On 7th April 2022, a unique meeting took place at Vasishth Guhā, the spiritually charged Cave situated about 30 kilometers above Rishikesh, in which many saints and seekers have found a connection with the depth of the unspeakable Reality, with or without a name. The whole symbolism of the cave, the guhā or Cave of the Heart of the Upanishads, becomes a tangible experience here. I had made a pilgrimage to this sacred spot many times, and every time the same deepening takes place, at different stages of one’s inner life.
This time there was an appointment with one of the most revered and authentic spiritual teachers in the close line of Sri Ramana Maharshi, Sri Nochur Venkataraman, or simply Nochur Swami, whose centre is in Tiruvannamalai. He and his close disciples were already in meditation when I came, and when he was about to leave the cave I did pranāma at his feet, but continued my meditation. Being well grounded and settled within, when I came out from the darkness in the bright sunlight, Sri Nochur and his disciples were already at the Ganga. I joined them in a very natural setting and here a Satsang took place, with Sri Nochur spontaneously picking up a spiritual theme.
Some of the sannyasis lived at Vasishth Guha in an Ashram and were inspired by the saint Purushottamananda whose birth century was celebrated recently. We also remembered Swami Shantananda who lived both here and at Ramanasramam.
Then we briefly climbed up to the other cave, Arundhati Guhā, which is not deep and opens up to a wonderful view of the Ganga. Sri Nochur told that he spent some time of sādhanā there. We all felt that it would be worth spending the whole day there. But then a visit to Ishvar Parvat was planned. This was a blessing expected since long and a very unique occasion to show the place and to have a very private satsanga which is not possible in Tiruvannamalai with so many people wanting to meet him.
In fact, I was very much moved that he set his foot at my place of sādhanā, and his disciples sharing the experience. I had anticipated that I show them the Kutiyas, starting from the library, and having a satsanga in Dhyan Mandir. In the library I also showed him the treasures of Swami Lakshman Joo’s hand-written manuscripts. Then when going down he wanted to enter my kutiya, although I said it was in disorder (as always! but specially because I had to leave early). Obviously he was more interested in my life-style. Instead of the Dhyan Mandir he sat in my meditation room, where I said that “all is Śiva”, and started singing a beautiful Stotra, the Śivānandalaharī ascribed to Śankara. Just the very fact of his sitting in the small space of my long-term meditation has left an imprint which cannot be deleted. Then we sat on my verandah and here a very deep dialogue took place. Every time he quotes a Vedic or Upanishadic text which conforms with our Śaiva-Tantra-yoga, as I was also immersed in the Upanishads for years, this creates a very significant bridge between Veda and Āgama, and Śaiva Yoga.
In that conversation the disciple Mauli Raman also brought up my meeting with my Guru – which Sri Nochur had read in my article – and I briefly described it, which evidently moved him. We could establish a spiritual connection.
It is difficult to describe that satsanga which flowed very naturally, but at a very high level. For me the sign of authenticity is naturalness – like Gurudeva – and Sri Nochur with all his Śāstric knowledge is so overflowing, what I love, the wisdom and the experience and the human qualities all flowing together in him.
In the Dhyan Mandir he was interested in the photos of our Guru lineage, and in the very special photo of Sri Ramana and (at that time) Brahmanchari Lakshman Joo which is on our altar. He commented on the photo of the Vietnam Shiva whose body is expressing a fullness of prāṇa and spoke about prāṇa in the Upanishad.
All this sharing of wisdom and his very presence was itself a blessing.
This extraordinary visit was completed unexpectedly two days later, on 9th of April, by the visit of Sri Ganesan from Ramanasramam, with his disciples. He is 86 but he did not shy the troubles of the way and the paths in the garden. Sri Ganesan, grand nephew of Sri Ramana Maharshi, is a treasure for the Ramana devotees, and we have an old and deep relationship. He is always ready to share his memories and experiences. We had a very special occasion to come close when he spent a sabbatical year at the Krishnamurti Foundation, Rajghat, maybe in 1990. His visit was another moment of the deep connection with Ramana and Arunachala. I said that since I could not come to Arunachala for two years (due to Covid), Arunachala has come to Ishvar Parvat!
The Trika Interreligious Trust had decided in 2020 to open a small branch library of the Varanasi Samvidalaya at Ishvar Parvat. After sorting out the books in Varanasi for the shift books were selected for Ishvar Parvat,
including duplicates and separate copies containing the main sections: Kashmir Śaivism, Tantra/Āgama, Mysticism, Spirituality, Yoga and general literature (Languages: Sanskrit, English, German, French, Hindi). This collection also contains the special gift by Prabha Deviji of books of Swami Lakshman Joo with his marginal notes, including his handwritten manuscripts. They will be accessible only to scholars/students who are qualified and approved by the Trustees. They are a treasure for future research which will throw much light on Swamiji’s thought and precision in studying, editing and working with texts of the tradition. So far nothing has been written on this aspect of his life and work.
The books were brought from Varanasi in December 2021, and on Vasant Pancami, 5 th February 2022 the library has been blessed and opened officially by a beautiful Sarasvati Pūjā performed by a Pandit from Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama, Rishikesh, with participation of their sadhakas. The building had been restored and enlarged during the lockdown in 2021 and can be used as a multipurpose building with main focus on the library, study and writing.
Due to the covid crisis which hit Varanasi hard in 2020-21 it was decided to close the beautiful space of the library in Bhadaini and shift it to the house in Samne Ghat. The Bhadaini space was used by students and scholars and the last full program took place in the winter of 2019 to February 2020, with teachings of Vijnana Bhairava and other texts to an interesting and international group of students. It was no longer possible to continue such programs since the beginning of the Covid pandemic.
The library was finally shifted to the house in Samne Ghat in July 2021 with the necessary renovation and re-arrangement of the books and research materials. After this process was completed a function of reopening took place on 26 th December 2021, with the participation of scholars, old friends and students. This was documented on video including the full talk by the director, Bettina Sharada Bäumer. It has been uploaded on YouTube, with the following link: www.youtube.com/watch
The new (old) address is: Samvidalaya, Abhinavagupta Research Library, N 1/66-F-12 Samne Ghat, Nagwa, Kedareshvar Nagar, Varanasi 221005. Contact through Mrs Vandana Tripathi, Library Assistant, mobile: 9532704566
Interested scholars and students are welcome to use the facilities especially in the fields of Kashmir Shaivism, Tantra, Indian Art and aesthetics, etc.
Samvidalaya has played an important role since its inception in 2006 in making available a space for study and research on Kashmir Shaivism and related traditions. Due to the pandemic which has also affected Varanasi since its beginning in March 2020, the activities of Samvidalaya, Abhinavagupta Research Library have been interrupted. Considering the present situation we have no choice but to relocate the books between our various branches, vacating the Bhadaini premises with effect from end-of-June 2021.
The books and documents will be distributed among the following institutions: in Varanasi itself the Guptaganga House at Samne Ghat, which is already housing part of the library and has to be re-arranged according to the new function. Secondly, Ishvar Parvat, Phulchatti Village in Uttarakhand, which is the property of Trika Interreligious Trust and has created some space for a branch of the Library. All these activities are presently hindered due to the repeated lockdowns and risk to the health and well-being of our staff and collaborators. Therefore a final schedule for shifting cannot be given at the moment, but we will make an announcement as soon as there is more clarity on the matter.
Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan, respectfully and affectionately addressed as Kapilaji, left us on 16th September 2020. What she was both in terms of a great scholar and embodiment of Indian Culture and Art, and in a personal relationship which lasted almost 40 years, when she was my inspiration, my mentor and my guide in our common work at the beginning stages of the IGNCA, can hardly be expressed in a brief obituary. But I will attempt it shortly. In the meantime I am very grateful that Sri N.N. Vohra, President of India International Centre, has kindly agreed to reproduce her obituary here, mainly for friends who do not know Kapilaji or only partially.
Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan, who would have been 92 in December this year, passed away peacefully at her residence on 16 September 2020 after a very brief illness. I had known her from around the late 1970s when I came to Delhi to work for the Union government.
After serving the Ministry of Education (differently named from time to time) for nearly four decades, she superannuated in 1986 as Secretary Arts to the Government of India. Actually she never “retired” and was the ruling deity in the realm of arts and culture for over half a century. Trained as a classical dancer, she was a scholar, teacher, researcher, educationist, administrator, and a practitioner who conceived and set up several pivotal institutions to the advancement of higher learning. Besides being the founder Academic Director of IGNCA, and later the Chairperson of this eminent institution, she was responsible for the planning and materialisation of several museums, archival repositories, libraries, et al.
As Director of the India International Centre I worked closely with Kapilaji during the period when she was Vice-President, President and Chairperson of the IIC-Asia Project (subsequently renamed as the International Research Division) and, later, as her fellow Life Trustee. Throughout her long association with IIC she stood firm, literally alone at times, to defend and protect the high values and integrity of the Centre. Arriving around noon everyday she invariably attended all the programmes and remained available to one and all – Staff, Members and the many scholars who came to seek her help and guidance.
As an eminent member of the UNESCO Executive Board, Kapilaji very significantly enlarged her contacts and interactions with the intellectual fraternity, all over the world. While she got seriously engrossed with the larger civilisational issues, she remained intensively involved in crafting practical approaches on how the invaluable corpus of the Indian traditions and systems could be fused with the demands of modernity while particularly ensuring the pluralistic and spiritual foundations of our ancient sociocultural heritage were not eroded. In recent years, she recurringly voiced concern about the growing challenges to the pluralistic dimensions of our social framework.
Kapilaji’s absence shall be missed by all those who had got to know her. Her passing on marks the end of an era.
4 November 2020
Originally published in The India International Centre Diary, August-September 2020, p.11;
re-published with the kind permission by Sri N.N. Vohra, President, India International Centre