The walls of Vijnana Bhavan host portraits of Baba, Kshitish Chandra Dev, Narayana Tirtha Dev and Adi Shankaracharya. Under their watchful gaze, Nutan Swamiji exhorted us to understand and appreciate, the value of being part of this holy lineage. There is no blessedness unless we feel blessed at the very core of our being.
13 July 2022
When Poojya Swamiji picked up his sticks and the floor was cleared for him to start dancing, we felt anxious – whether the overexertion will lead to some health crisis! Swamiji gestured to those standing at the side of the hall to get into the circle around him. All moved to the rapturous singing of Sri Sreenivasan. Swamiji’s look was penetrating and intense, with a hint of amusement. This was done purely for the fulfilment of his beloved devotees. Now in his 90th year of life, the past year had been beset with health troubles, causing many anxious moments and fervent prayers for Swamiji to be kept well and safe. As we absorbed his energy that afternoon, we were overcome by emotion. Tears of relief, gratitude and pure love flowed freely.
The last time we held a physical celebration of Gurupoornima in Ashram was in 2019. The global COVID19 pandemic resulted in two years of online programmes, with the bare minimum of people in Ashram observing the function.
Circumstances have changed considerably since the pre-COVID era. Stalwart devotees who would coordinate everything year after year were all, for some reason or other, unable to join. Inmates had to pull themselves together and rise to the occasion. In many aspects we fell short, but we kept trying. Sri Jayaraman and Smt Janaki from Mumbai volunteered to come and help with running of Annakshetra. The couple was also chosen by Swamiji to perform the Paada Pooja this year.
Ultimately, it was Ma and Nutan Swamiji who were at the helm, giving us all a glimpse of what it might have been like in the early years.
Building up to the Day
Devotees started coming in from a week before Gurupoornima. Many of them we have not seen physically since 2019, but had remained in contact through phone or online meetings. By the eve of Gurupoornima there was the familiar old sight of devotees sitting outside Annakshetra or the Reception area after dinner, catching up and sharing their blessedness on being present.
All new chairs were washed and wiped clean in record time by our workers and their Supervisors. Hall decorations were put up the night before. Pretty plastic fronds hung in alternating rows against backdrop curtains. Orange and white garlands graced the Parampara photos. Fresh flowers and garlands have long since been replaced with artificial ones. Another sign of COVID times.
Soaked with Devotion
Approximately 430 people attended the function – approximately three-fourth of what the numbers used to be. Spare masks were kept at reception and Vijnana Bhavan in case anyone turned up bare-faced. Most of them did not.
Staff and workers arrived dressed in their best. Many of them wore the dresses they had received from Swamiji on Workers Day, two days before. Some of the lady assistants looked completely transformed – graceful and elegant in their new sarees.
Sublime bhajans flanked the programme at the beginning and end. Some of the regular singer-devotees joined our inmates in lending their voices. Seasoned vocals of Sri Sreenivasan, and the pure, lilting voice of young Ananya Balakrishnan (Prabhakaran-ji’s granddaughter from USA) were among the many filling the atmosphere with divinity.
Good Health and Growth
In the beginning of the program, Ma expressed her wish to Swamiji that he remains in good health and bless us with many more Gurupoornimas with him guiding and protecting us. Ma shared that while preparations had no doubt been strenuous, everything was done joyfully and cohesively by inmates, staff, workers and the few devotees who had come earlier to help. Ma also reminisced on how this most sublime and auspicious occasion has grown through the decades of her association with Swamiji. From a small observance with just a few devotees, to larger and larger numbers accommodated in Ashram, and to devotees across the world joining us online.
To be Truly Blessed
Nutan Swamiji’s powerful chanting of shlokas honoring our Guru Parampara was preceded by his sobering and thought-provoking message on where we stand as a society. Gurupoornima has always been the most important day in the Indian almanac, but more and more the importance of Guru and the Truth carried through Guru’s words, is getting lost amidst the barrage of worldly information. The walls of Vijnana Bhavan host portraits of Baba, Kshitish Chandra Dev, Narayana Tirtha Dev and Adi Shankaracharya. Under their watchful gaze, Nutan Swamiji exhorted us to understand and appreciate, the value of being part of this holy lineage. There is no blessedness unless we feel blessed at the very core of our being.
Gift of Gurutva
Poojya Swamiji had been sitting quietly absorbed with head bowed and eyes closed through most of the programme, including the Paada Pooja. During his Gurupoornima address, it was as though quiet embers of a flame had burst into a roaring fire. Swamiji’s words celebrated the value of our literary heritage, the “might of the ascetic pen”. Ancient Gurus of yore understood their immortal, universal identity, and gifted us with immortal, universal scriptures. Fiery delivery was tempered with childlike simplicity and straightforwardness as Swamiji told us in no uncertain terms that he is what he is today purely due to his association with his beloved Baba. It was the loving relationship with his Guru that led him to a life free from worldliness, floating always in the glory of inner Self. Swamiji blessed us with Gurutva in our life – to develop substantial depth, profundity, nobility and greatness.
The Larger Ashram Family
Workers and staff – all pitched in to help with serving during the feeding time. Cheerfully and enthusiastically, they ferried water, buttermilk and payasam on large trays, deftly navigating their way through the crowd.
Many things have changed in Ashram over the past two years. More staff have been employed in supervisory capacity, more systems introduced to make the daily work run more efficiently. All were the result of Ma’s foresight and tremendous effort, in the attempt to ensure that Ashram continues to function smoothly. These new staff proved to be invaluable in making the Gurupoornima celebration a success, providing vital and competent support in many areas.
Heads Bowed in Gratitude
All present offered Pranaams and flower petals at Poojya Swamiji’s Holy Lotus Feet before receiving prasada. This segment of the programme was made even more sublime by the rich and evocative violin rendition by father-daughter duo, Sri Mohan from Palghat and Smt Priya from California. It was music of the Soul – reaching the inner realm which goes beyond words. As the bhajan singers resumed, the lines of devotees slowly dissipated. Ma and Nutan Swamiji stood up to take flowers, offering them at Swamiji’s feet and receiving prasada. My mind tried to imagine what it would have been like for them when they first came 35 years ago. I reflected on how much Ashram and Swamiji’s mission have evolved to what they are today, all due to their austere dedication and striving.
At the initial strains of “Barasata Barasata Sadguru Krpa”, one Chechi (female worker) was seen running to Vijnana Bhavan at top speed with her little grandson in tow. The hall quickly filled up again. Everyone knew what was coming, waiting in eager anticipation…
Perhaps, part of Swamiji’s amusement was understanding that we were becoming overly anxious when he was actually fine. We – workers, staff, devotees, inmates – continued to dance around our pivot. All of us have been blessed to come in touch with the Jnaanagni (fire of Knowledge) of our Guru. For those who are fortunate to be at the feet of the Guru, every day is Gurupoornima, a day of gratitude and reverence, of love and fondness for the One who fills our entire being with Ananda…Ananda…Ananda…
– Vicharasethu 2022
“Ma expressed her wish to Swamiji that he remains in good health and bless us with many more Gurupoornimas with him guiding and protecting us. Ma shared that while preparations had no doubt been strenuous, everything was done joyfully and cohesively by inmates, staff, workers and devotees.”
“All of us have been blessed to come in touch with the Jnaanagni (fire of Knowledge) of our Guru. For those who are fortunate to be at the feet of the Guru, every day is Gurupoornima, a day of gratitude and reverence, of love and fondness for the One who fills our entire being with Ananda…Ananda…Ananda…”