Review of Matsyagandha by Narendra Kohli

Review of Matsyagandha by Narendra KohliI don’t exactly remember how I ended up ordering Matsyagandha by Narendra Kohli. One of these days I was trying to find something from Maithili Sharan Gupt and ended up ordering Matsyagandha and Baton-Baton Mein – on Flipkart they have listed Bato-Baton Mein by Maithili Sharan Gupt but when I got it I discovered that it is actually written by Manohar Shyam Joshi of the Hum Log fame.

Anyway, there are two Hindi writers I can read any given day: Narendra Kohli and Amritlal Nagar – I have written about both these writers on this blog previously on this link. Narendra Kohli turns the stories of Indian epics into real-world stories. For example, he has written two volumes of Abhyuday; it’s Ramayana written in such a manner that there are no miracles involved. All the people in the story are normal human beings achieving normal feats and dealing with extraordinary circumstances as human beings rather than divine beings. So he actually explains how Hanuman, a very learned and physically strong individual, crosses the sea from that part of the Indian Ocean that is not very deep and reaches Sri Lanka without drowning. Similarly, Ravan, his army and his brothers are not demons, they are just people who have turned so materialistic due to prosperity that the only objective of their lives is to consume and indulge.

Matsyagandha was found floating in a jute basket, in the river Ganges, by a group of fishermen. Since she couldn’t be sold as fish, the men handed the infant girl to the village head, Dasraj. When she was found she was wrapped in very expensive garments. She was extraordinarily beautiful so both Dasraj and his wife assumed that she must had been a princess and due to some circumstances, she ended up floating in the river. The childless couple started raising her as their own daughter hoping that one day they would be able to return her to her family and get rewarded for keeping her alive. Just like other village folks, she went to fishing expeditions and she spent so much time among fish that she started smelling like fish and hence came to be known as Matsyagandha (matsya in Sanskrit means fish and gandha means smell)

The story begins with the Prince of Hastinapur and the son of Shantanu, Devavrat, coming to Dasraj and asking her daughter’s hand for his father who is smitten by her extraordinary beauty and cannot get a single moment of peace. Moved by the pain the longing was causing his father, Devavrat decides that no matter what, he is going to fulfil his father’s desire.

Dasraj knows that had Devavrat wanted he could have simply kidnapped Satyawati (Matsyagandha’s real name) but due to his Dharma (a strong sense of right and wrong and an undying desire to follow the age-old conducts of his long and illustrious lineage of Kuru ancestors) he wouldn’t do so. He asks the Prince, “Would you still be so cordial and friendly if I refused the hand? Wouldn’t you simply kidnap her? After all what can I do? I am simply a fisherman and I don’t have the sort of mighty army you have.”

Devavrat assures Dasraj that under no circumstances he is going to kidnap Satyawati because a woman is kidnapped only if her household can put up an equal fight.

Dasraj then raises the question of Shantanu’s age. There was big age gap between Satyawati and Shantanu, and what will happen when Shantanu dies? Won’t Satyawati then be reduced to a mere minion and her children the children of a minion?

“What do you want then?” asks Devavrat.

“Well, like any farther, I want my daughter to remain the queen for as long as she lives, and I want her children to become the heirs to the throne, and you being so mighty and strong, how is it possible? You are as capable of being the heir to the throne of Hastinapur as a human can be without being a god, how is it even possible that my daughter will remain the queen and one of her sons will be the king of Hastinapur? I want the eldest son of Satyawati to become the King of Hastinapur,” says Dasraj.

“This is not an issue,” says Devavrat casually and instantly. “I give you my word that I will forsake my claim to the throne and one of the sons of Satyawati will be the king of Hastinapur.”

Dasraj isn’t content with what Devavrat promises, so he goes further, “But is it fair to give your word when your son isn’t even born? How can you make a promise on his behalf? What if, when he grows up, he refuses to accept your word and rightfully claims the throne? And being the rightful descendant, the army and your people will be on your son’s side and the fate of my daughter and her sons will be sealed forever.”

“The sun, the earth and the air be my witnesses, I take the pledge to remain celibate for the rest of my life. I shall never marry, I shall never have my own wife and I shall never have my own children,” declares Devavrat and there is all-round panic among the ministers and the army accompanying him.

Henceforth, Devavrat, due to his Bheeshma (extraordinary) pledge, comes to be known by the name of Bheeshma.

But the story is about Satyawati, Matsyagandha.

Before becoming the attraction of King Shantanu Satyawati falls in love with an ascetic but highly renowned Sage Parashar. They have a son out of wedlock but Dasraj manages to convince Satyawati that she is meant to spend her life in the palaces, not in the modest surroundings of a hermitage. She hands the infant son to Sage Parashar and decides to lead the path of materialistic pursuits shown by her father. The rest of the story follows.

Satyawati becomes the queen but she hasn’t been brought up as a princess so Shantanu is quite uncomfortable living with her. But then he reconciles that when he desired her, he desired her for her body and not for her wisdom, upbringing and intellect. On the very first night when Shantanu satisfies his lust with her, she comes to understand that she wields total control over him and hence the downfall of the Kuru clan begins.

Satyawati can never understand how someone like Devavrat who commands so much power and respect can suddenly give up everything just so that his father can get the woman he wants for his bed? Why would he let her eldest son get the throne of one of the mightiest empires in the world? There must be some catch. He must be scheming something. He must want her downfall. Someday, he would slaughter her and her children when Shantanu would be no more. She constantly conspires against Devavrat. “Consider Devavrat your biggest enemy,” had counselled Dasraj when she was leaving and she constantly thinks that he is her biggest enemy.

Her own conceit, her own doubts and her own sense of insecurity bring her to the precipice of ruin. Totally detached, Bheeshma is there, but only as a caretaker and a protector until a worthy king emerges out of Satyawati’s lineage. He is tied with his woe. Satyawati, due to her character flaws, fails to raise sons who can defend themselves as well as their empire.

Matsyagandha is a tragic story although it is not even the beginning of the Mahabharata that we are familiar with, yet. She sows the seeds of the destruction that is wrought upon the Kuru clan by always mollycoddling her sons and grandsons, totally undermining the age-old traditions of righteousness, values, hard work and principles. She thinks that being a king or a prince means constantly living in the lap of luxury and abundance, weakening her progeny physically and mentally in the process.

She is Matsyagandha – the one who smells of fish and the smell of fish always makes the surroundings difficult to bear. The smell of fish is like the rotting flesh. True to her name, she brings a rot that can never be reversed.

But to be fair, she is not solely responsible for the destruction described in the Mahabharata. If she is the rot, who introduces the rot to the family? Shantanu. Just because he cannot control his impulses.

Matsyagandha is a very well written book by Narendra Kohli. Without being preachy or righteous he imparts the ancient values of Dharma in a manner you can easily fall in love with. Reading a good writer is like listening to classical music, as I often comment in my various writings. The words, the language, the sentences, they sound like music, so beautifully they are written. It’s a book to be read in one sitting, as I did. Do read it. In order to fully enjoy it, your command over Hindi must be good, though.

Satpuda Ke Ghane Jangal (सतपुड़ा के घने जंगल) by Bhavani Prasad Mishr

Satpuda ke ghane jungle by Bhavani Prasaad Mishr

सतपुड़ा के घने जंगल
नींद में डूबे हुए-से,
ऊँघते अनमने जंगल।

झाड़ ऊँचे और नीचे
चुप खड़े हैं आँख मींचे,
घास चुप है, काश चुप है
मूक शाल, पलाश चुप है;
बन सके तो धँसो इनमें,
धँस न पाती हवा जिनमें,
सतपुड़ा के घने जंगल
नींद में डूबे हुए से
ऊँघते, अनमने जंगल!

सड़े पत्ते, गले पत्ते,
हरे पत्ते, जले पत्ते,
वन्य को पथ ढँक रहे-से,
पंक दल में पले पत्ते,
चलो इन पर चल सको तो,
दलो इनको दल सको तो,
ये घिनौने-घने जंगल,
नीद में डूबे हुए-से
ऊँघते, अनमने जंगल!

अटपटी उलझी लताएँ,
डालियों को खींच खाएँ,
पैरों को पकड़ें अचानक,
प्राण को कसलें कपाएँ,
साँप-सी काली लताएँ
बला की पाली लताएँ
लताओं के बने जंगल,
नींद में डूबे हुए-से
ऊँघते अनमने जंगल।

मकिड़यों के जाल मुँह पर,
और सिर के बाल मुँह पर,
मच्छरों के दंश वाले,
दाग काले-लाल मुँह पर,
वात झंझा वहन करते,
चलो इतना सहन करते,
कष्ट से ये सने जंगल,
नींद में डूबे हुए-से
ऊँघते अनमने जंगल।

अजगरों से भरे जंगल
अगम, गति से परे जंगल,
सात-सात पहाड़ वाले,
बड़े-छोटे बाघ वाले,
गरज और दहाड़ वाले,
कंप से कनकने जंगल,
नींद में डूबे हुए-से,
ऊँघते अनमने जंगल।
इन वनों के खूब भीतर,
चार मुर्गे, चार तीतर,
पाल कर निश्चिंत बैठे,
विजन वन के बीच बैठे,
झोंपड़ी पर फूस डाले
गोंड तगड़े और काले
जब कि होली पास आती,
सरसराती घास गाती,
और महुए से लपकती,
मत्त करती बास आती,
गूँज उठते ढोल इनके,
गीत इनके ढोल इनके।

सतपुड़ा के घने जंगल
नींद में डूबे हुए-से
ऊँघते अनमने जंगल
जागते अँगडाइयों में
खोह खडडों खाइयों में
घास पागल, काश पागल,
शाल और पलाश पागल,
लता पागल, वात पागल,
डाल पागल, पात पागल,
मत्त मुर्गे और तीतर,
इन वनों के खूब भीतर!

क्षितिज तक फैला हुआ-सा
मृत्यु तक मैला हुआ-सा,
क्षुब्ध काली लहर वाला,
मथित, उत्थित जहर वाला
मेरू वाला, शेष वाला,
शंभु और सुरेश वाला,
एक सागर जानते हो?
उसे कैसे मानते हो?
ठीक वैसे घने जंगल,
नींद में डूबे हुए-से
ऊँघते अनमने जंगल।

धँसो इनमें डर नहीं है,
मौत का यह घर नहीं है,
उतरकर बहते अनेकों,
कल-कथा कहते अनेकों,
नदी निझर्र और नाले ,
इन वनों ने गोद पाले,
लाख पंछी सौ हिरन-दल,
चाँद के कितने किरन दल,
झूमते बन-फूल फिलयाँ,
खिल रहीं अज्ञात किलयाँ,
हिरत दूवार्, रक्त किसलय,
पूत, पावन, पूर्ण रसमय,
सतपुड़ा के घने जंगल,
लताओं के बने जंगल|
– भवानी प्रसाद मिश्र

Maa keh ek kahani (माँ कह एक कहानी) by Maithili Sharan Gupt

Maa keh ek kahaniमाँ कह एक कहानी।
बेटा समझ लिया क्या तूने मुझको अपनी नानी?
कहती है मुझसे यह चेटी, तू मेरी नानी की बेटी
कह माँ कह लेटी ही लेटी, राजा था या रानी?
माँ कह एक कहानी।

तू है हठी, मानधन मेरे, सुन उपवन में बड़े सवेरे,
तात भ्रमण करते थे तेरे, जहाँ सुरभि मनमानी।
जहाँ सुरभि मनमानी! हाँ माँ यही कहानी।

वर्ण वर्ण के फूल खिले थे, झलमल कर हिमबिंदु झिले थे,
हलके झोंके हिले मिले थे, लहराता था पानी।
लहराता था पानी, हाँ हाँ यही कहानी।

गाते थे खग कल कल स्वर से, सहसा एक हँस ऊपर से,
गिरा बिद्ध होकर खर शर से, हुई पक्षी की हानी।
हुई पक्षी की हानी? करुणा भरी कहानी!

चौंक उन्होंने उसे उठाया, नया जन्म सा उसने पाया,
इतने में आखेटक आया, लक्ष सिद्धि का मानी।
लक्ष सिद्धि का मानी! कोमल कठिन कहानी।

माँगा उसने आहत पक्षी, तेरे तात किन्तु थे रक्षी,
तब उसने जो था खगभक्षी, हठ करने की ठानी।
हठ करने की ठानी! अब बढ़ चली कहानी।

हुआ विवाद सदय निर्दय में, उभय आग्रही थे स्वविषय में,
गयी बात तब न्यायालय में, सुनी सब ने जानी।
सुनी सब ने जानी! व्यापक हुई कहानी।

राहुल तू निर्णय कर इसका, न्याय पक्ष लेता है किसका?
कह दो निर्भय जय हो जिसका, सुन लूँ तेरी वाणी
माँ मेरी क्या बानी? मैं सुन रहा कहानी।

कोई निरपराध को मारे तो क्यों न अन्य उसे उबारे?
रक्षक पर भक्षक को वारे, न्याय दया का दानी।
न्याय दया का दानी! तूने गुणी कहानी।
– मैथिलीशरण गुप्त

* * *

Book review: Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

I started reading Norwegian Wood with two misconceptions: like most (at least the ones that I have read) books by Haruki Murakami the story would revolve around something bordering on paranormal or some parallel, inexplicable existence from which the characters of the story keep coming in and going out, and the backdrop of the book would be Norway. It is a totally normal story, with normal characters, living in Japan (mostly Tokyo), and they never go to Norway.

Norwegian Wood, as I discovered while reading the book, is a famous song by the Beatles. There is no particular reason why the title of the book is Norwegian Wood aside from the fact that one of the characters keeps on singing or playing the song with no particular impact on the story of the novel, and the name appears on the very first page of the novel, triggering the entire sequence of storytelling. The titles of famous Western compositions, by the way, are a recurring appearance in the Murakami books. This could be because a major part of his life was spent in Europe and America.

I started reading Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami by accident. Although I had purchased the book long time ago and stored it on my Kindle reader, I never got down to reading it because these days I’m mostly reading non-fiction. I had just finished reading Autobiography of a Yogi and I wanted to read something heavier so I picked up The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus. It so happened that when I started reading The Myth of Sisyphus I was sitting in the playground of our building with lots of kids playing around and lots of ladies chattering, sitting in the sun. Although I wanted to read, I couldn’t focus. The essay kept referring to some abstract philosophical concepts I don’t understand. Besides, the first essay in The Myth of Sisyphus deals with why people commit suicide. Sitting in that playground, with my daughter taking rounds on her new bicycle and seeming to be on cloud nine, around 20 kids playing around me and the cheerful ladies enjoying the sun, I wasn’t exactly feeling like reading a dismal subject with so much philosophical analysis. I closed the book and then randomly tapped on Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami.

It is an autobiographical book although not exactly the story of Haruki Murakami as suspected by many readers. It doesn’t even tell the story of a complete life. It is the story of a boy, Toru Watanabe, and his romantically turbulent days even before he turned 20. It’s just about a couple of years. Is it a love story? It depends on how you take it. Haruki Murakami in one of the interviews about the book said that it is no way a love story. Toru Watanabe starts telling the story 18 years after the incidents unfolding in the story happened.

Toru, when in school, had a best friend named Kizuki and Kizuki had a girl friend named Naoko and life have woven around them psychological and behavioral circumstances in such a manner that outside of their small circle they don’t interact with anybody else. Despite being the third person in the group, Toru never feels that he is intruding or he is just being tolerated because he doesn’t have a girlfriend.

Kizuki suddenly kills himself at the age of 17 and the worlds of Toru and Naoko are totally changed. When together, they never talked to each other and completely lose contact with Kizuki out of the picture. After Kizuki kills himself Toru finds it impossible to keep living in the same town so for his college education he comes to Tokyo and starts living in a dormitory. Since his childhood the only friend he has had was Kizuki, and he is never able to forgive his friend for killing himself like that, just like that. Nobody knows why Kizuki killed himself.

Many months pass like that and one day, while travelling in the train, he bumps into Naoko who was also forced by Kizuki’s memories to leave home. She asks him if he would like to walk with her and having nothing pressing to do, he agrees. Long walks in the city and in the wilderness become a routine. They don’t talk much. She keeps walking randomly and he keeps walking behind her, whenever they decide to go on walks. Toru always considers Naoko Kizuki’s girlfriend and Naoko also treats him like he used to be, Kizuki’s best friend. The scar that Kizuki has given them acts like a strong bond, something only they share with each other.

In between the narrator describes the university agitations going on in the late 60s and the students’ obsession with socialist ideals without understanding them or assimilating them.

While living in the college dorm Toru comes across another friend named Nagasawa who reads the same books Toru reads. Nagasawa is flamboyant, is a habitual womaniser and is totally unapologetic of his lifestyle. This is the quality that draws Toru to him and during many of their excursions, Toru ends up sleeping with different girls.

Naoko is older than Toru so her 20th birthday falls way before Toru’s 20th birthday. They celebrate the birthday at Naoko’s place and end up making love. Toru doesn’t know what to make of their new-found intimacy, but this incident brings them closer and although it isn’t mentioned in words, they begin to love each other. But the next day Naoko leaves saying that she cannot cope with the pressure of Kizuki’s death. Her parents send her to a new age sanatorium or mental health retreat.

He writes multiple letters to her, to her parents’ place, hoping that they would forward them to wherever she is, but no reply comes for months.

While Naoko recuperates in the sanatorium Toru bumps into this mysterious girl called Midori who comes and goes according to her whims. Although she has a boyfriend, she’s drawn to Toru due to his straightforwardness and aloofness. While attending university she runs a small book shop left to her by her father who, she says, has left both the sisters and moved to Honduras after their mother’s death from brain cancer.

Just like Naoko, it’s Midori who takes constant initiatives and keeps inviting Toru for outings and eat outs. Once he visits her place above the book shop and while sitting on the roof they watch a neighbor’s house on fire, play guitar and kiss each other while Toru reminds her that he loves another girl.

While going through various twists and turns with Midori Toru receives a letter from Naoko and it is in this letter she reveals that she is recuperating in a mental health retreat in the mountains. She apologises for vanishing like that and reassures him that she has been trying her best to gather her energies and contact him and until that happens, he should do with the occasional letters.

In one of the letters he asks her if he can visit her and she says yes.

At the mental health care center he is greeted by a cheerful and aged Reiko who is Naoko’s roommate. As per the rules of the place he cannot meet Naoko alone and Reiko has to remain present during all the interactions.

Reiko has her own story and reasons for being at the sanatorium for the past 7 years and in between she tells him her story. It’s at the sanatorium that both Naoko and Toru confront the memory of Kizuki and how his death has affected both of them. Naoko tells him about her sister who had also committed suicide and how she had discovered her sister hanging from the roof. She tells him that she can hear Kizuki and her sister calling her and urging her to join her. During his stay, Reiko, Naoko and Toru go on a long trek and Reiko urges Toru and Naoko to go for a walk alone, against the rules of the sanatorium. During the walk Naoko tells him that despite having been boyfriend-girlfriend since an early age, she and Kizuki had never been able to have an intercourse and she would always release him with her hands. So when Naoko and Toru made love on her 20th birthday, he was the first man ever to enter her. While on the walk, the kiss each other, admit for the first time that the love each other.

He gets caught in the whirlwind of life when he comes back from the sanatorium in various incidents keep bringing him close to and pushing him away from Midori with various intervals. Midori now doesn’t disguise the fact the she is in love with her and he constantly tells her that he is in a complicated relationship that cannot be explained, without ever talking about Naoko.

Eventually, there comes a time when he cannot decide whether he should wait for Naoko who is constantly being drawn to another world by her dead sister and a dead Kizuki, or move on with a highly desirable Midori who is deeply in love with him but is quite hotheaded and can push him over to the embers if she is displeased.

This is not the end of the story but while reviewing the book I wouldn’t like to reveal exactly what happens. When you’re reading the story, it seems that Toru is the only person in the story who seems to have what you may call a “normal” upbringing or past. Otherwise everybody is broken one way or another.

What’s the message Haruki Murakami tries to convey through the novel? There is a compelling sentence in the story: Throughout our lives we are nurturing death.

Incidentally, the book I chose to read in place of The Myth of Sisyphus because I didn’t want to read an analytical essay on why people commit suicide, tells the story of a few characters who either commit suicide, or are deeply scarred by those who have committed suicide. Quite strange.

The review of Autobiography of a Yogi

Portrait of Steve Jobs holding Autobiography of a Yogi

Autobiography of a Yogi, as the name suggests, is an autobiography of an Indian yogi named Paramhansa Yogananda. Prior to becoming a yogi, his name was Mukunda Lal Ghosh and was the fourth child of a financially comfortable Bengali family.

From his childhood itself he was drawn towards spiritualism, search for God and finding the true meaning of life. Once he scared his little sister by drawing three paper kites (being flown by other kids on other roofs of the adjacent houses) to him successively by simply wishing for them to come to him. His father, Bhagabati Charan Ghosh, was employed on a high post in the Indian Railway in British India.

There are many books in my Kindle collection that have just been randomly added for many years. A few times it has so happened that I have come across a book while reading something else and thought of purchasing it. While purchasing I’ve discovered or realized that I already have that book with me. Autobiography of a Yogi is one such book. I had purchased it many years ago and then forgotten about it. Forgotten in the sense that normally when I was browsing through my index, I often used to come across this face of a yogi with a flowing mane staring at me (the cover of the book), I would look at the title and then move onto another book.

Now I don’t remember why recently I started reading Autobiography of a Yogi but I do remember someone telling in a YouTube video that Steve Jobs used to read this book once every year and he would often gift the book to family, friends and colleagues, as a source of self-realization. Perhaps that was also one of the reason why I started reading the book (you see, we Indians have this tendency of finding things more fascinating when they have been accepted and endorsed by Westerners).

But that was not the only reason (Steve jobs reading and recommending Autobiography of a Yogi) why I kept reading the book once I started reading it (I mention this because these days I don’t waste my time if I don’t find a book worth reading, just because I have purchased it).

In the beginning of 2015 I chanced upon a great book called Law of Attraction (another book in my collection that has been there for years, unread) and once I started reading it, I found myself agreeing to almost the entire content of the book and ever since then, have applied many suggestions given in the book to my own life. Not that my life has miraculously changed or anything, but everything described and documented in the book is so logical that even believing in miracles doesn’t seem illogical.

The events described in Autobiography of a Yogi are just a continuation of the central theme of Laws of Attraction, that you are the one responsible for whatever is happening in your life. If you want to remain healthy, you just need to will to remain healthy, if you want things to happen the way you want them to happen, you just need to will them to happen just the way you want them to happen. It may seem absurd, but if you read Laws of Attraction and then Autobiography of a Yogi, you will find a great similarity. What has been described in Laws of Attraction in theory, has been demonstrated as real-life examples in Autobiography of a Yogi. The fundamental philosophy of life remains unchanged, whether it’s the West or the Orient.

The only difference between both the books is that Autobiography of a Yogi doesn’t mince the words when describing miracles. For example, when Paramhansa Yogananda (Mukunda) was a teenager he fell so sick that he would have died any minute. His mother fervently prayed to the family’s spiritual guru Shri Lahiri Mahasaya and even urged Mukunda to pray to the great Yogi, which the child did with great concentration. There was a flash of light in the room and Mukunda was instantly cured, reaffirming his faith in the supreme power of sadhana.

Throughout the book he gives ample examples of yogis appearing and disappearing from and into thin air, of them travelling through length and breadth of the country while sitting in meditation, and controlling the matter and the laws of physics and drawing solid things out of nothingness.

Everything is explained scientifically so there is no miracle. There are many things that are very difficult for us to understand simply because we don’t have that sort of insight and intelligence. You need to read the book with an open mind if you really want to complete it and even if you don’t believe in the miracles described in the book, the philosophy explained in the book will give you an insight into how one should live his or her life.

The lives of many saints have been chronicled in the book, especially of the yogis and gurus that directly influenced Paramhansa Yogananda. There are a couple of chapters on Lahiri Mahasaya who was one of the greatest yogis despite remaining married and having kids.

Then there is the mention of Babaji who is described as an avatar, or rather, Mahavatar. It is believed that Babaji never dies. He lives like a true yogi, mostly in Himalayan caves, and he is also believed to have given yoga initiation to Adi Shankara and then later on, after many centuries, to Kabir. Babaji tutored Lahiri Mahasaya and initiated him, then Lahiri Mahasaya tutored and initiated Sri Yukteswar and then Sri Yukteswar tutored and initiated Yogananda Paramhansa. Once Babaji decided to leave this world but his divine sister urged him not to and then he declared that he would never leave this world, so he is still supposed to be alive.

There are many instances of yogis achieving higher realms of living and being a yogi doesn’t mean that you have to be from India. Paramhansa Yogananda, after having moved to the United States on the instruction of his master (the entire line of masters including Babaji, Lahiri Mahasaya and Sri Yukteswara it seems have been preparing Paramhansa Yogananda to spread the knowledge of yoga in the Western world), was returning to India once and on his way he visited a Bavarian stigmatist Therese Neumann who would manifest the wounds of Christ (called stigmata) every Friday. She never ate food. Every morning at 6 AM she would just eat one consecrated wafer. There are a few other yogis who don’t need to eat food because they can survive on the cosmic energy.

The most fantastic aspect of the book is the chapter where Paramhansa Yogananda writes about the coming back of his own guru, Sri Yukteswar, after death. Sri Yukteswar tells Yogananda that after leaving Earth, he went to another planet called Hiranyaloka as saviour of more advanced beings (compared to the beings on Earth). At the time of the writing of the book, Sri Yukteswar was aiding the superior beings of Hiranyaloka to liberate them from astral karma. The inhabitants of that planet have already gone through the cycle of life and death on Earth and have attained a higher form of consciousness before they can rise further. On that planet or in that realm of consciousness, they are still trapped in some form of karmic cycles which they need to get rid of before getting nearer to the God being and Sri Yukteswar, being an enlightened being himself, was helping the inhabitants of the planet.

The world as we know, according to the revelations made by Sri Yukteswar after his resurrection, exists as different layers of consciousness. In the consciousness where he was living at that time, there was no sadness and pain and everything was beautiful. He describes in detail in how much bliss the inhabitants of Hiranyaloka live and through what spiritual and physical processes and births the people of Earth have to go through before landing on such a planet. Sri Yukteswar verifies the infinite universes and parallel existences described in the Hindu Upanishads, written thousands of years ago.

Personally the only nagging point in the book is that although the book has been written in and around 1945 and it describes a period between somewhere around 1915-1940, not even once he talks about India’s freedom struggle. He goes meets great scientists Bose, he also interacts in detail with Rabindranath Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi, but he never talks about the various events unfolding at that time in British India.

Understandably the book has been written more for Western readers rather than Indian readers and you can make this out from ample examples from Bible and other Christian saints. He constantly calls various Indian saints and yogis “Christlike”.

Would I recommend the book? Yes. Would you trust or believe the events, phenomenon and personalities described in the book? It depends on your personal belief. In order to believe what’s written in the book you don’t need to believe in the supernatural or the miraculous. I’m not a superstitious person but I do believe beyond an iota of doubt that there are many aspects of this world that we don’t understand. Modern-day science was once considered witchcraft. Scientists were put to death for saying that the earth goes around the sun instead of the sun going around the earth. So maybe the miracles that seem miracles may no longer remain miracles once someone can properly explain them and prove the science behind them.