Swami Shivanandaji, a direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, once observed: “If you want to achieve anything substantial in spiritual life, visit Belur Math, stay here and do spiritual practices. It is for this purpose alone that Swamiji dedicated his life and founded this Math.”
The spiritual current that flows in Belur Math is carried to all its branches, affiliates, sister-centres and therefore undoubtedly visiting any of them is indeed a pilgrimage.
A bus full of devotees from Ladysmith sub-centre decided to undertake a pilgrimage to three centres in Durban and I am glad to present a Report, penned – nay! composed in a Word Processor as the modern youth are wont to – by Akshay Mootheeram who is a youth member of the Sub-Centre there. Images courtesy: ‘Yushavia‘
Aum Namo Narayanaya!
It was Sunday the 31st of January 2010.
At approximately 05:30, as the crimson sun raised its beautiful head only to reveal but a peak of sunlight amidst the darkness of the early morning, our bus filled with 76 devout and enthusiastic men, women and children alike, from the Ladysmith Sub-Centre set out on an prayerful pilgrimage to Durban.
Pilgrimage to Durban?
Yes, it was certainly a pilgrimage to Durban where we were to visit the Headquarters of the Ramakrishna Centre of South Africa in Glen Anil, the Phoenix Sub-Centre as well as the Sri Sarada Devi Ashram in Asherville.
Although many of the devotees of Ladysmith Sub-centre had visited these Ashramas at some or other time, it was truly special to travel in unison, as a group with the same frame of mind and moreover, in the greater sense, as a family.
Of course, belonging to an organization of this stature, one can expect only but the best in terms of service, safety and comfort, without any compromise. Therefore, a program was planned for the bus which commenced with the Opening Prayers, which was to be followed by the chanting of the Hanuman Chalisa and other kirtans. Although many of the devotees were still dreary from the early morning, everyone joined together in the melodious singing of these kirtans. The atmosphere thus created was serene and calming, soothing the minds of the devotees who were focusing on the great events that were about to unfold.
At approximately 08:30 we arrived at Headquarters. The sight of the majestic Ashram was overwhelming. After being warmly received by the devotees at Headquarters we proceeded to the shrine to offer our pranams to Master, Mother and Swami Vivekananda. We were then briefed in the day’s proceedings and subsequently moved to the Swami Nischalananda Hall where we were served a light, yet refreshing, breakfast. Our Revered President Maharaj, His Holiness, Sri Swami Vimokshanandaji Maharaj, addressed us, both welcoming and blessing all the Devotees. In his short address (because of his prior appointment at Chatsworth Sub-centre), he pointed out the utter usefulness of studying Ramakrishna-Vivekananda literature everyday. He added that by such studies, the ever-lasting ideas that the Holy Trio gave out for the world, would slowly sink into our mind and would be conducive for our spiritual sadhana.
Brother Ramesh Ishwarlall, who is the Chairperson of the Centre, then took us all on a grandeur tour of the premises. For many devotees, this was their first exposure to Centre’s Ashram grounds, facilities and buildings. We then reassembled in the shrine to enjoy a blessed satsang and meet His Holiness, Sri Swami Brahmarupanandaji Maharaj who blessed us all. He is a senior monk, South Africa-born, had come from India on a visit. Sadly however, we departed at 09:10 feeling the brief stay, instead of satisfying only kindled our thirst for spending more time. We left for the Phoenix Sub-Centre to meet with His Holiness, Sri Swami Saradaprabhanandaji Maharaj.
Once again we were most warmly received not only by the devotees, but by Swamiji Himself. We all then proceeded to the shrine where a 30-minute satsang was held. The ambience in the shrine was phenomenal and left us all speechless, including Swamiji Himself. Next we assembled in the waiting rooms of the Ramakrishna Centre of South Africa Clinic where we were addressed by Sister Veena Singaram and Advocate Kessie Naidoo, who enlightened us on the activities of the Phoenix Sub-Centre focusing on the program for Youth Development, but moreover, by Swami Saradaprabhanandaji Maharaj who really inspired us all. This was followed by a DVD presentation presented on the breath-taking advancement of the IT industry in India.
The next event was one that everybody anxiously looked forward to…Lunch! Yes, lunch was served with the highest feeling of love and care, we all feasted on the delicious food which was thoroughly prepared by the devotees at Phoenix.
Finally, we concluded the program with a DVD entitled ‘Mind Your Language’ which spread waves of chuckles amongst all present, creating a light-hearted and relaxing atmosphere.
But the highlight of our Phoenix trip was the opportunity to meet with His Holiness, Sri Swami Saradaprabhanandaji Maharaj who spoke to each and every devotee individually. We then left the Ashram, with happiness and peace in our hearts, and proceeded in the early afternoon towards Asherville.
On our arrival at the Sri Sarada Devi Ashrama, yet again without fail, the warmest of welcomes was presented to us.
We immediately proceeded to the shrine for a satsang which was thoroughly enjoyed by all. Promptly thereafter we were served refreshments and had the opportunity of spending a few brief moments with Her Holiness Ishtaprana Mataji and Her Holiness Divyanandaprana Mataji. As much as would have liked to stay, unfortunately the time came for us to depart.
There could have been no better way to end our pilgrimage than at Holy Mother’s Ashram. Somehow, the day now felt totally complete and fulfilled.
At 16:00, we boarded the bus and departed from Asherville with complete peace of mind, thanking within, one and all who made the memorable event a truly remarkable. A pilgrimage worth to ponder in a period yonder!
Jai Sri Thakur!
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.
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.
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.
Today is the first night of navaratri which is holy and auspicious to all Hindus. Here in SA, the Divine Mother Goddess Durga is worshipped in Her three aspects as Mahakaali, Mahalakshmi and Mahasaraswati, three nights each during this nine-day celebration. Not only Sri Ramakrishna kept in his room several pictures of Gods and Goddesses but also advised devotees to do so. “Divine feeling is awakened through such pictures” he said. Once he went all the way to see a home of a devotee, hearing that he had a large collection of religious pictures! You can also enjoy seeing one hundred ninety-nine ennobling pictures of Hindu Goddesses, one hundred twenty-seven of which especially on Durga at this Flickr site. The Lord of Durga – Neelakantha Shiva has eleven aspects that are called Rudras. The Shiva puraana speaks about the Eleventh Rudra who incarnates as Sri Hanuman. I am thankful to Simon Ram of UK who gave permission to place a rare picture of Hanumanji with Gauri-Shankar which you can find at the bottom of this post.
The drawing and a write-up on Visual Art Work that is displayed in a box down below, is by one 14 year old school student who regularly attends our Sunday School for Children. Presently this boy is schooling at Ladysmith High School and in Gr.9. His name is Yashteel Raj. He attends the Ramakrishna Centre – Ladysmith branch. He also enjoys reading and learning about Hindu religion through stories like the Ramayana, etc. Recently he wrote to me an email which I reproduce here:
Om Namo Narayanaya Swamiji
It was very good to see you on Saturday after such a long time.
I had to make an artwork about my culture this week and I was so inspired by your talk on Sri Hanumanji that I made a drawing of him carrying the Drona Mountain. I wanted to show you how it looks – I hope you like it.
Mom, Dad and Chiara also send their pranams.
Yes, beta Yashteel, I am immensely pleased to see your art work. Congrats! Indeed, your devotion to Sri Hanumanji has brought Hanumanji’s grace to you and you have excelled in it. May He bestow you the three essential things which Tulsidasji, in his mystical prayer hymn, demands from Sri Hanumanji – bala, budhi, vidya!
Arts & Culture:
Visual Artwork Project
What is Culture?
Culture, as I understand it, is a word which describes an individual’s lifestyle. One’s culture is basically their way of life: their social and religious norms, cuisine, literature, and choice of music and art. Culture thus consists of person’s customs and traditions.
What is your Chosen Culture and
Why can it be defined as a Culture?
I have chosen to make my artwork about my own “hybrid” Hindu culture as it would be personal and I already know much about it.
My chosen culture can be described as a culture as it includes all of my social and religious norms. It consists of the food I eat (spicy) and governs, to an extent, the type of literature, art and music I come into contact with. It also consists of all of my customs and traditions.
My religion plays a very important part in my culture, so I chose to make an artwork which is relevant to it. My artistic talent lies in drawing; hence I chose to depict an event from the epic tale, the Ramayana, in this form. Here Lord Hanuman carries the huge Drona Mountain on his shoulders, from the Himalayas to Lanka, as it contains the rare sanjeevani herb required to heal Lakshmana.
What I found Difficult
I faced many difficulties while creating my artwork and tried to overcome them as best I could. These problems were:
- My colouring was uneven and looked bad, so I “smudged” or “shaded”.
- Some garments blocked vital muscles, so I made them semi-transparent.
- I had some trouble drawing Hanuman’s hands and feet, but I got it right in the end.
- Lord Hanuman’s ape-like mouth was hard to blend in to the face so I experimented with sfumato.
- It was hardest for me to give texture to Lord Hanuman and the mountain. I tried utilizing tonal value to aid me in my plight.
What I Learnt and Enjoyed
- I learnt how to draw another type of abdomen and six-pack, which stems from “Hercules-type” animation.
- I discovered how to add tonal value to give texture and depth to an artwork.
- Shading, in some cases, is more effective than colouring.
- If you shade on differently textured surfaces, their texture will be implied on your artwork. This can be a easy way to create texture.
- I enjoyed drawing Lord Hanuman and experimenting with different muscle-types and colours, etc.
I really liked making this artwork. Drawing is lots of fun and I really enjoyed expressing my culture in this form.
When the Conference on Hinduism held at Ladysmith Civic Centre on Sunday 6, September, 2009 concluded amidst chanting of vedic mantras as closing prayers, when the delegates started departing in a mood of delight, all of us felt that the ideas that were discussed so forcefully would ever remain etched green in our memory-land and to say in the words of one of our Blog readers from Ladysmith “What a marvellous conference we had! Many thanks are due to the Master for making this occasion possible…There is no doubt that all who attended benefited not simply from the content, but also from the holy company.” My hearty thanks go to Reantha Pillay, a student-devotee, who has penned this brilliant Report – on the same day, in spite of the long distance to & fro travel – that would, I believe satisfy the curiosity of those who could not attend the Conference. I am giving below the Part II of the Report. I am also thankful to devotee Rishienandan of Pietermaritzburg subcentre for the excellent photos.
Today is September 11. In 1893, on this same date Swami Vivekananda addressed the Parliament of Religions at Chicago, USA. This lecture practically catapulted him as an international figure. The last line of his famous lecture succinctly gives the gist of Hinduism: I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honour of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal.
Report – Part II
The captivating centerpiece of many who attended the Conference will undoubtedly be the paper delivered by Swami Saradaprabhanandaji Maharaj, Vice-President of the Ramakrishna Centre of South Africa. He spoke on Reconciling Religious Conflicts in a Family. Maharajji’s focus areas were Inter-Religious marriages and Hindu intra-marriages i.e. marriages between Hindus of different linguistic/faith backgrounds. After Maharajji’s humorous disclaimer that the paper will not bring an end to parental worry nor end the debate on this issue, Maharajji began what was to be an insightful and most interesting paper.
Maharajji established the fact that Inter-belief marriages have occurred since the Rig Veda, that is some 5000 years ago and therefore cannot be said to violate the spirit of Hindu Dharma. Post establishing the social validity of this practice, Maharajji went on to illustrate how it could be generally beset with unending problems. However, Maharajji in a positive note, pointed out that despite its inherent problematic nature, there are inter-religious marriages that have proven successful and this was dependent entirely on the couple and their genuine love for one another and also their ability to sustain a successful marriage. Maharajji urged parents and the general members of society to be flexible and cautioned against attempting to break a relationship founded on strong pure love. At this junction Maharajji warned about the greatest casualty – children and the uncertainty they experience when these marriages begin to flounder. He also addressed the Inter-sect marriages saying that they were not as problematic and marital success could be assured with little difficulty. His 6 practical tips for parties contemplating such a union are:
- Premarital counselling
- Beware of Conversion
- Acquire negotiating skills to resolve conflict non violently
- Address the issue of an Identity Crisis
- Foster Communication Skills
- Avoid destructive family bigotry
Swami Saradaprabahanadaji concluded in saying that marriage is a means to attain God realisation and a vibrant Hindu marriage can attain this whilst simultaneously bringing peace to a family.
The third paper presented was entitled Leadership qualities and Responsibilities of the Mother and was by Ms Veena Singaram, a lecturer. Ms Singaram looked briefly at the various challenges facing Hindu women, such as the need to balance the roles of a wife, mother and leader. She also briefly looked at various aspects of leadership and identified the key qualities necessary to be a leader. Ms Singaram drew from the wealth of great Indian women such as Sri Sarada Devi, the epitome of purity and unconditional love, as well as many other historical personalities. She also looked at great men such as Gandhiji, Washington and Lincoln who honoured their mothers. Ms Singaram advised the audience that motherhood in its nature encapsulates leadership as they require similar traits. She ended on a very practical note providing Hindu mothers with a few important gems of advice namely :
- Parents must imbibe positive qualities
- They must attempt to and subsequently gain an understanding of their children.
- “Practice what they preach”
- Educate their children on religious and cultural issues.
The final paper was delivered by Senior Counsel, Advocate H Kessie Naidu, entitled Balancing Hindu values with Westernization. Advocate Naidu drew from the inspiration of Swami Vivekananda, whose role in modernizing Hinduism and embracing western science cannot be denied. Advocate Naidu acknowledged many aspects of westernization – technology, medicine and the decreasing importance of caste system through constituent democracy. He did, however, caution the audience of the pervasive and persuasive nature of westernization and its effect on our dress, language and lifestyle. He then addressed this issue of Hindu values which lay hidden in the intricacies of our scriptures such as non-violence and the sanctity of life. Advocate Naidu attributed the rise in promiscuity and the death of our vernaculars to mindless attachment to westernization.
He concluded by stating that awareness of the essential values of Hinduism is necessary and thereafter one is required to discern and select the positive aspects of the western world. In this he echoed Swami Vivekananda’s teaching that India should not simply imitate the west but rather absorb and assimilate some western ideals whilst retaining our glorious spiritual heritage. Advocate Naidu’s paper was entertaining and highly relevant given the times we live in.
The conference was concluded with a panel discussion that generated great interest. Prompted by the astute questions posed by the members of the audience, the panel consisting of Dr Behariram (Graduated from Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine with a Masters in Family Medicine Degree. Presently manages the Crisis Centre at the Ladysmith Provincial Hospital, working exclusively with survivors of sexual assault especially children) and Rakhi Beekrum (Master of Social Science (Psychology) University of Kwazulu Natal. Counselling Psychologist at Student Counselling Centre of the Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine and runs a private practice in Durban) handled the queries enthusiastically. Questions were fielded at the paper presenters too who did not lag behind in giving quality responses them.
I cannot conclude this Report without mentioning about the Director of Ceremonies for this Conference. She was Veni Govender, an eminent Educator of Ladysmith and also a devotee of the Ramakrishna Centre there. The spirited way she started the program, the vigorous manner she veered the responses, the creditable control that she could exercise over the floor and above all the dynamism that she displayed in directing the program cannot but be applauded.
There can be no denying that audience delegates walked out feeling far more equipped to deal with the challenges facing Hindu families. The Conference was undoubtedly a resounding success which harbours only good for families of the future.
The delightful dawn on the 6th September while driving from Durban, drew us close to one of the historically important town in the Northern part of KwaZulu Natal province, Ladysmith where the Conference on Hinduism was scheduled. A little more than 400 delegates started arriving in batches at the venue, Civic Centre Hall from 7.30 am onwards. The Conference has generated keen interest among the professionals like educators, advocates, social workers, psychologists, doctors and in an equal measure among the common Hindu population. I had said in my previous post that I would try to place a Report on the proceedings of this august Conference. My hearty thanks go to Reantha Pillay, a student-devotee, who has penned this brilliant Report – on the same day, in spite of the long distance to & fro travel – that would, I believe satisfy the curiosity of those who could not attend the Conference. I am giving below the Part I of the Report. I am also thankful to Rishienandan of Pietermaritzburg subcentre for the excellent photos.
Report – Part I
From time immemorial the family has been the foundational unit of Hindu society; however, in today’s fast paced society, the family system of old seems to face obstacles at every corner. Divorces, domestic abuse, lack of communication and the ever changing role of women – all these factors present serious challenges to Hindu families. It is with this in mind that the Hinduism Conference for 2009 focussed on Hindu Families – Challenges and Solutions. The aim of the Conference was to identify the emerging problems and equip the Hindu community to deal with them.
Ladysmith Sub-centre played host to this important event held at the Civic Centre from 9 am to 1 pm on Sunday, 6 September, 2009. The tastefully decorated venue with the centre of stage occupied by the huge portraits of the Holy Trio, the hall, equipped with data projectors and rows of tables catered for the many delegates from all over KZN and allowed a comfortable environment to listen to the esteemed panel of speakers. At this stage I must compliment the Ladysmith Sub Centre on a most well-organised and enjoyable, educative conference.
The proceedings began with the Opening Prayer led by Pravrajika Ishtaprana Mataji, Head of the Sri Sarada Devi Ashram, Asherville. In her mellifluous voice, Mataji chanted the three most famous pranam-mantras on the Holy Trio. She was accompanied by another nun – Pravrajika Divyanandapranaji – who had recently come from India to stay and serve at Sri Sarada Devi Ashram. This was the latter’s first visit to Ladysmith. The Ladysmith Subcentre welcomed her with an offering of flower bouquet.
Swami Vimokshanandaji Maharaj, President of the Ramakrishna Centre of SA, gave his inaugural address. The address posed the ever relevant question, “Does the Hindu family system have utility in the modern era?” Maharajji brought to the attention of the audience that the traditional family system is still valid and whatever disintegration that our society experiences, needs to be addressed in order to revive old values. Maharajji then looked at some of the challenges facing the Hindu family.
Firstly, Maharajji identified the lack of the extended family unit in modern times. Here a humorous story about a daughter-in-law not wanting to disturb the “duties of the household” regaled the audience. On a more serious note, Maharajji looked at the wealth of knowledge, wisdom and culture that is being lost with this relinquishment of the extended family model. Secondly, Maharajji addressed the Inter-Religious and Intra-Religious divides that plague our Hindu marriages and highlighted the need to address this issue. Thirdly, Maharajji dealt with the eroding of the key concepts of Dharma and Karma in our family system. He highlighted rebirth as a means for the continuation of traditions and as service to society as well as the importance of self sacrifice for the good of the family, community, country and world at large.
In conclusion, he stressed the important role families play in society in the furtherance of our Hindu tradition and contrasted this to the unitary family system of the West. Hindu families are based on the age-old principle, Vasudeiva Kutumbakam, the whole world is one family permeated by God. The final message was that we need to urgently address the obstacles that prevent us from achieving this ideal.
Maharajji’s inaugural address set the scene perfectly for the four papers that were to follow. In an email conversation, a Counselling Psychologist had this to say about the Inaugural Address: …it was a pity that it was too short. Maharaj should consider presenting a paper in future. It is amazing that being in South Africa for only a few years that Maharaj has developed such insight into the lifestyles and family problems of people in South Africa. Maharaj has made some very interesting and valid points that I hope will be elaborated on in the future.
The first speaker of the morning was Ms Aruna Chetty, an ardent and long standing devotee of the Ashram as well as a social worker. She is presently the Director of Phoenix Child and Family Welfare Society. Ms Chetty’s topic was Creating Security and Family Stability. She began by outlining this concept of safety and security and focused first on the right ways of upbringing of the children. Ms Chetty advised the audience on four key issues.
Firstly, that there are only two ways to teach your children lasting values and they are intense love and personal example. Secondly, children require a set of routine in order to feel stable and secure. Thirdly, one’s home must create a suitable environment for the child’s development. Here she provided a few simple tips to help improve the home environment such as daily meals together and a designated place to pray. Lastly, she warned busy parents that a child’s love cannot be bought by material goods and that it is important to focus on their moral and spiritual aspects and not merely their secular education. Ms Chetty highlighted commitment, communication and correctional discipline as three key concepts required to make a family safe and secure. Ms Chetty’s paper was highly practical and afforded parents a clear guide to creating stability and security in the home.
After the presentation of this paper the conference broke for tea.
to be continued…
This year the Annual Hinduism Conference is hosted by our Ladysmith branch, scheduled on Sunday, 6th September, 2009. The theme is Hindu Families – Challenges and Solutions. It is no doubt interesting but also topical. Dr Aruna Chetty, Director of Phoenix Child and Family Welfare Society will deliver a paper on ‘Creating Security and Family Stability’. Brother Swami Saradaprabhanandaji will speak on ‘Reconciling Religious Conflicts in a Family’. The Third paper will be presented by Veena Singaram on ‘Leadership Qualities and Responsibility of the Mother’. Advocate H Kessie Naidu SC will present the Fourth paper on ‘Balancing Hindu Values with Westernisation’.
Panel Discussion and Questions session will be conducted by Dr Behariram and Rakhi Beekrum. The Inaugural Address will of course by me. The Opening Prayer will be lead by Sister Pravrajika Ishtapranaji of Sri Sarada Devi Ashram, Asherville. I shall try to present a Report later on the proceedings of this prestigious Conference.
Below here is the Invitation:
Gurudev Swami Nischalanandaji was the Founder of the Ramakrishna Centre of South Africa. Every year, during his birthday weekend some program or other is arranged in various ways. This year, on the 84th birth anniversary, our Centre held a Seminar on Religious Education.
Following erudite Papers were presented to the delight of all the listeners accompanied by captivating slide-shows.
1. Identifying a Curriculum for Hindu Religious Education by Ms S Naidoo from Sri Sarada Devi Ashram, Asherville
2. The Role of Sunday School Teachers in Promoting Hindu Religious Education by Dr N Balkaran from Ladysmith
3. The Role of Parents in Home-based Religious Education by Mrs R Singh from Newcastle
4. Using Distance Education and the Electronic Media to Promote Hindu Religious Education by Mr V Mohanlal from Headquarters
While inaugurating the Seminar, I drew the attention of all to the wonderful early spade-work done by Swami Nischalanandaji in introducing variety of ways in keeping up the heritage of religious ideas among the Hindus who due to the prevailing political conditions in those days, could not maintain their cultural contact with Mother India.
He had several disciples. I met a few who are pretty old now. The name of Mother Henny (sweetly called Henny Maa), now 87, spending quite days in Asherville Sri Sarada Devi Ashram is not unknown to many devotees of the Ramakrishna Centre in South Africa.
Her original name was Henny Maria Thekla Schimmel, was born at Leipzig in East Germany. She arrived in South Africa in 1950. She was 28 years old then. In 1956, a friend introduced her to the local branch of the Ramakrishna Centre in Johannesburg. A doctor of homeopathy – Dr Mckippen, ran the branch. She visited the branch every Thursday. In 1956 (after a few months of attending satsangs) she was informed that the leader of the Ramakrishna Centre was arriving in Johannesburg from Durban.
It was a Thursday towards the end of 1956 that Henny first saw Gurudev.
“We were singing, when I felt a gust of wind brush past me. I turned my head and saw the feet of Gurudev. At that very moment, I thought to myself these are the feet of Christ – the anointed one. I was not myself after that. I was transported to a higher plane of consciousness. All my life I was looking for something. On seeing these divine feet, I knew that it was Gurudev I was waiting for. At last, I had found him.”
She continued to say in a choked voice,
“Gurudev informed me that he was going to India. I asked him to give me initiation before he left. I was initiated on the 6th of February 1957.”
Henny Maa could relate to us some of her memorable experiences vis-a-vis Swami Nischalanandaji. I give below two of them as narrated by her. One was on Yoga Camp and the other was Dance of Shiva.
“I was looking forward to going to the yoga camp when I got very ill with double pneumonia. Gurudev phoned me. Disappointedly I informed him that I could not make it to the camp. He said to me, “You will come. Phone me after midnight.”
I called him after midnight and felt better soon after. Needless to say, I attended the yoga camp. It was relayed to me later that Gurudev got seriously ill after my telephone conversation with him. He had taken over my illness.
Dance of Shiva
At one of the camps, Gurudev had dressed as Nataraja the cosmic dancer. He danced using classical intricate steps, with no formal training or knowledge of knowing how to dance. The devotees were moved by this experience. Some cried and some laughed each having a different experience. A trained dancer wrote down the movements and informed Gurudev that the intricate steps he performed could only be done by the rishis.
He was a saint of this century. Not many people knew of the power behind his deep spirituality. His sannyasa Guru, Swami Purushottamananda knew about the positive influence that Gurudev would have in South Africa.
I am truly blessed to have been associated with Gurudev.
Swami Virabhadranandaji is the Head of Ramakrishna Mission’s Malaysia branch. His visit to South Africa was memorable in many ways.
He arrived in Durban, on 10 June from Kuala Lumpur. On his arrival he was given a welcome reception held at HQ on Saturday weekly satsang. During his 15-day stay, he met the officials of our Centre, had meetings with many devotees, addressed different public programs, conducted inspiring Meditation Classes, performed holy home-satsangs and gave interviews to spiritual seekers. He also visited Ramakrishna Sub-Centres in Ladysmith, Newcastle and Dundee in Northern Natal.
At Ladysmith Sub-centre, Swami Virabhadranandaji gave his Keynote address on 16 June which is a National Youth Day in South Africa. More than 250 youth members participated. A special satsang in honour of Swami Virabhadranandaji was held at our Pietermaritzburg sub-centre, where he conducted Guided Meditation and also addressed the congregation. At Chatsworth sub-centre he participated in the half-day Vedanta Retreat wherein he gave his keynote Address.
Earlier the Swami addressed a Satsang meeting held in Sri Sarada Devi Ashram at Asherville. In HQ, he spoke to the members of the Sarada Devi Women’s Circle. At Phoenix sub-centre he gave Talks to the Senior Citizen Forum members. The Meditation classes conducted by him including the Vedantic meditation and Class on Bhagavad Gita in HQ, drew lot of appreciation.
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 moved to tears when he saw the plight of Terminally Ill Patients. But he was happy that with our Centre’s help, the Home is giving a decent and dignified living just before death.
The divergent flora and fauna of South Africa delighted him. A special visit was arranged at one of the Drakensberg Resorts for a night’s halt on 19 June. That was a good relaxing experience for the Swami after a hectic tour of 7 days. The rural beauty of this country, with rolling hills and rising valleys, fascinating freeways, expansive open spaces of the country side with enticing autumn gold trees in the horizon and a vast vista of waves of mountains vying with each other in meeting the skyline, made a deep impression on him. 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 Botanical gardens made him feel thoroughly rejuvenated.
He evinced keen interest in the local Zulu culture and enjoyed the Zulu people’s hospitality with their feet tapping music and dance. He visited Valley of Thousand Hills where he interacted with many Zulu people.
On 25 June, 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 morning of June 26, Saradaprabhanandaji, officials and self saw him off at Durban Airport. On his way back to Kuala Lampur he would stop for a short while in Mauritius branch of the Ramakrishna Mission too.
I wrote in my earlier posts about the Religious Education for children. Our Centre has not stopped there. We have Adults’ Courses too. These Courses are called Hindu Studies course and Bhagavad Gita Studies Course.
Exams are conducted by the Faculty of Peace studies, Spirituality and Culture, run by Ramakrishna Centre of South Africa every year and successful students are given Certificates during a Graduation Ceremony.
This year the Graduation Ceremony was held at Nischalananda Hall in HQ on 28 March, 2009 and for the Northern Natal Graduates, it was held at Ladysmith Town Hall on 4 April, 2009. When I heard in person and re-read later the Welcome Address given by Vijaynand Mohanlal who is the Deputy Dean of this Faculty, I thought I should place here some excerpts that will give you an idea in all its glory about this wonderful work.
Welcome Address by Vijaynand Mohanlal, Deputy Dean:
Revered Swami Vimokshananda, Revered Swami Saradaprabhananda, Pravrajika Ishtaprana Mataji, our Guest of Honour, Dr P L Patel and Mrs Patel, members of the Academic Staff, our successful candidates, Distinguished Guests, members of Sister Organisations, Ladies and Gentlemen
Om Namo Narayanaya!
Ever since his return from India in 1953 till his passing away in 1965, the founder of our Centre, Sri Swami Nischalananda pioneered the course of Vedanta in Southern Africa and initiated a vigorous educational programme by way of lectures and literature to overcome the ignorance among the masses regarding Hinduism. Many Hindu organisations at the time were given an impetus and drew inspiration from the many ideas which Swami Nischalananda had introduced to educate the general Hindu population and others who came into contact with him.
The Ramakrishna Centre of South Africa continues in this tradition till this day. The offering of the Certificate in Hindu Studies course by the Centre followed by the Certificate in Bhagavad Gita Studies, through distance and supported learning mode has put the study of our great Religious and Cultural heritage within easy reach of many who wanted to study this but who could find no structured programme to follow.
These courses provide a general overview of Hinduism, with its various components such as Hindu scriptures, philosophies, ethics, festivals, deities, symbolism and so on. The minimum duration of each of these programmes is one year, which is divided into two semesters. A written exam in conducted in each semester. Students are also assessed through assignments, a percentage of which contributes towards the final the final mark s for the course.
The cost of these courses has been subsidized by the Centre and includes textbooks, postages costs and examination fees. Students must be in possession of a Matric Certificate to enroll for the Certificate in Hindu Studies course. Admission may also be granted based on recognition of prior learning. The pre-requisite to enroll for the Certificate in Bhagavad Gita Studies is the Certificate in Hindu Studies.
We are beholden to Professor Swami Atmapriyananda, Vice Chancellor of the Vivekananda University, Kolkata for his guidance and blessings for our educational offerings. We also had the support of a highly qualified and competent staff with which we have managed the course.
Once again I am happy to note that the attitude and discipline with which students generally approached their studies made one feel proud. Both the courses were pitched at first year University level and required disciplined work on their part. Their commitment and the eagerness with which they did their work was evident in the quality of their assignments and in their written examinations…
We have looked into supplementing the course material for the Bhagavad Gita Studies to further assist students in understanding the many important concepts and topics covered in the Bhagavad Gita. An added feature in the 2009 Academic year will be self-study exercises for which solution guides will be sent to students. These exercises will be very focussed and will help broaden the students’ knowledge of the syllabus…
A distinguishing feature of our student population was that they represented a cross-section of the community and work force and included bank managers, educators, attorneys, doctors, social workers, accountants, pharmacists, physiotherapists, housewives, technicians and a host of other professions. Many indicated to us the normal pressure in the work environment; however most of the students persevered with their studies. A few of the original entrants had to discontinue or defer their studies due to work pressure, relocation difficulties and other reasons.
We are also striving to take the examination venues as close as possible to our students. This year exams were written at 10 venues throughout the country with the latest venue being Cape Town.
Examinations are written under strict exam conditions and compares with guidelines laid down by higher education institutions.
We are happy to announce that in the 2008 Academic year our students achieved a very high success rate. Of the 48 students who qualified to sit for the Hindu Studies exam, 46 students successfully completed the course giving us a 96% success rate. Of the 61 who qualified to sit for the Bhagavad Gita Studies exam, all students successfully completed the course.
(Ladies and gentlemen I think they deserve a hearty round of applause.)
A new course aimed at Sunday School Teachers is in the preparatory stages and will be offered in the 2010 Academic year. Details regarding this course will be made available during the course of this year.
We have also had enquiries from those not is possession of a Matric Certificate wanting to study courses in Hinduism. We have identified course material for such a course and work has commenced in putting this course together.
Once again, on behalf of the Ramakrishna Centre of South Africa, I would like to extend our hearty congratulations to all students who successfully completed the Certificate in Hindu Studies course and the Certificate in Bhagavad Gita course. We trust that you will continue to enrich your lives with the study of Hinduism.
To see all the photos of the Graduation Ceremony held at HQ, just click on the below link that will take you to the picasa web album. There click ‘slideshow’, then press F11 in your keyboard for Full screen view, relax and watch!
|HQ Graduation Ceremony|
To see all the photos of the Graduation Ceremony held at Ladysmith for the Northern Natal Graduates, just click on the below link that will take you to the picasa web album. There click ‘slideshow’, then press F11 in your keyboard for Full screen view, relax and watch!
|Northern Natal Graduation Ceremony|
The great ‘Gurudev’ Swami Nischalanandaji Maharaj was born in Newcastle. At his birthplace, the Children’s Cultural festival of the Northern Natal was celebrating its Golden Jubilee this year. It was not an accident; neither was it planned. But it had come in due course bringing forth how much ‘Gurudev’ loved the children and how much more he was interested in instilling the spiritual values among them. Some of the old devotees still remember how Gurudev used to stand on hours together in training the children in performance of cultural items. He used to personally conduct Yoga Camps especially for children training them in correct postures through practice of yogasanas.
I was pleased to attend the Northern Natal Children’s Cultural Festival held at Newcastle Richview hall. Branches from Estcourt, Ladysmith, Newcastle, Glencoe and Dundee participated. The enthusiasm of the children was infectious, each one vying with one another, making efforts in excelling in whatever he/she did. The Festival was an occasion to bring out the best in the child. There were scintillating sketches, soul-filling songs, sterling speeches and delighting dances interspersed with inspiring quotes from the Holy Trio. While I gave the Key-note Address, brother Swami Saradaprabahanandaji gave the Concluding Address. Overall the time from 9 am to 4 pm was well spent in the company of the children. In spite of the inclement weather of speedy winds, the officials did a splendid job in organising the Festival at the venue.
Abiding spiritual values are taught to the children who attend our Sunday School classes. The parents have reported to me that they are immensely benefitted as they could see emergence of the wonderfully shaping of their children’s personality. In my previous post I gave a brief intro about the Sunday School classes and three slideshows on the Certificates Award function.
To see all the photos of the Festival, just click on the below link that will take you to the picasa web album. There click ‘slideshow’, then relax and watch!
|Northern Natal Children’s Cultural Festival|