Although I have not yet actually been to see Ma at Kali Mandir, I feel a strong connection to her and to the physical place itself.
My first association was several years ago, although I cannot remember exactly what year it was. At the time my partner, Abby Durga Devi, and I had been one of the first supporting contributors to a yoga festival here in northern Michigan called “Yogafest” which is held each year at the Song of the Morning Retreat Center. We helped to support the very first “yogafest” by teaching yoga classes, offering kirtan and providing and running the PA system.
We continued this tradition over the next several years. One year, there was a new kirtan leader and teacher added to the event. We were still running the PA that year. It was a strange man with the name Naren Kamalakanta. I was mesmerized by his beautiful songs and kirtan. Afterwards, many people were talking with Naren and I was shy about speaking with him. Especially as he was a bit taller than me. There was an energy around him and I was nervous about introducing myself. Abby Durga Devi insisted that if I wanted to meet him, I should just go and do it.
I walked up to him, not sure about what to say but did introduce myself. Our discussion was only a brief one. I told him of our yoga studio, House of Yoga, in the Detroit area. I told him that over the years we had hosted Krishna Das, Bhagavan Das, Girish and many others and that perhaps next year, he would come to lead a kirtan at our studio. I stayed in touch with him and took some vocal lessons with him several times.
The following year, it was arranged that he would return to Michigan for the yogafest again. And we arranged to have him come for kirtan and we also invited him to offer puja for Ma.
I was completely mesmerized by the puja, and as Swamiji told the story in the videos of the history of Kali Mandir, when he first witnessed puja and how he was taking notes and making video recordings….I was doing the same things with Naren’s puja. I watched the video over and over again and told my partner Abby that I wanted to learn puja.
Eventually over the years I have come to know Kamalakanta well, and we have had many conversations about the life of devotion and spiritual practice. He has been to our little yoga church now many times offering puja and kirtan. I have spent time with him during his travels to Song of the Morning here in Michigan and have traveled there many times to visit him and spend time with him.
During this time, of course knowing of his association with Kali Mandir, I began to look on line at the website. Soon I discovered the broadcasts of puja to Ma and began to watch with great interest and devotion. Then one day there was a satsang about Kali Puja which to my great happiness turned into many, many satsangs about Kali Puja. I have watched and listened to them many times.
One summer I felt compelled to write Swamiji an email feeling my desire to know more and to learn more how to do puja for her. Really I suppose to do offerings to the Lord God. I felt very drawn to want to travel to see this beautiful shrine that I had seen so many times in picutures and on the internet streams. Swamiji wrote me back a beautiful email which I still have today.
Over these past couple of years I have prayed to really know her and have asked many times for a sign. I’m sure my prayers have been answered but not with big laser lights or lightning bolts, but in subtle ways, such as through this program which I had been searching for for may years.
When I was very young, perhaps 10 or 12 years old I had a strong desire to become a priest. I would play priest at home. I would set up an altar, etc. Parents thought I was weird. However, my parents had strong associations with the priests at our local church just 2 blocks away from our home. A catholic church. I became an altar boy for a time, but as I got into high school, those thoughts faded.
Now here I am and through my associations of yoga, Naren and Kali Mandir, I want to become a priest again. Haha.
I still have a desire to really, really know puja. To learn to do it with real devotion and sincerity. And to do it precisely with correct pronunciation and the correct gestures, etc. I still have a desire to be initiated as a pujari.
I believe it was last year that my partner Abby traveled to Encinitas to visit her uncle for her Aunts funeral and during that time she went to visit Naren and Lopa and had the good fortune to visit Ma at Kali Mandir. I think she also went to a rodeo of some sort with Swamiji. So I am getting closer to going.
I feel the pull to go there stronger than ever. Last year my health was not very good and was concerned about travel, however this year I have been feeling much better with some new medication and am hopeful to finally make the pilgrimage if Ma will allow it and if she releases us from the pandemic this summer.
I do feel Ma’s presence with me stronger and stronger. Although my primary focus for God has been Shiva so far, I do feel a strong connection to both. This past summer, during a one month retreat we did camping in the woods for the entire months I experienced several visions of my own mother, who has past 10 years ago. She was a fierce but good mother and in my meditations she came to me telling me spiritual truths about myself…..mostly she said to not be afraid of having spiritual experiences. Weird.
Anyway that is my short story of my history so far with Kali Mandir. I have such a strong desire to know more and spend time really being absorbed in the life there. Or to at least be in that Holy space for a few moments.
I am very grateful to have the opportunity to be in this program!
David Shiva Das