Words that singeth…

Reading Sri Ramacharitamanasa of Tulsidas is always a rewarding experience. Indeed the original verses are so sweet that are no less a symphony stilled into the scattered words. They are not merely poetic in the sense you enjoy the structure and meaning and say ‘wow’! The work is undoubtedly a grand epic poem but the poem that is pro-active in putting an end to your slumber, in awakening you from dreamy sleep, and in instructing you on your way up. Can we have that same magic in its translated version? Very many people affirm a big NO!

Sri Rama talking to Lakshmana, while in search of Sita

I have of course read prosaic translation in English that does not, in my humble opinion, do  justice to the original. And how difficult is to translate the original in English verses? Will that make an appeal to your heart? These were some random thoughts when I received a  response in the Comments section, the following from Skendha. Who is she? A young lady from New Delhi, she is a regular visitor to this blog. In her own words, somewhere else on the internet, “I’m more a mind demon, love reading, writing, eating!…Idealistic and spiritual and sensitive…” Her favourite  quote is always from Swami Vivekananda.

After reading her creation, I was, to say the least, stunned. I read it out to a few others who were equally stunned and said that the translation has taken newer heights in understanding the original’s beauty. I am happy to place her ‘offering’ in my blog thus sharing the joy that I felt. (Incidentally this is the 100th Post in this blog!)

Skendha wrote:

Revered Maharaj,

I hope it will not be an impudence but since you made that kind suggestion, I am bringing it up… I had translated the passage into verse some years ago. And I am reproducing it here, just as an offering . Please kindly accept it. With warmest regards,

Sincere pranam,

Skendha, New Delhi

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Epic of Ram: The Season of Rains

Translated from Goswami Tulasidasji’ SriRamCharitMaanas.

Lakshman behold the peacocks !
Dancing for the darkened skies;
Rejoicing as the devotee who
Discovers a Vaishnava monk in sight.
 
The rolling thunder of stormy clouds strains against the shadowy skies,
And in the absence of My precious Sita, bereft of all peace am I;
The lightning bolt tearing the clouds wilfully whirls across the horizon,
Darting and flitting as do the sentiments of a rake, loyal to no one.
 
The raining clouds are strung over the earth, bowed with their burden,
Humble as him who, toiling for years attains to divine wisdom;
How these great mountains do face the onslaught of pitiless torrents,
With calm fortitude as the saints, who endure the fool’s comments.
 
The sated streams blossoming into rivers, frolic along their shores
Glorying in their noveau riches, just as the knave who must make a show.
The embrace of the earth stains the fair, bright showers from heaven,
Muddied, as if they were the soul of man tarnished by dark delusions.
 
The streams rush on, and filling the lustrous lake are lost in it’s bosom,
Drawn unerringly as the divine qualities are towards a holy one;
The wild course of the heedless rivers ends in the placid expanse of the seas;
Sojourning like the soul which, merging with Hari, attains eternal peace.
 
Four quarters of this forest are dripping with croaks, chirps, many songs,
Blissful as when the bramhacharins, chant the Vedas, to herald the dawn.
The wet branches of dark brown trees which bring forth leaves of glossy green,
Are beautified as the mind of a seeker which, blessed by intellect, becomes serene.
 
Oh look Brother! how the stars are challenged by this brave battalion of fireflies!
Ill-advised as the gathering of cheats who make a hollow show for all eyes.
And here and there lie weary travellers, broken down and pining for rest,
Ravaged as the senses of a man, in whom discrimination has made conquest.
 
Lo! it is day as Divakar smiles, 
But He is hidden again and lo! it is night.
As the cloud-bank, so is company, My Son,
It fires or smothers our Eternal Light. 

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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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‘Chatworthy’ Youth Meet

A Report by Sohana Chunder

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, Chatsworth Sub-centre had arranged a Youth Forum meet. I am glad to present a Report, penned – nay! composed in a Word Processor as the modern youth are wont to – by Sohana Chunder who is a youth member of the Sub-Centre there. Images courtesy: ‘Jerry’

On the 31st January 2010, the Chatsworth Sub-Centre of the Ramakrishna Centre of South Africa hosted the Vivekananda Youth Forum.  Swami Vivekananda has been extolled by many as a rishi, a social reformer, an educationalist and a saviour. Of special significance is the influence he had on the youth of both India and the rest of the world. This Youth Forum is based on the values that Swamiji advocated for the youth.

The panelists with the President in the Youth Forum

The Forum, on that memorable day, consisted of four participants who represented four different organizations.  Each participant was required to read an extract from the teachings of Swami Vivekananda and then share their own thoughts based on the extract.

Kalayvani from Vivekananda Mission speaking on Education

The first participant was sister Kalayvani Govender of the Vivekananda Mission who chose the topic “Education”. After reading out the valuable quote of Swamiji on ‘Education’, Kalayvani proceeded to explain the tenets of civilization. She emphasized the need to adopt Swamiji’s ideas as without which the civilization may reach disastrous results. She brought out topical reference of Haiti calamity and how the organisations doing relief work were vying with each other in popularity game instead of rendering service to the suffering in all humility.

Alvna of  the Sri Vishnu Temple Society, speaking on The Ends and the Means
Alvna of the Sri Vishnu Temple Society, speaking on The Ends and the Means

The next one was sister Alvna Santilall of  the Sri Vishnu Temple Society. She spoke on “The Ends and the Means”. While explaining how ‘ends’ must be tallying with the ‘means’, she deplored that often the means were given more importance and anything could justify the ends. She gave out four methods to fortify the concept of ends having proper means: 1- Avoid evil company, 2- Attach to right conduct, 3- Practice Will Control and 4- Cultivate virtues. She concluded that life is a school calling sacrifice with reliance on God.

Merisha of the RKC-SA - Chatsworth Sub-Centre speaking on Strength

The last participant sister Merisha Roopnarain of the Ramakrishna Centre of South Africa – Chatsworth Sub-Centre spoke on “Strength”. She analysed the character of strength as opposed to ‘weakness’. She aptly quoted Swamiji about the cause of weakness being not sticking to Truth. In order to increase ‘strength’ she advocated four methods: 1- Making good habits a regular feature, 2- Spending Time in constructive ways instead of gossiping etc., 3-Not fearing obstacles but look at them as challenges and 4- Never brooding over weakness. Sister N. Singh from the Sri Maha Ganapathi Mandhir was the next panelist, scheduled to speak on “Character” but, unfortunately due to untimely death in her family, she was unable to attend the Forum.

Swami Vimokshananda conducting Q & A session

Once all the participants delivered their presentations, it was the turn of Revered Swami Vimokshanandaji Maharaj. He shared his thoughts and feelings on the three presentations and engaged in a period of questions and answers with the audience. As usual the Q & A session was not taking off due to the apparent shyness of the participating youngsters. He made the youth understand that their inability to raise questions was not actually due to shyness but due to weakness. He further told them that how Swamiji had thundered to the youth to ‘Be Bold!’ and lo! once one question was fielded, the youth started pouring in with questions. There was of course, interesting discussions on several themes especially that are concerned with their career and shaping their future life.

Manjusha Madam explaining what is meant by Character

Before beginning the Q & A session proper, Vimokshanandaji requested Mandusha Maharaj of the audience to come to the front and speak on the 4th topic ‘Character’. Madam Mandusha eloquently explained the salient feature of what was thought of as Character. She clearly spelt out the two means viz., keeping to Truth and surrender to God as the most important elements in developing Character. Thereafter Swami Vimokshanandaji made presentation of gifts to the panelists. The audience appreciated with loud applause madam Mandusha‘s kind gesture of sending the gift packet to the absentee panelist also who was in mourning.

a section of audience in the Youth Forum Meet

I feel blessed to have been given an opportunity to be the Director of Ceremonies on the Youth Forum occasion. It was no doubt challenging especially during question-answer session. But there is no end to learning. After uncle KK Pillay concluded the Forum with Vedic prayers, everyone partook of a scrumptious lunch and then departed. The Forum was a memorable one and the youth left the Forum having learnt valuable lessons of Life.

For more photos of the occasion please see the slideshow below:

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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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