BFN (up)Beat!

It cannot be gainsaid that going to Bloemfontein was devoid of gathering spiritual benefits either to me or to the Hindu devotees there. To me it was a learning experience in life as this was my very first visit to Free State Province in South Africa.

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Roses are not Rosy but Green...! Found in the City of Roses!

This Town is generally regarded as a Judicial Capital of SA. BFN, short for Bloemfontein is popularly and poetically known as “the city of roses”, owing to the abundance of these flowers and the annual rose festival held there. I had a good chance to see and savour the blooming roses and it was for the very first time that I was glad to glance through ‘green’ roses too.

There are a dozen denominations of the miniscule Hindu population who, I was delighted to note, unlike in other places, love to meet at a central point under the banner ‘Bloemfontein Hindu Association’. A devotee had allotted his fully furnished Conference Hall for this purpose and it was here the inter-active sessions for two days were held.

One devotee put it to me thus: The heart beats of the Hindus of BFN had gone upbeat in relishing simple, universal truths of Vedanta as propounded by Sri Ramakrishna. Another devotee wrote his feelings to Yash who accompanied me in this travel and made my travel utterly interesting and comfortable, thus: I want to thank you and Swami Vimokshanandaji from the very bottom of my heart for coming to us. Not one of those present is left unchanged by your presence! The place is abuzz with devotees wanting to register for the Hindu studies course and improve their spiritual life. This is living proof that association with holy company will improve one’s yearning for God, repeatedly told to us by the Master!

BFN is, of course famous for Cheetahs – the name taken by the Rugby sportsmen who have the colour Orange. On the day I landed there, I could see plenty of BFNners – men and women alike – wearing ‘orange’ TShirts gathering with verve and vigour to witness the choice Rugby match scheduled on that day. It is something like ‘cricket fever’ in India! Seeing me in full orange dress it was amusing for many to see a ‘Cheetah supporter’ direct from India!

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Pretty pets pivoted to me...!

A Short Report on my visit, duly given below, was penned by our devotee Navilla Somaru who is the Chief Prosecutor – WELKOM Cluster. With the limited resources, the arrangements made by her and husband Bishun and the care taken by this wonderful family is memorable indeed – not to forget of those pretty pets who remained pivoted to me!

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Navilla Somaru


A Report by Navilla Somaru from Bloemfontein, SA

 

BLOEMFONTEIN HINDU ASSOCIATION SPECIAL PROGRAMME

SPIRITUAL RETREAT CONDUCTED BY HIS HOLINESS SWAMI VIMOKSHANANDAJI MAHARAJ

1. During April 2009, the Bloemfontein Hindu Association (BHA) extended an invitation to His Holiness Swami Vimokshanandaji Maharaj, President, Ramakrishna Centre of South Africa, to conduct a spiritual retreat in Bloemfontein. Pursuant thereto, the dates of 31 October (Saturday) and 1 November 2009 (Sunday) were arranged. A programme of both days’ events is attached hereto for ease of reference.

2. Revered Swamiji arrived in Bloemfontein at approximately 13h00 on 31 October 2009.

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A section of serious seekers

The programme commenced at 17h00 at our new shrine which was previously a conference room at the Taj Guest House in Bainsvlei, a smallholding just outside Bloemfontein.  We were all very surprised to have more than a hundred people in the congregation, mostly Hindus but also some members of the Christian faith, black and white alike.

3. The programme began with the chanting of mantras at 16h45.

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Meditation practice

The satsangh commenced exactly at 17h00 and included prayers to Sri Ramakrishna, singing of devotional songs, Hanuman Chalisa, Bhavani Ashthakam, Revered Maharaj’s special address, a lengthy and lively question and answer session, a guided meditation, arati and the concluding prayers.

4. Revered Maharaj’s address was profound, to say the least. It was very well received with amazing positive input forthcoming from most members of the congregation.  Revered Maharaj’s address was eloquent, yet simple and covered very relevant and pertinent issues on spirituality and Vedanta. Revered Maharaj expounded the need for all of us  to live simply, take God’s name at every opportunity, to chant AUM every morning, elevate ourselves from religiosity to spirituality as well as to perform service to the under privileged in the immediate community and to  protect our animals.

5. The programme concluded at 20h00 with Revered Swamiji meeting all members of the congregation and partaking of supper with those present. Many families requested personal interviews with Maharaj, which was held in the shrine and the office.  Swamiji retired at 22h30.

6. The programme for the next day began at 10h00 and was conducted by the children of the Bloemfontein Hindu Association.

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lovely children!

We are happy to state that the children organised the entire programme, which included prayers, devotional songs, cultural items and the vote of thanks. The tiny tots recited a poem on the glory of Diwali and an action packed version of “The love of Krishna”. The 9 to15 years old performed a garba dance in honour of the Divine Mother.

7. Revered Swamiji brilliantly directed his address to the children by way of questions and answers enabling the children to participate actively. There was also an animated DVD presentation on the Life of Swami Vivekananda which was sent by Revered Pravrajika Ishtaprana Mataji from the Sri Sarada Devi Ashram, Durban. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed this presentation and felt inspired. We extend our sincerest gratitude to Revered Mataji, not only for the DVD but also for the assistance and encouragement received to initiate the children’s Hinduism classes which we conduct under her guidance and direction, on Sundays.

8. Sunday’s programme concluded with lunch being served to all present. Thereafter, at the request of individuals and families, Revered Maharaj held private counselling sessions for two hours.

9. On both days, the Sri Sarada Devi Ashram held a bookshop which stocked books on Vedanta, the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda literature, Meditation and children’s books. Mr Yash Govender arranged and managed the bookshop, which was very well supported.

10.The Bloemfontein Hindu Association takes this opportunity of conveying our very humble, sincere and grateful thanks to Revered Maharaj for his time. We appreciate his efforts in making a journey to Bloemfontein, which is 650km from Durban, to conduct the spiritual retreat with us. The presence of Revered Maharaj meant a lot to the spiritually starved members of our fledgling association. We pray that Maharaj bestows his grace upon us by more frequent visits in future.  This will be of great benefit to the Hindu community here, as well as to the many youth we have in the community as well as at our University who are in dire need of constant spiritual education.

Yours in the service of Sri Ramakrishna

Navilla Somaru

Committee Member

Bloemfontein Hindu Association

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Magnanimous Mother

Sri Sri Jagaddhatri
Jagaddhatri in full regalia - clay image used for worship at Ranchi Ramakrishna Mission TB Sanatorium

From The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna

(To M.) “One must accept the forms of God.  Do you know the meaning of the image of Jagaddhatri? She is the Bearer of the Universe.  Without her support and protection the universe would fall from its place and be destroyed.  The Divine Mother, Jagaddhatri, reveals Herself in the heart of one who can control the mind, which may be compared to an elephant.”

RĀKHĀL : “The mind is a mad elephant.”

MASTER: “Therefore the lion, the carrier of the Divine Mother, keeps it under control.”

Today is Sri Sri Jagaddhatri Puja! I cannot escape from indulging in a little nostalgia with regard to this most important Puja of the Ranchi Sanatorium in India where I was blessed to witness for  12 long years. The enthusiasm and exuberance that expressed in different forms in staff of the hospital, devotees of the Ashram and the tribal public of the neighbouring villages and also well-wishers from distant towns are something not explainable! it was a puja fever under the spell of which we all came to our great delight.

I remember to have written a small piece in Wikipedia in 2005 which I reproduce below:

The formal difference between Durga and Jagaddhatri occurs in ‘Mayatantra’ and Jagaddhatri is mentioned with reference to Durga in Krishnananda’s ‘Tantrasaar’. The special puja of the Goddess on the ninth lunar day of the light fortnight in the month of Kartick has been referred in ‘Krityatattarnab’ by Srinath Acharyachudamoni of the 15th-16th century.

As per ancient pauranik lore of the Hindu scriptures, soon after the victory over Mahishasur the Devatas became highly egoistic. They thought because of lending to Durga their instruments the mighty asuras were vanquished. To make them understand that the primordial power is alone behind every action, the Brahman appeared before the Devatas in the form of effulgent Yaksha. Bewildered by its presence one by one the Devatas approached Yaksha. First the god of wind Vayu. The Yaksha asked him what he could do. The Vayu replied that he could throw away huge trees, tumble high mountains. The Yaksha then placed a small grass and asked him to move it. The Vayu utilised all his powers but lo! he could not even displace it. So also the god of fire Agni, could not even burn it. Likewise one by one the Devatas failed. And it dawned on them that their powers are in reality not their own but derived from the supreme power who as protecting mother holds the entire creation and therefore called Jagaddhatri. Anybody who worships Jagaddhatri becomes absolutely egoless and a true servant of the world which is nothing but a manifestation of the Brahman.

While thinking of Ma Jagaddhatri, some readers may wonder how this Puja was started in a TB Sanatorium which may seem unconnected. But I want to share a true incident that I heard from the eye-witnesses.

It is pertinent that this memorable puja was indeed started by one in-patient of this Sanatorium in 1958. He was late Bhupati Bose from Howrah. It is said that he had a divine aadesh in dream one day for doing Devi Puja. The then Secretary Maharaj late Swami Vedantanandaji rejected his offer saying that doing Durga Puja in a hospital set up is not a joke. But Bhupati, distressed at the decision, prayed to the Mother and sought excuse for his inability to carry out Her wish. Who can eventually stop the Divine Will? He again dreamt of the Mother who said that there was one-day Puja also available! On hearing about the second dream, Vedantanandaji was ready to reconsider his decision and acceded to the patient’s request for Jagaddhatri worship. Bhupati himself prepared the image beautifully for consecutive two years. The entire staff and all the in-patients stood together in completing the one-day Puja with great devotion.

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Image of the Divine Mother taken in procession for Immersion

Sri Lalita Sahasranama in its 173 verse speaks of Tripurasundari as Jagaddhatri .

Vishvamata jagaddhatri vishalakshi viragini

Pragalbha paramodara paramoda manomayi .. 173

Vishvamata: Who is the Mother of the Universe.
Jagaddhatri: Who is the holder of the universe.
Vishalakshi: Who has large eyes.
Viragini: Who is utterly passionless.
Pragalbha: Who is surprisingly daring
Paramodara: Who is supremely generous.
Manomayi: Who is all mentation.

Speaking silently!

A picture is worth a thousand words indeed! So, who would not want to see the pictures speaking silently?

Diwali in Durban was as fascinating as freshly laden fragrance. Its joyful feelings of care and share wafted in the air everywhere. In all the functions that I attended, hamper distribution to poor families was the main item besides bursting fire-works, social gathering and of course sumptuous meals! The hard work that devotees offered in the form of seva to Master hardly escaped my notice.

Here below are some of the photos that can speak thousand words silently…Click the photo for a larger view!

Art work on Anjaneya

Today is the first night of navaratri which is holy and auspicious to all Hindus. Here in SA, the Divine Mother Goddess Durga is worshipped in Her three aspects as Mahakaali, Mahalakshmi and Mahasaraswati, three nights each during this nine-day celebration. Not only Sri Ramakrishna kept in his room several pictures of Gods and Goddesses but also advised devotees to do so. “Divine feeling is awakened through such pictures” he said. Once he went all the way to see a home of a devotee, hearing that he had a large collection of religious pictures! You can also enjoy seeing one hundred ninety-nine ennobling pictures of Hindu Goddesses, one hundred twenty-seven of which especially on Durga at this Flickr site. The Lord of Durga – Neelakantha Shiva has eleven aspects that are called Rudras. The Shiva puraana speaks about the Eleventh Rudra who incarnates as Sri Hanuman. I am thankful to Simon Ram of UK who gave permission to place a rare picture of Hanumanji with Gauri-Shankar which you can find at the bottom of this post.

The drawing and a write-up on Visual Art Work that is displayed in a box down below, is by one 14 year old school student who regularly attends our Sunday School for Children. Presently this boy is schooling at Ladysmith High School and in Gr.9. His name is Yashteel Raj. He attends the Ramakrishna Centre – Ladysmith branch. He also enjoys reading and learning about Hindu religion through stories like the Ramayana, etc. Recently he wrote to me an email which I reproduce here:

Yashteel Raj of Ladysmith
Yashteel Raj from Ladysmith

Om Namo Narayanaya Swamiji

It was very good to see you on Saturday after such a long time.

I had to make an artwork about my culture this week and I was so inspired by your talk on Sri Hanumanji that I made a drawing of him carrying the Drona Mountain. I wanted to show you how it looks – I hope you like it.

Mom, Dad and Chiara also send their pranams.

Durga Durga

Yashteel Raj

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Yes, beta Yashteel, I  am immensely pleased to see your art work. Congrats! Indeed, your devotion to Sri Hanumanji has brought Hanumanji’s grace to you and you have excelled in it. May He bestow you the three essential things which Tulsidasji, in his mystical prayer hymn, demands from Sri Hanumanji – bala, budhi, vidya!

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Inspired drawing - an Art work on Anjaneya
Inspired drawing - an Art work on Anjaneya

Arts & Culture:

Visual Artwork Project

What is Culture?

Culture, as I understand it, is a word which describes an individual’s lifestyle. One’s culture is basically their way of life: their social and religious norms, cuisine, literature, and choice of music and art. Culture thus consists of person’s customs and traditions.

What is your Chosen Culture and

Why can it be defined as a Culture?

I have chosen to make my artwork about my own “hybrid” Hindu culture as it would be personal and I already know much about it.

My chosen culture can be described as a culture as it includes all of my social and religious norms. It consists of the food I eat (spicy) and governs, to an extent, the type of literature, art and music I come into contact with. It also consists of all of my customs and traditions.

My religion plays a very important part in my culture, so I chose to make an artwork which is relevant to it. My artistic talent lies in drawing; hence I chose to depict an event from the epic tale, the Ramayana, in this form. Here Lord Hanuman carries the huge Drona Mountain on his shoulders, from the Himalayas to Lanka, as it contains the rare sanjeevani herb required to heal Lakshmana.

What I found Difficult

I faced many difficulties while creating my artwork and tried to overcome them as best I could. These problems were:

  • My colouring was uneven and looked bad, so I “smudged” or “shaded”.
  • Some garments blocked vital muscles, so I made them semi-transparent.
  • I had some trouble drawing Hanuman’s hands and feet, but I got it right in the end.
  • Lord Hanuman’s ape-like mouth was hard to blend in to the face so I experimented with sfumato.
  • It was hardest for me to give texture to Lord Hanuman and the mountain. I tried utilizing tonal value to aid me in my plight.

What I Learnt and Enjoyed

  • I learnt how to draw another type of abdomen and six-pack, which stems from “Hercules-type” animation.
  • I discovered how to add tonal value to give texture and depth to an artwork.
  • Shading, in some cases, is more effective than colouring.
  • If you shade on differently textured surfaces, their texture will be implied on your artwork. This can be a easy way to create texture.
  • I enjoyed drawing Lord Hanuman and experimenting with different muscle-types and colours, etc.

Conclusion

I really liked making this artwork. Drawing is lots of fun and I really enjoyed expressing my culture in this form.

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Sri Hanumanji with Sri Gauri-Shankarji - a rare picture
Sri Hanumanji with Sri Gauri-Shankarji - a rare picture, Courtesy: Simon Ram, UK

Highlights from Hinduism Conference – Part II

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Today is September 11. In 1893, on this same date Swami Vivekananda addressed the Parliament of Religions at Chicago, USA. This lecture practically catapulted him as an international figure. The last line of his famous lecture succinctly gives the gist of Hinduism: I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honour of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal.

When the Conference on Hinduism held at Ladysmith Civic Centre on Sunday 6, September, 2009 concluded amidst chanting of vedic mantras as closing prayers, when the delegates started departing in a mood of delight, all of us felt that the ideas that were discussed so forcefully would ever remain etched green in our memory-land and to say in the words of one of our Blog readers from Ladysmith “What a marvellous conference we had! Many thanks are due to the Master for making this occasion possible…There is no doubt that all who attended benefited not simply from the content, but also from the holy company.”
My hearty thanks go to Reantha Pillay, a student-devotee, who has penned this brilliant Report – on the same day, in spite of the long distance to & fro travel – that would, I believe satisfy the curiosity of those who could not attend the Conference. I am giving below the Part II of the Report. I am also thankful to devotee Rishienandan of Pietermaritzburg subcentre for the excellent photos.

Report – Part II

DSC_0311Reantha Pillay

The captivating centerpiece of many who attended  the Conference will undoubtedly be the paper delivered by Swami Saradaprabhanandaji Maharaj, Vice-President of the Ramakrishna Centre of South Africa. He spoke on Reconciling Religious Conflicts in a Family. Maharajji’s focus areas were Inter-Religious marriages and Hindu intra-marriages i.e. marriages between Hindus of different linguistic/faith backgrounds. After Maharajji’s humorous disclaimer that the paper will not bring an end to parental worry nor end the debate on this issue, Maharajji began what was to be an insightful and most interesting paper.

Saradaprabhanandaji presenting his solid views
Saradaprabhanandaji presenting his saintly views

Maharajji established the fact that Inter-belief marriages have occurred since the Rig Veda, that is some 5000 years ago and therefore cannot be said to violate the spirit of Hindu Dharma. Post establishing the social validity of this practice, Maharajji went on to illustrate how it could be generally beset with unending problems. However, Maharajji in a positive note, pointed out that despite its inherent problematic nature, there are inter-religious marriages that  have proven successful and this was dependent entirely on the couple and their genuine love for one another and also their ability to sustain a successful marriage. Maharajji urged parents and the general  members of society to be flexible and cautioned against attempting to break a relationship founded on strong  pure love. At this junction Maharajji warned about the greatest casualty – children and the uncertainty they experience when these marriages begin to  flounder. He also addressed the Inter-sect marriages saying that they were not as problematic and marital success could be assured with little difficulty. His 6 practical tips for parties contemplating such a union are:

  • Premarital counselling
  • Beware of Conversion
  • Acquire negotiating skills to resolve conflict non violently
  • Address the issue of an Identity Crisis
  • Foster Communication Skills
  • Avoid destructive family bigotry

Swami Saradaprabahanadaji concluded in saying that marriage is a means to attain God realisation and a vibrant Hindu marriage can attain this whilst simultaneously bringing peace to a family.

Veena Singaram's visual impact paper
Veena Singaram's visual impact paper

The third paper presented was entitled Leadership qualities and Responsibilities of the Mother and was by Ms Veena Singaram, a lecturer. Ms Singaram looked briefly at the various challenges facing Hindu women, such as the need to balance the roles of a wife, mother and leader. She also briefly looked at various aspects of leadership and identified the key qualities necessary to be a leader.  Ms Singaram drew from the wealth of great Indian women such as Sri Sarada Devi, the epitome of purity and unconditional love, as well as many other historical personalities. She also looked at great men such as Gandhiji, Washington and Lincoln who honoured their mothers. Ms Singaram advised the audience that motherhood in its nature encapsulates leadership as they require similar traits.  She ended on a very practical note providing Hindu mothers with a few important gems of advice namely :

  • Parents must imbibe positive qualities
  • They must attempt to and subsequently gain an understanding of their children.
  • “Practice what they preach”
  • Educate their children on religious and cultural issues.
Naidu presenting his no-nonsense paper
Naidu presenting his no-nonsense paper

The final paper was delivered by Senior Counsel, Advocate H Kessie Naidu, entitled Balancing Hindu values with Westernization.  Advocate Naidu drew from the inspiration of Swami Vivekananda, whose role in modernizing Hinduism and embracing western science cannot be denied. Advocate Naidu acknowledged many aspects of westernization – technology, medicine and the decreasing importance of caste system through constituent democracy. He did, however, caution the audience of the pervasive and persuasive nature of westernization and its effect on our dress, language and lifestyle. He then addressed this issue of Hindu values which lay hidden in the intricacies of our scriptures such as non-violence and the sanctity of life. Advocate Naidu attributed the rise in promiscuity and the death of our vernaculars to mindless attachment to westernization.

He concluded by stating that awareness of the essential values of Hinduism is necessary and thereafter one is required to discern and select the positive aspects of the western world. In this he echoed Swami Vivekananda’s teaching that India should not simply imitate the west but rather absorb and assimilate some western ideals whilst retaining our glorious spiritual heritage. Advocate Naidu’s paper was entertaining and highly relevant given the times we live in.

Professionals in panel discussions
Professionals in panel discussions - Dr Behariram and Rakhi Beekrum

The conference was concluded with a panel discussion that generated great interest. Prompted by the astute questions posed by the members of the audience, the panel consisting of Dr Behariram (Graduated from Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine with a Masters in Family Medicine Degree. Presently manages the Crisis Centre at the Ladysmith Provincial Hospital, working exclusively with survivors of sexual assault especially children) and Rakhi Beekrum (Master of Social Science (Psychology) University of Kwazulu Natal.  Counselling Psychologist at Student Counselling Centre of the Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine and runs a private practice in Durban) handled the queries enthusiastically. Questions were fielded at the paper presenters too who did not lag behind in giving quality responses them.

Veni Govender, the dynamic Director of Ceremonies
Veni Govender, the dynamic Director of Ceremonies

I cannot conclude this Report without mentioning about the Director of Ceremonies for this Conference. She was Veni Govender, an eminent Educator of Ladysmith and also a devotee of the Ramakrishna Centre there. The spirited way she started the program, the vigorous manner she veered the responses, the creditable control that she could exercise over the floor and above all the dynamism that she displayed in directing the program cannot but be applauded.

There can be no denying that audience delegates walked out feeling far more equipped to deal with the challenges facing Hindu families. The Conference was undoubtedly a resounding success which harbours only good for families of the future.

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