By Madhusudan Rajagopalan, India
This is a story from the book – Guru Leela 5
The Construction Phase
During the Bhoomi puja trip, Mohanji gave clear instructions on how he wanted the structure to be, what facilities to include, how to honour the Siddhas (elevated Masters) and how to enable continuous worship of Mt Arunachala. Our team, led by Mamuji (Mr Narinder Rohmetra, a retired Chief Engineer from Jammu, long-time senior member and pillar of the Mohanji family), started work.
Within a few weeks, the blueprint for the building was ready. A funding proposal document was also prepared in parallel. During the Mohanji Global Summit in Sri Lanka in February 2020, a short presentation on this project immediately led to an outpouring of financial support from various participants. Sometime in March, we began the process of looking for local vendors and contractors and raising more funds to allow us to start the project.
The Covid pandemic hit India very soon, and the entire country went into a hard lockdown. For months, no movement was possible. However, Master’s grace cannot be held back by mere physical lockdowns, nor can funds circulation. Our fundraising pitch brought forward members from the Mohanji family with generous donations, and by July 2020, we had garnered enough funds for phase 1 of the project!
By late August 2020, the lockdown began easing, and our priority was to drill a borewell to secure water for the plot. Tiruvannamalai is very dry, with the summers being exceedingly hot. Hence, having a reliable water source within our plot was of prime importance. Kishore, who had taken over as the project manager, did the homework to select the right contractors. The water diviners selected two spots for the borewell.
As per their assessment, the ideal location was very close to one of the audumbur saplings planted by Mooji and Mohanji. Further, our Vaastu expert also did not approve of that location for the water source. Hence, we decided to avoid that spot. The water diviner then suggested another area closer to the front side of the plot, saying this spot was also good but not his ideal location for water. With this fixed, the drilling work started on 20th September 2020.
A few hours later, Kishore called me, sounding a bit worried. They had reached a depth of 300ft with no sign of water. We had been told that a nearby plot had struck water at sub-100 feet. However, we did not give up and continued drilling. Eventually, they struck water at 440ft depth and went down to 560ft depth, assuring a steady supply of water to the site.
A few minutes before that, Ananth, who was in Mohanji’s home in Bangalore, had relayed this information to Mohanji, who had just walked in front of the altar, stood for a few seconds and moved on. Within 10 minutes of that, water was struck. Mohanji just smiled and said, “It is all grace!” Soon after, a motor was installed, and we had a functional water source for the centre. In this manner, a beautiful solution emerged that respected the sacred plant and Vaastu principles, yet the centre’s water needs would be met, even from a sub-optimal water source.
The next priority was to obtain the necessary approvals for construction. This process can be tricky as various departments are involved, and getting accurate information is often the biggest challenge. Initially, we were told the process could take 3-6 months and would involve multiple rounds of visits to various government departments. While exploring this issue with other contacts, we were led to a person via Ramana (the caretaker of the old-age shelter) who promised to get the whole process done within 30-45 days for a small fraction of the estimated expenses.
A few days later, we learnt that the Government had officially announced that all plan permits up to 10,000 square feet could be approved by local bodies (e.g. gram panchayat). What seemed like a 3-6 month process and a potentially large expense was reduced to a short timeframe and a marginal expense with the local village panchayat. As it turned out, our plan approval came within 30 days. Our temporary electricity connection was set up, so before Diwali in November 2020, the lights came on at our site, and we were ready for construction.
Meanwhile, Mamuji and Kishore worked hard to shortlist contractors and find the best team for the job. This was challenging since the Covid lockdown had severely affected labour availability and costs. Nonetheless, Mamuji, true to his cost-saving instincts, drove a hard bargain that got us the best possible deal with the chosen contractor. Through Shaju, a fellow Mohanji family member at FICCI (India’s largest industry association), we also negotiated with a cement major to give us preferential rates (almost 20% discount) for our cement supplies, given the non-profit nature of the organisation (Ammucare) and the project objectives.
We also obtained competitive rates for iron rods and thus saved a substantial sum in the two biggest cost items. Our construction work officially began in mid-December 2020 – much later than we would have liked, but quite quickly, considering the effect of the Covid lockdowns across Tamil Nadu and the country. Once construction started, work continued steadily (except for the 2nd lockdown in early 2021) with hardly any stoppage for funds or any other reason.
Our original plan was to complete phase 1 (just the ground floor) and leave the rest for later. However, during construction, the plans changed to complete the first floor as well as we amazingly received donations to support this progress as well. Kishore took a strategic and brave decision to relocate (with family) to Tiruvannamalai for the project’s duration, which helped us keep a firm grip and fast pace on the project. As a result, the project reached a near-completion stage of the ground and first floor by late July 2021.
During this entire construction phase, as observers of how things actually moved, we can only marvel at how the whole process was smoothened by grace. Be it the timely availability of funds, material resources, and cost savings of the right order, the right people or the proper approvals, every aspect started off with some obstacles that dissolved within a few days. If there was only one or two of them, one could have attributed it to sheer luck. The number of such instances leads us to the only conclusion that is explainable – this project is sacred, and divine forces beyond our comprehension are powering it. Otherwise, to see the construction of such a scale complete within seven months during the Covid pandemic is nothing but impossible!
The Commencement Ceremony and thereafter: Miracles galore
While construction was still going on, we had not yet set a final date for completing Phase 1. One day in late July 2021, Mohanji called and asked us to fix a launch date soon. He was still in Europe; however, he wanted the progress to accelerate. He said that we had made a promise to the seniors and needed to deliver on it, and further delays would not be good. He also mentioned that this place would be home to not just the elders but that many Siddhas of Arunachala would visit and bless the centre.
Considering that the project was visualised in late 2018, it had been almost 3 years, so we understood the reason for Mohanji’s request. This reminder from Mohanji gave fresh wings to the work progress. We finalised the date as Krishna Janmashtami, also the death anniversary of Ammu (Mohanji’s daughter who died in a tragic road accident in 2000 and was the inspiration for the setup of Ammucare, as well as Mohanji’s journey into the world of spirituality and humanitarian work).
When this date was set, we had less than four weeks and plenty of work to complete. Mamuji was concerned about the deadline since he knew the finishing work on such a project always took far longer than one estimated, quite different from all the structural work that had been completed already. Nonetheless, with Kishore on-site and with inspiration from Mohanji, the team accelerated work.
The original plan was to conduct a big inauguration. We made a list of dignitaries in Tiruvannamalai to invite them and seek their blessings for the project’s launch. However, we eventually pared the program down as it became clear that the building would not be complete. Our focus changed from aesthetics to the bare essentials required to make the centre liveable for our seniors. Hence, the emphasis went on a working kitchen, clean toilets, beds and basic furniture, staff for the centre and such aspects.
Besides the construction, we had also run into a challenge with the staffing. The original plan was for the entire old age shelter to shift to this home. However, as we approached the finish line, Ramana – the shelter caretaker – spoke to us and requested that he would like to continue operating his centre. During the Covid pandemic, thanks to generous donors, his position of managing the centre had become a bit better, and the threat of eviction by the municipality also seemed to be at bay. He offered to support us with his expertise – with people as well as sending elderly people to our home so that both centres could operate in parallel.
When we heard this, our first response was that of surprise since this, in a way, challenged the entire premise of building this home. Upon reflection, we realised that this was a blessing in disguise. The old-age shelter’s situation had been the catalyst for launching this noble project. Now that it was ready for operations, perhaps this was the Masters’ way of providing more support for the elderly. So we decided to honour Ramana’s request and proceed with our plans as before. Mohanji had decided to set up this home to serve the seniors, and we would stay true to that purpose. We quickly identified staff to serve at the centre, including some resources from Ramana’s shelter and prepared ourselves for full-fledged operations.
For the launch ceremonies, the astrologers suggested the 29th and 30th of Aug 2021, coinciding with Krishna Janmashtami. We also renamed the function to a Commencement Ceremony to signify that activities would commence from 1st September, i.e. some seniors would actually move in and start living in the Mohanji Home for Seniors.
The pujas were to be officiated by our Mohanji family members – Vasudevan Namboodiripad (from Palakkad), aided by our Kerala lead volunteer, Devadas. They brought the essentials for the pujas and conducted 3 different pujas – a Navagraha homa, a Ganapathi homa, and a Bhagavathi seva over 29th and 30th Aug. The pujas were conducted with great austerity. We placed a life-size photo frame of Mohanji at the reception so that he would literally welcome everyone into the home. Within a day, the change of the vibrations in the centre was palpable, almost like Mohanji and the Siddhas of Arunachala were blessing the project for success, considering the noble service that was to start at the home.
I was privileged to be there throughout these pujas and observed how smoothly things fell into place. Till a few weeks back, work was happening, but without a fixed deadline as such. But as soon as Mohanji drove the focus to a set date, everything began to fit together – another example of how Mohanji’s aagnya shakti (commanding power) moves mountains.
Further, we had a series of wonderful experiences on the days of the pujas. Whenever we conduct a puja/ homa, there is a sacred intention (sankalpa), and our main wish is that our offerings are accepted. For the Mohanji Home for Seniors, our main sankalpa was for the project to be successful so that we may serve many seniors with purity and compassion. On those days, we had four separate incidents that gave us clear, unmistakable signs that the deities and Masters were happy with the pujas in specific and the project in general.
1) On 29th August, the morning ceremony was a Ganapati homa (fire ritual to Lord Ganesha). The ceremony lasted for over an hour. When it was over, the priest distributed the prasad (consecrated offering) – a special dish made with puffed rice, sesame, coconut shavings and sweetened with jaggery. As soon as we began giving this out, a black dog appeared at the back door (the door that faces Mt Arunachala), looking intently at us. Usually, dogs don’t like sweet offerings, but not this one. He lapped it all up and even went for seconds and thirds till he had more than his fill of the prasad. Black dogs are usually associated with Bhairava, a form of Lord Shiva, and this was a fulfilling thought for us that Lord Arunachaleshwara himself had accepted our offerings.
2) That afternoon, our whole group had been invited to lunch at Yogi Ramsuratkumar ashram by Ma Devaki, who always treats us with great affection and love. As I mentioned earlier, we started our fieldwork on this project by taking Yogiji’s (and Ma Devaki’s) blessings. Hence, it only seemed appropriate that we offer our gratitude at Yogiji’s feet at the time of commencement. On this day, before proceeding for lunch, I went to their office to offer a donation to the ashram – yet another learning from Mohanji: offer gratitude and support at every possible opportunity.
While giving us the donation receipt, the lady at the counter also handed over the thick pictorial book produced for Yogiji’s centenary in 2019 (this book also had an article by Mohanji, so it was extra special for us). This was a pleasant surprise and a blessing to receive this book now so that it can be kept in the Mohanji Home for Seniors library. A yellow butterfly fluttered past the manager as soon as I said this. He immediately pointed out that Yogiji had made his presence felt (Yogiji had declared that he would show his presence as a butterfly every now and then). In this case, the location (behind the counter glass cubicle, far away from the outside door) and the timing (just a second after our conversation) left no doubt that this was a sign indeed from the great Master!
3) In the evening, the ceremony at the Mohanji Home was Bhagawathi Seva, or worship of the Divine Mother. After the puja was over, prasad was distributed to all. This time, the prasad was a payasam (a gooey sweet rice dish with an overload of jaggery and sugar). Almost on cue, a white dog appeared at the back door and happily lapped up a few leaf platefuls of the prasad. A white dog is associated with Goddess Lakshmi, a form of the Divine Mother, making us feel happy that the day’s proceedings were successful.
4) We received a call from Kishore’s home at this point. A great Avadhoota saint had called Revathy (Kishore’s wife and a Mohanji Acharya) and said he would come to their house to have payasam (a sweet dish). This saint is an ardent worshipper of Divine Mother and is well aware of Mohanji and his work across the world. On this day, as the Bhagawathi Seva was completed, his asking for the same payasam at Revathy’s house as prasad was a confirmation that the Divine Mother herself had accepted our offering.
We requested the saint to also visit the home and bless the project. Being an Avadhoota, he did not commit, despite our fervent requests. However, the next day, he called and said he would visit in the afternoon. This was perfect timing as his visit was on 31st August, just a day before the seniors were to actually start living in the home. His visit, in a way, rounded off the series of blessings for the project to take off successfully.
The Mohanji Home for Seniors started operating on 1st September as planned, with 5 sadhus moving in. But interestingly, over time, we began to realise that the home was an abode not just for the elders who we could see but several others whom our eyes could not see. For example, the staff regularly noticed that the food offered to the Lord is consumed, and only part of it is visible the next day, despite the kitchen being completely closed! A few months since commencement, a routine has been established, and the seniors spend their days in an atmosphere of peace, love and affection. Our staff lovingly serves them freshly cooked meals, their clothes and hygiene are well tended to, and doctors check on their health regularly.
Aaratis are performed regularly to Mohanji and Mount Arunachala. Festivals are celebrated in great style, and every attempt is made to ensure that the seniors feel at home and part of the extended Mohanji family. Mohanji visited the home, along with his parents, and provided additional guidance to the team to enhance the quality of our services. He also inspired our team to accelerate the construction work to complete the first and second floors in their entirety and consider the building complete in all respects. That is now our focus, and we hope to reach that milestone soon.
As I write this in February 2022, I can only marvel at how smoothly this entire project has taken shape. I have had the privilege of being involved in it from the early stages and literally had a front-row seat to see Mohanji’s grace and vision play out seemingly invisibly. When we string together the various incidents and reflect on what has been achieved and what instead could have been, we begin to appreciate the gravitas of this project. On behalf of everyone involved with this project – volunteers, donors, and project managers – I can only say how grateful we are for the opportunity to be a part of such a historical project.
As I started the day today, I saw Mohanji’s quote for the day on the table calendar: “At the end of the day, it is just grace and blessings which make a difference in regular life. Gratitude opens doors for grace to flow.” Truer words could not have been spoken, and I am smiling at how Mohanji sends the right message yet again!
|| JAI BRAHMARISHI MOHANJI ||
Edited & Published by – Testimonials Team, 6th April 2023
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