Advaita Brahma Ashram
In our numerous trips to Shreekshetra Puri, our main attraction would be to visit Sri Nigamananda Ashram in Lokanath Marg, followed by darshan of the Lord of the Universe, Sri Jagannath Mahaprabhu, who resides with his brother and sister in the bejeweled throne in his home, the Srimandira. Next, we would visit Maa Lakshmi’s parent’s place, the Mahodadhi, run across the sand, crossing the beach, to reach the water, sprinkle it on ourselves seeking His blessings and spend the entire time playing on the beach. Whenever it was a special event day, we would spend the entire day celebrating, hearing discourses, singing bhajans, kirtans, chanting and performing either Krishna leela or Gaura leela in the evenings. Thus, we were always welcome visitors to the ashram in Lokanath Marg. Everything had come to a stop during covid times and when the restrictions were relaxed, I grabbed the opportunity to spend some time at the ashram.
I always had a wish to visit the various leela sthalis of the great seers in Puri, which to some extent, was fulfilled this time. Our first stop was ‘Girnarbant’. We just had to walk down the Lokanath Marg - so close yet so distinct. I would have never believed that such a place existed in the middle of Puri. Known as the Advaita Brahma Ashram, the structure stands on huge old sand dunes covered with vegetation and greenery. A variety of trees like palm, cashewnut, neem, mango, date palm, casuarina and flowering trees like champa and nagachampa make it heavenly. An unbelievable silence created a serene atmosphere. The place is locally known as Girnarbant. The Advaita Brahma Ashram was established by the great seer, who is believed to have lived for more than 300 years, the Advaita Saint (believer of Monoism) , the naked Sanyasi known as Sri Sri Jogeswar Digambar Paramhansa Maharaj or Nanga Baba Totapuri. He spent around 50 years of his last yogic life in Puri. Known as Nangta or Languli Baba, he belonged to the ‘Puri’ lineage of sanyasis, and the 'Naga' order of militant ascetics who believed in combating their opponents with the knowledge of shastra. A follower of the Naga-Abadhuta cult, he was basically a paribrajak - a wandering monk, who had travelled across the Indian subcontinent, the major parts of Brahmadesh (Bangladesh), and even beyond the Himalayas on foot only. It is said that Baba had witnessed many wars spreading over centuries: the Battle of Plassey and the Third Battle of Panipat in the eighteenth century, the Sepoy Mutiny in nineteenth century, and even the two twentieth century world wars.
By instructions of the Lord, Totapuri Maharaj had come down to Dakshineswar to initiate young Gadadhar Chattopadhyaya, the Brahmin priest of Kali Mandir. Under the vigilant eyes of his Guru, Gadadhar remained in Samadhi for three days. Finally, Totapuri Maharaj brought him back to the relative realm. He was astounded to witness his disciple attain the Nirvikalpa Samadhi state in a single day and named him Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. Nirvikalpa is a state where the individual self (atman) merges with the universal consciousness (brahman); where the ego and sanskaras cease to exist, leaving behind pure consciousness. It was a miracle! Totapuri Maharaj, who never stayed at a place for more than three days, remained in Dakshineswar for eleven months. A staunch advaita sanyasi, he knew that this world was maya which had to be denounced. A firm believer of non-dualism, he did not have faith in a personal God. Ramakrishna used to call him ‘Nangta’ but the Guru also had to learn from Ramakrishna, who was an embodiment of love. To Ramakrishna, everything was God and hence he revered Maya as God too. For him, even Maya was Kali, the Divine Mother, spinning its web like a spider. She projects the world and again withdraws it. What he experienced in the higher transcendental plane of Nirvikalpa Samadhi, he found the same here, everywhere around him. After being initiated by Totapuri Maharaj, Ramakrishna could experience the impersonal God. When he thought the supreme being as inactive; neither creating nor preserving nor destroying, he called Him Brahman or Purusha and when he thought of Him as active continuously creating, preserving and destroying, He called him Shakti or Maya or Prakriti. After Totapuri Maharaj left, Ramakrishna remained in a state of absolute identity with Brahman for six months.
Towards the last 50 years of his life the sky-clad saint, fondly called Languli baba, set up his hermitage in a secluded place called Girnarvant, which at that time was far away from the population of the Puri town. Since the sadhu had earlier continued his yogic sadhana in the Girnar mountain ranges of Junagarh and reappeared to meditate on similar sand dunes in Puri (vant means sand dunes), the place came to be known as Girnarvant.
Monika, who was visiting Puri was drawn towards this great sage. She became his disciple and stayed in the ashram. We find so many stories about Baba from the memoirs of Monika. Baba preferred solitude and hardly met anyone. Monika mentions the story of a cow who used to live in the ashram. Since the cow strayed into the neighbour’s farm for food, Baba gave away the cow to the owner of the farm. When the cow refused to go, Baba chided the cow saying that because of his habit of stealing in his past two lives, he was born as a cow but still couldn’t give up stealing. Here was a chance to repay his debt by giving free milk to the farmer and get released from this animal life.
Baba would remain silent when people enquired about his age and asked if he was Ramakrishna Paramahamsa’s Guru. They were often curious to know how was it that he still lived while Ramakrishna had left his body long ago. But to a genuine seeker, he would point towards the banyan tree in the ashram and ask them to go and enquire from the tree about its age. He used to say, why should the age matter as long as you can sit under its shade on a sunny day? But once he had confided in Monika that he had been to Dakshineswar and bound had stayed with Ramakrishna for eleven months. He never said anything more.
On 28th August 1961, the great sadhu Baba Totapuri Maharaj attained Mahasamadhi (final liberation). The Advaita Brahma Ashram, founded by Paramahamsa Totapuri Maharaj is situated on a sand hill in the eastern coast of Bay of Bengal. After climbing the steps, we come across a chariot shaped temple, the Samadhi Mandir, where a marble statue of the great seer is built over his mortal body beside a Shiva Lingam. Next to the temple is the huge banyan tree under which he meditated and the Dhyana Mandir or prayer hall that reverberates with divine energy. In this serene, tranquil place, the only sound that can be heard is that of the waves of the sea crashing against the shores.
udaaraaha sarva evaite jnyaanee tvaatmaiva me matam |
aasthitaha sa hi yuktaatmaa maamevaanuttamaam gatim ||
- Srimad Bhagavad Gita
All of them are certainly sincere, but only the wise one is my own self, in my opinion. For, he engages to become established in me only as the ultimate goal.
Girnarvant, Puri from My Travel diaries