Dhyanavanam – A unique experience

January 1, 2017

An entirely new experience was in store for us last week. We had gone for a training workshop, organised by Dr.Raja and Kalpana, the couple who work in Gandhigram University, and have become close family friends over the last few years. This time, the training was held outside the University campus, at Dhyana Vanam, an ashram nearby.

Dhyana Vanam is run by Father Korko Moses – a saffron-clad Jesuit Priest. He manages the ashram, spread over 6.5 acres, mostly alone and with the occasional help of priests who come for training. It has been 5 years since the area has received decent rains; the adjoining dam is dry; yet, there is a bit of greenery left. The mercy of the small showers that morning had added a glow to the green.

Father Korko lives a simple, monastic life. His bedroom offered a sight that I’ve never come across. In the room, built as a pyramidal structure, there was a cot, over 4 feet tall, and a thin mattress over it; there was a makeshift bathroom at one corner. There was nothing else in that room.

“For the first time, I am seeing a room with no material objects,” I commented.
“A few of my possessions are in the office,” he clarified.

The program started after four girls lighted a lamp, and Mahirl Malar sang a song from Thirumurai.

In the large hall, where the program was held, there were pictures of Dalai Lama, Vivekananda, Francis of Assisi, Rumi, Mahavira and other spiritual leaders. He shared with the children, an outline about each of them. There was a picture of Jesus, seated in Padmasana. He said he sees Jesus as a Siddha saint.

Father Korko considers Swami Sadhananda Giri to be his Guru, and has spent many years in Bengal, learning Yoga from him. This Catholic priest has also assumed another name – Swami Saranananda. He has written a book, Yesu Nama Japam in Bengali, and has translated it into English and Tamil.

There is a separate hall for meditation, set amidst serene surroundings. The wall facing the door, has in its middle, a picture which brings together symbols of 12 different religions. On top of it is, inscribed in bold fonts, the Tamil phrase from Thirmoolar, “There is but one religion, and one god.” In the middle of the picture, the figure of a meditating saint is seen.

Founders of all religions attained an enlightened state after deep meditation, says Father Korko.

In front of the picture, Gita, Bible and Koran, are placed open. On the book shelf in the room, several copies of these scriptures were present.

On the first day evening, the 30 children, aged between 10 and 15, quietly sat through a 1-hour session of bhakti songs, the multi-religious song of Vinoba Bhave, meditation, reading of a passage from Bible (related to the couplets from Thirukkural that we saw that day). Father Korko briefed the children about the 12 religions represented in the central picture. He told stories of Buddha.

The meditation ended with an ‘arati’ for the central picture.

We assembled again, at 6am the next morning. After a few physical exercises, we had another round of meditation and singing for an hour. This time, instead of Bible, Father Korko chose a few passages from Gita, and asked me to read aloud. Dr.Raja sang the song of peace, ‘Shanti nilva vendum.’

Later, when I cited Dharmananda Kosambi, who in his well researched and reverent work on Buddha, disputes some of the popular tales as improbable, Father Korko agreed, “Yes, they are myths. Myths are built around all prophets within a few years. These myths are useful to explain their philosophies.”

In between our training sessions, he taught the children Korean dance. They were thrilled.

When Nedya took a session on birds, the children could easily appreciate the connection between people and nature.

The task of taking classes based on Thirukkural was now simplified. In a way, it seemed redundant. When children could see righteousness and love personified by a simple man, right in front of them, what is there to express through words.

The children were split into small groups and sent into the village, to visit at least 5 houses, converse and mingle with the villagers. At some houses, dogs barked at them; at a couple of houses, people did the barking; but largely, people were friendly, invited them inside and offered them something to eat. Though the drought has robbed them of all revenues and jobs, there is moisture left in their hearts.

There is nobody willing or trained, yet, to take over the Dhyana Vanam from Father Korko, and, though he is not someone to be too fussed about future, his longing for a potential successor can be sensed. He feels that this place will be more ideal for seekers than devotees. Though there is no organisational resistance to his work, there doesn’t seem to be any great support either. He travels abroad every year to conduct meditation sessions, and also conducts retreats at the ashram. He raises sufficient funds for running the ashram through these activities. He also holds alcohol de-addiction camps.

He wanted to learn the song on Shiva (Oli valar vilakke) that Mahirl had sung. He asked her to sing again, and recorded it, and noted down the lyrics. He opined that the raga of the song must be Ananda Bhairavi. We didn’t know for sure, who the author was (Thirumaaligaithevar). He took us to his library. The library had the entire collection of Thirumurai in over 20 volumes. He also had the complete collection of Max Muller’s works on Eastern sacred texts. Having left for Bengal at the age of 18, and having spent 38 years of his life there, he felt that he couldn’t gain sufficient exposure to Tamil works.

At the end of the two days, during the feedback session, one young girl mentioned, “I asked the Father if Hindus can read Bible. He said yes. I liked it very much.”

That openness and appreciation for other thoughts is one of the key insights the children would have gained in those two days.

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Tomato soup for the soul

October 20, 2014

(A repost from my Facebook)

Last Friday, Mahirl gave each of us a bowl with a spoon and a spoonful of tomato soup. All of us are used to getting from her, empty bowls, feigning to see whatever she says is there. So, some real soup did surprise me.

Later, heard from mom that Mahirl herself crushed a couple of tomatoes, added some jeera, pepper, corn flour and salt, climbed a chair, and, with her small arms, stirred the soup on a stove. It was truly tasty.

All this, to celebrate Malala’s Nobel prize win.

Mahirl_Malala

Mahirl, as Malala, in a fancy dress show, when she was going to school last year.

Also read:

Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and Malala Yousafzai

Malala, Ghaffar Khan and a little boy in Thiruvananthapuram


Expelled from a dream!

January 28, 2013

My daughter, Mahirl, didn’t like something that I told her to do or not do.

“Appa, I am going to expel you from my dreams,” she threatened.

“Oh, really! Go ahead.”

“Amma,” she turned to her mom, “I will replace Appa with you.”

My wife was thrilled.

“In my dream last night, Appa was falling off the sofa,” Mahirl said, with an earnest smile. “Now you will fall instead of Appa.”


Talking in the train

September 30, 2012

It has become almost inevitable that I meet somebody interesting on the train….and almost always, they avail of the senior citizen concession. Not that they never existed before; but I probably never looked or I was travelling in AC coaches.

Two weeks ago, on the way to Madurai, it was an affable old lady, going alone to see her ailing sister. Frequently distracted by a voluble, returning-from-Abudhabi woman, boldly travelling alone to Tirunelveli with a toddler and tonnes of luggage, she told me, her mom-in-law had a principle of not marrying off her sons to anybody from Tirunelveli or Salem (they were roguish – ராங்கிகள் ). Teachers were also ineligible. They never live with their in-laws. She was neither. She said she wasn’t biased and gets along well with her daughter-in-law working in a software firm. Except that she retires to her lonely room at 4pm and stays there chanting and sleeping. For being being a stoic listener, she shared with me a few of the famed Manapparai murukkus and gave me a ride in her hired auto to my destination.

Yesterday, it was an elderly gentleman, sitting opposite to us, next to the window, which had the fire exit. The conversation started in Tamil when he said all windows should be made fire-exits. Then, I heard him speak in a very familiar-but-unfamiliar tongue to his wife. I asked him, which language it was. Sanskrit. He is on a mission to make everybody speak Sanskrit. His 50 odd students can all speak fluently in Sanskrit. In Sanskrit, hardly 5% are vedas and other religious material; 95% is knowledge. It has everything from metallurgy to nuclear physics. With dedicated effort, you can master Sanskrit in 1.5 years since it runs in our blood.

He said, the village that just passed by, has a rare Sanskrit name(Virinchipuram…Google threw this up for Virinchihttp://kduvvuri.blogspot.in/ and Tamil lexicon has this from Kamban’s Ramayana : வேதங்கண்ணிய பொருளெல்லாம் விரிஞ்சனே யீந்தான்). The villagers wouldn’t know the significance, ofcourse. Even nowadays, all baby names are in Sanskrit. He had chosen a beautiful Sanskrit name for his daughter, from Lalitha Sahasranamam.

I couldn’t suppress my reply, with my hand caressing our daughter’s head: We have kept a pure Tamil name for her. Mahirl Malar.

There was a nice breeze blowing through the window. The vast stretches of greenery, outside the window, were lovely. He decided to notice their loveliness and started watching them give way to a long range of mountains.

He turned inside when Mahirl offered him a cake. Then, when we talked, it was about the bus route to Perur, where he had to go to.


Growing old

December 23, 2011

She is still puzzled by the riddle of why
Nehru maama didn’t turn up for his birthday party.

“Appa, will Nehru maama never come paa?”

“He won’t daa”

“Will Gandhi thaathaa too not come?”

mmmhmm…I shook my head.

“Will they come only on TV? Why paa?”

“Yes da. They grew very old.
And so, they left the earth.”

“Appa, if you grow old,
will you also leave the earth?”

“…”

“You should never leave me and go anywhere.
Okk?”

—————————————

Earlier on Nov 14th (from my Facebook update):

We had quite a tough time cajoling Mahirl to go to school today – ‘Appa, I don’t want to go to this Nehru maamaa’s birthday party. I dont want to meet him.’  No, this is no hidden message for the Nehru-Gandhi family.


I know no fear – Bharathi

October 26, 2011

I have no fear,
I have no fear,
I know no fear.

When united
the world stands
against me,
I have no fear,
I have no fear,
I know no fear.

When rubbish
I am dismissed as,
and trashed,
I have no fear,
I have no fear,
I know no fear.

When a life
of begging
I must resort to,
I have no fear,
I have no fear,
I know no fear.

When everything
I love
is lost,
I have no fear,
I have no fear,
I know no fear.

When the eyes
of pretty women
pierce me,
I have no fear,
I have no fear,
I know no fear.

When I am fed
poison by my
closest friends,
I have no fear,
I have no fear,
I know no fear.

When an army arrives
with spears
smeared with flesh,
I have no fear,
I have no fear,
I know no fear.

When the sky
shatters and descends
on my head,
I have no fear,
I have no fear,
I know no fear.

—————————

My translation of the song “Achamillai achamillai” by Bharathi.

On this Diwali day, I am inspired to do this translation, thanks to Mahirl Malar ( my 3-year old daughter). Last night, she was refusing to step of the house, in fear of crackers. I told her to recite ‘Achamillai’ song, everytime she hears a loud burst. She started doing that in her inimitable way, and tone, with wild gestures of bravery. Voila:  she dragged me down for a walk to watch the big boys having a blast.


Is a rose a rose till it is called a rose?

January 7, 2011

A loose ball, the first of a spell,

if bowled by a Steyn,

is termed a teaser.

The same ball, by a lesser mortal,

if despatched over the ropes,

is called a loosener.

The prank of our naughty daughter,

when in a good mood,

earns her a hug and a kiss.

The same prank, on another day,

when in a great hurry,

I told her not to fuss.

She wonders.