(Travelling with Sri Vitthal Ramanuja Maharaj: A Disciple’s Diary)

In ‘Pilgrim of the SKY’ the mystical East travels half-way round the earth to meet the West. Sri Vitthal Ramanujaa, a holy personage, travels from India to the U.K. following in the giant footsteps of Swami Vivekananda and Paramhansa Yogananda. Among the accompanists are the dear disciples and die-hard loyalists. And world-renowned musicians from Bengal, singers, sitarists and other versatile performers who render beautiful devotional hymns in the form of Naam Kirtan. And writers and publishers! Then there are the marginally spiritual and inevitably, those who are devotees by proxy! This band carries luggage quite unusual to a group of tourists. There are none of the ubiquitous video cameras, or the other trappings of the average run of eager tourists. There are a whole lot of musical instruments. There are cartons of precious books carrying material that would enrich the inner life of a disciple and provide rare insights to any researcher in comparative religion and metaphysics.

What is the mission of this group? To spread the gospel of Sitaramdas Omkarnath.Raj Supe, one of the Guru’s closest disciples, faithfully chronicles every event, thereby giving us some rare insights both worldly and mystical.

The devoted band, along with the Guru, find themselves in dire straits in this alien land. They shelter in the home of a generous single Indian lady, very modern in outlook and paradoxically, completely traditionalist at heart. She is an aspiring writer and hopes to publish a travelogue. As behoves one pure at heart, there is not a breath of contrariness between her adulation of Christ and Krishna. The trials and tribulations of adjusting to a western way of living in extremely cramped quarters, and the interplay of the all-too human frailties make for absorbing reading. Sri Vitthal Ramanuja has forgotten to bring along medicines ordered by the doctor but not the dear books. The travails of this Guru who has to maintain cohesiveness among the members of the group, his followers, and keep a focus on the mission at hand…strike a deep chord in the reader.

The British administration’s style of functioning with its firm insistence on efficiency and discipline is brought home to our party quite used to a lax and easy-going one back home! The London cops demeanour is characterized by firmness and old-world courtesy. Much in evidence is prejudice against those of a different race with different mode of dress and lifestyle. Then there is also, in sharp contrast, innocent veneration turned on in some at the sight of ochre robes. 

India is all over London. Hoardings with popular Indian film stars, Tamilians and Bengalis identifiable through appearance, dress, speech and food, shops, restaurants, temples and Indian institutions of tremendous repute are all a charming spill-over into London, of the two centuries of British occupation of India.  The members of the Indian diaspora, well integrated as they are with the culture of the adopted country, come homing in to a Guru from India. They come to Sri Vitthal Ramanujaa with personal problems, and then many story lines emerge in the book. The Guru counsels each with care and deep compassion.  And how? He speaks metaphysical truths, as does only a realized soul, when deeply moved.

There are plentiful meetings with intellectuals and would-be disciples, and programs for preaching of Naam and distribution of literature. One such program is organized by an Indian wishing to publicise his charitable organization for prevention of cancer. The invitees are none other than the Lords and Ladies of U.K. This program affords a fabulous opportunity for the distribution of literature. There is a television broadcast of a musical program featuring Sri Vitthal Ramanuja singing Naam. One such program is held in the hall of the Ramakrishna Mission where Sri Vitthal Ramanuja displays his reverence for the Paramhamsa by garlanding the statues of Ramakrishna and his wife Sharada Devi.

Amidst all the cross-currents of exchange that happen in this novel setting, there are the exchanges of a very personal nature between the writer, Raj Supe, and his Guru. In a notable incident, an initiation of a higher level is given by Guru to disciple. Minute details of the initiation and the sublime effects are described. Raj Supe is renamed ‘Kinkar Vishwashreyananda’ (one in whom the world seeks refuge). There are also some misunderstandings and the inevitable sulks on the part of the younger man. The Guru resolves the conflict gently and without losing the upper hand, creating an even greater love in the heart of the disciple!

An incident that draws compelling attention is the innovation of SKY by the Guru. The SKY dawns on Sri Vitthal Ramanuja in a divine inspiration. He is transported into the SKY as its first pilgrim. The second pilgrim is Raj Supe who meticulously transcribes His Guru’s vision.

What is SKY? SKY is an integral concept of Yoga. Siddha Kundalini Yoga consists of pranam asana, pranayama and meditation sequentially.  Each is joined to a potent mantra in a remarkable way as to increase efficacy incalculably, while protecting the practitioner against untoward effects. Clearly the practice of SKY is self-sufficient and revolutionizing. Interestingly, ‘sky’ or ‘akash’ is the tattva or essence of the ‘vishuddhi’ or purificatory chakra, which lies on the way of the kundalini shakti’s ascension to the junction of the ‘ajna’ chakra. The dawning of SKY and its revelation marks the pinnacle of triumph of this unusual pilgrimage in which Guru and all others are rendered ‘pilgrims’!