The Life of Devi Roop Bhawani
by Aparna Dar
[ This is an account of the life of Devi Roop Bhawani who was born in Srinagar on Jyaistha Paurnamasi, AD 1621. She was a fully illumined soul who because of her divine nature was said to have been born of the elements of Divine Mother. The author of thc article is a lecturer at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur]
In the early seventeenth century, a Kashmiri Pundit named Madhav Joo Dhar lived in Srinagar. Madhav Joo was of a deeply religious and philosophical temperament, and his daily life was conducted in an impeccably religious spirit. He worshipped the Supreme Being (Ishwara) in the form of the Divine Mother Sharika (Durga).
In Srinagar, there is a hill known as Hara Parvat or Sharika Parvat where the Goddess Sharika is worshipped since ancient times. Legend relates that, long ago, some demons troubled the local people, who prayed to Goddess Durga for protection. She took the form of a Sharika (Maina) bird and dropped a large chunk of earth on the entrance to the cave of the demons to seal them inside the hill. She then took Her abode on the hill to ensure that they did not escape. This gave the name Sharika Parvat to the hill. The Goddess is represented there by the Sri Chakra (a regular geometrical mystical pattern) in sandy rock, which is annointed with red lead (sindur). The deity is also called Chakreshwari. Regular worship has been offered at this shrine for centuries.
To this shrine of the Divine Mother Sharika, Madhav Joo came every day to worship in the auspicious hour of Brahma Muhurta (pre-dawn). He would chant Her Holy Name, with his face glowing with devotion and his entire being absorbed in Her worship. For hours he would be so transported, the fire of devotion lighting up his entire being with Divine radiance. Thus did this devotee of the Divine Mother pass his days.
It is said that on the first day of the Navaratri (the nine days dedicated to the worship of the Divine Mother Durga) in the month of Ashwin, in the year 1620, Madhav Joo arrived for worship at midnight, to uninterruptedly worship on this most auspicious occasion.
He commenced his worship and, with all reverence and attentive detail, he glorified the Supreme Goddess, his heart filled with adoration. When his worship was complete, the Divine Mother is said to have appeared before him in the form of a radiant girl child.
On seeing this divine child, Madhav was so filled with intense joy and bliss that he lost all consciousness of his external surroundings, and tears of joy and devotion flowed from his eyes. He understood that the mother of the Universe, Mahamaya, was Herself in front of him in the form of this child.
Thereupon he worshipped the girl, placing flowers at Her feet and incense before Her. With fatherly love he offered Her sweets. The Mother was pleased with the simplicity and love of Her devotee, and granted him a boon. Madhav requested Mother, 'Since you have appeared before me in the form of a child, take birth in my house as my daughter.' The Divine Mother granted the boon and vanished. So goes the legend of the birth of Roopa Bhavani.
In the following year 1621, in the month of Jyeshtha, on the Poornima Tithi (full moon), in the early morning a daughter was born to Madhav Joo's wife. He named his daughter Alakshyeshvari, which means one who is imperceptible and indescribable; it refers to the Goddess in the formless non-dual aspect.
In her father's house, Alakshyeshvari's years of childhood were passed in the company of devotees. Madhav Joo was held in high esteem, and spiritual seekers came from far-away provinces to meet him. Alakshyeshvari's spirituality blossomed early in these favourable conditions. As she grew older, the spiritual tendencies within her became increasingly manifest. Her father, Madhav Joo, himself became her guru and gave her spiritual initiation. Nevertheless, in accordance with the prevailing customs of the time, her father arranged her marriage to a young man of the nearby Sapru family.
However, Alakshyeshvari's married life was unhappy. Her husband, Hiranand Sapru, totally lacked all understanding of Alakshyeshvari's spiritual nature; and her mother-in-law, Somp Kunj, had a cruel disposition. Alakshyeshvari's life in this house was difficult and joyless. Her mother-in-law was always finding fault with her. Once she accused Alakshyeshvari of going out at midnight, and made Hiranand suspicious of his wife's fidelity.
The truth was that at midnight Alakshyeshvari would go to perform her sadhana (spiritual practice) at the shrine of Mother Sharika on Hara Parvat. One day Hiranand followed her to see where she went at night. Alakshyeshvari knew this. When she had nearly reached the shrine, she turned around and asked Hiranand lo join her. However, as he was steeped in ignorance, he is said to have beheld a vast expanse of water, impossible to cross, between himself and her and, disheartened, he was forced to return home.
Yet another incident is related of her life in her in-laws' home. One day, on the occasion of some festival, Madhav sent his daughter a pot of rice pudding (kheer). Alakshyeshvari's mother-in-law, on seeing the kheer spoke sarcastically, 'What will I do with this small pot of kheer? I have so many relatives; this is hardly sufficient for them.' Alakshyeshvari replied, 'Please give this kheer to as many persons as you like, but don't look inside the pot.' Somp Kunj began to ladle out the kheer and gave it to everyone she knew. But the supply of kheer seemed endless! Finally, furious with anger, Somp Kunj looked inside the pot to find just a few grains sticking to its sides.
The next day at dawn, Alakshyeshvari cleaned the pot, and placed it in the flowing current of the Vitasta river, speaking thus, 'My father is doing his morning prayers (Sandhya) at the Diddmar Ghat. Go and stop there.' The pot floated down the Vitasta river and stopped exactly where Madhav Joo was doing his Sandhya. Madhav picked up the pot and took it home.
Even after seeing such miraculous incidents, not just once, but many times, Somp Kunj stubbornly refused to change her ways towards Alakshyeshvari. Hiranand also remained foolish and ignorant. Finally, when living there became unbearable, Alakshyeshvari left her husband's house never to return. It is said that this Sapru family's fortunes rapidly declined therafter.
The birth-place of Devi Roop Bhawani Navakadal, Srinagar.
Alakshyeshvari renounced her father's home as well, and decided to seek the eternal abode of the Supreme Being. She wanted to become absorbed in sadhana. Seeking a solitary retreat, she selected a location to the north-east of Srinagar, known by its ancient name Jyestha Rudra. Here she did intense tapasya (austerities) for twelve and a half years, and began to glow with the fire of spirituality. At this point, people, attracted by her spiritual radiance, began to come to her in such large numbers that she decided to leave the place for a more solitary retreat.
She moved to a village Mani Gaon, in north Kashmir, on the banks of the Ganges in the foothills of the Himalayas. On festival days many people would gather at Mani Gaon for a dip in the sacred waters. In these beautiful surroundings Alakshyeshvari chose to do her sadhana. On a forested hill-top, far from the village, she made a hermitage for herself. For a long time she remained in solitude, deep in spiritual practices.
It is said that none of the villagers at Mani Gaon knew of Alakshyeshvari's existence, until a certain miraculous incident revealed her presence to them. A cowherd boy used to take his cows to graze at a place which, unknown to him, was close to where Alakshyeshvari was absorbed in meditation. The boy noticed that a beautiful white cow left the herd every day at noon, and later returned on her own accord. One day he decided to follow the cow to see where she went.
Following the cow, he reached a clearing in the forest. There he saw a beautiful woman dressed in ochre robes seated in meditation, her long hair flowing loosely, her face ashine with a heavenly lustre, and her eyes filled with a divine light. The cow, as though under a spell, stopped before the radiant ascetic. The ascetic woman got up and lovingly caressed the cow. The cow of her own accord poured its milk into the ascetic's bowl until it was full!
On seeing this wonderful vision the cowherd boy lost consciousness. When he milked the white cow he found to his astonishment that she gave even more milk than usual.
The cowherd confided his experiences to Lal Chandra, the village head. Lal was filled with reverence and devotion. He visited Alakshyeshvari, and then came daily to serve her in whichever way he could. By this time she had completed another twelve and a half years of spiritual practice in that hermitage.
We will from here refer to her as Bhavani (the Goddess as the power originating the world) or as Bhagavati (the Goddess with the six attributes of supremacy, righteousness, fame, prosperity, wisdom, and discrimination). This is in keeping with the common belief in Kashmir that Alakshyeshvari was an incarnation of the Goddess Durga.
Lal Chandra told the villagers about Bhavani and the miraculous happenings attributed to her. But when she began to receive a great deal of public attention, she left the village, preferring to continue her spiritual practices in solitude. She went to dwell in a hut on the bank of the Shahkol river. Even there she attracted devotees.
Once, a spiritual seeker fascinated by her aura of spirituality asked her, 'What is your name?' Bhavani replied, 'My name is Roopa (one who has realized her own True Self).' The seeker further questioned her, 'Why do you wear this ochre dress?' Bhagavati replied, 'This ochre represents the state of being in which the individual soul has taken the colour of the Supreme Being.'
Bhavani lived for many years on the banks of the Shahkol, absorbed in meditation. Finally, when large numbers of devotees again began to flock around her, she once more moved away to a quieter spot, in the village of Vaskora. Legend says that the Naga, (snake) Vasuki, did his tapasya in Vaskora to attain the Grace of Shiva. When his sadhna bore fruit, he asked Lord Shiva for a boon, 'May I always adorn you as a necklace. ' Bhagavati greatly liked this spot and began to dwell there.
Bhavani's grace now began to shower on her numerous devotees. Many miracles are attributed to her. There was a young boy, blind from birth, who served her with great devotion. Bhavani's compassionate heart was moved by his sad condition. Shc gave him a stick and asked him to dig the earth with it. He immediately obeyed her. Many devotees gathered nearby, watching. Soon water began to appear from the hole that was dug. Bhavani said to the young boy, 'Wash your eyes with the water that has come forth.' As the boy did so, his sight was restored and the crowd of devotees were amazed.
Bhavani had a brother, Lal Joo, who was very devoted to her and took her as his guru. Lal's son, Bal, began to stay with her in her service. Once, Lal requested Bhavani to educate his illiterate son. Bhavani gave the boy a pen and some paper and ordered him to write. Thereupon, miraculously, the boy began to write fluently like a highly educated person. The devotees were overwhelmed by this transformation.
The room in the village of Lar in which she performed her sadhana.
In Vaskora, Bhavani began to give spiritual instruction to Bal Joo Dar and Sadanand Muttoo in the form of poetical verses, called Vakhs. One hundred and forty-five of her Vakhs have been transmitted to us. After twelve and a half years (periods of this length seem to recur in Bhavani's life) had elapsed in Vaskora, Bhavani returned to Srinagar on the entreaties of her numerous devotees, and began to live in Saphakadal.
Many years had elapsed, and Bhavani now yearned to be released from her earthly body. On the Saptami Tithi, in the month of Magha, in the year 1721, Bhavani's soul took flight forever. The legend relates how her devotees, filled with grief, carried her body towards the cremation ground. On the way they met the village head who, on seeing the funeral procession, asked whom they were carrying. On hearing that it was Roop Bhavani, he was very startled, for he had just seen Bhavani walking down the road by which he came! The devotees looked inside the coffin and found nothing there but some alak (locks-of hair) and some flowers. The alak are even today worshipped with great reverence.
Although she is not with us now, Roopa Bhavani's Vakhs ate so vibrant with her presence that on reading them one feels that she is very near, giving knowledge to her children with powerful words of renunciation, and dispelling ignorance with the weapon of Eternal Truth. May she guide us on the true path of knowledge, towards the Divine Light.
(Courtesy: Prabuddha Bharata)
The author writes: The first volume in English on Divine Mother Roop Bhavani was Sri Trilokinath Dhar's pioneering work (Rupa Bhawani - Life, Teachings and Philosophy) published in 1977 by All India Saraswat Cultural Organization, Srinagar. However the present author has obtained the Vakha of Devi Roop Bhavani and her life history from Sri Roop Bhavani Rahasya Upadesa (1977) published in Hindi by Sri Alakh Sahiba Trust, Srinagar. Further, she has gained an insight into the legends relating to Sharika Bhagavatiand Her Peetha at Hari Parvat from Bhavani Nama Sahasra Stutih by Sri Jankinath Kaul 'Kamal' published from Ramakrishna Ashram, Srinagar.