Swami Gautamananda Maharaj toured Ramakrishna Mission Centre, Durban and its associated activity centers in South Africa in February (Feb 9 -17, 2013). During the tour the Swami inaugurated the Swami Vivekananda’s 150th Birth Anniversary Celebrations in South Africa organized by Ramakrishna Mission Centre, Durban and delivered lectures and spiritual interviews to devotees in various places in South Africa.
Some of the Pictures from this lecture trip are published below.
The program commenced with the readings from the teachings of Swami VIvekananda and the bhajans by students of Balamandir of Sri Ramakrishna Math, Chennai. We were then treated to a talk by Swami Buddhidananda, who expounded on why Swami Vivekananda is considered an Acharya in the lineage of the highest Acharyas Hinduism has witnessed. An acharya is one who shows the way out of samsara and salvation of the world, said Swami Buddhidananda.
A Shiva-Parvati dance performance was then staged by the Vipanchi Group. Swami Asutoshananda, Manager, Sri Ramakirshna Math, Chennai, brought the nine day celebrations to a close by thanking all concerned and mentioned how Swami Vivekananda has been adopted by all sections and worshippers in the fold of Hinduism. Swami Asutoshananda reminded us, in his closing remarks this is an annual event and it will only get bigger and brighter with every passing year. Just as this year was far more organized and event-filled than last year, he said he was sure that the next year’s celebrations will be even grander.
The eight evening – the penultimate day – began as usual with the reading from Swamiji’s teachings, immediately followed by devotional music sung by the Boys and Girls of Tuition Centre Ramakrishnapuram. The singing was interspersed today by a demonstration of Kollattam by the girls in the group with Swami Vivekananda represented by a young boy in sannyasin garb. It was delightful to watch such small children being so visibly attuned to Vivekananda as a model figure at such an early age.
Swami Tyagarajanandaji, Adhyaksha of the Ramakrishna Math in Nattrampalli then was requested to grace the podium. He spoke on the causes behind religious intolerance, and what better Avatar to counter that than Ramakrishnay-Sarada Devi –Vivekananda? Swami Tyagarajanandaji began by plainly saying that there is tremendous power behind the words of Swami Vivekananda. Reading his lectures and words carries that power to us awakening the divinity within. He went on to say that the process in which this divinity is awakened is comprised of three aspects: Tattvam, Puranas, Sadhana. All these aspects are differently portrayed with their own unique disciplines in the many religions and sects prevalent in the world today with each claiming that its way alone is the way to salvation. But according to Swami Tyagarajanandaji this is akin to saying the different men and women with different physical characteristics are all not human beings, only some are so! In the context of Existence (Existence-Knowledge-Bliss) all are indeed ONE. Different forms of worship and different forms of expressing devotion is therefore natural with the differences in human beings. But it is important to recognise the ONE God beyond all these expressions. If we experience these different forms without realising it is from the ONE source we fall prey to intolerance. Truth can be reached by different paths but TRUTH and GOD are indeed ONE emphasised Swami Tyagarajanandaji.
The next event was much anticipated judging from the swelling of the audience to near capacity with almost all seats stacked up being occupied. The Prayatna troupe of artists staged a play that was to say the least an outstanding collaboration of story-line, sets management, lighting, producing and acting. The plot and story line were, to reiterate, equally stellar. Weaving a contemporary plot that involved a film actor named Narendra with the story of our own Narendra’s meeting with Ramakrishna and his later rise to becoming the world-famous Vivekanands the story brought the importance, the relevance and the immediacy of Swamiji’s call to the nation – that of Daridhra Devo Bhava, Moorkha Devo Bhava. The story in which the conversion of Narendra, a film actor to fully embracing the message of Narendra the Sage was so beautifully acted and woven that the audience lingered till the very end when the actors, producers and the technical staff received their appreciation personally from Swami Atmaghanandaji at the end.
And it was Swami Atmaghanandaji who expressed his sincere appreciation to all the participants and mentioned that to have witnessed a play of such quality, conveying the message of Ramakrishna-Vivekananda on this occasion was indeed a blessing offered to the few here.
Once again, as in all the previous days, Prasad was distributed to one and all.
Readings from Swami Vivekananda’s teachings and Bhajans by the Boys of Ramakrishna Mission, T. Nagar preceded the celebrations on the Seventh day of the Navaratri. The bhajans, sung by the students, seated in padmasana, dressed in all white and full of devotion was a treat to listen to. Swami Atmashraddhananda, Editor of The Vedanta Kesari then took the stage and spoke of the deep relationship between Swami Vivekananda and Vivekanandar Illam. He mentioned that there are very few buildings in the world that can claim to have as direct and as close a connection as this revered edifice has with Swami Vivekananda. In addition it was in Vivekanandar Illam that the beginnings of the Ramakrishna Movement in Chennai and whole of South India in general was initiated.
Poet Jnani (Paramasivam), then taking the stage said that Vivekananda wanted nothing else but the raising of the downtrodden, the elimination of hunger. He was an avatar and he cared for the less fortunate more than himself. Kalaimamani Sri Unnikrishnan then gave us a rendering of Carnatic music. The audience had swelled to capacity just to hear Sri Unnikrishnan and he certainly did not disappoint them. Singing familiar and age-old songs that the audience recognized, he kept them enthralled. Swami Sukhadevananda closed the evening by thanking all participants and the revered Swamis present. Prasad was distributed to all.
The sixth day of the Navaratri celebrations began, as usual with readings from Swami Vivekananda’s teachings. This, together with the Bhajans sung by the students of Ramakrishna Mission Sarada Vidyalaya Model Higher Secondary School formed a meditative and solemn atmosphere to each evening. Swami Apavargananda who was then requested to grace the podium spoke on the importance of these nine days as being of no less importance than any other festival in the Hindu calendar. Vivekananda, he said, did great work, the fruits of which are being seen decades later and will continue to have an even greater effect in the future. That is why it is important that we honor him and keep the flame of his life and work burning by celebrating occasions such as this.
Sri Krishnamurthy of Vivekananda Kendra, Kanyakumari, then took the stage and launched freely into the way in which Swami Vivekananda devised his action plan for the rejuvenation of India. Sri Krishnamurthy said that just as Jambavan awakened Hanuman to the latter’s own divine prowess, Vivekananda is continuing to prod the whole of India to its inherent greatness and divinity. Just as Jesus awakened Lazarus from the dead, Vivekananda is exhorting us even today to awaken our feeling for the poor and the dispossessed. The audience was then treated to a wonderful session of music emanating from the keyboard of Sri A.S. Ram. Vote of thanks was given by Swami Satyajnanananda and as usual Prasad was distributed which all partook of.
Readings of the teachings of Swami Vivekananda is always welcome as there is something that strikes a chord every time. Today too was no exception. The students of the Ramakrishna Mission Sarada Vidyalaya Higher Secondary School, Usman Road, T.Nagar gave the audience a wonderful rendering of bhajans, a number of which were on Swami Vivekananda.
Swami Kamalatmananda, Adhyaksha of Ramakrishna Math, Madurai, then spoke of the importance of education. Swami Kamalatmananda echoed Vivekananda’s words that if the children cannot go to the schools; the schools must go to the children in need. He concluded his talk by saying that if any landmark is worthy of being called a landmark of India it should be Swami Vivekananda.
Sri Malan Narayanan, Editor of Putiya Talalmurai then spoke on the holiness of Vivekanandar Illam. He mentioned that he has visited every continent, but for him the holiest of holies is this building and ground of Vivekanandar Illam where Swamiji stayed for nine days. He went on to mention that Vivekananda was a Veera Thoraivi (heroic monk) because he had no concern for his own welfare, only of the welfare for others. Kalaimamani Dr. Jayanti Kumaresh then enchanted the audience with the Veena, accompanied by Sri R Ramesh on the mridangam and Sri Guruprasad on the Ghatam. The vote of thanks was given by Swami Buddhidananda who thanked everyone including the audience for gracing the occasion.
The program commenced with the readings from teachings of Swami Vivekananda followed by devotional music by the students of Ramakrishna Math National School, Mint, Chennai. We were then treated to a talk by Swami Vimurtananda, Editor, Sri Ramakrishna Vijayam whom expounded on one of Swami Vivekananda’s most marvelous student, ‘Sri Alasinga Perumal’.
The next person on stage was Ms. Prema Pandurangan who spoke on the topic ‘Swami Vivekananda and National Integration’ in English. At 7.30pm the atmosphere of Vivekananda Illam was surcharge with ‘Namasankirtan by Kumari B. Suchitra, Chennai. Swami Padmasthanandaji Maharaj, Secretary, Ramakrishna Mission Ashrama, T.Nagar brought the evening to close with a Vote of Thanks and presentation of Mementoes. The devotees enjoyed the Prasad that was distributed.
On the third day, at 4.45 pm, readings of Swami Vivekananda’s teachings were read aloud by a group of students from the Vivekananda Centenary Higher Secondary School accompanied by wonderful spiritual songs in chorus. At 6 pm Swami Yatatmananda strode to the podium and began his speech reminding the audience how Vivekananda spoke to the gathering after his return from the West. Faith, instills in us the possibility to achieve anything. Faith, Swami Yatatmananda said, is the only requirement for manifesting the divinity within.
Thiru K Vaidyanathan, Editor, Dinamani, then spoke on the historical importance of Swami Vivekananda’s Chicago address. He stressed that more than any piece of writing, students would do well in memorizing the Chicago Address. Thiru Vaidyanathan pointed out that Vivekananda reminded the world that India and Hinduism not only tolerated other religions, but accepted them into its bosom, making them Her own.
After this, Kalaimamani Sri Subbu Arumugam and his six member troupe began his Villupattu (Bow Song) on Swami Vivekananda’s life. Villupattu is an ancient art of musical story-telling. There was music, there was storytelling on the ideals of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Swami Vivekananda, and there was humor, which brought laughter and enjoyment to all who were listening. To close the third night of celebrations, Swami Yadunathananda thanked all who were gathered after which Prasad was distributed to the large gathering.