In Karnataka, South India, there is a beautiful temple to a goddess called Chowdeshwari. Here, both practicing Hindus and reverential seekers from around the world are welcomed in to have darshan (see, pay respects to, and receive blessings from) Chowdeshwari Ma. But she is no ordinary temple deity: Chowdeshwari interacts with those who make the pilgrimage to see her. Of course, there is no such thing as an ordinary temple deity- all aspects of the manifest and unmanifest divinity are unique and beautiful... and of course, on a subtle level, each one interacts with those who make a sincere attempt at connection. But nevertheless, Chowdeshwari is a rare and amazing example of interactive divinity.
Her name first entered my consciousness at the beginning of the Living Enlightenment Program. Nithyananda Dhyanapeetam ashram was buzzing with her story; it seemed everywhere I turned, someone was talking about this miraculous Devi.
Chowdeshwari is famous in India for her writing. Not the writing which she did while living in human form on Earth, but the writing which she does now, through her idol, in a temple near Bangalore. Her energy is so powerful that she literally writes in response to questions put forth from seekers. The Q&A process is incredible: two illiterate village men hold her while the visitor asks a question. (The question can be posed in any language- Hindi, English, Tamil, Japanese...) Sometimes, as the question is being asked, Chowdeshwari flips over, tapping the head of the querent with the top of her head-dress; other times, she rests her head in the visitor’s hand, or she will simply look on and listen. When the question is complete, she sets the top of her head dress on a table, which is covered in a thin layer of rice flower. In the flower, with the top of her head, she begins to write. The two village men hold her firmly, as she shakes, jumps and thrashes from side to side. The results of her movements are perfectly formed words, written in the local dialect- Kannada- in the flour. Amazingly, the words written always answer the question asked, even though the men holding Chowdeshwari know nothing of foreign languages.
The reason her name started to spread like a wild-fire of enlightened excitement around the Dhyanapeetam ashram is that dear Devi Chowdeshwari is totally and completely in love with our guru, Nithyananda! Shortly after the scandal, she began shaking and jumping one day, even though nobody had asked her a question. Her handlers lifted her to see what she had to say, and she quickly flipped into the rice flower to make a request: she wanted to see Nithyananda. She was insistent- she had to see Him soon. So, her temple priest contacted the ashram, and made the arrangements. First, Nithyananda Swamiji paid a visit to her temple. She was thrilled to see Him- absolutely ecstatic; He invited her to Dhyanapeetam. Promptly, she accepted the invitation. (Truly, she accepted; of course, it was her priests who made the travel arrangements, carried her in the car, etc. etc., but when a temple deity is as animated as Chowdeshwari, once she makes up her mind about something, they honour her decision, and comply.)
Once she was at the ashram, Chowdeshwari only wanted one thing: to be around Swamiji. Everyone who was there at the time describes it the same way: it was as if Chowdeshwari was a love-struck teenager, and Swamiji the object of her affection. She insisted on being carried around Him wherever He went- sitting next to Him, walking next to Him, not letting Him out of her sight... she even wanted to sit in His car as He drove from one place to another. Some ashramites describe the scene as somewhat comic- she, a goddess, was acting the way program participants and visitors to the ashram act when they try to follow Swamiji everywhere! To see a deity act this way is just unheard of! A goddess acting like a school-girl!
Anyhow, beyond the humor in the situation, Chowdeshwari’s visit brought everyone a deep level of comfort at exactly the time when it was most needed. Swamiji was out of jail on bail, but the charges illegally filed against Him had not yet been dropped, and public opinion of both Him and His organization was quite low. Many ill-informed locals actually believed He was guilty. So, when the famous, beloved and highly respected Chowdeshwari not only insisted on going see Him, but also declared her love, and wanted nothing but to be near Him, all were forced to re-examine their stance on Nithyananda. People can lie; deities cannot. If Chowdeshwari insists on Nithyananda’s innocence, then He is innocent. (When asked, she stated in her rice flower, that Nithyananda committed no crime; He will be free; all charges will be dropped; Dhyanapeetam will succeed!)
The more that I heard about this amazing idol, the more I wanted to see her for myself! The mystical way she communicates, the love she has for the one whom I most love- Nithyananda- and her impeccable timing (to come to Him right after the scandal) all added up to a deep yearning in me to pay her a reverential visit. So, when my friend Abirami invited me to go see Chowdeshwari the day after the LEP process concluded, I jumped at the chance!
On the morning of October 11th, Abirami, myself, and our friends Mahima, Raquel and Dale piled into a cab and set out on a voyage to see Chowdeshwari. Before going, I prayed to Swamiji for something to offer her that she would truly enjoy receiving. It’s customary to go to a temple with an offering. Typically, if the deity is female, we give her coconut and other foods (in a pot called poorna kumbha- the pot of fulfillment), jewelry- usually bangles, money, kumkum and other spices, flowers... But since dear Chowdeshwari had done such good to seal the faith of those who remained with Swamiji throughout the scandal, and gave a big sign of His innocence to those who went astray, I wanted to give her something beyond the typical.
“Please, Swamiji, let me know exactly what to offer Ma Chowdeshwari...” I prayed on my mala as I perused the ashram gift shop. I bought her a small pendant with His photo- surely, since she loves to be near Him, she would love to see His smiling face on a pendant? Before putting the small token in a bag, I touched it to His padookas, energized sandals, as if taking His blessing for the gift, then went on to meet my friends for our voyage.
Somehow, though, the little pendant didn’t seem like enough. Deities are traditionally ornamented in fine jewels- my budget didn’t allow for such finery to offer her... They are garlanded in ornately strung fragrant flowers- we didn’t have time to go to a fancy florist... What could I give to really let her know just how much we, the devotees of Nithyananda, appreciate and revere her? I was still pondering that when I entered the welcome center, and saw Abirami filling out our ashram departure form. On the desk in front of her, I saw it: an envelope with the beautiful, radiantly smiling face of Nithyananda, and the words “Navaratri Dasara.”
Navaratri Dasara is the traditional Indian celebration of Devi, the goddess, which takes place over nine nights and ten days. That was it! I would give her a Navaratri card with Swamiji’s picture on it! She is Devi, and she loves Nithyananda- perfect combination. I opened one of the cards, and saw that it was actually an invitation. It said, “The disciples and devotees of Nithyananda invite you to the Navaratri Dasara celebrations at Nithyananda Dhyanapeet...” I gasped: it had felt like the right thing to give her... but was it appropriate? Who was I to invite Chowdeshwari to Navaratri at the ashram; she has her own temple! If she accepted the offer, it would be a big nuisance for her priests, and possibly for Swamiji (as she would no doubt insist on following Him everywhere!) and the media would swarm... Ah- but the media. Imagine the headlines if one of the most popular Karnataka goddesses chose to spend Navaratri with Nithyananda. (The last little bit of public uncertainty about Him would surely dissolve.) There was no time to consult with anyone from the ashram- I took an invitation, and said to my mala, “Swamiji- if I shouldn’t give this invitation to Chowdeshwari, please stop me from doing it. Let a gust of wind blow it out of my hand, or let me see a strong sign to leave it!” But neither happened...
As the five of us, Abirami, Mahima, Raquel, Dale and I made our way through the picturesque South Indian countryside, the conversation was buzzing with excited ideas of what to ask. It’s not every day that you drive through stunning tropical vegetation en-route to an historic goddess temple in which the deity will answer any question you have for her. One amongst us decided to ask about her marital future; another her education path; one her husband, another her health.
As for me, I had no question, just a thank-you, and the invitation- which stirred up a bit of controversy in one of my fellow pilgrims. “I really think you should have asked someone at the ashram before bringing that to her.” She said.
“There wasn’t time. But, I told Swamiji over the mala. If I shouldn’t bring it, something will stop me.” See, many refer to the mala as a direct line to Swamiji- like a cosmic cell phone. They say that when we talk into the mala- the string of rudraksha seed prayer beads which He energizes to hold enlightenment- our words go straight to Him. Many miracles have happened by contacting Swamiji this way. I was sure that He would intervene if I was about to do something wrong after first consulting the mala!
When we got to the temple, though, it seemed our plans had been spoiled. Chowdeshwari was in silence until the end of Navaratri. We were told we could see her, and give her the fruit and flowers we had brought, but that any questions would have to wait a week- a week which those of us flying back to North America didn’t have. Resigned, we agreed that since we had gone that far already, we would at least see her and offer her our humble gifts. I said to my mala, “Alright. It wasn’t meant to be.”
We waited about ten minutes, and were led into a small room, where Chowdeshwari sat motionless, beautifully clothed and garlanded, over her rice flower tray. The man presiding over her motioned for us to put our heads to her feet, which we did, one-by-one. Burying my head in the soft jasmine flowers at the base of her carriage, I whispered, “Chowdeshwari- thank you for visiting Nithyananda Dhyanapeetam after the scandal. Since you’re in silence, I know that what I came here to do was wrong... I came to invite you to Navaratri at the ashram, but...” I was interrupted. She started to shake a little bit, and the temple guru walked in with the two men who hold her when questions are asked. They locked the door, and invited the five of us to sit on an elevated spot behind Chowdeshwari, saying, “You can all ask your questions.”
What followed was a scene I’ll remember for the rest of this life. Raquel started, with the first question, posed in English. For the sake of my friends’ privacy, I won’t reveal their questions, but I will say this: one by one, they asked what they had to ask, and without the question being translated into Kannada, these Karnataka men held Chowdeshwari on her head, and she wrote answers that exactly replies to the questions asked! I knew I was witnessing something truly out of this world.
I was last to go, and still not sure whether to give the invitation or not. During Navaratri, major decisions should be avoided, and travel is avoided completely; it was a potentially offensive and ignorant act to give her a short-notice invitation at that time. I thought, I could pretend to be an uninformed westerner, unaware of the Navaratri customs; but that would go against my sathya vow, the vow of speaking the highest truth.
Then, I remembered my work. Professionally, I read tarot cards for a living. Sometimes, my clients struggle before their readings, telling me that they aren’t sure whether they should ask their question or not. Whenever that happens, I give them the deck, and walk them through a specific process to determine whether they should have the reading or not, a way of asking the energies that work through the cards whether it’s in the highest good to go forward with the question. I appropriated that technique with Chowdeshwari. I asked:
“Do you know why I’ve come here?”
She replied, “Yes.”
I went on, “Should I give you the invitation that I’ve brought, or would it be wrong?”
Without my question being translated, she replied, “Please give it.”
Then I started to speak, “I’m a disciple of Paramahamsa Nithyananda...”
Before I could get even another sentence in, she started to jump and shake so powerfully, I thought she might jump right out of her handlers grip! We were all surprised by just how physically she responded to the guru’s name. I could barely finish what I was saying,
“and I’m so grateful to you for visiting His ashram earlier this year. Before coming here today, I prayed to Nithyananda for something worth giving you, and when I saw this invitation to Navaratri Dasara at the ashram, it seemed like the perfect thing to give...”
She wrote rapidly and excitedly, and the translation came as, “You have my anugraha.”
Anugraha is defined as meaning blessings and grace. It was very sweet; after she wrote, she put her head in my hands, which I had held cupped in front of her. She rested there for a few seconds, and I could feel very loving energy coming through her. As we left the temple, we were served delicious coffee, and offered prasadam. (Prasadam is energized consumable, like a blessed souvenir of the temple. In this case, it was crystal sugar candy and kumkum- the vermillion powder used for bindi, the red dot on the forehead used to awaken third eye energy.)
I felt that although a Devi cannot leave her temple during the Navaratri celebrations, Chowdeshwari had blessed me for giving her a sincere invitation to a place she loves; that she had responded to the sincerity with which the offer was extended, from one who loves Nithyananda to another.
When I returned to the ashram, my friend Sugandhi, who is well versed in Sanskrit, asked me what I had asked Chowdeshwari, and what she had replied. When I finished the story, she was thrilled, and said:
“Anugraha means blessings and grace... but it also means acceptance! As in, an acceptance to a request or invitation! She could be coming!”
Someway, somehow, Chowdeshwari might just spend the festival of the goddess with her most loved gurudeva after all. If you’re in the Nithyananda Dhyanapeetam ashram during Navaratri, stay on the alert- she might just astrally visit on the sacred Dasara day!