PMB Swamiji 150 Invite

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Meaningful Meet at Maritzburg

A Report by Avthar Sewrathan

Many countries have their own National Youth Days. In South Africa, National Youth Day is celebrated on 16 June every year. Each country has its own reasons to celebrate it. India has its National Youth Day on 12 January which is the birthday of our illustrious leader Swami Vivekananda. Here in South Africa we, the Ramakrishna devotees, celebrate South African Youth Day on 16 June and in January, we, at HQ, have an half-day Retreat program for the youth in commemoration of Swami Vivekananada’s birth day. In continuation of the 147th birth anniversary celebrations of Swamiji, Pietermaritzburg Sub-centre had arranged a meanigful Youth meet. I am glad to present a Report, penned – nay! composed in a Word Processor as the modern youth are wont to – by Avthar Sewrathan who is a youth member of the Sub-Centre there. Images courtesy: ‘Rishie’

The day had finally arrived!  We, the youth members were just awaiting the commemoration of the 147th Birth Anniversary of Swami Vivekananda at the Pietermaritzburg Sub-Centre, held on 5 February 2010.

mesmerizing shrine of Maritzburg...

This is one of the most important functions on our Religious calendar as the philosophy of Swami Vivekananda and the ideals for which he lived and worked continue to be a great source of inspiration for the Youth. He will be ever remembered as one of the main architects of the modern world for he brought about a new understanding of Vedanta and bridged the gap between east and west. Accordingly, the youth were eagerly gathered in the shrine and great anticipation was in the air as this function was exclusively planned, co-ordinated and managed by the Youth of the Sub-Centre.

Akshar garlanding Vimokshanandaji

The programme commenced promptly at 19:00 hrs and the devotees were warmly greeted by sister Karistha Singh who was the Programme Director for the evening. After the initial proceedings, brother Akshar Sewrathan extended a cordial welcome to His Holiness Swami Vimokshanandaji Maharaj by garlanding him. Earlier at the entrance two sisters placed the holy tilak on his forehead in the traditional style.

Sonal presenting her paper...

The first speaker for the evening was sister Sonal Sewrathan, who addressed the congregation on the topic “You are the Creator of Your Own Destiny”. Sister Sonal related the parable of a Pencil Maker, highlighting the fact that we are all created by the Maker who is God, to follow our own destiny by either beautifully designing it OR misshaping it with our thoughts, words and deeds.

She also recounted the famous parable by Sri Ramakrishna on the wish fulfilling Kalpataru tree as of immense significance.  ‘Your mind is like the wish-fulfilling tree – whatever you think, sooner or later it is fulfilled irrespective of good or bad results.’  Finally, she challenged us to become the creators of our own destiny by following this simple inner golden rule :

Watch your thoughts; they become your words. Watch your words; they become your actions. Watch your actions; they become your habits. Watch your habits; they become your character. Watch your character for it will become your destiny.

Yashvir presenting his paper...

The second speaker was brother Yashvir Rugbeer, who presented a paper entitled “The Importance of Youth in Society”. He reminded the youth of their role in society. Quoting Sri Swami Vivekananda extensively he emphasised that the sole responsibility of the youth of today rested on the present so that they can suitably mould the future, as it depended only on the efforts of their hands. He added that their values, determination and character ultimately decide the preservation of our world.

Brother Yashvir pointed out also the fact that youth are completely entangled in the superficial world and do not realise the gravity of their actions, primarily due to their ignorance. He highlighted that the essence of true success is what ‘you make of yourself’.  ‘It is the conduct of life that you develop, it is the character that you cultivate and it is the type of person that you become.’  He advised the youth to equip themselves with the necessary skills in order to ensure a bright future as success was not measured in terms of what one obtained but in terms of what one could become, how one lived and what actions one performed.

The youth were then treated to a soul stirring rendition of “Ham Honge Kamayab” bhajan led by sister Revathi.

Shivaar presenting his paper

The third speaker for the evening was brother Shivaar Partab, who delivered a paper on “Character and Human Excellence”. He narrated the story of the sculptor who indicated that beautiful figures were not created by him as he merely removed the extra pieces off the stone with his tools, relating this to Human character.  ‘Good qualities lie dormant in each one of us and it is our duty to give expression to them and let the evil ones take to their heels. We have to be examples of good values in order to achieve human excellence.’ Brother Shivaar reiterated the three important things, expressed by Swami Vivekananda, to make everyone great, every nation great, namely :

Conviction of the power of goodness;
Absence of jealousy and suspicion; and
Helping those who are trying to be and to do good.

Karishtha inviting Vimokshanandaji to present his Address...

Finally, sister Karistha invited Sri Swami Vimokshanandaji Maharaj to address the youth. Swamiji is the embodiment of love, compassion and humility and the youth of the Centre were extremely blessed to be in his holy company. Everyone waited with bated breath in order to imbibe the sacred message that Swamiji Maharaj was about to deliver. However, true to form, Swamiji surprised us and introduced an impromptu “Question and Answer” session.

conducting Q & A session...

Swamiji encouraged the youth to “be bold” and put forward questions on the papers that were delivered that evening. Discussions centred around the many temptations that the youth are currently faced with, the social evils of electronic media, disciplining of the youth and overcoming injustices faced by the youth.

Swamiji astutely handled all the questions posed by the congregation, offering sound advice based on the teaching of the holy scriptures and also as taught by the lives of the three Divinities, in terms of implementation in our daily lives.

Sadly due to time constraints, the question and answer session had to come to an end. After the performance of arati and concluding Vedic prayers, it was my proud turn to proceed to pass the vote of thanks. Three of our youth members, sisters Kajal, Shriyanthi and Kamiksha presented a gift basket to Swamiji as a token of our appreciation.

Happy youth group members...

This was truly an inspiring evening. This was echoed by one of the devotees, who described the evening as “one of the best functions so far”. The youth offered their pranams to Revered Maharaj, and thereafter partook of prasad, in the form of supper.

Thus concluded an evening of spiritual enlightenment. Everyone present can safely say that they were stimulated and entertained by the thought provoking programme. It provided the youth an opportunity to showcase their knowledge, talents and ideas and it was this that made the event a fitting tribute to the teachings of great Swami Vivekananda.

Hari Om Tat Sat!

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Navaratri – II

Last Five days

Shrine at Pietermaritzburg Centre
Mother Durga at Pietermaritzburg Centre Shrine

Continued from Navaratri – I

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 Devi Mahatmyam. Especially the meaning of ‘Aim, Hrim and Klim’ bija mantras. 

Mother Durga at Chatsworth centre
Mother Durga at Chatsworth centre

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:

 
Shrine in the Ramakrishna Temple at HQ
Mother Durga at HQ Ramakrishna Temple

“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 Vijaya dashami night with my Talks centering around Devi Saraswati during the night satsang.

Memorable visit – Last Six days

Swami Smarananandaji with Swami Saradanandaji at Newcastle in deep discussion

Sri Swami Smarananandaji Maharaj, one of the Vice-Presidents of the world-wide Ramakrishna Order completed his South African tour on 4th June, 2008. He and his Secretary Swami Jnanavratanandaji left Durban on 5th June morning by a homeward bound SA flight to Mumbai and onto Kolkata. Here is a short Report on his memorable visit – the Last Six days (30th May to 4th June) in South Africa. The holy visit brought about a remarkable enthusiasm among the Ramakrishna devotees and Hindus in general. The spiritual atmosphere was palpable wherever he went. Many sincere spiritual seekers got his invaluable guidance. 

Swami Smarananandaji with his Secretary Swami Jnanavratanandaji and Swami Saradanandaji of Ramakrishna Centre of South AfricaThe morning of 30th May saw the departure for Northern Natal centres. The team – consisting Most Revered Vice-President Maharaj accompanied by Swami Jnanavratanandaji, Swami Saradanandaji, Dr H B Parbhoo, Dr Seebaran and Bhavanesh – arrived at Newcastle by 1 pm. In the evening a special Satsang was arranged in the Centre’s Shrine where to the packed hall, Swami Smarananandaji Maharaj spoke on ‘Peace in Daily Life’. Next day morning after breakfast, the team drove to Ladysmith where the poor children of Ramakrishna Quedisisi Crèche, situated in the Black Settlement Area warmly greeted Revered Maharaj. He distributed packets of breads, biscuits, cakes and juices along with writing materials among the children.

Swami Smarananandaji giving breads etc to the Black children of Ramakrishna Quedisisi CrecheAt 11 am he reached a School premises where more than 500 indigent Black/Indian people gathered. He gave away the hampers and also spoke a few words of consolation first in English and then for a few minutes spoke, to the delight of the aged people assembled there in Tamil and Hindi. In the evening, he visited the Ladysmith Sub-centre and prostrated at the beautiful shrine before the Holy Trio. He met devotees and also the newly initiated disciples and gave them spiritual guidance.

On 1st June, a public Reception Programme had been arranged by the Ladysmith Sub-centre in the famous 115-year old stately Town Hall where Revered Maharaj spoke on ‘Contemplation in Active Life’. The centre’s children-devotees presented an interesting folk dance item.

Swami Smarananandaji at sunrise in DrakensburgIn the evening, he with Jnanavratanandaji left Ladysmith and reached Ramesh Ishwarlaal’s Retreat Home at Drakensberg. The assembled devotees had meditation and Readings from The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. 2nd June was spent on discussion on Upanishads, Conversations of Holy Mother and Meditation. In the day time Revered Maharaj and the devotee team went to see the Bird Show in Drakensberg where the well-trained birds like vultures, falcons, owls and also dogs performed to the delight of tourists.Swami Smarananandaji conducting a Retreat in Ladysmith

On 3rd June, Revered Maharaj and the team while returning stopped for an hour at Pietermaritzburg Sub centre. In this beautiful shrine Revered Maharaj was received with arati and traditional welcome with garlands. While speaking to the devotees there he paid homage to Swamis Nischalanandaji and Shivapadanandaji for their endless efforts in spreading ‘Ramakrishna thoughts’ among the public. He added that Ramakrishna has become a ‘permanent citizen’ of this country.

Reaching Durban back at the headquarters centre, he went to Sri Sarada Devi Ashram located at Asherville in the evening. He was accorded a warm reception by Pravrajika Ishtaprana and other nuns and women devotees. He spoke in the beautiful shrine on ‘Katha Upanishad’ underlying the prominent ideas chapter-wise.

There was no outing on the 4th June which was the last day in his itinery. The day of course saw numerous devotees having darshan as well as receiving spiritual guidance from the Most Revered Vice-President Maharaj. His visit will ever remain etched strong in our memories as it gave enormous opportunity for all of us to see, walk and laugh too, besides drawing inspiration in our onward spiritual journey.