By Parveen Chopra December 1996 Hidden in a valley in the remote Himalayas, it is said, is Gyanganj, a home for immortals. Call it Shambala, Shangri-La or Siddhashram, believers say it is this celestial kingdom that shapes our destiny It was during an impromptu meeting with intellectuals and seekers at Punjabi poet Amrita Pritam’s house in Delhi, India, that Sai Kaka casually revealed: ‘I have been to Gyanganj several times over the past half decade.’ Or, rather, he is taken there every time by a sage—for spiritual instruction and immortal teachings. This instruction must be of a high order because the 50-plus, bearded and white-robed Sai Kaka has now been teaching whoever approaches him. The man from Sangli in the south-western Indian state of Maharashtra, who studied with Swami Muktananda and Nisargadatta Maharaj, is always on the move, having chosen not to raise an ashram or an organization. On questioning, he replies in chaste Hindi that Gyanganj exists on a different plane, a higher dimension—a shambala. But, yes, on the gross level it has parallel locations in known places on earth. So, is there a secret territory in our midst, which has uncannily escaped all geographical surveys? A place that provides the perfect environment and opportunities for spiritual evolution? A place from where thousands of immortals and faultlessly sage beings plan the evolution of the human race, in fact, of all sentient beings? Down-to-earth empirical reality or just bad science fiction? Well, the belief that such a place exists, camouflaged and secluded somewhere in the deep Himalayas, has filtered down through Indian and Tibetan traditions. Contemporary references to it are plenty, as is the testimony of people like Sai Kaka who declare they have been there. The belief in a sequestered valley of immortals seems to be headed for immortality . In Tibet, this legendary land of spiritual enlightenment is known as Shambala, a Sanskrit word which to the Tibetans means ‘the source of happiness’. It is not heaven on earth but a mystical kingdom that guards the most sacred and secret spiritual teachings of the world, including the Kalachakra (Wheel of Time), the pinnacle of Buddhist wisdom. Buddhists trace Shambala to Gautama Buddha who is said to have assumed the form of the Kalachakra deity before his death and delivered his highest teaching to a group of adepts and gods in south India. Among those present was King Suchandra, the first king of Shambala, who wrote down the sermons and took them back with him. Various Buddhist texts give instructions for finding Shambala, though directions are obscure. It is assumed that only accomplished yogis will find it. The kingdom is hidden in the mists of the snow mountains and can be reached only by flying over them with the help of siddhis or spiritual powers. James Hilton’s novel, Lost Horizon, about the lost kingdom of Shangri-La, was inspired by the legend of Shambala. Shangri-La has since come to mean a remote, beautiful, imaginary place where life approaches perfection; utopia, in short. Shambala was not a figment of the imagination for Madame Blavatsky , founder of the Theosophical Society . She considered it the abode of the mahatmas or spiritual adepts, in the mountains of Tibet, Mongolia and India. They live on through centuries in various incarnations, perpetuating the knowledge of earlier, more spiritually advanced, civilizations like the Egyptian and the Greek, and teach it to worthy pupils. One of these adepts, Koot Hoomi (or Kuthumi Baba, at least 500 years old) was Blavatsky’s guru. In India, this secret, sacred land is known as Gyanganj or Siddhashram. References to Gyanganj or secret ashrams can be found in Hindu scriptures such as Valmiki Ramayan and Mahabharat. Guru Nanak called it Sach Khand. Closer to our time, Paramahansa Yogananda, in his celebrated Autobiography of a Yogi wrote about meeting his guru’s guru’s guru, Mahavatar Babaji, an immortal of great age who looks forever young and continues to live in the Badrinath section of the Himalayas. Babaji has also appeared to some other advanced seekers and is believed to be connected with Gyanganj. For a comprehensive account of Gyanganj, Sai Kaka directs you to the writings of Gopinath Kaviraj who died in 1976. A former principal of the Government College of Sanskrit in Benaras, Kaviraj wrote a book titled Siddhabhoomi Gyanganj, which has been translated from Bengali into Hindi and published recently by Bharatiya Vidya Prakashan. Kaviraj’s main source of information was his own guru, Swami Vishudhananda, a Bengali who settled down in Benaras, a holy city in India. Vishudhananda is believed to have sojourned many times in Gyanganj where he mastered Surya Vigyan or solar science. Surya Vigyan gave him powers to manifest objects or transform one object into another by manipulating the sun’s rays. In his autobiography, Yogananda describes his meeting with Vishudhananda in Calcutta and witnessing his feat of creating any perfume on demand out of thin air. Paul Brunton in his book A Search in Secret India wrote that he not only witnessed Vishudhananda create perfumes, but also bring a dead bird back to life. Dr Narayan Dutt Shrimali, a Jodhpur-based astrologer-tantrik-guru who publishes Mantra-Tantra-Yantra Vigyan, a Hindi monthly, says he did his sadhana in Siddhashrarn, where his name was Nikhileshwarananda. It is there that he acquired occult powers. Later, his guru told him that they wanted him to return to his householder’s life and spread the wisdom of Siddhashram. Literature published by him promises that initiation by him is a passport to Siddhashram. But he refuses to reveal more details of his Gyanganj connection. Shrimali’s and Kaviraj’s accounts of Gyanganj are similar. They place it mainly on a flatland to the north of Kailash-Mansarovar in Tibet. It covers an area of many square miles and is surrounded by a lake (or moat) with crystal clear water. There is a bow-shaped drawbridge, which links Gyanganj to our world. The Gyanganj end of this bridge has a gadget to lift the bridge when desired. This gadget is operated by Surya Vigyan. Kaviraj names many other places, scattered in India, as Gyanganj territory. The area on the banks of Alaknanda river is where the siddhas roam. Mandakini’s riverbed is also very mysterious: spiritual giants down the centuries have beheld celestial sights there. Thus, the entire region from Rishikesh to Kailash and Yamunotri to Nandadevi is siddhaland. In Bihar, many Buddhist siddhas frequent the Giridhkoot mountain. The Nilgiris and Srisailam in south India, too, are known to harbor secret ashrams. Arunachala hill in Tamil Nadu, where Ramana Maharshi set up his ashram, is another siddhaland. In the west, Girnaur mountain has seen siddha activity. Teaching in arts and sciences including medicine, rasayan shastra, music and astrology also goes on here. Indians, of course, do not have a monopoly over Gyanganj. People from other parts of the world, including many Tibetan lamas, live there too. Sai Kaka adds that Gyanganj functions on all three levels: ‘On the adhyatmic or spiritual level, it runs the universe. On the adhidevik or celestial level, the earth and water elements are absent, enabling very powerful activity. At this level, Gyanganj impacts on many planes and the beings there. ‘On the adhibhautic or the grossest level,’ he continues, ‘Gyanganj siddhas provide guidance to human beings to initiate changes in the spiritual and even social fields. Suppose a seeker is stuck somewhere in his path, he could be guided in the form of an intuition, or some kriya triggered in his subtle body or his guru is inspired to do the needful.’ Sai Kaka argues from his experience with, and knowledge of, Gyanganj, that all’s well with whatever is going on in human affairs. ‘Earlier the suffering in the world would make me emotional, would pain me and fill me with compassion. Now I realize that right and wrong, good and bad exist on the relative plane—of mind, intellect and ego—and are an interplay of the three gunas. From God’s viewpoint, there is nonduality. Creation and dissolution are part of the continual flow.’ Though there can be no evolution in a flow, Sai Kaka concedes that Gyanganj is engaged in transforming world consciousness. Maybe with the collective consciousness rising, Gyanganj will become more manifest and easily accessible to human beings. For who would not want to visit the place where immortals live.
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