The stars may be immutable in their vast trajectories across the heavens but at the quotidian level long-held practices may need a little adjustment. Case in point: the widely popular Navratri Festival, literally ‘nine nights,’ was actually held over eight nights this year. Unlike the leap year phenomenon, which I never really understood, but blindly accept, one night didn’t actually ‘disappear.’ Rather, two astrological conjunctions, which normally occur over two consecutive days, this year happened within a single twenty-four-hour period. Ergo, we had eight instead of nine nights. Nobody minded and not a living soul (eight hundred million strong) thought to call this year’s festival “Ashtaratri.” Why split hairs?
The tenth day is called Vijayadasami (literally ‘victory on the tenth’), this joyous celebration of good over evil, when the goddess slays the demon. “Vijayanavami,” actually, this year, but then, who am I?
Everyone will have their own tale of happinesses, large or small, of this period when auspiciousness suffuses the very air we breathe. Mine can be shown in a single snapshot.
Wandered into Sri Ramanasramam on Vijayadasami. The elaborate rituals are all over. A long stream of devotees file slowly by the magnificently decorated idol of the goddess. As a life-long backbencher, I remain true to form and bring up the rear. God, it’s beautiful. Decide to take a picture. Begin shooting.
Along comes Sundaram, mellow head of this venerable institution, to quietly offer his pranams to the deity. I’ve been displaced from my customary end-of-the-line position, but that observation came later. What happened in the moment was something else. “Why don’t you go there?” he asks gently, pointing to the other side of the altar. Now, I’m always open to suggestions, but the reason I was on this side of the altar was precisely to stay out of everybody’s way, not to mention abjuring any positions of privilege which generally felt more uncomfortable than desirable. “You can go that side,” he offers again. Like an environmentally unfriendly fluorescent light, it takes a second or two for my brain to process the message. I switch sides.
Now I’m on this side looking at Sundaram, and he’s on that side looking at me. Of course, this is the position from which to photograph this gorgeous scene. I knew that. It’s a case of shooting oneself in the foot instead of shooting for the stars. Luckily for me, he knew better, and acted on it.
And then Sundaram’s face lights up with a dazzling smile.
Bharat Mansata is the author of Organic Revolution and The Great Organic Challenge, co-founder of EarthCare Books and well-known eco-activist. Relatively unknown, however, is his love of the bansuri (bamboo flute). He studied under Debabrata Bannerji, a disciple of Pannalal Ghosh (1911 – 1960), the composer and flautist who established the humble bansuri as a solo instrument in Hindustani classical music. Bharat never performs in public.
As is typical in the presence of Ramana Maharshi, surrender, inspiration and its expression manifest in a moment. Either you hear it, or miss it. Chance, like destiny, seems to be an iron law (in other words, rusty) around Bhagavan.
Not that entertainments are alien to Sri Ramanasramam. Back in Bhagavan’s day, in the body that is, ashram inmates (sane to the last mind) were treated to the occasional movie. Those were the days when any Indian film, even ‘spiritual’ ones, delivered an all-in-one package of every emotion known to humanity, a formula that Bollywood today is still unable to renounce. Imagine gathering around Bhagavan of an evening, as the 16mm projector whirrs to life, all eyes on the flickering black-and-white screen within the Screen.
Bharat’s brief but mellifluous recital covered Raga Kalavati, a relatively rare Karnatic raga; Raga Bageshwari; and a ‘bhajan’ (devotional piece) set to Raga Bhairavi, all rendered in the Hindustani style. The audience sat on the granite flagstones in the New Hall, informally scattered about the space which is usually occupied by silent meditators. Under Bhagavan’s giant photo, the silence was the same; the meditations, as always, an inner affair. (A few more pictures here at Demotix).
This event was actually incidental to another occasion: the release of Revolutionary Gandhi the previous day. The book, originally written in Bengali by Pannalal Dasgupta (aka Panna Babu), is an insightful analysis of Mahatma Gandhi’s personality, referencing his sadhana (spiritual practice) which was inseparable from his equally extraordinary politics.
Revolutionary Gandhi was translated from the Bengali into English by yet another hidden talent, our very own inimitable polymath and Taoist sage, K.V. Subrahmonyan, better known as “KVS,” whose familiar visage is always a delight.