Neem Karoli Baba Temple – Taos, New Mexico – A History

“…here is a story worth telling”

n front of the temple, a sacred lire—called dhunl or “smoky” and associated
with yogic ascetics—smolders in a pit of whitewashed cow dung, before which
is planted the trident emblem of Shiva. Just beyond, in the main shrine, an
egg-shaped stone lingam, attended by small murtis of Ganesha and Nandi,
receives a continuous oblation of cooling water dripping from a perforated
copper vessel. There are other deities in the room as well—Durga, the divine
trio of Rama-Sita-Lakshmana, and the eternal lovers Radha and Krishna—but
the principal items of veneration are a wooden bedstead covered with a coarse
blanket, and a large murti of a flying and beatifically smiling Hanuman,
rendered in highly polished white marble, which appears to float above the
main altar. On this special day, both Hanuman and the bedstead are canopied
with chains of brilliant orange and yellow marigolds. Lamps flicker on the
altars amid clouds of incense smoke, and the air seems electric with excitement.

The small room is crammed with worshipers, and many others who
cannot fit in stand at the low windows that open on three sides.
It is mid-morning, and the assembled devotees are halfway through a marathon 108
recitations of the Hanuman Chalisa, which they began at 4 am and will continue
until about 1 in the afternoon. Led by a succession of singers and accompanied
by harmonium, drums, and finger cymbals, the unison chanting uses a
variety of melodies and is sometimes rapid, sometimes slow, but always fervent,
and more so as the morning proceeds.

Meanwhile, in a nearby kitchen, devotees assemble huge platters of
sweets to be offered to Hanuman and distributed to worshipers at the end of
the chanting. Outside, cooks working over wood fires stir enormous cauldrons
of spiced chickpeas and potatoes, while others fry thousands of puris, for a
feast to be served in midafternoon to some eight hundred pilgrims, seated on
the ground in neat rows under a canopy. The feast will be followed by a local
production of the Ramayana, with homemade sets and costumes, enacted by
a handful of adults and numerous children, the latter especially in the roles
of monkey and demon “extras.” This production is already in rehearsal, and
actors in glittering crowns and face paint join devotees lining up for chai,
which is continually dispensed from a huge pot in the temple garden. Everywhere

there is bustling activity, yet without apparent central direction. The
morning air is crisp, for it is late September, and the temple stands on a high
plateau bordered by rugged mountains, visible in the distance in the golden
light.

The scene just described might be unfolding in the Himalayan foothills,
but for a few visual details that I have neglected to mention: the fact that
Hanuman’s flat-roofed temple is built of adobe and rounded beams, is down
the street from a shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe, and is entered through a
parking area full of American and Japanese cars and pickups. It is, in fact, in
Taos, New Mexico, only a five-minute walk from the historic plaza with its
boutiques full of Navajo jewelry and cowboy apparel. Moreover, although the
devoted participants include a small number of U.S.resident, South Asians,
the majority, even among the fervent chanters of the Chalisa, are Americans of
Anglo-European ancestry. How they, and Hanuman, have come to be here is
a story worth telling, for it reveals a further facet of the ongoing—and
outgoing—appeal of this god.

From: Hanuman’s Tale, The Messages of a Divine Monkey – Philip Lutgendorf


 

 


A History of the Neem Karoli Baba
Ashram


in Taos, New Mexico




From Milk Barn to Temple

 

Ed Reither


The Vision

 

After Neem Karoli Baba’s (Maharajji) Mahasamadhi
Entering Great Samadhi upon death) in 1973, His
American devotees longed for a place to meet and share
stories, hold bhandaras (holiday feasts), sing kirtan
(devotional chants), and enjoy Satsang (the community of
those on the path together).

Neem Karoli Baba with Dada [Sudhir
Mukerjee] and Western devotees

 

In the spring of 1977, a group of thirty or forty
devotees gathered in Yorktown Heights, New York for a
Bhandara.

Yorktown Heights, 1977

During the gathering, Ram Dass proposed that a painting,
by Lakshmi (Christine Tiernan) an American devotee of
Maharajji, should be made into a murti statue and be placed
in a future temple in America. The painting depicted Hanuman
flying towards Lanka in search of Sita, carrying Ram’s
ring in his hand, a token demonstrating to Sita that Hanuman
– who was otherwise unknown to her – was indeed Ram’s true
messanger as well a symbol of hope and reunion, of love in
motion.

Lakshmi’s Painting

Sita Temple, Sri Lanka – Yellow markings are the
footprints of Hanuman landing

The project was funded by Ram Dass through the Hanuman
Foundation. A highly respected sculpture shop
in Jaipur, owned by the same family of sculptors who carved
the murti of Hanuman in Maharajji’s Vrindaban
ashram was
commissioned to do the work.

Moorti Bhandar, Jaipur

The early-on American devotees who were with Neem Karoli
Baba in India had been introduced to Hanuman thanks to Baba’s
building of Hanuman Temples. Maharajji loved the Ramayana.
He particularly liked the chapter “Sundarakand.” and liked
the widely read Hindi language version composed by Tulsi Das.

Public recitation of the entire chapter, intoned in verse over loudspeakers, was regularly heard at his ashrams. Sundarakand, literally “beautiful episode/book,” is the fifth book in the Hindu epic of the Ramayana. It depicts the adventures of Hanuman. Sundarakand is the only chapter in which the focal character is not Rama, but Hanuman. Hanuman’s selflessness, strength, and devotion to Rama are emphasized in the text. Hanuman was fondly called Sundara by his mother Anjani, and Sage Valmiki chose this name for the chapter because it deals mainly with Hanuman’s journey to Lanka.

Maharaji and Hanuman

How close to Hanuman Maharajji is, is known only to the two of them. There are stories by devotees who have shared what Maharajji has said about it. A pundit from Unnao who came to the temple to read to him from Sundarakand, “What part should I read Maharajji?” the pundit asked. “Read the part when I meet Vibishan,” Maharajji replied. Dada [Sudhir Mukerjee] describes the moment; he said, “a chill ran through those who were present.” There are other stories of Maharajji turning into Hanuman, one of which you can read in Dada’s book, ‘By His Grace: A Devotee’s Story.”

In Dada Mukerjee’s book ‘The Near and the Dear’ there is a story about Maharaji taking on the form and becoming Hanuman.

“In 1961, Babaji was here for his winter camp, and there were many devotees who had come to stay with him. One night it was past eleven and Babaji was in his room with doors closed from inside. All those staying in the house had finished their meals and taken to their beds. Didi and I were busy finishing some work of the household before we could retire. Then I heard the sound of the door to Babaji’s room opening. Kishan was busy opening the door to go out- side, and Babaji was standing beside him. Hearing my footsteps, he turned toward me and seeing me staring at him with full attention, asked Kya? Kya? (What? What?) But without replying, I went to bring Didi to see this for herself. Babaji was standing there, but we had the experience of seeing Hanumanji, who was showing himself through Baba. Babaji had no blanket. His dhoti was drawn tight to the waist, serving as a langoti and the tail end of the dhoti had been twisted and was hanging like a long tail. Taller than he actually was, he had to bend his head to go through the door. His arms were excessively long, reaching below the knees, and there was no bulging belly or white mustache or beard. The belly had sunk to a normal size, and the beard and mustache had turned black. He waited until we reached there, perhaps to give darshan to Didi also, and then he went out with Kishan holding his hand. We stood at our place watching. It was not even two minutes later that they returned. The way in which the whole thing happened left no doubt in my mind that the aim was to demonstrate that Hanumanji was with him and that Hanumanji and he were not different. Many of his devotees believed that he was an incarnation of Hanumanji; actually, Hanuman himself. I had heard them talking thus with all attention, but it was too much for me to believe them at that stage. Babaji returned to his room, as his work, whatever that might have been, was done. But for us it was otherwise. This was just the beginning.”


The Near and the Dear – Dada Mukerjee

The Hanuman Murti, which now sits in the temple in Taos, New Mexico weighs 1,647 pounds and looks light and beautiful as he is flying through the air on assignment from Ram to reassure Sita, who is in captivity, that she has not been forgotten.


Hanuman – Neem Karoli Baba Temple, 2016


The Beginning of the Neem Karoli Baba Ashram
in Taos, New Mexico


Neem Karoli Baba Ashram, 2016

Maharajji’s devotees were spread all over the country. There was no central meeting place for them to gather and share their love for Maharajji. In India, there are special days when devotees gather to celebrate their love for their Guru, one of them is the day their Guru passes, called Mahasamadhi. Thus, when Hanuman arrived in the U.S. in the summer of 1978, he was put on a trailer and driven to New Mexico. Vishu Magee volunteered to have Hanuman temporarily stay at his home in Arroyo Seco, north of Taos.

With Hanuman resting in Arroyo Seco, the devotees had a place to celebrate of their Guru’s Mahasamadhi. In September of 1978, on the property of Vishu and Kaushulya Magee (Karen Pettit) the murti of Hanuman was partially uncrated and the first Celebration in America of Neem Karoli Baba’s Mahasamadhi was held.

During this time Bandara moved to various locations in the Taos area, and Vishu and Kaushulya Magee purchased 19 acres in the town of Taos. It is here in 1982 on what is now the Neem Karoli Baba Ashram Hanuman was given a permanent home.

Milk barn where Hanuman was placed

The new devotee’s now had a place to gather, worship and celebrate their Guru. The highlight of their devotion occurred during a September celebration of Maharajji’s Mahasamadhi, known as a Bandara.

Embudo, 1979

Taos now became a center for Maharaji’s devotees and more and moved devotees began to settle in the area where a true Maharajji Satsang form. It was estimated the early celebrations accommodated over 400 people making Taos and the Neem Karoli Baba Temple one of the largest annual festivals of eastern religious flavor to come out of the ‘cultural revolution of the 60’s’.

Expanding the temple, 1982

1985 Temple Gathering


In 1973 Vishu Magee settled in Taos with his then wife Kausalya (Karen). It was on their property that the Ashram was built. Read his story of the early history of the Neem Karoli Baba Ashram and Hanuman Temple,



was asked to write my story of the founding and early years of the ashram.Here it is: no doubt it will run counter to the consensus view, and it may offend many of the faithful. I have no wish to be critical of either the ashram or its adherents. But critical thinking, so often missing in matters of religious belief, is always a good thing. I commend the ashram if indeed it is willing to publish this countervailing account. More...


The following is from Hanuman’s Tale, The Messages of a Divine Monkey – Philip Lutgendorf

more to follow – stay tuned

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Until then….

Enjoy Guru Purnima

 

 



Additional Sources

The Making of ‘Be Here Now’

Dwarka Bonner

by Dwarka Bonner

Listen

 

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