Tag: Durban

Relevant Resolution?

New Year Resolution

Any more relevant?

Sri Ramakrishna Temple in Durban, SA
Sri Ramakrishna Temple in Durban, SA

Silly season

December known as ‘silly season’ aptly or not, is a month of merry-making with holidayers dotting different places around the globe. Children and equally elders too, joyfully look forward to the prospect of school-closing followed by festival-booms and the most eagerly expected New Year. They tire themselves out with routine partying extending to midnight  on the 31st December. They are overwhelmed too receiving gifts galore.

And finally the New Year peeps in. At the stroke of midnight bells, unperceived by many in the din and bustle of all the hullabaloo and unmindful of the karmic effects that this same New Year is going to thrust upon. Year by year may pass; none can escape from the karmaphala – the fruits of action. So the old saying ‘as you sow, so you reap’ stares at the face as time rolls on. The moments of despair gnaw each one of us. Fortunate are those who are brought under the gracious umbrella of divine personalities. They are made to realise what is the ultimate purpose of life that meanders sans any meaning.

Saving Message

In Ramakrishna tradition, the beginning of the New Year brings in a new awareness of our goal. The moving incident that happened on the 1st of January in the life of Sri Ramakrishna is still a beacon light to all his followers over the globe. That day, every year is called Kalpataru Day. The message of Master on that day was “may you all be illumined”.

He was undergoing treatment for throat cancer. He came down the stairs on the 1st January, 1886 and started moving in the lawns. Many devotees had assembled there. They bowed down to Master.

To Girish, the Master said, “Girish, what have you seen that makes you glorify me publicly before one and all?” Girish at once fell at the Master’s feet and said with folded hands and choked voice, “What more can I say of Him, even a fraction of whose glory Vyasa and Valmiki miserably failed to express in their immortal epics and Puranas?”

IMG_8112Master heard these words of Girish, Seeing the divinely illumined face of the Master, Girish cried out joyously, “Glory unto Ramakrishna! Glory unto Ramakrishna!”. The Master looked at all present and said smilingly, “What more shall I say to you? May you all be spiritually awakened!”

Kalpataru Tree of Grace

How and when can this Kalpataru grace turn our own life towards progress in spiritual life? Undoubtedly, unconditional is the divine grace. Yet, in our heart of hearts, we do feel that without some sort of readiness to receive the grace, we make ourselves unfit for it. Why not we take a Resolution – a strong one at that – to attend satsang once in a week faithfully and uninterruptedly ? Let us begin with this one.

Kasipur event reminds us to go beyond the physical episode and makes us deeply think  about its spiritual implication. If this was valid on that day, it is still valid today.

|| AUM Sri Ramakrishnaarpanamastu ||

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SSDA Swamiji 150 Invite

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Shivaratri

Shivaratri

Umgeni Shiva Temple

Glory of the Goddess – 1

Durge smritaa harasi bheetim ashesha jontoh
swasthaih smritaa matimateeva shubhaam dadaasi|
Daaridraya dukha bhaya haarini kaa twadanyaa
sarvopakaara karanaaya sadaardra chittaa ||
When called to mind in a difficult pass, you remove fear for every person.
When called to mind by those in happiness, you bestow a mind still further pious.
Which Goddess but you, O Dispeller of poverty, pain and fear, has
an ever sympathetic heart for helping everyone?
The Composite Image of Divine Mother Durga as worshipped in our Headquarters Belur Math contains Ganesha, Karthik, Lakshmi and Saraswati

Today is Vijaya dashami. My hearty and happy Shubha Vijaya Greetings to every one of you. Brother Saradaprabhanandaji, officials and devotees join me in wishing Mother’s blessings to all.

Here Navaratri was celebrated in all its solemnity. Everywhere i.e., in all our branches, the devotees assembled in large numbers. Three of our centres i.e. HQ, Chatsworth and Pietermaritzburg had, of course did the navaratri function with Sri Sri Durga’s benign form without the demon Mahishasur in murti (3 ft height). These clay images were prepared locally by a lady devotee.

My first Talk during Navaratri function was at Phoenix Sub-centre. There, more than 500 senior citizens were present to whom I narrated the glory of Goddess Durga. On the same evening, I had the opportunity to visit our Chatsworth branch where I was blessed to speak on “Saptashloki Durga”. The second day took me to Pietermaritzburg and in our Sub-centre there I dealt with the same topic. On the third day I was in Estcourt where I attended the Satsang at Maha Gayatri Mandir. The temple was packed to its capacity, attended by almost all Hindu groups. There I spoke on the three functions of the Divine Mother viz., the projection, sustenance, and dissolution.

On the fourth day, of course on my return, I stopped at Pietermaritzburg to attend the grand function organised by PMB Sanatan Ved Dharam Sabha. Here more than 300 people participated. My subject of Talk was on the “Three Aspects of Sri Durga” namely Mahakali, Mahalakshmi and Mahasaraswati. I spent my Fifth and sixth days in performing morning puja and attending the evening satsangs at Durban HQ and quietly listening to different speakers. On the 7th day at the same Satsang, I took up again explaining the “Saptashloki Durga” verses. On the 8th evening I was invited by Redcliff Hindu Temple where again I spoke on the glory of Goddess Durga. On 9th evening which is Vijaya Dashami day, the topic “Significance of Vijaya Dashami” was dealt with.    

In all this running about and stating the events with lots of “I” (which perhaps not pleasing to read), what was the feeling in the core of my heart? That She, the Divine Mother has been acting, directing and instructing and making me a worthy instrument in Her hands. I was ever praying that this blissful mood may continue.

On Mahashtami day, after Master’s puja (that included the Kalash puja, Ganesha puja and Jai Durga’s puja) at the Temple, we gathered at the Nischalananda Hall where Sri Durga Havan was performed to the chanting of entire Devi Mahatmyam. The Chamunda mantra was recited 108 times by all the assembled in unison at every oblation of vilva leaf into the sacrificial fire.

The tradition of observing Navaratri here among the Hindus is a mixture of North-South combination. Our Centre follows the mainstream practice and hence the Bengal type Durga puja is not yet inroduced. Thus the first three days were dedicated to Mahakali, next 3 days to Mahalakshmi and the last 3 days to Mahasaraswati. The 10th day is of course Dasserah or Vijaya dashami when Mother Saraswati is invoked. This year we had only 8 days as the 2nd and 3rd tithi fell on the second day itself. It is to be noted that throughout the Navaratri days we had everyday Satsang in the evening. On the Vijaya dashami day the sky was partly clouded, not windy and one by one the murtis, after the farewell puja at the sea beach, were immersed in the surging waters. On that day when the murti was taken out for immersion, Saraswati’s picture was kept.

All the days were spent in a blissful mood for which we are grateful to our Sri Thakur, Ma and Swamiji. And this feeling of joy is nonetheless due to the gracious blessings of all senior monks and loving vibrations from the younger brothers all over the globe.

During the Navaratri we all read portions from Devi Mahatmyam. This is an authoritative scripture on the Mother worship. Many devotees though read it with all faith and devotion want to know what the story in brief is. Reading the English translation of the Sanskrit verses “as it is” would probably drown a person in extreme details and hence would lose the thread of the story. Here comes the importance of having a neat narration without the complexities of descriptions so that at one glance, the reader who is not conversant with Indian vernaculars gets the core teaching of this marvellous scripture.

I have no hesitation to point out that recently our devotee-brother Kissoon Behari sent me one such rendition that I was greatly elated at his attempt to put the prose in as simple terms as ever and understandable by even a child. I believe that the readers of this blog would surely find this not only interesting but also enlightening.

I shall proceed to post in continuation, Section-wise with the spiritual import behind each Section. The latter is added in order to encourage readers thinking in philosophical terms. What is given here is obviously the interpretation of the author and I am, as also you too are, aware that many more interpretations are available and many may come in the future. The 2nd instalment is scheduled to appear in this blog on the 31st October and the final, the 3rd instalment on 7th November 2012. 

Jai Sri Mahakali, Mahalakshmi, Mahasaraswati Sri Durga maayi ki jai !

A SUMMARY

by Kissoon Behari

SECTION ONE

CHAPTER 1

Rsi Markandeya tells his disciple how, by the grace of Mahamaya, Savarni, the son of Surya, became the eighth manu. He recounts the story of the king Suratha and a merchant named Samadhi.

King Suratha was a good king who treated his subjects well and protected his kingdom. When he was defeated by his enemies and betrayed by his own wicked ministers who had made themselves powerful in his absence, he left his kingdom and went into the forest. Here, he met a merchant Samadhi whose wicked wife and greedy sons had taken all his wealth and cast him away.

They both went to the beautiful hermitage of the Rsi Medhas. Although they were in the company of a great sage, the two men had no peace of mind.

The king presented their problem to the Sage: Without the control of his intellect, he was afflicted with sorrow. How was it that though he had lost his kingdom, he still had an attachment to all his royal trappings? And how was it that though the merchant had been cast out by his family and servants, he still felt unreasonable affection towards them?

The sage explained that not only ordinary men but even the wise are hurled into the whirlpool of attachment by Mahamaya. However, when She is propitiated, She becomes gracious and then She bestows material prosperity and success as well as devotion and spiritual knowledge, enlightenment and liberation. She is the Yoganidra of Lord Visnu.

When the two men became eager to know about the Devi or Mahamaya, the Sage unfolded to them the Glory of the Divine Mother by first narrating the story of Madhu and Kaitabha. (And then the stories of Mahishasura, followed by that of Shumbha and Nishumbha, in the second and third sections respectively.)

The slaying of MADHU and KAITABHA

Before creation, Lord Vishnu lay in mystic sleep. Lord Brahma, the Creator, sprang forth from the navel of the Lord. At the same time, two terrible demons, Madhu and Kaitabha, emerged from the wax of the Lord’s ears. They at once set out to kill Lord Brahma. Seeing that there was no help from the sleeping Lord, he sang a hymn to Mahamaya, now in the form of Yoganidra or sleep, covering the Lord. This hymn is called the ‘Tantrika Ratri Sukta’, or simply ‘Brahma Stutih’.

The Divine Mother was pleased, and withdrew Herself from the Lord who fought the demons for five thousand years with his bare hands. Then Mahamaya deluded the demons. They stopped fighting and in their arrogance they offered a boon to the Lord. He asked that they be slain by him at once. Trying to get out of their own trap, they asked to be slain where there is no water. The Lord placed them on his loins and severed their heads with his discus.

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SPIRITUAL IMPORT

The myths are allegorical, for the external conflicts represent our own internal conflicts. The demons are our own impulses in search of earthly and heavenly power and pleasures.

SECTION ONE / CHAPTER ONE

1 Lord Brahma as well as Madhu and Kaitabha are born from the Lord. Good and evil, creation and destruction – all have their source in the one God. God Himself, of course, is beyond these pairs of opposites.

2 Life is a complex of creative processes which involve a struggle with forces that attempt to hamper and halt their progress. The creative process is symbolised by Lord Brahma. On the other hand, the opposing and destructive forces are symbolised by the two demons.

Lord Brahma’s appeal to the Mother comes in the face of utter desperation. So, too, should be the pleas and prayers of the devotees. The devotee who surrenders to the Mother and appeals earnestly receives help.

3 To face the difficulties of the world, one needs a spiritual guide. Faith and devotion arise in the devotee. One becomes aware of a Higher Power. Suratha and Samadhi find Rsi Medhas who becomes their Spiritual Guide and shows them the way to final liberation.

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Delight of Devotees

A devotee who has had long association with monks of the Ramakrishna Order was telling me the other day that the direct disciples of Sri Ramakrishna were unique, each in his own way. He hastened to add that even today, though to a varying lesser degree, the monks are indeed special. Generally, a monk’s life is inward bound, so it is difficult to see externally the gem that each is. But when such monks occupy high positions or undertake such activities as to bring them within the ken of society, their uniqueness is visible to all. Swami Shantatmanandaji is one such monk who recently toured South Africa.

the soothing smile of Swami Shantatmanandaji...photo courtesy: Kavish

He is the present Head of the Delhi branch of the Ramakrishna Mission; this in itself is a comment on his leadership qualities, his admin abilities, his creativity and resourcefulness.

I used to wonder always when and where he took great interest in learning puja – the detailed methods of worship. In most of our branches daily puja of Master is according to the ten item method. The Special Puja of course consists of not only sixteen items of worship but also a much more expanded one. And what to speak of more specific pujas like Kali puja, Durga puja and Jagaddhatri puja which require besides expertise certain life styles too.

I came close to Shantatmananda in connection with Sri Sri Jagaddhatri puja during my tenure at Ranchi Sanatorium. That was an occasion to know more about the puja matters as he would patiently explain the science and art of many methods of worship to my varied silly questions! Sometimes our discussion would stray into those points pertaining to tantric worship. I was always just amazed at the depth and profundity of his knowledge and his ability to explain the esoteric and intricate processes in a most simple way.

It is little wonder that I looked forward with great expectation for his visit to our Centre here on a 15 day program. Though his days of itinerary were packed with hectic schedule – delivered 18 lectures in 13 days! (a detailed Report appended below) – yet during his stay here, many a post-meal time was spent in being with him thus gaining some memorable moments together leaving me wanting more! When we, monks from different parts of the world meet, (sometimes through skype too!) there is much ‘catching up’ to do. It was wonderful to listen to him about the proposed 150th birth Anniversary of Swami Vivekananda in 2013 all over the world and he lovingly ‘booked’ me for a program in Delhi! The unique combination of a sincere devotee and a serious  academic in him added a lot of ‘masala’ to our discussions.

Contrary to what I had heard of him (that he was in the habit of keeping a distance from devotees etc.), he spoke in a sweet and simple yet enlightening manner, whether at the dining table, in the foyer or at a public lecture with whomsoever he came into contact with. Instantaneously he became a spiritual delight of devotees.

What was his impression about his visit to South Africa and the devotees here? I quote a portion from his email that he wrote after returning to India:

Dear and Revered Maharaj,

What shall I write to you?  I am afraid, any attempt to pen down my feelings would fall far short of my true feelings.  The South Africa experience is something which only the truly blessed people get once in their lifetime.  I have never seen such a wonderful band of sincere, dedicated and devoted devotees anywhere outside India.  The officials and members of Exco — they are shouldering enormous responsibilities.  Hats off to them.  Revered Swami Saradaprabhanandaji is a truly amazing personality.  It is unbelievable how one can be so humble and self-effacing in spite of such capacity and talent.  My prayers to Master that he may continue to serve the devotees of South Africa for decades.  As for you I sincerely feel that you are the Master’s special gift to the devotees of South Africa.  Lord has blessed you with such a loving and affectionate heart and I am sure you are providing healing touch to thousands of devotees there.  Please convey my special regards to the Exco members…My special love and best wishes to devotees…My special prayers and best wishes to mothers…With deep love and humble pranams,

Yours affectionately,

Shantatmananda

Swami Shantatmanandaji arrived in Durban, on 15 July from Mauritius. On 17 July he was given a warm welcome reception that was held at HQ Ramakrishna Temple during Saturday weekly evening satsang where he spoke on Spiritual Life. Earlier in the afternoon he addressed a gathering of Youth members of the Centre on A Life of Purpose, Dedication & Service. His 15-day stay saw meeting with the officials and many devotees of our Centre, addressing different public programs, performing holy home-satsangs and giving interviews to spiritual seekers. He also visited Ramakrishna Sub-Centres in Gauteng, Dundee, Newcastle, Ladysmith, Estcourt in Northern Natal and Pietermaritzburg, Phoenix and Chatsworth in Southern Natal.

At Gauteng Sub-centre, Swami Shantatmanandaji gave his Keynote address on Glory of Guru on 18 July. From there, the next day, he was driven to Dundee Sub-centre where he gave his Address again on Guru. At Newcastle the officials took him to a few welfare sites where he saw how the humanitarian work being done. On 20 July he addressed a large gathering in Ladysmith Sub-centre where he spoke eloquently on Swami Vivekananda’s Message to the Youth. At Estcourt, on 21 July, the Swami explained the concept of Spiritual Journey.

A special satsang in honour of Swami Shantatmanandaji was held at our Pietermaritzburg Sub-centre on 22 July, when he conducted Guided Meditation and also addressed the congregation on Holy Mother. On 23 July he reached HQ in the morning where a number of lady-members of Sri Sarada Devi Women’s Circle were awaiting his arrival. They listened to him speaking about Women Empowerment and their role as Volunteers. At Chatsworth Sub-centre, in the evening, he gave a lecture on Welfare of the World – Why? & How?

The next day i.e., on 24 July at the evening weekly Satsang, held at HQ, he spoke on Swami Vivekananda as the Universal Preceptor. Earlier in the afternoon the Swami met the beneficiaries of Greenbury Welfare Project and addressed them on Faith in God – the First Step. On 25 July we celebrated Guru Purnima. In the Temple he performed a special worship with sixteen items called ‘shodachopachaar pujaa’. An hour later at the Nischalananda Hall there was a Public Meeting wherein Swami Vimokshanandaji, Swami Saradaprabhanandaji and Shantatmanandaji addressed a large congregation. The visiting Swami spoke on Sri Ramakrishna as Guru. On 26 July at Phoenix Sub-centre he spoke on How to obtain the Grace of God to the assembled devotees. On 27 July in the morning he addressed the Senior Citizen Forum members at the same Phoenix Sub-centre on the topic Aging Gracefully. A Class on Bhagavad Gita in HQ in the evening drew lot of appreciation. On 28 July evening he participated in a program organised by three Satsang Groups viz., Verulam, Etete and Tongaat. The venue was the famous Sri Veerabhoga Emperumal Temple at Tongaat. There he delivered a Talk on Religiosity vs Spirituality.

He was taken to Abalindi Home, one of the NGOs with which the Centre is associated for nearly a decade. The Ramakrishna Centre of South Africa has used a multi-dimensional approach in all its welfare activities over the last 65 years. This vision and strategy ensures that our support and services reach those in need in all areas of society irrespective of race, gender or creed. The Centre works with many NGOs with similar aims and objectives to provide much needed community services.  The Swami was overwhelmed at the plight of Terminally Ill Patients. He was all praise for the Centre’s help to this Home in giving a decent and dignified living just before death.

Being a Nature lover, a special visit was arranged by the officials of the Ladysmith Sub-centre to the world renowned Drakensberg mountains.

reading the incident of Gandhiji inscribed on a stone at PMB Station...photo courtesy: Rishie

That was a good relaxing experience for the Swami after a hectic tour of 7 days. So also his lively visit to Lions Park and Zoo and the century old Botanical gardens arranged by the officials of the Pietermaritzburg Sub-centre. They also took him to the historical railway station where Mahatma Gandhiji was thrown off the train. That was the place where ‘shivering through the winter night in the waiting room of the station’, Gandhiji made the momentous decision to begin his unique form of protest against racial discrimination called ‘satyagraha’. Visiting Ushaka Marine World to see the Dolphins’ dance and aqua creatures in the undersea ship wreck, the crocodile creek, the South Coast and also the famous Umgeni River Bird Park made him feel thoroughly rejuvenated.

On 29 July of his departure day, the Exco officials bid him farewell and thanked the Swami heartily for his brilliant and inspiring lectures.  The Swami, in his reply pointed out, his delight with devotees who are serving the Holy Trio with unconditional love and how he was brimming with joy in witnessing the Master’s work being carried out in South Africa so meticulously. He was full of praise of sincere devotees who served the Centre from decorating the altar to dishing out the prasad.

On the afternoon of July 29, Saradaprabhanandaji, officials and self saw him off at the Durban International Airport. On his way back to Delhi he would stop for a day in Dubai where he had two programs to attend.

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Spiritual sojourn

Welcome to South Africa!

Next Thursday night i.e., on July 15, 2010, His Holiness Sri Swami Shantatmanandaji Maharaj, the Head of our New Delhi Ramakrishna Mission branch will be with us in Durban.

Swami Shantatmanandaji Maharaj

He is eagerly looking forward to pay a 15-day visit to this Rainbow nation wherein he is scheduled to participate in the functions organised by our Centres. All arrangements to give a warm welcome to him at the King Shaka International Airport by Swami Saradaprabhanandaji, self and Chairperson Ramesh Ishwarlaal with some senior officials of the Centre are set.

I have fond memories of dear brother Shantatmanandaji’s amiable nature. I had the privileged moments to be with him especially during Sri Sri Jagaddhatri Puja for long 12 years in Ranchi Sanatorium.  He was the leader of a team of monks and volunteer-devotees who would without fail visit Ranchi in the month of Kartik (Oct-Nov), to conduct the renowned Puja. He could carry every one with him by his jovial and pleasant behaviour.

While accepting our hearty invitation to make a visit here, he said that he takes “the entire trip as a spiritual journey”.  He further said: “I have very wonderful and pleasant memories of the devotees of South Africa whom I had the occasion to meet in New Delhi during their trips to India.  So, I really look forward to this spiritual journey.”

In a communication to our Chairman Ramesh Ishwarlall, the Swami said: “The South Africa centre is growing from strength to strength every day under the wonderful leadership of your noble self and others.  I am sure it is going to occupy a very high position amongst our centres all over the world.”

Early days

Being a volunteer in the Bangalore Ashram, Shantatmanandaji known popularly as ‘Jaishankar Maharaj’ formally joined the Ramakrishna Math and Mission in 1977 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 1986. While in Belur Math, staying for 30 years, he had the blessed opportunity to come into close contact with several luminary-Swamis of the Order.

Stint of service

His expertise in the area of Financial Administration and Fund Management has been the cornerstone of the financial transparency and accountability at the headquarters of the Ramakrishna Mission, Belur Math (Kolkata). During his tenure, the branch centres of the world-wide Ramakrishna Mission received new impetus in streamlining their financial records and policies.

The other areas which continue to relentlessly engage him with Human Development are Disaster Management and Value Education. The Swami is a self-professed advocate of character building and man-making Value Education based on the universal insights, which are common to all spiritual traditions, as presented by  Vivekananda and Vedanta, which he feels should impact our educational structure and policies extensively.

Women, Youth and children

I visited in 2007 Sarada Seva Sangha, an NGO in the suburbs of Kolkata. This is managed by one hundred trained women volunteers. The  leaders of SSS went all the way to receive me and arrange a cultural program in honour of my visit which I shall ever cherish. Swami Shantatmanandaji was a pioneering influence in setting up this Organisation in the field of Women’s Empowerment, which is a developmental area close to his vision of Nation-Building. The Sangha is managed and administered by women and its focus area is the service of women and children.

Swami Shantatmanandaji is very close to youngsters and inspires them towards a life of purpose, dedication and service with a rare passion that is characteristic of the mission of Swami Vivekananda.

Outer ring Service

He is passionately involved in the interfaith dialogue leading to closer understanding between different faiths and is deeply committed to all peace initiatives.

Swamiji conducts regular discourses in English and Bengali as also in Tamil and Hindi in rare occasions.

After he took over charge of the Ramakrishna Mission, New Delhi, Swami Shantatmanandaji has visited Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Russia, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, France, Germany and Poland on lecture tours, besides visiting many cities in India on invitation to give lectures on different spiritual topics.

New Delhi Centre

Ramakrishna Temple at New Delhi Ramakrishna Mission

This centre was started in 1927 and made a branch of the Mission in 1930.

Activities at a glance:

1. A library with separate sections for children and university students. It had 43,177 general books, and 192 newspapers and periodicals.

2. A computer training centre with 762 students.

3. A free coaching centre for 95 children studying in municipal schools in and around the ashrama.

4. A homoeopathic dispensary, which treated 23,515 cases during the year.

5. A mobile medical unit, which treated 14,788 cases this year.

6. A modern free TB clinic at Karol Bagh, which treated 21,553 outpatient cases this year. Under the home treatment scheme, the clinic extended its medical services to patients unable to attend in person, through their contacts.

7. A medical centre in the TB clinic premises, providing specialist consultancy services. It served 49,083 patients during the year.

8. Religious activities: There were 257 religious discourses on weekdays and Sundays in the ashrama this year. Moreover, 100 occasional lectures were delivered in various cultural institutions and 101 value education programmes conducted in various educational institutions. Regular Sunday classes were held at Delhi University. Besides, the birth anniversaries of Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi and Swami Vivekananda were celebrated at the ashrama and in other localities in Delhi.

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Fascinating Festival

Marble Image of Sri Ramakrishna installed in HQ Temple

The first Children’s Cultural Festival (CCF) that I saw in Durban was in 2007, three months after I was posted to South Africa. I had attended earlier many such functions in India and had come to the conclusion that too long hours was too much to be my treat. Imagine the severity of the sting of sitting for seven hours! But here the situation was smartly different. I didn’t know how the time went by and it appeared only a few moments had just passed and I was jolted to understand that the function had come to an end!

The all-pervading spirit of Sri Ramakrishna could palpably be felt in all the children who were participating in various items. There were scintillating sketches, trend-setting talks, soulful singing and delightful dances. The quick succession of multi-items moving from one scene to the other on the beautifully decorated stage was indeed mesmerizing. Suffice it to say that I was captivated by the love and devotion the children displayed towards our Holy Trio.

In this connection I saw the tireless efforts of the teacher-devotees who started preparing the children during the vacation. They are verily like the unseen and unsung dew drops which in the small hours of the day fall silently on the buds and make them bloom so that the fragrance can be spread. And of course I cannot forget the devotee-officials who worked hard in arranging the logistics without which the completion of the Festival would not be in order.

From brother Swami Saradaprabhanandaji and also some of the senior devotees what I hear about the Cultural Festival sounds wonderful. How in those days this Festival would be called ‘Rally’! All the children of the ‘Ramakrishna Children’s Club’ would meet at an Annual Mass Rally. This term ‘Rally’ even today, is used when referred to in elders’ conversations. In years gone by the children with their youth siblings along with elders would assemble in a pre-selected spot and would make a procession through the streets of Durban in the early morning. You can see a few photos of old days by clicking the below links:

Children’s Rally 1

Children’s Rally 2

Who knows you may be marching in one of the photos as a little boy or girl ?!

In their march past, the children would give a ‘wake-up call’ to every Hindu who was ‘asleep’ to his pristine culture (pun intended) with band parties that wielded drum majorettes, bugles, whistles. I further understand that the now ubiquitous vuvuzelas were conspicuous by their absence!

The ingenuity of late Revered Swami Nischalanandaji in organizing ‘Rally’ to awaken the Hindu population to its great glorious past through the medium of children was indeed very productive in that the sustenance of Hindu culture in this country amidst entirely a different variety of culture was made possible.

Here are some more old photos of 4th Annual ‘Mass Rally’:

The old theme of ‘procession’ oriented Festival has in a few years metamorphosed into a stable program, taking from the diverse aspects of the preserved culture to play a role of ‘nation-building, character-making’ among the rising level of modern participation.

Today I am attending the Southern Natal CCF. (Northern Natal branches have their own Cultural Festival day. Earlier once I did write about the 2009 Northern Natal CCF.) The following branches are scheduled to perform: Chatsworth, Durban Central, Etete, Phoenix, Pietermaritzburg, Redhill, Richards Bay, Sydenham, Tongaat, Verulam and Sri Sarada Devi Ashram. I shall try to post the photos later which you may enjoy watching as a slide show.

I take this opportunity of wishing all participating branches every success in their various items. My following Message finds a place in a printed program published on the eve of the CCF, to be handed over to more than a thousand people who have started to throng the venue :

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My dear children, parents and well-wishers,

Om Namo Narayanaya!

This Children’s Cultural Festival now held in its 56th year is undoubtedly one of the great contributions of late Swami Nischalanandaji Maharaj, the Founder of the Ramakrishna Centre of South Africa. My humble prostrations to him. Propagation and preservation of Hinduism suitable to the Hindu masses and more importantly spreading the non-sectarian and broad-based teachings of Bhagavan Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi and Swami Vivekananda among the people living in South Africa was the goal he set before himself and he worked tirelessly to that end.

On this joyful occasion, Swami Saradaprabhanandaji  joins me in conveying our heartiest congratulations to all our children for their brilliant performance seen year by year. Notwithstanding the severe school homework and stressful projects, they have put in strenuous rehearsals of their allotted items. This is indeed a commendable achievement. Our  hearty appreciation is due to the unseen hands – especially the voluntary teachers and the the respective branch Committee members – that worked unselfishly “behind the scenes”.

What actually do we aim to achieve by holding the Children’s Cultural Festival?

– an awareness to increase the quality of life

– cultivation of spiritual values

– inculcating faith in God, the One Supreme Power

– developing mutual love and respect

– service to mankind

Though the number of children participating in our Sunday Schools have to our delight, seen a rise in recent years, yet we are painfully aware that vast majority is still remaining untouched. In this respect, the role of parents in coming forward to enrol their children cannot be over emphasized. Neglect by the parents, being the First Teachers of their children, will portend to the perils of the future family system. A happy family is the core unit of peaceful society. Home is definitely the first school.

I, therefore, earnestly urge parents to encourage their children to enlist them in the classes so that these innocent children do not become prey to modern ills. A wholesome, nourishing spiritual food given when they are young will be the source of strength in future when they will be able to face the newer challenges.

May the blessings of the Holy Trio be on all is our  prayer!

Swami Vimokshananda

President

Ramakrishna Centre of S.A.

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Maha Shivaratri

jagatah pitarau vande paarvati parameshwarau - I bow down to Paarvati and Parameshwar the parents of the Universe

Maata mey Paarvati Devi, Pitaa Devo Maheswaraha |
Baandhava Shiva Bhaktaascha Svadesho Bhuvanatrayam ||

Paarvati devi is my Mother, father is Maheshwara – Shiva.
Relatives are the devotees of Shiva and my own country is all the three worlds.

-Sri Adisankaracharya

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Dear Readers
Many thanks for the wonderful words of best wishes! And they have come just a day before and are coming during Mahashivaratri.
May He, the Bholaanaath with the divine mother Bhavaani, residing in every one’s heart, guide us at every step is my earnest prayer to Him.
Shiva means mangal. Auspiciousness. May that quality, by His infinite grace, abide in all of us in abundance!
With love and prayers
Swami Vimokshananda

courtesy: Dr S Adhinarayanan, India

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas! Image courtesy: Dr S Adhinarayanan, India

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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