Ramayanam) done by approximately around 137 devotees, each hand-written Ramayanam had about 7 volumes of bound notebooks. Sri Swamiji had graciously organized to transport all the notebooks, more than 900 of them approximately, from Chennai and kept them on the altar in the satsang hall. Every day pooja was performed to all the copies of the Ramayanam notebooks. Sri Swamiji read out the names of all those blessed devotees that did the Ramayana lekhanam, saying that one
accrues great merits by merely listening to the names of these devotees. At the end of the nine-day satsang, Sri Swamiji very kindly arranged to take all the Ramayanam notebooks to Sri Ram Janma Bhoomi at Ayodhya to get the Blessings of Sri Ayodhya Ram to all those that wrote the Ramayanam. Chitrakoot is a very serene, quiet place, filled with thick vegetation, untouched by urbanization. Thus, even today, it is a natural habitat for many friendly and wild animals. River Mandakini flows through Chitrakoot and her gushing water enchants one and all. It gestures as if she is rejoicingly caressing the Lotus-feet of Lord Sri Rama and Sita Mata with her gently flowing water, and showing her well-deserving, rightful pride that the Divine couple took dip in her water every day during their stay in Chitrakoot and joyfully engaged themselves in sporting in the Mandakini water. Because of Mandakini’s gushing flow, the river appeared crystal clear, and the water was just at the right temperature in this time of the year. I enjoyed taking a dip, on couple of occasions during this trip, to the full of my heart; with one time I was blessed to take a dip a few feet away downstream from the point where Sri Swamiji and Sri Ram Parivar did the Avabritha Snanam after Sri Rama Pattabhishekam on the concluding day.
Everyday satsang started around 5.30 A.M before the Sun could be spotted on the horizon. All satsang brothers and sisters assembled at the venue – Sridhar Dham, Das Hanuman Mandir, echoing “Radhe Radhe” “Radhe Radhe” everywhere. Everyone’s face was bright with a smile denoting the fortune to be in the satsang while at the same time, ready to welcome the day with all the eagerness looking forward to the Parayanam and Rama Katha that the day would unfold. There is a small, yet very beautiful Hanuman temple at the entrance of the satsang venue. Hanuman ji there looked like a Bala Hanuman to me, looking very cute and charming, waiting to shower Rama Bhakthi to all that come there to listen to Rama Katha. The satsang hall was very spacious, beautifully decorated, giving a feeling that we are indeed entering Ram Darbar! There was a stage already existing in the hall with a beautiful lifesize Portrait of Sri Kodandarama in His vanavasa roopam, showering His cool glance on one and all that enter the hall. Sri Swamiji got the altar setup on the stage, decorated it with a parna-kutir (a hut made of bamboo sticks and darba grass), housing all the Ramayana notebooks, the Kodandarama picture and Utsava moorthis of Sri Ram Parivar. The parna-kutir gave everyone the sight of the divine abode that Lord Sri Rama, Mother Sita and Lakshman ji dwelled in during their vanavasam. It reminded of the instance in Ramayana, when during the vananvasam in Panchavati, Lakshmana built a very beautiful parna-kutir with a well-laid out floor plans, thoughtfully built in moments, consisting of many different rooms and a kitchen to suit the needs of the Divine couple. This took Rama to a pleasant surprise and made Him immensely happy over Lakshmana’s Seva to Him. The Lord exclaimed and said to Lakshmana that he
(Lakshmana) takes care of Him, in the same manner that Dasharatha himself would take care of Rama when he was alive. Sri Swamiji narrated this incidence in His pravachan and lo! we could see the beautiful parna-kutir right in front of our eyes.
Every evening, we were blessed to listen to Sri Sri Anna’s Raghava Shatakam recital led by Sri Sangeeta ji in her nectarine voice, supported by other mahila devotees, followed by Vishnu Sahasranamam, and Sri Rama katha expounded by the disciples of Sri Swami ji, totally immersed the listeners in Rama Kathamrutham. In addition, we were blessed to listen to the nectarine, soul-touching pravachanam by Sri Swamiji Himself, that came as a bounty as it was not in the schedule. Sri Swamiji’s mesmerising exposition in His unique style, took our minds to the Treta Yuga and made us live the Rama Katha. I can never forget the moment when Sri Swamiji was narrating Sundara Kandam, a monkey came and sat at the entrance, right across the stage where Sri Swamiji was sitting. Everyone there were guessing that it could be Hanumanji that came in the disguise of an ordinary monkey, to come and listen to Sri Swamiji’s wonderful exposition!, It was as though getting a glimpse of this beautiful Sri Madhura Gitam in Andolika ragam, in which Sri Swamiji describes Hanuman ji as “Rama katha lolam Hanumantam”.
Everyday, Sri Swamiji used to arrive at the hall much before the start of the satsang. At the start of the day, we all recited Gajendra Sthuthi in chorus in Sri Swamiji’s divine presence. It was a sight to watch when all the devotees called out together “Narayana Akhila Guro Bhagavan Namaste” and prostrated to our Pratyaksha Deivam – our Satgurunath Maharaj!! What a great fortune it is!! Very difficult to articulate this experience cherished at heart. Gajendra Sthuthi was followed by a melodious recital of Sri Sri Anna’s Sri Kodandarama Ashtakam by Sri Srivats Bhagavathar. As ordained by Sri Swamiji from
day to day, there were recitals by various devotees singing Hanuman Chalisa, Sri Swathi Thirunal’s Kriti – Bhavayami Raghuramam and other kirtans appropriately chosen by Sri Swamiji to go with the Parayanam chapters for the day.
On day 1 of the satsang, Sri Swamiji spoke about the greatness of this Divine place, Chitrakoot. He said that Chitrakoot is where Lord Rama and Sita Devi spent most of their time on exile and lived most happily. Sri Swamiji narrated the beauty of this place, sloka by sloka as narrated by Sage Valmiki in his Ramayana. He further mentioned that even today many sages and siddha purushas are doing penance at this place; they come in their siddha sharira to bathe in Mandakini in the pre-dawn hours. Sri Swamiji stated that when He closes His eyes, these sages present in the region come in His divine vision. He told
all of us that it is one’s greatest fortune to come to Chitrakoot, and that too, take part in a Ramayana Parayanam and that too, in a Navaham. He said one may not get this opportunity again in this lifetime. Therefore, He told everyone to completely focus on the read or follow-along or listen without missing out even a letter. He cautioned everyone to refrain from any wordly talks, and fix their mind on Lord Rama and Rama Katha, to get the best out of this satsang. Everyday, Sri Swamiji expounded the story part of the ensuing parayanam chapters for the day. He highlighted the instances from throughout the Ramayana that shows the inexplicable compassion of Sri Rama – proving the much deserving title conferred by Sage Valmiki to Sri Rama as “Gunavaan”. Instances such as liberating Ahalya from the curse, yet prostrates to her with the same amount of respect as to mother Kousalya; despite winning the challenge in Sita Swayamvara by breaking the bow, yet gently refuses to accept the marriage proposal without Dasharatha’s consent; convinces Bharata and gives Sri Rama Padhukas and the kingdom to him, and immediately decides to move away from Chitrakoot and go into the deep forest, so that He is out of approach to the subjects of Ayodhya and that it would help them connect better with Bharata and show all their love and respect to Bharatha. Sri Swamiji narrated these instances to hightlight Sri Rama Gunam (qualities).
Sri Swamiji’s Katha brought out all the rasas of Ramayanam. He added some hasya rasam to the episode of Sri Rama – Sugreeva Milanam. He said Sugreeva initially does not even prostrate to Rama. He in fact, went even to the extent of testing Rama’s strength and valour. But when he witnessed Rama throwing the huge skeleton of the dead Dhundhubi hundreds of miles away just by merely touching it with His big toe, which is otherwise impossible to even slightly displace, Sugreeva immediately fell at Rama’s feet. Sri Swamiji witfully commented here that to get Namaskaram (prostrate out of respect), even Sri Rama had to show Chamatkaram (miracle).
At the end of everyday Parayanam, Sri Swamiji mentioned a list of important holy spots in and around Chitrakoot, and their significance in Ramayana. He encouraged everyone to visit them. He said that at all these holy spots, there is Rama Saanidhyam (presence) even to this day, and He instructed us to pray for Bhakthi when we go to these places. We went to Ram shaiya, where Sri Rama and Sita Mata rested on a huge rock. To this day, the natural impression of the Divine couple’s form is seen on the rock; Bharat Milap (meeting place of Rama & Bharata, and Sri Rama Padhukas were given to Bharata, foot imprints of all the four brothers, Kousalya and Sita Mata seen to this day), Lakshman Pahadi (Lakshmana climbing atop hill seeing Bharata approaching Chitrakoot with his army, Hanuman Dhara (Sri Rama created a mountain spring water that constantly falls on Hanuman ji’s shoulder to this date in order to sooth Hanuman’s pang of separation when Sri Rama left for his abode finishing His avatara), Spatika Shila (Sri Rama forgiving Kakasura), Sati Anasuya Ashram, Gupt Godhavari, Totamukh Hanuman (Sant Tulasidas ji got darshan of Hanuman ji disguised as a parrot), Bharat Koop (the well into which Bharat
was ordained by sage Atri to pour all the water that he brought from all the holy rivers with the intent to convince Rama to accept the kingdom and instantly do Rama Pattabhishekam there itself), Sri Tulasidas ji’s birthplace Rajapur on the banks of Yamuna, the house where Sri Tulasidas ji was born, his original hand-written manuscript of Sri Ramcharit Manas. We were also fortunate to do Parikrama of Chitrakoot Kamad Giri (the heart of Chitrakoot – the hill where Sri Rama stayed). In the path of the parikrama, we
had the darshan of so many temples, the main one being the swayambhu Narayan with swayambhu Ram (holding a swayambhu saligram in His mouth). Other temples on the path include Sri Panke Bihari, Sri Jagannath parivar, Yamuna ji, and many Ashrams. We watched Mandakini Harathi at Ram ghat after sunset. As Chitrakoot is on the border of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, Harathi is performed by temple authorities in both the states simultaneously, within about 200 feet. It was a grand sight to hold. Sri Swamiji facilitated the visit through the local devotees living in Chitrakoot that connected us with a
reliable e-rickshaw and tourist car operators. We enjoyed our visits availing those vehicles and found that they were very safe and reliable. On our way back from Chitrakoot, we were fortunate to visit the foothills of Sri Valmiki Ashram and Sita Mata temple there.
Overall, it was a very sweet, memorable experience of nine days fully packed with satsang, filling our hearts with Guru and Rama smaranam that I am blessed to cherish in my heart forever.
All glories to Sri Swamiji and His causeless mercy that made this Yatra a grand experience indeed!
Jai SitaRam !! Radhe Radhe !!
Uma Ramgopal, Fremont, CA
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