Tag: Spirituality

A Mahabharata of Skills

A Mahabharata of Skills

A mini Mahabharata took place on Sunday, September 25. About 200 warriors from four special schools participated in the annual combat organised by the Chinmaya Mission, Thane. The battles were fought in the premises of Jidd School for special children and Vasant Vihar School. The difference in this Mahabharata was that whoever fought, won.

It was the fifth annual Gita Utsav 2005-2006, an inter-school competition that aims to promote the eternal wisdom of Bhagavad Gita among children. As many as 2,000 children from 16 normal schools participated in the competition. But this year was special because it was the first year when children from special schools were allowed to participate in the competition. Principal of Jidd School, Shyamashree Bhonsle, graciously offered her school’s premises for the event and students

From four special schools, namely St John’s, Holy Cross, Snehadeep and Jidd School, fought the battles with enthusiasm.

This year’s theme was Mahabharata and the 200-or-so mentally challenged children clashed in three main areas – recital of Gita slokas, drawing, and fancy dress. To ensure fairness, the special children were grouped as per the severity of their challenge. The judges for the drawing competition were Neelam Manchanda, an art and craft teacher and Smita Gawand, who runs a nursery school in Thane. Asha Sunil Kumar, director of Sanskruti Fine Art Academy and Sudha Skrikant, Principal of a nursery school, judged the fancy dress competition.

In the sloka recital contest, four mentally challenged children from Jidd School recited nine slokas from the fifth chapter of Bhagavad Gita, competing with students of class I and II from normal schools. In the drawing and colouring competition, while the hearing impaired children competed with students from normal schools, the mentally challenged children competed amongst themselves. The severely challenged were given a simple pot to colour, the moderately challenged were given a pot with Krishna, and the mildly challenged were given a pot with Krishna posing in nature. The participants were judged on neatness, colour combination, overall effect and presentation. In the fancy dress competition, the children had to not only dress up as a character from Mahabharata, but also utter a few lines. It was this competition that stunned and fascinated the judges. The mentally challenged children dressed up as Vasudeva, Poothana Krishna, Bhima, Vidur, Eklayav, Kunti, Gandhari, and Draupadi. The children mimed the characters with such finesse that the judges rated their performances comparable to, and in some cases better than, normal children.

Bhonsle was impressed by the well-planned manner in which the event was organised. “The contest was fair. Children were judged purely on the merit of their performances and nothing else,” revealed Bhonsle. She was also glad to see the enthusiasm of parents of the special children, without whose efforts, the children would not have been able to participate or perform.

The mini Mahabharata ended with all participating children winning not only cash prizes and certificates, but also the blessings of Lord Krishna in the form of wisdom of Bhagavad Gita.

Because parenting special children is so critical, a special workshop has been organised on October 15 at Sahyog Mandir, Thane. For more details contact Jidd School on 25427231.

Fruits of Education

Fruits of Education

It is well-documented that students understand concepts and ideas better when hands-on involvement accompanies theory. Saraswati Mandir Trust’s Pre-primary section adopts this approach in their day-to-day teaching. Like last week, when they organised a "Vruksha Dindi", a procession of saplings.

The idea of the procession was to educate the pre-primary kids about how trees are planted, how they grow and also to make them appreciate the importance of trees in the ecology. The preparation began on July 18 when the students were asked to sow a seed, preferably mango seed, in their homes and water it daily. Then, on August 05, the students were asked to bring their seed-turned-sapling to school. The sapling-procession, which ensued, looked rather fascinating with students dressed in outfits with the theme of trees. So there were little girls and boys, aged around four or five,  turned up as trees, trunks, branches, fruits and even parrots, marching forward. There was a Vanadevi too (Goddess of the forest). Students were carrying placards with environment friendly messages such as "Trees are our friends" and "Plant more trees". The staff of the school sang songs praising trees. Later, the saplings were stored in a beautifully decorated space reserved for them. The saplings will be handed over to Thane-based environment-care NGO Hariyali, for further care.

The sapling-procession is akin to sowing a hundred seeds from which a whole forest of environment consciousness will grow, each tree bearing the sweetest fruits. Mother Nature will be pleased.

A Divine Course
Bhagavad Gita, literally translated as "the song of the Divine" is the most revered sacred scripture of the Hindu religion. Many believe that the wealth of spiritual wisdom contained in the Gita is the only antidote to the widespread human suffering, which is the result of a highly materialistic life focused only on accumulation. The "more" disease, as it is sometimes referred, causes us humans to fight with each other, with nature and with ourselves. Most of us seem to have forgotten that we are spiritual beings in human form. Perhaps only by becoming aware of our spiritual aspect, our true inner self, will each us be able to get hold of lasting contentment and peace of mind. Alas, the vicious circle of urban life does not allow us to explore the divine part of us, keeping us busy in accumulations and possessions.

Residents of Thane are now getting an opportunity of self-exploration via Gita lessons. Sri Ma Trust has organised a free certificate course in Bhagavad Gita for Thaneiets. The course was initiated on the auspicious occasion of Guru Pournima and is held every Sunday between 4.30 and 5.30 pm at Sri Ma Vanasthali located behind Municipal Commissioner’s Bungalow at near Hiranandani Estate. Already, about 25 parents of Sri Ma Bal Niketan students have registered for the course, which is open to all residents of Thane. Nirmal Jothi, principal of Sri Ma Bal Niketan conducts the sessions. A division for children’s development, christened Sri Ma Bal Seva Mandal (SMBSM) was also instituted on the same day. Among other activities, SMBSM too will conduct Essence of Gita courses for the benefit of inculcating the right spiritual values in children.

The wisdom of Gita distributed to a small group of people in Thane may not make the slightest difference to the sorry state of affairs of the world, but it does have a potential to alter the world of every individual in the group. The secret is to trust the wisdom of Lord Krishna much like Arjuna did.

Arise, Awake

Arise, Awake

On Wednesday, September 4, 2002, an exhibition of paintings based on the life and teachings of Swami Vivekanda was organised by the Ramakrishna Mission. The exhibition, which was held at the TMC school no. 2, is a part of a larger programme which aims to spread awareness about the great mystic among children of today.

The theme of the exhibition was "Arise, Awake" and the paintings displayed captured meaningful messages of the saint. Most messages had special significance for children, who were seen asking their teachers to explain the context and perspectives of the idea behind every message.

There was a message on education, "What is education? Is it book learning? No. Is it diverse knowledge? Not even that. (It is) the training by which the current and expression of will are brought under control and become fruitful is called education." One painting carried a really simple yet powerful message on God, "Where can we go to find God if we cannot see Him in our own hearts and in every living being."

Thane Municipal Corporation’s Education Officer, Prakash More, who attended the exhibition, was so impressed that he assured the organisers that he would assist them in taking the exhibition to other city schools as well as schools across Thane district.

Today’s kids will be tomorrow’s citizens. The "Arise, Awake" exhibition strove to instil a high quality of thinking among children, whose young minds are open and pure and can be easily stimulated to think the right thoughts and act appropriately. Certainly, such exhibitions go a long way in creating higher sense of values that benefit the individual and the society.

Readers who wish to catch a glimpse of these paintings can visit Saraswati Vidyalaya, Rabodi on Saturday, September 07, 2002. The exhibition is open to all.

Slogun Fun
It was the twelfth year in a row for the talent competition organised by Saraswati Mandir Trust’s Pre-Primary Division. What makes this event special is that the participants are little kids aged between three and a half and five and a half. This year’s theme was "Advertising" and participants were expected to create captive campaigns for the product chosen by them. Themes in the previous years ranged from physical exercises and traditional dance to patriotism.

This year there were 17 groups in all. Each group, comprising between four and six members, had to stage their "skit" in two minutes. The performance of the toddlers left the judges and the audience enthralled. Cleverly conceived scripts, witty advertising slogans and skilfully crafted skits marked the show.

The first campaign of the day was for Saraswati School itself. The group drew from the popular saree commercials on TV and proclaimed, "The choice of all kids – The One and Only Saraswati School". It ended with, "We have no branches". Another attention-grabbing skit was the one that had a social message that appealed the citizens to save trees. Then there was the Amul Butter campaign that showed little Lord Krishna stealing Amul Butter. This campaign was very well thought-out and was one of prize winners.  
However, the judges were unanimous is selecting the first prize winner. This group enacted a really innovative campaign which had an original script. The advertisement promoted the "Rich Indian Culture and Tradition" by symbolically demonstrating pilgrims from various faiths. Their banner said, "This advertisement is not to sell a product. It is a call to uphold the rich ethos of India"

Although prizes were given only to a few groups, each participant was a winner. As such group events help in inculcating a team spirit among students, besides building their self confidence. According to principal of the school, Rohini Rassal, "The goal of such competitions is to honour and encourage creativity and talent in kids". Another advantage of such group events is that it establishes enduring bonds between kids, who remain friends forever.

In a Perfect Setting

In a Perfect Setting

We had waited in anticipation for the wet spell the whole of July. When it finally arrived in early August, we didn’t waste any time and set out for the eagerly awaited annual trek to Yeoor Hills. We were six of us, each an ardent lover of adventure, hungry to grab a slice of nature. We hopped inside a TMT bus that took us to the village, where we left all our belongings except for one haversack that contained food and water. The sky was overcast, creating just the right mood for a trek of this sort. We could feel the vibes of the wilderness from the moment we began our long walk towards the forest.

As it is with friends, we were cracking jokes and laughing our way to the waterfalls. Yet, as we progressed towards our destination, I began to feel disconnected with the rest of the group. While I continued chitchatting with my buddies, a sense of quiet comfort enveloped me. I sensed that there was magic in the air.

The path cuts through dense forest. All through our journey, we could hear faint sounds of several streams. After walking on the muddy terrain for about 45 minutes, and crossing one rather forceful channel of water, we could finally sight the spot where we would be camping. But to reach there, we had to walk through a broad stream of clear water, and several mini-waterfalls right in the middle of the forest-mountain, over thousands of small pebbles, rocks and soil. One has to be particularly careful while walking on these smooth rocks, which have been rendered rather slippery due to the continuous flow of water.

Since we had started out early, the place was still deserted. But I knew that soon there would be flocks arriving. So I urged our people to search another spot. None of them agreed as they thought it was too risky to venture into the unknown jungle, especially since newspapers had reported many deaths in the area recently. But I wasn’t deterred and decided to go surveying the place all alone, despite the disapproval of my friends.  

Soon the explorer in me took over and I found myself delving deeper into the forest-hills. After navigating for a while through the uneven, often slimy rocks, I got to a place that I call perfect setting: two streams flowing from opposite directions merging into one, enclosed by tree-covered hills on all sides. The feeling I had there was compelling and I decided to spend some time in quiet contemplation.

As I observed the beautiful surroundings and inhaled the fresh air, I could hear the reverberation of many different sounds. Birds chirping, water rushing through the rocks, splashing me frequently, and the cool gusts of wind. I felt in touch with that universal energy, the source of all that is, the divine intelligence that we call God.   It was a blissful experience – so serene yet so energising.   As I sat on one of the rocks, the words of Dr. Wayne Dyer flowed through my mind: We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.

My retreat was soon disturbed by the callings of my friends, who had begun to get worried about me. I saw them approaching towards me. But I still had some time with myself and I decided to savour these wonderfully tranquil moments so that I could recall them once I left.

I spent the rest of my trip with my friends, but there was a feeling of detachment. I had left a part of me in that perfect setting – the part that is my invisible, spiritual self.

All in the Mind

All in the Mind

Every morning, about two thousand prisoners of Thane Central Jail gather in the various barracks to participate in a special session. For an hour or so, the participants embark on a spiritual journey wherein they enter the world of self-discovery and god-realization.

The positive effects of the "Spiritual Awakening" Programme conducted by Prajapita Brahmakumaris have transformed a number of inmates. Incorrigible addicts have given up drugs, alcohol and smoking. A large number of them have turned to vegetarianism. Negative emotions like violence, anger and depression are increasingly being substituted by peace, harmony and inner-contentment. The once contaminated atmosphere is gradually paving way for a pure ambience.

This amazing transformational programme was initiated in July 1998by the then superintendent of Thane Central Jail, Ramkrishna Mahale, along with a few volunteers of Prajapita Brahmakumaris. Last year Thane Municipal Corporation honoured Mahale with the "Thane Bhusan Gaurav Puraskar" in recognition of his splendid contribution.

The first batch of the programme comprised of a small group of 20 odd convicts, including notorious gangster Arun Gawli and his group. The results were immediate and many members of this batch took an oath never to commit a crime again. Since then the number of participants has steadily increased.

Dr. Sudhir Bhatankar, Deputy Municipal Commissioner of TMC, who is one of the Gurus who conduct spiritual discourses in the Jail, provided many examples of convicts who were transformed. Like Balasaheb Nirmale who was convicted in the fake-currency case. Bhatankar says, "Nirmale was so influenced by the course that he vowed to dedicate his life to the welfare of others, after he serves his sentence." Today, Nirmale is a social worker helping a credit society based in Thane. Even after his release from the jail, he has remained a follower of Brahmakumaris."

Dr. Bhatankar also revealed an interesting fact related to a well-known dacoit of the yesteryears, Pancham Singh, who was completely swayed by the teaching of Brahmakumaris and surrendered himself to Jayprakash Narayan. Soon, he began spiritual preaching himself. In fact, Pancham Singh attended the inaugural batch of "Spiritual Awakening" programme in Thane Jail and gave a live account of his transformational journey – from a hardened criminal to a spiritually conscious human being.

The regular turnout at the discourses and the visible transformation among the participants made a strong case for making this programme a permanent feature of the Jail. Today over 2,500 inmates participate in the self-realisation programme.

According to Mayur Kapadia, another Guru, "Many members of the police staff observed the positive effects of the programme and asked for a similar programme for them and their families."

This is not the first time that meditation techniques have been used in correction centres. Spiritual meditation is fast emerging as the key to rehabilitation of lawbreakers serving in jails the world over. Perhaps the best example is that of Dr. Kiran Bedi, India’s first female police officer. When Bedi took charge as Inspector General of prisons, she introduced a meditation course in Tihar Jail and the results were simply remarkable.

The success of the "Spiritual Awakening" programme of the Thane Central Jail only proves what Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, "Men are not prisoners of fate, but only prisoners of their own minds."

Exam Adventure

Exam Adventure

Had it not been for the professional attitude and thoughtfulness on the part of Smt. Sulochanadevi Singhania School, the sudden call for Maharashtra Bandh, last week could have caused a lot of inconvenience to its students who fall under the ICSE board.

As you know, the State Boards announced the postponement of the SSC and HSC exams scheduled on March 1, 2002 – the day of Bandh. But the ICSE board exams do not come under the jurisdiction of state boards and they had to be conducted as scheduled.

Taking the situation as a challenge, the Singhania School staff, under the leadership of Pincipal Mrs. Vijayan Ravi, worked out a wonderful arrangement so that the 208 students of class X are not inconvenienced on such a crucial day.

A day before the exam, the School staff contacted every single student by the phone informing them about their plan. Though the exam was to begin at 2:30 in the afternoon, students were asked to assemble in the school campus early next morning, before the effect of the Bandh begins to show. Parents too were allowed to accompany their wards. More importantly, students who could not be contacted by phone were contacted in person by an official representative of the school. The school made sure that the message is conveyed to every student.

What really overwhelmed the parents and students was the thoughtful arrangement made by the staff to take care of basic necessities such as food, water etc. On a day when all shutters would be down, it certainly called for astute planning on the part of the school to make breakfast and lunch available to almost 500 people.

Most students can’t do without the last-minute-revision, so they were allowed to study anywhere they liked, as long as they were within the school campus. Before the exam, students were seen all throughout the school – the library, the garden, classrooms and even the playground.

"Just before the examination began, some students touched the feet of their teachers, in return for blessings – much like the days of Gurukul" said Tushar Pitale, a visibly impressed parent.

He said, "For most parents, this was a rare opportunity as they looked on, while students prayed, studied and ate together, regardless of their communities. They saw teachers performing Saraswati Puja, holding last-minute revision sessions and generally encouraging students to fare well in the exams. This was in sharp contrast with what was happening outside".

The day was peaceful and the exams were conducted smoothly. A couple of days later, the Principal received a bouquet made up of 208 roses, one for each student. It was presented to the School staff by the Parents-Teachers Association in appreciation of the excellent handling of a particularly difficult situation.

A Collective Prayer
On March 5, 2002, hundreds of people offered their prayers to Gajanan Maharaj, who was highly revered saint from Shegoan in Maharashtra.

The devotees were celebrating his Prakat Din (day of appearance) with a lot of vigour and enthusiasm. Devotees started flowing in as early as four in the morning and kept coming till late evening, all of them eager to catch a glimpse (darshan) of the saint’s idol.

It was impossible to ignore the long queues originating from the temple situated on the Ram Maruti Road. The ladies queue almost looked like a human chain as it extended right up to the ICICI bank, which is located a approximately 300 metres away from the temple.

This year, the prakat din followed, what can be called as one of the worst communal episodes of the country. Let’s hope that the collective prayers offered on this auspicious day will help in restoring communal harmony. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, "Prayer is not an old woman’s idle amusement. Properly understood and applied, it is the most potent instrument of action."

Healing Stars

Healing Stars

With allopathic medicine’s failure in dealing with a number of health problems, people are increasingly turning towards other therapeutic systems for respite. According to Dr. Uday Kulkarni, an Ayurvedic Specialist, "Allopathic medicine is heavily skewed in favour of physical aspect of healing, while completely ignoring the mental and physical aspects." It is to address this extremely important issue that a novel system of therapy, called "Rashi Prakalp", has been introduced at Pandit Deendayal Smriti Ayurveda Panchakarma Kendra in Thane’s Yeoor Hills.

The system relies on Nature and Astrology and uses the knowledge of zodiac signs and planetary aspects for curing patients. The concept took shape about one and a half years ago with specific trees being planted for each zodiac sign. Using special mantras, these zodiac trees were infused with powerful spiritual energy during plantation and growth.

Introduced for the first time in India, the "Rashi Prakalp" system works in tandem with Panchakarma, an ayurvedic method, which basically denotes detoxification or elimination of toxins from the body. The Panchakarma treatment consists of four basic forms, namely – medicine or drug therapy, pancha (five) karma (actions/systems), dietary regime and regulation of lifestyle.

"Rashi Prakalp" helps in the last one, namely, regulation of lifestyle. Patients with chronic depression or other psychosomatic diseases are asked to meditate under a designated zodiac tree. The vibrations of the tree act on the patient in a miraculous way to cure him/her of both mental and physical ailments.

Since its commencement in October last year, a number of patients from Thane have already found relief from the so-called incurable diseases such as arthritis and asthma. For more information, readers may contact Mr. Nandu Gore on 5451461 or Dr. Uday Kulkarni on 5433036.

Holy chants
The Bhagwad Gita is one of the three principal texts that define and capture the essence of Hinduism, the other two being the Upanishads and the Brahma Sutras. Bhagawad Gita means "Song of the God", is revered by Hindus for the infinite wisdom that it offers.

To make this wisdom available to residents of Thane, Bharat Sahakari Bank has organized a series of lectures called Gita Saar or the essence of Gita. Being held at Saraswati School (Naupada), Dr. Shankar Abyankar, a learned scholar from Pune, explains the real meaning of Gita to an audience of more than 3000 educated people.

The discourse begins with Deepa Parjavalan (lighting of a diya) followed garlanding of Lord Krishna’s picture and Dr. Shankar Abyankar by a well-known Thane resident. The series began on December 26, 2001 and will continue through January 13, 2002. All through the 90-minute lecture, there is pin-drop silence, while Dr. Abhyankar imparts wealth of spiritual wisdom to the audience comprising of the young and the old.

Thaneites are indeed fortunate, as those who have attended the lectures claim to have benefited tremendously. In times when war clouds are looming large over the world, Krishna consciousness is just what the peace doctors have prescribed.

Spreading Divine Consciousness

Spreading Divine Consciousness

"If we remain everywhere individually, something will be done indeed, but if we remain everywhere as a part of a group a hundred times more will be done"- Sri Aurobindo

The Dombivli center (MC-27) of Sri Aurobindo Society, Pondicherry, has followed this advice to establish itself gradually.

When Sri Aurobindo, the great national freedom fighter and an even greater spiritual master, sought retirement from active politics, he settled in Pondicherry to focus his energies on his spiritual work. He had about four or five disciples then. But when more people began to follow his spiritual path, a community of sadhaks had to be formed for the maintenance and collective guidance of those who had left everything behind for the sake of a higher life. This was the foundation of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, which rather than created, has grown around Sri Aurobindo.

The Dombivli Center too has witnessed a similar trend, albeit at a smaller scale. The number of devotees at the center has been grown steadily since it first began services in 1991. The center will celebrate its first anniversary on Sunday, October 28, 2001. Founded in August 1991 with hardly 2-3 devotees under the name "Mother’s Meditation Center", the Dombivli center acquired official recognition from the Aurobindo Society on October 28, 2000.

"Regular Prayer Meetings are held on every month First Sunday and important days as is the practice in the Main Ashram at Pondicherry." Says Mr. B. J. Raman, Honorary Secretary of the Center. The center’s activities are inspired by the teachings of Sri Aurobindo and his spiritual collaborator, The Mother.

For those who are unaware, Sri Aurobindo Society at Pondicherry is a Registered Society with its chief administrative office at Pondicherry. The Ashram community comprises of about 1200 persons. It has about 300 Centers, 50 Branches and about 10,000 members spread across India and abroad.

Although from different nationalities and cultural background, every seeker aspires and works for the same goal: "Sri Aurobindo’s vision of a new consciousness upon earth". The Main objective of Sri Aurobindo Society is to work for a new world and a spiritualized society based on the teachings of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.

Since the aim of the Society is to transform the whole of life, nothing is excluded from its comprehensive programme. It is a member of UNESCO and has been recognized by the Government of India as an Institution carrying out research in the Social Science.

The Dombivli center continues the tradition of the Society in its own way. Besides engaging in meditation sessions and prayer meetings, the center provides food, clothing and medicine to Old Age Homes and Anandashams. It offers help to needy persons and frequently performs acts of service to the community. For instance, in wake of the upcoming board exams in March 2001, the center organized a workshop for students of SSC and HSC in February 2001. Prof. K Kandaswamy, Head of English Dept, University of Mumbai & Mr. Thiruvenkataswamy, Professor of Mathemetics, and University of Mumbai conducted the workshop. The center plans to organize a Voluntary Blood Donation Camp in October 14, 2001.

The center has ambitious plans for the future. They plan to organize Yoga & Veda classes. Also on cards is a tour to the interiors of Thane District & other parts of Maharashtra spreading awareness on AIDS & Drug Addiction. But above all, the center wants to spread the message of humanity and spiritual consciousness to the people of Dombivli and its adjacent suburbs.

The Dombivli center has its share of difficulties, the biggest of them being an absence of its own place for carrying out the services. For the past ten years the center is operating from a small residential flat, belonging to one of its founder members. But due to the steady increase in the number of devotees they have been experiencing problems of limited space and time. The center began its hunt for exclusive place.

On surveying the market, the members realized that a suitable place could cost them in the range of Rs.10 lacs, an amount that is far beyond what the center can afford. Accordingly, they circulated an Appeal among the devotees of this and other centers also for raising funds. The center seeks monetary help from all its well-wishers. But Mr. Raman does not seem too worried, when he says, "I have faith that The Divine help will appear sooner or later in some form or the other. Until then, we will work tirelessly to achieve all our goals."

The Dombivli center urges people from around the suburb to come forward and participate in spreading the Divine Consciousness.

Contact Mr. R Vishwanathan or Mr. B. J. Raman on 95 251-882407 or 95-251-44 6511