Sunday, 22 September 2013

Proud Heritage

||Aum Sri Ramakrishna Sharanam||


Raam Bhajan Tree
pic google images
Aum Namo Narayanaya


The sanghu (conch) took to the stage at 16:00 like clockwork... reverberating through the atmosphere with its celestial sound, calling on Narayana to come partake of the laid feast and bless His children. The sweetened rice, payasam and boiled chickpeas braised with onions and ghee, formed the basis of the pure and simple diet enjoyed during this holy month of Purtassi. The fresh marigold garland interspersed with mango leaves adorned the doorways, and the thiru-namam (sign of the feet of Maha Vishnu) inscribed on everything from the prayer utensils and hallways to the foreheads of the men-folk sanctified and accorded the desired respect and devotion for the prayer. After the verse calling on Narayana riding His eagle vehicle to come forth and protect us, the congregation burst out in loud chants of "Govinda Govinda Gooovinda" (The Lord who is the protector). Marvelling at this sight and reveling in the wave of devotion, I closed my eyes and simultaneously mentally bowed to our ancestors during this period of Pitr Paksh / Mahalaya Patcham for having left us this wonderful religious heritage which acts as splints keeping us on a straight path of devotion.


Heritage is defined as something that is inherited from the past. As a South African, I am honoured and proud to have received a shared heritage. My African heritage is endowed with the treasures of the big five; proteas; majestic mountain ranges like the Drakensberg, the Cradle of Humankind, the San and Khoi Khoi; and a country and continent that is rich in minerals pulsating with varied cultures that has huge potential. And... from my Indian ancestry, I was gifted with the glorious culture and Vedanta that can provide the world with its most sought after commodity of peace. Vedanta - which is the eternal truth that predates any form of organised doctrine or theology has survived through various onslaughts and will continue to outlive all creation as it is the intrinsic truth.


Many have emphasised how the world has changed from the yesteryears. But I tend to believe otherwise. The world has always been the same... full of challenges presenting hardships and its share of glory too. I feel that the difficulty has increased to date purely due to the decrease in faith over time.  The world is yet to see people of the calibre of Prahalad whose faith and devotion to the Lord is unprecedented.


A unique and profound heritage handed to us by the Andhra community is the festival of Raam Bhajan which is observed by many Andhras and Tamilians during the month of Purtassi in South Africa.  The prayer brings forth a very clear message in this turbulent age. It is said some 7 or 9 days before Ram Naumi, the villagers would commence their pilgrimage to Badrachalam through the dense and vast forest populated with wild animals. They would light the 'kola' lamp and sing the praises of Sri Rama and perform different dance moves to deviate their minds from fear and impending danger. As they would go from village to village, the number of devotees would increase and so would the number of lamps lighting the way.  On the day of Ram Naumi, they would reach the temple of Badrachalam and offer their love and devotion to the Lord - a sense of victory to their pilgrimage.


The lamp is a symbol of faith - as the devotees placed their faith in the 'kola' in leading them through the rugged terrain and dark forest, the 'kolas' placed before the 'bhajan-tree' and continuously fuelled to remain burning, reminds us to have burning faith in God. Having faith so strong that it reduces  our 'karmas' to ashes in this birth like the fuel. The circular motion highlights the life that we lead in this world: the continuous cycle of birth and death; monotonous life of pain, suffering, transient joy and happiness like a road leading to nowhere. However, if we want to raise our lives and break free from this cycle, we must then make God the centre of our lives. When the bhajan-tree (chetu) is placed in the centre of the circular dancing movement, it takes on a new found appreciation and meaning. In the same way, when we place God as the centre of our lives... the mundane, boring cycle is given a new sense of excitement  and energy. As we continue to circle the ring with burning faith and devotion, we are lost in His thoughts and name... the pains and sufferings of the world hold no relevance to our lives.


We have seen how Prahalad who went through so much of torture and pain -but immersed in the name of Hari, chanting Aum Namo Narayanaya- passed through those obstacles like a hot knife through butter. There is no shortcut or escape from the arms of 'karma'. The obituaries in the newspapers are not only filled with Hindu names. Everybody will have to face the brunt of their karmic action, but it can be eased through intense faith in and devotion to God. That is the lesson we can take from this glorious heritage that is handed down to us by our forefathers. "Face the brutes", Swami Vivekananda was told by a Swami whilst He was being tormented by wild monkeys.


In the same manner, we must have no fear for the challenges of life; we must arm ourselves with intense faith, devotion and love that will reduce the intensity of mandatory karmic action that we have to face.


May He who pervades the whole universe and worshipped as Perumal in this month, bless us with unwavering faith and devotion to His lotus feet.


With love and prayers always


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