“My elder brother inherited all of our family Shaligrams.” Suresh began, carefully folding his white pilgrimage wraps in order to keep them clear of the mud. “I wanted at least one but that was not possible. They all went to my brother. But now I have two sons and we’ve recently moved away from India to our new home in Australia. I don’t want to lose the tradition and I am afraid that my sons won’t understand Shaligram so I’m coming here to Kali Gandaki to find new Shaligrams for our family.”
I nodded. “Is this very common in your experience? For second and third children to have to begin their own traditions?”
“More common than you might think.” Suresh nodded. His companion, Manu also nodded as well.
“In my family,” Manu interjected, “There are three boys and two girls. Both of my sisters received a Shaligram at their weddings but my brothers and I don’t have any yet. Our father still keeps our family Shaligrams. I think he will for a long time, so I am coming now too for my own Shaligrams so that I can give them to my children when the time comes.”
Suresh smiled. “Oh yes, no favoritism on my end. Both of my boys will each receive Shaligrams. If I find enough, I will keep some for me and my wife and then I will have one or two each for our children to look after. It will be good for them to start right away.”
“How old are your sons, Suresh?” I asked.
“Ten and Thirteen. I wanted to start earlier but it is so difficult to come to Kali Gandaki as you know. And with our move to Australia it became even harder. We are considered foreigners now, even though we are Indian.”
“And have you found the Shaligrams you wanted?” I continued.
Suresh looked down at his hands shyly. “I am almost embarrassed to say. I came here to pray for the appearance of Shiva. In my family, Shiva is very important but my wife said that is not who would come to us. She said I would see the Devi first because the Devi is who watches out for us now. It’s a very long story but it has to do with my wife’s illness. She prayed for Devi and well…” He pulled the small linen bag from his belt and opened it to show me two surprisingly large Shaligrams resting within.
“These are the first Shaligrams that have come. They are Durga and Parvati. This one here, I think though, might be Shiva also. Shiva-Parvati, but I am not sure. I will bring them to our guru when I see my parents in Kolkata on the way back.”
Manu stopped to take momentary darshan on the Shaligrams before looking back up at me. “I will go out onto Kali Gandaki early tomorrow morning for my first look. I’m praying for Vishnu to appear but any Shaligram is fine with me. I think that whatever Shaligram might appear is what is meant for me and my family. Though I have a feeling that it will be Lakshmi or possibly even Narasimha.”
“Why is that?”
“It’s a feeling you get.” He explained. “When you come to this place and you begin pilgrimage, you start to see how God comes to you, how God speaks to you, in the river and in Shaligram. It’s a feeling I have so I think that is who will appear.”
“I am just happy for what I have now.” Suresh concluded. “My wife was right. This is what is meant for us.”
(For the next several weeks, I am going to be posting a series of pilgrimage stories from the Kali Gandaki and from Muktinath. But while I will be discussing my own experiences for the most part, I am also interested in hearing from you. Do you have a pilgrimage story? If so, would you be willing to share it? Please feel free to write about your experiences in the comments or, if you would prefer, send them along to me via private message).