Morning tea-table on Tuesdays brings me regularly two visitors – Amar and Reeves, former a sports enthusiast and latter, a well-known attorney. For the past few weeks, Rajesh Gopie has also been joining us at the tea table. For those especially abroad who may not know him, let me simply tell you that he is a playwright-director. He is also well known locally as a stage, TV and a film actor. His next-door boyish looks indeed is deceptive. When he talks, his eyes spell out the emanating emotions. His recent production “The Coolie Odyssey” has been receiving rave reviews here. It presents the history of three generations of Indians in South Africa, the journey of our forefathers, the ‘indentured labourers’, ‘like no other told in this country’s theatre history’. Plays, musical melodies, cultural extravaganza, and many more media – all vie with each other in commemorating the 150th year of our ancestors’ arrival in this land. Rajesh aptly told me that all these attempts were nothing but ‘to make sense of who these forefathers were’ and simultaneously ‘to connect them to who we are today’. A very appreciable attempt indeed! And today there still are organisations that were started by the first or second generations. We at the Ramakrishna Centre were interested to know how these institutions have tried to enrich the community spiritually. The result was a Public Meeting.
It is said that when our forefathers came from India in 1860, they landed at Port Natal empty-handed. We forget to note that, yes, empty-handed perhaps but not empty-hearted! When they moved into the shores of South Africa what came with them was the pristine spirituality and priceless culture of that ancient land – India.
If there is any land on this earth that can lay claim to be the blessed Punya Bhumi, to be the land to which all souls on this earth must come to account for Karma, the land to which every soul that is wending its way Godward must come to attain its last home, the land where humanity has attained its highest towards gentleness, towards generosity, towards purity, towards calmness, above all, the land of introspection and of spirituality — it is India.
From this land came our forefathers 150 years ago. The first ship, s.s. Truro, brought 341 immigrants. For Indians in South Africa, this day, i.e. 16 November, has great significance – not only in remembering and paying homage to those undaunted souls but also to draw lessons from them so that the future course of our life stands well-guarded. In commemoration of this historical event, our Centre organised a program, held on 13 November at Nischalananda Hall.
The program included speakers from 5 organisations, with inaugural address by self and closing comments by brother Swami Saradaprabhanandaji.
What protects whom?
During these three and a half years of my stay in this country, I have been quietly admiring one wonderful quality of the SA Hindus, i.e. the intelligent adaptability to the ethos of this foster nation which has become the new-found Motherland.
While patronising this praise-worthy element of patriotism, I spoke on the need to preserve a unique religious identity – only because the Hindus never in their history have anywhere spread their ideas either with a sword or with power or pelf. They have been all the time peace-loving and wherever they have gone, whether as immigrants or as tourists, they have, like the unseen dews of the early morning, contributed to the promotion of amity and harmony. This was largely made possible because of adopting a life-style on the basis of Dharma. I added that if dharma is maintained at all costs, that dharma alone will protect the Hindus — ‘dharmo rakshati rakshitah’.
Another feature I spoke in praise of was the spirit behind the present grand achievement. Though being a minuscule minority, the presence of Indians is palpably felt in all walks of life such as Law, Medicine, Education, Engineering and the ubiquitous IT. Marked economic advancement makes us feel proud of our progress. In this connection, I recalled the caution that Swami Vivekananda gave to his countrymen – that ‘neglect of masses’ is the foremost reason for the downfall of India. I added that concerted efforts must be co-ordinated by the Hindu community. They should disperse all possible resources in caring and sharing for the multitude living in the densely populated areas. Otherwise it would definitely be a cause for deep concern.
What they said?
I must hasten to add here that no one should come to the conclusion that no welfare work is being done by the Hindu organisations. For the last nine decades, as per the 6th/9th principles of the Arya Samaj, the Aryan Benevolent Home Council has been rendering yeomen service to the community, especially to the aged and orphans. The Council runs several permanent institutions that are indeed a model to the society, said Sri R Bindapersad, the President of the Council, who explained in detail about each of the institution’s activities.
Inculcating dharmic principles in individual lives was stressed by the late revered Swami Sahajanandaji Maharaj, said Sri Bala Natesan and Sri Shivaprem, co-chairmen of Divine Life Society. They enumerated such principles as brahmacharya, prayer, rights and wrongs in workplace and on the roads, spiritual readings etc. They emphasised on the meaningful relationships that should be developed and maintained between the members of the family. It is noteworthy that the DLS has so far completed 400 social welfare projects and more than 10,000 ash-disposals have been done at Sivananda Ghat, a place used by Hindus of all denominations.
Dr J V Viranna, representing Sri Sathya Sai Central Council, gave a bird’s eye-view of the Value-Based Education in the Society. He said that without individual transformation, social peace cannot be achieved. He went on to describe how the intellect should be utilised in reaching the goal by comparing buddhi to a bird: Satyam and Ritam are its wings, Shraddha its head and Yoga the Tail. All these must be combined so that the bird may soar with ease. He said that according to Sri Sathya Sai Baba advancement in technology would not bring happiness. Love is essential; that must be the undercurrent behind every activity.
‘Faith in oneself and faith in God is needed to get success’ is an oft-quoted saying of Swami Vivekananda. One of the oldest Hindu organisations, Saiva Siddhanta Sangam, promoting Religion, Culture and Social Welfare, was represented by Sri T Murugan. He narrated extensively the turning point in the life of the Founder, the late Subrahmanya Guru Swamigal, who tirelessly spread the message of Faith in Lord Shiva everywhere. It was amazing to listen to Sri Murugan when he stated how Guru Swamigal, by his power of pranayama, lived one full day buried under the earth – and came out unscathed.
Hunger and thirst are the escalating factors in the sufferings of the masses, and the source of hunger is poverty. ‘Is there any cure for this worst malady?’ asked Sri Ramesh Ishwarlall, the Chairman of the Ramakrishna Centre of SA. He answered it by saying that two factors, namely, being industrious and getting educated, were the best ways to overcome this disease. He emphasised that all external service activities were to be carried out in the spirit of worship. While giving his presentation that detailed eminently all the varied activities of the Ramakrishna Centre, he advocated the policy of being ‘deeply Hindu and proudly South African’!
What result finally?
Listening to more than two and half hours of learned speeches, I was grappling with the difficulty of getting to my memory the salient points of each exponent. And right there came the help! In his inimitable way, brother Swami Saradaprabhanandaji rounded off the whole program with a brilliant summary. He pointed out that the progress of the nation presupposes the involvement of all communities. He further stressed on the need for a harmonious society that would pave the way for peaceful living. Then only will the best talent of each individual be manifested.
The Ramakrishna Centre has been always promoting Hindu culture through encouraging our children imbibing traditional music, dance etc. The students of the Nateshwar Dance Academy, in their splendid performance of the dance items, caught the attention of the public. Each dance in the classical style charmed everyone.
Under Southern Natal of the KwaZulu Natal Province, our Centre has sub-centres at Chatsworth, Phoenix, Pietermaritzburg, and Satsang groups in Redhill, Durban Central, Etete, Sydenham, Tongaat and Verulam. Northern Natal covers sub-centres at Ladysmith, Newcastle and Dundee and Satsang groups at Glencoe and Estcourt.
Truly speaking, all the devotees have the same thread of bhakti to the Holy Trio connecting everyone wherever they are. In this respect, the place one hails from has no importance. The Ramakrishna Centre has brought wonderful unity among all the branches by infusing a definite pattern of conducting satsangs, introducing dress code for men and women, inculcating committee-based administration and other levels of running the branches.
The devotees from Southern Natal actually have very many opportunities to meet me as most of them frequent our HQ at Glen Anil. They regularly attend almost all celebrations here. Not so with the devotees of the Northern Natal centres: I only meet them three or four times in a year.
Twice in one month
This year Estcourt became an exception to the above rule! In one month i.e., in October, I paid two visits within eleven days! Incredible! The first visit was on October 12 during the Navaratri celebration, and the second one was on October 24 at the Community Diwali Festival. Both these events were well attended by the prominent Hindu public of Estcourt.
By interacting with the devotees at Estcourt, I was most impressed by their utter earnestness. Whoever I met was simply earnest. Whether they were from the Ramakrishna branch or the Divine Life Society branch or the Sathya Sai branch or any other organisation, or for that matter simply sanatanis – all of them were earnest in giving their ears to my speeches. (mind you, my speeches are never short! not less than an hour!!)
The Second visit
The second visit, by Master’s grace, to Estcourt, was to take part in the Diwali festival. This was organised by the Estcourt Hindu Community in general. On that very morning I had to conduct the Gospel class at REGA Temple (Redhill) – where it went off well. Yash picked me up from the Temple and we proceeded directly to Pietermaritzburg in his car. All through the one hour drive the rains were torrential. The sun came out the moment we reached the home of the Chairman of the PMB Sub-centre! After having refreshing tea we, together with a few other devotees, left for Estcourt, to the home of the Esctcourt satsang group Chairman. This was followed by a sumptuous lunch and a brief but welcome rest. The devotees of our Estcourt branch had collected there and met me.
There is nothing like enjoying Diwali on the very Diwali night. How many millions of people are celebrating it! What plays in collective consciousness has a definite impact on the individual mind. Functions like Diwali are celebrated in families, societies; also at national and world level. So to desire the same amount of delight at a small community group level and that too not on the Diwali night but a few days earlier, may seem to be impossible to many. But not for me!
At exactly 4 pm, the Diwali function began with the ‘spiritual darlings’ (devotees’ children) leading me into the spacious Swami Sahajananda Community Centre hall. A traditional welcome was accorded to me. This was followed by fascinating items like bhajans, kirtans and then by captivating dances on the Divine Mother by children and adults separately.
Anil Ishwarlall Bridglall of Divine Life Society and his wife Gayatri’s melodious rendition of Sri Ram’s home-coming as described in Sri Ramcharitmanas was most spiritually elevating. He sings as it were with his soul poured into it! Changing tunes to different passages from the scripture made me feel the scenes from Ramayana were getting re-enacted before my closed eyes. Nitin Soni’s support on tabla was splendid. When my turn to give my Talks came and I had not even finished my opening words, there was an uproarious welcome to me by – guess whom? Lightning and thunder! and a downpour that made me stand still for a few minutes! Recovering from the Nature’s fireworks, I continued my Talks and stressed on three points:
1 – Pride in one’s glorious past, 2 – Diwali legends and 3 – Lighting the lamp of knowledge within.
After supper, the organizers lovingly invited me to witness the grand display of man-made fireworks. It was held on the opposite vacant grounds. The clouds had gone away. Pleasant dark sky was all that we could see. This time a rain without clouds! The burst of crackers and rockets, serially one after another, brought forth a rain of sparkles. Oh! what a riot of colours! To the delight of more than 400 crowded people, for a few moments the sky became luminous thus appearing to me the cosmic shakti caught the stars and held them near for us! Oh! twinkling little stars! How I wonder what you are!!
On Sunday, the 5th October the car drive took just one hour to Escourt. The MahaGayatri temple, there, was tastefully decorated for the sixth night of Navaratri festival. The devotees of Estcourt included devotees of other Hindu organisations as well like Divine Life Society, Satya Sai Sangh etc . With common prayers the function started that included my sixth night Talks. Here I spoke on ‘Devi and Her Splendour’. The devotees would not let me go after supper as they all sat with me in the adjoining hall where till eleven past interesting discussions took place.
From Estcourt I reached Pietermaritzburg by midnight. How I wished the next day would go off quietly with sufficient rest! But Mother had other plans, it seemed. The almost continuous incoming telephonic or otherwise messages on the sixth October did not allow me to forget my birthday, which I badly wanted. And when the evening came, I was taken to Pietermaritzburg centre. The program on the seventh night pleasantly included, among the set pattern, extra two items of dance on the bharatanatyam style by two school girls who performed exceptionally well. Here being the seventh night of Navaratri which was inter alia the first night of worship of Mother Saraswati, I dwelt upon Mother Sarada as the embodiment and imparter of knowledge.
Next day, by seven in the morning I was back at HQ. At Nischalananda Hall arrangements for Chandi yajna or Durga Hawan have been made in a huge scale. The chanting of entire scripture of Durga Saptashati was done followed by hawan with the mantra – ‘Aum Aim Hrim Klim Chaamundaayai Vichhe’ which was joined by all the assembled devotees. Cooked prasad was distributed thereafter. On the same eighth night, to a packed audience at the Ramakrishna Temple I spoke on the DeviMahatmyam. Especially the meaning of ‘Aim, Hrim and Klim’ bija mantras.
On the ninth night of Navaratri, Chatsworth centre had my penultimate Talks during which I narrated the three interesting stories and their significance as contained in Sri Sri Chandi.
The morning of the tenth day at HQ started with silent meditation and a short satsang. This was joined by all other centres in around Durban. The Durga images from Asherville, Chatsworth and Pietermaritzburg by the time arrived at the HQ and all the images were carried to sea for immersion. After a brief visarjan puja the images one by one, were immersed which was witnessed by a huge assembly of devotees. While Mother’s clay image floated on the sea waters, the devotees felt Her luminous image remained in their hearts never to leave. In his blessings to all devotees, our Most Revered President Maharaj, Swami Atmasthanandaji quotes an incident from the Life of Swami Vijnanananda, one of the Direct Disciples of Sri Ramakrishna:
“Revered Vijnan Maharaj is staying at the Math. Everyday, the priest starts the worship after offering pranam to him. Vijnan Maharaj asks him, ‘What is next?’ The priest describes… On the day of Navami, Maharaj asked, ‘What is there tomorrow?’ The priest replied, ‘After a brief dashopachar puja (worship with ten articles) in the morning, there will be darpan-visarjan (immersion in the mirror). And in the evening there will be immersion of the image.’ Maharaj asked again, ‘Where will you immerse the Mother?’ The priest replied, ‘Why, in the Ganges?’ Maharaj asked again, ‘In the Ganges?’ The priest replied, ‘Yes Maharaj, as is the practice every year.’ He (Swami Vijnananandaji Maharaj) said solemnly, ‘Mother is to be immersed in the heart only’. ”
[The Life and Teachings of Swami Vijnanananda, p.32]
And Navaratri concluded in a grand and unforgettable way on the Vijayadashami night with my Talks centering around Devi Saraswati during the night satsang.
My Vijaya greetings to all of you! Trust by the grace of Divine Mother, the Durga Puja or Navaratri at your place, as usual, would have been a spiritually stimulating and enjoyable experience.
Here of course, Mother made me travel (felt blessed) all the centres in Northern Natal. I left HQ on the very first evening of Navaratri for Talks at Asherville where Sri Sarada Devi Ashram is situated. The vibrant atmosphere there enlivened my Talks on Durga and Her manifold Names.
Next day I reached Newcastle for the noon lunch. The Navaratri second night was spent there. The program there included Puja, bhajans and my Talks. ‘Mahakali – Her Aspects’ was my pet theme that I dwelt upon. After supper, the devotees of Newcastle sat with me when we had lively discussion on religious life. Next day individual appointments were granted to devotees from morning 8 to 11.
My third night stay was at Dundee. The program at the Dundee shrine which is indeed so beautiful was in the set pattern including my Talks. Here I took up the subject of ‘Grace of Kali’. Next day again from morning 8 to 11 devotees of Dundee met me in groups and we had lively discussion on interesting subjects. Albeit tucked away from the mainstream land, living as if in a seclusion, the devotees of Holy Trio have undeniably kept up the spirit of love and service. The keen interest that the growing children of Dundee devotees took during discussions eminently suggested to me that they are really ‘thirsty’ for the right kind of knowledge about Hinduism.
I reached Glencoe by noon. My thinking that I would have a quiet lunch was taken a back seat when I found that old devoted lady had invited almost all the devotees of Glencoe! The evening program was held at the only Hindu Temple wherein a big cut-out of Devi Amba was kept in front of the presiding five deities – Ganesha, Shiva, Murugan, Vishnu, Ram. Here also the usual satsang pattern was adopted that included my Talks on ‘Three Functions of Energy’.
The children and devotees of Glencoe were always fascinating to me as their faces would instantly light up with devotion unbelievably. The post supper discussion went on and on till we realised that the time was fifteen minutes to one in the night and I rose for the rest! Next day from morning 8 to 11 the devotees and their children from Glencoe as well as Dundee assembled. The discussion continued till I got ready for departure for Ladysmith. They saw me off; and the parting was indeed so heart-rending especially when the children could not contain their tears!
Reached Ladysmith for the lunch. Selected devotees were there who all joined me in the sumptuous lunch that was served lovingly to all of us. Post-afternoon rest, I was taken to Ladysmith Centre where a strikingly enchanting shrine is there. Here also the usual pattern of satsang was followed with my Talks juxtaposed in between the items of program on the fifth night. ‘Mother’s Protection’ was the theme I chose to deal with. About 250 devotees who attended were served with supper in the nearby Civic Hall. Next day morning I went to the Centre where the Sunday School for children was in progress. I met all the different class students from kids level to adult level. I felt satisfied in witnessing the loving efforts put up by the voluntary teachers in imparting the cherished Hindu values through study of religious books.