Boon or Bane ?

dipika-2008Children like to question. And I appreciate it as an expression of their intense thirst for knowledge. I wrote this given-below dialogue in an easy, conversational style between an imaginary child and myself. This is, of course, based partly on an actual discussion with a group of children, and later written  for Dipika 2008. It is an annual spiritual magazine especially for children, regularly brought out by Sri Sarada Devi Ashram at Asherville in Durban. My grateful thanks go to Sister Pravrajika Ishtapranaji for according her kind consent to reproduce it here.

Priyanta: Pranams Swamiji.

Swamiji: Welcome Priyanta, how are you?

Priyanta: I am well, Swamiji. Could you spare some moments to answer my queries?

Swamiji: What are you worrying about? Do you perform regular prayers?

Priyanta: Oh! I wanted to ask you exactly about prayer, Swamiji.

Swamiji: Okay what’s your question?

Priyanta: Swamiji, in prayer if we ask something from God, will God give it to us? Suppose what God gives me turns out to be unsuitable, then what happens?

Swamiji: Indeed, our Master Sri Ramakrishna says that God can hear even the foot steps of an ant. If you pray with diligence, sincerity and love, then God will give you whatever you pray for. It is true that many devotees do not know what to ask God for.

Priyanta: Is that so? I thought people ask for those things that they need!

Swamiji: That’s how it should be. But what they need and what they want are entirely different. Okay, now I will tell you a story from our Puranas.

Priyanta: What are Puranas, Swamiji?

Swamiji: Puranas have the insight of the Hindu scriptures called the Vedas, retold for the easy understanding of the common folk. The teachings are primarily taught in a very easy and interesting way. They are given through inspiring stories and parables. Do you know that in total there are eighteen Puranas?

Priyanta: Thanks Swamiji! Do you have an apt story with regard to my question on prayer?

Swamiji: Yes Priyanta. I will tell you the story of an asura (demon) called Bhasmasura. This demon performed severe penances to obtain the favour of Lord Shiva. Pleased with him, Lord Shiva appeared before Bhasmasura and said: ‘Dear devotee! I am pleased with your austerities and therefore I am willing to grant you a boon. What do you want?’ Bhasmasura folded his palms and sang the glory of Lord Shiva. Then he said: ‘O Lord! If I place my hand on someone’s head, that person should be burnt to ashes immediately.’

Priyanta: Oh! What a destructive boon!

Swamiji: Yes, what an ignoble boon did this Bhasmasura ask for! Not only that. He told Lord Shiva that he wanted to test it. He rose from his seat and rushed near Shiva trying to place his hand on the head of Lord Shiva! See what a danger!

Priyanta: Then what did Lord Shiva do, Swamiji?

Swamiji: You see, God is always bound by His devotee’s love. He even becomes a servant of His devotee, just to please him. So, Lord Shiva ran to Lord Vishnu who calmed Lord Shiva and said that he would deal with the demon Bhasmasura. Lord Vishnu then took the form of a beautiful damsel and stood on the pathway of Bhasmasura who was trying to test his boon on Lord Shiva. The demon was charmed at the beauty of the dancing girl. Now, do you know Priyanta, what dance Lord Vishnu performed in the form of Mohini?

Priyanta: Swamiji, is this dance called Mohini-aattam?

Swamiji: Yes, truly so! This Mohini-aattam is very popular in Kerala, in the southern part of India.

Priyanta: Okay. Then Swamiji, what happened?

Mohini directing Bhasmasura in dance
Mohini directing Bhasmasura in dance...Painting by Raja Ravivarma

Swamiji: Lord Vishnu disguised himself as the world bewitching Mohini and then showed the demon this dance. Bhasmasura, captivated by her beauty and grace, wanted Mohini to be his wife. Mohini informed him that she would marry only that man who could perform the dance as well as she could. So the demon king requested Mohini to teach him the steps of the dance. Mohini then showed him the movements of the hands and, in the heat of the moment, Bhasmasura copied her hand gestures and placed his hand on his own head. Thus see how Bhasmasura was destroyed!

Priyanta: So Swamiji, the boon from God may turn out to be dangerous!

Swamiji: Yes, if you do not know exactly what to ask for. You see, this simple story from the Puranas has many good messages for all of us. Can you tell me a few morals from this story?

Priyanta: Yes Swamiji. Firstly God will definitely give us what we pray for. Secondly, I think that we should not pray to God for anything that is destructive. Thirdly we must know that we should not harm anybody with our prayers.

Swamiji: Well said Priyanta! Suppose you ask your father for a pistol, he will not give it to you. Why? Because, if you should get angry with someone, you might shoot that person with it or you may even accidently hurt yourself. So, if you seek something destructive, you are sure to harm others and yourself too. And finally what is the best form of prayer? Harmless as well as beneficial to everyone is the prayer for auspiciousness, peace, fullness and goodness. Like this one for example:

Om sarveshām svastir bhavatu
sarveshām shāntir bhavatu
sarveshām pūrnam bhavatu
sarveshām mangalam bhavatu

The meaning of this prayer is:

May there be auspiciousness to all
May there be peace to all
May there be fullness to all
May there be good to all.


Raja Ravi Varma

Raja Ravivarma, one of the greatest Indian artists of the 20th century
Raja Ravivarma, one of the greatest Indian artists of the 20th century

Raja Ravi Varma (1848-1906) was born in Kerala, India. At the age of seven he started drawing on the palace walls using charcoal. The talent of the child was noticed by King Thirunal Maharaja. Most of Ravi Varma’s paintings are based on Hindu epic stories and characters. His illustrations of the Ramayana and Mahabharata became the standard visual representation of the classics. His paintings are famous for vibrant colours and textures as can be conceived in the famous painting depicting Mohini directing Bhasmasura in dancing art.  

Swami Vivekananda
Swami Vivekananda

Swami Vivekananda saw the beauty of the paintings of Raja Ravi Varma at the palace of the Gaekword of Baroda. Swamiji noticed the characters coming to life in these paintings and was moved by intense emotion. In 1893 Swamiji met Ravi Varma in America at the famous Chicago exhibition during the Parliament of the World’s Religions held there. Swamiji’s considered views on Art can be read here.

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19 thoughts on “Boon or Bane ?

  1. Adarneeya Maharajji,
    Saadar Pranaam.

    After a long gap, we are blessed to read words and thoughts full of WISDOM, DEVOTION AND ABOVE ALL MORALISTIC STORIES. Maharajji, could you please tell us about ORIGINAL PAINTINGS OF RAVI VARMA? Where are they at present? I hope they must be lying in some most secure place!
    According to me the MOST POPULAR ONE OF Shri Ravi Varma’s Paintings is RAM DARBAR. Though it has been copied by many other artists, BUT THE ORIGINAL ONE CAN BE EASILY DISTINGUISHED.


    I have no more words to express our gratitude for YOUR CONTINOUS LOVE AND COMPASSION TOWARDS US ALL.

    a devotee of Devotees
    Mumbai, India


    1. Dear Devotee of Devotees
      I am happy that indeed you liked the story. Yes, most of Raja Ravi Varma’s original paintings are safe and available for the public to view at Sri Jayachamarajendra Art Gallery Mysore. He is one of the most prolific painters of his times. There is a huge collection of his hundreds of paintings in the palaces of Baroda, Thiruvananthapuram as well as with some private owners.

      It is interesting to note in this site on Profile of Ravi Varma that during his stay at Baroda, Ravi Varma provided Lakshmi Vilas Palace, with two dozen large canvasses depicting episodes from the Mahabharata, Ramayana, as also a good number of family portraits. His brother, C. Raja Raja Varma, and sister Mangalabai Tampuratty assisted him. These are the best works of Ravi Varma. Several paintings like Nala and Damayanti, Radha & Madhava, Arjuna and Subhadra, Bharata, Shantanu and Ganga, Shantanu and Matsyagandhi, Vishwamitra and Menaka, Krishria Drishtha, Radha waiting for Krishna in Brindavan, Shakuntala writing letter with two sakhis, Mitrayani and Priyamvada and Urvashi, sleeping beauty, Lakshmi and Saraswati are in Baroda Museum Palace.

      In 1885, Ravi Varma went to Mysore at the invitation of the Maharaja, Sri Chamarajendra Wodeyar. The Maharaja had heard of him only as an artist who usually won first prizes at exhibitions, but when the British Resident at Mysore informed His Highness of the fabulous paintings Ravi Varma had executed for Baroda and the honour bestowed to him, the Maharaja made up his mind to invite the artist. The ruler received Ravi Varma like an equal than like a patron, and gave him a mansion to live in and regaled him with music, dances and plays every night at the palace. But all that he wanted were portraits of himself and members of his family and this Ravi Varma painted life size. On the eve of the artist’s departure, after a three-month stay, the Maharaja assembled all the elephants from his stables and asked the artist to pick out any he liked. His paintings in Mysore are at the Palace Art Gallery.

      Our country has such great legacy. A pride in the past is necessary to build a future – a better than the past. May you derive inspiration from Swamiji more and more.
      Swami Vimokshananda


  2. Revered maharaj
    As usual your blog on “Boon or Bane” is a wonderful interpretation of the meaning of a ‘prayer’. It’s a fact that we’ve never analyzed our prayers ever. Our prayers are always coated with an unconditional ask for ‘ourselves’; we really need to question ourselves on the sanctity of our prayers. Lastly what I feel is that a prayer need not be a magic wand to get our immediate needs and desires fulfilled, it could also be a tribute and an offering to God in the form of a ‘thank you’ for whatever he has bestowed us with so far.
    Thank you Maharaj for your great insight and thoughful text; they are indeed thought provoking with a motive to bring peace and good to all!

    Please accept my pranam

    New Delhi, India


    1. Thanks Runki for your visit and comment. Yes, ‘Prayer’ can simply be ‘speaking to God’. Its an inner dialogue not a mere monologue. It is best to be intensely personal, natural and spontaneous. Devotees generally ask, why their prayers are not effective? Because it is not supported by strong faith. Then the absence of spirit of self-surrender. As you rightly said it is not necessary to ‘ask’. We are surrounded by God’s divine power and light. A healthy prayerful ‘wish’ can be transformed into ‘auto-suggestive’ prayer. You may notice that many of the Vedic prayers in vogue today are not addressed to any particular deity. They are mostly of the nature of ‘auto-suggestion’.
      May you be blessed to lead a prayerful living!
      Swami Vimokshananda


  3. Aum Namo Narayanaya

    I enjoyed reading this story on Lord shiva.

    Thank you
    Rajesh Rameshar
    Pietermaritzburg, SA


  4. Revered Swamiji
    I read with interest the ” Boon or Bane” article presented in the conversational mode between your respected self and a child. It is both interesting and informative. I remember the book written by Prof D.S.Sarma, the first principal of Vivekananda College, Chennai, titled “Primer of Hinduism” where the entire content is in the form of dialogue between Prof Sarma and his daughter.
    Swamiji, what is more interesting is the possibility of converting your article into a small one-act play for children with the written dialogue and my request therefore is that this should continue as a series for the benefit of our children.
    Retired Principal, Vivekananda College, Chennai, India


    1. Thanks brother VaVeSu for your interesting suggestion. Yes, I remember to have read that very informative and inspiring book during my college days. Recently the Editor mataji of DIPIKA 2009 has requested for a contribution and I have decided to implement your kind suggestion. The theme is about ‘ishta devata’ Chosen deity which would be done in the same conversational style.
      I was extremely happy to see you in Chennai in 2007, just before my departure for South Africa. And we met after about 38 years! Wonderful!
      May your exemplary dedication to the cause of education inspire many, many students is my prayer!
      Swami Vimokshananda


  5. om namo narayanaya maharaj!

    The story reminds us that we must have trust in God, as we usually dont know how Gods divine leela will play out….. We must try to be patient in our own lives and have faith in God as he makes things unfold. God knows why we have to be bestowed with some “things” and then not with other “things.” Our prayer should be that we should be more accepting of Gods gifts – good and bad both in the secular and spiritual aspects.

    With my love and respect,
    Durban, SA


    1. Well said, Niriksha!

      That is the gist of sharanagati – absolute surrender to Will of God. A devotee remains like a dry fallen leaf and is taken wherever the wind carries it. Thus keeping the mind only on God becomes the purpose of prayer. As Master says, There is little fear that a ship will drift or run into danger as long as its compass points due North. So the ship of Life steers clear of every danger, if the mind, its compass needle, is always turned towards God, without any oscillation.
      May the Holy Trio grant you that one-pointed devotion!
      Swami Vimokshananda


  6. Aum Namo Narayanaya Swamijee,

    Thanks for the above narration – The advice and guidance given is like what one learns from the dialogue between Lord Krishna and Arjuna.

    Om Shanti Om Shanti
    PMB, SA


  7. Pranam Maharaj,

    Reading about the conversation between the boy and Swamiji, I became nostalgic thinking about the conversations we had. I used to ask you questions and you answered them.

    The topic touched in the post is a interesting one because the confusion, what to pray about is a real one. And as it is mentioned anything destructive can be self destructive too, apart from the story it is obvious from what is happening in the world; like people who created Islamic Terrorism for their use now are themselves affected by it.
    Ranchi, India


    1. Yes, SOM, welcome!
      Well, Priyanta is the name of a girl !
      I still do remember how on weekends you used to visit our Ashram in Ranchi and we would sit on the bench outside the parlour in front of the Temple, for hours together and discuss many interesting subjects. I was indeed amazed to see your shining intellect for such an young age. It would give me pain whenever I could not give you the time during celebrations.
      Are you still in Ranchi or Kanpur now?
      The spiritual Laws realised by our rishis (spiritual scientists) are ever valid. Swamiji in his wonderful poem titled ‘The Song of the Sannyasin’ says:
      “Who sows must reap,” they say, “and cause must bring
      The sure effect; good, good; bad, bad; and none
      Escape the law. But whoso wears a form
      Must wear the chain.” Too true; but far beyond
      Both name and form is Âtman, ever free.
      Know thou art That, Sannyâsin bold! Say —
      “Om Tat Sat, Om!”
      Realisation of Atman – to go beyond the good and bad – is the solution.
      May Sri Sri Thakur keep up your thirst for knowledge!
      Swami Vimokshananda


  8. Adarneeya Maharajji,

    Reading COMMENTS and then YOUR RESPONSES itself has become a regular feature of my E WORSHIP OF HOLY TRIO.

    We have started many things like E SATSANGA (chatting with Devotees), E JAPA YAGNA (A BLOG CREATED IN NAME OF JAPA YAGNA), E SHRINE visiting home page of DEVOTEES OF HOLY TRIO… MY E PRANAAMS TO YOU FOR E DISCOURSE…

    I have been searching for THE SONG OF THE SANNYASIN sung in Hindi. Whenever I hear KANNADA (I dont know Kannada language) version of THE SONG OF THE SANNYASIN still I am so much thrilled, INSPIRED AND MOTIVATED, (I understand that this translation in Kannada is done by Dr. Kuvempu and sung and recorded first time by Rev. Swami Purushottamanandaji) THAT I HAVE NO WORDS TO DESCRIBE! Since you mentioned this song, I felt like asking about HINDI TRANSLATION and ITS RECORDED VERSION!
    Bharat Churiwala
    Mumbai, India


    1. Dear Bharat
      Enjoyed your Enthusiastic words, Explaining the Expansion of E activities!
      I have read the Hindi translation of The Song of the Sannyasin in Vivekanand Sahitya, published by Advaita Ashrama. But I have never heard anyone singing that. From one senior monk who is well versed in music, I heard that it “is not suitable for singing. It does not have proper metre. The Bengali translation of course can be sung”. However, another monk has assured me recently to record the Hindi version from someone who knows how to compose tune for it. The moment I receive the mp3, I shall post it to you.
      May you derive more and more inspiration from Swamiji’s words of agni-mantras!
      Swami Vimokshananda


      1. My search for a hindi/marathi/sanskrit translation lead me to this page.
        I came across information that the Sannyasa-gitih by Sw. Brahmaswarupananda is a sanskrit translation. Is this in prose or poetry form? I am not able to locate the book from any online resource.
        Great to know that there are others in search of this.
        I am also eagerly waiting for a tune to the hindi/marathi/sanskrit translation of this inspirational poem from Swamiji.


        1. ||Sri Ramakrishna sharanam||
          Dear Shubhanan
          Welcome to this blog!
          Well, I have not come across the sannyasa-gitih by Swami Brahmaswarupananda. What I know of is Sannyasa geeti or The Song of the Sannyasin, written originally in English by Swami Vivekananda. This has been translated into various languages. Yes, we do have hindi/marathi versions. This is a stirring poem composed in July, 1885, at Thousand Island Park, New York.
          Remarkably, the handwritten original was discovered (long after his passing in 1902) hidden in a wall during the 1947 restoration of a retreat where Swamiji had spent the summer and given darshan and discourses to Western seekers.
          The moment I get the tune, I shall intimate you.
          May the Song inspire you ever!
          Swami Vimokshananda


  9. Revered Swamiji,

    Excellent story. I first heard Swamiji mention this story on one of the tours to JHB. Aside from the interesting way Swamiji put this story I think the message is made very clear. Even the Master said that we can place our demands on God.

    Swamiji mentioned in a response, “absolute surrender to Will of God.” Certainly very difficult to accomplish!

    Shaimel Singh
    Johannesburg, SA


  10. Pujonio Maharaj jee,
    Please accept our pronam. Enjoyed reading your blog about prayer. Not only children, but we, the adults, too should know what to pray for and thus obtain peace of mind. Hope you are in good health and spirit. We always remember you and your visit to our house, specially on the occasion of my father-in-law’s birthday. Because of you, we have got the opportunity to know other Maharaj jees too as they used to accompany you. We very fondly remember our numerous visits to Dungri Ashram and having prasad there and the celebration of Jagaddhatri Puja.
    Pronam again.
    Your’s faithfully
    Sunanda Rudra
    Ranchi ( now in Kolkata )


  11. Respected maharajji
    Our pronam to you. Your Boon or Bane is interesting and simple as well. You have told the story in your characteristic style of livliness. We feel like hearing the story from you sitting under the neem tree in front of the shrine at Ranchi centre.
    It is true that Lord Sri Ramakrishna gives boon to those who wants it with sincerity and devotion. What is important is that the seeker of the blessing should have a positive frame of mind.

    With pronam
    Doctor and Santi
    Bokaro, Jharkhand, India


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