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Lost & found at Badrinath

Badrinath 

Badrinath – one more temple on the ‘to do list’. To be completed, forgotten and moved on. Was not expecting anything to happen here – to me at a Vishnu temple? – Hah, no way. And anyways what can happen now? After previous experiences on this yatra? After catharsis at Kedarnath, Kalpeshwar? Nothing! I was to learn how wrong and ignorant I was.

On the way 

As part of the yatra, two days were kept for Badrinath. L had asked my consent for the plan and I had not given it much thought. Yes, we were expecting to go some nearby places and hence the need for an extra day. Was sure her plans would be as required and hence had not paid much attention to it. Her parents apparently were supposed to stay at Badrinath while the three of us visited the other places on the second day. Or that’s what I gathered over a period of time before reaching Joshimath - base for Badrinath.

Badrinath to me did not have any significance and was going there only since it is considered part of the char dham yatra. If this was not included in the plan – like the fourth place- Yamunotri- I would have not have been bothered. But since this was included, the attitude was - well, what have I got to do with this place - a Vishnu temple but anyways let’s go with the flow. One more spiritual place gets ‘visited in this lifetime’ stamp. Completely sure about this, we left Joshimath for Badrinath. It was when the ride started that I felt a sense of urgency to reach Badrinath -a sort of restlessness.

Narsimha temple 

Joshimath has a system whereby traffic is regulated to and from Badrinath with the gate system – it opens at specific intervals for the vehicles to pass through. Our car was waiting in the queue for the gate to open. Got out of the car to visit the Narsimha temple – again, just to notch up a “done” next to the place – otherwise a Narsimha temple had no significance whatsoever.

The temple, though nothing much to write home in terms of architecture, gave some strong vibrations. I was a bit ahead of the others and having darshan on my own. Almost all the deities have temples there and going from one to another started having an effect – out of those I remember Devi temples (one or many, I do not remember?) vividly. The place was giving very strong vibrations indeed but at the back of the mind there was the thought of rushing back to the waiting car and brushed aside any effect the temple was having.

Saw a person sitting with a receipt book in the temple courtyard and started thinking of giving a small donation. Went from one temple to the other with the mind asking – what will the others think if they see me giving money? Weird thought but it was nevertheless on my mind.  But while leaving, I just had to give a small donation - do not recollect the amount - but handed over the money to a person sitting at the table. Do not even recollect if I bothered to collect the receipt. Did not matter and had to rush back to the car. The temple had created a positive, calming effect.

Gate had opened and we left. This car ride was a bit disconcerting- this stark rugged terrain of Himalaya was so different from ‘my’ Himalaya: snow laden, welcoming, smiling. This

Himalaya seemed to be unwelcoming for some reason.

 First Darshan 

Reached Badrinath hotel as planned. And was pleasantly surprised as was not expecting anything so luxurious in Badrinath (in spite of seeing the web site). It was time for noon aarti and closure of the temple. Would have to rush for darshan. And that’s what we did. K and I left the hotel for the others to follow.

The restlessness that I had experienced earlier, surfaced again – what if I miss the darshan- asked at least two more people for directions, apart from a policeman, and shortest route just to be very sure. Did not want to miss the darshan at any cost -could not understand why, since we had so much more time, two full days in fact, but there was an urgency – an anxiety – a pull that was too strong to be overcome, although it was not well defined. Of course, just brushed aside this feeling - this state – there was no time for all this now.

Reached the temple just in time and read the notice board or was informed by someone that leather is not allowed inside and hence decided to leave my trouser belt outside. I could have worn it with no one noticing but did not, could not even think of doing that. With no arrangements to keep private valuables, the policeman guarding the temple gate said: just leave it here (near the pillar). Knew that it would surely be flicked and (knowing that I would require it later just to keep the trousers in place having lost some weight), I left it there. Wanted to rush for the darshan and loosing a belt, if it was to be lost, did not matter at all.

Reached inside just in time, took a darshan and ate the prasadam served, after a bit of a deliberation. Wanted to have the prasad but was not sure where the others were. Looked around could not see them and just decided to take and have the prasad. Felt nice and satisfied in spite of the mess by eating daal and rice with fingers. Went to look for the belt- just for the heck of it and yes, it was gone. Perhaps, this was an indicator of what was to happen in the afternoon- the physical signs of renouncing/giving up knowingly, willingly, had already started.

Catharsis afternoon 

We all went back to the hotel as the temple had closed and decided to come back at 3.00 when it would reopen. Even now, there was no connection and it was just another temple. Back in the hotel, went for a leisurely bath after a long time but was getting more and more anxious about reaching the temple in time. Had lunch and went back to the room. At about 2.30, asked at the reception about the others and was told that all of them were in their rooms and therefore left alone for the temple. Just walked down, feeling the chill in the air and disregarding it - and was there before the gate opened. Rushed in with the rest of the devotees - there was a slight rush as the gates had just opened.

Stood in a corner to avoid the rush but from where I could still see the deity. People trooped in and out for darshan. I could stand facing the deity and looked. Was vaguely aware of people coming in, some were being taken right up front where they sat for a few minutes. Overheard priests talk and understood that those people had paid some amount- booked a darshan or something like that. Every time I saw a devotee come in there was a thought - good for him/her, so lucky to have come here; could identify with each one and was truly happy for them.

It was past 4.00 now and I was the only one in the temple apart from the priests. One question came to my mind and kept asking the deity- why I was so blessed when others had to wait hours for a minute’s darshan. Never been much of a devotee of Vishnu, and could not understand why I was having this kind of darshan.

The conversation was going on but the cold was becoming unbearable. By now I was almost freezing in spite of the layers and decided to rush to the hotel and put on some more clothes. The walk to the hotel and back was done as quickly as possible to avoid missing a single moment with the deity.

Came back wearing more clothes, resumed the position and talk. Even now there were very few people and I could continue talking and gazing at the deity. Almost without my realizing it, I had started giving up/matters were slipping away. And it was happening naturally. Past, people, pleasures, everything and it was so easy to let go. Did not realize this – was not at all conscious about this process till much later.

Catharsis in the evening 

It was almost time for aarti. L and K came to the temple. As part of our hotel booking, we had a chance to participate in one of the aartis. Aartis here start at 6.00 and go on until 8.00. Different aartis are performed one after another. One can book a particular aarti by paying the required amount at the counter and attend the aarti. This would give one chance to sit and be close to the deity. General public, attending without booking an aarti, stand at the back of the enclosure. There was no option but to leave the enclosure as aartis were about to start and the one that our hotel had booked for us was much later. Did so reluctantly and sat outside waiting for our aarti. Our turn came - went in and attended. When we came out, L decided that she wanted to attend the other aartis as well. We paid the money and bought the next aarti coupons and then the next one and one more again and attended all the aartis. The bond that had started forging in the afternoon was now complete.

Aartis - nothing much to speak of as far as mantras or aartis were concerned but the chance to look at the deity was overwhelming. In the last aarti: shayan aarti, the priest removed all the shringars and one could see the deity in unobstructed glory. It was impossible to tear eyes away and just wanted priest to delay the proceedings but alas it came to an end. There was euphoric feeling and wanted to share the feeling with everyone and did not want to leave and was completely light after having renounced/let go know not what.  Left the temple only when there was no way to delay it further but kept stealing glances even after crossing the bridge. Tearing away was almost impossible.

L and K retired after reaching the hotel as they were fasting and her parents had finished their diner much earlier. So I went to dine alone. Went to bed with the understanding that all of us would leave for morning darshan.

Second day Morning  

Woke up and opened the window in spite of the chill. Sounds wafted in from the temple – M S Subbalakshmi’s voice chanting the Vishnu Sahasranama. Had heard it before and never liked it much. And now it was pulling me. Enchanted, I changed quickly and almost ran to the temple. It had just opened. During darshan the thought of bathing in the taptkund entered my mind.

Was in a real dilemma, wondering if I should go back to the hotel and get some clothes to be able to bath or …. Started walking towards the hotel. To and fro hotel? There was no way I was going to spend so much time away. Saw a shop and purchased whatever I needed. Went to the taptkund and took a dip. The feeling will probably remain with me for the rest of the life if not beyond. Came out and wearing ordinary clothes (no woolens!) entered the temple. Another darshan - lots of people in there but they somehow decided to make way for me. Stood in the temple for as long as I could remain. Ecstatic.

Came out and crossed the bridge and sat in the small restaurant opposite the temple. With their huge glass windows, one could see the Ganga flowing below and the temple right across. Ordered lots of sugar-less, strong tea and sat staring out the window. For ages, it seemed and yet was not satiated. But finally had to tear myself away and walk to the hotel. L and K and others had just about finished breakfast. Sat with them but did not eat anything. Was probably too full of the temple experiences to relate to what was happening around me elsewhere.

Went to the temple at 10.00 or 11.00– this time the others were going to take a dip in the taptkund. I was waiting outside on the temple parapet, facing the temple with the

Ganga behind me, when the rest of them bathed and received darshan. It started drizzling and a cold wind was already blowing from behind, across

Ganga river. Nothing seemed to matter. Just vaguely aware of what was happening around me.

When the others came back, we went back to the hotel and from there proceeded to the places nearby. Vyas gufa, Ganesh gufa and some other places.  The gufas are nothing to write home about but the trip was pleasant. Mana village and tulsi (basil) tea at the last tea-shop on this side of  India’s border was wonderful. And the people, their smiles, and their goods - we could not help but buy some of their hand crafted items.

Second day Afternoon/evening 

We reached Badrinath around 3.00 p.m.,: time for the mandir to reopen for evening darshan. L, K and I got off the car and proceeded to the temple. L’s parents went back to the hotel. It was only while approaching the temple that I realized how eager I was to be there. The three of us sat in the mandir’s privilege enclosure and this time unlike the previous day when I stood most of the afternoon, I was sitting most of the time with L and K also sitting.

Needless to say, was hardly aware of others. There was no conversation today with the deity. Just soaking it all in was the only thing I did. Complete surrender- now finally I have started understanding what it means/feels. And again it was time for the aartis and L’s parents were to join us. While waiting for her parents in the precincts of the temple, I had a small chat with L and it veered towards grand ma and how the puja ceremonies had declined at home.

It was time to go for the aartis and we repeated the previous day’s program by attending all aartis. The feeling at the end of the aartis and leaving the sanctum sanctorum was of both ‘satiation and ready to leave’ and yet ‘wanting to hang around’. As usual we had to be almost thrown out (not physically of course!) from the temple. It had started raining and we had no option but to rush back. L and I went searching for the car – getting soaked – and asking local people about car parks. Some answers – amazing, considering they were from locals- could have and almost did send us on a wild goose chase. But luckily, the others had found the car and found us too!

Dinner time. L had arranged a surprise for us. My true nature came to the fore – exceedingly curious and impatient enough to be killed by it (‘curiosity killed the cat’). Through out dinner was wondering what the surprise was. L, of course, thoroughly enjoyed my plight. Can’t deny I enjoyed it too. And finally the surprises arrived. Yes, not one but two. One was pizza and the second, chocolate desert. Needless to say I freaked out on the desert and can never thank L enough for arranging such a wonderful surprise. She and the hotel staff had gone out of their way to prepare it for us.

Time to go to bed. The cold was creeping in again but thankfully heaters were working unlike previous night. Since we were leaving early next morning, we had decided to get breakfast packed and rush for last darshan before leaving.

Spoke to parents at home in the night and was informed about Neelkanth peak. Neelkanth peak is the only one that takes on blue hues just before sunrise for a few seconds - this when all the other mountains are still dark.  It had been shown on television and they asked if we had seen it. We had not. The previous night also they had asked the same question and when I had asked hotel staff where one can see the Neelkanth sunrise, got vague replies. Same with some of the locals but a coffee shop (on the way to the temple) owner said that it could be seen from a particular spot. Decided to catch this sight in the morning, if possible.

Just before leaving 

In the morning, since others were sleeping, left for the temple and went in for darshan with puja thali. Every time we would go to the temple, we would just take a puja thali. We had many visits to the temple in the short time we were there. By now, the shop-keeper and his son had started looking at us with amusement and wonder. Probably convinced we were a bit crazy. Darshan was soon over, knew had to rush back- halt on the way to watch Neelkanth and then to the hotel. Came out of the temple and called home standing at the temple footsteps to wish ma. It was dhanteras according to the Hindu calendar – the auspicious day of Diwali and ma’s birthday. Wished her at 6.00 in the morning from just outside the temple- wanted to be in the vicinity of the deity while wishing her. I had booked a puja to be performed on dhanteras for ma, the evening before, knowing that I would not be around for the puja or prasadam.

Watched Neelkanth at sunrise- just as it had been described- another fulfilling experience that makes you bow down to Him for all the mysterious, wonderful things that He has created. Reached hotel well in time, packed, loaded the luggage and left Badrinath. Only to come back again and again, in thoughts and definitely in physical body too, in this life time itself.

When I started on this yatra, when I reached Badrinath, when I had the first darshan, when I had the first prasadam, had no idea what this place would mean to me. And yet here it was - yet another catharsis. What was this? A learning experience? An eye opener? Beginning of surrender? Devotion? Longing? Once again made me realize the unfathomable ways of the Almighty. And bow down in complete humility. And Badrinath? Well, it’s a bond forged. Unbreakable.

One Response to “Lost & found at Badrinath”

  1. Anil Says:

    Very well written and quite mesmerising
    One question though ?

    Did you find your belt by any chance ?

    LOL
    Anil

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