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!
Music is an inextricable part of Hinduism. The origin of musical notes is traced to the ancient Saama Veda which is one of the four Vedas. While some modern scholars may call this as ‘deceptively simplistic’, yet there are indications from the scriptures such as Bhagavad Gita and saints like Thyagaraja that music does have origin in Vedas. “Among all Vedas”, Bhagavan SriKrishna says that he “is Saama Veda“.
The Saama Veda mantras are not merely recited, they are actually sung. The lines have specific metres and the singers of this Veda are called ‘Udgaatri priests’. Their singing is called ‘Udgita’. A poetic passage from the Chandogya Upanishad which is part of Saama Veda says:
” This Om , this imperishable Udgita must be worshipped. Of all the objects of creation, the Earth is the essence; of Earth, the essence is water; of Water, the essence is Herbs; Man is the essence of the Herbs; Poetry is the essence of (man’s) Speech; Music is the essence of Poetry; the Udgita of Saama Veda embodied by the Pranava is the essence of Music; thus, this Omkaara (Pranava Naada) is the utmost, the most valuable, the final essence of all essences. It must be worshipped.”
Sage Yagnyavalkya of the Upanishadic period has also clarified that one obtains the boon of moksha by the singing of the Samans to the accompaniment of the Vina, a popular string instrument invariably seen at the hands of Devi Saraswati. He says: ” He who knows the truth of Vina Music and who is an expert in Srutis (musical notes) and Taalas (beats) reaches the path of salvation effortlessly”.
Saint Thyagaraja, one of the greatest propitiator of Bhagavan SriRamachandra realised Him through his music. Thygaraja pays obeisance to Narada as his Guru Raya for knowing the truth of Music originating from the Veda-born Vina. The importance of Saama Gaana is inferred from the tradition of Vina being played in major Vedic sacrifices such as Aswameda Yajna.
So, dear readers, if you need more info on how Thyagaraja sings the glory of seven swaras tracing their origin to Saama Veda, please read here.
In the modern form of Hindustani Classical music, Ramakrishnabua Vaze (1858-1943) was a great proponent of music teaching. He recollects in his book Sangeet Kala Prakash II that once on his return from Nepal, Vaze was the guest of Swami Vivekananda. Swamiji was at that time residing in an ashram at Bareilly. In the presence of a few local music votaries, Swamiji would tune his two tanpuras and to the delight of every one, would sing raaga ‘ahir bhairav’, undisputably a morning melody, in the very small hours of the day, hearing which the residents of the ashrama would wake up!
Swamiji was not only an expert musician, but also a poet. He wrote a few inspiring poems in English. I was actually wondering whether these English songs have been ‘tuned-in’ and sung by any one. To my utter pleasure, I found 9 Vedanta songs based on Swamiji’s poems sung here.
It is well known now that many of KaviguruRabindranath Tagore‘s songs like “Gaganer Thale” in Raga Jaijaiwanti, a night melody, were musically set to tune by Narendranath (earlier name of Swamiji), and his rendition of this composition made it sublime and heavenly. For Swami Vivekananda, music “is the highest form of art and those who understand it, is the highest form of worship.”
Many of our centres in India encourage the music rendition displayed during several programs. One of our Koklata branches, the Institute of Culture, organises a day-long music program extending into night of the 12th January which is Swamiji’s birthday. Here many talented internationally famous as well as local artistes participate in paying a musical homage to Swamiji. It is not uncommon that such cultural programs are looked upon as a means of fund raising too. When I joined Kanpur Ashrama in 1971, I heard from the seniors that the famous M S Subbalakshmi performed a concert to help build the Library Hall there.
Recently the Pietermaritzburg Sub-centre in South Africa arranged a fund raising program for the rebuilding of the upper hall. The music rendition was by Shanjeet Teeluck. The multicultural concert was truly brilliant. The concert began with Pranam Mantra to Holy Trio by Revathy Maharaj followed by a spectacular bharatanatyam dance by Aashmuki Teeluck.
Shanjeet Teeluck, together with his accompaning artistes rendered melodious bhajans, ghazals, Golden Oldies and instrumental music. A gathering of approx 600 people intently listened to the melodious devotional bhajans. I was taken to a higher dimension when Shanjeet began his rendition with my favourite song composed by Sri Tulsidasji‘Sri Raamachandra kripaalu bhajamana’. An air of spirituality radiated in Truro Hall on that Sunday afternoon. Besides vocal singing, he played deftly Harmonium and Sitar too which added to the sweetness of the cool evening. He was ably assisted by different accompanying artistes viz.,Vishen Kemraj on Tabla, Rajive Mohan on Keyboard, Umesh Inderparsad on Guitar, and the little Shruti, daughter of Shanjeet on Violin. Intermittently Dipika Ramadeen gave enchanting Kathak performances too. The stage was well managed by Ishara Anirudh.
Amidst the music outpourings, an invite to me by Barry Swaminathan, who was an MC, to deliver a benedictory address drew me down from the ethereal heights to earthly! Aware of my duty-bound limitation, I stepped onto the stage and tried to recollect how music has been a great source of subjugating the vagaries of mind. I narrated how the raaga anandabhairavi as researched by violin maestro Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan in classical Karnatik music is efficient in bringing down the blood pressure.
Though in English grammar classes we are taught that the term ‘composition’ means writing of essays, the very word signify ‘calming of the mind’ as ‘sur‘ implies. Calmness – a state of being composed – comes due to the discipline of mind. That’s why, I added that one who is indisciplined is called ‘a-sur’. The mythological asuras are none but a bunch of indisciplined lot! Then I went on to appeal to all the connoisseurs to train their children in any form of fine arts.
And the next Sunday evening once again took me delightfully to Kendra Hall in Durban where I was absorbed in a bhajan sandhya program of Pandit Ravindra Joshi accompanied by his wife Bhavna Joshi. The duo sang some wonderful bhajans. The instrumental background was indeed impressive.
Devotees of the Ramakrishna Centre found a spiritually enjoying way of the Christmas holiday by participating in the ‘Vedanta Retreat’. It was held on Thursday, 25 December 2008 (6 a.m. – 6 p.m.) at the Centre, Glen Anil.
The program for the day started in a serene atmosphere with satsang, which included the chanting of hymns, singing of bhajans and kirtans like pranam mantras, Sri Ramakrishna Jaya Ashtakam, prakritim paramam, murta maheshvaram and bhajan on Disciples of Sri Ramakrishna, song on Lord Ganesha and bhajan on the Divine Mother, reading from the ‘Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna’ and chanting of Vedic shantimantram.
Thereafter, all the participants of the Retreat moved over to the spacious Nischalananda Hall. A seminar was conducted on the Bhagavad Gita on the following topics when each speaker presented his/her theme with a captivating slide show presentation.
1. Divine Manifestations (Chapter 10) by Miss Jyothi Bhana.
2. Moral Code for Hindus (Chapter 16) by Prof. V B Jogessar.
3. Surrendering to God – Sri Krishna’s Final Message (Chapter 18) by Mr Bhavanesh Parbhoo.
This was followed by a discourse on: “First and Second Verses of the Isha Upanisad” by Sri Swami Vimokshananda. While explaning what the first two verses imply, the Swami first focussed on the Invocation mantra “purnamadah purnamidam”. He went on then to narrate the significance of the three aspects in each verse namely, permeation of everything by God, enjoyment by renunciation, not coveting others’ wealth in the first verse and living a long life, doing work unabated, keeping the attitude of non-attachment in the second verse.
A DVD presentation thereafter on Ganges was enjoyed by all. After a short break the devotees assembled in the Temple where Sri Hanuman Chalisa was recited in chorus. Devotees enthusiastically participated in the Guided Meditation, conducted by Swami Vimokshananda . At the end of Meditation, shanti invocations were chanted.
After Lunch prasad at Dining Hall a devotional concert by Mrs Swati Kulkarni (Vocalist) from India was heard attentively by the devotees. She was accompanied by two artistes namely Sam Rugbeer on Harmonium and Manesh Maharaj on Keyboard. Tabla support was provided by Ravi Rugbeer. Swati’s daughter Neha also sang and supported her mother. This was followed by a Talk: “The Holy Mother as an Example for Householders” by Pravrajika Ishtaprana of Sri Sarada Devi Ashram, Asherville. She used the slide show presentation deftly in order to bring home the simple but significant ideas of the Holy Mother, that can be practised in day to day life by anyone.
After a short break for Tea, devotees were asked to do the Likhit Japa. Question/Answer session was conducted by Dr H Parbhoo when Sri Swami Vimokshananda gave the answers.
All devotees once again assembled in the Temple Hall for the final session. It had the usual Silent Meditation, Arati, Evening Hymns, Bhajans and Concluding Prayers. Supper was served to all in the Dining Hall. This Retreat was restricted to 300 devotees.