It all started in 2018 when I first read about Baba Neeb Karori (or Neem Karoli as pronounced by his foreign devotees) on Quora. Intrigued, I started reading more about him through all the stuffs available on the internet. In addition, my curiosity regarding him grew more when I learnt that Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg had visited his ashram (religious or spiritual retreat) in Kainchi in the Indian state of Uttarakhand. Hollywood star Julia Roberts chanced upon his photo while shooting in India and ended up converting to Hinduism.
So while reading about Maharaj ji (as respectfully addressed by his followers), I got to know many surprising and miraculous incidents related to his life. Maharaj ji, whose birth name was Lakshmi Narayan Sharma, was a devout follower of the Hindu Lord Hanuman. In 1967, an American youth Richard Alpert visited his ashram in Kainchi and what happened after that is history. Young Richard became Ram Dass and devoted his entire life in the service of his guru and mankind. On 22nd December, 2019, Ram Dass left for his heavenly abode but what he has established in his more than 50 years of spiritual journey is absolutely overwhelming. Like Ram Dass, there are other devotees who are carrying forward Baba Neeb Karori’s legacy. Krishna Das, Bhagavan Das, Lama Surya Das, Rampriya Das, Jai Uttal; to name a few; are spreading their guru’s teaching all over the world. Today, Baba Neeb Karori has followers across the globe. There are temples dedicated to Maharaj ji in the United States and Germany.
Eventually, this curiosity of mine made me to visit Maharaj ji’s ashram in Kainchi in September 2019. For my stay, I chose a hotel which was approximately 200 meters away from the temple. Every morning and evening, I could easily hear aartis (devotional songs sung in the praise of the deity when the light is being offered) and the sound of bells from my hotel room.
So, as soon as I got fresh, I straightaway left for the temple. Surrounded by hills, the perfectly built temple is a wonderful experience to visit. What really impressed me was the serenity pervading the entire temple premises. The sound of the stream flowing adjacent to the temple was an additional delight.
Once I entered the temple, I found many small temples devoted to various deities, including Lord Rama and Hanuman. There is a temple dedicated to Maharaj ji with his statue perched on a marble platform. Opposite to his temple is the room where Maharaj ji used to sleep and would often meet his devotees. Visitors can get photographs, books related to Maharaj ji and other items from the ashram library. Photography inside the temple is prohibited.
There is also a temple dedicated to Siddhi Maa and Jiwanti Maa, Maharaj ji’s female followers.
One more attraction of the ashram is the wooden bed outside another room which is always covered with a blanket and flowers offered to it.
Like any other temples in India, morning and evening aarti is performed here. But what really caught my attention was seeing children (who undergo vedic education and live in the ashram under the residential schooling system of Gurukul) leading the aarti. Watching them was a pleasant feeling.
So far, I have come across many miraculous stories related to Maharaj ji on his various disciples’ accounts. And they have only brought me closer to this holy saint, who considered all human beings equal despite their caste, creed, religion or ethnicity. He never believed in preaching or delivering religious sermons. He simply used to say, “MAIN KOI MANTRA NAHI JANTA. MAIN SIRF RAM KO JANTA HUN” (I don’t know any mantra. All I know is Lord Rama.)