In the United States, Thanksgiving has been celebrated for as long as the country has been in existence—even longer, in fact. It was first observed in the 1600s and was officially designated as a national holiday in 1863, one that would be observed every year. It’s become a time for people to come together and express gratitude for the abundance in their lives.
Baba Muktananda and Gurumayi Chidvilasananda have traveled extensively throughout the United States, holding satsangs on a daily basis and especially on holidays such as Thanksgiving. For this reason, on the Siddha Yoga path, we have come to honor the tradition of this country. As Gurumayi has said quite often—regardless of the tradition from which the holiday comes, it is a great opportunity for everyone to think of God, to experience God’s love, and to offer gratitude.
On the Siddha Yoga path, we don’t have to look for reasons to be grateful; once the shakti is awakened within us through the Guru’s grace, we are able to get in touch with the part of our heart that is always overflowing with gratitude. And then we see—the reasons for gratitude are plentiful, manifold, all around us. We are grateful for the warmth of the sun rising over the horizon and for the sound of a rushing stream. We are thankful for the kind glance of an acquaintance or for a word of encouragement shared. It’s my understanding that in experiencing gratitude, we are recognizing something of the truth and magic that wends through this manifest existence. We are getting a glimpse of the divinity that is the innate character of this world.
In honor of Thanksgiving, we will have the privilege of seeing, enjoying, and surrounding ourselves with images that express the beauty and sanctity of this earth; that celebrate its abundance; that convey the bhav of worship; and through which we will receive darshan. A video is being featured on the Siddha Yoga path website that gives tribute to the holiday—and I think you’ll find that it beautifully evokes the experience of thankfulness. The video includes rare images from the Shakti Punja archives of Baba Muktananda’s visit in 1975 with members of the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma.
What’s more, this year—2023—Thanksgiving is taking place on the same date as the Indian celebration of Prabodhini Kartik Ekadashi, November 23. Therefore, the video will include imagery that is evocative of this holiday as well.
Prabodhini Kartik Ekadashi is a holiday that has long fascinated me. It’s dedicated to Lord Vishnu, and it commemorates the day that he’s said to awaken from a four-month-long period of rest. I like to imagine the Lord taking rest, particularly during the season that corresponds to the monsoon in India, which naturally has such an indrawn and regenerative feeling to it. Similarly, I like to picture the Lord waking up when the rains stop, when the sun returns, when the harvest for crops like sugarcane begins.
My family is from the state of Maharashtra in India, and I grew up hearing about the rituals observed on the Ekadashis, the days on which the Lord is said to go to sleep and subsequently to wake up. Specifically, I heard about the pilgrimages that people make every year to the Maharashtrian town of Pandharpur in the days and weeks leading up to the Ekadashis. The largest of these pilgrimages takes place in the summer month of Ashadha (corresponding to June and July), and it culminates on the day the Lord begins his period of repose. The pilgrimage that takes place in the month of Kartik (which corresponds to October and November) is in honor of his waking up. Though it’s smaller than the one in Ashadha, it still draws many thousands of pilgrims each year.
My own grandfather undertook the pilgrimage to Pandharpur nearly every year for thirty-five years. As a young child, I loved hearing stories of how he and the other varkaris, or pilgrims, would travel upward of two hundred miles on foot, all the while singing abhangas in praise of the Lord. Some of them even did the journey barefoot! There was always someone carrying a bright orange flag, a symbol of the varkaris. Others would be playing instruments like the hand cymbals or the ektara, a one-stringed lute, which they could easily carry while walking. My grandfather preferred the tambouri, a small version of a tamboura.
When the varkaris arrived in Pandharpur for Ekadashi, they would first take a ritual bath in the sacred Chandrabhaga River. Then they would pay their respects and offer worship to Lord Vithoba (or Vitthal), the form of Vishnu that is enshrined in the temple at Pandharpur.
From many longtime Siddha Yogis I’ve also heard how, when Gurumayi and Baba were in Gurudev Siddha Peeth, the varkaris would make it a point to visit the Ashram while en route to or returning from Pandharpur. They would come for Gurumayi’s and Baba’s darshan and receive their prasad; they would visit Bhagavan Nityananda’s Temple. Everyone in the Ashram could tell, by the sound of their joyful procession, when the varkaris were coming.
Gurumayi and Baba themselves visited Pandharpur on their teaching tours in India. I discovered in the Shakti Punja archives that when Gurumayi visited in 1988—as part of an eight-day pilgrimage to holy sites in Maharashtra—she performed abhishek to Lord Vithoba, robed him in fine silks, and offered arati to him. This video includes images from both Gurumayi and Baba’s visits, as well as images of the varkaris and the murti of Lord Vithoba in Pandharpur.
The stories I grew up hearing of the varkaris, and the stories of how we’ve given homage to this tradition on the Siddha Yoga path, are very dear to my heart—so you can imagine how excited I am about this video. It’s also reminded me of the time when I got to live out my own version of this pilgrimage, and that too in my Guru’s house. In the summer of 2000, when I was eight years old, I participated in the Golden Tales—Lives of the Saints, a series of plays performed by the children in Shree Muktananda Ashram about the poet-saints of India. I was in a production about the poet-saint Namdev, and I had the distinct honor of playing—what else?—a varkari! It was such a full-circle moment. Dressed in the traditional pilgrim’s white, I joined the other little varkaris as we processed through the satsang hall and danced before Gurumayi.
I still remember the feeling of that procession, what it was like to chant and dance for Gurumayi. Yes, I was in a play, but the devotion it inspired, the sheer joy—that was all so vividly real. I believe that by watching this video, we can all have a similar experience. We can all go on pilgrimage with the Siddha Yoga Gurus.
I want to share with you a sweet story about yet another one of the images you’ll be seeing. Some days ago, Gurumayi selected for this video an image of a white conch, as Lord Vishnu is often depicted blowing a conch or holding one in his hands. A few moments after Gurumayi had chosen this image, she walked by the Temple and looked up at the sky. Gurumayi has shared that especially when she’s looking at the sky above the Temple, she sees clouds in the shape of whatever it is she is speaking or teaching about. Lo and behold—on this day, there was a big, bright white cloud in the exact shape of Lord Vishnu’s conch!
Such moments of synchronicity and wonderment are woven through the video. As you watch it, I think you’ll find that it’s not only a pilgrimage to an outer location that you’re going on. There’s an inner pilgrimage that’s happening, a pilgrimage to that part of your being where gratitude resides.
Recently, when speaking about Thanksgiving, Gurumayi said: “Deep down in everyone’s heart, there is so much gratitude. People are not always able to express their gratitude, and so this is a great opportunity for everyone—whatever their tradition or culture, whether they believe in God or not—to openly express their gratitude.”