Kriya Babaji and the ancient Kataragama shrine
by C. Shanmuganayagam
Colombo: Ceylon Daily News, Wednesday May 3, 1995
At a time when the quest for peace and harmony has become the watch-word among various warring communities the world over, from Northern Ireland to Bosnia and Palestine to Sri Lanka, and while whole nations are praying for peace, it is appropriate to examine the unique sanctity of that great haven of peace that glitters on the southern coast of Sri Lanka, the hoary sylvan shrine of Kataragama.
It is hailed as the abode of Lord Skanda, the protector of Sri Lanka and great destroyer of asuric forces. It is hidden from our view behind the seven veils of the Kataragama Devale and is radiating mighty spiritual forces for the welfare of the world, through the yantra plate lodged in the sanctum sanctorum, through the purifying waters of the Menik Ganga that skirts the sacred shrine and through the peaks of the seven hills of Kataragama that dominate the landscape for miles around.
Significant references to Kataragama have been made in a recently published book entitled Babaji and the 18 Siddha Kriya Yoga tradition, written by Marshall Govindan of Montreal, Canada, an initiate in Kriya Yoga. This book has been described as “the most accurate and comprehensive exposition of the ancient Kriya Yoga traditions and method published in English to date.” [Editor’s note: The book, however, contains numerous inaccurate statements about Kataragama and its traditions.]
The author, Marshall Govindan, states that he has been gathering material for this book for about two decades on a scientific basis since he got initiated into Kriya Yoga techniques at the International Babaji Yoga Sangam centre at Los Angeles in 1970. He has travelled during this period to India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Australia.
In 1989 he was inspired by Kriya Babaji himself to write this book to introduce to the world the glory and greatness of the 18 Siddha Yoga traditions, from which Babaji synthesized and revived his Kriya Yoga techniques, and to propound to the public the approach to life and the worldview of Babaji and the 18 Siddhas that “all countries are my homeland” at a time when the world is locked in a self-destructive spiral.
The author states that during his visit to Sri Lanka he had made several pilgrimages to the Kataragama shrine to ascertain the details of any records relating to the traditional story of Kriya Babaji’s visit to Kataragama in 214 AD as a chela of eleven years of age called Nagaraj to meet his first guru the fabulously long-lived rishi siddha Bhoganathar (one of the 18 siddhas pertaining to the present cycle of the four yugas, namely Satya, Treta, Dwapara and Kali Yugas). Siddha Bhoganathar is credited with inscribing a mystical yantric geometric design etched into a metalic plate and its installation at the sanctum sanctorum of the Kataragama Devale. The term siddha is used here to denote a perfected human being.
The author has prefaced these remarks in his book with a statement that much of the information about Babaji’s visit to Kataragama in 214 AD and about his birth in South India in 203 AD were revealed by Babaji recently in 1952 to his disciple VT Neelakantan when he materialized in physical form on several occasions in the puja room of Neelakantan at No. 9, Surammal Lane, Egmore, Madras, and dictated verbatim to him the contents of three mystical publications which Babaji wanted him to publish for the benefit of the world.
V.T. Neelakantan was a close friend of Jawaharlal Nehru and a student of Mrs. Annie Besant, the well-known theosophical leader. The birth of the child Nagaraj is reported to have taken place on Karttikai Deepam day during the ascendancy of the constellation (nakshatra) Rohini, as in the case of the birth of the child Krishna 3,500 years earlier.
Regarding the sojourn of Kriya Babaji at Kataragama in 214 AD as a chela of eleven years of age called Nagaraj, the author states as follows: “Sitting under a large spreading banyan tree with him (Siddha Bhoganathar) for six months Nagaraj performed intense yogic sadhana particularly various dhyana kriyas into which he was initiated by Bhoganathar. The tapas was done for long periods without a break, initially for 24 hours and later for days, weeks and up to 48 days at a stretch. The various meditation kriyas unchained his mind from the limiting processes of the thinking mind, allowing his consciousness to expand and realize its identity with an undifferentiated absolute Reality.”
The author further states that on his visits to Kataragama he traced “the sacred spot where Babaji practised austerities under the large banyan tree. Unfortunately, some twenty years ago and insensitive man cut down this tree. A few days later this man went mad and hanged himself. However, in 1985 a small shrine was built on this spot, which is near the front gate of the temple of Teyvanai Amman, Lord Murugan’s consort and spouse in the Kataragama temple complex. The Teyvanai temple priest daily makes offerings in the Babaji shrine.”
The author thereafter continues to describe the journey made by Babaji back to South India and his visit to Cuttalam to seek the final initiation in Kriya Yoga from the legendary siddha Agastyar (who was Bhoganathar’s guru), where he did intense tapas for 48 days and was blessed by Agastyar to go and settle down in Badrinath in the Himalayas and “become the greatest siddha the world had ever known’ with the cells of his physical body completely divinised. (Babaji still appears at the Kumbha Mela held at Allahabad once every twelve years as a perennial youth of sixteen years of age, though nearly 1,800 years have elapsed since his physical birth in 203 AD.) Babaji is also known to have initiated the famous Hindu reformer Adi Shankaracharya into the mysteries of Kriya Yoga about the year 800 AD.
The author finally adds that Babaji has made it his mission to assist suffering humanity in their quest for God-realisation. Usually he does so anonymously. Those helped by him generally do not know the source of assistance. According to Lahiri Mahasaya (a disciple of Babaji), by simply reciting Babaji’s name with reverence one receives a spiritual blessing.
The author refers to an interesting facet of siddha Bhoganathar’s life relating to his journey to China about 500 BC and transmigration of his vital body into the physical body of a Chinese who had relinquished it and being known thereafter by the name of Bo-Yan and later by the name of Lao-Tsu, and becoming the founder of the great world-renowned philosophy of Taoism and preaching it in China for about 200 years and then relinquishing the Chinese body and returning to India and then proceeding to Sri Lanka to install the sanctified yantra plate at Kataragama.
The author of the book incidentally refers to a great yogi in whom Babaji had shown interest and states on page 76 as follows: “At Babaji’s request, S.A.A. Ramaiah (a disciple of Babaji) wrote and published in 1982 a biography of a great master of yoga, Omkara Swami (who had helped Ramaiah in his yoga practice) entitled A Blissful Saint – Paramahamsa Omkara Swami. The preface of his book was written by VT Neelakantan.
The writer of this article had the good fortune to meet this great master of yoga when he visited Sri Lanka in 1956 along with Yogi SAA Ramaiah and later invited him specially to travel down to Sri Lanka again in 1957 and arranged for him to perform a special yagam in Colombo and also visit Kataragama and other places in Sri Lanka and bestow his blessings on the people by his sonorous chanting of the OM mantra.
Sanat Kumâra and the Kataragama Pâda Yatrâ
(translation from Spanish of “Sanat Kumâra y el Pâda Yatrâ a Kataragama” by Dakshinamurti)
Kataragama is a sanctuary full of intiatic mysteries for pilgrims of all faiths: Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Christians and Muslims. The pilgrimage to Kataragama, across the length of Sri Lanka, is done barefoot. It is called Pâda Yâtrâ and is common to see to Hindu jñanis and siddhars, Buddhist bhikkhus, Sufi bawas and Christian brothers walking barefoot toward the sanctuary of the initiatic mysteries.
The local Sri Lankan tradition speaks of a connection between Mount Kailasa and Kataragama. We are told that Sanath Kumara or Murugan descended Mount Kailasa and crossed the Indian sub-continent and came to Sri Lanka to be established in Kataragama. As such, this Kataragama pilgrimage is the oldest pilgrimage that survives since such remote times until today in all its vitality.
In remote pre-history there lived in Kataragama the legendary Vedda princess Valli, who attained to cosmic union with the deity of Kataragama, with the eternal (Sanat) youth (Kumara), also known as Muruga, Murukan, Skanda, Karttikeya, Subramanya and as al-Khadir by Sufis. It is said that Gautama Buddha had an encounter with Murugan in Kataragama. According to the Sinhala Buddhist tradition, the historic Buddha Sakyamuni with a large group of arahats transported themselves telepathically to Sri Lanka’s Kataragama sanctuary of mysteries.
We also bear in mind that Kataragama was a part of the ancient continent Lanka or Lemuria that did not submerge when the mountain range of the Kingdom of Pandya or Kumari Nadu sank under the water of the Indian Ocean and, in that mountain range, was located the sacred Mount Meru that is often mentioned in sacred literature.
There in Kataragama was initiated Babaji Nagaraj in the science of Kriya Yoga some 1,800 years ago by the great Siddha Bhoganathar. In the Judeo-Christian esoteric tradition Murugan is known like Melkisedek and in the biblical times the Tamil city of Salem was very acquaintance through the route of the silk as epicentro commercial, cultural and religious, of there he left for the pilgrims of Egypt and caldea the contact with the sacred intiatic Order of Melquisedec. The ancient Greek esoteric tradition knew the island of Sri Lanka by the name of Taprobane and recognised Sanath Kumara as their god Dionysus. In pre-Colombian cultures aimara and quechua knew to Muruga with the name of Aru Mukha.
The Sufis, above all the of Sri Lanka, affirm that Murugan is none nother than al-Kadhir, the “Green Man” who appears as the teacher of Moses in the Holy Qur’an (Sura 18, verses 57-83). For many Sufis Kataragama is Serendip, the Paradise wherein is found the Fountain of Eternal Youth. Being Kadhirgama, Katirgama or Kataragama the Sanctuary of the eternal initiatic Mysteries, Kataragama is full of grace or arul (in Tamil), where the Nectar of Immortality, the “amritam” Sanskrit or “ma´ul hayat” Sufi, can be found and drunk.
Patrick Harrigan, in his book about Kataragama, speaks of the Lesser or intellectual Mysteries aiming us toward the Greater Mysteries. These last are the goal of all authentic pilgrimage, the transformation of the external trip into Internal Pilgrimage. The oral and written traditions constitute the Smaller Mysteries, while direct living experience is required to penetrate in the Greater Mysteries. IKataragama is described as a spiritual university consisting of diverse classrooms, spheres or states of consciousness, which recalls the work of my soul friend Vicente Beltrán Anglada about Shambhala. Among the siddhars, the most famous of the Pâda Yâtrâ in modern times were Yogaswami of Nallur (Jaffna) and, among the Holy Sufis, Syed Yabbar Ali Shah or Palkudi Bawa.
The Jewish Cabbalists feel attracted toward this Sanctuary by the Mystery of the Satkona Yantra, materialized long ago by the great Siddha Bhogar Nathar, as symbol of Sanat Kumara (the yantra is the Star of David or Six-pointed Star with the Om Tamil in the center, surrounded by a circle of fire). The wisdom contained in this yantra is very deep. There are contents the key initiation and to describe the mysteries it encloses one would need to write a volumous book. Thus the Kataragama Pâda Yâtrâ is a deeply symbolic initiatic pilgrimage of great antiquity.
To penetrate in the Mystery of Kataragama, Katirgama or the Kadhirgama one should penetrate three veils:
- that of the myths and legends;
- that of the Lesser Mysteries or intellectual-intuitive comprehension of the same. In this state of consciousness are those aspirants who have had living experience of the states of consciousness of the three first initiations (Savikalpa Samadhi); and
- the dissolution of the ego-idea, the mind itself.
Only to remove these three veils the disciple must be prepared to enter the classroom of wisdom, the Sacred Path initiated by Dakshinamurti and brought to our planetary level by the avatars Sananat Kumara and Narada. For every pilgrim who longs for to penetrate into the Living Mystery, whether Hindu, Buddhist, Sufi, Cabalista Jewish or Gnostic Christian, guidelines should be followed while one walks barefoot toward the sacred sanctuary of the Mysteries. The code to follow in the Pâda Yâtrâ to Kataragama is valid not only for every pilgrim, but applicable in any another pilgrimage. Disciples residing at the Sri Premananda Ashram are applying this wisdom in their pilgrimages in Tamil Nadu:
- Be alert to the Spirit’s inner and outer messages. If the ‘call’ comes, heed it. […¡Cummâ iru! (¡Be still! Let the mind remain quiet !)
- Do not announce your destination or starting time. Upsets may occur.
- Maintain a low profile. Learn from others who know more than you know.
- Increase the faith all around for self and others. Or else remain at home.
- Keep your promises few and simple, but keep them. Penalties can accrue.
- Sleep out of doors at night or in temples, but not in private homes. Taste the homeless life fully and enjoy it while you can.
- Accept whatever comes. Blessings may appear in disguise.
- Share whatever comes; accept the alms, friendship and wisdom of others.
- Do not unload your personal grievances upon others while en route. Deliver all complaints to Kataragama and register them there personally.
- Trust in the Spirit and make it your constant guide. Beware of imitations.
The Andean Aramu Muru, the Muruga of the Meru and Kataragama and the Himalayan Sanat Kumar are the same deity worshipped in the three mountain ranges. In the three mountain chains exists the esoteric tradition of the existence of an Internal Kingdom, of Shambhala and its five spheres or classrooms. They initiated them according to their degree in the classroom, sphere of Shambhala or state of consciousness that corresponds to them in the Spiritual University or initiatic path. Aramu Muru, Aru Muruga or Sanat Kumara is considered the King of the World by those arcane traditions, who in the remote past were initiated by Dakshinamurti inaugurating the initiatic Sacred Path on our planetary level.
The anthropological investigation of Patrick Harrigan into the mysteries of Kataragama may be summarized, next to other excellent work, in the website www.Kataragama.org dedicated to Kataragama. Patrick, formerly a Buddhist practicioner, arrived to Sri Lanka in 1971 to deepen in his studies of Theravada Buddhism; there he found Kataragama and the Kataragama Pâda Yâtrâ and was initiated in the study of Sanatana Dharma. At present he collaborates with the Institute of Asian Studies in Chennai and often visits the Sri Premananda Ashram. After writing this book, based on fieldwork carried out during many years of investigation, he learned of the excellent work of Govindan about Babaji and the 18 siddhas where an extensive perspective of investigation is opened in the ancient and rich Tamil culture.
Bibliography and Web sites
- The official Kataragama website: www.Kataragama.org
- Patrick Harrigan. Kataragama: The Mystery Shrine. (Chennai: Institute of Asian Studies, 1998)
- M. Govindan. Babaji and the Tradition of Kriya Yoga of the 18 Siddhas. Distribuidora Alfaomega, SL, c/Alquimia,6-Pol.Ind. Rosales-28933-Móstole Madrid.Tf 91-6145346- AND-mail: alfaomegasterra is -ISBN:-l-895383-07-02. Web: www.babaji.ca.
- Saint Yogaswami and the Testament of Truth. Anonymous. (Jaffna: Sivathondan Society, 1972) The text can be obtained on the Internet at: www.Hindu.org and www.Sadgurudeva.org/Sadgurudeva.
- M.C.A. Hassan. The Story of Kataragama Mosque and Shrine. (Colombo: S.A.M. Thanoos, 1968).
- Paul Wirz. Kataragama, the Holiest Place in Ceylon. (Colombo: Gunasena, 1966).
- Alan Danielou. Shiva and Dionysus, (New York: Inner Traditions International, 1982).
- Gananath Obeyesekere. “The Fire Walkers of Kataragama: The Rise of Bhakti in Buddhist Sri Lanka”. JAS, Colombo,1978.
- “The Kataragama Pilgrimage: Hindu-Buddhist Interaction and its Significance in Sri Lanka´s Polyethnic Social System”. Bryan Pfaffenberger JAS, 1979.
- Buddhism in Ceylon and Studies on religious syncretism in Buddhist countries. Klaus Hausherr, Ed. Heinz Bechert, 1978.
- Kamil Zvelebil. Tamil Traditions on Subramanya-Murugan. Institute of Asian Studies, Chennai: www.xlweb.com/heritage/asian/
- Sai Baba and the Ashram Gufa of Nara Narayana. Vols. 1, 2 and 3. Swami Maheshwarananda Ed. Errepar, Argentina. www.saiweb.org.
- Vicente Beltrán Anglada. The Mysteries of Shambhala. Editions of Good Will, Argentina
- Vicente Beltrán AngladaThe Magic Organized Planetaria. Ed. Arbor, Barcelona. Web: http://vicenteba.cjb.net
- “The Elder spoke” and “In search of the Elder”. Antón Ponce de Leon Paiva. Ed. Errepar, Argentina.
- “Erks” and “Dawn”. Trigueirinho. Ed. Kier, Argentina.
- Parmahamsa Yogananda. The Autobiography of a Yogi. (Los Angeles: Self Realization Fellowship), www.yogananda-srf.org.