the Puranas, the name Neelkanth is associated with Lord Shiva,
who drank the world's poison to redeem it. In the process, the
poison turned his throat blue; Neel meaning blue, kanth, the neck.
Ghanshyam's sojourns, through the forests of India, also attributed
Him the name Neelkanth, for His pilgrimage was to redeem.
He first visited sacred Haridwar - 'the gateway to Hari', on the
holy river Ganga. The sacred shrines of the Himalayas open up
after Haridwar. From here He arrived in Sripur where He encountered
the first of many enticements.
The head of the mandir urged Him to lodge inside the walled area,
safe from wild animals. Neelkanth declined. He neither feared
wild animals nor death. He then sat in deep meditation under a
tree. At night, a lion hunting in the forest approached Him. The
lion licked His feet, circumambulated Him and then sat there.
The inmates of the ashram observed this extraordinary spectacle.
In the morning, with a wave from Neelkanth, the lion disappeared
into the forest. The mahant then prostrated at the feet of this
eleven year old Yogi. He offered Him the mahantship of the shrine,
with its yearly income of one hundred thousand rupees. Neelkanth
explained that He neither craved for mahantship nor money. He
had come to redeem. Declining the offer, He left for Kedarnath.
From here, He trudged up and down mountain slopes, arriving in
Badrinath during Diwali, in mid October 1792.
The priest at Badrinath perceiving Neelkanth's divinity, offered
Him prasad. For the next six months the mandir closed down, since
Badrinath would be snow bound. The murtis of Nar Narayan in the
shrine would be ceremoniously paraded on an elephant, down to
Joshimath. The priest urged Neelkanth to sit in the palanquin
with the murtis and stay at Joshimath, in his personal bungalow.
Neelkanth accepted the invitation to Joshimath, but declined to
From Joshimath, He climbed the treacherous mountain terrain to
visit sacred Manasarovar - the lake of the Creator's mind. This
pristine lake, at a height of 14,950 feet, lies secluded in the
far reaches of Tibet, now controlled by China. Sven Hedin, a Swedish
explorer, extolled the glory of this lake in his diary: 'Celebrated
in grand hymns by the poets of remote antiquity, a dwelling-place
of mighty gods, a mirror beneath the paradise of Brahma and the
heaven of Siva, the goal of innumerable yearning pilgrims, the
most wondrous lake on earth lies dreaming among the snow-clad
summits of lofty mountains.... The sight of the lake makes the
stranger involuntarily meditative.'1
Wearing only a loincloth, without a compass, guide, food, mountaineering
equipment, insulated clothing or boots, this part of His travels
ranks as a superhuman feat. As fiercely as the howling winds of
the Himalayan winter pierced His frail body, as snow and ice crunched
and cracked under His bare feet, Neelkanth trudged over the mountains
alone, just as doggedly.
Ritually bathing in the ice covered lake, Neelkanth then returned;
reaching Badrinath in mid-April 1793. The priest had returned
with the murtis and Neelkanth took His first meal since leaving
Badrinath in Diwali, six months ago!
Here, Ranjit Singh, the Maharajah of Punjab, later to be famed
as the last and toughest adversary of the British, approached
Neelkanth. Only thirteen, one year older than Neelkanth, his heart
reached out to the Yogi. Drawn by His divinity, the king requested
His permanent company. This being impossible, Neelkanth promised
to meet him again.
Later, when Neelkanth descended to Haridwar, He met the king who
offered some food. Gifting him a few words of spiritual wisdom,
about the ephemeral nature of material life, Neelkanth advised
the king to recall His murti, for peace and redemption. Placing
His hands on the king's head, He blessed him and left. From Haridwar,
His route led back to Ayodhya.
He passed through the city, without entertaining the slightest
wish to return home. Later, He reached Vanshipur. Despite the
grim emaciation caused by His self-imposed austerities, His divine
countenance captivated many. Here, the king and queen enchanted
by Neelkanth, offered their two princesses in marriage. To the
extremely insistent queen, Neelkanth explained His mission to
redeem infinite others. He then left Vanshipur.
His next goal lay in a bleak and chilly valley in Muktinath, Nepal.
Here in a shrine, He performed austerities standing on one leg,
in meditation for two and a half months, without food and water.
Still in Nepal, He then visited Butol (Butwal). Here, King Mahadatt
Sen and his sister Mayadevi, experienced profound enlightenment
from Neelkanth's stay and teachings. To prevent Him leaving, they
placed guards on all exit roads. Their love and devotional service
kept Him for five months, after which He stole away; in a hurry
to proceed further. Remaining aloof from the mundane enticements,
His lifework lay in uplifting those engulfed by them.
Kingdoms, women and wealth failed to allure Him. Years later,
in His teachings, He revealed, 'It is not in My nature to reconcile
with great men of the world, since they possess ego of their kingdom
and wealth. I, on My part, indulge in the diametrically opposite
attributes of, Vairagya (detachment) and Bhakti (devotion). Worldly
gifts are worthless to Me... On closing My eyes to meditate on
God, the happiness arising from the kingship of the fourteen worlds
pales into insignificance, in comparison to the unfathomable bliss
During His travels, He bore the morals of two stories from
the scriptures, at the forefront of His mind; that of Bharatji
(5/7-8) and Puranjan (4/25-29) from the Shrimad Bhagvatam.
Out of mercy in raising an orphaned fawn, Bharatji became attached
to it and so faltered from his spiritual quest. Consequently,
he was born a deer in the next birth. In his third birth, as a
man named Jadbharat, he then remained extremely wary, lest he
became attached to anybody or any object and so fall from the
path of liberation.
Symbolically, Puranjan, an aspirant looked upon his Atma as a
king; the body as a kingdom and the mind and sense organs (indriyas)
as the citizens. If the king weakened, losing control over his
people, they would overcome him. In the same vein, an aspirant
- the Atma, should ever remain vigilant over the mind and sense
Constantly aware of these morals, Neelkanth remained ever vigilant.
Neelkanth's route through the forests of the Himalayas and
later, the Sunderbans of Bengal, undoubtedly entailed dangers
from wild animals. We get a glimpse of the fauna from the British.
Col. Kirkpatrick, who visited Nepal two years prior to Neelkanth,
in 1793, noted that, elephants, rhinoceroses and tigers infested
We get another account of the dangers in the Himalayan foothills
from Jim Corbett during the British Raj. Tigers and leopards which
had turned into man-eaters, had wreaked terror amongst the forest
inhabitants of the Kumaon region. Corbett, a civilian who grew
up in the Himalayan jungle, was then appointed to hunt down the
On foot, Corbett had stalked and shot scores of man-eating tigers
and leopards during the day and at night, for over thirty years.
Two of his notable successes included shooting the man-eating
leopards of Panar and Rudraprayag. Between them, they killed and
ate 525 human beings, during the first quarter of this century.
The latter picked off pilgrims walking to Kedarnath, in addition
to dragging people away from their houses, thus receiving publicity
Even a seasoned hunter such as Corbett experienced fear and describes
one memorable ordeal: 'I have been frightened times without number,
but never as I was that night, when the unexpected rain came down
and robbed me of all my defences (rifle soaked) and left me for
protection a knife.'4
Besides tigers and leopards, other dangers lurking in the forest,
that Neelkanth probably encountered, included: bears, snow leopards,
pythons, cobras, scorpions, wild bees and amongst the flora, stinging
In 1864, a forest surveyor, Thomas Webber, on a survey expedition
of these highlands and rivers, noted the occurrence of the above,
and was exasperated by: '....big yellow gadflies stuck swords
in through one's clothing, little flies called moras light on
the under sides of your hands and exposed places and will insert
a poison under the skin, which makes a round red blister.... mosquitoes
abounded... and house flies swarmed in myriads.'
Regarding the forest floor, especially the banks of rivers and
streams, he observed: 'Here there are leeches on every stone,
which fasten on your legs and suck your blood with great avidity,
if you do not use precautions in the shape of thick puttees for
protection. One of us, wearing only stockings, had thirty bites
and lost half a pint and from tearing off the venomous brutes,
suffered a good deal of irritation.'5
Later, Neelkanth's route coursed through Bengal. Here, in the
forests of Sunderbans, tigers and wild elephants abounded.6
Among Ganga's deltas, there lurked other dangers: river thugs,
alligators, buffaloes, hyaenas, wolves and jackals.7
When He entered southern Gujarat, the dense jungles surrounding
Dharampur teemed with tigers and leopards.8 Further
north, He traversed through the ravines of the river Mahi, another
tiger habitat.9 Later, His route led through southern
Kathiawad, the haven of the Asiatic lion. Other fauna here included:
hyenas, wolves, jackals, the wild cat, foxes and porcupine.10
Barefooted and barely clad by a loin cloth, Neelkanth's precautions
against the dangers of the pristine wilderness, lay in their singular
absence. It is all the more remarkable that despite such formidable
dangers, He remained undaunted, continuing His journey with a
relentlessness that can only be regarded as divine.
In the forests of Nepal, Neelkanth arrived at the hermitage of
an aged yogic master named Gopal Yogi. He accepted his guruship
to practice Ashtang yoga - eight fold yoga, revealing His earnest
desire to master this formidable yoga. His yearning, so immutable,
He informed Gopal Yogi that He would be undaunted even if the
body perished in the process. He had subdued the fear of death
since leaving Ayodhya.
Simultaneously, He studied the Gita daily, paying special emphasis
to the second chapter, regarding the attributes of the Atma and
the Sthitapragna purush - a person with a spiritually stable consciousness.
In only nine months, Neelkanth became proficient and mastered
Ashtang yoga. For others, it would have taken a life time of ceaseless
endeavours. As a gift to the guru, Neelkanth revealed His divine
form. This crowned the guru's yogic and spiritual quest. Thus
fulfilled and redeemed, he left his body with his yogic powers.
After performing his cremation rites, Neelkanth left. A year with
Gopal Yogi, made this, Neelkanth's longest stay at any one place
during His sojourns. He then proceeded to Kathmandu, in December
Here, He met the young king, Run Bahadur Shah. Suffering from
an incurable stomach illness, Run Bahadur used to demand a magical
cure from visiting ascetics. Hitherto, all had failed. Consequently
he imprisoned them. To Neelkanth, he made a similar demand. Pained
by the plight of the ascetics, Neelkanth cured the king and also
explained to him the perishable nature of the human body. He then
requested him to release the ascetics.
Leaving Kathmandu, He crossed the Himalayan mountain chain eastwards
to Kamakshi (Guwahati) This area of eastern India was then frequented
by ascetics adept in tantra.11 One such powerful tantric
named Pibek confronted Neelkanth, casting evil spells and summoning
deities to kill Him. Instead, the deities pummelled Pibek senseless.
He then surrendered to Neelkanth12. Moving on, He passed
through the fearful Sunderbans forests of Bengal. From here, He
coursed southwards to Jagannathpuri where He spent six months.
During this period, He projected Himself in the shrine's murti
and observed the deceitful behaviour of the priests. He then resumed
His journey southwards.
To the heads of monasteries and schools of philosophy in every
holy place, Neelkanth enquired about the nature of the five eternal
realities - Jiva, Ishwar, Maya, Brahman and Parabrahman. (These
are dealt with in chapter nine.) Nowhere did He receive a satisfactory
reply. Observing the level of religious and moral decadence in
many sacred shrines, He noted the degradation of the priests and
heads, who in the name of religion, propagated unethical and immoral
practices amongst the masses.
On His way south to Rameshwar, Neelkanth met a sadhu named Sevakram,
who suffering from bloody dysentery was extremely weakened. With
nobody to serve him, he began to grieve. Neelkanth was in a hurry
to proceed. But on learning that he was knowledgeable in the Shrimad
Bhagvatam - which extols Lord Krishna's glory - He comforted,
nursed and prepared a bed of banana leaves for him.
Daily, Neelkanth cleaned up the ill sadhu's fluid excreta about
twenty to thirty times a day. From the jungle, He brought herbs
to control the dysentery. Sevakram gave Neelkanth gold coins to
buy flour and grain from a nearby village. Neelkanth also cooked
for him. While he gorged this food; Neelkanth begged for alms.
Often He received none for days. He served sincerely; Sevakram
responded spitefully. Two months later, Sevakram recovered. He
then made Neelkanth carry his one maund (20 kg.) baggage. Finally,
convinced of his ungratefulness, and wanting to resume His journey,
Neelkanth left Sevakram. For those who would follow Him in the
generations to come, Neelkanth had set the ideal principles of
seva - selfless service.
Further south, in Totadri (Nanguneri), Neelkanth visited the main
seat of Ramanujacharya, whose Vishishtadvaita philosophy He favoured.
He met Jiyar Swami, the seat's head and studied Ramanuja's philosophy
for two months. Though wishing to study further, but unable to
bear seeing sadhus of the ashram freely mixing with women, He
Travelling southwards to Kanya Kumari, the tip of the sub-continent,
Neelkanth then turned north. After visiting over 17713
shrines, sacred places and monasteries in His travels, He arrived
in the Kathiawad peninsula of Gujarat in 1799. In the seven years,
and over 12,000 kms. of arduous walking, He had walked for four
years, remaining stationary for three.
The effects of the austerities at the physical level had been
devastating. Recollecting His travels many years later, He revealed
the condition of His body, that if the skin was punctured, only
water (plasma) exuded, but no blood.14 This yogic achievement,
though seemingly impossible, has a parallel in the Hindu scriptures;
Kartik Swami, the elder brother of Lord Ganpati, had similarly
persevered to dry up his blood.
Neelkanth's sojourn was a planned pilgrimage to redeem. Far from
being an aimless wandering, He bestowed His grace on countless
yogis in the Himalayas and aspirants elsewhere, who had been offering
devotion and performing austerities to receive the Lord's grace.
Added to this, He visited the most important sacred shrines in
India, to observe the prevailing level of Dharma.
In Loj, a village near Mangrol in southern Kathiawad, He meditated,
lotus-postured, next to a step-well. Though reduced to skin and
bone, He radiated a tremendous aura of divinity. This divinity,
ineluctably attracted the women of the village coming to fill
their water pots at daybreak. An aged sadhu named Sukhanand, similarly
captivated by the teenager, was rooted to the spot.
After Sukhanand broke out of this mystically blissful experience,
he approached the Yogi. He invited Him to his guru's ashram, to
meet Muktanand Swami, the acting head. Neelkanth obliged.
The ashram belonged to Swami Ramanand, a notable sadhu in the
state. To Muktanand, Neelkanth posed His questions regarding the
five eternal realities. The Swami's answers impressed Him. These,
coupled with his saintly disposition, induced Neelkanth to stay,
until the arrival of the guru, who was touring Kutch at the time.
In the ashram, Neelkanth served by performing menial tasks
such as washing utensils and the sadhus' robes. He begged alms
and collected cow dung to make fuel cakes. To the fifty sadhus
in the ashram including Muktanand, He also taught Ashtang Yoga.
The contrast between Muktanand Swami and Neelkanth was intriguing.
The Swami, a middle aged ascetic; Neelkanth, a teenage Yogi. The
Swami, fair-skinned and handsome; Neelkanth, emaciated, yet lustrous.
Muktanand, the guru; Neelkanth, the disciple. And yet, at times,
the roles reversed; Neelkanth, the guru and Muktanand, the disciple.
Soon after residing in the ashram, Neelkanth remarked to the Swami,
that the hole in the common wall between the ashram and a devotee's
house, for exchanging burning embers to light the kitchen fire,
was in essence a hole in Dharma. There would often be female members
in the house. This could potentially hamper the sadhus' strict
observance of brahmacharya. He requested the Swami to have the
hole sealed. Amazed at Neelkanth's foresight, he gladly agreed.
The guru obeyed the pupil. When Neelkanth introduced separate
seating arrangements for men and women while they listened to
the sadhus' scriptural discourses, The Swami concurred.
Impatient to have the darshan of the guru, Neelkanth requested
the Swami to sit in meditation and visualise the physical body
of Ramanand Swami. Neelkanth then projected Himself into the Swami's
mind, enjoyed the darshan and then described the details to an
Meanwhile, Ramanand Swami, whilst preaching in Kutch, commanded
his disciples to visit Loj, to have Neelkanth's darshan : He who
is greater than me, greater than Dattatreya, Rushabhadeva, and
greater than Ramchandra. Just as Krishna is greater than all other
incarnations, He is even greater than Krishna. He is verily the
cause of all incarnations.15
He reminded them of his oft repeated proclamation of himself as
a mere drum beater, heralding the arrival of the chief player.
Now, that player had indeed arrived.
Viharilalji, Maharaj Acharya.
Shri Harililamrutam. Amdavad: Swaminarayan Aksharpith,
1997, Neelkanth, the lion and declining mahantship in Sripur -
Adharanand Swami. Haricharitramrut Sagar. Gandhinagar: Shri Swaminarayan
Prakashan Mandir, 2nd. ed.,1995, Vol.I., Forest sojourns.
1 Hedin, Sven. Trans-Himalaya. Vol.III. Stockholm, 1912,
Reprinted edition, 1990, New
Delhi: Gian Publishing House, Manasarovar, pp..236-7.
Varma, Rommel & Sadhana. The Himalaya-Kailasa-Manasarovar.
2 Shri Swaminarayan's Vachanamritam. Amdavad: Swaminarayan
Aksharpith, 3rd. ed.,
1992, Vadtal 16.
3 Kirkpatrick, Col. An Account of the Kingdom of Nepaul:
(in 1793). New Delhi: Manjushri
Publishing House, rpt. 1969, Wild fauna in Nepal, p.19.
Corbett, Jim. Man-eating Leopard of Rudraprayag. Oxford University
Press, 1954, p.159
4 Hawkins. R.E. Jim Corbett's India. Oxford University
Press 1978, p.100
5 Webber, Thomas. The Forests of Upper India and their
Inhabitants, London: Edward Arnold, 1902, Himalayan fauna &
flora, pp. 76-77.
6 Hunter, W.W. Annals of Rural Bengal. London: Smith, Elder
& Co., 1872, pp.85, 86.
7 Bacon, Lieut. Thomas. First Impressions of Hindostan.
Vol. I. London: W.H. Allen &
Co., 1837, pp.305, 306, 309.
8 Dumasia, Naoroji, M. Dharampur. Bombay: The Times Press,1928,
9 Majmudar, M.R. Cultural History of Gujarat. Bombay:Popular
10 Jacob, George Le Grand.,et.al. Province of Kattywar.
Bombay Education Society's Press,
Regmi,D.R.Modern Nepal.Vol.I.Calcutta:Firma K.L.Mukhopadhyay,
1961, Run Bahadur
Shah's illness, p.580.
11 Ghosh, J.M. Sannyasins & Fakir Raiders in Bengal.
Calcutta: Bengal Secretariat Book
12 Dave, H.T. op.cit. Vol.I., pp. 231-237.
13 Akshardham CD ROM. Amdavad: Swaminarayan Aksharpith,
14 Vachanamritam, op.cit., Kariyani 3.
15 Harililamrutam, op.cit., 3/12.