Art of Living Experiences.

Exactly eight years ago, the early morning of September 21st 2006 was very eerie for me in Colombo, Sri Lanka. There was that beautiful silence in the air but a whole lot of expectations were storming my mind. It was the International Day of Peace. And the war between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Tamil Tiger rebels (LTTE) was reaching an alarming point.

It was just about 5 am when Sri Sri RaviShankar (popularly called as Guruji) stepped out of his room. He started walking towards the beautiful open courtyard of our host`s house and looked deep into the sky while I stood in silence. He then asked me “Are we ready to leave?”. I said “In a few minutes”. And he sat on the garden bench looking into the sky again and closed his eyes in bliss and went into meditation. My moods changed for the best.

I quickly rushed to the kitchen, picked up the lunch basket and placed it in the car boot and ran up to him to say that everything`s ready for the travel. Swami Sadyojathah who was leading our Sri Lanka operations then and Harish Ramachandran one of our senior Art of Living teachers were to accompany him to Killinochchi town, the LTTE`s war-time `capital – headquarters` to meet Prabakaran. Guruji cheerfully stepped into the car to leave for the Ratmalana (a Colombo suburb) helipad to fly to Omanthai town, the high-tension border between the LTTE controlled territory and the Sri Lankan Governments` area.

We had all valid permissions from the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE. Both parties were extremely keen to consider the peace initiatives proposed by Guruji. Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa granted immediate permission for the travel to Killinochchi including the provision of a special helicopter. I stayed behind in Colombo to co-ordinate with the Government.

After the helicopter touched down at the Omanthai air force base, Guruji and his entourage drove towards the Sri Lankan controlled border check-post after which there was a very long stretch of land called `no-man`s land`. This particular stretch of land between the `enemies` was under the  supervision and authority of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) as per an international agreement and anything that happened on this patch of land was neither the full responsibility of the LTTE nor the Government of Sri Lanka. However, this particular place did have a long history of indiscriminate shoot-outs.

Just a week prior to Guruji`s visit, Government officials in Colombo had cautioned me that they were not going to be responsible if a bullet or a multi-barrel rocket fell when his peace delegation was crossing the `no-man`s land`. One senior official particularly told me “Guruji has real guts to walk into the Tigers` den at this time…when the war is raging…hats off to him”. To which I replied “Guruji is a man of peace…not just a peaceful man”.

As they drove towards the no-man`s land, Guruji asked the car to be stopped. He got down and started walking on perhaps one of the most dangerous zone`s in the world then. A European officer from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was seated in his small cabin looking at Guruji walk on this stretch of land where no one dared to during those months of conflict. He walked up to him and welcomed him to his cabin. They were engaged in a brief chat. All this was happening when they were waiting for a green signal from the LTTE side to cross into their territory. The call came through after a two-hour wait. Swami Sadyojathah accompanying Guruji suddenly thought why such a long wait from the LTTE side when they had already approved of the visit.

It was well past noon and Guruji did not wish to have any food or even water. He had had nothing since that early morning I saw them off in Colombo. In the blistering heat of the day they had reached the LTTE check-point on the other side and were lead towards Killinochchi the `capital-headquarters`. A group of senior LTTE members welcomed him and engaged in pleasantries. They appreciated his trauma-relief work in Jaffna and charity initiatives in several parts of the world.

It was almost over fifteen minutes when Guruji asked them about Prabakaran`s commitment to meet him. They looked at each other intriguingly and one of them took the courage to tell him that because of security reasons and the war in progress, Prabakaran was unable to come. Guruji then went on to explain that his visit and mission was purely to build mutual trust for a lasting solution to the Tamils` problems and stop the loss of precious life on both sides.

world-peace (1)

Just as Guruji was about to leave he placed white shawls on each of them (as he usually does during his tours) and gave an additional one to be handed over to Prabakaran. He then told them “Choose peace…go for peace “. Guruji was seeing their future and giving a very clear hint.

One of the LTTE members who was a Christian then told Swami Sadyojathah on the sidelines “I feel Guruji is not just a Saint… but Jesus himself who has come to show us a way out…and our Thalaivar (meaning `Leader` in the Tamil language and referring to Prabakaran) has not come to meet Guruji….this sounds really very scary and indicates the bad times we Tamils are in for”.

Perhaps Prabakaran did not want to give peace, that one more chance. Guruji returned to Colombo rather disappointed (as he himself had publicly declared recently in a Satsang program) but not dejected. That same evening I received him at the Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo for their onward journey back to India. I pulled Swami Sadyojathah aside and asked him “What happened? What happened? ”.  He said “Looks like they prefer to choose war…Prabakaran did not come nor even speak on phone to Guruji”. He added “Guruji did not eat the whole day nor did he have water”.

I then went up to Guruji and asked “ The lunch basket is full and heavy exactly as I had kept it…are you fasting for the people of Sri Lanka…for the Tamils…the Sinhalese”. He just closed his eyes. And a silent prayer was on his lips. The airport staff signaled to me that the flight is ready for boarding. I informed Guruji accordingly and he got up to leave the lounge. Swami Sadyojathah and Harish quietly followed him into the inner airport lounge, while I stayed back in Sri Lanka. For another seven years!!

Tears welled-up in my eyes as he left the lounge to board the flight. And a few minutes later i broke down inconsolably thinking of all the sacrifices Guruji had made over the years to bring peace in Sri Lanka.

The precious time, energy and resources that he dedicated to bring peace in that country and in many other communities and nations is simply invaluable. Such is the commitment of a man of peace that transcends borders, language, nationalities, religion or culture.

Sri. Vidyut Udiaver with inputs from Swami Sadyojathah

Art of Living Wisdom.

The idea to celebrate a day to uphold the values of democracy first came up at the meeting of United Nations General Assembly in the year 2007.

Etymology

The word democracy comes from the ancient Greek word democratia, demos meaning, “assembly of ordinary people” and kratos meaning “strength, rule”. Democracy is the rule of the land whereby the power rests solely in the hands of the people.

Janapada

In different parts of India, right from the Mahabharata period, there have been many Janapada, republics. The very word, ‘Janapada’ means “People’s Republic, democracy”. Jana meaning people and Pada is position, where people come together, to choose their leaders.Janapada, democratic republics of Ancient India

Janapada, democratic republics of Ancient India

Spirit of Democracy

Mahatma Gandhi in a quote expresses that, “The spirit of democracy cannot be imposed from without. It has to come from within.”

Mahatma Gandhi

India has survived as a democracy for many millennia, as it is the innate spirit of the land.

Panchayat System

Panchayats are democracies at the village level. Democracy has been a part of the people and the ethos of the land. The thinkers of ancient India had realized the ground reality that, kings may come and go, kingdoms may change in size and boundaries, but the prosperous land needs to be governed such that, the change of powers does not affect the basic social fabric, nor the sustainability of the land.

It is precisely to meet this challenge, that they had envisaged a local administration system called the Panchayat System, a unique system of local governance, keeping in mind the vagaries of time.

Panchayat

      A Panchayat in Progress – An artist’s impression

What is so singular about this system and its practice that helped tide over the vagaries of time and rule?

Panchayat – A Self Contained Model

The contribution of this Panchayat democracysystem to the prosperity of the land as a whole, has been summarized by Sir Charles T. Metcalfe in his Report of Select Committee to the House of Commons in 1832.

Slide4 Select Committee

 

Slide5

House of Commons

Slide6

Sir Charles T. Metcalfe’s observations on Panchayats

Slide7

While there were many kingdoms ruled by different rulers, the model of governance was framed, independent of the individual ruler and the kingdom. The Panchayat administration, followed in every village, was uniform across the land, across kingdoms.

This model of local self governance was uniformly practiced, undisturbed even during times when there was no king or kingdom.

Policies and priorities framed locally by the Panchayat were not disrupted, ensuring continued and sustained prosperity.

This Panchayat democracy model, could be singled out as one of prominent administrative reasons for the continuous prosperity of India for over 5000 years.

Local Self Governance

It is the local administration of the village, by the villagers, for themselves.

This village governance system has been followed in India from time immemorial wherein, people elect and empower a local village council to handle matters of

• Fund collection

• Fund allocation

• Need assessment

• Planning

• Deployment

• Community Development

It was a council of five members who would decide on matters. They were called Panch Parameshwar, the 5 leaders. Hence the name Panchayat, for this model of governance.

We can see a sample of this Panchayat System of administration of the villages, in the stone inscriptions at the Srinivasa temple, in Uttiramerur, in Tamil Nadu, listing the rules for the conduct of elections.

Slide8

 

DK Hari

D K Hari pointing at the Inscriptions in Uttiramerur

Uttaramerur inscriptions

The election system has been in vogue in the land from time immemorial. Voting rights were not suddenly introduced only after independence.

One of the early inscriptions specifically relating to elections in villages is available at the Srinivasa Temple in Uttaramerur village. Uttaramerur is a small prosperous town, 100 kilometres to the south of Chennai. These inscriptions are now popularly known as Uttaramerur inscriptions.

The inscriptions throw light on the mode of election to Village Assemblies, Panchayat of those days.

Slide10

Uttaramerur Inscriptions at Srinivasa Perumal Temple

 

Slide11

 English translation of the Uttaramerur inscriptions

Democracy idea not alien to India

Thus we see that even though India had kings and kingdoms, the Panchayat institutions, the main stay of the administrations system of the land is based on principles of democracy.

Democracy since Mahabharata times

This existed in India, since the times of Mahabharata, which means for over 5100 years.

These show that democracy existed in practice in India, atleast 3000 BCE ago, which takes the antiquity of democracy back 2500 years, before the ancient Greece practiced it.

Rahul Kaimal

Bharath Gyan 

www.bharathgyan.com

 

Email bharathgyan@gmail.com
Website www.bharathgyan.com
Blog http://bharathgyanblog.wordpress.com
Twitter http://www.twitter.com/bharathgyan
Facebook http://www.facebook.com/bharathgyan
You Tube http://www.youtube.com/user/bharathgyan
 Our Books Avail
In India https://www.artoflivingshop.com
Outside India http://www.amazon.com
Teleshop 1 800 258 8888 (India Tollfree)

Art of Living Wisdom.

Onam Festival, Shravan Month and Shravana Star

 

This word “Onam” is the shortened form of Thiruvonam or Shravanam, since this event occurs in the Shravan month under the Shravana star in the Indian calendar.

Shravan is the month in the Indian calendar that typically falls between July-August in North and between August-September in the South. This period is characterized by heavy rains and many other festivals such as Narial Purnima, Raksha Bandhan, Ganesh Chathuthi, Krishna Janmashtami to name a few.

This month is called Shravan since the full moon during this month occurs against the Shravana star.

But why did this particular star get the name Shravana?

Which is this star in the sky?

The 3 footprints in the sky

 

Before we go to skies, let us recollect the story behind the Onam festival and why it came to be celebrated. How this festival marks the day when Maha Bali, the great Asura king was humbled by Vamana with His 3 giant strides.

The star Shravana is the set of stars known in western astronomy as Altair the bright star in Aquila constellation along with Beta and Gamma Aquilae that flank it on either side.

 

Shravana Constellation

 

These three stars are pictured as the 3 footprints of Vamana in His gigantic Trivikrama form.

One may wonder what does the legend of Maha Bali and Vamana, have to do with the name Shravana for this star?

The word “Shravana” means to listen, to pay heed to. The legend of Maha Bali from time immemorial has been a moral story on how one should pay heed to one’s mentor, teacher, failing which one could fall into trouble. Hence these 3 stars which depict the outcome of Maha Bali’s disobedience stand as a constant reminder in the sky to caution people to listen and pay heed to good counsel.

Another way in which the name of this star is spelt is, Shrona, which means “lame” or “to limp”, in SamskrtShrona is one who limped. Trivikrama after measuring the 2 steps, stood limping, with one leg raised in the air, asking Maha Bali where He could place his foot for the third step?

Trivikarma with one leg up

 

Hence these 3 stars, as Shrona, also depict the footsteps of Trivikrama as He covered the earth and the skies with His foot.

Another Angle to the Triangle

There is yet another tale associated with how these 3 stars came to be called Shravana.

Much later, closer to the times of Rama, Shravan was a young lad who lived in the time of Dasaratha, father of Rama. He used to dote on his parents and take care of them with love and affection. Since they were old and blind, he would carry them in two baskets hanging on either side from a rod on his shoulders, like a weighing scale, balance.

One day, he was filling a pitcher of water from a pond for his parents. King Dasaratha, out on a hunting trip, mistook the gurgling sound of the pitcher for an animal and shot an arrow in its direction. He rushed to catch his prey but instead found young Shravan Kumar mortally wounded. Even in that state, Shravan requested the king to carry water to his thirsty parents. Dasaratha, approached them with trepidation in his heart and from the sound of his footsteps the old couple realized it was not their son. On being asked, he narrated what had happened. The bereaved father cursed Dasaratha that one day he would also have to bear the sorrow of his son leaving him. Strangely, the king expressed happiness on being cursed because he did not have children at the time and was pining for a child. For the curse to come true, he would have to have children. Just this thought made him so happy, that he took mud and grass from the ground and showered it on his head. As fate would have it through, Dasaratha was later blessed with 4 sons out of whom he loved Rama, the eldest dearly. But when Dasaratha grew old and had pinned his hopes on Rama to take over his kingdom, he was separated from Rama – a separation that took away his life.

Shravan Kumar, even today, is remembered for his dedication towards his parents. Altair in the Aquila constellation, in the sky has been named after Shravan.

 

Why is Altair equated with Shravana?

Altair, flanked by the two dimmer stars, Beta and Gamma Aquilae gives an impression of a balance, just like how Shravan Kumar carried his aged parents.

Shravana and shravana constellation

 

What lies in a name?

The ancient astronomers of India had a practice of giving scientific names to stars, names that denote their function, characteristic. Sometimes legends from Puranahave been mapped to these objects to symbolically explain scientific principles or facts.

The story of how the Shravana star got its name is just one among many.

Does naming Altair and these 2 dimmer stars as Shravana indicate that the two stars flanking Altair are dying stars while Altair in comparison, a star in the prime phase of its life? This could be a lead for further analysis.

Incidentally Beta Aquila, also known as Tarzed though not very old, has burnt up all its fuel and has entered its dying phase. It has swelled into a giant and is expected to blast and later become a white dwarf.

Delving into understanding the detailed description of Puranic legends in connection with the stars they point to in the skies, could perhaps help provide more clues to understand these stars better.

We will understand why our ancients chose to name the stars what they did?

We will understand our ancients and our heritage better!

Thus concludes the story of Onam from Kerala, to Pathala Loka, to the skies.

Also in the same series

 

Onam Festival Part 1- The Story of Onam

Onam Festival Part 2 - PATHALA LOKA

Onam Festival Part 3 – Significance of Onam

 

Email bharathgyan@gmail.com
Website www.bharathgyan.com
Blog http://bharathgyanblog.wordpress.com
Twitter http://www.twitter.com/bharathgyan
Facebook http://www.facebook.com/bharathgyan
You Tube http://www.youtube.com/user/bharathgyan
 Books Available
In India https://www.artoflivingshop.com
Outside India http://www.amazon.com
Teleshop 1 800 258 8888 (India Tollfree)