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.

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.

Swami Saradaprabhananda

“Om namo Naaraayanaaya!”

Swami Saradaprabhanandaji
Swami Saradaprabhanandaji

With these auspicious words, I greeted this monk, on his arrival at Durban airport from India this morning. No, not any new monk from Belur Math, our international HQ in India but our well-known brother Saradananda – the Vice-President of our centre – who has been re-christened with a new name  “Swami Saradaprabhananda”! 

Henceforth he shall be known in this new name only. In India, he spent a little more than two months recently visiting different centres there.

The new name “Swami Saradaprabhananda”, was bestowed on the holy birth tithi of Bhagawan Sri Ramakrishna on Friday, 27 February, 2009.  That was the day he was inducted into the Ramakrishna Math & Ramakrishna Mission as a regular member of the Ramakrishna Order of Monks, when Most Revered President Maharaj – Srimat Swami Atmasthanandaji – was pleased to bless him with the “yoga-patta” of the new name.

On his arrival at Durban, Swami Saradaprabhananda was given a befitting welcome reception by the devotees and self at HQ’s Ramakrishna Temple at Glen Anil. In his reply to welcome address, Swami Saradaprabhananda explained his holy tour of Belur Math and other centres of the Ramakrishna Math & Mission in India and thanked everyone who had come to greet him.

It is well-known that the august Ramakrishna Order of monks was started by Sri Ramakrishna himself when he distributed the ochre cloth to his disciples in 1885. Explaining the raison d’être for the change in the name, I spoke about the tradition of this Order, as per which the names of the direct disciples of Sri Ramakrishna, and the names of the Presidents and Vice-Presidents of the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission and also the names of the Trustees were not to be used again. As such, the erstwhile name Swami Saradananda, – that was the name of Sharad Maharaj, a direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna – had to be replaced with a new name Swami Saradaprabhananda on his joining this holy Order.

Swami Nischalananda -The Gurudev
Swami Nischalananda -The Gurudev

The Trustees of the Ramakrishna Math had accepted the affiliation of the Ramakrishna Centre of South Africa which was formalized when I was appointed the President on Sri Rama Navami 2007. With the admission of Swami Saradaprabhananda into the Belur Math, the integration of the local Ramakrishna Movement started by Sri Swami Nischalanandaji Maharaj in 1942 into the worldwide Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission is complete. This had been the vision and prayer of Swami Nischalanandaji Maharaj and his disciple Swami Shivapadanandaji Maharaj. Due to historical reasons this integration was not possible earlier in our history.

Swami Shivapadananda
Swami Shivapadananda

I am here reminded of the earnest prayer of the holy saint Swami Shivapadanandaji at the  famous shakti peetha Kalighat Kali temple in Kolkata some years back. This was retold by a reliable source which I narrate for those who have not heard of it.

During one of his visits to the temple of Divine Mother Kali, Swami Shivapadanandaji stood silently at the barricade in front of the Mother doing his japa. The plate wherein the puja articles and a garland were placed was being carried by an attendant-devotee. As usual it was terribly a crowded day. Scores of people – men, women, children in their traditional costumes – have been queueing up in front of Mother Kali. Even the mantras uttered by the worshipping pujari (priest) was not audible. The pujari was seen taking the garlands from each and every devotee’s plates and placing them over the shoulder of the  Divine Mother.

Divine Mother Kali of Kalighat in Kolkata, India
Divine Mother Kali of Kalighat in Kolkata, India

Swami Shivapadanandaji had only one prayer…that was the Ramakrishna Centre of South Africa had to be duly affiliated with Belur Math. When?… was not the question, but, it had to be done. So, when he saw his attendant-devotee taking the garland plate to the pujari, the Swami made a prayer and wanted to know mentally from Mother, whether She had accepted his prayer! He wished in his mind that if the pujari took the garland and kept it at the holy feet of Kali, then, that would be a definite indication that She has granted his prayer. This was not expected as the pujari was wont to place the garland on the neck of the Mother.

But, lo! the Mother confirmed! When the pujari received the Swami’s garland, suddenly he turned and amidst the din and bustle of the crowd, he simply placed the garland at Mother’s feet instead of placing it on Her shoulders. That was enough for Swami Shivapadanandaji. He narrated this incident to Swami Saradaprabhananda and told him to keep up the confidence in Mother’s grace by which one day this Centre’s affiliation to Belur Math would be an accomplished task. 

May Mother Kali bless all the devotees here and everywhere!


Bespoken behind

In criticising another, we always foolishly take one especially brilliant point as the whole of our life and compare that with the dark ones in the life of another. Thus we make mistakes in judging individuals.

 – Swami Vivekananda in Notes from a lecture on Bhakti Yoga 

Swami Akhandananda "Baba Maharaj", a direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna
Swami Akhandananda

 How many of us can refrain from critisizing others in spite of reading again and again the wonderful precept of Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi who advises ‘not to find fault with others’? Most Revered Srimat Swami Vireswaranandaji Maharaj was once the butt of criticism and of all persons, the ‘fault’ was reported to no less than a direct disciple of the Master, Sri Ramakrishna. He was Swami Akhandanandaji, the popular ‘Baba’, known otherwise ‘Gangadhar Maharaj’ (Swamiji named him ‘Ganges’). He was childlike and was quick to correct himself when his actions ran contrary to the definite words of Swami Vivekananda, even when pointed out by junior monks. He bore great love for Swamiji. The following reminiscences by Swami Vireswaranandaji are indeed interesting and instructive, and bear testimony to “Baba” Maharaj’s love of Swamiji. Swami Vireswaranandaji was the Tenth President of the Ramakrishna Order and my holy sannyasa Guru. These excerpts were taken from the new book “Swami Akhandananda – As We Saw Him” published by Advaita Ashrama, Kolkata.

Bespoken behind does, it gives pain but also seems to do some good to the receiver of criticism! When ‘wounded to his depths’ which means deeply hurt because someone spoke wrong things in your back, how does a man reacts? Let’s hear what Swamiji wrote to “a dear one”:

 “the whole of life is only a swan song! Never forget those lines:

The lion when stricken to the heart, gives out his mightiest roar.

When smitten on the head, the cobra lifts its hood.

And the majesty of the soul comes forth,

only when a man is wounded to his depths!

written by Swami Vireswarananda

I shall now recount one or two incidents to illustrate the Swami’s deep love and reverence for Swami Vivekananda. Once when I was staying at the Advaita Ashrama, Gangadhar Maharaj was for some time at the Kolkata residence of the Rani of Puntia, whose grandsons were the disciples of Swami Saradananda. A devotee who was staying for one or two days at Advaita Ashrama, spent a little money and fed the monastics with rasagollas and green coconuts during the noon-meal. As we finished our meal, a monk arrived from the Udbodhan. He too had a share of sweets and coconuts.

Later he met Gangadhar Maharaj and said to him, ‘Maharaj, today there was a sumptuous feast at the Advaita Ashrama. There were plenty of rasagollas, what to speak of green coconuts!’ And then he added, ‘Maharaj, you are here and there was such a big feast at Advaita Ashrama, and they did not invite you?’

On hearing this, the Swami said like a boy, ‘How strange! I am here so near, and Prabhu did not invite me? Wait, let him come!’

The monk came back and said to me, ‘I have lodged a big complaint with Maharaj against you. Wait, when you meet him this time, you will see the fun.’

A few days later, I went to visit Gangadhar Maharaj. After I saluted him and sat at his feet, the grandchildren of the Rani of Puntia and one or two monks – among whom was the one who had reported against me – all sat down there, eager to see what would transpire. Gangadhar Maharaj sat very grave, uttering not a word. I too kept mum.

After a while he said, shaking his index finger at me, ‘I have something to say against you.’

‘I too have something to say against you,’ I replied.

‘What have you got to say against me?’

‘Please tell me first what you have to say. After looking into your charge-sheet, I shall speak out what I have to say.’

‘Then fix up a judge,’ said Gangadhar Maharaj, like a little boy.

‘You will be the best judge,’ I said.

‘How can I be the judge when I have brought an accusation against you?’

‘I have faith in you only, rather than in anyone else present here.’

 ‘Well, then, let it be so.’

Then he said, ‘You had such a big feast over there and I am staying so near. Yet you did not care to invite me?’ ‘It was not really a feast, Maharaj,’ I said. And then I explained the whole matter to him. Finally I added, ‘This monk here has, for nothing, reported to you against me. And you too expressed a grievance without enquiring from me what actually had happened.

Swamiji has said, ‘If anyone is at fault, call him and speak to him; don’t tell anything to anyone else.” But, Maharaj, you have acted differently.’

No sooner did I refer to Swamiji than Gangadhar Maharaj declared, ‘You have spoken rightly. It was my mistake.’ Saying this he pointed to the monk who had lodged the complaint and said, ‘This fellow has created all the rumpus.’ And everybody began to laugh.

Two things are to be marked in this episode: firstly, the profundity of Gangadhar Maharaj’s reverence and devotion to Swamiji; and secondly the trait of a great soul manifest in him – that is, acknowledging his mistake to a junior brother like me. None of us would have acted like that.

Then I said to him, ‘Maharaj, I have won the case. Now I will have to claim damages from you.’

‘All right, tell me what you want as damages.’

‘You have to pay a visit to the Advaita Ashrama. There you will have to take your lunch, take some rest, and then after having your afternoon tea, return before the evening.’

‘All right, I’ll go,’ Maharaj agreed. Thus, one day he came to the Advaita Ashrama in the morning and stayed on. But just after his lunch he said, ‘Now I shall leave.’ It was summer time. In those days there were no taxis as there are nowadays. The entire distance from Wellington Lane to Shyambazar he would have to cover by horse-cab. Realizing that it would be very hard for him to go in that scorching sun, I said, ‘The agreement was, Maharaj, that you would go back towards evening, after taking your afternoon tea here. You can’t possibly leave now.’ ‘No no, I must go right now,’ he said.

In order to hold him back, I felt compelled to say, ‘Maharaj, kindly stay on. If you do, I’ll feed you with a new thing you have never tasted before.’ ‘What new thing can you feed me, boy? I was the guest of so many kings and wealthy persons. I have travelled in so many lands, eaten many a variety of food. What new thing can you possibly give me to eat or drink?’

‘Whatever you may say, the thing I am going to offer you has surely never been tasted by you before.’

‘Well, let me see what you are going to give me. I am staying on.’

I felt much relieved thinking that, at all events I could at least stop his trip in this hot sun. As soon as it struck four, Maharaj called out to me, ‘Where is the new thing you promised? Bring it quick.’ After he had gone for his rest, I had prepared some coffee and kept it on ice to cool it. In those days, there were neither coffeehouses nor refrigerators in Kolkata. I offered him glassful of that cold coffee. He drank it and was very glad. He said, ‘Really, such a thing I had never tasted before.

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