Pilgrimage to South India
After spending a few days in Delhi, we traveled south. At Madras we visited many temples, then left for the island of Rameshwaram, crossing the ocean waters by train. Here stands a very large Shiva temple, one of the most important temples in the south. Its construction was started in the 12th century, but it has been added to in subsequent centuries. Its magnificent corridors are lined with finely carved pillars. One of these corridors is 4,000 feet long!—the longest in India.
The twenty-six mile trip back to Madurai, from where we’d departed, landed us near the huge temple to Divine Mother, Meenakshi. It sits on fifteen acres of land. Its beautifully carved and painted gods, goddesses, and animals completely cover the nine-story-high (150 feet!) gate; it is truly awesome. Thousands of pilgrims come daily to see it, and to worship Divine Mother’s murti there.
After two days we left for Kanyakumari, the southernmost tip of India, where the Bay of Bengal, the Arabian Sea, and the Indian Ocean all converge. There is a wonderful memorial there, built to commemorate the spot where Swami Vivekananda went to meditate before his departure for the West to share the great teachings of India. As the foremost disciple of Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa, Vivekananda had been invited to attend a World Parliament of Religions, planned for the following year in Chicago.
We also visited a special memorial to Gandhi, which enshrines a portion of his ashes. Finding it very peaceful here, we stayed and meditated a long time.
I had met Gandhi personally in January, 1947, when for two weeks the patrol unit I was with was told to go to a nearby village as part of the St. John Ambulance unit. Sixteen of us boys from Ashutosh College had first joined the rescue and relief efforts at the time of the Hindu-Muslim riots from August, 1946, to August, 1947.
Mahatmaji told us one evening, “Keep faith in God. Always tell the truth. Do japa (calling repeatedly to God in the mind) of Ram Nam all the time. And live fearlessly. Be aware that Lord Rama is always with you. He will protect you. You might die today, or live another hundred years: You cannot know. So do your duty faithfully, always thinking of Him. That is my own practice. May Ram’s blessings be on you all.”
Then he sang one of his own favorite songs: “Ragupati Raghava Raja Ram, Patita Pavana Sita Ram. Ishwara, Allah Tere nam: Sabko Sunmati de Bhagavan!” Then he went into silence.
We saw him every afternoon after our rescue work for the day was finished. Every day he talked and sang, and we repeated our evening prayers together.
Many politicians would come, Muslim, Hindu: All were welcome. He emanated divine love, and also power. “If you always speak the truth,” he would say, “God’s power within you will increase.”
Formerly I had met a swami at the Kanyakumari Temple who told me the local people called him “the Pistol Swami,” because he kept a pistol with him at all times! He gave me his home address, saying that if ever I returned there he would let me stay with him. He was an ex-Major General of the Indian Army. After his return from duty in Badrinarayan, he had joined the swami order through the Ramakrishna order at Belur Math. Later I saw him also during my trek to Kedarnath.
Now here I was again in Kanyakumari. After taking a bath in the ocean, I asked a young boy if he knew where the Pistol Swami was. He took me to his ashram. The swami greeted me, and we talked about my Himalayan pilgrimage.
I then added that this was probably my last visit here, as I was getting older and no longer found trekking so easy as it once had been for me. He put me up in a house near the ocean, where I slept until 2 at night. Suddenly I awoke, aware of someone moving about in the room. I began to perspire with apprehension. I could make out no form, and no one answered when I called. Drinking a glass of water, I lay down again, and, finally, slept.
After another hour, I awoke once more with a jolt. My cot was shaking! Evidently a spirit of some kind was in the room, dashing about and knocking on the door and the windows. I sat up and assumed vajrasana (the firm pose). Addressing the spirit in a firm voice, I said, “Hello!” as loudly and courageously as I could. “Accept my love and pronams. I plan to stay here another five days. If my presence disturbs you, make a sound. If it doesn’t, be quiet! I will pray for you all, and tomorrow I will do a puja at the Kanyakumari Temple for you for the salvation of your souls.” From then on, they kept quiet, giving me no more trouble.
Early the next morning I went to the temple for puja. As I was performing the holy rite, a pujari (priest who performs sacred rites) asked me, “Are you staying at the Pistol Swami’s guest house?” I replied, “Yes, I am.”
“No one has been able to stay in that house, because of the presence of evil spirits.” I didn’t tell him I was doing puja for those very spirits!
I returned to my room at eight o’clock that morning, and found the swami gazing at my door. It dawned on me, then, that this swami was responsible for what was going on in my room! But I decided not to let him see me distressed — or fearful, as some had been — to the point of cutting my visit short.
“Namo Narayan, Swami,” I said, giving him the traditional greeting of monks when they address one another. He was astonished to see me so calm.
“Did you sleep well?” he asked, gazing at me intently.
“Oh, yes.” He was watching me searchingly to see my reactions. He then asked me if I would like something to eat. Not liking the fellow, I refused, as graciously as I could, then closed my door and meditated. (I never did accept food from him, as to do so would have been a signal of respect and also tacit indication that I condoned what he was doing.) To Master I prayed, “Please keep me safe!” I had a long meditation, and finally regained my strength. I had taken no food, but at least I knew that I would be all right.
That night the spirits gave me no trouble, and I rested well. Later someone told me that three persons had been killed in that house: a military man and two women. The swami was sure I was not telling him the truth about having slept well, but he didn’t know what to say about it. In time I understood that this was a trick he played on guests who came for lodging, thinking to scare them, and perhaps — who knows?—even to wait and see if some of them might die of terror. He was that sort of character.
I stayed there five full nights. When I was on the point of leaving, the swami asked me, “Did you sleep well?”
“Like a log!” I replied.
I then returned to Madurai and Madras, and eventually got back to Calcutta. I thanked our gurus all the way home for keeping me safe.