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Gopal, Arti, Nine-Year-Old Ojasvi!: Losing Yourself to Find Yourself

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Narmada Parikrama- Circumambulation Of The Soul

Narmada Parikrama (Pilgrimage) is a centuries old tradition of circumambulating the sacred river Narmada which emerges from the Maikal Hills of Madhya Pradesh, traverses through central India before immersing itself into the Arabian Sea in Gujarat. For more than 7,000 years, believers have set out on this 3400-kilometer-long expedition on foot, and describe it as a great spiritual practice for reconnecting with the self.

We happened to get in touch with a family of three who have been part of this odyssey of four months, and were happy to share their insights and learnings from the “Yatra” (Journey) with us. Arti Garg, Gopal Garg, and their nine-year-old daughter Ojaswi spoke to our moderator Trupti Pandya, a Narmada Yatri herself, letting us in on the many merits of this sacred exercise.

This blog is a mere recollection of the high points of the immensely invigorating conversation we had with the Garg family, and we propose listening to the complete talk (in Hindi) whenever you have the time and appetite for it.

The Inspiration

Gopal shares that he had long been curious to see the real “Bharatthat still resides in the villages as opposed to the urban “India”. He has always viewed the act of walking as a meditative practice, as a “Sadhana” which allows you to travel inwards. The very idea of discovering his own country on foot felt like a calling from within, and he decided to go on the Yatra as soon as the Indian festival of Deepawali was over. His wife Arti and daughter Ojaswi were just as eager to do the Narmada Parikrama, and the family soon began to make preparations for their great journey.

Planning for the journey had to be done with extra care, especially since they were taking a child along. The roads can be pretty rough on a child, but given the intellectual nourishment and practical wisdom Ojaswi received throughout the journey, the family feels that it was pretty much worth the effort.

Gopal views traveling together as a great way of strengthening relationships, and arriving at a certain oneness of thought within the family. As the family walked from village to village along the banks of Narmada, sharing joys and tough times together, they have grown closer and kinder towards each other. Ojaswi quips in to tell us a story about how some women in some village taught her to draw water from a well, and then took her to their home for food. She interprets the incident as a lesson in sharing and caring, even with strangers.



The Vows

Before they embarked on the pilgrimage, the family took three vows and adhered to them during the entire course of their journey. The first vow was that they shall be covering the entire distance on foot, never taking help of a vehicle. The second vow said that they would always pray before starting out each day. The third vow was they would be worshipping Narmada Ji every morning and evening. While these vows helped them stay tethered to their goal of Narmada Parikrama, they also felt the need to add two more vows to the list, which were quite helpful in creating relationships with people they met along the way. The other two vows were about never criticising anybody, and to be detached from any conversation in which someone was being criticized.

Sheltering in Love

Arti shares with us that the entire journey, from its very beginning, was made possible only through love. From her in-laws who supported their decision of going on the expedition, to the random strangers who offered help, food, and shelter whenever the family was in need, the entire journey presented itself as a great exercise in loving kindness. The family never went to sleep on an empty stomach, thanks to the villagers who would always see to it that they ate. Someone would always open up their homes to them when they needed to rest, no matter what village they were in, what time of the day it was. Gopal fondly reminisces how his grandmother used to make two extra Rotis each night, in case someone might need them. This age-old custom stayed put in rural India, with many households still keeping a little spare food every day for someone in need. The Garg Family found shelter in this custom whenever they felt hungry, for somebody or another always had two extra Rotis for the passing stranger.

Once when they were passing through a field, a farmer stopped them and asked them whether they had any food on them. When they replied in a no, he took out three Rotis from his shirt’s pocket and offered it to them. This poor person was willing to go hungry for people he had never met before in his life, and would probably never come across in future, and there could not have been a better lesson in kindness and humility. In rural regions where money loses its power, you learn to replace transactions with trust. You focus on building good relationships with the community, and learning to employ love as the supreme currency.

Leaving Everything to God

One day as they were travelling through a village, little Ojaswi got a bad stomach ache. As she was writhing in pain with her parents trying to think how to ease her condition, a woman showed up almost magically, and invited them into her home. She then said that since she had run out of tea leaves and milk, she could only offer them a tea of Tulsi and ginger. This was exactly what they needed at that time, and were overwhelmed with the sudden serendipity. Ojaswi felt much better after drinking the brew, and they could not be more thankful for the kind stranger.

The Garg family’s story is full of many incidents in which help appeared out of nowhere in their most vulnerable moments, hence cementing their belief in the greater force at action. From farmers to fishermen to saints to daily-wagers, everybody was always more than ready to help, never thinking twice before sharing their meagre belongings with these travelers. Ojaswi, at the tender age of nine, has learnt to accept help with gratitude. Having witnessed how comforting even a small deed of kindness can be to someone in need, she has resolved to pay it forward as she grows up.The pilgrimage has also presented Gopal and Arti with a fresh perspective on how to make lives better for others, and they plan to continue living a life of service.



10 Short Stories Heard of the Call ...

  • Sharing & caring (by Ojaswi)
    Once when we were walking across a village I came across 3 women who had a pot & were going to the well to fetch water. I was curious to learn drawing water from the well & I went along with them. I asked them to teach me this skill of drawing water. Initially, the bucket fell down but eventually I learnt to draw water. These 3 women also became my friends in this entire learning process. They took me to their home & offered me a curry made of fresh peas. What I learnt from this overall experience was that even with strangers, we should practise sharing & caring. These villagers treated me with immense love & I felt that they are my family members. In this entire pilgrimage I never felt even once that they were strangers.
  • Faith in the supreme being (by Arti)
    This pilgrimage was over 4 months & we were always taken care of. Once ojaswi was having stomach pain & we were called inside a village house. The Aunty told us that she doesn’t have milk & sugar but but has Tulsi & Ginger. This was exactly what was needed at that time & we were overwhelmed. There is a force which is beyond us & it felt like the divine Maa Narmada was taking care of our daughter.
  • In the company of Saadhus (by Gopal)
    I considered the mere sight of sages during my pilgrimage as auspicious. We had left from Aavli Ghat & was about to reach Patoda village. We saw a sage who was immersed in himself, carrying a kamandal (a holy goblet) & had the curiosity to interact with him. He spoke little and after walking 1 km with him, he invited us to his Ashram for Tea. His Ashram was situated in a small hill near the river. It was a beautiful 2 room place where he meditated for 9 years. Initially, we did not want to stay in this Ashram but when we saw this mesmerising place, we felt a deep connection. We had inhibitions in asking him but he requested us to stay & we stayed there for 3 days. He taught us yog kreeda (yoga with play) & it was fun to practice yog while playing. He would be around 50 years old & has meditated for over 33 years. He served with so much love & use to cook food with his own hands. His meditation & politeness was a joy to be felt & to get the sight of such a sage, I feel I am blessed & lucky to deserve it.
  • Rich from their heart (by Arti)
    As a woman, I never felt any trouble during the pilgrimage & we were treated with a lot respect during our stay. I particularly remember the Shoolpaneshwar ki Jhaadi (in the Satpura ranges) which takes 4 days to cross. We were at the highest point of Shoolpaneshwar, where there were only 2 houses. The lady of that house was extremely welcoming. That small house had 7 children, cows, hens & goats. I can’t forget the peace on her face. The lady had to fetch 5 pots of water by crossing 2 hills daily. I asked her how she managed to do so many things in spite of so many challenges? She said that “We are content with whatever we have. We live happily with acceptance.” This moved me deeply.
    The feeling of service at Shoolpaneshwar was never coming out of scarcity but from a mindset of abundance. They might not be rich in monetary terms but they were rich in heart. When we ventured outside their houses, our stomach was full, heart was filled & we had tears in our eyes.
  • Magic! (By Ojaswi)
    One day when we were walking on the road & I was struggling due to a severe stomach ache. There was a very dense jungle & some people were frightening us by saying that a boar will come. The wave of the river also increases & we need to cross the river through a wooden plank in the night. Suddenly, there comes a sage out of nowhere in the middle of this jungle. He says that the villagers mentioned that a family is travelling in the night & he had come to help us. He made us cross the Lakkadkot jungle. We safely reached the Jayanti mata Temple & a villager inquired about my issue. I told him that my stomach was aching & he gave me acupressure points. After the acupressure, I was feeling much better & then that sage gave me water by doing some chants to which my pain completely vanished. I then started enjoying and playing in the jungle.
  • 2 Extra Rotis (by Gopal)
    We have always lived in a joint family & my Grandmother always used to make 2 rotis (Indian breads) extra. I used to ask her why she made 2 rotis extra? And she would reply “it might be useful to someone in need.” In the village, there is no concept of breakfast, villagers eat a full meal at 10-11am. When we were asking for food in the morning, we always used to ask for the stale roti which may have been remaining from the night before. We got the prasad of so many rotis in this way and all these rotis made me remember my Grandmother. I think that these villagers also followed the same tradition like my Grandmother.
  • Selfless-service (by Arti)
    As all mothers, I also care for my daughter’s food, shelter & health. Once we were criss-crossing the fields. It was lunch time & suddenly a farmer shouted, ”Narmade har” (Praise to Narmada, the liberator). He asked us if we had eaten lunch. He took out all the 3 rotis (Indian bread) from his shirt’s pocket & offered 1 each for 3 of us. I asked him that If we have these 3 rotis what would he have? The answer moved us deeply. He said, “When you would have these 3 Rotis, my stomach would also get full”. Our stomachs get full but here these simple villagers’ hearts never get full & they never get tired of serving strangers.
  • Leave everything to God (by Gopal)
    I vividly remember the day I was in Sahpura. We were not getting a place to stay. We were denied permission in a Jain temple & a wealthy merchant refused to host us in the house. He directed us to the warehouse which was not fit for us. We left that warehouse & it was my first experience of feeling homeless. It was winter & close to the night when we found a Grocery shop. The Grocery shops in villages are well networked places & he told us a place whose owner opened his office for us. It was the grace of God that we were able to find shelter that night. That night we felt quite vulnerable & learned to trust the Supreme Being.
  • Testing of values (by Gopal)
    We reached Devgaon & we started finding the sarpanch’s (village administrator’s) house. We were greeted by an old man who was caring for his cow. He offered us Tea & the couple requested us to stay with them. When we were about to have dinner, the old lady confessed that they are of lower caste. I had never known about these caste discriminations & here we were hungry seeking food. A pilgrim has no caste. You need to forget your birth, house & caste. We believe that was the test of our values. We lived in houses of fishermen who consumed non vegetarian food. We were only hungry for love & wherever we got it, we felt deeply grateful.
  • Random act of kindness (by Arti)
    I want to tell you a moving act of kindness which has touched all three of us. There was a place called Bharote & we were heading towards Gumandev. The railway-track path was shorter & would take us one-and-half-hour. There was a group of boys who directed us & also told us that they have travelled this path a few days back. We casually asked them if they would like to accompany us & they agreed. They travelled with us the entire length of the track & also told us on how to react when a train comes. They were not accepting money & after a lot of persuasion they took a small token of love from us. What they did was so invaluable and kind and such instances gave us the strength to continue our journey. It is impossible and futile to try to return such priceless acts of kindness.


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