Ron's blog

A Hawan at Baglamukhi

Part 1 – We plan to go to Baglamukhi

The kid and I made another plan to travel together. This would be our third trip together. His mother also wanted to come with us but she was confused. She was doing a lot of back and forth and needed help to think out loud. I was annoyed.

The kid was adamant that he wanted to leave now, with me, and according to the plan we had originally made. I love this kid. He knows the code. That’s right, kid. Stand your ground, and stick to the plan. Luckily a new piece of information made her change her mind once more and the kid and I were free to romp in HRTC buses again.

The kid again wanted to take all his school books and notebooks like every single trip we had been on. I reminded him that on the last two trips, he didn’t even study for a minute. But he insisted so I opened his school diary and helped him pick up all the things with homework.

Then we left quickly. It was 4:15 pm and we had to reach Ahju to catch the bus to Palampur. On the way, Chandra aunty was drying clothes in her yard. She asked us cheerfully if we were travelling again. I said, “Yes we are going to Baglamukhi”. She was very happy. I enquired about the bus route and she told me something about a bus from Matour. She told us to get the prasad. And I made a mental note to get the prasad at all costs. We continued toward Ahju.

The kid loves to hitchhike and I also want to become a seasoned hitchhiker, so we always try to hitch a ride when we are travelling together. A young Tibetan was speeding on his scooty and we bade him to stop. I quickly relieved the kid of his backpack and mounted it on my chest. I sat on the pillion seat and the kid perched himself between the handle and the Tibetan boy. The Tibetan boy sped furiously.

He was ready to drop us to Ahju but I didn’t want to push him to do too much for us. So we got off. I said “Tashi Delek”. He responded with Tashi Delek and beamed.

The kid had fun riding with the Tibetan. He asked me how I knew he would give the two of us a ride on the scooter.

Just before we got on the scooter, the kid was telling me the right way to hitch a ride. “First ask them where they are going. Then tell them where we have to go. Only then get in the vehicle.” I told him sweetly that we just need to make sure they are going in the same direction.

Part 2 – Tantric Deity Baglamukhi or Pitambra

I had been thinking about going to Baglamukhi before I went back home from Himachal. Then the temple was mentioned to me in a dream. I am not sure if I was actually at the place or if the deity was involved too. I just remembered that the Sidhpeeth of Baglamukhi came in my dream and I decided I should visit.

The deity Baglamukhi loves the yellow colour. So devotees come wearing yellow-coloured salwars, suits, dupattas, and dhotis. The pandits at Baglamukhi all wear yellow robes. The mauli (a thread used in rituals) is yellow. The prasad (made in desi ghee) is yellow. The temple is also painted yellow. When you are closing in on the recessed temple complex from the highway, you can see that everything is pretty much yellow.

Baglamukhi is famous for its hawans (fire pujas). There must be over three dozen priests decked in yellow who roam the temple complex and there must be 20 or 30 hawan kunds (fire pits). Big fires rage everywhere in Baglamukhi and devotees are engaged in feeding the sacred fire to the sound of Swaah and Phatt. It is a powerful sight which affects all the senses.

Baglamukhi is a tantric goddess who is the eighth among the ten mahavidyas (great wisdoms). She is the one who paralyses her enemy. The easiest literal meaning of Baglamukhi is crane-headed but it is also thought to be a corruption of the word from Valga to Vagla to Bagla. Valga means to bridle or rein in. Suggesting her power to rein in one’s foes.

There are three types of hawans at Baglamukhi. Sweet hawans with sweet ingredients such as rose petals, scented wood, and everything normal and nice. Bitter hawans with bitter ingredients such as dried red chillies, bitter medicinal wood and everything dark and spicy. There are also complete (sampoorna) hawans that offer both these ingredients to the fire.

Generally, sweet hawans are for prosperity, peace, and everything good. Bitter hawans are for decimating illness or foes or even love spells. So in a way, sweet hawans are for creating conducive circumstances. Bitter hawans are for removing obstacles. While sweet fire pujas are generally meant to be done in the morning, bitter fire pujas are best done at night.

Hawans are done with a specific desire in mind. An intention. This is called manokamna, which means ‘desire of the mind’.

Part 3 – Going from Bir to Baglamukhi

We got on the bus to Kangra. The kid got busy with Worms 3 on my tablet – a game from my teenage years that still runs on Android – that I got him hooked on. We play it together and have a lot of fun.

I was thinking about what should I ask from the devi during the fire puja. During my last trip to Baglamukhi in October 2021, I did a complete hawan and asked the devi for the gift of ‘non-dual awareness’. “May I learn to recognise my awareness and abide with it.”

Maybe I should ask her for courage. I was thinking you just need courage, everything else follows. You need courage to follow the spiritual path. You need courage to face your own thoughts and not get carried away by them. You need courage to be your own truest self. You need courage to stand your ground among others. So should I ask her for courage?

I was talking with Sophiya on the phone. I told her where I was going. She laughed, “How many hawans do you need bro?” The word defilements escaped from my mouth. She said, “Yeah you don’t have a lot of defilements but a lot of obstacles.” I laughed, “Y’know I got my whole collection of kleshas” “Collection of kleshas”, she chuckled.

It was not so hard to arrive at a decision. This time I was getting consumed by a fervent desire. A long-standing desire that was now getting renewed and morphed into something else. It is said that you should ask the deities and the dakinis for spiritual gifts or things which hasten you on the spiritual path or clear the obstacles in your way of the path. This desire also had a dimension that made it intersect with the path. So I decided to ask for just that.

We reached the Kangra bus stand. The kid’s mum had packed some rajma chawal which he refused to eat. He wanted some snacks from the shops and I relented. Then we got on the 7 pm PRTC bus which goes to Punjab from Kangra. The vibe in the PRTC bus was different. There was just one woman who soon got off. There was a young addict on the bus who kept trying to talk to me. I felt a little scared for the kid and kept him close to me. I realised how hard it must be for his mom to travel with him as a single mother.

A while ago I was thinking, what would happen if something happened to the kid. Accidents can happen to anyone. What if he ran away and a truck hit him? Or what if he was out of my sight when I had gone to take a leak and someone kidnapped him? I recalled the young kid who lived in the same suburb as mine in my childhood and was hit by a tractor when he was walking down the road barely ten metres away from his parents. His mother would murder me with her bare hands.

Along the way, the kid was asking me, “Is the place we are going to a city or a village?” I answered that it was a village. The kid loves hustle-bustle and a lot of people around. He feels scared in lonely villages with invisible people. He loves crowded places.

We got off the bus. He was surprised. “But you said this was a village. This is a whole city!” There were glaring lights everywhere. Throngs of devotees ambled on the road. There were stalls to buy Prasad and Chunaris and the stall owners were calling out customers to buy from them.

Last year I lived in Bankhandi for many days, so I knew the place well. I cut the right turns at the right places and reached the back of the temple skipping the long queue that had dozens of people lined up for darshan.

The kid kept on asking me how much more we would have to walk and where the guest house was. Like a true middle-class uncle jee I kept reminding him that he was the young kid, I was the old specimen. To which he replied he had asthma. I told him I had diabetes, plus a host of other chronic illnesses. He gave up.

I reached the place I had stayed at before and asked them for a room. There was no room. Everything was filled up as it was the weekend. I had tried to call them up and book a room but I was unable to find their phone number. He said as it was an emergency we could sleep in a new room that was under construction. It had a water cooler.

The kid freaked out when he saw the room. It was dust-laden and shabby; there was a cot in the middle of the room and a shovel. Yeah, the kid has bougie tendencies. He likes to eat at expensive restaurants. Points it out when he sees an Audi go by on the road. He had an amazing time at the bougie mudhouse we stayed in (thanks to Sophiya) at Mcleodganj.

For me, the room was luxurious af. I love these cots and I have an inordinate amount of love for sleeping in front of a water cooler. I knew it was no use trying to convince the kid head-on so I took him to the Hotel Pitambra nearby. Probably they still had a room. The only room the hotel had was for 1800 rupees and the most basic rooms were all taken.

He looked dejected and said with a tall face regretfully, “Shouldn’t have come here.” I think I have some idea where he has been getting this regretting and complaining habit from. “What do you mean? It is what it is. You cannot go back in time so it is no use to think like this. Have you ever seen me complaining? Because it is of no use. If it is bearable, bear it. You gotta be without a single care in the world. Can’t be weighed down by anything.”

I told the kid that that room with the shovel and the cooler was better than a room in a five-star hotel. You can bounce on the bed and have you ever slept in front of a water cooler? I began drilling into his head my whole ‘rough and tough’ routine I have been droning on with him for days. “You gotta be rough and tough so that nothing can affect you.” “But it has a single bed. There is not even an attached toilet.” By then we had reached back to the room and uncle put another cot in the room for us.

He started to fill the water in the cooler and lit a mosquito coil. He advised us to go to the temple and have dinner at the langar there. Meanwhile, the mosquito coil would fume our room.

The kid jumped on the cot and I switched on the cooler. I began to pretend to dig the floor with a shovel to make him laugh. He chimed, “This is better than a room in a 5-star hotel.” He was excited. Sometimes all you need is a slight shift in perspective.

 On our way out for dinner a guy told us, barely able to contain his glee, “If you come out to pee at night, don’t get freaked out by the baba. He stands outside your room.” I laughed and asked, “Is he one of those standing babas?” “Yes, he stands on that drum there.” Outside our room, there was an empty oil drum with some pillows stacked on it.

As we walked to the temple, the first thing the kid asked me was about the standing baba. “He sounds scary.” The kid gets easily spooked. “What is scary? There is nothing scary about him. The poor guy is just standing out all night. It is not like he is out to eat you.”, I said with a mischievous laugh. “Why does he stand like this?” “Because it is a part of their spiritual practice.” “He doesn’t even sit?” “Yes” “How does he poop?” I laughed, “That’s a very good question.” We both chortled.

We had dinner in the langar hall together. The kid was trying to be extra good and finished everything on his plate even when he didn’t like the dal. The kid is sweet. He asked me what the standing baba looked like. I told him he had white hair, and that I had seen him in the langar hall. He had passed by us.

Part 4 – Meeting the weird babas from Haryana and U.P.

In the morning I was woken up by the sounds of loud debating in verbose Hindi. I was lying on the cot, trying to regain consciousness.

“Now I met this tantrika and he said that he has some occult powers. So I told him to turn the direction of this river. If you have occult powers you should be able to do this.”

“Of course, there are people who can do this. You know I know people like this. I can give you their phone number. But they won’t spend a second talking to you. They will just look at you and then look away.”

One of the voices seemed to belong to someone who was a Haryanvi and the other voice seemed to be typical UP. The Haryanvi guy was loud, passionate, and spoke idiomatically. The UP guy was forceful by the weight of his vocabulary and confidence. Together they were creating a lot of ruckus early in the morning.

I rose from the bed to brush my teeth. The kid was passed out. The sink was outside and I brushed my teeth listening to the heated debate between the two sadhus.

The one from UP wore a yellow kurta and had long white hair that came up to his shoulders. He looked a bit like Saruman from LOTR because of his white hair, pointed face, and thin frame. The Haryanvi sadhu had dishevelled cropped hair which was mostly greys than whites and he was bare-chested with the sacred thread (janeu) and a yellow dhoti. In his hand, he held a short stick that had warts all over it. I have seen this tree in the jungle before somewhere. The Haryanvi dude was the standing baba.

Now they were discussing some fine points about the view super animatedly. One asked another a question, “What came first? Aparigraha or Dharana” I had no clue what they were talking about. The Haryanvi guy answered it right and then launched into a story from Mahabharata illustrating some other point. The tall and thin guy however refuted his point and told him some more details about the backstory of the characters from Mahabharata he was talking about.

Then their meeting dissolved as the UP guy went on his way to get started with the day. The Haryanvi guy made some thinly veiled remarks about getting up so late and taking so long to bathe. Then the Haryanvi baba came up the stairs to face me. I asked him if he was the standing baba. He proclaimed yes. I asked him how long had been standing. He said every year he stands for 44 days.

Then he started to talk with a lot of gusto and his eyes which were glazed began to pop out. He said he stood in the month of Jestha. Which was the best month for Vashikaran (mind control). And then he began to tell me that a lot of young lads like me came to him to take him up as a guru but he told them to get lost as they were not fit for the spiritual path.

However, one youth came to him but he told him to go away and do one million Gayatri mantra recitations. The youth did them but they didn’t have the intended effect. So then he did them again many more times. In the end, he did them by sitting on the surface of water and he gained some realisation. So much so that the Haryanvi baba prostrated to him instead when he came back to him. Then that youth looked all over for the right guru, finally, he found a blind swami in a hut somewhere. And took him to be his guru.

I calmly asked him about his guru. He began to tell me about his guru, his name and that he had imparted to him the complete transmission of the Vedas. He told me that for the final transmission, you have to go to the charnel ground.

So he went to the charnel ground for the last two chapters of the Yajurveda where he received them from another ascetic there. I asked him about his special stick with warts. He told me passionately that it gave him protection from snakes. The snakes stay away from this tree even in the jungle and you always have to break this stick off. You can’t cut it. He also recounted a time when a snake crossed his body when he was sleeping standing up and he was saved because of the stick.

I didn’t think too highly of this Haryanvi baba but I decided to give him a 100 rupee note. I didn’t realise that this was the last bit of cash I had in my wallet. First, he refused it asking why I was thrusting this karmic debt on him. Then he told me how he spent every bit of money that someone entrusted to him. And took it.

Suddenly Saruman made a reappearance to buy some shampoo. Then he suddenly pointed out towards the standing baba, “Did you, for healing purposes, touch a young girl?” The baba stumbled but said, “Yes.” “Then take some barley. Add them to a pot. Add some sugar and water.  Then drink it. You should do this. Do this without fail or bear the consequences.”

I burst out laughing. Then the Haryanvi baba ignored all that and said to Saruman, “This lad has offered us a 100 rupee note so we will go and we will feast on it and then we will do some prayers for this boy.” I was very amused.

The Haryanvi guy also recited a nice couplet in Hindi to me. I liked it so much that I told him to tell it to me again slowly so I could commit it to my memory.

The Earth bears defecation and filth

It is the fate of the forest to be cut and razed

Similarly, it is only a saint who can bear

Words- harsh and unbecoming.

I decided to go take a shower. I wondered if it was safe to leave the kid sleeping like this with dubious characters roaming around. Our door didn’t have a lock.

When I was back from my shower, they told us to shift to another room. I decided the kid was too weak to endure the fire puja. I told the kid to stay inside the new room. To lock it from inside and only open it when I came back.

Part 5 – The hawan at Baglamukhi

The sidhpeeth of Baglamukhi, in Bankhandi H.P. is one of those high-tech temples. They click your photo and take your government id number at the gates to put in your system and then give you a printed darshan slip. There are 4-5 information centres at the temple compound where you can get a slip for a hawan and enquire about them.

Last time I got a priest for the hawan through a contact which was not a good idea. The priest circumvented the temple system so he could keep most of the money in his pocket. This time I decided that I would get a priest through the temple counter only and insisted on getting a receipt.

Indeed this turned out really well. I got a sincere priest and got an altar which was pretty close to the sanctum sanctorum of the devi.

I sat facing the fire pit and pandit jee sat facing me. He had a plate of ingredients brought to him. He carefully separated the yellow petals from the stem in the plate. The plate also had rice and turmeric. He asked me what particular hawan I wanted. I told him that I wanted the most basic one. The one for prosperity, happiness, and peace.

He made a mini shrine facing me on the edge of the fire altar with rice and yellow petals. Then he fashioned a tilak on its top with turmeric paste.

A winnowing basket filled with ingredients meant to be offered in the fire was brought out to me.

First he gave me a spoonful of water in my cupped palm with his copper spoon for achman. You have to take a sip for achman. Then he told me to wash my hand with another spoonful in a particular direction. Then he made me sprinkle the water with a twig from the copper pot in all directions and also on the little shrine he had made. All this while he was chanting particular mantras.

He also told me to sprinkle the water on Earth and in the fire as well.

Then he put the turmeric mark with his thumb on my forehead. Then he took my right wrist and chanting mantras tied the mauli or kalava around my wrist after wrapping it 7 times.

Then he asked me my name, where I was from, my gotra (family lineage) and then added all this info to his invocation. This part of the fire puja is called sankalp.

He began to do the shanti paath (peace prayer). I have always loved this tiny prayer for its melodious sound, simple vocabulary, and the peace it exhorts.

Then he told me to think about Ganesh jee. I brought to my mind a picture of the elephant god who is hailed as a remover of obstacles and is always remembered while starting anything.

Then he told me to think about Ma Ganga, the river Ganga personified as a deity.

He gave me some rice and petals between my folded hands. Told me to think about Lord Vishnu, the nourisher. Then I offered them at the mini shrine.

Then he gave me the rice and flowers again and told me to think about Lord Shiva. Offer the palm contents and sprinkle water again.

Then he told me to think about Ma Laxmi, the goddess of prosperity and wealth. Offer and sprinkle.

Then I had to bring to my mind the four directions and repeat the process.

I was told to think about Indra the king of Gods. Offer and sprinkle.

Then I had to think about Vayu, the God of wind. Offer and sprinkle.

Then I had to think about Agni, the God of fire. Offer and sprinkle.

Then I had to think about Surya, the sun God. Offer and sprinkle.

Then I had to think about the 9 planets. He chanted the mantra for each planet. And I had to sprinkle, pray, at his cue.

He told me to think about Ma Baglamukhi. Ma Baglamukhi manifests in the Bankhandi temple in the form of Pindi. Pindi means a roughly oval orb. There are 9 other famous devis in North India and the Kangra region which manifest in Pindi form. I brought to my mind the black pindi form of Ma Baglamukhi. With her golden eyes and a beautiful nathni (nose ring) on her featureless face.

Then began my favourite part of the whole process where you have to throw ingredients in the sacred fire with the sound of Swaah.

He began to chant mantras and when he would reach Swaah I would hoist the ingredients in the fire with the sound of Swaah using my middle and ring finger and thumb.

The fire began to rage as I started throwing more stuff into the fire pit. My pandit jee initially told me to avoid throwing chillies in the fire, which were also there in the winnowing basket.

He told me to think about my manokamna, what I wanted to ask from the devi. I thought about it.

Then he told me to repeat the mantra of Ma Baglamukhi after him. Om Hrinh Baglamukhi Sarva Dushtanam Vacham Mukham Stambhaya Jhinva Keelaya Buddhim Vinashaya Hrinh Om Swaha.

After a round of throwing ingredients in the fire that lasted for ten minutes, we reached the next part.

He told me to now throw all ingredients in the fire (including chillies) with my fist (instead of two fingers and a thumb) and scream Phatt. He told me to be mindful to not spray the rest of the people who were also performing their puja on the other sides of the pit with my thrown ingredients.

This part of the puja is even more fun.

But as other participants had also reached the same part of the puja and some of them were also using ghee (you have to use different ingredients for different objectives), the fire began to rage terribly.

It became really hot and it became chaotic as everyone became animated all of a sudden and shrunk back from the heat.

Then Pandit Jee told me to kneel. It was time for pranahuti or bali which means sacrifice. I guess this is the part where animals were sacrificed earlier but now animal sacrifice is banned by law. So now they bring a small cardboard bowl with puffed rice, half a slice of lemon with a wick on top which is burning. Then it is thrown into the fire too.

The stuff for the Bali is brought by a worker who is in charge of cleaning the fire puja area. You have to pay him 100 rupees for this final part.

Then my priest told me to stand up and throw all the remaining ingredients from the winnowing basket all at once.

The fire puja was thus over. It was now time for darshan and he took me to the main shrine of the devi (a small room) where he read out loud a few mantras and the hawan was complete.

I forgot my glasses in the room so I squinted hard to get a clear look at the devi.

Part 5 – Epilogue

I remembered that I had to take some Prasad for Chandra Aunty, so I bought some and got it touched by the priest at the altar of the Ma. I also picked up a small yellow bracelet for the kid and got it touched at the altar too.

I got back and knocked on the door. The kid was busy with the tablet. I tied the yellow bracelet on his tiny wrist. He was very happy. He loved the bracelet.

As I was out of cash, we borrowed the guesthouse owner’s scooty and went to the ATM in the closest town. I paid our bill and then we left.

Then on our way up to the highway, I took the kid to the Shiva temple. I told him that Shiva was my favourite god. The kid said that Shiva was his favourite god too. We sat in the Shiva temple for some time. I did one mala of Om Namah Shivaya. The six-syllable mantra of Lord Shiva. After taking the tilak and prasad, we went up.

On our way back in the bus, the original desire was still there but it felt as if a part of that load had been taken off. I felt as if now I didn’t have to worry so much about it anymore. I had thrown a bit of it into the network of powers that be. So it wasn’t solely my responsibility.

I felt slightly relieved.

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