By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee
As usual every year, this year too the Ramayana Centre organized a series of activities on the occasion of Tulsi Jayanti. This time the theme was ‘Family Values and Ramayana,’ and a seminar was held at the Octave Wiehe auditorium of the University of Mauritius, Reduit on Sunday 15 August. The morning half was the ceremonial part, attended by various personalities, and the Chief Guest was Sir Anerood Jugnauth, President of the Republic.
There was a short recitation by the trio of Shri Ajay Yagnik from New Delhi, well-known to all Rama-bhaktas in Mauritius, as he has been here several times before. He continues to fascinate and captivate with his melodious and soulful renderings, specializing in the Sunderkanda part of the Ramayana.
There was also a short dance number by Sudha Sasikumar. She is a renowned Bharat Natyam dancer form Malaysia who was invited for the occasion by the Ramayana Centre. Sudha is the artistic director of Nitya Kalanjali, an academy of Indian Classical and Folk Dance, and conducts classes in Kuala Lumpur and Ipoh. She is not only an admirable dancer, as we were privileged to appreciate both at the Octave Wiehe auditorium and at the Ramayana Centre (on Monday 16 August), but is also a choreographer and teacher of dance since 1988. In addition, she conducts free dance classes on a voluntary basis for the poor children of Tamil schools as a social obligation. An example to follow…
Coming back to the function at the Octave Wiehe auditorium: the Master of Ceremonies was Shri Jairaj Tacouri, a trustee of the Ramayana Centre to whom this responsibility is usually assigned, and who conducts regular classes of Ramayana chanting for both adults and children, based at his residence in Triolet. We will have occasion to say more about this in future.
Representatives of several organisations were present. The Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, Shri Pradip Roopun, was in attendance too, as well as Government Chief Whip Shri Suren Dayal, along with Hon Ministers Bachoo, Bunwaree and Choonee. All three of them, and the Chief Guest Sir Anerood Jugnauth, addressed the large gathering in Hindi, belying the common perception spread in certain quarters that Hindi is hardly in current usage in this country. It was widely heard, with Bhojpuri too, throughout the day in the precints of the auditorium. And as I have underlined a number of times before, wherever I have attended similar gatherings in different localities in the island, all the year round, both Hindi and Bhojpuri are commonly spoken, by young and not so young alike.
As a matter of fact I met a young lady from the north who had done her BA Hons in Hindi from New Delhi, and also obtained her MA in Hindi. She was currently teaching in a secondary institution, and was exploring the possibility of pursuing a PhD in the subject. She was introduced to me by her uncle, and we had an interesting conversation about potential options of subjects for a PhD thesis. I found this exchange most instructive, and was very happy to see that the young generation had such enthusiastic members who were forging ahead quietly in academic and social pursuits. I have met many others in different forums, and I am confident that if their tribe increases, we need have no great apprehension about the future of Hindi and Bhojpuri locally. I maintain what I had written a couple of weeks ago, to wit that ‘Hundreds of thousands of Mauritians understand Hindi, tens of thousands understand and speak Bhojpuri regularly, as many speak Hindi, and I know of several who regularly converse in Punjabi.’
This impression was confirmed afresh on Wednesday last, at the Eden College in Rose Hill where Mrs Shobha Balgobin had graciously accepted the offer of a performance by Shri Ajay Yagnik, who was accompanied by his brother Shri Virendra Yagnik and Shri Yogesh Aggarwal, all of them from New Delhi. Shri Virendra Yagnikl is the President of the Indian Chapter of the Ramayana Centre, and Shri Yogesh Aggarwal has been associated with the setting up of the Ramayana Centre from the very beginning. As has happened during previous visits, they have been going round the island since their arrival about two weeks ago, chanting the Ramayana and delighting the hundreds of Rama-bhaktas in attendance.
The afternoon session was devoted to the theme of family values as exemplified in the Ramayana, and several speakers elaborated – in Hindi — on the subject. It is no secret that at national level there is a real concern about the erosion of moral values, and it is most apt that responsible individuals and organisations, each in their own way and using resources at their disposal, do the best they can to bring their contribution and address this problem. From its onset the Ramayana Centre has taken up this matter head-on, and no opportunity is left to harp on that theme.
Most recently, since the 17th July, Bal Sanskar classes are being held at the seat of the Centre in Rose Belle on Saturday afternoons from 1.30 to 3 pm. These classes are meant to inculcate moral values in children, and two volunteer teachers have assumed responsibility for this activity which has generated much enthusiasm among the children, aged five to eleven years. This will be a regular feature at the Centre, and the Bal Sanskar is a structured three-year programme based on sound pedagogical principles and meticulously worked out contents. At the end of each year the children will be awarded a certificate as an encouragement.
Other organisations such as the Arya Sabha, the Sai Baba movement, the Chinmaya Mission, the Kovil at Gladstone street in Rose Hill — to name but a few – are involved in similar activities, and are to be commended for that. An addition on the scene is the teaching of Hinduism in French, based on a model adapted from Reunion for Mauritius by Brahmachari Yogesh from our sister island, who has come here a few times to train trainers and oversee the start of the programme. It is also a three-year one, with pedagogical material that has been made available with the kind help of Br. Yogesh. He will be here again soon to make a first assessment of the classes being conducted.
An innovative feature at the Ramayana Centre is parallel sessions for adults while the Bal Sanskar is on. Several of the parents who come to leave their children prefer to wait for them to finish, and it was felt that it would be a good idea to make useful use of their time by imparting knowledge of Hinduism. This is being done and will become a regular activity along with the Yoga classes, teaching of Hindi and weekly Ramayana satsangs amongst others.
The next development at the Ramayana Centre is the construction of the Rama Mandir, and steps have already been initiated in this respect. As was the case for the establishment of the first phase, the Learning Complex named after Lady Riziya Teelock, there is much interest in seeing the second phase completed at the earliest possible, and with the blessings of Rama Bhagavan there is no doubt that this wish will be fulfilled in due course. Meanwhile, the most important thing is that the Ramayana Centre is not idle, and is abuzz with all kinds of activities aimed at enriching society with the appropriate moral values so essential to face life.
Everybody is welcome to visit and join in the activities at the Ramayana Centre.
Jai Shri Rama.
* Published in print edition on 20 August 2010