Children like to question. And I appreciate it as an expression of their intense thirst for knowledge. I wrote this given-below dialogue in an easy, conversational style between an imaginary child and myself. This is, of course, based partly on an actual discussion with a group of children, and later written for Dipika 2008. It is an annual spiritual magazine especially for children, regularly brought out by Sri Sarada Devi Ashram at Asherville in Durban. My grateful thanks go to Sister Pravrajika Ishtapranaji for according her kind consent to reproduce it here.
Priyanta: Pranams Swamiji.
Swamiji: Welcome Priyanta, how are you?
Priyanta: I am well, Swamiji. Could you spare some moments to answer my queries?
Swamiji: What are you worrying about? Do you perform regular prayers?
Priyanta: Oh! I wanted to ask you exactly about prayer, Swamiji.
Swamiji: Okay what’s your question?
Priyanta: Swamiji, in prayer if we ask something from God, will God give it to us? Suppose what God gives me turns out to be unsuitable, then what happens?
Swamiji: Indeed, our Master Sri Ramakrishna says that God can hear even the foot steps of an ant. If you pray with diligence, sincerity and love, then God will give you whatever you pray for. It is true that many devotees do not know what to ask God for.
Priyanta: Is that so? I thought people ask for those things that they need!
Swamiji: That’s how it should be. But what they need and what they want are entirely different. Okay, now I will tell you a story from our Puranas.
Priyanta: What are Puranas, Swamiji?
Swamiji: Puranas have the insight of the Hindu scriptures called the Vedas, retold for the easy understanding of the common folk. The teachings are primarily taught in a very easy and interesting way. They are given through inspiring stories and parables. Do you know that in total there are eighteen Puranas?
Priyanta: Thanks Swamiji! Do you have an apt story with regard to my question on prayer?
Swamiji: Yes Priyanta. I will tell you the story of an asura (demon) called Bhasmasura. This demon performed severe penances to obtain the favour of Lord Shiva. Pleased with him, Lord Shiva appeared before Bhasmasura and said: ‘Dear devotee! I am pleased with your austerities and therefore I am willing to grant you a boon. What do you want?’ Bhasmasura folded his palms and sang the glory of Lord Shiva. Then he said: ‘O Lord! If I place my hand on someone’s head, that person should be burnt to ashes immediately.’
Priyanta: Oh! What a destructive boon!
Swamiji: Yes, what an ignoble boon did this Bhasmasura ask for! Not only that. He told Lord Shiva that he wanted to test it. He rose from his seat and rushed near Shiva trying to place his hand on the head of Lord Shiva! See what a danger!
Priyanta: Then what did Lord Shiva do, Swamiji?
Swamiji: You see, God is always bound by His devotee’s love. He even becomes a servant of His devotee, just to please him. So, Lord Shiva ran to Lord Vishnu who calmed Lord Shiva and said that he would deal with the demon Bhasmasura. Lord Vishnu then took the form of a beautiful damsel and stood on the pathway of Bhasmasura who was trying to test his boon on Lord Shiva. The demon was charmed at the beauty of the dancing girl. Now, do you know Priyanta, what dance Lord Vishnu performed in the form of Mohini?
Priyanta: Swamiji, is this dance called Mohini-aattam?
Swamiji: Yes, truly so! This Mohini-aattam is very popular in Kerala, in the southern part of India.
Priyanta: Okay. Then Swamiji, what happened?
Swamiji: Lord Vishnu disguised himself as the world bewitching Mohini and then showed the demon this dance. Bhasmasura, captivated by her beauty and grace, wanted Mohini to be his wife. Mohini informed him that she would marry only that man who could perform the dance as well as she could. So the demon king requested Mohini to teach him the steps of the dance. Mohini then showed him the movements of the hands and, in the heat of the moment, Bhasmasura copied her hand gestures and placed his hand on his own head. Thus see how Bhasmasura was destroyed!
Priyanta: So Swamiji, the boon from God may turn out to be dangerous!
Swamiji: Yes, if you do not know exactly what to ask for. You see, this simple story from the Puranas has many good messages for all of us. Can you tell me a few morals from this story?
Priyanta: Yes Swamiji. Firstly God will definitely give us what we pray for. Secondly, I think that we should not pray to God for anything that is destructive. Thirdly we must know that we should not harm anybody with our prayers.
Swamiji: Well said Priyanta! Suppose you ask your father for a pistol, he will not give it to you. Why? Because, if you should get angry with someone, you might shoot that person with it or you may even accidently hurt yourself. So, if you seek something destructive, you are sure to harm others and yourself too. And finally what is the best form of prayer? Harmless as well as beneficial to everyone is the prayer for auspiciousness, peace, fullness and goodness. Like this one for example:
Om sarveshām svastir bhavatu
sarveshām shāntir bhavatu
sarveshām pūrnam bhavatu
sarveshām mangalam bhavatu
The meaning of this prayer is:
May there be auspiciousness to all
May there be peace to all
May there be fullness to all
May there be good to all.
Raja Ravi Varma
Raja Ravi Varma (1848-1906) was born in Kerala, India. At the age of seven he started drawing on the palace walls using charcoal. The talent of the child was noticed by King Thirunal Maharaja. Most of Ravi Varma’s paintings are based on Hindu epic stories and characters. His illustrations of the Ramayana and Mahabharata became the standard visual representation of the classics. His paintings are famous for vibrant colours and textures as can be conceived in the famous painting depicting Mohini directing Bhasmasura in dancing art.
Swami Vivekananda saw the beauty of the paintings of Raja Ravi Varma at the palace of the Gaekword of Baroda. Swamiji noticed the characters coming to life in these paintings and was moved by intense emotion. In 1893 Swamiji met Ravi Varma in America at the famous Chicago exhibition during the Parliament of the World’s Religions held there. Swamiji’s considered views on Art can be read here.