By Sarita Boodhoo
* Unveiled by the new High Commissioner of India Shri TP Seetharam
There are some organisations in Mauritius, which do their bit without much fanfare and drum beating. The Divine Life Society of Rose Hill is such a one.
Established in 1963 in Mauritius, by Swami Venkatesananda, the Divine Life Society has contributed its mite to the welfare of society ever since. These people work quietly and patiently and have a band of devotees most of them trained by Swamiji.
The ashram is perched in a beautiful nook of Rose Hill, on the Réduit riverbank looking to the gorges on one side. It is skirted by the Malartic Avenue, now the Sivananda Lane on the outer side, with a little gurgling discharge canal bringing water from the CEB higher up, the same one that passes by Queen Elizabeth College, a little further up. There are still huge old trees and plants and ferns that maintain the freshness of a dream bringing a definite peace to frayed nerves.
The remarkable thing about the Ashram was its overlook on the beautiful expanse of green fields that stretch up to the blue mountains of the Moka or Port Louis Range in a soothing embrace for the eyes and mind. Alas, this green field has been eaten up within the split second of closing of one’s eyes! For, a jungle of ugly concrete buildings has mushroomed out of the fertile soil on the opposite side of the river bank! A definite eyesore.
It is such a sad thing that no more does one enjoy the green vista of our yesterdays while meditating outside Swamiji’s room on the open veranda at the top of the site of the Ashram. Such has been the rapid and devastating destruction of nature, which everyone had assumed would endure for ever so that one could hold on to it durably as to an illusion.
However, what is essentially relevant here is that each year the Sivananda Ashram in Rose Hill, which is known primarily for its yoga and meditation classes, celebrates the annual birth anniversary of Swami Sivananda, the founder of the Divine Life Society. It should be recalled that Swami Venkatesananda, an adept in Hatha Yoga, an embodiment of divine love, and an articulate proponent of Vedanta, was the one who introduced the concept of Yoga on a national basis in Mauritius in 1963. In those days the young Swami used to go around the island on his orange Vespa, a novelty. There was a monk in his orange garb touring the country spreading the Himalayan truths not in a Ferrari but on a two-wheeler! Revolutionary indeed! The two-wheeler is still at the Ashram and can be seen lying in the room which Swamiji occupied when he was in our midst.
Besides Hatha Yoga, Swamiji conducted meditation classes, and held daily readings of scriptures, regular house satsangs at lay disciples’ places. Feeding of the Poor, introduced by him in those days, is an essential ongoing activity of the Ashram. Healing and Ayurvedic treatment and massage were introduced here much before they became an industry or a commercial activity, or a tourism fad. Even though this is not the case at the Ashram, Yoga and spiritualism too have sadly been reduced to an industrial activity in several other places these days.
Swami Venkatesananda had his own unique ways of spreading the message of his Guru Swami Sivananda. In a nutshell as simple as this mantra: Be good, Do Good. Beside introducing the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita and other lesser-known scriptures in developing Mauritius then, such as the Yoga Vashistha, or Budha’s teachings churned from several Pali books in small doses of daily readings, which could be easily taken in and absorbed by the untrained mind, he introduced the concept of Integral Yoga in a scientific way and made Yoga, a novelty then, accessible to an uninitiated public, including to non-Hindus as he saw it all to be above particular religions.
His methods were interdisciplinary and universal. Besides Gandhiji’s famous Ram Bhajan which has a line sung by millions of Hindus “Iswar Allah Tero Nam”, it is the Swami Venkatesananda under the impulsion of his Guru who introduced prayers and chanting of “Om Jesus, Om Allah, Om Shakti Om on one board. He introduced Yoga in a synchronised, global approach, which included Hatha, Bhakti, Karma and Jnana Yoga on a firm footing in Mauritius. A huge array of spiritual books and writings were put at the disposal of the public in the lending library at the Ashram. Both Swami Sivananda and his disciple Swami Venkatesananda were prolific writers, having churned out volumes of spiritual writings.
The anniversary celebration of Gurudev Sivananda is definitely an important annual feature Swami Venkatesananda left behind. Not his own birthday celebration! He served his Guru in the spirit Hanuman served his Lord Rama.
The remarkable thing is that though Swami Sivananda’s name has been given to avenues, schools and colleges in Mauritius, it is the setting up of the Sivananda Pillar in the premises of the Ashram, which deserves to be applauded. However, I regret that the lovely garden of vegetables nurtured so lovingly by brother Prem up till now has gone, making way for the installation of the Sivananda Pillar which was unveiled on Sunday 25 September last by the new High Commissioner of India Shri TP Seetharam. This was the very first public function of the High Commissioner, hardly two weeks after his arrival, as he said. Shri Seetharam stated how pleased he was to be associated with such an ennobling function and spoke about the profound and superb impact of Indian culture in Mauritius as in many other countries of the world. He especially gave as example the most magnificent heritage of humanity in the temples at Angkor Vat in Cambodia.
Dr Sudarshan Jugessur, the Pro-Chancellor of the University of Mauritius and also Chairman of its Board and founder of the Sukhi Parivar, highlighted the aims and objectives of this organisation. He said the concept of a happy family, the very basis of a stable society, is being rapidly eroded in Mauritius as well as the world over. Therefore, the aim of Sukhi Parivar is to assemble once again all family members for sharing of living experiences by all family members together everyday. He stated that this was the need of the moment when the fabric of society is so shaky, and where disrespect for the elders has cropped up at an alarming rate. It was necessary to adopt higher standards to do away with the rampant greed, corruption and abject consumerism that have become a way of life.
There are no role models for the youngsters. It is in this context that the teachings of the Gurus should stand by us. Swami Pranavananda, Head of the Chinmaya Mission in Mauritius, performed the puja for the unveiling ceremony of the Sivananda Pillar.
The Sivananda Pillar carries the sayings of Swami Sivananda culled from the scriptures. A bit in the style of the famous epics of Gautama Buddha inscribed on the Ashokan Pillars by Emperor Ashoka. What is most essential is not only to bow to these spiritual teachings but to ponder upon them and inscribe them on the pillar of one’s heart and mind. Such work as is being done by the Divine Life Society needs to be encouraged and supported explicitly. Swamiji’s teachings deserve no less than to be further propagated.
It should be recalled that Swami Sivananda, born on 8 September 1887 at Pattamadai in South India, was a medical doctor by training and profession and that he served for ten years in the rubber plantations of Malayan (Malasia) before running off to the Himalayas to take up Sanyas, do penance for twelve years and later serve humanity at large with his teachings and spiritual healing.
* Published in print edition on 30 September 2011