Tag: South Africa

A Time to get Together!

My hearty greetings to all the devotees, friends and admirers in Singapore and all over the world! My maiden Diwali night is here in Singapore! What a joyous day to worship Mother Kali in all Her glory! 

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e-Satsang thru Blogging

WordPress provides statistics for Blogs hosted by them. Generally I am not a frequent visitor to statistics page to see how my Blog is fairing in the cyberspace. Screen Shot 2015-11-08 at 9.16.53 AMToday on the eve of Diwali just I was curious and saw the results: The number of Visitors has been steadily rising. Each visitor has been hitting the pages 10 to 12 times! The cumulative hits from the beginning as on today stands at over 219,000 !!

Screen Shot 2015-11-08 at 9.17.47 AMRegarding the maximum number of readers of this Blog, the majority still is coming from USA followed by India and then by South Africa. Most Singaporean devotees till recently did not know that I have a Blog and hence slow in picking it up. Many of them told me that they never had any inkling that I wrote a Blog! “A Blog from a monk!” was a usual surprise exclamation when they come to know of it! The devotees of other parts of world who have been frequenting this Blog are well familiar with this e-Satsang. That this Blog has been a source of joy to many a reader can be understood from the sincere comments they provide. Some are wont not to write; nonetheless they communicate either though email or cell phone and acknowledge their happiness. There are so far more than 1990 comments for 200 Posts. Perhaps the e-Satsang is still to catch up here!

Nightly Nostalgia 

On this day when I reviewed my Diwali experiences in the nearly last eight years of my stay in South Africa, I did become a little nostalgic! I wrote four posts in this Blog earlier about my Diwali days in SA. I thought that like me those devotees who were all associated with my travel to many parts of SA celebrating Diwali and who were with me may also experience nostalgia by re-reading those posts. And to all those new comers to this Blog, I do think that these posts would make interesting reading!

Focus on Four Posts

Diwali is a celebration of Lights. Staying in a comfort zone we thank God for providing prosperity. But should it end there? Should we not take it a Day to Light up another life? This question was discussed here in 2008 in this post.

Escourt Hindu public conduct Diwali Festival every year. This post appearing in 2010, details how the people of Escourt celebrated in a grand way when I was invited to be the Chief Guest in their celebration!

Diwali is a Five-day festival for Hindus. What did our sages earmarked each day to a particular event of the festival? Does this signify five levels of progress in one’s spiritual Life? An introspective peep into the rationality of five-day Festival is made in this post appearing in 2011.

Diwali nights are not dark nights. In worship the dark Kali is invoked though. Lamps of lights are lit. What do they signify? Who lights the lamp of knowledge inside us? And what is that darkness that is destroyed? This is discussed in this post written in 2013.

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Aum Sri Ramakrishnarpanamastu !

Can Farewell be joyful ?

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We have heard about many a tearful farewell.
Joyful farewell?
No. But it was so when people of different strata of society came in large numbers to many places to bid me farewell on the eve of my departure from South Africa.
Though the oft-repeated customary expression “miss you” – told or untold – was writ large on every face, yet what a joyful feeling that it unmistakably transmitted to me cannot be described. The reason was pure love. Where love is present joy must be there.
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Here are a few impressions:
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Why sceptic about Farewell?
In any organisation, we find it common nowadays, that an office holder when transferred to another place is given a farewell. I was always sceptic about these farewell functions. So it was natural for me to simply decline any such farewell meeting that people of diverse temperaments offered just before my departure from South Africa. The reason was that those who hold onto microphone and so speak may not be truthful enough and speak a flowery language of praise while harbouring internally inimical thoughts. Whereas the silent majority who may have true feelings of friendliness may not get the chance to voice their feelings!
However I understood within a short time that such deeply devoted people cannot be put off so easily. They invited me on the pretext of a satsang which I am known to be fond of and organised incredible functions without even mentioning the term Farewell !
Mixed feelings
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Swami Vimokshananda received by Swami Saradaprabhananda at Phoenix sub-centre
When I first broke this news of my transfer to our monastic brother Swami Saradaprabhananda sometime in August 2014, I found him seated nonplussed. Slowly managing himself he uttered “I am full of mixed feelings”. He continued, “sad because I shall miss you; glad because Belur Math has decided. It’s Master’s wish. May it be so!”
I was the very first President after the Centre’s affiliation to Belur Math. And it was for me the very first posting in abroad. I came to this country absolutely not familiar with its culture, its people and their mental temperaments while not disconnected from my grooming for 35 long years in “India-Indian” manners.
In spite of my handicaps – real or perceived – brother Saradaprabhananda patiently guided me with utmost reverence on many an issue. I understood his loveable personality shielded completely from the purview of outside world. Only we both knew!
Love that knew no words
The first Satsang and what was innocuously called my last Gospel class, was organised by Pietermaritzburg Sub-centre. Once the Gospel class was over, I came out as usual from the shrine hall. By that time to my great surprise, all those devotees who attended just disappeared. While I was wondering what was happening, the Chairman and other officials led me slowly to upstairs.
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Spontaneous Joyous dancing and singing the name of Sri Ramakrishna by the PMB devotees
There, in the hall, all the devotees and friends and admirers stood up in unison and welcomed me with the spiritual greetings Aum Namo Narayanaya ! Surprise after surprise! The hall was tastefully decorated. Round dining tables with chairs covered in bright white colour were occupied by the people. And lo! devotees unmindful of their age started dancing in joy around me. It was a pure, unsullied joy that I saw in every face. No lectures. No words. No tears. It was all one feeling of Love that touched my heart with joy and would remain so for ever.
The second such satsang was organised by Estcourt Satsang Group. The one distinct aspect of Estcourt satsangs that I noticed whenever I was there, was always the participation of all the sects of Hindu community. Hence it was not surprising to see everyone in their best from different faiths in Swami Sahajananda Cultural hall.
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Swami Vimokshananda reverentially accepting the blessings of children dressed up as Deities of Maha Gayatri Temple in Estcourt

The very entrance into that famous hall was heralded with girls standing in rows with diyas in their tiny hands. The Chairman with other officials and distinguished people from the Estcourt society led me in. I was glad to see Anil Bridgelal on the huge stage. He enthralled the audience by rendering soulfully five bhajans (devotional songs). The most surprising event was just to follow after my lecture. The cute children dressed up as the deities that are worshipped in the Maha Gayatri temple began to arrive one by one to the continuous applause of the audience and blessed me. I stood up reverentially to each one starting from Lord Ganesha and finally to Swami Vivekananda. 

Straight from the hearts
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Chatsworth children enjoying the fire-crackers and lighters
Another Satsang that stunned me was the farewell function organised by the devotees attached to Chatsworth Sub-centre. The entire program was almost one-to-one in the sense that each and every individual who attended there could come near me and talk to me. Each had the occasion to express himself/herself in no uncertain terms which flowed straight from the hearts. The event ended with of course dance recital from the vibrant youth and the bursting of fire-crackers!
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Gorgeously arranged function at Sree Veerabhoga Emperumal Temple in Tongaat
Other organisations too were not exempt from this farewell fever! Notable one was Sree Veerabhoga Emperumal temple in Tongaat that organised a function that struck me as most gorgeous. The devotees of the temple who were enthusiastic about my monthly Tirukkural Class were in the forefront. I couldn’t imagine that I deserved such a grand function. Take the case of reception, or the decoration or the dining or the crowd whatever one can imagine everything was organised so meticulously that it left me speechless.
A solemn meeting was arranged by the local Divine Life Society members who took me round the entire campus and I felt blessed seeing the holy Ganga teerth pond. It was an inspiring moment to think of the long journey that the Holy One Swami Sivananda made from Tamrabarani to Ganga.
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At the Divine Life Society I was presented with useful bags by the Rishi Kumars and Rishi Kumaris
Too Numerous to list
I have too numerous to list. But I have spoken here only about a handful few. The other Sub-centres like Phoenix, Ladysmith, Newcastle and also Dundee-Glencoe devotees with their own unique ways made an indelible mark in my heart. Outside KawZulu Natal, devotees from places like Johannesburg, Bloemfontein, Port Elizabeth, Clarens, Stanger etc., did not lag behind. Not to mention the Sri Sarada Devi Ashram that welcomed me for a special occasion of Holy Mother’s birthday when Mataji and her devotees fed me sumptuously as a mother would do for her son! 
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The much familiar Shiva shrine place in Sri Sarada Devi Ashram at Asherville where after a sumptuous lunch prasad the close devotees would sit with me and have spiritual discussions for another two hours…
Besides these, I was invited to Home Satsangs by many, many devotees. The Chennai Ramakrishna Math has taken up a project recently to introduce the concept of Home Satsangs which I am proud to feel that the SA Centre has been doing for many years! These Home Satsangs cannot, – as a few misinformed are wont to do – be looked down upon condescendingly at any cost. I always have the presence of a group of devotees who sing and read from the Gospel followed by question-answer discussion. Spending two hours or so in such absorbing satsangs as everyone who has attended could vouchsafe, was indeed elevating. The residents of such homes felt blessed.
One such home was of a student of my Tirukkural class in Tongaat. A few Tamil speaking people came together to learn the meanings and explanations of the Tirukkural verses. It was enjoyable for me to take a class in English on a Tamil classic with overtones of Vedanta as I found during my study that there exists lots of similarities with Vedantic ideas. I met this group also before my departure.
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Ardent students of my Tirukkural class in Tongaat
I must confess that many and many more devotees who couldn’t meet me personally sent written encomiums that I went through when a flood of emails arrived. Here too the expression of pure, unalloyed love was quite evident though inextricably laced with the ubiquitous “miss you”. 
My heart is full with gratefulness to everyone in South Africa; I am still trying to find suitable words to express! I realise I woefully lack in vocabulary!
Did I ? 
In all these farewell fanfare – whether glaringly glittering or solemnly subdued – what did I see?
I did see the external paraphernalia in its best.
I did see the congregation converge with one purpose.
I did see the grace of our Holy Trio flowing through the wishes of devotees.
But more than these I did see and was moved by the genuine love of the people who without any inhibition acknowledged that in some way or other I really “touched” their lives.
“Did I ?”
“Did I ?” was the question that lingered on when I was seated on the plane that left Durban while my mind was savouring the cheerful chant of “Durga, Durga!” that reverberated all along till I fell asleep!
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 May Sri Durga be with all of us !

|| Aum Shri Raamakrishnaarpanamastu ||
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Remembering the redeemer

Enchanting eight day function
I have the honour to receive host of mails from devotees of different parts of the world enquiring how Sri Krishna Janmashtami celebrations were conducted by our Centre in South Africa. Thanks for their well-meant curiosity. I do take delight in expressing in detail an account on the Sri Krishnashtami celebrations here at our headquarters in Durban. There were Satsangs every evening from the first day to the last ashtami day i.e . for all eight days! Satsang here has a definite pattern.

Themes for Talks

First four days I had vocal rest, as, a week back I had a bad laryngitis. On fifth day morning I addressed Senior Citizens at our Phoenix sub-centre. The point of my address was that the idols or pictures are not to be viewed as mere stones or paper but as a manifestation of the One, supreme Divinity. In the evening I reached Verulam where in the Gopallaala temple I met devotees and spoke on Sri Krishna’s mercy. On the sixth day I had to travel to Stanger, a one-hour distance in the severe cold. There also the Gracious God was the theme. On the seventh day at our HQ Sri Ramakrishna Temple hall, I spoke on Sri Krishna and the Black Cobra. It was the story of poisonous Kaliya and how Sri Krishna tamed it and the spiritual import of this charming story.

On the eighth day, which was the last auspicious ashtami evening, my theme for the discussion was the Divine birth of the Unborn. We had two sessions. In the first session the theory of Incarnation was dealt with. And in the second session the secret of the Unborn Supreme God appearing as baby Krishna to Devaki and Vasudeva was explained.

Brother Saradaprabhananda this year went to Chatsworth branch and gave discourses there for all eight days on the significance of the Fourth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita. The first six evening Satsangs at HQ were addressed by our Youth members. I was witness to their speeches. On hearing them speak with confidence, I joined others in the audience in appreciating them for the research they had done on different themes and how they, in simple form, placed the ideas before the public.


Satsang Style

Every evening of the Krishnashtami celebration, Satsang attracted a large number of devotees. There were lot of bhajans and kirtans till the end of the program. Selected passages from Srimad Bhagavad Gita were sung to the traditional tunes every evening satsang. The temple was beautifully decorated. The yugal murti Sri Radha-Krishna bedecked with finery and ornaments dazzled every one. At the stroke of midnight 12, the baby Krishna in a beautiful cradle was brought out to the audience. Finally with arati to Sri Radha-Krishna and offering of flower and rocking the cradle by every assembled devotee the solemn program came to an end with distribution of prasad.

Image courtesy: Madhumita, Kolkata

In tune

The devotion of the devotees is worth noting; what a verve and vigour in singing bhajans! And faith and fervour in performing worship! And the day-long fasting and sitting in the temple for such long hours – absolutely maintaining utmost discipline – no chitchat, no gossip and all are tuned to the discourse and songs.

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Implementing ideas

Annual Conference on Hinduism

A Report

by Deveshnie Govender

Religion forms the building blocks of any individual’s life. In the rapidly changing society which is being bombarded with Westernization and technological advancement many of us face the dilemma of deferring from our routes and are faced with the predicament of losing sight of our ultimate goal of life: God Realization. With this in mind the Annual Hinduism Conference attempts to revive our faith and re instill the crucial values of Hinduism and our Religion.

the Hall tastefully decorated with audience

Dundee Sub-centre played the role of hosts to the last year’s Annual Hinduism Conference which proceeded from 9 am till 1 pm on Sunday, 3 September, 2011 at the Dundee Moth hall. Upon entering, the welcoming pictures of the Holy Trio provided for the central attraction and together with a colour co-ordinated tasteful deco, provided a hearty environment for the devotees as well as the esteemed panel of speakers.

I am happy to present here a Report written specially for this Blog by one of our Dundee Sub-centre’s youth members. Ms Deveshnie Govender is presently studying for Bachelor of Accounting Science at Johannesburg in the University of Witwatersrand.

Inaugural address

The proceedings began with Prayer to the Holy Trio. Inauguration of the function was done by Ms R D Bedassi who is the chairperson of the Talana Museum Board of Trustees as well as the Treasurer of the Aryan Benevolent Home in Glencoe as well as the 1860 Legacy Foundation. She is also a member of the Child Welfare of South Africa, Glencoe branch. She is a reputed for her involvement in different community welfare projects.

Being a senior educator in the Northern KZN region Ms Bedassi pointed out the richness of our cultural heritage and emphasised that the greatest threat that we face today is the  challenge of an identity crisis. She discussed the law of Karma, pointing out that good Karma is created through living a dharmic life. She discussed 9 Hindu values which lead to the attainment of moksha.

  • Satyam: Truth. All should lead a life of honesty and compassion.
  • Astheyam: We should guard against greed and selfishness.
  • Daya: We should practise compassion and sympathy, and be kind and merciful.
  • Shanti: Patience, forgiveness and tolerance should be the hallmark in our life.
  • Arjavam: We should practise simplicity and straightforwardness.
  • Madhuryam: Sweetness and disposition should be of prime importance to us.
  • Dama: We should practice self-control and not act upon impulse.
  • Dana: Give, teach, purify and protect.
  • Akalmasham: We should attempt to live a life that is free of sin. This will lead to a positive action resulting in a positive reaction.

She concluded that we should attempt to prevent bad deeds and be non-judgmental. It was with this inspiring inauguration that the function was officially begun.

Key-note address

The first address which could also be classified as the Key-note address was by our Revered Swami Vimokshanandaji Maharaj, the President of the Ramakrishna Centre of SA.

He pointed out that many of our Hindu youth are not able to give clear answers when questioned by youths from other religions about our scriptures. It is because Hinduism has many scriptures. Hinduism has delved into every facet of spiritual life and human experience, there is, therefore a great treasure-house of spiritual literature, any one of them passing off as an important Hindu scripture. Generally, the Upanishads are regarded as the umbrella under which they all fall. However, the Vedas also are pivotal. Any sect, new or old, wanting to be regarded as a Hindu sect must be able to justify its principles and teachings on the basis of the teachings of the Upanishads or the Vedas.

Upon analysis, we find that some of the ideas have been lost. However, the Bhagavad Gita is regarded as the very quintessence of Upanishads and Vedas. We find that every saint has brought the Bhagavad Gita into their teachings, thus showing the universality of the Bhagavad Gita. It speaks to all humanity for which Hinduism stands.

Sri Ramakrishna said that the gist of the Gita can be found in the repetition of the
word “gita” ten times, which then becomes tagi, meaning ‘renunciation’. Master
emphasized that more than just reading scriptures, putting the teachings into practice was more essential! Maharaj said that practising five ideas with faith, sincerity and dedication was far more superior than learning off the scriptures by rote.

He further added that we were blessed to have the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna as our modern scripture, and doubly blessed that it is available in English. Master is the personification of the Vedas and hence all the scriptures are within him.

Maharaj’s paper was extremely enlightening and uplifting. Maharaj quenched the spiritual thirst among us and managed to pacify the scriptural turmoil within our minds. It was on this high note that the conference broke for Tea and snacks.

Panelist’s presentation on Parenting

The second speaker was Dr HB Parbhoo who is a long standing member of the Ramakrishna Centre. He is also the General Secretary of the Ramakrishna Centre of South Africa. Dr Parbhoo is also a specialist physician in Durban.

His paper “Parenting – A Hindu Perspective”, aimed to resolve the dilemma numerous parents face. He dealt with the theme of protection versus pleasure, guided growth with Self Responsibility. He discussed how the past values (hard work, sacrifice, good habits and education) which were treasured and admired are now being neglected in search for enjoyment and entertainment. He emphasized the fundamental importance of creating a loving, proper environment for children, an environment where children have the opportunity to explore and express themselves. The theme of protection versus pleasure was also discussed whereby the child has to realize their growth is their own responsibility. “My Life”.

If parents do not guide and provide a pertinent role model for their children, they seek for it in the media, and so adopt bad habits. He gave a guideline to parents: provide love in the first five years, then discipline for the next 10 years, when the child reaches 16; the parent should attempt to become their friend. Through performing and completing one task at a time, being ever-vigilant, we will develop mind control and will power. He said that we should not blame others for our faults, that we should mind our own business, make ourselves perfect and others will become perfect in our eyes.

Dr Parbhoo’s paper was higly relevant and intriguing for both parents as well as children.

Panelist’s presentation on Harmony of Four Yogas

The third speaker was Ms Indrani Basdeo who is the Secretary of the Etete Satsung group. She is a long standing member of the Ramakrishna Centre. She occupies the career of a legal manager in a financial company.

Ms Basdeo attempted to enlighten us upon the 4 yogas. As humans we are all in an endless search for real peace and happiness. Through the grace of our divine Lord, Swami Vivekananda gave us the nectar of Vedanta; however this gift remained unopened. Yoga is the union of the individual soul with the almighty Lord. In the attainment of this one goal there are various different paths according to our temperaments.

These 4 yogas are: Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Karma Yoga and Raja Yoga.

Bhakti yoga – Emotional Path, the relationship between the devotee and God.

Jnana Yoga– Intellectual Path, the reading and studying of the scriptures. This involves intellectual discrimination. The necessity for us to discriminate from the real and the unreal leading to spiritual realization, the expansion of our intellect. It was here that Ms Basdeo used a funny story of a camper and doctor for better understanding. They both went camping, when the camper told the doctor to look up and tell him what he saw, the doctor provided a list of stars and planets! When the doctor asked the camper what he saw, he simply replied “our tent has been stolen!”

Karma Yoga – working- This involves selfless service in the spirit of worship. The essence of Karma Yoga is selfless service. “Numerous individuals think, if I help what will happen to me, however a great individual does it for no gain”. It is considered as a spiritual action. The secret of action is purity and serenity of mind.

Raja Yoga – Spiritual Path- This includes the meditation and prayer aspect. By concentrating our mind, it becomes much more powerful thus providing us with a better quality of life. She also used a story to illustrate this and linked it to handling turbulence in our lives such as traffic jams.

It was here that Ms Basdeo posed the question of “How do we train our mind? “  She provided the answer of constant practice and dispassion. Swami Vivekananda says that the 4 yogas are capable of taking us to supreme infinite knowledge and bliss. Many question which is the best to practice? The best is a combination of all four as this results in maximum usage and maximum benefits that will lead us into reaching our goal more rapidly.  The Harmony of the 4 Yogas are best given in the Bhagavad Gita. In conclusion she provided us with an intriguing element called  “sandwich sadhana”!

First slice: Dedicate everything to God in the morning. Filling: Work performed. Other slice: In the night dedicate all your actions to God.

We should attempt to open Swami Vivekananda’s unopened gift thus pursuing peace and happiness. It was a well prepared and presented paper. The stories and parables used definitely made for easier memory.

Panelist’s presentation on Relevance of Rabindranath Tagore

The last paper of the Conference was delivered by Ms Raisha Singh, a member of the Newcastle Sub-centre who also acts as the course co-ordinator of the Faculty of Peace Studies, Spirituality and Culture run by the Ramakrishna Centre. Professionally she occupies the post of the Ladysmith Campus Manager.

She addressed on the Kaviguru Rabindranath Tagore‘s message of wisdom and its relevance in today’s society. The following 6 ideas were highlighted:

Peace and Harmony

The Unity of Man

Liberation and emancipation of woman

Divinity within us

Rural Reconstruction:

Inner Turmoil

Ms Raisha Singh highlighted how we are touched by the meaningful enormous literature penned by Rabindranath Tagore, creating a new art of living. He translated the essence of creative impulses into social context. His writing and the wisdom of it surpasses time and space. She emphasized the importance of interpreting Indian philosophy and religion and expanding our horizon of love. In conclusion, Ms R Singh elaborated on Rabindranath Tagore to such an extent that he is well known as an extremely great personality that made him win a Nobel Prize for Literature. The relevance of the thoughts of Rabindranath Tagore is especially appropriate in the 150 years celebration of arrival of Indian indentured labourers.

Audience Response

The Conference was concluded with a panel discussion led by our Revered Maharaj. It was here that Maharaj in his inimitable way, summarized the main concepts of the three speakers. He deeply appreciated the time given by the delegates by attending the Conference and listening to the learned panelists. But that was not enough, he added. Maharaj exhorted the audience to ‘implement the ideas’ that have sunk into their minds so that the lives of elders become an example to the youth and children.

Prompted by Maharaj, youth were asked to provide their opinions or observations. Nibha Ramkelawan, a student devotee, provided an exceptional response highlighting the relevance and importance of our organization and the proper moral grounding it provides. She elaborated that in a Christian pre-dominant schools, the youth often faced with various challenges and it was through learning from Conferences, literature and guidance and through the grace of our Master, the Hindu youth overcome these. To other topical questions fielded at the paper presenters, I should confess, that the learned panelists definitely did not lag behind in giving quality responses to them.

In conclusion

This report will not be complete without the mentioning of the Director of Ceremonies, Ms Ashnee Jaggath an eminent educator of Danhauser secondary and devotee of the Dundee Sub-centre. The spirited way she started the programme, vigorous manner she steered the responses and professional control she exercised over the floor and the exceptional dynamism she displayed in directing the programme cannot but be applauded.

And kudos to the Dundee Sub-centre Chairperson Mr Shaiel Chunder and all the members of its Committee for making everyone feel absolutely comfortable.

Through the grace of our divine Master, it was evident that the audience and delegates left the Conference feeling enriched and motivated to deal with challenges and far more knowledgable on certain aspects of Hinduism. The Conference was undoubtedly an incomparable success and definitely an annual event we await with bated breath!

Hari Om tat sat! Jai Sri Ramakrishnarpanamastu!

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Image immersion

Happy Shubha Vijaya!

This year is the fourth year that I was blessed to witness Navaratri celebration here in our Centres of South Africa. Two years back, Mother made me visit all our branches in Northern Natal about which you might have read in this blog here. I have no hesitation to say that of all the functions observed here at our Ashrams, doubtless Navaratri (Durga Puja in Ramakrishna tradition parlance) holds a special charm. At no other time one can witness such a display of devotional faith and fervour as at this time.

Besides Headquarters, the Sub-centres at Chatsworth and Pietermaritzburg in Southern Natal, had clay images of Mother Durga. Sri Sarada Devi Ashram at Asherville had also such a murti. All these four murtis are designed to be of ashtabhuja (eight-armed) and simha-vahini (riding the lion). There is no ubiquitous demon King Mahishaasur! Recently I heard from brother Swami Saradaprabhanandaji that his Guru and the Second president of the Ramakrishna Centre of SA, Swami Shivapadanandaji wanted to popularise the benign form of Mother Durga among the devotees.

Each day these murtis were lovingly decorated and dressed, and freshly garlanded. Since every cluster of three nights of the nine-night festival are dedicated to Mothers Mahakali, Mahalakshmi and Mahasaraswati each, representing the three gunas of prakriti viz., tamas, rajas and sattwa, Mother was appropriately adorned with garments in blue-black, blood-red and milk-white colours. And there She was, in all her divine glory and splendour, silently accepting the adoration of Her devotees, through their soulful songs, the hearty recital of hymns, divinely discourses and purifying pujas.

People ask me often, ‘Swamiji! from where do you get such beautiful murtis? Are they imported from india?’ Well, the murtis are ‘proudly South African!’ diligently made by a lady-devotee, who is a dedicated worshipper of the Holy Trio, very much a citizen of SA.

She considers the preparation of the Durga murti as an act of her special sadhanaa. After making prayers to Master, Mother and Swamiji, she first casts the Foot of the Mother. She confided in me that bowing to the Foot represents the crushing of her ego – the ego that thinks she is the creator of the Image. She would pray with humility, that Mother might bestow Her grace upon the artist. The lady acknowledged that the artist in her was merely an instrument of Mother, performing the act of Mother’s Will.

On Mahashtami day, after Master’s puja at the Temple, we gathered at the Nischalananda Hall where Sri Durga Havan was performed to the chanting of entire Devi Mahatmyam and oblation offered at the end of each mantra followed by recitation of the mantra with vilva leaf oblation– ‘Aum Aim Hreem Kleem Chaamundaayai Vicce’. This was too joined by all the assembled devotees. Long before the 700th ‘svaahaa!’ was chanted in chorus, the minds of the devotees had already begun to soar to great spiritual heights.

The most emotional day for the devotees is the vijaya dashami – when the images that were worshipped with pomp and éclat were immersed in the sea. The day unlike last year found the sun shining, not windy, the sky azure. Like Mathur babu the devotees could not bear to see Her go away. Was the image immersed in the sea of water? yes, and what about She who was worshipped in the image? She was immersed in the sea of thoughts! For the moment, there was only the philosophical consolation that the supreme Devi had returned once again to Her immanent residence in the hearts of the devotees. Did not Master say in the Gospel: “…But you should remember that the heart of the devotee is the abode of God…His drawing room (lounge).”

Every year during Durga Puja, Mathur would invite the Master to his Calcutta residence at Janbazar. The Master passed those days joyfully with Mathur and his family. As a Guru, the Master bestowed his grace on Mathur. On the last day of Durga Puja that year, Mathur said to the Master: “Father, whatever others may say, I won’t allow the Mother to be immersed in the Ganges. I have ordered the worship to be continued daily. How can I survive in this world without the Mother?”

The Master stroked Mathur’s chest and said: Oh, is this what makes you afraid? Who has told you that you will have to live without the Mother? And where will She go even if you immerse Her image in the Ganges? Can the Mother stay away from Her son? For the last three days She has accepted your worship in the worship hall, but from today She will accept your worship constantly, sitting in your heart”. And Mathur was mollified.

The tradition of Navaratri here among the Hindus is a mixture of North-South combination. The days were spent in a blissful mood for which I am grateful to our Sri Thakur, Ma and Swamiji although my tour for 14 days from 1st to 14th october was extensive and hectic. And this feeling of joy is nonetheless due to the gracious blessings of all senior monks and loving vibrations from younger brothers. And finally is the devotional feeling with which devotees like you who are house-holders, always wish for the welfare of the monks!

Durga! Durga!
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Why Ganesha ‘Lord of Obstacles’?

||Om hreem Vighneshwaraaya namaha||

A very happy ‘Sri Ganesha chaturthi’ to every one! It is a joyous occasion always. All our Centres in South Africa celebrate this day in a solemn manner.

Ganesha at the temple altar of Ramakrishna Centre of SA, Durban

Importance is given to japa whereby the wisdom aspect of our personalities is stimulated. The day starts with a special puja to Sri Ganesha in our temple. Devotees, by turn perform japa of the above-quoted mantra from 6 am to 6 pm on a relay manner. In the evening it concludes with a satsang where devotees in chorus sing bhajans and kirtans interspersed with Talks or Readings.

As children we were not only treated with different kinds of sweets during dining time, (note: earlier I wrote about that delicious dish Kozhuk kattai or modakam) but also were trained in lots of traditional practices that were initially appeared as queer but later loved. In igniting the imagination of the child, Ganesha worship would or even now stands supreme. Imagination about what? About creating a living contact between the visible human and the invisible super-human. It leads the growing child in the practice of devotion. This worship acts as a means in giving practical shape to develop a healthy and loving relationship with friends and neighbours.

I am reminded of the allotted duties among the siblings and oh! what verve and vigour the children used to show in fulfilling their arduous(!) tasks like plucking flowers, cutting fruits,  arranging durwa grass etc. A sense of camaraderie prevails that brings peace and happiness. May Sri Ganesha resolve all our conflicts!

Lord Ganesha, ever the son, with His brother and parents

Worship of Personal God in whatever form has many distinct advantages. Lord Ganesha though He is ever the son of Parvati and Shiva is known as ‘Vighneshwara’ the Lord of Obstacles. Often children (the mustachioed babies too…!) ask how is it that this God is called ‘Lord of Obstacles’. Is it not good to worship those gods who can offer boons instead of those creating obstructions?  Late Revered Swami Chidbhavanandaji maharaj (famous for his translation of Bhagavad Gita in Tamil and English – perhaps the very first one in bringing Master’s teachings at relevant places – used to compare this Universe to an automobile. He says in one of his books “Facets of Brahman” which is as delightful as inspiring, explains why and how Lord Ganesha brings good to the devotees :

“In the working of an automobile each mechanism has its particular part to play. The function of one part in it cannot be the function of another.” This means that notwithstanding each part having its own structural and functional individuality the motor car an move only with the combined effect of all of them. So, he concludes that the Universe is a self-projected living and intelligent mechanism. It is the material manifestation of the saguna brahman

While harmony exists in its variation, discord and conflicts are also seen. Thus Nature brings all the beings into existence and provides opportunities ‘to evolve into higher and yet higher order of life’. All levels have their intrinsic two categories called Divine and Demoniac.

This Cosmic Intelligence is symbolically called Ganesha. Those who are honest and strive to lead a peaceful life, thus possessing Divine qualities, He definitely comes to their aid. And he does not neglect those with asuric qualities. By creating obstructions, He brings disappointment in the minds of devotees as what was prayed goes not sanctioned! But in the course of life’s journey, a devotee finds out that seeming obstruction was in one way a blessing in disguise. In short by introducing lesser evils He wards off greater evils of life and Vighneshwara (Vighna – obstacles, Ishwara – Lord) rightly represents this particular aspect of Nature.

How Ganesha came in the practical life through dreams and fulfilled the desires of the devotees is narrated here.

It was sometime in 2005. This happened while I was in Ranchi. Once I received a post parcel that looked very tiny. Well, I just kept it on my study table; I never even ventured to open it. Everyday I was seeing it but somehow had no urge to open the parcel and look what the gift was. Suddenly one fine early morning a devotee rang me up to say that she was indeed frightened by a dream. I asked her what was the dream. She explained that she was entering into our Temple. She saw a small figure of Ganesha slowly emerging from nowhere and becoming crystal clear and was walking towards her. The image was in utter black colour. She asked me whether this dream was inauspicious.

Consoling her with words of sympathy, I told her that seeing Ganesha is considered as most auspicious and who knows that black Ganesha wants to come to her home! Did she not tell me earlier that she wanted to worship Ganesha in some murti? So, I concluded by telling her that she might wait till Ganesha makes some arrangement.

That day while I was just going out, the cleaning boy came and put that tiny parcel into my hands and said that I had not yet opened it as it was lying for many days on the table. I quickly thrusted it into my pocket and went out.

Lord Ganesha
Image by Swami Stream via Flickr

It was a pleasant surprise when on my way back, I met the son of this devotee who insisted that I should visit his home. Since I had some time, I agreed and reached his house. The devotee welcomed me and was talking about her dream; she asked me, ‘Maharaj, when would Ganesha come to my home?’

While the conversation was going on I casually took the parcel and opened it and lo! it was black Ganesha murti! So tiny and cute, I said, “See! here He is!” I placed that Ganesha into her altar under the feet of the Mother Kali image. Well, son got his place again under mother!

A devotee from South Africa, the other day narrated this following incident.

It was in 1997. I was overwhelmed by money and power. I had a successful business and everything was hunky dory in my life. My day used to start quite early, leaving home everyday including Sundays at 7am and returning at 10pm.  That meant neglecting my home, children and daily prayer.

This continued for 2 years. Although I was a devotee of the Master from the age of 13 years, somehow at the age of 29, I faltered in my spiritual life. My conscience used to prick me every now and then….. but still I neglected my sadhana.

As the second year was coming to a close, my body and mind was beginning to tire and so were my kids on whom I could sense the effect of neglect. It was late one night while I was asleep, that I had a wonderful dream… or was it real, I will never know that… Lord Ganesha came to me while I lay on the bed and spoke softly to me. He kept telling me ‘arise and offer some fruit and milk’. I could still see Him in His flowing yellow dhoti and  with a flower garland around His neck. When I was reluctant to get up, he firmly, at the same time, very lovingly coaxed me to wake up. I lay in my bed wondering at the strange, yet divine dream that I just experienced.

I gazed around to see whether the Gracious Lord was still in the room, was it my imagination, was it a dream, was it real? who knows!  After a quick bath and breakfast, just out of curiosity I went to the calendar to check what day it was… I WAS STUNNED TO SEE IT WAS  THE AUSPICIOUS DAY OF GANESH CHATURTHI. I immediately went into my shrine and offered milk to the Lord and realised that the Lord is continuously knocking on my door, and He is waiting for me to open. It was on that auspicious day that by the will of the Lord, I quit my job and became a mum to my kids and held on tightly to the Lord’s Feet… Never to let go AGAIN!

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Krishna Ashtami greetings!

Dear Devotees

Aum Namo Narayanaya!

Hindus all along have, from time immemorial, been worshippers of God in form. We strongly believe that the formless, infinite
Ishwara who is nitya (eternal), buddha (awakened), shuddha (ever pure) and mukta (ever free) does alone takes any form out of His compassion for devotees.

Sri Ramakrishna in marble image fully bedecked for Sri Krishna Ashtami Celebration...

Bhagavan Sri Ramakrishna used to say that “Many are the names of God and infinite are forms through which he may be approached.”

One of the most essential and distinctive feature of Bhakti-maarga – the path of Devotion – is dependence on grace. The Gita speaks of two kinds of Grace: one is general or impersonal grace available to all people irrespective of whether they are Bhaktas or Jnaanis. (samo’ham sarva bhuteshu, Gita, 9.29). The other is a special, personal grace given only to the true devotee who has surrendered his all to the Avataara and depends on Him alone. Such a devotee’s spiritual and material welfare (yogakshema) God Himself takes care of.

For the first time in the religious history of India—perhaps the whole world—a divine Teacher gave this assurance to mankind:

“I lift up those who depend on me from the ocean of death” (12.7)
“I swear: my devotee, even if he is the worst of sinners, will never perish” (9.31)
“I will liberate you from all sins; don’t worry” (18.66)

marble images of Radharani and Lord Krishna after the daily puja...

The only condition for this otherwise unconditional Grace is prapatti or self-surrender. The type of self-surrender that Gita teaches is not a passive state of inaction which weakens the person. On the contrary prapatti is a dynamic state which gives tremendous strength to the person. Strong in the strength of God, he can face any problem, even fight a battle, with equanimity and calmness of mind (Gita: 3.30)

May we remember that every human body is like a temple wherein the heart of hearts is the chosen spot where God resides. While it is good to propitiate God in stone or marble, it is necessary that we should worship God in the poor, God in the sick and God in the illiterate. The worship of God in man should take the form of seva (service).

Swami Saradaprabhanandaji, officials and devotees of our Centre join me in conveying hearty best wishes for the success of the Krishna ashtami celebration at your home and at your Centre or branches.

May Lord Radhakrishna bless you all with devotion at His lotus feet! On this auspicious Krishna Janmasthami day, may the divine Lord take birth and manifest in our hearts. May He enact all His divine plays for our welfare and that of the world and as He lifted Govardhan for the safety of Vrindavan, may He lift the burdens of our life, so we may continue on our journey in divine bliss.

Swami Vimokshananda

Spiritual sojourn

Welcome to South Africa!

Next Thursday night i.e., on July 15, 2010, His Holiness Sri Swami Shantatmanandaji Maharaj, the Head of our New Delhi Ramakrishna Mission branch will be with us in Durban.

Swami Shantatmanandaji Maharaj

He is eagerly looking forward to pay a 15-day visit to this Rainbow nation wherein he is scheduled to participate in the functions organised by our Centres. All arrangements to give a warm welcome to him at the King Shaka International Airport by Swami Saradaprabhanandaji, self and Chairperson Ramesh Ishwarlaal with some senior officials of the Centre are set.

I have fond memories of dear brother Shantatmanandaji’s amiable nature. I had the privileged moments to be with him especially during Sri Sri Jagaddhatri Puja for long 12 years in Ranchi Sanatorium.  He was the leader of a team of monks and volunteer-devotees who would without fail visit Ranchi in the month of Kartik (Oct-Nov), to conduct the renowned Puja. He could carry every one with him by his jovial and pleasant behaviour.

While accepting our hearty invitation to make a visit here, he said that he takes “the entire trip as a spiritual journey”.  He further said: “I have very wonderful and pleasant memories of the devotees of South Africa whom I had the occasion to meet in New Delhi during their trips to India.  So, I really look forward to this spiritual journey.”

In a communication to our Chairman Ramesh Ishwarlall, the Swami said: “The South Africa centre is growing from strength to strength every day under the wonderful leadership of your noble self and others.  I am sure it is going to occupy a very high position amongst our centres all over the world.”

Early days

Being a volunteer in the Bangalore Ashram, Shantatmanandaji known popularly as ‘Jaishankar Maharaj’ formally joined the Ramakrishna Math and Mission in 1977 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 1986. While in Belur Math, staying for 30 years, he had the blessed opportunity to come into close contact with several luminary-Swamis of the Order.

Stint of service

His expertise in the area of Financial Administration and Fund Management has been the cornerstone of the financial transparency and accountability at the headquarters of the Ramakrishna Mission, Belur Math (Kolkata). During his tenure, the branch centres of the world-wide Ramakrishna Mission received new impetus in streamlining their financial records and policies.

The other areas which continue to relentlessly engage him with Human Development are Disaster Management and Value Education. The Swami is a self-professed advocate of character building and man-making Value Education based on the universal insights, which are common to all spiritual traditions, as presented by  Vivekananda and Vedanta, which he feels should impact our educational structure and policies extensively.

Women, Youth and children

I visited in 2007 Sarada Seva Sangha, an NGO in the suburbs of Kolkata. This is managed by one hundred trained women volunteers. The  leaders of SSS went all the way to receive me and arrange a cultural program in honour of my visit which I shall ever cherish. Swami Shantatmanandaji was a pioneering influence in setting up this Organisation in the field of Women’s Empowerment, which is a developmental area close to his vision of Nation-Building. The Sangha is managed and administered by women and its focus area is the service of women and children.

Swami Shantatmanandaji is very close to youngsters and inspires them towards a life of purpose, dedication and service with a rare passion that is characteristic of the mission of Swami Vivekananda.

Outer ring Service

He is passionately involved in the interfaith dialogue leading to closer understanding between different faiths and is deeply committed to all peace initiatives.

Swamiji conducts regular discourses in English and Bengali as also in Tamil and Hindi in rare occasions.

After he took over charge of the Ramakrishna Mission, New Delhi, Swami Shantatmanandaji has visited Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Russia, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, France, Germany and Poland on lecture tours, besides visiting many cities in India on invitation to give lectures on different spiritual topics.

New Delhi Centre

Ramakrishna Temple at New Delhi Ramakrishna Mission

This centre was started in 1927 and made a branch of the Mission in 1930.

Activities at a glance:

1. A library with separate sections for children and university students. It had 43,177 general books, and 192 newspapers and periodicals.

2. A computer training centre with 762 students.

3. A free coaching centre for 95 children studying in municipal schools in and around the ashrama.

4. A homoeopathic dispensary, which treated 23,515 cases during the year.

5. A mobile medical unit, which treated 14,788 cases this year.

6. A modern free TB clinic at Karol Bagh, which treated 21,553 outpatient cases this year. Under the home treatment scheme, the clinic extended its medical services to patients unable to attend in person, through their contacts.

7. A medical centre in the TB clinic premises, providing specialist consultancy services. It served 49,083 patients during the year.

8. Religious activities: There were 257 religious discourses on weekdays and Sundays in the ashrama this year. Moreover, 100 occasional lectures were delivered in various cultural institutions and 101 value education programmes conducted in various educational institutions. Regular Sunday classes were held at Delhi University. Besides, the birth anniversaries of Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi and Swami Vivekananda were celebrated at the ashrama and in other localities in Delhi.

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Fascinating Festival

Marble Image of Sri Ramakrishna installed in HQ Temple

The first Children’s Cultural Festival (CCF) that I saw in Durban was in 2007, three months after I was posted to South Africa. I had attended earlier many such functions in India and had come to the conclusion that too long hours was too much to be my treat. Imagine the severity of the sting of sitting for seven hours! But here the situation was smartly different. I didn’t know how the time went by and it appeared only a few moments had just passed and I was jolted to understand that the function had come to an end!

The all-pervading spirit of Sri Ramakrishna could palpably be felt in all the children who were participating in various items. There were scintillating sketches, trend-setting talks, soulful singing and delightful dances. The quick succession of multi-items moving from one scene to the other on the beautifully decorated stage was indeed mesmerizing. Suffice it to say that I was captivated by the love and devotion the children displayed towards our Holy Trio.

In this connection I saw the tireless efforts of the teacher-devotees who started preparing the children during the vacation. They are verily like the unseen and unsung dew drops which in the small hours of the day fall silently on the buds and make them bloom so that the fragrance can be spread. And of course I cannot forget the devotee-officials who worked hard in arranging the logistics without which the completion of the Festival would not be in order.

From brother Swami Saradaprabhanandaji and also some of the senior devotees what I hear about the Cultural Festival sounds wonderful. How in those days this Festival would be called ‘Rally’! All the children of the ‘Ramakrishna Children’s Club’ would meet at an Annual Mass Rally. This term ‘Rally’ even today, is used when referred to in elders’ conversations. In years gone by the children with their youth siblings along with elders would assemble in a pre-selected spot and would make a procession through the streets of Durban in the early morning. You can see a few photos of old days by clicking the below links:

Children’s Rally 1

Children’s Rally 2

Who knows you may be marching in one of the photos as a little boy or girl ?!

In their march past, the children would give a ‘wake-up call’ to every Hindu who was ‘asleep’ to his pristine culture (pun intended) with band parties that wielded drum majorettes, bugles, whistles. I further understand that the now ubiquitous vuvuzelas were conspicuous by their absence!

The ingenuity of late Revered Swami Nischalanandaji in organizing ‘Rally’ to awaken the Hindu population to its great glorious past through the medium of children was indeed very productive in that the sustenance of Hindu culture in this country amidst entirely a different variety of culture was made possible.

Here are some more old photos of 4th Annual ‘Mass Rally’:

The old theme of ‘procession’ oriented Festival has in a few years metamorphosed into a stable program, taking from the diverse aspects of the preserved culture to play a role of ‘nation-building, character-making’ among the rising level of modern participation.

Today I am attending the Southern Natal CCF. (Northern Natal branches have their own Cultural Festival day. Earlier once I did write about the 2009 Northern Natal CCF.) The following branches are scheduled to perform: Chatsworth, Durban Central, Etete, Phoenix, Pietermaritzburg, Redhill, Richards Bay, Sydenham, Tongaat, Verulam and Sri Sarada Devi Ashram. I shall try to post the photos later which you may enjoy watching as a slide show.

I take this opportunity of wishing all participating branches every success in their various items. My following Message finds a place in a printed program published on the eve of the CCF, to be handed over to more than a thousand people who have started to throng the venue :

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My dear children, parents and well-wishers,

Om Namo Narayanaya!

This Children’s Cultural Festival now held in its 56th year is undoubtedly one of the great contributions of late Swami Nischalanandaji Maharaj, the Founder of the Ramakrishna Centre of South Africa. My humble prostrations to him. Propagation and preservation of Hinduism suitable to the Hindu masses and more importantly spreading the non-sectarian and broad-based teachings of Bhagavan Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi and Swami Vivekananda among the people living in South Africa was the goal he set before himself and he worked tirelessly to that end.

On this joyful occasion, Swami Saradaprabhanandaji  joins me in conveying our heartiest congratulations to all our children for their brilliant performance seen year by year. Notwithstanding the severe school homework and stressful projects, they have put in strenuous rehearsals of their allotted items. This is indeed a commendable achievement. Our  hearty appreciation is due to the unseen hands – especially the voluntary teachers and the the respective branch Committee members – that worked unselfishly “behind the scenes”.

What actually do we aim to achieve by holding the Children’s Cultural Festival?

– an awareness to increase the quality of life

– cultivation of spiritual values

– inculcating faith in God, the One Supreme Power

– developing mutual love and respect

– service to mankind

Though the number of children participating in our Sunday Schools have to our delight, seen a rise in recent years, yet we are painfully aware that vast majority is still remaining untouched. In this respect, the role of parents in coming forward to enrol their children cannot be over emphasized. Neglect by the parents, being the First Teachers of their children, will portend to the perils of the future family system. A happy family is the core unit of peaceful society. Home is definitely the first school.

I, therefore, earnestly urge parents to encourage their children to enlist them in the classes so that these innocent children do not become prey to modern ills. A wholesome, nourishing spiritual food given when they are young will be the source of strength in future when they will be able to face the newer challenges.

May the blessings of the Holy Trio be on all is our  prayer!

Swami Vimokshananda

President

Ramakrishna Centre of S.A.

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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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Maha Shivaratri

jagatah pitarau vande paarvati parameshwarau - I bow down to Paarvati and Parameshwar the parents of the Universe

Maata mey Paarvati Devi, Pitaa Devo Maheswaraha |
Baandhava Shiva Bhaktaascha Svadesho Bhuvanatrayam ||

Paarvati devi is my Mother, father is Maheshwara – Shiva.
Relatives are the devotees of Shiva and my own country is all the three worlds.

-Sri Adisankaracharya

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Dear Readers
Many thanks for the wonderful words of best wishes! And they have come just a day before and are coming during Mahashivaratri.
May He, the Bholaanaath with the divine mother Bhavaani, residing in every one’s heart, guide us at every step is my earnest prayer to Him.
Shiva means mangal. Auspiciousness. May that quality, by His infinite grace, abide in all of us in abundance!
With love and prayers
Swami Vimokshananda

courtesy: Dr S Adhinarayanan, India

Youth ‘Retreat’ – going ahead?

A Report by Chetan Ramlall

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 have an half-day Retreat program for the youth in commemoration of Swami Vivekananada’s birth day. The Sunday, 24 January 2010, was chosen by the youth members of our Centre to commemorate the 147th birth anniversary of Swamiji. Despite the sweltering heat and humidity on that day, a hundred eager youth attended the specially arranged Youth Retreat. This Retreat – not definitely ‘an act of moving back’ but proceeding progressively ‘going ahead’ ! I am glad to present a Report, penned – nay! composed in a Word Processor as the modern youth are wont to – by Chetan Ramlall who is a youth member of the Centre here. Images courtesy: Kamal’

The programme began at 9:00am sharp, when the youth had assembled in the main shrine hall of the Ramakrishna Temple. After the soulful rendition of bhajans and kirtans like Parama dayaal, Swamijiki jeevan gaathaa and moorta maheshwara by the ashram’s Ramakrishna Choir, the youth were treated to another feast.

Pravrajika Divyanandaprana Mataji promoting awareness among the youth

Revered Pravrajika Divyanandaprana Mataji, a respected sannyasini (nun) of Sri Sarada Math, Dakshineshwar, near Kolkata, India, delivered a Talk. She has come to South Africa on a visit and has been staying at Sri Sarada Devi Ashram at Asherville. Notwithstanding the topic entitled – Swami Vivekananda’s Message to the Youth – undoubtedly appealing, the manner in which the learned Mataji eloquently explained Swamiji’s simple 5 step formula to success, was truly awe-inspiring. The formula as enumerated by her was to combine the Five ideas : Goal orientation, Faith in oneself, Service to others, Clean and disciplined habits and Concentration. The first session concluded with meditation and prayers.

After a short tea break, the youth reassembled in the Swami Nischalananda Hall, where they waited to a very informative Seminar.

Nikhil Ramdass spoke on ‘Will power and a Disciplined Mind’ with a firm conviction

Brother Nikhil Ramdass, who matriculated last year, spoke on ‘Will power and a Disciplined Mind’ with a firm conviction. His recommendations were : identifying priorities, increasing inner vigilance, adopting time saving methods and avoiding meaningless talks.

Jessica Thakurpersadh, speaking on ‘Sri Alasinga Perumal’

Sister Jessica Thakurpersadh, spoke next on ‘Sri Alasinga Perumal’, one who was referred by Swami Vivekananda as ‘My dearest disciple’. She explained in detail how Alasinga was the initial instrument for promoting Swamiji’s attending Parliament of Religions in Chicago. Fired with zeal and fortified with faith in himself and God, how Alasinga started and ran successfully an English journal that preached  Vedanta as propounded by Swamiji, was the rest of her illuminating speech.

Yashmille Raghunundan speaking on ‘Swami Vivekananda’s Secret of Work’

The final speaker was brother Yashmille Raghunundan, who spoke on ‘Swami Vivekananda’s Secret of Work’. He narrated the ‘secret’ at three levels – physical, intellectual and spiritual. He also explained how this concept was closely linked to the eternal teaching of Bhagavad Gita. Yashmille’s powerful exposition was spiced with an interesting Presentation of a slide show.

If I say that the youth really learnt a lot, would definitely be an under-statement. The program then passed on to a cultural item.

Dance is one of the most ancient of Hindu art forms, and among the most beautiful. After the Seminar, the girls of the Sri Sarada Devi Ashram performed a captivating Kathak Dance. It was truly inspiring and once again reminded us all the lasting beauty of our long standing culture.

Girls of the Sri Sarada Devi Ashram performing a captivating Kathak Dance

Thereafter, Dr H.B Parbhoo, a senior devotee and presently the General Secretary of the Centre, gave a short discourse on, ‘Lessons the Youth can learn from the 1860 settlers’. It was truly eye-opening and simply remarkable to learn about the plight of our fore-fathers when they landed here as an ‘indentured labour’, and their great struggle to survive in this foreign land of Natal, under the unsympathetic, iron-fist rule of the British. Even though they were treated like scum, they rose above the challenges and hardships, and slowly but surely, they managed to set up an infrastructure, headed by faith in God, where the Indian community would start to flourish. This Talk indeed brought out in full measure the importance of the unfailing traits that the early settlers possessed.

Audience enjoying 'Swami Bodhamayanandaji's DVD'

Following this deeply touching Talk, the youth were treated to a DVD presentation. It was part one of a four-part ‘Message to the Youth’, delivered by Sri Swami Bodhamayanandaji Maharaj, a youth monk of the Ramakrishna Order, now in Chennai Centre. Maharaj’s words were like gold, and the youth were simply hanging on to his every syllable. Maharaj addressed various issues and problems affecting the youth in modern times. Methods and techniques for overcoming these problems were alluded to. He used copious teachings of the Holy Trinity, especially that of Swami Vivekananda, as he guided the youth with his powerful voice and charged words.

After the DVD, it was time for the much awaited Question and Answer session. A panel of three, consisting of Revered Sri Swami Vimokshanandaji Maharaj, Dr. HB Parbhoo, and Mrs Rakhi Beekrum, were in the hot seat. Between them, they astutely handled all the questions posed by the youth.

Youth happy to have a group photo

After a very rejuvenating rendition of the Centre’s Anthem, and the concluding Vedic prayers, we had come to the end of what was truly an inspiring, educational and fulfilling day. The youth offered their pranams (prostrations) to Revered Maharaj, and after partaking of prasad, in the form of lunch, they made their way home from the Retreat, feeling ‘going ahead’ in their pursuit of their chosen path…

Hari Om Tat Sat!

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