Legacy lessons

1860 Legacy – why?

Sri Rajesh Gopie, the Playwright-Director
Sri Rajesh Gopie, the Playwright-Director

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.

What is India?

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.

And then, ‘What is India?’ Let us listen to Swami Vivekananda:

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.

What Program?

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.

from L to R: Ramesh Ishwarlall, Shivaprem, Bala Natesan, Swami Vimokshananda, Swami Saradaprabhananda, Dr JV Viranna, T Murugan, R Bindapersad

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.

Swami Vimokshananda inaugurating...

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’.

attentive assembled audience...

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?

Sri R Bindapersad of Aryan Benevolent Home Council

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.

Sri Bala Natesan and Sri Shivaprem of Divine Life Society of SA

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 of Sri Sathya Sai Central Council of SA

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.

Sri T Murugan of Saiva Siddhanta Sangam of SA

‘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.

Sri Ramesh Ishwarlall of Ramakrishna Centre of SA

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?

Swami Saradaprabhananda summarising...

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.