Meeting Babaji - Part 2 of the Dio Urmilla Neff interview
At Babaji's hilltop ashram in Herakhan we found a delightful compound of white and peach-colored buildings, banana groves and flower gardens on terraced levels overlooking the clear streams of the Gautam Ganga. The tiny octagonal temple, with its narrow red, white and green dome, nestled among the banana leaves; a faded red flag hung from its steeple. All was clean, well-swept and peaceful. On either side of the ashram were terraced fields of corn and rice, dry green-brown hills, several stone farmhouses. To the right was the village of Herakhan, with its tumbling stream and miniature bridge. Directly across the wide riverbed was a cave and the towering Mt. Kailash, traditionally sacred to the Hindu god Shiva. In the distance, more hills shouldered the river's white, stony bed. A few villagers worked in the hot fields; others herded black-skinned water buffalo along the narrow trails.
The afternoon we arrived, I was hurrying down the ashram steps to retrieve my bags when I almost bumped into a group of Indians led by a tall, plump person in a violet silk shirt and dhoti. [A dhoti is a traditional Indian garment for men consisting of a length of fabric wrapped to form a kind of trousers.] The leader had a youthful, round golden face and black, shoulder-length hair, combed back and oiled, Indian style. I was momentarily confused -- I couldn't identify the person as a man or woman; he or she seemed to combine the best of both. The face was so appealing . . . so splendid. Oh! I cried, realizing who it was.
Babaji asked me my name, then passed by and walked quickly into the garden, where his followers had gathered for afternoon singing. I sat at the back of the garden, staring in wonder at the figure in violet silk. He looked almost like an American Indian, with his high, domed forehead and deep-set, dark eyes. His nostrils flared slightly; His lips were beautifully carved. His cheeks were full and rosy and He glowed with health. There was something compelling, wonderful, about his face. He was the most beautiful being I'd ever seen. Babaji sat on a low wall at the end of the garden, receiving the devotees who lined up to greet Him.
Women in saris [traditional garment of Indian women consisting of a length of cloth wrapped over a petticoat and jacket] knelt down and touched their foreheads to his feet, then rose, and beaming, said a few words to Him. Men in dhotis and men in business suits approached Him, many laying fully prostrate on the ground in pranam, the Indian gesture of respect to one's guru. The people who'd arrived that afternoon brought Him presents, and Babaji unwrapped shirts and dhotis, watercolor sets and drawing paper, packages of fruits and Indian delicacies. Some devotees brought fragrant oils to massage into his feet, or incense to burn nearby.
They obviously all adored Him. [It is traditional in India to bring gifts to the guru or saint or to the local deity in the temple. These gifts, which can be flowers, sweets or fruit, incense or sweet perfumed oils or other items, such as clothing or jewelry, even money, are often distributed by the guru to others, sometimes after a few days, sometimes immediately. This is known as prasad, blessed by the guru. The food which is served in the ashram, also referred to as prasad, is blessed by offering it to the guru or by a priest, who offers it to the local deity before it is distributed.]
The next day began the ashram routine that would be daily life for the next ten weeks. We'd rise at four to take a quick bath in the crystal streams of the Gautam Ganga below the ashram, and assemble in the tiny cement kirtan hall [Hindu temple; kirtan is a religious service consisting of singing for devotional prayers and songs.] Babaji would arrive to receive us, and we would line up to greet Him or stand by His raised seat and talk with Him. Afterwards we'd go to our rooms, sit with Babaji in the garden, work in the kitchen or carry buckets of water up from the river. [At this time there was no electricity and very few modern amenities in Herakhan.]
At noon we'd assemble in the courtyard for lunch and afterwards sleep in our rooms. We'd take our second bath in mid-afternoon and then sit in the garden for afternoon singing and visiting with Babaji. Once it was dark we would again meet in the kirtan hall and sing. Sometimes at night Babaji would have one of us make a speech; sometimes He'd clown and play with a devotee, or pull someone into his lap and hug and rock them like a mother. And often He would simply sit, not speaking, and we'd sing continuously until it was time for bed.