Gurudev Swami Nischalanandaji was the Founder of the Ramakrishna Centre of South Africa. Every year, during his birthday weekend some program or other is arranged in various ways. This year, on the 84th birth anniversary, our Centre held a Seminar on Religious Education.
Following erudite Papers were presented to the delight of all the listeners accompanied by captivating slide-shows.
1. Identifying a Curriculum for Hindu Religious Education by Ms S Naidoo from Sri Sarada Devi Ashram, Asherville
2. The Role of Sunday School Teachers in Promoting Hindu Religious Education by Dr N Balkaran from Ladysmith
3. The Role of Parents in Home-based Religious Education by Mrs R Singh from Newcastle
4. Using Distance Education and the Electronic Media to Promote Hindu Religious Education by Mr V Mohanlal from Headquarters
While inaugurating the Seminar, I drew the attention of all to the wonderful early spade-work done by Swami Nischalanandaji in introducing variety of ways in keeping up the heritage of religious ideas among the Hindus who due to the prevailing political conditions in those days, could not maintain their cultural contact with Mother India.
He had several disciples. I met a few who are pretty old now. The name of Mother Henny (sweetly called Henny Maa), now 87, spending quite days in Asherville Sri Sarada Devi Ashram is not unknown to many devotees of the Ramakrishna Centre in South Africa.
Her original name was Henny Maria Thekla Schimmel, was born at Leipzig in East Germany. She arrived in South Africa in 1950. She was 28 years old then. In 1956, a friend introduced her to the local branch of the Ramakrishna Centre in Johannesburg. A doctor of homeopathy – Dr Mckippen, ran the branch. She visited the branch every Thursday. In 1956 (after a few months of attending satsangs) she was informed that the leader of the Ramakrishna Centre was arriving in Johannesburg from Durban.
It was a Thursday towards the end of 1956 that Henny first saw Gurudev.
“We were singing, when I felt a gust of wind brush past me. I turned my head and saw the feet of Gurudev. At that very moment, I thought to myself these are the feet of Christ – the anointed one. I was not myself after that. I was transported to a higher plane of consciousness. All my life I was looking for something. On seeing these divine feet, I knew that it was Gurudev I was waiting for. At last, I had found him.”
She continued to say in a choked voice,
“Gurudev informed me that he was going to India. I asked him to give me initiation before he left. I was initiated on the 6th of February 1957.”
Henny Maa could relate to us some of her memorable experiences vis-a-vis Swami Nischalanandaji. I give below two of them as narrated by her. One was on Yoga Camp and the other was Dance of Shiva.
“I was looking forward to going to the yoga camp when I got very ill with double pneumonia. Gurudev phoned me. Disappointedly I informed him that I could not make it to the camp. He said to me, “You will come. Phone me after midnight.”
I called him after midnight and felt better soon after. Needless to say, I attended the yoga camp. It was relayed to me later that Gurudev got seriously ill after my telephone conversation with him. He had taken over my illness.
Dance of Shiva
At one of the camps, Gurudev had dressed as Nataraja the cosmic dancer. He danced using classical intricate steps, with no formal training or knowledge of knowing how to dance. The devotees were moved by this experience. Some cried and some laughed each having a different experience. A trained dancer wrote down the movements and informed Gurudev that the intricate steps he performed could only be done by the rishis.
He was a saint of this century. Not many people knew of the power behind his deep spirituality. His sannyasa Guru, Swami Purushottamananda knew about the positive influence that Gurudev would have in South Africa.
I am truly blessed to have been associated with Gurudev.