Katherine Skaggs - as published in the Healing Path Magazine 2008
In November 2007 I had no plans of going to India — until after I had said a series of prayers on Thanksgiving Day. I surrendered to Spirit and asked in the depths of my earnest heart to allow me to live only in love and to release karma or suffering. I chanted Om namah shivaya and tucked myself into bed to read for the day, alone and away from gatherings of family and friends. As I was reading, I realized that I wasn’t alone. Up to my right above me was the elephant-headed god looking down upon me. I couldn’t remember his name, but I knew who it was and said “Hi.”
A little more time passed and I heard inwardly, “Parvati.” I couldn’t remember who Parvati was, so I jumped up and went to Google “Parvati.” Interestingly enough, Parvati is the Supreme Goddess or Divine Mother in Hinduism, also mother of Ganesha, the elephant-headed god. Fascinating!
I also discovered that Ganesha is the remover of obstacles. Feeling supported as I sat back to read more, I said “thank you” to them both. I thought perhaps they had come to help me with my prayers, though I didn’t understand how at the time.
The mystical events continued into the next morning and I was led to Sondra Ray’s website with information about Babaji and her annual Spiritual Quest to India. As I read through her site, I felt deeply drawn to make this journey, to go to this ashram of Babaji. As I read through the requirements to go, I saw the contact woman’s name and my mouth fell open…her Hindi name was Parvati! I booked my airline ticket and sent my registration money in immediately.
Four months later I arrived in Delhi, India, to meet a group of 35 people who came from around the world to join rebirthing breath-worker and author Sondra Ray. We were headed for the ashram of Sri Haidakhan Babaji, an avatar who comes onto the planet to help humanity from time to time. No longer in physical form now, he is the love of the Divine and is said to be felt everywhere. His last known incarnation was between 1970 and 1984 in Haidakhan. He is also the Babaji who appeared to Paramahamsa Yogananda in Autobiography of a Yogi, also the avatar who was said to have taught Jesus during his lost years.
This land of mystery and high contrast seemed quite familiar and natural. The roads are full of people on foot and in a variety of vehicles, moving from place to place. It seems everyone is just inches apart, yet somehow quite comfortable and moving, moving, moving. There were new cars, old cars, nice buses, crowded old buses, carts pulled by bison, motorcycles or scooters driven by men with women in saris sitting side-saddle on the back… all within inches of one another.
People had warned me of the poverty, yet I saw only people with beautiful hearts and an underlying spirituality that made sense of it all. I could only feel the love as I went through the contrast.
After a day of shopping in Delhi, we left our 5 star hotel for an 8-hour bus ride of stopping, starting, beeping, bumping, swerving and finally arriving in Haldwani for an overnight stay. The next morning we boarded 4-wheel drive jeeps to trek into the foothills of the Himalayas and into the village of Haidakhan to the ashram of Babaji. It was a beautiful drive, again feeling familiar and peaceful.
We arrived at the ashram during the spring celebration of the Divine Mother or Navaratri. During this time, many ceremonies are held to honor the different aspects of the Divine Mother, or Parvati. More than 350 people from around the world gathered at the ashram for this 10-day celebration. During the last 3 days many Indian nationals arrived, making over 1,000 people at the ashram at once.
At 4 a.m. each morning we arose to bathe, either in the Ganges River or in the communal showers. My roommate and I chose to go to the showers, rather than cope with the dark, the hill down to the river and the cold. Instead we filled our bucket with hot water from a water tank heated by a wood fire. Next, the two of us would share a shower stall, taking a cup of water at a time and pouring it over our heads and bodies, using just what we needed to soap up, then rinse. I learned quickly how to bathe in about 8 cups of water or less.
After our morning bath, we dressed in temple clothing and headed for chandan at 5 am. A yogi would spread sandalwood paste on the forehead, to soothe the mind. While we waited to receive chandan each morning, we sang devotional songs to the Divine Mother.
After chandan we would head to one of the chai shops for our morning chai… a whopping 3 rupees, or 8 cents of US currency! Good-bye Starbucks! The chai shops typically consisted of a pot of spices, tea and milk over an outdoor stove or fire. Ginger teas and a few other items, such as fruit were usually available, along with items like bottled water.
After a morning group meeting, we headed to the temple for 7 am arati or devotional songs sung in Sanskrit. This was a time of moving into the rhythm of songs in a foreign language that soon fell out of my mouth, accompanied by ecstatic movement and a vast sense of love expanding in my heart. I have never sat so long with crossed legs day after day. My yoga teacher would be proud!
Usually 10 am brought rebirthing breath work, listening to yogis tell stories, mundon (head shaving) or ayurvedic doctors. Many days different yogis would tell of their times with Babaji in Haidakhan. The stories revealed the deep love, devotion and humility of these very enlightened beings. We heard over and over how Babaji is the Divine Mother, is the Divine Father, is the incarnation of God looking you in the face showing you your ego, then showing your love.
At 11 am we headed across the Ganges River for havan, a powerful fire ceremony offering prayers to different aspects of the Divine Mother. Rice, spices and fruit were thrown into the fire with the prayers. Lunch followed havan, with heaps of rice, dal, soya and other Indian dishes served upon plates made of leaves. Unless you brought your own utensils, you ate with your right hand.
The afternoon called for another bath, always to keep your auric field clean as well as your body, this time in the Ganges river. The Ganges is said to release your karma. This was often a time of laughter and remembering other lives spent in the Himalayas and life as a yogi or monk, with my roommate Teri, whom I just met on this trip!
Once again we dress for temple, go for a chai, then arati at 7 pm.
Mundon is the practice of having your head shaved in ceremony, with the intention of releasing the past attachments and karma. And yes, I shaved my head! I knew as soon as I read about this that I was to let it go, my hair, and my past…my karma.
I humbly knelt before the 95-year old head shaver of Babaji’s. I felt deeply honored to have this sweet, heart-centered man take his straight-edged razor and shave my locks. My group gathered and sang Om Namah Shivaya as my hair fell onto the banana leaf. I moved deep into a trance state of gratitude and humility. Once completed, I walked into the Ganges and released the banana leaf and my shaved locks, saying prayers of gratitude for what has been and for what is to come. I then was dunked three times in the river as my own baptism into Spirit in a new way.
I was headed to havan when a group of people stopped to watch two cobras and a snake charmer. He waved a friend over who went up and began to pet one of the cobras. I about fell over before rushing to get my camera. Then he put the cobra around her neck and I gasped…all the time thinking, “I have to do that!” Several more people stepped up, and I continued to know “I have to do that!” My heart raced a little bit each time, yet I scooted closer and closer to shoot this cobra through the lens of my camera. Each time I moved in, I looked more deeply into her eyes. The closer I was, the more I could see and feel immense love and sweetness from this being.
The snake charmer waved me in next and put this amazing being into my hands and around my neck. My heart quivered, yet all I could know was amazing love and respect, honor. This was the experience of amazing power and love at the same time. This was the Divine Mother, kundalini, Shakti incarnate. Meeting and holding this snake was one of the most spiritual experiences I have ever had.
I am profoundly touched by my experiences in India, with so much more to tell. It weaves in with my many spiritual adventures and is perfect in its placement in my life. India is a mystical place where many spiritual adventures are to be found if one is ready and open. If you are called, you must go, for Spirit/God/Babaji…the Divine Source, is calling you. There is no greater gift than to answer a call from love, for love. My prayers are answered…every time, all the time.