Navaratri – Day 4 continued…

Navaratri – Day 4 continued…

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The evening programme was scheduled in eThongatti from 7 pm. This is a an old but small township, about 50 Kms away from Durban ashram. Our forefathers who reached here about 150 years back made many temples. One of them is Chinna Tirupati Devasthanam. It houses Lord Venkateshwara otherwise popularly known as Balaji. The temple had its ten-day festival of Brahmotsavam. This is an annual festival when the Lord Balaji is given different decorations, taken round the streets on His Garuda, the great bird around the temple and also with number of speakers invited every day. The satsang on the last Sunday was vibrant with bhajans.

The decor (in Tamil ‘alankaram’) of Balaji was of Sri Rama with His bow and arrows. By His side Thirumagal (Mahalakshmi) was dazzling in Her splendour. I started off my discourse with the connection of Sri Rama with the family of our Master. He was born in a family where Sri Rama was the ishta-devata. Then proceeded to explain the seven hills of Balaji in India representing seven bhumis or chakras. Discussed about the Love of God. Master’s parable about Arjuna’s egoism and how Lord Sri Krishna crushed it.

Bala Moodley, the Chairman of CT Devasthanam gave a traditional welcome with a garland. Yogan Naidoo gave an intro about me to the audience. The supper was hosted by Murli while the Programme Director was Kola Govendar. 

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Art work on Anjaneya

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:

Yashteel Raj of Ladysmith
Yashteel Raj from Ladysmith

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.

Durga Durga

Yashteel Raj

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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!

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Inspired drawing - an Art work on Anjaneya
Inspired drawing - an Art work on Anjaneya

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.

Conclusion

I really liked making this artwork. Drawing is lots of fun and I really enjoyed expressing my culture in this form.

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Sri Hanumanji with Sri Gauri-Shankarji - a rare picture
Sri Hanumanji with Sri Gauri-Shankarji - a rare picture, Courtesy: Simon Ram, UK

Diwali – a Day to light up a life

Diwali Rangoli at Swaminarayan Mandir at Johannesburg, prepared at 1047 woman-hours!
Diwali Rangoli at Swaminarayan Mandir at Johannesburg, prepared at 1047 woman-hours!

Diwali is indeed, a glorious and colourful festival that is celebrated by all Hindus internationally. How Diwali unites and brings people and families together is a matter of experience of the millions. The beautiful array of clay lamps in all Hindu households creates an atmosphere of love, warmth, sharing, and more importantly, reminds of the existence of God in all beings. Therefore during this auspicious time, we should all try and improve ourselves spiritually. At this point, three important ennobling qualities come to mind: tyaga (sacrifice), seva (service) and prema (love).

Hearty, Happy Diwali Greetings! May this Diwali lighten up your life, may it lighten your burden and may it enlighten your path!
Diwali festival with child devotees of Johannesburg
Diwali festival with child devotees of Johannesburg

Diwali has become an occasion for charity of all sorts. If you give love, even if you do not give much of anything else, it does not matter. And however much you may give materially, if it is not done with love, it does not mean much. So it is love that makes all giving meaningful. I would like to relate a story of how love of virtuous deeds brought blessings.

Once upon a time the village of Nagpur in India was experiencing famine. There was such a scarcity of food that many people were starving and dying of hunger. A widow named Kamala and her little daughter, Kanama lived in this village. They were poor and had no means of earning money. The mother fell ill suddenly and she was worried about her little daughter. The little girl assured that she would be fine.

Kanama set out to beg food for her ailing mother. She tried begging at several households with no luck. Exhausted, the little girl finally rested under a tree. In the distance she saw a lady making roti. Kanama ran to her and begged for a piece of roti. So the lady offered her one piece of bread and Kanama accepted the bread gratefully and she said, “O, mother! my mom has not eaten anything for the last week, if only I can get one more piece of bread, I will really be grateful.” The kind lady gave her another piece of bread. Kanama was returning home happily.

The Ever Gracious Goddess Lakshmi - courtesy Veena Daya
The Ever Gracious Goddess Lakshmi - courtesy Veena Daya

On the way she saw a hungry dog looking for food. “Oh! what a pity! the dog cannot beg for food!”, so she thought and lovingly offered the dog one piece of bread. The dog ate the bread happily. When Kanama reached home, she narrated the incident to her mother. Kanama’s mother was happy to know her daughter was so compassionate. As they were about to eat the remaining piece of bread, they heard a voice at the door… “O mother! I am dying of hunger, please give me something to eat.” The virtuous Kamala said “someone is suffering from hunger, give away my share”. The compassionate little Kanama said “how can this poor beggar appease his hunger with half a piece of bread? Let me give him my share as well.” The beggar ate with great relish and said to Kanama, “May God bless you, my child.”

When the beggar left, both the mother and daughter fainted from hunger. Then Kamala had a dream in which Goddess Lakshmi, the divine consort of Lord Vishnu appeared to her and said, “O Kamala! Even though you and your daughter were starving, both of you lovingly gave away whatever you had to the hungry dog and the famished beggar. It was I, who appeared in these forms to test you. I am very pleased with your loving concern for others. May you have enough wealth and live happily.”

Their meritorious act brought rain to the village. The people of Nagpur were relieved of the sufferings due to the tyaga, seva and prema of the mother-daughter duo. This story shows us all, how God’s grace overflows to those who do sacrifice all in the service of others done in absolute love.  The following is taken from Prabuddha Bharata.

Once a very poor devotee had a strong desire to go to Varanasi to have the darshan of Lord Vishwanatha. But he was too poor to do so. Swami Adbhutananda, a direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, was then living in Varanasi. He came to know of the devotee’s earnest longing and wrote to him to somehow collect the one-way railway fare to Varanasi and that other things could be taken care of. Thus being assured, the devotee reached Varanasi with great difficulty and had the darshan of Lord Vishwanatha and Mother Annapurna, and enjoyed the holy company of Latu Maharaj.

Varanasi Vishwanatha in the iconic image of shivalingam
Varanasi Vishwanatha in the iconic image of shivalingam

But one day, at the Vishwanatha temple, he felt great mental anguish. After bathing in the Ganga and finishing his worship of Shiva with bel leaves, when he came out of the temple he saw that all the devotees were giving alms to mendicants and beggars according to their ability. He alone lacked the capacity to give in charity. He cried fie upon himself: ‘I am a poor, wretched beggar myself, deprived of this rare opportunity. On the contrary, having come to this holy place I am enjoying food and shelter provided by sadhus, and I do not have a penny to pay for it!’ He returned to his room with a heavy heart, closed the door and started shedding tears of grief. Latu Maharaj came to know everything and suggested: ‘What does it matter? You do one thing: tomorrow after bathing in the Ganga offer a handful of it to God and pray, “May all the miseries of the world be dispelled.”’ The devotee thought, ‘This is just a consolation for a helpless destitute like me. What merit can be derived from it?’ However, the next day the devotee did exactly as he was advised simply to honour the words of a great soul like Latu Maharaj. Immediately his mind became calm and serene, his heart was filled with an unspeakable bliss, and he felt blessed with divine grace. This is the result of true pilgrimage.

The idea of complete self-sacrifice is illustrated in Mahabharata and narrated by Swami Vivekananda in his Karma Yoga lectures.

After the battle of Kurukshetra the five Pândava brothers performed a great sacrifice and made very large gifts to the poor. All people expressed amazement at the greatness and richness of the sacrifice, and said that such a sacrifice the world had never seen before. But, after the ceremony, there came a little mongoose, half of whose body was golden, and the other half brown; and he began to roll on the floor of the sacrificial hall. He said to those around, “You are all liars; this is no sacrifice.” “What!” they exclaimed, “you say this is no sacrifice; do you not know how money and jewels were poured out to the poor and every one became rich and happy? This was the most wonderful sacrifice any man ever performed.”

Mongoose at Ramakrishna Centre, Durban
Mongoose at Ramakrishna Centre of SA, Durban courtesy Jody Fuchs

But the mongoose said, “There was once a little village, and in it there dwelt a poor Brahmin with his wife, his son, and his son’s wife. They were very poor and lived on small gifts made to them for preaching and teaching. There came in that land a three years’ famine, and the poor Brahmin suffered more than ever. At last when the family had starved for days, the father brought home one morning a little barley flour, which he had been fortunate enough to obtain, and he divided it into four parts, one for each member of the family. They prepared it for their meal, and just as they were about to eat, there was a knock at the door. The father opened it, and there stood a guest.

Now in India a guest is a sacred person; he is as a god for the time being, and must be treated as such. So the poor Brahmin said, ‘Come in, sir; you are welcome,’ He set before the guest his own portion of the food, which the guest quickly ate and said, ‘Oh, sir, you have killed me; I have been starving for ten days, and this little bit has but increased my hunger.’ Then the wife said to her husband, ‘Give him my share,’ but the husband said, ‘Not so.’ The wife however insisted, saying, ‘Here is a poor man, and it is our duty as householders to see that he is fed, and it is my duty as a wife to give him my portion, seeing that you have no more to offer him.’ Then she gave her share to the guest, which he ate, and said he was still burning with hunger. So the son said, ‘Take my portion also; it is the duty of a son to help his father to fulfil his obligations.’ The guest ate that, but remained still unsatisfied; so the son’s wife gave him her portion also. That was sufficient, and the guest departed, blessing them. That night those four people died of starvation.

A few granules of that flour had fallen on the floor; and when I rolled my body on them, half of it became golden, as you see. Since then I have been travelling all over the world, hoping to find another sacrifice like that, but nowhere have I found one; nowhere else has the other half of my body been turned into gold. That is why I say this is no sacrifice.”

It is my fervent prayer that each one of us be blessed with such noble and divine qualities! May the light of the lamp burn brightly in our hearts on this holy occasion of Diwali !

असतो मा सद्गमय | तमसो मा ज्योतिर्गमय | मृत्योर् मा अमृतं गमय | ॐ शांति: शांति: शांति: || Om asato ma sat gamaya | Tamaso ma jothir gamaya | Mrityor ma amritam gamaya | Om shanti shanti shanti ||