Uttarakhand is the most remarkable of Indian states with respect to religious pilgrimage in India. Nestled among the serene heights of the lower Himalayas, the holy spots of Uttarakhand have been attracting pilgrims for centuries. Swami Vivekananda, the celebrated Indian monk and philosopher, was also influenced by the mystical aura of the region. His love for the Himalayas and spirituality converged in Uttarakhand. During the sojourn of Swami Vivekananda in Uttarakhand, he was believed to have found inner peace. The tour of Swami Vivekananda in Uttarakhand was primarily concentrated in the Kumaon (Eastern) region, where he had scouted around Almora and adjoining areas in his path for self-discovery.
Introduction to early life
Swami Vivekananda was a spiritual genius of commanding intellect and power. He was born Narendranath Datta, in Kolkata, on the 12th of January, 1863. The 19th-century Indian mystic, Ramkrishna Paramhansadev was the mentor who guided Narendranath to become a major force in the contemporary Hindu reform movement. After the demise of Shri Ramkrishna in 1886, around fifteen of his disciples including Narendranath, began to live together in a dilapidated building at Baranagar in North Calcutta, which was named Ramakrishna Math, the monastic order of Ramakrishna. Here, in 1887, they formally renounced all ties to the world and took vows of monkhood. The brotherhood rechristened themselves and Narendranath emerged as Vivekananda. Swami Vivekananda toured the Indian subcontinent extensively. He later traveled to the United States, representing India at the 1893 Parliament of World’s religions.
Swami Vivekananda in Uttarakhand: Kakrighat
Swami Vivekananda left the monastery in 1888 and traveled the breadth of India. His sole possessions were a Kamandulu (water pot), staff, and two books, Bhagwad Gita and The Imitation of Christ. In August 1888, Swami Ji’s first destination was Varanasi. He traveled to Ayodhya, Lucknow, Agra, Vrindavan, and Rishikesh thereafter. In 1890 Swami Vivekananda and Akhandananda set off in search of peace and enlightenment. The pursuit led the wandering monks deep into the forest of Kumaon. Swami Ji blessed the land of Kakrighat with his hallowed presence.
Beyond Kainchi, on the Almora road, Kakrighat is the place where Swami Vivekananda had meditated. By the side of the river Kosi, there stands a small and simple Shiva temple, called Karkateshwar Mahadev temple. Within the precincts of the temple, there was a large Peepal tree. The wandering ascetic bathed in the pristine water of River Koshi and absorbed himself in deep meditation under this tree. Swami Vivekananda realized, “microcosm and the macrocosm are built on the same plan”. The tree, popularly referred to as Vivekananda Gyan Vriksha, has since been regarded as sacred and holy. While the original tree has not survived beyond 2013, clones of the sacred tree have been planted at the same spot.
Picturesque greenery and tranquillity attract casual tourists to this place. The land also encourages spiritual awakening for many souls. The Neeb Karori Baba Ashram at Kainchi Dham is one such prominent pilgrimage for locals and spiritual seekers worldwide. It started as a temple dedicated to Lord Hanuman, along the banks of River Koshi, around 17 km from Nainital. Later, idols of Sita-Ram and Devi Durga were also installed. There is also a cave beside the temple where Baba Neeb Karori used to spend his time praying. Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg are two icons who have paid a visit to this ashram. The temple serves chana (Bengal Gram) as Prasad to devotees.
Swami Vivekananda in Uttarakhand : Advaita Ashram
It had been Swami Vivekananda’s dream to establish a monastery in the heavenly surroundings of the Kumaon region. To this end he had requested his disciples, James and Charlotte Sevier and Swami Swarupananda to look for a suitable place to establish a monastery. A suitable place was found in Mayavati, 6400ft above sea level. Set amidst dense Deodar, Pine, and Oak forests, in the Champawat district of Uttarakhand, Advaita Ashram was established in 1899. Its aim was to study, practice, and disseminate the Advaita doctrine. Swamiji himself paid the Ashram a visit in January 1901 and stayed for a fortnight.
A visit to the serene environs of the Mayawati Ashram and its beautifully landscaped gardens has a calming effect on the mind. Advaita Ashrama had a press of its own and the first editions of Swami Vivekananda’s works, his life, etc. were published from Mayavati. The ashram has a library where books specialized in religion and philosophy are carefully curated. Since 1903, Mayavati Charitable Hospital caters to thousands of people in this remote area. All medical assistance offered by the hospital (consultations, treatments, tests, medicines, etc.) is free of charge.
Swami Vivekananda in Uttarakhand: Almora
Swami Vivekananda spent a lot of time in the district of Almora. He visited multiple temples in the area. He meditated at some of the most serene and picturesque places. The echo of Vivekananda’s footsteps still resonates. During the tour of Swami Vivekananda in Uttarakhand, 1890, he had stayed in the house of Lala Badri Shah. There is a temple dedicated to Nanda Devi at one end of the main market area in Almora. The house of Lala Badri Shah is located at the other end of this market.
When Swamiji revisited Almora in 1897, he chose to stay in the same place. On this occasion, he was received by a huge crowd of enthusiastic villagers from Lodea. Swami Vivekananda had addressed the public in front of Shri Raghunath Temple in the vicinity. Tourists may visit the temple and Lala’s house and pay homage to Swami Vivekananda. Swami Vivekananda had also served a lecture on “Vedic Teachings in Theory & Practice” at the Government Inter College in Almora. The campus is located close to the Mall Road of Almora.
Another spot associated with Swami Vivekananda is the Amba Vatika. This is the garden where Swami Ji used to practice meditation and yoga, every morning, while he was in Uttarakhand to visit Amba Dutta Joshi, an officer in the Justice Department.
Swami Vivekananda in Uttarakhand: Kasar Devi Temple
Swami Vivekananda could not resist the magnetic pull of the Kasar Devi Temple, a 2nd Century temple, around 9 km from Almora, on Binsar Road. Like many places scattered across Uttarakhand, the temple compound offers panoramic views of the snow-clad Himalayan peaks. But what makes this place unique is the fact that Kasar Devi Temple in Uttarakhand is one of the only three places on this planet under the impact of highly charged geomagnetic fields that come within the Van Allen Belts discovered by NASA. Kasar Devi is endowed with cosmic energy similar to that of the UK’s Stonehenge and Peru’s Machu Pichu.
100-odd steps lead to the main shrine inside a cave. Kasar Devi (a representation of Sherawali) is worshipped here. While the basic rock temple carved out of a cave has been around for some 2,000 years, its present structure was given shape in 1948 by the Birla family. A few steps further upwards take devotees to a couple of temples dedicated to Lord Shiva and Bhairava.
Swami Vivekananda had meditated at this place and devotees repeat the ritual on their visit to the temple. In spite of a steep climb, one undeniably finds peace, serenity, and uplifting energy in the temple compound. It does reward you with a greater level of rejuvenation and inner healing. Peaceful serenity would itself spur meditation and introspection in such areas.
The next time you travel to Kumaon, do try to follow the trail of the great scholar and mystic Swami Vivekananda in Uttarakhand and embark upon a journey that is supremely gratifying and immensely fulfilling. The unseen presence of Swami Vivekananda in Kumaon, Uttarakhand can still be experienced in its rivers, mountains, and streams that were so beloved to him.
An honest SCORPIO who is crazy about movies, and overly passionate about travel.
Believes in immortalizing the moment, either by way of the photograph or literal documentation of the journey.