Art of Living Experiences, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.

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 Ravi Shankar (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.

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

 

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Art of Living Wisdom.

Onam-Bali Pada is an occasion for us to relate to the story of Vamana where Vamana grew from a short young boy to a giant form and with His 3 strides covered earth, skies and finally placed His leg on the head of Maha Bali, a good but arrogant king and pushed him into Pathala Loka.

This legend where Vamana measured the whole universe does sound like some childish mythology. Even from a cosmological perspective, it appears to be unscientific and self-contradictory. If with His first step, Vamana had measured the whole of the earth then it should have included Bali’s head too as he was also on this earth.

Next, with the second step of His foot, if Vamana had measured the whole sky, then “this earth which is also a part of that sky”, was also included in the second step.

EarthinSolarsystem

Then where does Bali stand separately, to offer his head for the third measure?

Is this not self-contradictory?

Is there anything rational about this legend?

We must bear in mind that the legend of Vamana avatar is Puranic, i.e. it is an expression of a deeper truth, a moral lesson from historical or scientific incidents, clothed in a story, such that the commoner can easily grasp the essence of the incident and model his conduct accordingly, right through the ages.

What is the moral that lies behind this story of King Maha Bali?

Maha Bali was a great Asura king and ruled over all the lands he saw. While he was basically a good person and his intention to honour the knowledgeable was great, there was also arrogance in him because he owned the entire expanse that he could see on land and was considered invincible. That ahankara, arrogance, ego, blinded him and so, despite his goodness and the keen intention to respect knowledge, his ahankara, ego, did him in.

While he had his preceptor, Guru Sukracharya, next to him, who had warned him to pause, think, take sagely advice and act with caution, King Maha Bali had brushed aside the warning in order to keep up his image, of one who was willing to give away everything. This ego and arrogance got him banished to Pathala Loka.

Knowledge and humility help one transcend ego which can grow as huge as this earth and sky. This ego can be conquered in three simple steps like Vamana’s.

Step 1 – Measure the earth – Look around and be humbled by the sheer number of other living beings like you on this earth.

Step 2 – Measure the skies – Look up into the sky and be humbled by the sheer vastness and multitude of other worlds in the cosmos and how insignificantly small we are in this cosmos.

Step 3 – Place your hand on your head – Realize that in the cycle of births and deaths not only of living beings but the cosmos itself, the time span of each of our lives is very small and the role we play in the larger picture of the order of the cosmos, is even smaller.

This story by example has had a timeless relevance in conquering ego, ahamkara which has also been timeless. A little ahamkara is essential but when ahamkara takes over, it just suppresses the person, however mighty he may be.

These 3 steps of Vamana will keep our ego, ahamkara limited to the necessary.

But why remember this story on Onam Day? Why choose this particular day?

Also in the series :

Also in the same series

 

Onam Festival Part 1- The Story of Onam

Onam Festival Part 2 – PATHALA LOKA

 

More to Come …

-Bharath Gyan