Shelter Care Workshop: The Ramakrishna Clinic of South Africa conducted a workshop on Shelter Intervention and Management on Saturday, 19 January 2008, at the Swami Nischalananda Hall, Headquarters, Glen Anil. Prof Anshu Padayachee from the Advice Desk conducted the workshop for the Abused. Twenty-six members of the Clinic were in attendance, including twelve who have also completed the certificate course on “Crisis Intervention in Domestic Violence”.
The workshop addressed the following issues:
The main role of shelter intervention is to empower women and provide a safe haven at a time of crisis. The role of a shelter interventionist is thus crucial as he/she is often the first point of contact as a counsellor. The interventionist would have to remain neutral in a time when the sheltered is in a brittle state of emotions.
The participants were educated on admission and discharge protocols as well as the all important aspect of follow up care. They would have to complete two case histories and be assessed by members of the Advice Desk for readiness to serve afflicted women. They will render services at the Jayrambati Home, Foresthaven, Phoenix which is a shelter for women undergoing domestic crisis. This Home, under the management of the Ramakrishna Clinic of South Africa, is situated in the epicentre of an area where there has been a surge in domestic violence against women.
The need for new format and updating of information was keenly felt after the official affiliation of the South African Centre with the Ramakrishna Mission’s headquarters at Belur Math, West Bengal, India last March. The new website’s address is:
The 145th Birth Anniversary of Swami Vivekananda was celebrated at the Centre, Glen Anil on Saturday, 26 January 2008 (4:00 – 6:00 p.m.). The programme commenced with the chanting of invocation hymns by the Centre’s Choir group, singing of A Hymn to Swami Vivekananda and devotional bhajans by the Satsang Group.
The Keynote Address was then delivered by Sri Swami Vimokshanandaji. The Swami stressed that the ideals and values that Swami Vivekananda taught were universal in nature and would be beneficial to the South African society as a whole to develop in appreciating “other” cultures so that human society can live in peace and progress.
A DVD presentation on the Ramakrishna Mission Seva Pratishtan Hospital in Kolkata, India was then shown. The audience had the glimpses of the early phases of the Ramakrishna Movement in India which was service-oriented to the suffering public as taught by Swamiji. The DVD was appreciated by one and all for its graphic account on the development of the leading Hospital. Thereafter, the Guest of Honour, Mr Jeph Mtshali (General Manager: Tourism & Corporate Strategy; Department of Arts, Culture and Tourism – KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Ministry), addressed the congregation on the topic “Intercultural Understanding”. He drew parallel observations from Swamiji’s teachings in order to bring a unified view on the understanding of the different cultures.
A graceful kathak dance by Kumari Sasha Naidoo followed. The programme concluded with peace chants led by Pravrajika Ishtaprana of the Sarada Devi Ashram, Asherville. Supper was then served to all devotees.
On 12th January which is Swami Vivekananda’s solar birthday, celebrated as National Youth Day in India, the Centre had an evening Satsang. Swami Saradananda of the Centre spoke on Swamiji and some of his dynamic aspects that give people strength of mind to face modern challenges.
As per Hindu Almanac, Swami Vivekananda’s birth tithi fell on Tuesday, the 29th January, 2008. In a quiet and solemn way, the tithi puja was observed with a few devotees joining in to sing the suprabhatam stotram at mangala arati. A detailed puja was done thereafter. In the evening during the weekly Gita class, Vimokshanandaji threw light on the duo rishis nara-narayana combination and how Swamiji as nara rishi as identified by his Master Sri Ramakrishna fulfilled the wonderful command of him in serving the poor, destitute and suffering people.
Earlier, a Youth Programme to commemorate the Birth Anniversary of Swami Vivekananda was held on Sunday, 13 January 2008 (7:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.), at the Centre, Glen Anil.
The programme commenced with satsang, which included the chanting of kirtans and bhajans, a reading from Swami Vivekananda’s “Complete Works”, meditation and peace chants. Thereafter the youth proceeded to the Swami Nischalananda Hall for breakfast. A Youth Seminar on Swami Vivekananda was then conducted, and the following topics were discussed:
Swami Vivekananda and the Rise of India
Processing Youth Energy according to Vedanta and Vivekananda Literature
The never-ending source of Life
After a short break, a DVD presentation of the address by the Honourable Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, the former Prsident of India on Youth Day (Ramakrishna Mission, Porbandar, Gujarat, India – 12 January 2006) was shown. This was followed by a series of audio-visual presentations on the activities of the Ramakrishna Centre of South Africa. The programme concluded with satsang. Lunch was served thereafter. Registration for this youth retreat was limited to 100 youth.
Swamiji’s birthday was enthusiastically celebrated in Northern Natal centres of Estcourt, Ladysmith, Newcastle, Dundee and Glencoe. Ladysmith Centre on this occasion distributed 500 hampers to the poor while Dundee Centre gave away fruit juices and bread packets to 250 black poor children. Newcastle Centre had a Youth programme.
Among the Southern Natal centres, Pietermaritzburg, Durban central, Chatsworth, and Phoenix centre celebrated the event with cultural items. Chatsworth Centre held a Youth Seminar also. In all these places, Swami Vimokshananda spoke on Swamiji’s life and teachings.
This slide-show is of Swamiji’s birthday celebration at Estcourt
At Belur Math one day, while Sister Nivedita was distributing prizes for some athletics, I was standing in Swamiji’s bedroom at the Math, at the window, watching, and he said to me, “I shall never see forty.” I, knowing he was thirty-nine, said to him, “But Swami, Buddha did not do his great work until between forty and eighty.” But he said, “I delivered my message and I must go.” I asked, “Why go?” and he said, “The shadow of a big tree will not let the smaller trees grow up. I must go to make room.”…
On the second of July, Sister Nivedita saw him for the last time. She went to inquire whether she should teach a certain science in her school. Swami answered, “Perhaps you are right, but my mind is given to other things. I am preparing for death.” So she thought he was indifferent. Then he said, “But you must have a meal.” Sister Nivedita always ate with her fingers, a la Hindu; and after she had eaten, Swami poured water over her hands. She said, very much the disciple, “I cannot bear you to do this.” He answered, “Jesus Christ washed the feet of his disciples.” Sister Nivedita had it on the tip of her tongue to say, “But that was the last time they ever met.” It was the last time she ever saw him. That last day he spoke to her of me and of many people, but when he spoke of me he said, “She is pure as purity, loving as love itself.” So I always took that as Swamiji’s last message to me. In two days he died having said, “The spiritual impact that has come here to Belur will last fifteen hundred years – and this will be a great university. Do not think I imagine it, I see it.”
A few months before his passing away, Swami Vivekananda said:
“How often does a man ruin his disciples by remaining always with them! When men are once trained, it is essential that their leader leaves them; for without his absence they cannot develop themselves!” (CWSN 1: 260)
A few days before his passing away, the Swami said:
“I am making ready for death. A great Tapasyâ and meditation has come upon me, and I am making ready for death.” (CWSN 1: 261-62)
In Kashmir after an illness, Swami Vivekananda said as he lifted a couple of pebbles:
“Whenever death approaches me, all weakness vanishes. I have neither fear, nor doubt, nor thought of the external. I simply busy myself making ready to die. I am as hard as that [the pebbles struck one another in his hand] — for I have touched the feet of God!” (CWSN 1: 262)
“Work unto death—I am with you, and when I am gone, my spirit will work with you. This life comes and goes—wealth, fame, enjoyments are only of a few days. It is better, far better, to die on the field of duty, preaching the truth, than to die like a worldly worm. Advance!.”
In 1979, I was “posted” to Itanagar where a new modern hospital was upcoming. I was staying at that time in Belur Math after finalising the relief work. Srimat Swami Gahananandaji Maharaj brought me to Seva Pratishthan from Belur Math along with him in his car. He was on that day, “on round” and he took me with him to the indoor wards of Seva Pratishthan. That was the very first time I had the good opportunity to come in front of Revered Maharaj. That made me stand before him in awe as I was a witness to his loving care and attention to the in-patients. He could go into such details, the accompanying specialists would be taken surprised at his keen observation.
From Itanagar, time to time I was on a visit to Kolkata on Mission work. Generally my stay was centred at Seva Pratishthan. More than the work conveniences, his intense love towards me made me feel attracted and I would feel blessed even if I could get a glimpse of seeing him. In 1982 I was to accompany from Calcatta Revered Krishnarupanandaji Maharaj (the present Head of Mauritius centre) to Itanagar. We both were at Seva Pratishthan. Our flight was in the early morning. The previous night I took leave of Revered Gahananandaji Maharaj, saying that I didn’t want to disturb him next morning. He lovingly enquired about all the arrangements and told me that before leaving in the morning, “go to the pantry; warm up the milk; mix coffee; drink and go”. At about 3.30 am, I took out the key to open the small gate for the downstairs, that I heard Revered Maharaj’s clear voice, “KE” – who’s that? Though I never wanted to disturb him in that hour, yet I had to reply, “ami Sundar. Ashchhi Maharaj.” – I take leave of you. What I did not anticipate was his yesternight’s instruction regarding taking coffee. From his room prompt came his query in his inimitable authoritative voice, “coffee kheyechho?” – Did you take coffee? I replied, “na, Maharaj, ekhon dorkar nei.” – No, Maharaj its not needed now. And I went to my room to bring my luggage. Coming to the gate, what I saw stunned me. Revered Maharaj, to my great surprise, not only got up from his bed, but straight proceeded to the pantry in the meantime. And he has prepared hot coffee and was standing there with the cup in his hand. I felt ashamed. The affectionate smiling face of Revered Maharaj even now looms large before my mental eyes.
Accessible to everyone
He only posted me at Seva Pratishthan when my Arunachal days were over in June, 1988. Next year Revered Maharaj became the General Secretary. He used to visit Seva Pratishthan very often and I, as in-charge of the Premananda ward where sadhus were admitted, used to receive him at the main gate. He would enquire about every sadhu in the ward and he needed thorough answers, never satisfied with superficial facts. So I had to be on my toes, as it were, before giving any answer; sometimes, he would know more about the patient-sadhu than me! During all those visits, he would be meticulous in seeing other householder devotee-patients also. Whether sadhu or grihastha (monk or householder), everyone who was touched by him, felt blessed.
Once, a sadhu passed away. His body was ready for despatch to Belur Math for cremation. Revered Maharaj was at Seva Pratishthan on a visit at that time. There was instruction from Belur Math that the body of the sadhu must reach before 7 pm, otherwise cremation would be held only the next day, not on that night. We had no available vehicle to take the body to Belur Math. When revered Maharaj enquired, I said that due to non-availability of a vehicle we would keep the body in the mortuary and would send it next day. When he heard this, he said, “Place the body right now in the rear seat of the Ambassador car. I will reach the body to Belur Math before 7 pm.” We were stunned to listen to him. The General Secretary of the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission, taking a dead body in the same car! And he and Atmanishthananda, his Secretary – both clubbed together in the front seat…never minding the inconvenience…oh! We can never forget the flowing kindness of his heart.
Qualities that we can emulate
Every organisation has to undergo cycles of progress and regress. The six-year period that I stayed in Seva Pratishthan was a tumultuous one indeed! It was marked by an agitation of employees. Never have I heard from his lips words being uttered in derogatory tone of anybody. From the specialist doctor down to the sweeper, he gave enormous time for everyone. Nobody was “useless”. He would insist that the Ramakrishna family extends and includes everyone. What a sagacious advice he used to give all the monks there. His great patience, talking endearingly, listening with rapt attention – all these qualities shine as model to me. Unable to bear the stress in those times, how many times I had run to him for spiritual solace! Every time I came out wiser because of his wonderful counsel.
For me, it has been, and is continuing to be an excellent experience with the devotees of South Africa. What deep devotion they all have, not only for our Master but to all of His children, both monastics and house-holders alike!
My recent tour started on the 10th January with Estcourt hosting their 145th Swami Vivekananda Birth Anniversary Celebrations. Kimi of Durban Central branch took me by his car to Estcourt. It was held in a public Hindu Temple where the hall was almost full. The officials Naren and Rajesh did not give any specific topic, but at the same time expected me to speak for about an hour! So I made Swami Vivekananda as the topic and spoke about Him everywhere, as He supplied the ideas.
The same night I reached Ladysmith. I was so happy and surprised to see more than 800 people gathered in the Civic Hall of Ladysmith of whom, a number of Christians and Muslims were also present, because the Ladysmith branch organised the distribution of hampers to 500 poor families. every hamper consisted of good quantity of edible items all sponsored by different citizens of Ladysmith. This branch children gave a beautiful dance performance also. And after the function all the 800 people were given supper. Once the supper was over the branch devotees adults and children assembled for a friendly chat with me at Kirti’s home. This was an informal get-together where I could come to know them.
The following day I proceeded to Newcastle. This is the birth place of late Swami Nischalanandaji who was the Founder of the Ramakrishna Centre of South Africa in 1942. The house where he was born is no more there as the venue has come under flood area where two apple trees stand as mute witness to one of the dynamic sons of South Africa. This centre had scheduled two programmes, one on the 12th – that was Swamiji’s English birthday – and another for the Youth on the 13th. Both the programmes had good attendance.
On the night of the 13th, I was taken to Dundee. The function was held in our own shrine which is indeed beautiful where, I spoke for an hour. The next morning, the Mayoress visited Satish’s home to see me and we had pleasant exchanges. She was amazed and happy to see the Hindu Ramakrishna community doing welfare activity to black sisters and brothers who lived in the area. She also accompanied us and witnessed our devotees handing out the hampers. Some reference you can see here.
At noon I went to Glencoe, where for the first time, I had an opportunity to sit and talk with the devotees at Rishi’s home. It was a pleasant experience as I found that in this small town, our children are really blessed to have multiple talents. I cannot forget the wonderful oratory of Nibha, a 10 year old child who spoke on Swamiji so inspiring!
On the same night, that is the 14th, I went back to Ladysmith, where a devoted group of adults and children awaited my return. They had organised a ‘Thanksgiving Satsang’ – a Satsang where all the volunteers would be thanked by the officials. But, instead the Volunteers thanked our Master Sri Ramakrishna for giving them the opportunity to serve the poor. In this prevalent spiritual atmosphere, I was transported to a different world where Swamiji; as it were took me by the hand and guided me in speaking about him. Again on that night a group of devotees with their children met me at kirti’s home and our chat went on crossing midnight!
The next day I went to Pietermaritzburg via Midmar dam. I have crossed this dam several times but never had any chance to see it near. A beautiful place where to enter you have to shell out 17 Rands per person. We were 4 and the Entry Gate lady allowed us to go without any charge when she was told that a visitor-guest from India was there! At PMB branch we had a solemn function. Youth members sang two inspiring songs on Swamiji. The devotees here are indeed very cordial and after lunch at Sunil’s home, I returned to Durban on 16th late evening by Sunil’s car. Sunil takes pleasure in driving me to and fro always.
In all the functions, it was such a joy to see the happy and smiling faces of the devotees. The enthusiasm displayed in preparing and participating for their respective functions was indeed a heart warming experience for me. Throughout my tour I felt the continuous presence of Swami Vivekananda.