An Indian journey that changed lives

2008-06-19 00:00

Four members of the Guru Rambaranji’s Vedanta ashram in Mountain Rise returned recently from a pilgrimage to India. Sri Roopchand Dhanilal, spiritual head of the Guru Rambaranji’s Vedanta Satsang Society of South Africa and guru of the ashram, and three of his devotees Menka Inderjeeth, Shirley Mohan and Shireen Singh had planned to spend a month in India to attend the opening of a new university and temple and visit pilgrim sites. However, an unexpected experience transformed not only their travel plans, but also them.

Inderjeeth explains: “We thought we were just going to the opening of the Oneness University and Oneness Temple in southeast India and doing a pilgrimage. However, God had a plan that was totally different. When we went to the university opening we had such an overwhelming spiritual experience that we are still marvelling at what happened.”

The group started its pilgrimage in northern India where they visited Delhi, the Taj Mahal in Agra and then moved on to the Hindu pilgrim spots of Haridwar and Rishikesh. They then travelled to the Himalayas, visiting the Mussori hill station, which is located at over 10 000 metres in the Himalayan valley.

The group then returned to Delhi to catch a train to Amritsar to visit the Golden Temple, the holy place of worship for Sikh Gurus. From there they went to Madras to attend the opening of the Oneness complex in Andra Pradesh.

The temple complex had been recently completed so six days of events were planned to mark the consecration of the temple and the opening of the campus in April (see side bar).

Two days, April 22 and April 23, were set aside for dignitaries who attended the event from all over the world. Sri Dhanilal’s daughter had studied at the university so his group was invited to attend on April 22.

Millions of people follow the Oneness movement, so to make the opening ceremonies manageable, India was divided into regions and each one was invited on a particular day.

Oneness authorities planned food and water for up to 250 000 people a day, expecting one million people to participate in the week-long events. The university website reports that “an orderly queue system was created which included three miles of carpeted and shaded walkways and 1,5 million square feet of covered space”.

However, people did not adhere to the programme and uninvited locals and foreigners arrived on the first day of the ceremonies. The website reports that during the first 24 hours nearly one million people travelled to the temple site. The facilities were inadequate to cope with the crowds, so the opening ceremonies were postponed and rescheduled for smaller groups over several months.

A subsequent report in a local newspaper records that five people were killed and more than 100 injured in a stampede at a water point on the campus. Inderjeeth takes up the story.

“When we eventually reached the temple we got caught up in the huge crowd. People saw our guru’s saffron robes and began to prostrate themselves in front of him. We were mobbed by literally thousands wanting to touch him and receive deeksha or a blessing. People were hanging from the balconies on the floors above, trying to get close to him. We speak Hindi and the people there spoke Tamil so we were stuck, unable to communicate and not sure where to go.

“I was wearing a white sari which, by the end of the day, was brown from people pressing against me to reach our guru. From about 5.30 pm until almost 9 pm that night we were caught, unable to move anywhere or find anything to eat or drink, because of the huge crowds.”

Eventually the group was guided to a VIP lounge by security personnel, but people followed them there.

“People wanted to break down the door to touch Sri Dhanilal and be blessed. The security personnel had to control them,” says Inderjeeth.

The group then met Sri Bhagavan.

“Only six people met him during that time and we were lucky to be among them. We told them what had happened and Sri Bhagavan said that we were mobbed because people recognised our guru as a holy man.

“After the interview we enjoyed a meal in a VIP dining room before being taken back to our hotel at about 2 am. We were led out on a red carpet to a VIP car and greeted by a guard of honour. We all wept at the honour of such treatment. We could see thousands of people sleeping on the lawns outside the temple. It was such an overwhelming experience that we could not go to sleep when we reached the hotel. We stayed up talking about what had happened.”

From Andra Pradesh the group travelled to Bangalore where they

visited ashrams set up by the Advaita Vedanta Guru Sri Sathya Sai Baba in Puttaphathi and Whitefield. After spending 10 days at Sai Baba’s ashram and receiving his darshan (blessing), the group went to Mumbai for a day before heading home.

Inderjeeth says: “We had other sightseeing tours planned but we felt so peaceful that we decided to come home early. All the time that we were travelling Sri Dhanilal, our guru, taught us about the higher self, so the whole tour was a spiritual and educational experience.”

Now that the group have been home in Pietermaritzburg for several weeks, the pilgrims find that the momentous experience they shared in Andra Pradesh has not left them.

“We did not go to India to look for anything, but we have come back richer in spirit with a new inner peace and contentment. We are calmer and more at peace with ourselves.

“Our experience has changed our spiritual consciousness and left us keen to share what we learnt and experienced. It made us realise that God should be placed first in all our lives, not material things, because we take nothing with us when we die.

“It was God’s purpose for us to have this particular spiritual experience and share it with others.

Man plans, but God knows. We still talk about our experience and what happened. It was truly a life-changing experience.”

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