Coming home

  Report By Jayant and Kāverī KaĪāwar

It was a journey of discovery, unexpected and unplanned, when we set out for India after a long spell of 7 years. Going to Shirālī, attending the Saṁvit Sādhanā Shibir organized for over one hundred yātrī-s from Jodhpur, Bharatpur and parts of Gujarat and H.H. Swāmī Saṁvit Somgirijī, and their retinue, and also being in the presence of our H.H. Swāmījī for three days was not even a part of our dream, especially on this trip. Then, before we could say ‘jet-lag’, we found ourselves on a wild overnight sleeper bus ride, slip sliding our way over the ghāṭ-s into our heartland, our home.                                                                 

Why did these three days in Shirali feel like a homecoming, especially for one of us whose family has lived in diaspora for four generations, variously in Coorg, Calcutta, Delhi and now in the USA, disconnected from the Mat͟h traditions and practices?  Was it the Dhūla Bheṭa and the melodious chant of the evening Pūjana and As͟hṭāvadhana sevā that evoked a long lost ancestral memory?  Was it our Parama Pujya Swāmījī’s auspicious presence invoking the deities for the protection of our community? Was it the lilting Koṅkaṇī, interspersed with English, the kindness and sweetness of those around us, or was it the fragrance of food, camphor and flowers permeating the air?  It was all of these and more

This is what we remember: days and nights merged into each other and there was a seamless flow of experience across time and space. So bear with us as we attempt to share this, for we may lose the thread of linear time and words to adequately describe the flow of our joy as we connected with an unseen rhythm at Shrī Chitrāpur Mat͟h at Shirālī.

Koṭitīrtha, Gokarṇa: with our resilient, dynamic, ethical ancestors

To begin at the beginning, one must start on our last day, when on a pleasant early February morning, a convoy of mini buses and cars set out from Shirālī for our Gokarṇa Mat͟h, about 90 km away.   The yātrī-s from Rajasthān and Gujarāt, who had traveled several days earlier to Shirālī with H.H. Swāmī Saṁvit Somgirijī, were going to be introduced to Chitrāpur Sāraswat history and the origin of our Guruparamparā.  Little did they know that this trip would underscore the significance of the whole journey to Shirali for one particular Chitrapur Saraswat in attendance.

As we drove parallel to the seashore, breathing in fresh air from over the Arabian Sea was in itself a rejuvenation.   We reached the Gokarṇa Ma͟th͟, formally known as the Shrī Bhanḍikerī Mat͟h, a few minutes ahead of the convoy and were blessed to have a few quiet moments of darshana of the Samādhi of Shrīmat Parijn͂ānāshram Swāmījī-I, the first Guru of the Chitrapur Saraswat-s."

After H.H. Swāmījī arrived, He briskly led all of us through the small Mat͟h premises and down to the Koṭitīrtha Sarovara, a seven acre lake lined with temples.  As H.H. Swāmījī recounted, this Mat͟h and spot is of great significance to all Chitrāpur Sāraswat-s because the history of rebuilding the community, our samāja, begins here with our ancestors who, having escaped the Portugese inquisition [1560-1814 CE], undertook a long fast while praying at the MahābaĪeshwara Temple for a Guru to guide them. The dhārmic dynamism of our ancestors resulted in the appearance of our first Guru, Swāmī Parijn͂ānāshram I.

The fragrance of a delicious breakfast transported us from the 1700s to the present, as the temple was rapidly transformed into a makeshift dining hall to feed us before we continued our journey to the Mallāpur Mat͟h, about 40 km away.

While the vibrations we felt at the Bhanḍikeri Mat͟h were that of a basic and frugal samāja finding its feet, through resilience and adaptation, there was a sense of deep calm at the Mallāpur Mat͟h. H.H. Swāmījī’s short pravachana reflected this when He recounted how He had observed Chaturmasa at Mallāpur in 1999, immersed in Ekānta in the pouring rains. It was during this time that our Swāmījī experienced the blessings of Shrīmat Shaṅkarāshram Swāmī II who had taken samādhi here in 1785.

Our time travels into the 1700s ended with a quick ride back, ahead of the convoy, to the present day of our Shrī Chitrāpur Mat͟h, which gave us further insight into the organization and planning that goes into mounting a shibir.  The synchrony of the san͂chālaka-s, both youth, middle aged and senior adults, some local and many who had traveled from Bangalore, Puṇe and Mumbaī and other cities, ensured that all who attended the shibir had a comfortable and enjoyable stay. Under H.H. Swāmījī’s guidance, every small need was attended to, from serving food, to setting up the temple hall for the pūjā-s and each day’s events.  Don’t know how to do the Devī Anus͟ht͟hā worries, someone is at hand to teach you the simple steps. Can’t sit comfortably on the floor? A chair magically appears. Don’t know how to read the words? Not a problem: close your eyes and feel Her presence during the chant. Did you forget about those pesky mosquitoes? Odomos is on hand for all. Feeling a bit nibbly at tea time?  Hot delicious biscuit amboḍā-s are being prepared onsite for the outdoor gatherings at Pan͂chavati. Want to go to the beach? Done!  Everyday, our san͂chālaka-s worked from 4am to way past midnight, so that we had a seamless experience in Shirālī.


The Sense of Community

On the hilltop in Pan͂chavati, (where H.H. Shrīmat Pāṇḍuraṅgāshram Swāmījī would sit for meditation and H.H. Parijn͂ānāshram III Swāmījī had a HAM radio station and a weather observatory), we’d gather some mornings and every evening for a pravachana and satsaṅga.  Chants of Jai Shaṅkar mixed with Hara Hara Mahādeva and bhajana-s merged in harmony. The air shimmered with the joy of ghūmar-s, and the smiles and laughter of the young and old dancing swept across all boundaries of language and cultural differences between the Koṅkaṇī-s and those from Mārwar, Kutc͟h and Gujarāt.

On one of the evenings, H.H. Swāmījī invited all yātrī-s and volunteers to His kutīra for conversation, bhajana-s and questions. It was an unforgettable sight to see H.H. Swāmījī sit under a blissful image of Shrī Bhuvaneshwarī Devī in Her Abhaya Mudrā, blessing us all. We were carried away by the love and affection with which the yātrī-s conversed and sang along with Pūjya Swāmījī. We do not remember the details, as it stretched long into the night, only that we were carried away by the fragrance of the blissful thoughts that arose in us.

On another morning, the presence of Devī Shrī Bhuvaneshwarī was felt everywhere, as we performed the Devī Anus͟ht͟hāna and Gāyatrī Mantra producing a powerful resonance in and around us.  Later, when we collectively performed the Pādukā Pūjana to receive the blessings of our Guruparamparā, the joy experienced was that of a child returning to their mother’s home where even the most wayward one is welcomed with love and happiness.

Glimpse of the Mat͟hādipati: Institution Building, Operation and Maintenance

From afar, whether we live in cities in India or in the USA, or if we are blessed to spend time at any of our Mat͟h-s, we are less likely to be aware of our history and of the careful, painstaking institution building and maintenance of our community that was led by each of our Mat͟hādipatis’ over the last 300 years.  The community’s effort to maintain the Shrī Chitrāpur Mat͟h-s is through Vantiga contributions,  while donations have contributed to significant community outreach projects in Shirālī, Mallāpur, Mangalore, Kārlā, Virār, and Koṭekar.   The breadth and depth of the work accomplished with the support of such small community, under the leadership of H.H. Swamiji, ranges from building and maintaining schools for free and low-cost education, to providing vocational training and women empowerment schemes like Saṁvit Sudhā and Parimochana Project, offering free medical clinics, to building toilets and water conservation schemes, among many [for more, follow this link:]

We had the opportunity to see how effortlessly H.H. Swāmījī manages, with His board of trustees and volunteers, the complexity of running these large-scale ongoing projects through its various stages of completion. From the minutest details of the Koṭekar school campus expansion, to the start of new projects like vocational training for Shrīvallī graduates, or when giving feedback on the website expansion, H.H. Swāmījī’s ability to hold complex thoughts with incisive questioning outmatches many a Chairman and CEO of large corporations.  One is in awe of H.H. Swāmījī’s indefatigable energy and clarity expressed well past midnight, on the heels of a long day of anus͟ht͟hāna-s and pravachana-s and interacting with shibir yātrī-s and san͂chālaka-s alike.

Blessings of Samparka  

When H.H. Swāmījī said “Tumi Shirālī tīni chāri divsā khatira yeyāti. Samparka karāti,” we began to understand what He meant about ‘samparka’ during our time in Shirālī.  In three short days we experienced this blessing of connecting and connection with the heart of our community, our Chitrāpur Mat͟h, and our Guruparamparā, that has guided us over 300 years to be resilient and adaptive in the face of challenges, to live ethically in the material world, while gently nudging us towards the divine presence of Shrī Bhuvaneshwarī Devī everywhere. 

Leaving Shirāli, our heartlandand our home, was hard.  And we left hoping and praying that Shrī Bhuvaneshwarī Devī will give us the opportunity to be of sevā to H.H. Swāmījī and our Shrī Chitrāpur Mat͟h.