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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Indian Masters: Swami Ranganathananda's centenary

It is not often I blog on individuals who have inspired me. It is very difficult to write and one always finds expressions inadequate.  However, just saw the announcement of a stamp on Swami Ranganathananda and decided to put down associated thoughts for the benefit of those who are not aware of this Master and his work. - R
The Ramakrishna Math & Mission as a policy does not promote any individual monk of the Order beyond their life time. As an order of monks, whatever personal belongings of each of the monk is cast into the sea after their cremation. So, despite being an order of a large number of monks who have much more to their credit than many of our current day, 'famous' social workers, one may never get to know about their work except when one visits the institutions some of these people have inspired or created. Even then the persona is not provided with the kind of glossy painted aura that is bestowed easily on many celebrities by our media these days.

Despite this institutional self-restraint, some times a stories of monks and their exemplary lives and enormous impact on society does come out. Swami Ranganathananda is one such persona.
The Swami hails from a small village in Kerala and at a very young age was attracted by the ideals of Swami Vivekananda and Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. He joined the Ramakrishna Mission and was deputed to be a cook at the Mission centre in Mysore. He says in some of his lectures, how he used to cook and clean and maintain the place while spending the remaining time reading the vedantic literature and Bhagavat Gita. 

The Swami has been in many troubled places at difficult times, including being in the Lahore centre of the Mission at the time of partition and in Rangoon at the time of the Burmese turmoil, he walked back along with many Indians who had to leave their all and walk back to India. His memorial meeting (after his demise a few years back) drew three young men who had attended his lectures on the Bhagavat Gita in the Lahore centre and later have been the Prime Ministers of this country, Manmohan Singh, L.K. Advani and I.K. Gujaral. 

His understanding and interpretation of Vedanta have renewed the interest in this subject among many people. The Swami not merely preached Vedanta, but, practiced it in his daily life too. His commentaries on the Bhagavat Gita for the modern times (in 3 volumes) is one of the most suitable for current times and one can read it for the pleasure of reading. 

His emphasis of the synthesis of knowledge lead many scholars to believe that he was 'modern', however, his engagement with some of the top scientists only convinced him even more on his base of vedanta. Swami has engaged and delivered lectures along some very important scientists and Noble laureates of our times. He is one of the few who could talk about the aesthetic beauty of the upanisad's and the gita apart from their content, like Gandhiji and Swami Vivekananda before him. 

A humble humanist he always had a good word for everyone who visited him, whether they be very young or the high and mighty. I was always struck by the first question he addressed to any young person who did voluntary or social work, 'does it provide you enough money to secure your life?', immediately followed by, 'are your family members happy with you?'. This concern for those who work for the society was something I find to come out of a great compassion towards such people. 

He also has played some significant role in the political sphere, many credit him (though the Ramakrishna Mission has never made any such claims as such) with the important work the Mission did in the North Eastern states as a direct response to the concern on the Chinese infiltration and influence in those parts. 

A great teacher, his lectures on the Upanisads and the Gita (thankfully they are available through the publications by the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan) are simple and yet shows his depth of knowledge vast areas. A thorough scholar, many of his writings drew extensively from the Indian traditional scripts and literature also, apart from modern science. His lectures drew large audiences and many read the Gita and Vedanta for the first time after listening to him. Late Dharampalji once remarked that even in the 50s, whenever the Swami lectured, there was a large gathering in Delhi. 

I have had the privilege of interacting with this Master on more than one occasion. We as an organization owe our name to him. It was a publication of one of his lectures, 'India's Vision of Samanvaya' that inspired us to call ourselves by that name. . Later, of course, he blessed our work saying, 'You have the name from me, what more can I bless you with'. The Swami passed away a few years back in his late 90s . His centenary is being celebrated by many individuals and institutions that have been inspired by him. The stamp was released day before in his honour. 

1 comment:

Bharat Churiwala said...

An extra ordinary piece of writing on MOST REV. SWAMI RANGANATHANANDAJI MAHARAJ, who was also called VIVEKANANDA OF 21ST CENTURY....

My personal and humble greetings to you for PUTTING THIS ON YOUR BLOG.


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