Ahymsin Newsletter: Yoga is Samadhi

Association of Himalayan Yoga Meditation Societies International

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  AHYMSIN newsletter, Issue - April 2012  

Kusum, Priestess of the New Devi Temple at SRSG

We would like to introduce you to Kusum, an SRSG ashramite, wife and mother, who has been chosen by Swami Veda as Priestess for the new Devi Temple at Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama. Part 1 of the article was written by Dr. Vijaya Subramani, a Sanskrit scholar from Canada, currently in residence at SRSG and assisting Swami Veda with research projects. Dr. Vijaya explores the interplay of divine qualities in human form and human qualities in the divine while introducing Kusum. In Part 2, Carolyn Hodges, an SRSG resident from the United States and a HYT-TTP administrator, offers a biographical sketch of Kusum. Part 3 was written by Joanne Sullivan, an SRSG resident from the United  States.

Kusum, Priestess of the New Devi Temple at SRSG, by Dr. Vijaya Subramani

Mrs. Kusum is the new priestess of the new temple of Goddess Shrī and Tārā in the Sādhaka Grāma āśhram. She seems to be the most befitting person in the āśram premise to play the role. Everyone in the āśhram agrees that she has naturally got the ideal personality of a priestess. At the very first sight, priestess Kusum, with her charming smile, her soft greeting words and pleasant ways wins over you. She is unfailingly cordial and spontaneously welcoming and exudes calm confidence and gentle strength. In the Sākta Hindu tradition, the feminine energy is glorified and noted for Her soothing strength. The kind of strength or energy (śhakti) that nurtures protects and leads the devotees on the ethical way.

The Hindu endeavour is to unveil the divine in the human. A dhyāna-śhloka of the Lalitāsahasranāmam states that “I visualise myself being Bhavānī alone” (ahamityeva vibhāvaye bhavānīm) making a pun with the word “Bhavani” which also means “May I become” in the imperative verb formation. Verse 22 of Saundaryalahari similarly expresses the idea of visualizing the goddess as oneself. Thus, in the Hindu religious traditions, often there is a hide and seek game taking place between the divine and human entities and in the upāsanā traditions, the roles many times seem to interchange as well. Therefore, a devout Hindu looks for the divine attributes in the human and human elements in the divine. They are never meant to be exclusive and apart from each other. As a consequence, we begin to think without an exaggeration that Kusum has been chosen by the Goddess Herself as Her human counterpart in the temple! Kusum’s pleasing mien and presence radiates cool lunar human warmth which matches the divine White Tara (Saumyā) and the ever-auspicious crystal Shrī Yantra. The ashram residents hope that she will soon learn all that needs to be learnt as the priestess and feels well settled and enjoys her new position. The ashramites also wish Kusum Good luck and give their blessing for the role she seems to be destined to play! 

Kusum, Priestess of the New Devi Temple at SRSG, by Carolyn Hodges

Kusum was born in the Himalayan mountain village of Pokhari in the year 1985. Pokhari is located in the Garwahl region near the town of Tehri. She was given the name Kusum which means “flower” in Sanskrit. She grew up with an older sister, a younger sister and two younger brothers. Her father was an elected minister of the panchayat, a governing council for several villages. Kusum attended school in Pokhari for years 1 – 12 and then earned her BA in sociology, education and political science from a university in Tehri. She worked for two years as a teacher in the same school she attended as a child. Kusum remembers this time fondly, finding she loved to teach.

Kusum was twenty when she married her husband, Pandit Harshanand Uniyal. Pandit Harshanand studied Sanskrit at a university very near Sadhana Mandir. He became one of the working pandits for the ashram. After marriage, Kusum moved to Rishikesh with her husband. She went back to school, earning an MA in sociology. Pandit Harshanand also continued his schooling, earning a PhD in Sanskrit. The couple have been residents of SRSG since 2003.  They have two children – a son, Shaunak, aged 8, and a daughter, Prajna, aged 2.

In addition to caring for her family, Kusum enjoys working in Swami Veda’s office. One of Kusum’s hobbies is sewing, and perhaps one day she will again have the time to pursue it.

The establishing of a shrine to the Divine Mother was made possible through the kindness of an anonymous donor. In preparation, Swami Veda named Kusum as priestess and five other ashram women as sevakas who would assist Kusum in the care of the temple. Kusum was excited, happy and very honoured to receive this blessing. The women were given special practices to prepare for their new roles. The preparation culminated with a sacred yajna, fire offering, which included the recitation of special sankalpas and 108 repetitions of the Saumya mantra.

On March 31st, Kusum carried the crystal Shri Yantra into the new temple, establishing the shrine to the Divine Mother. The following day, April 1st, the “Lady of Compassion” was carefully moved to her new home. Kusum, wearing a golden sari, assisted Swami Veda in the consecration (prana pratishtha). From that day began 21 days of akhanda paatha, a 24 hour nonstop recitation of Lalita Sahasranama, the thousand names of Mother Lalita.

Kusum’s day begins at 4:00 am. She does her morning preparation and then goes to the devi shrine. Before the sun rises, she cleans the altar, gathers the ingredients for the puja tray, and collects flower petals glistening with the morning dew. She then performs the formal worship or puja in a devotional and meditative manner. When she finishes, it is nearly 6:30 am and time to go help Shaunak get ready for school. Once Shuanak is off to school, Kusum returns to the temple for meditation and japa. The rest of the day she balances caring for her family and household with caring for the temple.

The marble statue of the Lady of Compassion is Tara Devi. Tara Devi embodies the qualities of karuna (compassion) and shantih (peace). Kusum also exudes these qualities. When you visit SRSG, we invite you to attend the morning puja in the Devi temple. Kusum enjoys all she is doing and loves being with people. We hope you get an opportunity to meet this remarkable young woman.

Kusum, Priestess of the New Devi Temple at SRSG, by Joanne Sullivan

Kusum Uniyal was born in a small village near Chamba, a village in the Himalayas, not far from the Devi-peetha called Surkhanada Devi, a highly charged holy place. When Shiva began his Cosmic Dance, holding his beloved Devi, Her limbs fell in 52 places in India and each became a Devi-peetha, a sacred site where pilgrims came for Her blessings. The neck fell at Surkhanada Devi.

I first met Kusum and her husband Pandit Harshanand Uniyal eight years ago when I arrived at SRSG. I would often go to their small room in which they lived with their beautiful son Shanu, whom I quickly nicknamed Shanu-Deva. We would visit and I always felt bathed in her smiles and kindness. I knew no Hindi and she little English, but there was a simple and heartfelt understanding between us. It is the duty of the Devi, the Goddess, the mother in every Hindu household to hold every guest who enters the family abode as a sacred guest. Kusum always did this so graciously, with a simple elegance, and always made me feel at home.

Years later, a baby girl arrived, and I was invited to the naming ceremony. I was deeply honored when Pandit Harshanand invited me to name the new devi who had blessed their domicile. “Divine Wisdom” was the first thought that came to mind for it truly seemed to suit her, even as an infant. So her name became “Prajna”.

This family reflects the best of the ancient cultural heritage that is Mother India. The children are loved and revered by the parents and they certainly shine with that love, which is none other than the love of and in the Guru.

Just yesterday, the children drew pictures to send to little Eileen who had gone back to Belgium. Shanu made a beautiful picture of two mountains in the Himalayas, Nara and Narayana, the sacred mountains whom Shri Swami Rama revealed was the place of our tradition’s first human preceptor. (You can hear this on YouTube in Swami Rama’s first lecture on the Mandukya Upanishad, which illuminates the word “Om.”)

What stands out about Kusum is that she truly aspires to bow to, to embrace, and to become the Goddess. She seems incapable of unkindness in word or deed. In every gesture, word and glance, from 4 am. until well after the rest of the household is asleep, she invites the dharma, the rta, the cosmic order to dwell in their home and in the larger home of the ashram, with whose care she has been entrusted by Swami Veda as the head priestess of the Devi Shrine. Ma Tara gleams with love through the eyes of Kusum and the other priestesses who join with her in guiding the ashram with a rising sense of ahimsa: Sunita Nakoti, Mamta Nakoti, Gita Bhoi, Meena Sharma and Sona Sahoo.