We celebrated Sri Krishna Janmashtami in a solemn atmosphere. About 40+ devotees attended.
After the Vesper service of Sri Ramakrishna, there were two Talks one by self and another by Swami Purnananda. I narrated the birth incident of Sri Krishna, tracing the parents’ life and how the Supreme God intervened to ameliorate the sufferings of good people on the earth. Swami Purnananda spoke on the teachings of Sri Krishna which is available to us even this day as Bhagavad Gita. We had chorus singing of Shyam Naam Sankirtan of 9 stanzas and Bhaja Govindam. A few more bhajans were also sung.
For a fledgeling centre, just started a year back, we didn’t expect a good number. But then, 40+ was manageable as devotees brought their own naivedya (offerings) and as prasad the same was shared among us.
Earlier, on Sunday 18th August 2019, Sanatana Ireland, a Charity organisation in Dublin conducted a Workshop for Children on Srimad Bhagavad Gita. We two Swamis participated in the Workshop.
The program began with lighting of lamp called ‘Bhadradeepam’. The children then sang a Keertana on Lord Ganesha, followed by singing the Glory of Guru and chanted the full Gita Dhyanam. The important element was the Workshop where Swami Purnananda explained some Vedantic teachings from Gita. Swami Vimokshananda explained the concept of constant remembrance of Lord through a story of famous Sakkubai, a Maharashtra Saint.
The children presented an admirable Dance-drama on the value of Friendship by depicting the story of Krishna-Sudama eternal love. The children participated enthusiastically in the quiz program on ‘Dashavatharam‘.
The organisers arranged the release of a new Balagokulam Syllabus. Both the Swamis released the volume and presented to the syllabus makers. The interesting program came to a close with chanting of Swasti mantras and arati to Lord Krishna followed by distribution of prasad.
The great ‘Gurudev’ Swami Nischalanandaji Maharaj was born in Newcastle. At his birthplace, the Children’s Cultural festival of the Northern Natal was celebrating its Golden Jubilee this year. It was not an accident; neither was it planned. But it had come in due course bringing forth how much ‘Gurudev’ loved the children and how much more he was interested in instilling the spiritual values among them. Some of the old devotees still remember how Gurudev used to stand on hours together in training the children in performance of cultural items. He used to personally conduct Yoga Camps especially for children training them in correct postures through practice of yogasanas.
I was pleased to attend the Northern Natal Children’s Cultural Festival held at Newcastle Richview hall. Branches from Estcourt, Ladysmith, Newcastle, Glencoe and Dundee participated. The enthusiasm of the children was infectious, each one vying with one another, making efforts in excelling in whatever he/she did. The Festival was an occasion to bring out the best in the child. There were scintillating sketches, soul-filling songs, sterling speeches and delighting dances interspersed with inspiring quotes from the Holy Trio. While I gave the Key-note Address, brother Swami Saradaprabahanandaji gave the Concluding Address. Overall the time from 9 am to 4 pm was well spent in the company of the children. In spite of the inclement weather of speedy winds, the officials did a splendid job in organising the Festival at the venue.
Abiding spiritual values are taught to the children who attend our Sunday School classes. The parents have reported to me that they are immensely benefitted as they could see emergence of the wonderfully shaping of their children’s personality. In my previous post I gave a brief intro about the Sunday School classes and three slideshows on the Certificates Award function.
To see all the photos of the Festival, just click on the below link that will take you to the picasa web album. There click ‘slideshow’, then relax and watch!
Last year when I was posted to Durban Centre, I hardly knew how the various celebrations were conducted in South Africa by the Hindus in general and particularly by our Centre. So to my great pleasant surprise, I found our Durban centre and all its affiliates celebrating Rama Navami for 9 days and Krishna Ashtami for 8 days and Navaratri for 10 days contiguously.
Take for instance the Krishna Ashtami celebration that went by at our Durban centre! There were Satsangs every evening from the first day to the last Ashtami day i.e. for all eight days with clock-wise precision! Satsang had a definite pattern. It consisted many items like kirtans of mahamantra, bhajans on Sri Krishna in Hindi, Gujarati, Tamil and Telugu languages, chanting of selected shlokas from Bhagavad Gita, discourse by monks and lay scholars, readings from Srimad Bhagavatam, deeparati (waving of lights) and prasad distribution. On the evening of the ashtami, Satsang had two sessions.
The Janmashtami day prog starting at 6.00 pm with Puja to Lord Krishna by a devotee couple within the temple, went on to past midnight. Another couple did the last midnight arati. There were lot of bhajans and kirtans till the end of the prog. The temple was beautifully decorated. A yugal-murti of Radha Rani and Sri Krishna adorned the altar on all days. Finally with arati to BaalaGopaala and offering of flower to Him by every assembled devotee the prog came to an end with distribution of prasad. What new I saw was the keeping of a little cradle wherein a small murti of baby Sri Krishna was kept. And at the end of the prog at about 00.30 am, starting with self, every devotee just rocked the cradle and offered a flower at the holy feet of the baby Lord.
This year Swami Saradananda spoke for four days on the teachings of Sri Krishna as contained in the Gita. On ashtami night, in the first session during my speech, the birth incident as depicted in Srimad Bhagavatam was presented to the packed audience. To my pleasant surprise again, when I completed the chronicling of Lord’s birth, it was midnight 12 in India!
In India, in no centre of ours, I had witnessed such an elaborate festival! The devotion of the devotees is worth noting; what a verve and vigour in singing bhajans! And faith and fervour in performing worship! And the day-long fasting and sitting in the temple for such long hours – absolutely maintaining utmost discipline – no chitchat, no gossip and all are tuned to the discourse and songs, well, I was greatly pleased and impressed with a new kind of experience that gave a boost to my devotional practices!
On this auspicious occasion I remembered how Sri Krishna was intimately inter-woven in the life of Swami Brahmananda, the manas-putra (‘mind-born’ son) of Bhagavan Sri Ramakrishna who recollected one of his visions thus:
“Just a few days before Rakhal’s coming I saw Mother putting a child into my lap and saying, ‘This is your son: I shuddered at the thought and asked her in surprise, ‘What do you mean? I too have a son?’ Then She explained with a smile that it would be a spiritual child, and I was comforted. Shortly after this vision Rakhal came, and I at once recognized him as the boy presented by the Divine Mother.”
Sometime in the middle of 1881, Sri Ramakrishna had another vision. He saw two boys dancing on a full-blown lotus floating on the Ganges. One of the boys was Krishna and the other was the same boy whom the Mother had previously placed on his lap. That very day Rakhal, crossing the Ganges, came to Dakshineswar from Konnagar; the Master immediately recognized him as his spiritual son.
And on the previous day of his departure from this world at 9:00 p.m. a very heart-rending incident occured. This excerpt has been taken from Swami Chetananandaji’s book God Lived with Them.
…..he touched the hand of his attendant, who was seated nearby, and blessed him. A deep silence pervaded the room. The monks and devotees encircling Maharaj were anxious. He opened his eyes again and began to speak: “I am floating on the banyan leaf of faith in the ocean of Brahman. Vivek my Vivek – Vivekananda-dada [brother]! Baburam-da, Baburam-da [Premananda]! Jogen – Jogen [Yogananda]! I see the feet of Sri Ramakrishna!” Thus he was seeing and addressing the deceased disciples of the Master.
In the meantime Saradananda arrived. When Saradananda suggested that he sleep after drinking a little lemonade, Maharaj said: “My mind is in the realm of Brahman. It does not come down. All right, pour lemonade into Brahman!” After sipping a little he said: “Aha-ha, Brahman – the Reality – the vast ocean! aum Parabrahmane namah [salutations to the supreme Brahman]; aum Paramatmane namah [salutations to the supreme Atman]!” When Maharaj described his experience of Brahman, all felt peace and serenity in their hearts. He slowly calmed down. His face was glowing with joy and he gazed without blinking as if he were meditating, or seeing something.
After a while he exclaimed in his sweet voice: “Ah! here is the full moon – Radhakrishna! I want the Krishna of Ramakrishna. I am the cowherd boy of Vrindaban. Put anklets on my feet. I want to dance holding the hand of my Krishna. jhum – jhum – jhum! [It refers to the sound of the anklets.] Krishna, Krishna, Krishna has come. Can’t you see him? You don’t have the eyes. Aha-ha, how beautiful! My Krishna – on the lotus – of Vrindaban! It is not sad-Krishna. My play is over now. Look, the child Krishna is caressing me. He is calling me to come away with him. 1 am coming. . . . Om Vishnu, Om Vishnu, Om Vishnu! Maharaj greeted Shivananda and Abhedananda who came to see him.
Saradananda later said: “This time we shall not be able to keep Maharaj anymore. His vision of Krishna on the lotus, which the Master forbade us to disclose to him, has come out from his own lips.” Ramakrishna’s prophecy about his spiritual son Rakhal proved to be true. At 8:45 p.m. on Monday, 10 April 1922, Swami Brahmananda passed away. The next day his body was carried from Calcutta to Belur Math and cremated on the bank of the Ganges. Later a temple was built on that spot.
We normally believe that culture blossoms, flowers and sustained well with the education. A highly educated person is supposed to exhibit good cultural traits. However culture can be manifested even if a person is unlettered or not educated. One such case came to my notice when I found an illiterate woman belonging to a poor village, eking out a living by preparing and selling hadia (home brewed rice-beer) expressing a very high cultural attitude through her action.
This lady heard about Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi. The life and teachings of Holy Mother fascinated her. She eventually proved that even without formal education, one can adopt Sarada Devi’s teachings in life. This episode was recently published in our monthly journal, Prabuddha Bharata, published by Advaita Ashrama, Mayavati, Himalayas which is reproduced below:
It was during Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi’s 150th birth anniversary celebrations. The Ranchi Sanatorium is surrounded by villages inhabited mostly by people of the Oraon and Munda tribes. We had a meeting with the villagers, and what they told us frankly surprised us. They said that all the six villages would take part in a big procession, starting in the morning, and would reach the ashrama campus by 11 a.m. Each village would have a jhanki or tableau specially made for the occasion.
On the tithi-puja day, the procession started from Tupudana, and reached the ashrama after a journey of 1 km. One of the jhankis, from the village Dungri, which had a little girl fully draped in a white sari like the Holy Mother with her long hair flowing over her shoulder, evoked lot of interest. She was seated on a thelagadi, a push-cart, and behind her there was a picture of Belur Math, drawn on a sheet of cardboard.
The girl was known to us as Arati Kachhap, studying in class five. I asked her to sit by my side on the lawn in front of our temple, and she came down from the push-cart. Several devotees were also sitting there as the temple was full inside.
I asked Arati at what time she had left her home. She said, ‘By seven in the morning the didis (the elder girls of the village who were supervising the arrangements) came and dressed me up like Ma Sarada, and asked me to sit on the cart.’ Then I asked her, ‘Arati, did you eat anything before leaving your home?’
She replied that she had had nothing. Sensing that for a long time this little girl had been sitting on the cart without having had even a snack, I immediately asked one elder girl to bring prasad from the temple. When I gave her the prasad, she held it in her little hands but did not eat it. Surprised, I said, ‘Arati, take it! Oh! You have not had anything since early morning. Have it now!’
To my surprise, Arati refused to eat. When I asked her why she didn’t want to eat, her reply surprised me all the more. She said that her mother had instructed her not to eat. I was stunned, as I knew her mother well. She was a poor tribal woman eking out a living and supporting three children by preparing and selling hadia (home-made rice beer) in the bazaar. Her husband was of no use to the family. I asked Arati how it was that her mother did not approve of her eating prasad. Arati replied, after some hesitation and after my repeated prodding, ‘My mother told me, “Look Arati! Today you are dressed up like Holy Mother. You should not take any food at the ashrama until all the Dungri village people are fed – because Holy Mother would always eat last, after feeding all the devotees.”‘
Tears came to my eyes. Arati’s mother, an unlettered villager who brewed and sold hadia – just imagine what culture she exhibited! She had imbibed one of the core qualities of the Holy Mother, and was trying to fashion her daughter’s life with what she understood! If people would follow even a fraction of the Holy Mother’s teachings, how good our society would be. May Holy Mother inspire everyone!