Category: worship

Solace to the Suffering

Chennai Relief Invite

Joyous Jagaddhatri Puja

I am pleased to re-date the following post:

Today is the Navami tithi. Ranchi Sanatorium where I was there from 1995 for long 12 years, is celebrating Sri Sri Jagaddhatri Puja today and tomorrow. This is a joyous annual puja participated with unheard of enthusiasm by more than 20,000 people mostly from rural tribal areas surrounding our Sanatorium. This Puja, began in a small scale, limited only among the patients and staff initially, has grown to become of late an harbinger of communal harmony with intense social interaction where the crowd throngs and mingles and where there is no distinction of caste, creed, language and all become just ‘children of Divine Mother’.

Swami Shantatmananda
Swami Shantatmananda

Albeit nostalgic apart, I cannot but think of Swami Shantatmananda, the present Head of our New Delhi centre, who used to come every year for performing puja from Belur Math. His one-pointed devotion to Mother Jagaddhatri and his keen sense of dedication with wonderful calmness was a treat to those who would sit hours together in that surcharged atmosphere watching the puja from sunrise to sunset.

It is pertinent to note 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 (Order) in dream one day for doing Devi Puja. The then Head Maharaj late Swami Vedantanandaji rejected his offer saying that doing Durga Puja in a hospital setup was 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 clay 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.

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

As per ancient pauranik lore of the Hindu scriptures, soon after the victory over Mahishasur the Devatas became highly egoistic. They thought that because of lending Durga their weapons, 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. 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. 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. So also the god of water Varuna, could not even wet it. Likewise one by one the Devatas failed. Ultimately the Lord of all gods, Indra came and immediately understood the inexplicable Power and humbly expressed his desire to know.

And it dawned on them that their powers were 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 is a true servant of the world which is nothing but a manifestation of the Brahman as Sri Ramakrishna had realised.

If you want to know more about Jagaddhatri Puja at the Sanatorium with some of the fascinating pictures and a graphic account, please read here.

And if you are interested in some more other pictures of Jagaddhatri, please visit this blog.

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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.”

Sri Ramakrishna adoration by Swami Abhedananda
Sri Ramakrishna adoration by Swami Abhedananda - Courtesy Dr S Adhinarayanan

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Swami from Sri Lanka


Welcome to South Africa!

His Holiness Sri Swami Sarvarupanandaji Maharaj, the Head of our  Sri Lanka Ramakrishna Mission arrived in Durban today. He was visibly joyful in paying a 10 day visit to this Rainbow nation where in many places he will participate in the 156th Birth Anniversary celebrations of Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi. He was warmly welcomed at the airport by Swamis Brahmarupanandaji, Saradaprabhanandaji, self and Chairperson Ramesh Ishwarlaal with some senior officials of the Centre. I cannot but remember Revered Sarvarupanandaji’s amiable nature when he was part of a team of monks who came to Seva Pratishthan to assist the Administrator-monks during service dislocation for a short period. He could carry every one with him by his jovial and pleasant behaviour.

Swami Sarvarupanandaji

Early days

Revered Maharaj started as a volunteer in the Salem Ashram in 1962. He formally joined the Ramakrishna Math and Mission in 1969 and was initiated into spiritual life by Srimat Swami Vireswaranandaji – the 10th President of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission and also was ordained a monk of the Ramakrishna Order in 1979.

Stint of service

He has served extensively in many of the Ramakrishna Branches starting at the Salem Ashram from 1969 to 1982, at the Singapore Ashram from 1983 to 1991 and a short period at the Sevaprathistan Hospital. From 1991 to 1998 he served at the Madurai Math, and 1998 to 2004 at the Coimbatore Vidyalaya.

In 2004 he was appointed the President of the Ooty Math where he served till 2006. In 2006 he was appointed the Head of the Ramakrishna Mission in Colombo, and continues to serve in this capacity currently.

Colombo Centre

The Colombo Centre is engaged in a number of ongoing spiritual and welfare  programmes to assist the communities of Sri Lanka. These include: spiritual discourses and retreats, medical services, poverty relief, education for youth and personality development, Sunday School for religious education where nearly a 1000 children attend weekly. Of special significance is the work done at times of natural disasters, the most recent being the Tsunami – when  1000’s of families were affected. The Mission adopted a village and built 116 two storey houses to rehabilitate those affected. The Mission is also currently engaged in assisting Internally Displaced People due to the civil war in Sri Lanka. More than 46,000 people are being fed and provided assistance every month.

His public program in South Africa would be as below.

DATE PROGRAMME
Saturday,12 December Birth Anniversary Celebration of Sri Sarada Devi
Topic : “Life & Teachings of Holy Mother”
Time : 4:00 – 5:30 p.m.
Venue : Ramakrishna Centre, Headquarters, 8 Montreal Road, Glen Anil
Sunday,13 December Conference on “Parenting – A Hindu Perspective”(Hosted by the Sri Sarada Devi Ashram)
Time : 9:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
Venue  : University of KwaZulu-Natal, Westville Campus
Monday,14 December Programme at Phoenix Sub-Centre
Topic : “Life & Teachings of Holy Mother”
Time : 6:30 – 7:30 p.m.
Venue : Ramakrishna Centre, 17 Foresthaven Drive, Phoenix
Tuesday,15 December Programme at Gauteng Sub-Centre
Topic : “Life & Teachings of Holy Mother”
Time : 7:00 – 8:00 p.m.
Venue  : Eagle Canyon Golf Estate, Club House, Blueberry Street, Honeydew, Johannesburg
Wednesday,16 December Programme at Newcastle Sub-Centre(for all Northern KZN Sub-Centres/ Satsang groups)
Topic : “Life & Teachings of Holy Mother”
Time : 4:00 – 6.00 p.m.
Venue : Ramakrishna Centre, cnr of Centre & Green Streets, Newcastle
Thursday,17 December Programme at Shree Veeraboga Emperumal Temple
Topic   : “The Glory of Divine Mother”
Time : 6:30 – 8:00 p.m.
Venue : 7 Maharaj Street, Gandhi’s Hill, Tongaat
Friday,18 December Programme at Chatsworth Sub-Centre
Topic : “Life & Teachings of Holy Mother”
Time : 6:30 – 8:00 p.m.
Venue : Ramakrishna Centre, 26 Moorcross Drive, Moorton, Chatsworth
Saturday,19 December Programme at Ramakrishna Centre, Headquarters
Topic : “Life & Teachings of Holy Mother”
Time : 4:00 – 5:30 p.m.
Venue : Ramakrishna Centre, Headquarters, 8 Montreal Road, Glen Anil
Sunday,20 December Vedanta Retreat
Topic   : “Vedanta in Everyday Life”
Time : 7:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Venue : Ramakrishna Centre, Headquarters, 8 Montreal Road, Glen Anil

(Registration for the above programme is essential.

Digital Delights

If Sri Ramakrishna was a leaping flame of spiritual realization, Holy Mother was a steady glowing fire of God-consciousness. To the Master, Sri Ramakrishna, she was the goddess of wisdom in human form. To her disciples she was the Divine Mother herself. To her devotees she was a more real mother than their own earthly mother. To the seekers of truth she was the final word, and to sinners she was the last refuge.

Swami Adiswarananda, in his Introduction to the book – SRI SARADA DEVI, THE HOLY MOTHER Her Teachings and Conversations

– Translated by Swami Nikhilananda

Today is the janma tithi of the Holy Mother. On this happy occasion my heartfelt greetings to every one! When I was in India, it was always a special largesse for me to listen to the long-standing devotees who would lovingly explain how they were latched onto the ‘spiritual spell’ of Holy Mother, due to whom their lives got eventually transformed. And South Africa devotees too do not lag behind. Many here, have such wonderful episodes, listening to them is indeed a ‘sadhana’ for me.

One SA devotee, recalling her divine dream says that it makes her hair stand on ends and somewhat emotional …. emotional in the sense that, she longs within – would she ever see Mother face to face any time? I reproduce some excerpts from what she wrote to me:

“In my dream … I was cleaning the altar, and as I was about to clean the Holy Mother’s picture, when lo! and behold! Mother started talking to me! She told me that her head and neck was paining. I asked Mother, if I could perhaps massage Her head and back. When I went close to Mother almost touching Her………… I felt that Her hair was dripping with water.

Mother’s face was real and I was so close to Her… Her face was so motherly, so ordinary and so full of love…yet I saw an indescribable radiance.  I could see clearly her long black, slightly wavy hair, I was well pleased!  I could clearly mark her forehead, it had a red dot and red sindoor on the middle parting of Her hair.  I stared in bewilderment! After a long while, I could see myself telling Mother that … Her hair needs to be dried, (In my dream I am looking for a blow drier). I then saw that I needed to straighten Mother’s back because she was leaning in an awkward way. I gazed at Mother wondering if this is really true!

When I woke up, I was not my normal self, I had mixed emotions…. Is Mother in real pain? Is this some type of message for me? What was that She desired to indicate to me? But I knew IT WAS A DIVINE DREAM. I intuitively decided to go to the ashram immediately to check the picture of Mother. To my great amazement, I saw Mother’s picture leaning way back in such an uncomfortable way. I straightened the picture-frame, and placed it in the proper position. I cherish this dream because not only Mother utilised me as an instrument in Her work but also chose to convey me Her inconvenience.”

Here are some digital delights contributed by Dr S Adhinarayanan from New Delhi, India, who is now at Copenhagen for the Global Summit on Climate Change. Despite his busy schedule, he found time to prepare the below given portraits (I envy! How much his mind would have been involved in the rupa-dhyaana – meditation on form – of Holy Mother!) while readying his presentation – An Approach paper on “Microbial Solutions for a sustainable Global Environment”. We wish him a very successful session!

Sarada Devi

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Sarada Devi

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Sarada Devi

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SARADA DEVI

Be like a Bee!

'Krishnam vande jagadgurum' I bow down to Krishna, the World-Teacher - courtesy: HinduWebGraphics

Today we celebrate Gita jayanti. The Bhagavad Gita forms part of the great Indian Epic, the Mahabharata. The words of this “song celestial” have flowed from the Lord, Sri Krishna Himself. The Gita chanting is generally preceded with what is known as “Gita Dhyanam” – nine introductory verses in praise of Bhagavad Gita. Originally published in our quarterly magazine “JYOTI” of July-September 2007 issue, this article, focussed on seventh verse, was transcribed from the weekly Gita Talks that I deliver on Tuesdays, between 7 and 8 p.m. at the Ramakrishna Centre, Glen Anil.

Let us recollect what Swami Vivekananda says:

Gita is the best commentary we have on the Vedanta philosophy – curiously enough the scene is laid on the battlefield, where Krishna teaches this philosophy to Arjuna; and the doctrine which stands out luminously in every page of the Gita is intense activity, but in the midst of it, eternal calmness. This is the secret of work.

May this lotus of the Mahabharata, born in the lake of the words of the son of Parashara (Vyasa), sweet with the fragrance of the meaning of the Gita, with many stories as its stamens, fully opened by the discourses on Hari, the destroyer of the sins of Kali, and drunk joyously day by day by the six-legged bees of good men in the world, become the bestower of good to us.     Gita Dhyanam, 7

It is customary to recite the meditative verses (dhyana shlokas) before beginning the study of Srimad Bhagavad Gita proper.  The poet-devotee, who composed these nine verses, has charmingly explained the purpose, principle and the practice of the Gita in these meditative verses.

Vast and deep

In the above seventh verse, he stresses the utmost importance of the knowledge contained in the Mahabharata.  He says that the Gita is like a full-blown lotus, grown in the vast lake of words dictated by the son of the Sage Parashara, thereby meaning Sri Veda Vyasa (author of the Mahabharata).  The significance of not saying the name of Vyasa but indicating him as son of Parashara lies in the wonderful combination of wisdom of the Rishi with practical sense of a fisher woman, Satyavati who was the mother of Vyasa.  Sage Vyasa, like his father Parashara, had a broad, vast knowledge of the Vedas and like his mother, Satyavati, who would go deep into the river to catch fish, also went deep into the meaning of Vedas.

Petals and fragrance

The full-blown lotus has an extremely sweet fragrance and many soft petals.  The insight of the Gita is said to be the fragrance and the varied stories cum sub-stories that form the elaborate Mahabharata, the petals.  The lotus is full blown by the speech of Lord Sri Krishna, who is verily Hari Himself.

Bee Pic3The poet-devotee further says that in this world noble men joyously drink, day by day meaning again and again, the nectar issuing from the lotus flower like “a six-legged bee”.

The drink and the drunk

A bee continues its unending search for nectar from many flowers.  But it is the flower that is most beautiful and exuberantly filled with sweet honey that attracts it the most.  Likewise, we have a number of scriptures.  Of them, Srimad Bhagavad Gita, which forms part of the world’s largest epic, the Mahabharata, contains that nectar which makes the learner go beyond birth and death.

The insight that the Gita provides in controlling our life’s destiny is unparallel.  The Gita gives us wonderful courage to deal with the many challenges that life poses.  In order to gain the rich experience that the Gita enumerates, noblemen – men of character – searching for the true meaning of life come to study the Gita.

The poet-devotee of the meditative verses compares a noble-minded person with the untiring bee.  Bees, unlike other insects or birds, go much deeper into flowers.  They go to the very source.

So it is clear that if we want to obtain the knowledge of the Gita, superficial study is not enough.  Merely chanting the Gita may give us a sense of peace; a little more study may lead us on a good path to enjoy the blessings of a noble life.  But only a deeper study can provide the knowledge of Atman (Soul) which is the real nectar of the Gita.  Like a bee, we must go deep – meditate deeply on each verse of the Gita.  This will light up the lamp of knowledge that is within each of us.  Mahapurush Maharaj, known as Swami Shivananda, a direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna once said, “…You must meditate on them.  Then, only will you assimilate them.  Hari Maharaj [Swami Turiyananda] used to meditate on each verse until he had mastered it.”

Legs that lead

Furthermore, the poet-devotee has used the words “six-legged” when describing the bee.  This also has a profound significance.  Merely being noble may not be sufficient to understand the inner meaning of the Gita.  Perhaps the man who is only “two-legged” has to acquire another “4 legs” in order to grasp the inner meaning of the words that flow from Lord Sri Krishna’s lips.

What then, are the “six-legs” that a noble man has to possess?  They are discrimination, detachment, devotion, deep yearning, deliberate effort and divine knowledge,.  Once a person of noble character possesses these “six-legs” he will be able to hold onto the slippery petals and drive himself deep into the nectar of inner meaning.  Therefore, a study once or twice is not enough.  “Again and again” one must devotedly pursue the study so that the bad samskaras – mental impressions – that are gained from birth to birth can be removed by continuous study of the Gita.

Thus the poet-devotee concludes in this verse of Dhyana Shloka on Srimad Bhagavad Gita, propounded by the Lord Himself, is great, bestows welfare and removes all the impurities that are born of this age (Kali Yuga).

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Pat for a pet!

Ashram cat Kripa - waiting to enter into the Temple

In 1980, a clinical research project at Brooklyn College, New York, studied heart-disease patients after their discharge from the hospital. Dr. Erika Friedmann, Ph.D., Professor of Health and Nutrition Sciences at the College, tracked each survivor, studying their medical histories, lifestyles, families, relationships – every documentable detail. Co-researcher Dr. Aaron Katcher, M.D., reported:

“The presence of a pet was the strongest social predictor of survival…not just for lonely or depressed people, but everyone – independent of marital status and access to social support from human beings.”

Ashram cat Satwik making 'pranam' in the Temple

The Psychologists clearly spell out Ten Benefits in rearing a pet: While the primary benefits to animals are obvious – to place them in loving homes and keep them from being destroyed – the benefits to elderly persons are ten-fold (versus non-pet owners).

  • Pets lower blood pressure and pulse rate
  • 21% fewer visits to the doctor
  • Less depression
  • Easier to make friends (enhanced social opportunities)
  • Seniors become more active
  • Pets offer affection and unconditional love
  • Pets ease loss of a loved one
  • Pets fight loneliness
  • Seniors take better care of themselves
  • Sense of security

You, readers may just wonder ‘What! pets and Vedanta!

I was pleased when Skendha Singh from New Delhi, India commented that ‘pets seem to gravitate towards our places or seats of meditation’. It is so true! In our Ashram, we have now two pet cats – Kripa and Satwik. Both of them never leave the campus and are fond of being present in the Temple  during mangalarati time as well as evening arati time.

Ashram cat Kripa 'gravitating towards Meditation seat'

Kripa is more amiable and would not mind if any of our devotees just take him in hands and there he would cuddle quietly! And to sleep (or meditation?) he would always select one of the two monks’ aasana (seats) laid out in the Temple! He is also one of my keen students during Gita class, listening to my Talks, sitting on the chair. At meal times, he comes and takes his chair, surveying the whole neatly laid out table with an air of a ‘leader’ and immensely satisfied with just butter to give us ‘company’. Both the cats drink Ganges water from the Catbowl, kept for them inside the Temple. (Of course they have their own bowls at designated spots and regular feeds are provided.)

Ashram temple - fantastic front view of two images of Lion - pets to Durga

Yes, one of the pancha shanti mantra (the famous five peace chants) – tacchaiyn yora vrineemahe – loudly proclaim ‘shanno astu dwipade, sham chatushpade’ “May there be peace to humanity; may peace be to animals” goes back to the ancient Vedic times from when we, the Hindus have inherited the wonderful feeling to take care of not only the ‘two-legged’ but also the ‘four-legged’ ones. Our mythology is abound with creatures beloved to Gods and Goddesses. While Ganesha is fond of His mouse, His brother Murugan delights with peacock. Shiva’s favourite is bull, while Vishnu prides in eagle. Durga’s lion is well-known. Krishna had lovable calves and cows. Shiva’s servant Bhairav has dogs.

Among the beasts and birds, dog as a pet has become the most favoured species among the men and women all over the world. Saints are not excepted. Swami Vivekananda had a dog called Bagha who had been a stray mongrel and picked up from the street as a puppy. This dog became so close to Swamiji that once Swamiji had to caution the monks in Belur Math not to harass him anytime. On the day Swamiji’s body was cremated, Bagha remained close to the funeral pyre and wouldn’t move; he was so overwhelmed by grief that he stayed there for a long time. No one could make him eat or drink on that day!

Swami Shivananda, when he was President of the Order, had two big dogs Kelo and Bhulo. These were pedigree dogs brought from East Bengal. He would have lot of fun with them. While standing upstairs on the balcony of his room, he would sometimes play with the dogs by throwing pieces of bread in the down below courtyard as a treat. And lo! the dogs would jump and catch without fail in the mid-air! Showing his finger to the dogs, Shivanandaji would shout, “See, they are my dogs and I am Sri Ramakrishna’s dog!”

When shall we develop that dogged attitude of dedicating our life at the Master’s feet and lay there to do His bidding? When shall we acquire the ‘pet’-sense of sharanaagati – ‘surrender’?

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.

BFN GreenRosesIMG_1291
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!

BFN NavillaIMG_1279
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.

BFN AudienceSDC10765
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.

JPUJAimmersion
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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Highlights from Hinduism Conference – Part I

Delightful dawn!
Delightful dawn!

The delightful dawn on the 6th September while driving from Durban, drew us close to one of the historically important town in the Northern part of KwaZulu Natal province, Ladysmith where the Conference on Hinduism was scheduled. A little more than 400 delegates started arriving in batches at the venue, Civic Centre Hall from 7.30 am onwards. The Conference has generated keen interest among the professionals like educators, advocates, social workers, psychologists, doctors and in an equal measure among the common Hindu population. I had said in my previous post that I would try to place a Report on the proceedings of this august Conference. 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 I of the Report. I am also thankful to Rishienandan of Pietermaritzburg subcentre for the excellent photos.

Report – Part I

Reantha Pillay

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From time immemorial the family has been the foundational unit of Hindu society; however, in today’s fast paced society, the family system of old seems to face obstacles at every corner.  Divorces, domestic abuse, lack of communication and the ever changing role of women – all these factors present serious challenges to Hindu families.  It is with this in mind that the Hinduism Conference for 2009 focussed on Hindu Families – Challenges and Solutions.  The aim of the Conference was to identify the emerging problems and equip the Hindu community to deal with them.

Admirable arrangement in Civic Centre Hall
Admirable arrangement in Civic Centre Hall

Ladysmith Sub-centre played host to this important event held at the Civic Centre from 9 am to 1 pm on Sunday, 6 September, 2009.  The tastefully decorated venue with the centre of stage occupied by the huge portraits of the Holy Trio, the hall, equipped with data projectors and rows of tables catered for the many delegates from all over KZN and allowed a comfortable environment to listen to the esteemed panel of  speakers.  At this stage I must compliment the Ladysmith Sub Centre on a most well-organised and enjoyable, educative conference.

Mellifluous chanting by Mataji
Mellifluous chanting by Mataji

The proceedings began with the Opening Prayer led by Pravrajika Ishtaprana Mataji, Head of the Sri Sarada Devi Ashram, Asherville. In her mellifluous voice, Mataji chanted the three most famous pranam-mantras on the Holy Trio. She was accompanied by another nun – Pravrajika Divyanandapranaji – who had recently come from India to stay and serve at Sri Sarada Devi Ashram. This was the latter’s first visit to Ladysmith. The Ladysmith Subcentre welcomed her with an offering of flower bouquet.

Reception to the Revered new Mataji
Reception to the Revered new Mataji

Swami Vimokshanandaji Maharaj, President of the Ramakrishna Centre of SA, gave his inaugural address.  The address posed the ever relevant question, “Does the Hindu family system have utility in the modern era?” Maharajji brought to the attention of the audience that the traditional family system is still valid and whatever disintegration that our society experiences, needs to be addressed in order to revive old values. Maharajji then looked at some of the challenges facing the Hindu family.

Firstly, Maharajji identified the lack of the extended family unit in modern times.  Here a humorous story about a daughter-in-law not wanting to disturb the “duties of the household” regaled the audience. On a more serious note, Maharajji looked at the wealth of knowledge, wisdom and culture that is being lost with this relinquishment of the extended family model. Secondly, Maharajji addressed the Inter-Religious and Intra-Religious divides that plague our Hindu marriages and highlighted the need to address this issue. Thirdly, Maharajji dealt with the eroding of the key concepts of Dharma and Karma in our family system. He highlighted rebirth as a means for the continuation of traditions and as service to society as well as the importance of self sacrifice for the good of the family, community, country and world at large.

Vimokshanandaji placing his view points
Vimokshanandaji placing his view points

In conclusion, he stressed the important role families play in society in the furtherance of our Hindu tradition and contrasted this to the unitary family system of the West. Hindu families are based on the age-old principle, Vasudeiva Kutumbakam, the whole world is one family permeated by God. The final message was that we need to urgently address the obstacles that prevent us from achieving this ideal.

Maharajji’s inaugural address set the scene perfectly for the four papers that were to follow. In an email conversation, a Counselling Psychologist had this to say about the Inaugural Address: …it was a pity that it was too short. Maharaj should consider presenting a paper in future. It is amazing that being in South Africa for only a few years that Maharaj has developed such insight into the lifestyles and family problems of people in South Africa. Maharaj has made some very interesting and valid points that I hope will be elaborated on in the future.

The first speaker of the morning was Ms Aruna Chetty, an ardent and long standing devotee of the Ashram as well as a social worker.  She is presently the Director of Phoenix Child and Family Welfare Society. Ms Chetty’s topic was Creating Security and Family Stability. She began by outlining this concept of safety and security and focused first on the right ways of upbringing of the children. Ms Chetty advised the audience on four key issues.

Ms Aruna Chetty addressing the audience
Aruna Chetty addressing the audience

Firstly, that there are only two ways to teach your children lasting values and they are intense love and personal example. Secondly, children require a set of routine in order to feel stable and secure. Thirdly, one’s home must create a suitable environment for the child’s development. Here she provided a few simple tips to help improve the home environment such as daily meals together and a designated place to pray. Lastly, she warned busy parents that a child’s love cannot be bought by material goods and that it is important to focus on their moral and spiritual aspects and not merely their secular education. Ms Chetty highlighted commitment, communication and correctional discipline as three key concepts required to make a family safe and secure. Ms Chetty’s paper was highly practical and afforded parents a clear guide to creating stability and security in the home.

After the presentation of this paper the conference broke for tea.

to be continued…