Moments of joy, happiness, unhappiness, grief and sorrow occur in every being’s life, even other than human. Some moments, however, transcend all the known emotions and lift the being to a level of sublime ethereality. Such moments do not occur in every one’s life. Baba was kind enough to bless me with such moments in his temple at Austin.
We started at 07.50 am from Alma Road in Richardson, Dallas. The distance to Inner Space Cavern at Georgetown was 190 miles and could be covered in nearly three hours. My son was driving his Odyssey with all of us in the vehicle. We had a breakfast break at Hillsboro. By then we had traveled for an hour and 45 minutes. After the upma break, we continued on the I-35 and took Exit 259 at Georgetown. The Inner Space Cavern does not look impressive from outside. The cavern was discovered by the Texas Highway Department in 1963 during the construction of I - 35. There were several large openings to the caverns during the Ice Age, and several skeletons of prehistoric Ice-Age animals have been found in the caverns; many were trapped in the cave after they fell through the opening, unable to escape, and others drowned in thick, quicksand-like mud at the bottom of watering holes. Some filled-in sinkholes have been found, including the prehistoric entrance to the caverns. Several miles of cave passage have been surveyed, with many sections of the cave remaining unexplored, due to filled-in areas blocking passage.
The caverns were carved by water passing through Edwards limestone. The caverns are estimated to be 90–100 million years old but were only open to the surface since the late Pleistocene period 20,000–45,000 years ago, evidenced by finds of mammoth and saber-toothed cat bones. All natural entrances closed approximately 14,000 years ago.
The cave was opened to the public in 1966. Visitors enter via cable car which is lowered into the cave. Three different levels of tours are available, ranging from a basic guided tour to guided spelunking, with over 1.2 miles of passage being open to the public. However, non-public passages are well-guarded and independent exploration is not allowed. The only known entrance to the caverns today is the one into which the cable car is lowered, which was created by dynamite blasts. Some of the caves are more than 70’ below the ground level.
After a stay of nearly two hours, we left the Cavern for Shirdi Sai Baba temple at Cedar Park. The distance was 16 miles and could be covered in 22 minutes. It is one of the most spacious temples I have seen. The temple covers a little over four acres in a land of 9 acres. The temple is not a copy of the Samadhi Mandir at Shirdi, but an attempt is made to interpret the same principles in design.. The most obvious similarities are the kalashas and the gopuram above the sanctuary. The main thought on which this temple is designed is to create a reverence for the murthi of Baba. The sanctuary is planned in accordance with both universal geometric principles and auspicious dimensions. Semi circular arches oriented to the cardinal directions create a vaulted ceiling over the cube shaped sanctuary. Baba is positioned such that the crown of his head is at the centre of this pure cubic volume, and is framed in the four directions by the arches of the intersecting vaults. The mid point of these vaults, seen from within the temple as crossing of the diagonal intersecting lines, is immediately above the murthi of Baba on the same vertical line that passes through both the geometric centre of the sanctuary and the central axis of the kalashas above. The whole composition speaks of harmony and of divine order.
The temple is founded by Sri Craig Sastry (formerly Craig Edwards) and his wife Jill Sastry. When we neared the temple, I was afraid that the temple would be closed as it was already 01.45pm. Baba was kind enough and we entered into the temple, little knowing what was in store for us. After we did the pradakshina and took the teertham and Prasadam from the purohit, I wanted to take some photos of Baba. Baba’s smile was very pleasant and I really could not take my eyes off him. However, the purohit prevented us from taking any photographs. Frankly, I was disappointed. Silently, I told Baba, “Look, Baba! I have come from so far, and you are not even allowing me to take your photo. Before I leave this temple, I would like to have your photo”
My wife wanted to give the English version of Sri Sai Satcharitra to the temple. On enquiry, the purohit asked us to talk to an American lady sitting in the office room. I was, as usual, very apprehensive. We went in to the office room and found that there were many others also sitting there and talking to the lady. Two of them were Indians. So, I made a request to them about the book. One of them was Sri Billimoria. He was very friendly and said that Craig wanted to get the books. The discussion, naturally, was then directed to Baba, and we spent some time discussing various aspects about Baba and the Sai Satcharitra. Meanwhile, the American lady had called her husband who came almost immediately. We were introduced to each other. The American lady was Jill Sastry and her husband was Craig Sastry. When I told Craig that Smt Vani Amma had asked us to visit the Austin Temple, Craig recollected Smt Vani Amma’s visit to the temple last year and how she even gave a lecture. Then he took us round the temple and explained the various intricacies involved in the design. He took us to the fish pond and told about the efficacy of Vaastu. As a special gesture, he performed arati and offered naivedyam to Baba on our behalf. I was amazed at the clear diction and the correct way in which he chanted the mantras. He has an abundant knowledge of temple construction, Hindu culture, scriptures and the ritual aspects also. He also told me that they are all eagerly expecting 19 June, when a great miracle would take place in the temple. Then came one of Baba’s Instant Miracles! Without my asking, his wife Jill asked Craig, “As a special occasion, why not we have a photograph with Baba?” and Craig immediately gave his consent. Once again, Baba had answered my prayers. Before we left the temple, my son took some photos of all of us. Then, Craig took us to the office room, honoured us by draping with shawls. He gave us one of the shawls draped on Baba as a gift. My eyes were moist with the kindness shown to me by Baba. My wife observed that Jill also was undergoing similar emotions. Those glorious moments and the sublime bliss I enjoyed at that time have become the defining moments of my life. I could not have asked for anything more from Baba. With a very heavy heart, we then moved on to Barsana Dham.
After the Baba temple, we had to find Madras Pavillion as it was high time for lunch. Unfortunately, that took plenty of time. The Madras Pavillion is on a one way street on the blind side of the road. We went circled three to four times, and finally we could locate it. We spent an hour fueling ourselves. The Barsana Dham is a Radha Krishna mandir, with an exquisite ambience. The temple and ashram complex of Barsana Dham is situated on a beautiful 200 acre property. Designed as a representation of the holy land of Braj in India where Shree Radha Rani and Shree Krishna appeared about 5,000 years ago, all the important holy places of Braj like Govardhan, Radha Kund, Prem Sarovar, Shyam Kuti and Mor Kuti are represented in Barsana Dham where the natural stream, named Kalindi, represents the Yamuna river of Vrindaban. It is the main U.S. center of Jagadguru Kripalu Parishat. With the Gracious blessing of Jagadguru Shree Kripaluji Maharaj, Barsana Dham was established by H.D. Swami Prakashanand Saraswati in 1990.
The ambience is enriched with fountains and plenty of peacocks. By the time we left Barasana Dham it was 06.50 pm. We then took the long trail back to Alma Road, and we were home around 10.45pm. It was tiring day for the kids, Siddhartha and Saathvik, but they enjoyed to their heart’s content at Barsana Dham, playing with the peacocks there.