South Africa joins the comity of nations in celebrating the International Mother’s Day on the ensuing 11th May. A Happy Mother’s day to everyone! Last Tuesday at our Glen Anil Main centre we handed over gift packets to a group of mothers from Greenbury Project.
Today is Sita Jayanti. The Hindu culture has iconic mothers in plenty, but there was never “another” like mother Sita, in the words of Swami Vivekananda.She was found when King-sage Janaka furrowed the land for cultivation. She is the Divine Mother Mahalakshmi incarnate on the earth. Four quotes from Swami Vivekananda’s Complete Works:
The Miracle Medicine
It is not without any reason that our sages in the past had described this ‘samsaara‘ – the cycle of birth and death – as immensely vast as (bhava saagaram) the ocean. They have even detailed in the most frightful terms how difficult it is to cross over this ocean. When you are almost on the verge of losing hope some other saint compares this samsaara with a mere river. But not an ordinary river, forsooth. He calls it ‘rana-nadi‘ – a ‘battle-river’ – whose waters are infested with terrible crocodiles and alligators all living in its forceful current that produces strong whirlpools! And lo! just imagine how dangerous it would be to attempt to cross such a river not to speak of the ocean! How many of us have in real life have even thought of attempting to cross such river or ocean?
Tulsidas, of course in his saintly way makes samsaara a little less fearful. He calls it a disease. If that can be wisely diagnosed, it can be well treated too. This brings us some kind of relief in knowing that my disease is curable and the condition is that I should take proper medicine. Does taking medicines indeed bring about the cure of the disease? Not necessarily! We have experienced in our lives that many a time the medicines not only fail to have any curative effect but to our chagrin add some disturbing side-effects.
If samsaara is a disease, then is there any medicine? Yes, there is, declares Tulsidas. While expressing the greatness of the life of Mother Sita he considers her life story as nothing but a ‘medicine’ for the ‘worldly disease’. No one likes to take medicines as the chemical compositions generally make them bitter in taste. But this medicine, he adds, is exceedingly sweet. Normally after taking medicine one requires plain water to clear the throat. Here of course the very nectar is itself given! So Tulsidas opines that those that drink nectar of Sri Rama’s name, are indeed ever blessed! Yes, the story of Sita is a miracle medicine.
Sita in Sundarakandam
The holy book Ramayana is divided into seven kaandams. The fifth division called Sundarakaandam has gained much popularity among the devout Ramabhaktas. I do remember once when I was young, my mother was advised to recite Sundarakaandam verses with love for 41 days to ward off certain evil effects in the family. She gained such an unshakeable conviction about the marvel of this scripture that all problems got resolved within that period of paaraayanam.
What does Sundarakaandam teach? It speaks about in large measure the valour of Sri Hanumanji who undertook the work of Sri Rama in searching for and finding Mother Sita. Scholars of Ramayana say confidently that Sundarakaandam is all about Sri Hanumanji. Though I am not a scholar in Ramayana, purely from the point of view of a devotional angle I offer my two cents: I prefer to look at this way viz., that Sundarakaandam is all about Mother Sita.
Whenever I had the opportunity to read this scripture (of course I didn’t read it for 41 days like my mother!) my mind was thrilled no doubt at Sri Hanumanji’s heroic sports. A great veneration swelled up in my heart that made me to remember him as an ideal for my monastic life. But more than that what was fascinating to me in this magnum epic – especially in Sundarakaandam – was the character depiction of Mother Sita. Swami Vivekananda was in awe of Mother Sita and exclaimed, “What to speak of Sita? You may exhaust the literature of the world that is past, and I may assure that you will have to exhaust the literature of the world of the future, before finding another.” I find her simply unique. In another place Swamiji says, “… the character was depicted once and for all. There may have been several Ramas, perhaps, but never more than one Sita.”
– Her dealing with King Ravana was indeed so majestic; in spite of his great offering of material temptations, she nonchalantly turned down his advances.
– Her interaction with her demoness guards especially with Trijata has no comparison; the care and concern for Trijata‘s welfare even though she had been appointed to spy over her, singularly exhibiting her divine compassion.
– Her polite refusal to Sri Hanumanji’s proposal to carry her away stealthily from Lanka and proudly speaking about her husband Sri Rama’s necessity to win the battle with Ravana and then only she would be ready to return with him in all glory.
In this Sundarakaandam Sita is not a mere loyal wife only to toe the line of her husband; she comes out in her own right (and in the absence of the physical presence of Sri Rama) that amazes me as I see her personality looming large into a bright towering one that demands not only an adorable worship with love but also absolute surrender at her feet.
Sita and Sarada
Thus, devotion to one form of Mother, if cultivated from a young age does not preclude love for other forms of Mother. Rather it definitely helps in transposing one’s devotion easily on another form of Mother, if needed! The variety of names and forms of Mother in Hinduism may bewilder anyone who is not acquainted with the philosophy of Vedanta. But a devotee in this tradition accepts the Divine Mother as ‘ananta roopini, ananta gunavati, ananta naamni girije maa’ – O Girije Ma! thou art infinite forms, infinite qualities and infinite names, says a poet-devotee.
Hence the transition from Sita to Sarada was smooth enough in my life. Ma Sarada’s experience in the Rameshwaram temple vouchsafes that she is no different from Ma Sita.
When Holy Mother visited Rameshwaram temple, Tamil Nadu in 1910, she was directly taken to the sanctum sanctorum and was allowed to worship Lord Shiva in the form of uncovered Shivalingam. The Mother offered 108 golden leaves shaped like the real leaves of the bel (vilva) tree. She stayed in that small town for three days and every morning and evening she would visit the temple and perform worship with flowers, chandan (sandal) and vilva leaves. The Holy Mother observed all customary traditions of the temple.
It is said that Brahmachari Krishnalal who was an attendant to Holy Mother heard Mother uttering in a mood unaware of the external world: ‘It is just as I had left.’ After a few weeks in Kolkata when once Kedar babu enquired of Mother about her visit to Rameshwaram, she uttered once again, ‘He is just as I had left Him, my son!’
Swami Gambhiranandaji in his authoritative biography – ‘Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi‘ – explains thus. “The devotees believe that the same personage who incarnated in the Treta yuga as Sita, the ever faithful consort of Ramachandra, descended again as the all-enduring and ever gracious Holy Mother, so that the sudden sight of the uncovered image carried her mind unconsciously across the vast span of thousands of years and the past appeared as a vivid present; and forgetful of her immediate environment she made that spontaneous remark.” Swami Abhedananda, one of the Direct Disciples of Sri Ramakrishna, in resemblance to the ‘worldly-disease’ mentioned in the beginning of this post, follows the footsteps of Saint Tulsidas. What is the remedy? Abhedanandaji goes on to say that the remedy for this ‘bhava-roga‘ – worldly disease – is to sip the honey flowing from the lotus of the Mother’s feet.
On this Mother’s Day, let us take a vow to surrender at Her holy feet!
May Mother Sarada who is no other than Mother Sita fill our hearts with her sterling qualities!
Today is varuthini ekadashi when Lord Vishnu is worshipped in His avatara form as Vamana. Hence I pay my loving homage to one sadhu of our Order who was an ardent devotee of Sri Hari.
SwamiPurananandaji (Sunil Maharaj) passed away on 12 February at 2.15 am at Seva Pratishthan, Kolkata. He was 84 and had been suffering from chronic kidney disease and diabetes for some years.Initiated by Swami Shankaranandaji, he joined the Order in 1951 at Belur Math and had Sannyasa from his Guru in 1961.Besides Belur Math, he served at Patna, Mumbai and Gol Park centres as an assistant, and Kanpur, Mauritius (for a short period), Puri Mission, Cossipore and Barasat centres as Head. He had been living a retired life for about six years at Gol Park centre.The Swami was a good singer and an impressive speaker and was known for his gentlemanly manners.Soft spoken and amiable by nature, he endeared himself to all those who came in contact with him.
– Source: Belur Math website
About a sadhu
from nondescript to nonpareil
Even after seeing many deaths in close proximity during my more than four decades of organisational life (all along I was somehow posted in hospital centres), the inevitable always holds my attention in a mysterious manner. The news of the passing away of the respected Swami Purananandaji Maharaj made me more introspective.
It was my good fortune that by the grace of our Master, I could join Kanpur ashram and could live, albeit a short four and half years, with a sadhu who appeared to be unparalleled to me. I asked him before leaving for my learning at Brahmacharins’ Training Centre to tell me about some of his personal anecdotes before he came into the Order. He said sweetly that I should not bother about knowing of his past as he was merely a nondescript.
If he was really nondescript as he claimed, the Order then made him nonpareil. The foremost characteristic of this sadhu that comes to my mind is his utterly humble nature. When I would in my audacity comment on his humility as bordering the vaishnavite, he would never fail to rejoin “How can I explain the joy of Harinam?”. It made sense to me much later that unless one gets the joy in repeating the name of God, humility can never be one’s possession.
Learn from living
As a new entrant into the Order, I was as often happens asked to take up the puja work to develop devotion to Master. There was an elderly Pujari Maharaj who needed assistance too. He was an expert in the art of decoration of the holy altar. Performing puja in the shrine gave me immense satisfaction. And Purananandaji taught me the intricate rituals only after I learnt by heart all the puja mantras. It was a joyful experience to learn under him as he would not only explain the rituals but also expound the inner meaning of those rituals.
One day after the lunch prasad, when I had retired to my room for the usual quota of noon siesta, I heard a knock on my door. It was highly sultry in the summer, and as there was no electricity the fan could not be turned on. So with just a ‘gamcha‘ around me I opened the door. There he was standing. He was the Head of the centre during those days. He asked me “Would you mind please going to the Bank now as some urgent matters have to be attended?” I replied, “Maharaj I am only a Brahmachari. Why should you be so polite to tell me like this? Just please order me and I would gladly do any work at any time.” His humble way of not disturbing a Brahmachari after the lunch hours made a deep impression on me.
A discussion came up at one night class among the brahmacharins as to what one should pray. Obviously every one agreed including a few senior sadhus that we all should pray for only devotion, detachment and knowledge. It was Revered Maharaj who pointed out that we should also ask for secular knowledge – only to that extent which can be put to use in the performance of Master’s work.
Taste of Tulsidas
Hindi was not my subject in school days. Hence I found it hard to communicate with devotees and also the public who frequented our Kanpur ashram. Those were the years when there was not only an apathy but also some sort of ‘hatred’ towards speaking English in public places. Understanding my difficulties, Revered maharaj taught me the conversational Hindi very quickly.
He made me go through the writings of Sri Hanuman Prasad Poddarjiwhose articles used to appear in the famous monthly magazine Kalyan published by the Gita Press. I think I have not come across any other person, writing on spiritual subjects, in Hindi so clearly, in a simple style and understandable even to the learners of Hindi. They were fascinating in meaning as well as in the use of language. I found joy in learning the language by studying the magazine! Even today by the munificence of Sri Nandlal Tantia, one of our devotees in India, I receive a copy of the Kalyan every month by post!
I noticed that Revered Maharaj had scholarly interest in Tulsi Ramayan as well as in Adhyatma Ramayana as he was equally facile in Hindi and Sanskrit. I would avidly attend all his classes at the Kanpur Ashram’s beautiful shrine hall as they would open to me the doors of insights into the scriptures. One thing I could understand was this: the words of shastras have always an internal meaning that can be communicated only when a person is a sincere sadhaka. A scholarly exposition many can make (I felt it was like eating saltless meal!) but revealing the spiritual import is possible only for a profound striver. His set routine to sit and meditate was a classic example for all the brahmacharins there.
For the first time I heard from him about a saint by name Sri Ramkinkarji. I am eternally indebted to this Swami for this generous act of goading me to study the books of Sri Ramkinkarji. Effortlessly I became a ‘fan’ of him because his fabulous explanations ‘fanned’ my interest in learning a few concepts from the Tulsi Ramayan. They help me in my personal spiritual practices.
Later from Ranchi I used to visit Gol Park centre in Kolkata only to see Revered Maharaj and whenever it was coincided, I would not fail to attend his class. He was of course greatly pleased with my presence and would always tell other devotees painting me in the most (undeserving) glorious terms!
I had an opportunity to visit Puri when he was the Head of the Mission branch. Undoubtedly he was very pleased to have me at his centre. He instructed the respected Ashram Panda to take me for the darshan of Lord Jagannatha. I thanked Revered Maharaj for all the arrangements that he did for me and quipped to him that he was in the right place as he was a vishnu-bhakta! He replied solemnly that Lord Jagannatha in His infinite mercy brought him there to savour His mahaprasad daily. He explained to me at that juncture about the utmost veneration that Master and Mother had for Jagannath mahaprasad. So forceful was his narration that it made deep impression on my mind. Even now staying in far away South Africa, I do partake one or two dana (grains) of that mahaprasad which is also called ‘Nirmalya’.
Whenever I would come to Kolkata from Itanagar or when I was posted in Seva Pratishthan in Kolkata itself, it was my pleasure to be with him in Cossipore and spend at least three nights there just to have his holy company. The conversations were never of worldly nature but always centred around Master, Mother and Swamiji.
Listening pleasure or pain?
Once I travelled to Mumbai from Itanagar. I was there in connection with the import of some medical equipment that had to be taken delivery of at the airport. At the ashram the Swami was happy to receive me and showed me my room. Somehow I would rush from my work before the evening arati started only to listen to his mellifluous singing. During my Kanpur stay I had really enjoyed his singing style which was layered with his love for the Master.
So I just lamented to him saying that how I was deprived of the listening pleasure while the Mumbai devotees were blessed to hear him day in and day out! In his unique jocular way he smilingly replied that after finishing two or three songs, he would just turn around to see whether devotees were pleased or not and invariably they would sport a broad smile by which he understood that they had enjoyed his music. Only after a long time, he added covering his mouth by his palm, that he realised to his dismay the smile on the devotees’ lips was not due to their liking his singing but to the reliefthey felt whenhe concluded his singing!
It took me some time to understand why my mind during my visits to Kolkata would not be set at rest until I met him. I would often wonder whether our generation could rise to such high levels of humility, practice of swadhyaya (self-study) and above all in pouring unbounded love to the recalcitrant juniors!
In our Phoenix sub-centre, the gathering of senior citizens on every Tuesday is a big event. More than 500 people assemble – most start trickling into the campus as early as six in the morning. It is a joyful feeling to see them mingling in the crowd and talking to each other thus creating a fine divine bond of relationship in the name of our Master.
Many a time I do visit to address them for half an hour. It has benefitted me in a variety of ways: to look upon them as varied manifestation of Master and Mother; to enjoy the wonderful smiles on each of them; to engage them in some sort of philosophical thinking; to make them feel free and laugh so as to keep the negative, worrying thoughts at bay.
Today when I stood before them and began my speech, I didn’t know what subject I should talk about. Mahashivaratri is on next Monday night. Why not I speak on Lord Shiva and Mother Parvati, I thought. I started thus: ” I just wonder whether I should greet you all a very happy Valentine’s Day?” That question brought loud laughter amongst the assembled senior citizens.
The eternal love between the Divinities has had captured the imagination of very many poets. Puranas excel in retelling the story of wedding of Shiva and Shakti in most enjoyable form of narratives. So I went on to say about Shiva’s wedding with Parvati – one when She was born as a daughter of Daksha and another when she was born to Himavan.
Both the wedding stories are fascinating. I adapted the former story from SriRamacharitamanas of Saint Tulsidas and the latter heard from a katha-kalakshepam done by Kripananda Variyar many, many years back. Both kept the audience on tenterhooks.
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!
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!)
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,
Skendha, New Delhi
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.