Thursday, November 13, 2008

HIHT Annual Festival

On November 13, a busload of students and residents went from SRSG to Jolly Grand (I am sure that this has a different spelling and meaning, but that is the way I hear it) about halfway between Rishikesh and Dehradun. This is where Swami Rama established a teaching hospital, Himalayan Institute Hospital Trust, a few years before his death. Indeed, his samadhi is still on the grounds. The annual festival is called the Mahasamadhi Anniversary, commemorating Swami Rama's disappearance day. This was the 12th such annual festival.

HIHT began with only an outpatient clinic, but the present status of the institution is pretty impressive. In the past year, it was granted "Deemed University" status, as HIHT University, and has numerous departments, mostly related to the health sciences. Swami Veda is the chancellor of the university.

The director is the very dynamic Vijaya Dasmana, who was with Swami Rama from childhood, and says Swami Veda, was brought up by him specifically for the task to which he has now dedicated his life. Judging from the results, he is extremely capable.

You can see from this picture how nicely designed and maintained the campus is.

The current plan is to have the SRSG Gurukula become a part of the HIHT University and offer degrees in Yoga and related matters. Most of the staff here is currently devising a curriculum toward that end.

I had the pleasure of meeting Ashok Bhagat of Vikas Bharti Bishunpur in Jharkhand. The HIHT offers an annual prize, the Swami Rama Humanitarian Award, and Sri Bhagatji was the recipient this year for his work with the aboriginal or tribal people of the Jharkhand area. Jharkhand was carved out of Bihar a few years ago, primarily to further the development of a much neglected group of people. Bhagatji has dedicated himself to that work and has rather impressive achievements in a wide range of areas--health, education, agriculture, etc.

You can see from his picture that he is shirtless. This comes from his conviction that one has to place oneself amongst the people one claims to be helping, rather than placing oneself in a condescending position. His main inspirations are Vivekananda and Gandhi.

Swami Veda Bharati gave the keynote address. He is not only chancellor but "spiritual director." In that capacity, he did something which was rather unusual for what, to all appearances, is a quite secular institution. He led a silent meditation for three minutes. What was striking about it was that in a restless audience of several hundred people (liberally stocked with SRSG folk), the auditorium became totally silent and for the entire five minutes, there was neither whispered conversation nor ringing cellphone. Believe me, that is a first for me in India.

Later I was talking with Swamiji and I told him how I once went to Bangladesh where a godbrother was holding a kirtan and festival at his house. I remembered how disciplined the Muslims I had seen in the mosque were and how undisciplined and disrespectful the ordinary Hindus had been at the Vaishnava event.

Swamiji said that he had not asked nor received any mystic powers from his guru, but he could claim this one. And he said that he had been able to bring crowds far larger than this one--even tens of thousands--into a state of silence.

Now, that is something worth learning.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Swami Krishnananda Visit

We had a visit from a Keralan sadhu, Swami Krishnananda, who came in a tourist bus loaded with his disciples for a tour of north Indian pilgrimage sites. He has come to SRSG before, but this is the first time I had the occasion to see him.

He is an enthusiastic kirtaniya with a powerful voice. I was not there when he started his session, but Swami Veda was. Swamiji sent for me, saying that I would not want to miss this. Krishnananda was doing Krishna bhajans at the time. He often sings a Sanskrit stotra solo and then breaks into a Malayalam, Sanskrit or Hindi bhajan to which his disciples are an equally enthusiastic chorus.

Afterwards, Swami Veda gave, as he often does for visiting performers and sadhus, a token of appreciation. You can get a glimpse of Swami Krishnananda's personality from this picture.

Someone snapped this picture of me during the kirtan. I look pretty meditative. Likely it is because soon after I arrived, the Swami started doing kirtan for Rama, Shiva and other demigods--even the Navagrahas. So I was appreciating his voice, but not so much the content.

After the performance, we went up to Swami's dining room to eat. Krishnananda Swami and I were introduced. He took one look at me and said, "After eating, we will go back downstairs and do 15 minutes of Hare Krishna. And you must dance." He spent about five minutes eating and then was madly off in all directions.

Surprisingly, Swami Veda also came downstairs into the meditation hall and contrary to habit, did not sit in his vyasasan type chair, but on the floor. He said of K.S. that, "Most people start kirtan slow and work up into high gear, but you start at top speed." In Mayapur, the kids used to call me "Rail Gari" because I led kirtans as though I was driving a train. Anyway, that is the way Krishnanandaji led the Hare Krishna kirtan.

There was no getting out of it. I had to dance. And soon everyone was whirling around like a bunch of dervishes. Men and women. As a matter of fact, the rather grave looking woman to the far left of the Swami in the second picture above was a rather impressive figure with a lot of elegant moves. Swami gave of himself energetically.

It went on for half an hour and then we all calmed down with three minutes of silent meditation...

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Photo of Sannyasis with Swami Veda Bharati

Photo taken yesterday on the occasion of Swami Rama's disappearance tithi. Front row, left to right: Swami Ma Seva Bharati (Dhanurdara Swami's cousin), Swami Turiya, Swami Veda Bharati, Swami Jnaneswari, Swami Radha Bharati (in charge of the Gurukula). Back row: Ramcharit Swami, Tattvananda Bharati, Panchashila Swami from Nepal, Swami Nityamuktananda, Sukhmeet Swami, Niranjana Swami, Chidananda Swami, Vachanananda Swami.