Bangalore, the capital of the Karnataka State of India is now on the world map as one of the leading centres of Information Technology. It is known as the Silicone Valley of India (which by the way is the country that has produced 30% of the world computer scientists). The city is also part of the old royal state of Mysore, very well known for its cultural riches, patronage of classical dances and music, and Yoga. See a book titled 'The Yoga Tradition of the Mysore Palace', by N.E. Sjoman (Publ. Abhinav Publications, E-3 Hauz Khas, New Delhi 110016. 1996). It is a city of people very sophisticated both in science and spirituality. Here there is no conflict between the two. The Bangalore scientist unhesitatingly prostrates before the priest, monk and the guru.
Swami Rama of the Himalayas first visited Bangalore in 1992 and was received by the crowds of thousands. Here, Shri Pattabhiraman and his wife Jyoti met him and became his disciples. For all of this time they had been asking Swami Veda Bharati to visit Bangalore but the opportunity never arose. Then came along another of Swami Rama disciples, a leading industrialist named Shri Madhav Kamath. Shri Kamath is also one of the trustees of Dhyana Mandiram Trust, the Trust in-charge of Sadhaka Grama. Swami Veda Bharati asked him to organise his first visit to Bangalore. Well, the first visit was, as Pandit Usharbudh Arya--in 1968, when he addressed crowds of thousands in the city; but this in 2003 was the first visit since Swami Veda met his Gurudeva.
Mr. Kamath approached his other industrialist associates as well as Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, a well known and very highly regarded institution of cultural and secular education. (Swami Veda has been speaking at the London branch of the same for the last several years and has also lectured at their Mumbai headquarters.) Mr. Kamath had put all of his company's human resources at the disposal of the event. His graphic designers, PR experts, CEOs, office staff--everyone served day and night because in this case they were not merely doing the bidding of their employer, but were serving a Swami and felt that they werre receiving a blessing.
Swami Veda Bharati arrived in Bangalore on March 20, 2003. At the airport he was first received by Madhav Kamath with a fragrant jasmine garland (which was promptly put by Swami Veda on the neck of the nearest child, a 4-year old little girl). Outside the airport gate stood a welcome party in a line, each person holding a rose which were given to Swami Veda one by one, and some bent down and touched the Swami's feet, taking the 'dust' to their forehead (a common greeting for an elder in Hindu-Buddhist Asia as well as in the traditional Africa).
The lectures were held in the spacious hall of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. Here again he was greeted at the steps to the hall with the traditional greeting described above. Upon entering the hall he was escorted by three beautifully sari-dressed ladies holding deepaks (open flame oil lamps). They walked in a triangular inverse V formation and led him to the stage. On the stage the traditional tall six-wick brass lamp was lit by Swami Veda to start the auspicious occasion, and then Swamiji sprinkled flower petals on Swami Rama's picture and bowed (all common daily gestures in India). The theme for the three lectures (on March 22, 23 and 25, 2003) was 'Spirituality for Future Generations'.
Not only that the hall was full, a closed circuit TV screen had to be put in the vestibule outside; yet 300 people had to be turned away for lack of space. The press was well represented. Swami Veda's entry into the hall and on to the stage was greeted with classical devotional songs by the well known singer Janaki Subrahmanyam. Today's lecture title was 'IT versus Ancient Wisdom'. This was a theme akin to the lecture given at the World Trade Centre, Rotterdam (Holland) in 2002 ( see www.intuitiveknowledge.com), to an audience not only scientifically advanced, but one also maintaining and practising the spiritual wisdom of centuries.
The chief guest for the first day was Padma Bhushan (an honorific title conferred by the President of India to eminent people of high achievement) Prof. B.V. Sreekantan, retired director of the prestigious Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, a gold medalist in science, a visiting professor at M.I.T., Harvard, and so forth. He sat to the right of Swami Veda. Ann Glazier (retired from teaching Sanskrit and Indian philosophy from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, and now giving full time service to the Rishikesh Ashram), sat on the left.
Swami Veda Bharati spoke for the best part of one and half hour on the topic. (Please ask for the cassette or the CD). Prof. Sreekantan gave an hour's paper on the mutual relationship of IT and Vedanta philosophy.
At the end, as Swami Veda left the stage, and a group of singers sang in really mellifluous notes, the volunteers had to form two human chains so that Swamiji could walk between them, to save him from the surging crowd that wanted to touch his shawl, touch his feet, ask for a blessing.
The topic for the second day, March 23, 2003 was 'Inner Space to Outer Space and Back'. This day's chief guest was Dr. Jean Letschert, a Belgian-French auther, artist on the theme of Shri-vidya, who has lived with sadhus for decades, walked to Nepal with them over the Nanda Devi route, has published several books (in French) on Indian philosophy and art, one of which is titled 'The Interior Temple'. He also read a paper on his favourite topic of Yoga, 'Shri-vidya and Indian art'. This day, it was Pattabhiraman's turn to sit on SVB's left side.
Same scene as on the first day was repeated on the second day, but a little less vehemently. The hall was full, but no one was turned away because many stayed home to watch the last day of the World Cup Cricket games, the final match between Australia and India, being held in South Africa.
The third day, March 24, 2003 a satsang was held at the home of Mr. Madhav Kamath. As Swami veda arrived, he had to take off his socks and sandals and was asked to stand on a flat wooden stand. There the family washed and dried his feet (also not uncommon throughout India when honouring an elder or a guide or guru or a favourite swami). As he entered the house, the family had brought a silver plate filled with water reddened with cinnabar. Swamiji looked at his reflection in it. Then in another silver plate he looked at his reflection in clear water. These were then waved in a circle before his visage, and became a 'prasadam' for others to touch the sanctified water. (Symbolism? Only the feeling itself can explain the symbolism. What is the symbolism of the Catholic Bishops' finger ring?). If the vessel and the water are not absolutely still, one cannot see one's face in that half-inch depth of water--that is quite a lesson. Then the family performed the full arti (in a silver plate, flowers, sandalwood paste, open flame deepak waved in certain circular patterns before the visage. Then Swami Veda paid a visit to the family shrine; and then to the large room where the people were singing the names of God, waiting for the satsang. Swamiji had been late and they had been waiting and singing for an hour.
No one India asks Swami Veda why he accepts all these honours. No one in India will ask such a question. There is such tremendous respect and veneration for anything that appears remotely holy. For example, just before boarding the 'plane in Delhi for Bangalore, Swamiji had 15 kilos overweight. When he went to the counter to pay, they took one look at his saffron clothes, or may be it was his old age and the walking stick!, the officer, without being requested to do so, signed a paper waiving the charges). These are daily occurrences in the life of a Swami. At Dehradun airport the security does not want to search him; they profoundly apologise for doing so. In Haridwar-Rishikesh-Dehradun area his car passes without paying toll at the Toll Stations because of the 'Mahamandaleshwara' sign on his car.
Swami Veda jokes that all this is because they must like the shape of his long nose! Feeling very uncomfortable with all this display of veneration for a simple mortal,-- "I am no Master, just a disciple of a Master"--he tells everyone to stop them from giving all this respect. But no one in India listens. When he first began to settle down in India, and people would touch his feet, with his American background of 'equality', he would pull away and they would feel very hurt. Then, he says, he thought to himself : I am a worshipper of Devi, Divine Mother; how can I accept this reverse veneration from the Divine Mother (incarnate in all women). So, he made a practice: if women touched his feet, he would bend down and touch their feet, and they would recoil in horror. "What sin are you visiting upon us, Swamiji"--they would loudly protest. But he found that because he is a serious heart patient, when he bends down and then gets up, it cause him angina. So, he says, "I just gave up" and accepted the traditional culture. But he now rejoices when such veneration is offered. (Has he suddenly turned proud and arrogant?) He says : he realized that the veneration is not to his person but to the Guru-shakti, to the power and holiness of the Lineage. So, every time his feet are touched, or washed, or he is given such rituals of veneration, he remembers his Guru with the mantra, "Akhanda-mandala ." And passes on the veneration to his Master. This gives him the opportunity to remember his Master that many times, and he is happy.
Back to the satsang at the home of Mr. Kamath. It is a common tradition that everyone present is offered food. It is part of the bhakti, the tradition of spiritual devotion: you are a devotee of God, worship God in His devotees. A little of the food is first offered to the Guru-figure present, and after he has accepted it, everyone is given dinner (even if there are a thousand people). It is an essential part of all spiritual gatherings. The Kamath family followed the same tradition on this evening.
After Swami Veda returned to the guesthouse, an hour later, at about 11.30 p.m., a few people dropped in, including Pattabhiraman, one of the host families, and so forth. Swamiji was puzzled, but joked and talked and advised. Pattabhi said, "we are here because of a special occasion today". Swamiji asked if it was their initiation anniversary. NO, it wasn't. Wedding anniversary, perhaps? NO, it isn't, but you will know in half an hour what it is. Very puzzled, Swamiji continued with the chats and discussions.
At ten minutes after midnight, Pattabhi said : It is after midnight; what date is it? It is March 24th, Swamiji, it is your birthday. Only then Swamiji remembered. They all shared ice cream etc. Swamiji explained: Most days I do not even know what date or day of the week it is; I cannot remember what city I am in. The life is so occupied with thinking of the people that often there is a day of non-stop 22 hours work. This was going to be a 15-hour day after everyone left.
March 25, 2003. Last day of the lecture. Once again, a TV screen outside the hall. The gate had to be locked against the surge of the people for whom there was no space. The chief guest was Mother Manish, a very holy lady who long ago had met H.H. Swami Rama and runs an Institute of Ancient Wisdom, an Ashram filled with peace and serenity. In the audience were Dr. S. Krishnamurti, the director of the host institution, Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan; Dr. Nagendra, the director of one of the three or four Yoga academic institutions in India--the Vivekananda Kendra--about to be a deemed Yoga University; Justice Venkatachaliah (Retired) Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India, and many others.
The topic on this day was 'Spiritual Perspective for Humanity'. (Please ask for the cassettes or CDs of the lectures). It was nearly a two-hour lecture (and meditations as usual). After the lecture, by way of acknowledgements, autographed books were presented to those who had made the greatest contribution to the success of the event. Some special guests were presented large silver platters, with Swami Rama pictures attached, in a beautiful blue velvet box; courtesy of Shri Bharat Mehta family, who have silverware manufacturing business and have been one of the foremost sponsors for the event.
Oh, forgot to tell you. Mr. Kamath and associates had brought out a special little book for the occasion of SVB's Bangalore visit: A collection of the sayings of Swami Rama and Swami Veda. Thousands of copies were sold over the few days.
A regret on Swamiji's part. A real loss. He failed to meet a 'shataavadhaani' who had been in the audience. What is a 'shataavadhaani'? A man of hundred concentrations. That's nothing. There are also 'sahasraavadhaanis', the men of a thousand concentrations. There is quite a tradition of these in South India. It goes as follows: gather a group of people anywhere. The 'shataavadhaani' walks in and takes his seat. Someone asks a question. Then someone requests, say, "please compose a verse on "rain" without using the letter 'p' and 'd'," or whatever. Then someone rings a bell, and so on. A hundred events take place as the shataavadhaani sits in concentration. After the hundredth event, he responds to each in the same sequence. And, at this point the bell was rung 17 times", and here is the verse on rain without using the letters 'p' and 'd'. He goes on sequentially till he has answered all 100 questions or requests. Well, how about a World Cup for Concentration Olympics?
March 26, 2003, evening. Swami Veda again had to walk between the two human chains, while the singers sang sonorous songs. These two chains more or less managed to control the surge of the people, but some managed to get across!!
Justice Venkatachaliah had reached the guesthouse before Swami Veda. When the British had an empire, they never ceased to marvel how a Chief Justice of a High Court would pay obeisance to a swami by giving a full body prostration on the ground at the Swami's feet. The tradition still continues. Justice Venkatachaliah, himself a great Sanskrit scholar and devotee of a 400-year old spiritual seat, in addition to the highest position in Law that he held, received his blessings thus, upon arrival and at leaving. He expressed his amazement as to how "the swami held so many people all at once in such stillness", and at the original interpretation of some of the verses of the Upanishads and the 'Bhagavad Gita'. Swamiji in turn marvelled at his humility, and complimented him for the same.
Swamiji recalled the day several years back, when he had gone to Justice Venkatachaliah's house in New Delhi. He was introduced by the Chairman of India's Human Rights Commission, who is now the Governer of the Uttaranchal State, where Rishikesh is situated. Swamiji recalled that after that first meeting the retired Chief Justice of the Supreme Court had not put on his shoes; he came out to see Swamiji off at his car just wearing socks. The habit of taking the shoes off before giving honours to any holy place or person is still the normal practice in India (Recall, Moses at the Burning Bush in the 'Book of Exodus' in the Bible).
This is not only in India. This is the way of life all over Hindu-Buddhist Asia, as well as whole of traditional Africa. One example comes to mind :
Dr. Choe, a true Christian (30% of Korea is Christian; 70% is Buddhist, but culturally both groups are identical), has recently quit his position as a director of one of the largest and most prestigious teaching hospitals in Korea, the Wonju Medical College. He and Helen Choe have known Swamiji since 1987 (Helen says she had met Swamiji 20 years earlier in a dream). She has developed a very strong group of yoga students around her teaching, and her meditative voice in guiding the yoga sessions is absolutely captivating. Whenever Dr. Choe is travelling internationally to attend medical and scientific conferences, and if he is within three thousand miles of wherever Swamiji might be, he takes a diversion to see his spiritual guide. At one time, they were staying at the Rishikesh Ashram, and were about to leave. They said they would come upstairs for final farewell. Swamiji said " Why trouble yourself. I would come down to say good-bye". So, Swamiji came downstairs and stood on the steps of his cottage. Here were Dr. Choe and Helen, ready to leave; they approached Swamiji, and right there on the pebbles of the path, offered their "dandavat pranama"--the form of obeisance in which one lies on the ground head down, extends the joined hands over the head toward the object of veneration (all Koreans do this to a monk). Swamiji gave his blessings and regretted that he had not realised their intention and had prevented them from coming upstairs, where they could have offered their obeisance on a carpet, not on pebbles of the path. No amount of protestation on the part of the monk would work; humility is inbred in these cultures as part of childhood training. The Choe children do the same.
Some day Swamiji hopes to write in detail about his experiences in African spirituality. He recalls seeing in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya in 1952 : a young man saw his uncle walking on the other side of the street; crossed over and did the "dandavat pranama". Idriss (now director of Environment in the Government of Burkina Faso) has created a flourishing yoga group not only in the capital city, but in all parts of the country; he also has his students now teaching yoga in 12 other African countries. Following the African culture, whenever they see Swamiji, they bend down to touch his feet.
In the great Kumbh Mela 2000 at Allahabad, it was decided by Swamiji that our group should give some special respect to Swami Chidanandaji (Muniji), without whose kindness Swami Veda Bharati could not have managed to participate in the Kumbh Mela. All 150 people of our group sat in well ordered rows. People in each row got up, walked past the seated swamiji and showered rose petals on the head of Muniji, and paid obeisance with joined hands. After everyone had paid respects thus, the leaders from various continents were asked to say a few words. Each one stood and made his/her remarks. Then came the turn of Idriss. He did not stand up; he sat in vajra-asana position. He said: in our culture we do not stand to address a king lest our head be above that of the king's; these monks in my eyes are greater than kings, so I sit and pay my homage.
One point to remember : this detail is being given only to improve mutual understanding among cultures. When the Western visitors see such veneration offered, they sometimes feel that it might be their duty also to express veneration in this way. Swamiji immediately stops them with a courteous and loving smile: Be true to your own culture; do whatever is natural to you--he says.
Now to Pattabhiraman's Ashram. Together with Bhola Shankar Dabral, director of SRSG Publications; Anne Glazier, the resident philosopher and Sanskrit guide of the Ashram in Rishikesh; Raghavendra Adiga who teaches and runs a Himalayan Yoga Meditation Society in Guntur, 60 miles from Bangalore; Kwak, a Korean initiate completing his Ph.D. in yoga at Delhi University; and another friend and devoted student who is among those silent devotees who take care of Swami Veda's personal and medical needs every second of the day.
After a 15-hour non-stop work, it was at 6 a.m. on March 26, 2003 when Swamiji was driven to Pattabhi's Ashram. The car from Suttur Math (see below) had arrived the night before, waiting.
Shri Pattabhiraman has been dedicated to mastering and teaching yoga since his early youth. He took training in a number of leading yoga institutions of India. His wife, Jyoti, is a master of classical Bharata-Natyam dance form (of that, some other time, in more detail; suffice it to say that in this dance form, any word from any dictionary can be danced; the whole of James Joyce can be translated word for word into gestures of eyes, hands, feet, body position and movement). Being a practitioner of yoga, she has given a spiritual dimension to teaching dance. Pattabhi's total dedication is to yoga and deep meditation. He has indeed opened himself to the Guru and has had some profound experiences, from which he guides his students.
After studying in many institutions and establishing his own Centre ( known as Sadhana Sangama) in Bangalore, he met his Master, Swami Rama of the Himalayas in 1992. From the Master he received maturity in his spiritual practices through a number of initiations and in-depth guidance. He was partly responsible for sponsoring Swami Rama's first visit to Bangalore in 1992, and thereafter made regular visits to the Rishikesh Ashram, where he and Jyoti met Swami Veda Bharati.
They had been asking Swamiji to visit the Bangalore area for the past ten years, but it had not been possible. A wish was fulfilled when Swamiji decided to visit Pattabhiraman's new Ashram on a beautiful 15-acre piece of land, already covered with trees, between Bangalore and Mysore. Swami Veda visited this site on March 26, 2003.
Those who serve Pattabhi's work, study with him and practice under his guidance, are incredibly humble and gentle. His wife Jyoti is an equal partner in his devotion to the Guru and his work. Despite Swamiji's protests to the contrary, they kept referring to him as the Master. Swami Veda likes people to recognize that he is only one of the disciples of a Master; those who refer to him otherwise are doing so just out of sheer love and their humility, not conforming to reality--says Swamiji.
Swami Veda made a round of the site, still under construction. When completed, it will be a masterpiece of spiritual ingenuity. This includes an underground cave for serious practitioners. Each pillar symbolically represents some force.
Swamiji was asked to inaugurate a small shrine, with a pyramid shaped roof, which will be the home of Guru-Chaitanya, the Guru Consciousness. Here a brief worship to the Guru Force and a short meditation intensified the serene atmosphere. This was followed by a meditation and informal discourse in the new Meditation Hall, that is designed to seat 500 meditators.
Then a two-hour dance drama on the epic Ramayana, produced and choreographed by Jyoti, was presented by her dance school students in the honour of the visiting Swami. The beauty of it was the practice of prayatna-shaithilya, relaxation of effort. When Jatayu, the bird king died, he fell like a feather, like a leaf. There was no stiffness, no endeavour. Swamiji really appreciated this opportunity to "relax" from his "work" and afterwards gave special blessings, on the stage as well as privately, to the performers.
A dinner. A few more flowers. More foot-touching. Many more blessings to be imparted. Do come again. Soon. I indeed shall come. And the party left late night for the royal city of Mysore.
Mysore? Most people know India only by Taj Mahal. India is a subcontinent the size of Europe, with a history twice as long (minimum 5,000 years). It has more languages than Europe, more varied styles of food, clothing and so forth, a vast literature in all these languages--much of it yet to be published. How does India solve the language problem? Take a look at a hundred-rupee bill. The words "hundred rupees" are written in 15 languages; you can write a letter to a government office in any of these 15 languages.
At the time the British left India in 1947, it was not a subcontinent homogenously governed. In addition to the British territories proper, there were 600 'countries'. Some were the size of Liechtenstein, Andorra and Monaco. Some were size of France or Belgium. Each with its own king, army, postal service; only the defence and external affairs were in the hands of the British (Of course it was finally the British writ that would prevail in case of a dispute). Then came August 15, 1947.
Let us go back to the 15th century poverty-stricken Europe, plagued by disease and hunger. The Ottomans had blocked the trade routes to India. Venice (then an independent nation) flourished, because they could keep their trade with India open through a special treaty with the Ottomans. So, there was a need for the rest of the restless Europe to find new trade routes to India. They ended up finding America, calling the local people of the Turtle Island (the traditional name of America) the "Indians". Vasco da Gama completed the job of Columbus, and actually found (Found? He was led by the Arab and Indian guides!) the new route, and the European powers started to do in Asia what they had by then done in South America.
Up to the end of 17th century, it is well known to historians, that Indian rupee was the strongest currency in the world, and 24.5 per cent of all the world's production of goods was in India. All that ended. Shipbuilding by India was banned. Thumbs of the muslin weavers of Dhaka (British pronunciation Dacca)--which had clothed Roman ladies at one time; muslin so fine that 40 yards of it rolled would pass through a finger ring--were cut off. A subcontinent of lenders was reduced to being a subcontinent of beggars--at least in the world's perception. Three short (short for Indian history) centuries later,India is now working hard to recover its lost economy, slowly, steadily, against all odds. (The current rate of growth is 7 per cent) .
Back to August 15, 1947. If 600 kings and chiefs of principalities in France were asked to abandon their kingship, they would not have done so without being guillotined. Here, all 600 of them abandoned their rights and privileges almost overnight and joined the democracy. Many of them are now ministers in the government, ambassadors (imagine Marie Antoinette as ambassador of democratic France!) and leaders of industry. The world would have taken note if there had been a guillotine or two around; who wants to know of the non-violent (r)evolutions of this massive scale?
Among the 600 was the State of Mysore. The kings of the Wodeyar dynasty of Mysore ruled over a territory 180,000 square kilometres (over 69,000 square miles), from 1399 to 1947, with a short break. That included the modern IT centre, Bangalore also. You will soon see pictures of the Mysore palace on this website. Mysore was the first Asian city to be lit by hydroelectric power in 1907. Bangalore is now capital of the new state of Karnataka (new? It is mentioned by that name in 4th century BC); the population of Karnataka State (one of the 28 states of the Indian Union) is now approximately 60 million. Oh, by the way, 51 per cent of the industrial manufacturing units of Karnataka are owned by women, close to the contiguous Tamilnadu state where the figure is 50%. This is far behind the mountain state of Manipur in the Northeast close to Burma (Myanmar), where the figure is 72 per cent.
These kings were patrons of arts, sculpture, architecture, philosophy, Sanskrit, yoga. When one king (of the state of Travancore) was advised to take one most precious object from one of his palaces before surrendering the palace to the new democratic government, he chose a Sanskrit manuscript. Nothing replaced their patronage and so many of these arts and sciences died overnight. Just to let you know, there is a vast India outside Taj Mahal!!
The party arrived at the one of the Headquarters of the Suttur Matha in Mysore at 11.30 at night. Suttur means sacred circumambulation; Matha means a monastery. The matha proper is 25 miles from here.
Suttur Matha is the Headquarters of the Vira-shaiva (brave warriors of Shiva) denomination of the Shiva worshippers. For the last 11 centuries their ascetic teachers and guides have waged a war against the internal human weaknesses, to make them conquer the internal world of consciousness. The denomination has ten to 15 million adherents with 1,500 centres of worship and learning. Most recently, up to 50% of the members of the Karnataka Legislative Assembly were Vira-shaivas and the last king was an initiate.
The eleven-centuries of history cannot be described in 11 lines. Here is the beginning, not of the history of Mysore state, but of the Vira-shaiva tradition, its monasteries.
Eleven centuries ago, there was a great yogi, by name Shivaratreeshvara, who sat on a rock in the middle of a meadow to perform his ascetic meditations. (The rock is now in the middle of the river Kapila, which has since changed course). A horse used to circumambulate the yogi in the meadow.
At that time the Chola (who?--Oh, long history) emperor Rajaraja and a smaller king, Rajamalla of the Ganga dynasty were about to wage a war. The emperor was on the march, and camped overnight. In the morning it was found that the horses of his cavalry were missing. A search began, the horses were found, circumambulating the yogi. The emperor, impressed by such spiritual power became a disciple. The opposing king was also summoned by the yogi. They both chose the discipleship of the same Guru; they listened to the Guru's peaceful advice, the war was averted and the country continued to prosper. One wonders if any of the modern countries at war could be so pacified by a philosopher or a meditation master?
That was the start of the Suttur monastery. Since then, innumerable saints and yogis have been born in that tradition. It soon became a social revolution, overthrowing the then persisting caste system and instituting many other social reforms. Most of their literature is in the classical form of Kannada language. Oh, what rich sources of inspiration.
The Guru of the current 'maha-swamiji' ('pontiff'--if you will), Shri Shivaratreeshvara Rajendra Maha-swamiji, was also a highly social minded spiritual leader. He established a vast network of educational institutions. The Denomination now runs 7 creches, 13 nursery schools, 16 primary schools, 6 teacher training colleges, 52 high schools, 6 higher secondary schools, 15 Junior Colleges, 8 Degree Colleges, 14 Sanskrit Colleges, 2 Hindi teaching institutions, 12 technical colleges and polytechnics, 1 international management school, 8 medical colleges, 5 hospitals, one law college, 5 other training schools, 3 destitute homes, 29 student hostels, 14 orphanages, 14 other art and culture establishments--and there are yet more to count, and new ones springing up all the time.
The present 'pontiff' Shri Shivaratreeshvara Deshikendra Swami is the CEO of the entire network. Soft spoken, humble, unassuming, maintaining the monk's daily schedule of prayer--and missing out on no detail. Without exaggeration, truly, I have not seen such an efficient, and at the same time devotional environment in any part of the so-called "developed" world. Want to learn of Spirituality in Business and Management? Come and see the live demonstration on this massive scale.
There was a plan to establish also an international school for the well to do children. The hub of the school was built. And the present Maha-swamiji decided, NO. It would be devoted to taking care of the education of poor children. The Institution now houses, feeds, clothes and educates 3000 children who live in 32 large dormitories. We were amazed to see the wellness and the happy faces of the children.
Resources? The devotees and adherents who give a certain percentage of their income regularly.
Knowing this to be the largest private educational network in the country, our Gurudeva Swami Rama of the Himalayas had visited this Institution. He had sent also a number of administrators of HIHT to learn from here. In turn the Maha-swamiji paid return visits to HIHT. He also came for the first Swami Rama maha-samadhi (leaving the body) anniversary at HIHT in 1997. At that time it had been Swami Veda's delight and honour to welcome him at the Rishikesh Ashram. Since then Mahaswamiji had been asking Swami Veda to pay a visit to Mysore and Suttur, which was now realised.
On March 26, 2003 at night, Swami Veda arrived at the Mysore city Headquarters and the entire party stayed in the most comfortable guest house next to the residence. Maha-swamiji had stayed awake, and came over to greet Swamiji. Next day, March 27, in the afternoon, opportunity was taken to meet scholars, in the presence of Mahaswamiji, and Swami Veda asked some detailed and deep questions about the philosophy and practices of the tradition; it was a mutual admiration club; his grasp of the tradition was admired; the denomination interlocutors' grasp of the other philosophical systems was impressive.
On May 27, 2003 in the evening Swami Veda addressed a full hall in the public discourse organised by the Suttur Maha-swamiji. By the traditional protocol, the host 'pontiff' would have sat not lower than this visitor, but the ever humble Mahaswamiji chose to sit among the audience. Greatness alone breeds humility.
The guided meditation led by Swami Veda conformed to the belief systems of the Vira-shaivas and there was no transgression of any of the tenets; this was later confirmed by the scholars. (This grasp of the various streams of meditative systems is what Swami Veda now wishes to pass on to trainees at the new Gurukulam and needs help).
Same night, Swami Veda was driven to Suttur, the monastery seat proper. Next day, March 28, 2003 was one of the richest ever. First a visit was paid to the temple that is on the site where the first, the Adi-shivaratreeshvara Yogi, had chosen to leave his body. When his life's spiritual work was finished, and the legacy of social change was also passed on, he left his body. The vibration in the sanctum sanctorum (which can be entered only by the priests and by the Mahaswamiji) exceptionally intense. Swami Veda, because of his spiritual position as well as the maha-mandaleshwara title, was able to enter the sanctum and meditate there. Others sat facing the sanctum and enjoyed the bliss of meditation.
There were a number of statues of the previous swamis of this Lineage. There is a very strong tradition in India to write the name of the Deity or the personal mantra millions of times over and over. It must be done lovingly, beautifully, methodically, patiently, in the best possible handwriting, without a mistake--again, lovingly, adoringly. It is a form of japa. One of the swamis (the grandmaster of the current mahaswamiji) had written the mantra 80 million times; in beautiful well organised columns. We were able to see one of the well bound volumes of this dedication of loving labour, so impeccably written, and we felt graced by such bhakti.
Among other reminders of the sages of the Lineage was one reproduction of an anthill forming a hidden cavity in which a yogi sat in deep meditation. A cow stands above the hills, and through a hole in the top pours her milk down for the yogi to drink. That was his only nourishment. There are hundreds of stories in diverse parts of India about cows, attuned to holiness that they are, that pour the milk from their udders onto a buried icon or sacred object or a temple; this was the first one we heard where she actually fed a yogi in this way.
One could go on and on about the stories of the tradition, about the great names like Basavanna, who had quit as a minister of the king--back in the 10th century, and dedicated the rest of his life to teaching and writing and reforming the society. Or Allama Prabhu--Swami Veda has told a very famous story about his encounter with Gorakhnath. Or Mahadevi Akka ('Akka' means big sister)--one of the greatest of the lady saints.
A visit to the Museum was an eye-opener. Some pictures from it will be posted on the webpage.
Part of the 3000 children being educated were assembled in the School's assembly hall and Swami Veda spoke to the children at their level of understanding, humorously and in such a manner that they would feel loved. The garland placed around his neck was promptly thrown to a child in the front row. Swamiji spoke of his Guru's love for the Mother and Father of the Universe, Parvati and Shiva. He recited the verse that the Swamis use as part of the Grace before the meals :
My father is Shiva the great Lord.
My kinsmen and relatives are the devotees of God,
And my country is--the three universes.
Swamiji spoke of the Himalayan mountains which, to the children this far South, are a legend. He told them the real name of Mount Everest, Sagar-matha in Nepal. He spoke of the Gauri-Shankar peak, one of the tallest mountains in the same Nepal Himalayas range. The name means the same, Parvati and Shiva. He reminisced how Swami Rama would sit on an easy chair in his Nepal Ashram which was on a small mountain. He would gaze in the distance at the Gauri-shankar twin peaks. "Swamiji, what are you gazing at ?"--Swami Veda asked. Baba (Gurudeva) replied, "My Master had said, when I am no more around, these are your father and mother. I sit here and gaze at my father and mother". Swami Veda said to the 200 orphan children : "Who loves you ? Mahaswamiji (of Suttur) loves you; Shiva and Parvati love you. When you are going to bed at night, think of the Mother and Father of the Universe, Shiva and Parvati, coming and tucking you lovingly into bed, and you will have a very happy sleep." At the thought of being tucked into bed by Mother and Father of the Universe, the children simply smiled and beamed; they were really made happy.
A shrine was visited, and pictures taken with the novice monks. Many centuries back, one of the swamis of the tradition had resided there. At that time the monastery's rule was that the monks should make their own living while carrying on spiritual practices. We saw the millstones on which he would grind grain to make a living. They must a weigh half a ton! It is said that he would get lost in his meditations, and the grindstones would keep running of their own accord. One hears such stories in India in every village and in every town.
We also visited a store room that houses such implements as the solid silver palanquin and other insignia of the 'pontiff', which are used by him on the occasion of special procession. The current mahaswamiji has refused to accept such honours.
On the drive back to Mysore, the opportunity was taken to stop on a bridge on the river Kapila and from there, about 250 metres (yards away) were the holy rocks on which the great yogi, around whom the royal horses circumambulated, had sat 11 centuries ago. What was then a meadow, is now the bed of the river that changed its course in due time.
Later in the evening there was another lecture in the same hall as before. Full house, again. The meditation this time was a more advanced step, in accordance with the Vira-shaiva tradition. Afterwards it became almost impossible for Swami Veda to get to his car because of the rush of the people trying to meet him, touch him, to seek his autograph, or 'please place your hand on my head'.
In the morning of March 29, 2003 a short visit was made to the royal palace. Because of the special position of Mahaswamiji, it was possible to see what is not commonly open to all--but the time was too short.
The Ashram elephants were fed bananas by Swami Veda, Anne and others. The party then left for Bangalore airport. As Suttur Mahaswamiji was also going there, Swami Veda Bharati accepted a ride in his car--which, because of Mahaswamiji's special position--is always escorted by the Karnataka police car clearing the way; so the passage was smooth and fast.
45 minutes rest at the Suttur Math's guesthouse in Bangalore; a delicious lunch; and then Bangalore airport to Mumbai and onwards to Europe.
Copyright 2003 West-Art, Prometheus 88/2003