Thursday, 27 October 2016

Bhagini Nivedita - 28 Oct 149th Birth Anniversary

Sister Nivedita – A Great Visionary in the Spread of Women's Education in India

Swami Vivekananda dreamt of empowering the women of India. To him, a civilization would remain crippled, if women were not involved in its march towards progress. He said that a bird cannot fly 'only on one wing'.

Nivedita's meeting with Swami Vivekananda in London in 1895, marked the beginning of a new history. Swamiji found in her 'a real lioness' who could work for India, especially for women. The great vision of Swamiji inspired Miss Noble to set off for a long journey to an unknown land. She landed in Calcutta on 28th January 1898. Her self-sacrificing services for the next few years in her adopted homeland earned her the epithet of 'Lok Mata'. She was rechristened as was rechristened as 'Nivedita', the 'dedicated soul.'

Nivedita made vigorous efforts to know India, her 'Karmabhumi', and be an Indian to the core. She was a great upholder of Indian values and traditions. She strongly believed that people of the country should receive 'true education' or 'national education' to become sons and daughters of Bharatvarsha and not 'poor copies of Europe.' For the upliftment of Indian women, Nivedita never wanted  to impose western values and way of life on them. She believed India being 'a land of great women', should not discard their old-time grace and sweetness, the gentleness and piety in favour of western information and social aggressiveness. Nivedita was very clear in her mind that western education should not be imposed on Indian women. Shortly after her arrival in India, she was asked by Rabindranath Tagore to take charge of his younger daughter's education through English medium. But Nivedita declined and was of the view that there was no good 'in imposing foreign ideals and standards' on Indian women and she had not come to teach Indian women the English language and culture.

Pioneer with a Difference

Nivedita initiated a nationalistic education for Indian girls. She made a humble beginning on 13th November in 1898, on Kali Puja day with a few girls on the roll. She had to literally move from door to door to beg for students from the orthodox neighbourhood. She had the grand vision of her school producing modern day Maitreyis and Gargis. Running the school and meeting its day-to-day expenses were not an easy task. Nivedita was forced to close the school soon due to acute financial hardship and head for the West with Swamiji on lecture tour to garner financial support. She embarked on 20th June, 1899. Her endurance during acute deprivation and sacrifice of basic needs, made Rabindranath Tagore say,  "It was not out of donations, not even from the surplus that Nivedita met the expenses of the school.  It was out and out part of sharing her food. This is the truth."

In February 1902, Nivedita re-opened her school. She chose Saraswati puja day, an important day in the calendar of festivities, especially for students. From the then onwards, celebration of Saraswati puja became an annual event in the school. Initially, the girls had some inhibitions about Sister's participation in the puja but her enthusiasm and keenness broke all barriers down. Nivedita's experience of teaching in the West and her deep respect for India and its age-old values, helped her find a unique way of teaching suited to the Indian situation. She introduced the Kindergarten system in which lessons were imparted in the mode of play. She would receive each of them with folded hands. They were her 'little goddesses'.

Nivedita would teach her students conventional subjects such as, Bengali, English, Arithmetic, Geography and History and also expose them to sundry vocational work such as, clay-modelling, mat weaving, paper-cutting, sewing and other handicarfts.  Since a healthy mind resides in a healthy body, as the dictum goes, physical exercises and the basic rules of hygiene were also part of the curricula in her school. Nivedita was fully aware of the contemporary realities in Hindu society and used to take special care of Hindu widows as her students. On many occasions, she would find them reaching school without food. Nivedita would feed them first. She envisioned a greater role for them. Her plan was that they should be groomed to work as 'educational missionaries'. She had the foresight of making them torch-bearers to touch the lives of many with light of education. Her exhortations are as inspiring as they are insightful. She said, "Today our country is in a sore plight." And in a special manner she calls on her daughters at the moment to come forward, as those in the ages before, to aid her with a great shraddha. "How shall this be done?" - we are all asking. In the first place let Hindu mothers renew in their sons the thirst for Brahmacharya without which our nation is short of her ancient strength. No country in the world has an ideal of the student's life so high as in this country and if it be allowed to die out of India, where shall the world look to restore it? In Brahmacharya is the secret of all strength, all greatness. Let every mother determine that her sons shall be great!"

Fanning the Sparks of Nationalistic Fervour

The school activities were seeped in nationalistic fervour. When singing 'Vande Mataram' was banned in the country,  Nivedita made it the daily opening prayer song in her school. Nivedita wanted her school to be the nucleus of the 'grand educational movement' and her students to imbibe the spirit of nationalism. The British Government's freeing some political prisoners from the Andaman jail was an occasion to celebrate in her school. She used to take senior students to the lectures of great leaders like Surendra Nath Bannerjee.

The colonial influence on students used to disturb Nivedita immensely. Nivedita was distraught when her students replied that the queen of India was Queen Victoria. She was keen to instill a sense of pride about vernacular languages in her students. One day when a student while drawing a 'line' in Bengali Nivedita was unhappy. Her joy knew no bound when one of the girls in the class could tell her that 'line' is 'rekha' in Bengali.

Nivedita laid the foundation of adult education and vocational training in the country. She opened a Women's section on 2nd November, 1903 for the local women with a flexible timing in the afternoon when the women would be free from household work. They were taught the basics of reading and writing, of studying the scriptures and various types of handiwork. The teaching of handicarfts was to enable them to earn a living even while being at home. She had the larger picture in mind on the revival of the old Indian industries with her students contributing to it.

Holding back students in school in the face of severe social pressure was a big challenge to Nivedita. Absenteeism was rampant and child marriages were the order of the day. To cope with such a frustrating experience, she would visit the houses of absent girls and plead with their guardians. The return of one of her students to the school, Giribala Ghosh, a twenty-two year old widow, speaks volume about Nivedita's genuineness to adopt and adhere to the tenets of Indian tradition and culture while educating women and girls. Giribala was keen to continue her studies but criticism from neighbours stopped her from coming to school. But it so happened one day that Giribala's grandmother while passing by the school, heard students of the school singing Sanskrit verses in chorus, which impressed her very much and she made Giribala rejoin the school.

Empowering Women along National Lines

Nivedita was fascinated with the great Indian epics and Indian history. To her, the most heroic character in the Mahabharata, was Gandhari, because of her incomparable devotion to her husband and her sense of righteousness. She used to take her students through the pages of Indian history and talk about great women legends. She writes, "In all lands holiness and strength are treasures which the race places in the hands of woman to preserve, rather than in those of man. A few men here and there become great teachers, but most have to spend their days in toil for the wining of the bread. It is in the home that these renew their inspiration and their faith and insight, and the greatness of the home lies in the tapasya of women."

The plight of Indian women in the general was Nivedita's prime concern. She was never confined to school hours or the students of her school. In the evening hours, Nivedita would invite the local women and hold meetings, organise recitation from the Chandi, the puranas and other scriptures. Nivedita, and her companion Sister Christine, would sit on one side of the courtyard with the small girls and the women behind a screen. Nivedita stood apart from contemporary Christain Missionaries. Her unique initiatives in the field of adult education, vocational training, and education with nationalistic fervour had made her a pioneer in the area of women's empowerment. Her deep respect for India and the greatness of Indian women made her acceptable to one and all.

…. By Archana Dutta. courtesy Samvit

Life of worldliness

About nine o'clock in the morning the Master was seated in his room with Rakhal, M., and a few other devotees.  It was the day of the new moon.  As usual with him on such days, Sri Ramakrishna entered again and again into communion with the Divine Mother. 

He said to the devotees: "God alone exists, and all else is unreal.  The Divine Mother has kept all deluded by Her maya.  Look at men.  Most of them are entangled in worldliness.  They suffer so much, but still they have the same attachment to 'woman and gold'.  The camel eats thorny shrubs, and blood gushes from its mouth; still it will eat thorns.  While suffering pain at the time of delivery, a woman says, 'Ah! I shall never go to my husband again.' But afterwards she forgets.

"The truth is that no one seeks God.  There are people who eat the prickly leaves of the pineapple and not the fruit."

DEVOTEE: "Sir, why has God put us in the world?"

MASTER: "The world is the field of action.  Through action one acquires knowledge.  The guru instructs the disciple to perform certain works and refrain from others.  Again, he advises the pupil to perform action without desiring the result.  The impurity of the mind is destroyed through the performance of duty.  It is like getting rid of a disease by means of medicine, under the instruction of a competent physician.

"Why doesn't God free us from the world? Ah, He will free us when the disease is cured.  He will liberate us from the world when we are through with the enjoyment of 'woman and gold'.  Once a man registers his name in the hospital, he cannot run away.  The doctor will not let him go away unless his illness is completely cured."

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Ever thought : Why I am A Hindu ?

Ever thought : Why I am A Hindu ?

This is the most shared and viral article on facebook nowadays about Hinduism. It's very nice and easiest to learn about Hinduism. It's experienced and written by Udaylal Pai ji, surely it gives answers to the most common questions asked by non Hindus.

An American girl was sitting on the right side, near window seat.
It indeed was a long journey – it would take nearly seven hours!
I was surprised to see the young girl reading a Bible – unusual of young Americans! (Later I came to know that September 11 has changed mind-set of lot of US citizens. They suddenly turned religious, it seemed.)
After some time she smiled and we had few acquaintances talk. I told her that I am from India.
Then suddenly the girl asked: "What's your faith?"
"What?" I didn't understand the question.
"I mean, what's your religion? Are you a Christian? Or a Muslim?"
"No!" I replied, "I am neither Christian nor Muslim".
Apparently she appeared shocked to listen to that.
"Then who are you…?"
"I am a Hindu", I said.
She looked at me as if she is seeing a caged animal.
She could not understand what I was talking about.
A common man in Europe or US know about Christianity and Islam, as they are the leading religions of the world today. But a Hindu, what?
I explained to her – I am born to a Hindu father and Hindu mother. Therefore, I am a Hindu by birth.
"Who is your prophet?" she asked.
"We don't have a prophet," I replied.
"What's your Holy Book?"
"We don't have a single Holy Book, but we have hundreds and thousands of philosophical and sacred scriptures," I replied.
"Oh, come on…at least tell me who is your God?"
"What do you mean by that?"
"Like we have Yahweh and Muslims have Allah – don't you have a God?"
I thought for a moment. Muslims and Christians believe one God (Male God) who created the world and takes an interest in the humans who inhabit it. Her mind is conditioned with that kind of belief.
According to her (or anybody who doesn't know about Hinduism), a religion need to have one Prophet, one Holy book and one God. The mind is so conditioned and rigidly narrowed down to such a notion that anything else is not acceptable. I understood her perception and concept about faith. You can't compare Hinduism with any of the present leading religions where you have to believe in one concept of god.

She couldn't imagine a religion so unorganized, still surviving for thousands of years, even after onslaught from foreign forces.
"I don't understand…but it seems very interesting. Are you religious?"
What can I tell to this American girl?
I said: "I do not go to temple regularly. I do not make any regular rituals. I have learned some of the rituals in my younger days. I still enjoy doing it sometimes."
"Enjoy? Are you not afraid of God?"
"God is a friend. No- I am not afraid of God. Nobody has made any compulsions on me to perform these rituals regularly."
She thought for a while and then asked: "Have you ever thought of converting to any other religion?"
"Why should I? Even if I challenge some of the rituals and faith in Hinduism, nobody can convert me from Hinduism. Because, being a Hindu allows me to think independently and objectively, without conditioning… I remain as a Hindu never by force, but choice." I told her that Hinduism is not a religion, but a set of beliefs and practices. It is not a religion like Christianity or Islam because it is not founded by any one person or does not have an organized controlling body like the Church or the Order, I added. There is no institution or authority.
"So, you don't believe in God?" she wanted everything in black and white.
"I didn't say that. I do not discard the divine reality. Our scripture, or Sruthis or Smrithis – Vedas and Upanishads or the Gita – say God might be there or he might not be there. But we pray to that supreme abstract authority (Para Brahma) that is the creator of this universe."
"Why can't you believe in one personal God?"
"We have a concept – abstract – not a personal god. The concept or notion of a personal God, hiding behind the clouds of secrecy, telling us irrational stories through few men whom he sends as messengers, demanding us to worship him or punish us, does not make sense. I don't think that God is as silly as an autocratic emperor who wants others to respect him or fear him." I told her that such notions are just fancies of less educated human imagination and fallacies, adding that generally ethnic religious practitioners in Hinduism believe in personal gods. The entry level Hinduism has over-whelming superstitions too. The philosophical side of Hinduism negates all superstitions.
"Good that you agree God might exist. You told that you pray. What is your prayer then?"
"Loka Samastha Sukino Bhavantu. Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti,"
"Funny," she laughed, "What does it mean?"
" May all the beings in all the worlds be happy. Om Peace, Peace, Peace."
"Hmm…very interesting. I want to learn more about this religion. It is so democratic, broad-minded and free…" she exclaimed.
"The fact is Hinduism is a religion of the individual, for the individual and by the individual with its roots in the Vedas and the Bhagavad-Gita. It is all about an individual approaching a personal God in an individual way according to his temperament and inner evolution – it is as simple as that."
"How does anybody convert to Hinduism?"
"Nobody can convert you to Hinduism, because it is not a religion, but a set of beliefs and practices. Everything is acceptable in Hinduism because there is no single authority or organization either to accept it or to reject it or to oppose it on behalf of Hinduism."
I told her – if you look for meaning in life, don't look for it in religions; don't go from one cult to another or from one guru to the next.
For a real seeker, I told her, Bible itself gives guidelines when it says "Kingdom of God is within you." I reminded her of Christ's teaching about the love that we have for each other. That is where you can find the meaning of life.
Loving each and every creation of the God is absolute and real. 'Isavasyam idam sarvam' Isam (the God) is present (inhabits) here everywhere – nothing exists separate from the God, because God is present everywhere. Respect every living being and non-living things as God. That's what Hinduism teaches you.
Hinduism is referred to as Sanathana Dharma, the eternal faith. It is based on the practice of Dharma, the code of life. The most important aspect of Hinduism is being truthful to oneself. Hinduism has no monopoly on ideas. It is open to all. Hindus believe in one God (not a personal one) expressed in different forms. For them, God is timeless and formless entity.
Ancestors of today's Hindus believe in eternal truths and cosmic laws and these truths are opened to anyone who seeks them. But there is a section of Hindus who are either superstitious or turned fanatic to make this an organized religion like others. The British coin the word "Hindu" and considered it as a religion.
I said: "Religions have become an MLM (multi-level-marketing) industry that has been trying to expand the market share by conversion. The biggest business in today's world is Spirituality. Hinduism is no exception…"
I am a Hindu primarily because it professes Non-violence – "Ahimsa Paramo Dharma" – Non violence is the highest duty. I am a Hindu because it doesn't conditions my mind with any faith system.


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