National Youth Day by Ramakrishna Mission

National Youth Day was celebrated in Shillong at Ramakrishna Mission on January 12, 2022, which was confined to only a day-long celebration due to COVID restrictions.
The Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangathan Shillong, along with the Ramkrishna Mission organized the—programme following the COVID-19 protocol laid down by the government.

Participants paid floral tributes to Swami Vivekananda and fondly remembered his teachings. The programme started with the National Anthem, followed by the lighting of the ceremonial lamp.
The Chief Guest, State Director, Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangathan Shri Atul J Nikam called upon the youth to follow the footsteps of Swami Vivekananda and imbibe his ideas to occupy a responsible place in society.
Secretary of Ramakrishna Mission Swami Hitakamanandaji Maharaj and Shri Bobby Wahlang, Youth co-ordinator from the Department of Sports and Youth Affairs Govt of Meghalaya also called upon the youth to draw inspiration from Swamiji’s words and take greater responsibilities in nation-building.

Students of the Ramakrishna Mission Vivekananda Cultural Centre presented a Khasi song titled “Ka Sneng Ka Khraw” as the closing song. The program concluded with words of gratitude from Swami Divyaswarupanandaji Maharaj Assistant Secretary Ramakrishna Mission Shillong and the National Anthem.
Sports Officer from the Directorate of Sports and Youth Affairs, Smt Bansara Dhar, Archery Coach, Khlain Pyrkhat Syiemlieh, Football Coach Debasis Datta NYK Shillong were among the participants.
A cultural group of Laban offered floral tribute at a plaque present at the land where Swami Vivekananda
stayed for a fortnight during his visit to Shillong—on 1901.
his visit to Shillong.

Meghalaya- Rooted in Nature , Connected to Culture

The Meghalaya @50 commemorative Arch-gate mural to the cultural complex of the Government of Meghalaya is a sculpture in cement. It is artistically represented by the the various components in the mural consi st of the primary elements of the land and its people while capturing the unique ethnic ingredients of its intrinsic tribal culture. A creation of Riti Academy of Visual Art with a number of participating Artists.

Ka Jingkren U Swami Vivekananda ha Chicago

Ka Jingkren haka jingïalang bakhatduh
27 tarik Nailur, 1893

Ka Dorbar bah ki Niam ka la long ka jingshisha, bad U Kpa ba i-synei U la ïarap ïa kito kiba trei shitom ban pynlong ïa ka bad u la pynphong pansngiat da ka jingjop ïa ka jingtrei shitom ba khlem tyngkai jong ki.
Nga ai khublei ïa kito ki ‘Riewkhraw kiba na ka mynsiem bakhraw bad jingibit ïa ka jingshisha ki la phohsniew ïa kane ka jingphohsniew baphylla bad la pynlong ïa ka, ka jingshisha. Nga ai khublei ïa kito kiba la theh ki jingsngew bakylluid mynsiem kiba la shlei miar halor kane ka rynsan. Nga ai khublei ïa kito ki nongsngap bashemphang na ka bynta ka jingsbun ryntih jong ki ïa nga bad na ka bynta ka jingïahap jingmut ïa ki jingpyrkhat kiba la pyrshang ban pynjlih ïa ka jingkyrshut jong ki niam. Katto katne ruh la ïohsngew ki jingkyrhuh ba pynkyndit bynriew man la ki por na kane ka jingïalang ba ïaid beit. Nga ai khublei kyrpang ïa ki namar da ki jingpyrshang jong ki, ka la nang syrdoh ïa ka jingïatylli lang.
La kren shibun kiei-kiei na ka bynta ka jingïatylli ki niam. Nga hi ngam ong ei-ei ïa ka jingpykhat jong nga shaphang jong ka. Hynrei lada don mano-mano hangne u ba kyrmen ba kane ka jingïatylli kan long da ka jingjop jong kano-kano na kine ki niam bad ka jingduh noh jong kiwei pat, ha uta nga ong, “Ko para ka jingkyrmen jong phi ka long ka bym lah long.” Tharai nga kwah ba u Kristan un long Hindu? Em, U Blei um shah. Tharai nga kwah ba u Hindu ne Buddhist un long Kristan. Em, U Blei um shah.
Ïa u symbai la btep hapoh khyndew, ka sboh, ka lyer bad ka um la ai sawdong jong u. Phi tharai u symbai un kylla sboh, lyer ne ka um? Em, u kylla long u jingthung da ka aiñ ka jingpynlong ïa u. U kjit ïa ka lyer, ka sboh bad ka um bad tylliat ïa ki ban long jingbam bad u kylla long u jingthung.
Ka long kumjuh ruh bad ki niam. U Kristan un nym long u Hindu ne Buddhist ne u Hindu ne u Buddhist, un nym long u Kristan. Hynrei uwei-pa-uwei un shim lang ïa ka mynsiem jong kiwei pat hynrei u don hi la ka jong ka jinglong tynrai lajong bad u san kum la ka jong ka jinglong.
Lada ka Dorbar bah ki niam ka la lah ban leh ei-ei, ka dei kane; ka la pynshai ïa ka pyrthei ba ka jinglong hok, jinglong khuid bad jingleh i-synei kam long ka nongkynti tang jong kano-kano ka niam ha ka pyrthei bad ba kano- kano ka niam ka la pynmih ki ‘Riewkhraw kynthei bad shynrang. Hakhmat kane ka sakhi lada mano-mano ki jingphohsniew ba im tang la ka jong ka niam bad kiwei kin duh noh, nga sngewsynei ïa u ta naduh la ka mynsiem. Ngan kdew ha u ba ha ka lama jong kawei-pa-kawei ka niam yn sa thoh ba wat hapdeng ki jingialeh; “Iarap ym ban ïaleh pyrshah.” “Pynbha ym ban pynjot.” “ Ka jingïatylli bad jingsuk ym ka jingïapait ïapra.”

U Kristan un nym long u Hindu ne Buddhist ne u Hindu ne u Buddhist, un nym long u Kristan. Hynrei uwei-pa-uwei un shim lang ïa ka mynsiem jong kiwei pat hynrei u don hi la ka jong ka jinglong tynrai lajong bad u san kum la ka jong ka jinglong.

Ka Sarada Devi: Ka Kmie Bakhuid

Ka Jing-shong-kurim baphylla

Ka Jayrambati ka long ka shnong ka barit haka district Bankura haka jylla Bengal ba sha sepngi. Haka khad khyndai-spah snem, la don ha kata ka shnong kawei ka ïing Brahmon kaba don lai ngut shipara, ki shynrang suda, kiba im da kaba rep kba. Na ine i jingïoh i ba rit la pynlut ruh ha kaba lehniam kat kumba dei ïa ki lyngdoh ban leh. Ki hun kat kaba ki ïoh bad ki ïa suk kat kum ka rukom im ki Bramon. U kpa ka ïing u dei u Ramchandra Mukherji, u briew uba duk hynrei u ba hok bad la bna nam ïa u namar ki kam isynei bad leh sbun. Ka Shyamasundari Devi ka la long ka lok jong u; ka long ka briew kaba shida, kaba trei shitom, kaba jemnud bad kaba riewblei.
Haka 22 tarik u Nohprah 1853, haka por tlang, la kha ïa ka khun phrangsngi jong ki. Ki kmie ki kpa jong ka ki la jer kyrteng ïa ka Ka Sarada ka blei jong ka jingstad. Hadien ha bud khlem poi pyrkhat kata ka kyrteng ka la ïa hap bad ka jinglong jong ka. Ka la ïoh ïa ka jingstad ba kynja mynsiem kaba kham pher na kiwei pat bad lah ban ïoh tang ïakito kiba la aiti ïalade ha u Blei.
Ka Sarada ka long ka khynnah kaba tipsngi bad kam don por wat ban ïalehkai bad la ki para khynnah ruh. Naduh ba ka dang khynnah ka bun kam shi katdei eh namar ka ju ïarap kam ïa ka kmie ha kaba shet ° jingshet bad peit ïa la ki para rit. Bunsien ruh ka ju hap leit rah jingbam ïa ki nongtrei ha ki lyngkha. Ym ju don dustur ha ki por mynshuwa ban leit skul ki kynthei wat la hadien da ka jingtrei shitom jong ka hi ka la nang ban pule hynrei ym ban thoh.
Ka jingjia kaba la pynsah jingkynmaw eh haka jinglong khynnah jong ka ka long ka jingshong kurim jong ka ïa u Gadadhar Chattopadhyaya (u ba la tip hadien kum u Shri Ramakrishna) u ba la long kum u lyngdoh naduh ka snem 1855 haka ïingmane jong Ka Kali ha Dakshineswar, kaba don haka rud duriaw ba shaphang mihngi jong ka wah Ganga kaba don shaphang shatei jong ka Calcutta. Ka jingshakri blei ha kata ka ïingmane ka la pynkwah hir hir ïa u Sri Ramakrishna ban ïa long lang kawei bad ka kmie ba riewblei, bad kane ka la sdang ban pynlamwir ïa u bad ïa kane ka jinglong la ïohi da kiba ha ïing ha sem jong u. Kumta la ïa lam noh ïa u sha Kamarpukur bad ka kmie jong u ka la pyrkhat ba lada un shong kurim u lah ban klet noh ïa kita kiei kiei kiba kynja mynsiem bad kumta ka la sdang ban ïaleh shitom namar kane. Ki jingleh shitom baroh kim sei soh, haduh ba khatduh u hi u la ong ïa ki ban ïit ka briew jong u na ka ïing u Ramchandra Mukherji. Nangta ka la sngew kyndit haba ka
shem ba don tang i khynnah iba dang san snem ka rta. Hynrei baroh arliang ki la ïasuk, bad kumta ka jingshongkurim la pynlong ha Jayrambati ha u bnai Jymmang jong ka snem 1859. U Shri Ramakrishna ha kata ka por u ladap arphewlai snem ka rta.
Ka Sarada ka dang shong hi bad la ki kmie ki kpa haduh hadien khadlai snem. Katne snem ka la shong hynrei ka la ïa kynduh tang ar-sien bad u lok jong ka. Shisien ha u ’nai Nohphrah jong ka snem 1860 haba ka dang dap hynñiew snem ka rta u la wan sha ka ïing u kthaw jong u ban wan jngoh ïa ka. Ka Sarada ka la ktah ïa ki kjat jong u bad nangta ka la sdang ban kaweh pakha ïa u. Kane ka jingkhot sngewbha ka la kyrsoi na ka jingieid bad namar ba ka la long tang ka khynnah ka la nang kham sngewkmen shuh shuh.
Hadien haba ka la dap khadsaw snem ka rta ka la sah bad u Sri Ramakrishna kumba hynñiew bnai ha ïing jong u ha Kamarpukur. U long u ba shah shkor bha ïa ka bad kane ka la pynlah ïa u ban batai ïa ka shaphang kiei kiei kiba kynja blei bad shaphang ka pyrthei. Kine shijur ki ïa ieid bha iwei ïa iwei pat. Ym don ktien ban batai ïa ka jingsngewsuk ba ka sngew haba u don hajan bad bunsien ka ju ïathuh ha ki nongbud kynthei jong ka kumne ‘‘Nga sngew kumba u khiew u la dap tang da ka jingkmen ha kaba la tynsat hapoh ka dohnud jong nga”. Da shisha ka long ka jingshongkurim kaba phylla haka pyrthei, namar naduh nyngkong ka long kaba dap tang da ka jingsuk bad jingkmen mynsiem.

yn dang bteng…)

Petrichor

Petrichor

“Change not thy nature, gentle bloom,
Thou violet, sweet and pure,
But ever pour thy sweet perfume
Unasked, unstinted and sure!”.

Among all the shades of nature, perhaps, rain is an enigma. In some it inspires awe, to some, it is an invitation to plunge into their souls, again to some it is nothing but gloom. Be it as it may, it never fails to tinge our minds. It enters us through the dazzles in the dark, soft rumbles, the pleasant chill and mostly through the unmistakable footprints of its arrival – the sweet scent of the earth – the petrichor.
People are inseparable from the land to which they belong. It permeates their beings in an unconscious way. It may be likened to the fragrance of a rose that is indissolubly connected with it or a silent scar that never allows them to forget it. History is never confined within a contour, yet it is always anchored to one. The saga of people’s struggles, failures and triumphs intertwined with their aspiration, passion and toil creates the warp and woof in the fabric of human life. And, when that land happens to be India, the distinctiveness of such a warp and woof becomes a force to reckon with. Indeed, with both its intrinsic plurality and connectedness, has come a long way from its ‘tryst with destiny’. Today, it has become a melting pot of the world’s cultures and languages. With more than 120 major languages, it is a wonder how it still continues to be a single Nation. The answer may lie in the linguistic freedom it enjoys in every stratum of its life. Research reveals that language has a deep connection with biodiversity. The more diverse the environment; the greater the possibility for more languages to evolve. The North-Eastern part of India and Andaman Nicobar Islands, having the largest forest cover, are home to varied languages and dialects. This brings us straight to an incontrovertible fact that no matter how cozy we feel being in our comfort zones of intolerance, nature abhors uniformity. Different languages have the same claim to the land, even for the fringe populace. This is the dictum of nature which we must obey or perish forever. To this Swami Vivekananda brings our attention in no uncertain terms, ‘Unity is before creation, diversity is creation. Now if this diversity stops, creation will be destroyed. So long as any species is vigorous and active, it must throw out varieties. When it ceases or is stopped from breeding varieties, it dies’. It is a warning and a deliverance. The passion for our language and the longing for the country should not be at the cost of the innate heterogeneity that nature wants us to enjoy. We may be at crossroads, but we have the stars to guide us – the elders, the scriptures and the way under our feet.
This diversity is the fragrance after the rain. When all the scum is washed away, the pristine water flows. When the barriers are shattered by thunder, we roam free.
Rain always rejuvenates. Let it rain, let the petrichor waft through the valley.

.

A Vedantist in Ireland 

Karl Whitmarsh

Saturday, March 28, 2020 

I can hear the church bells ring for noontime Angelus from our house in Connemara.  They are a reminder to repeat a prayer: 

The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary, 
And she conceived of the Holy Spirit. 

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art Thou . . . 

Now and at the hour of our death. 

The Divine Mother everywhere is the remover of obstacles and affliction.  But in Ireland we pray to Mary in particular to intercede with Jesus her son and with God the Father in times of distress.  If there has ever been a time to ask for her help, it is during this Covid-19 pandemic, for those who are sick or facing destitution or otherwise in fear. 

The bells of this Catholic church are virtual. Their machine-generated tones, broadcast from loudspeakers, reverberate over the unnaturally still streets of the village. 

The following day (Sunday) 

Only one or two parishioners are allowed inside the Catholic church to assist the priest for Mass. I am not one of them. 

But I can see the priest in my mind’s eye.  I can hear him repeat Christ’s words, ‘Do this in memory of me.’ And I ask – is it merely memory?  Is not the Last Supper being recreated at this moment?  Does not the remembrance by even a single worshipper usher the Lord’s Lila into existence? 

Meditating on the Eucharist through the lens of the Gita, we understand the Mass as the eternal sacrifice.  The sacramental host, the act of its offering, he who consecrates the host in the inner flame of his being – if you realize the Divine in each of these, you will reach the Divine. 

Meanwhile – the little village where I live has eight rumored cases of Covid-19, which, relative to its tiny size, implies an astronomical rate of infection. Naturally people here are fearful.  They accept lockdown without reservation.  As recent arrivals from abroad, my wife and I are more restricted than the other villagers – we may not enter shops or any public building.  

Sunday, April 26, 2020 

Now the church is live-streaming Mass with an iPhone for camera. It is reassuring to watch, to picture myself there, though the priest sings off key and his words are difficult to make out as they echo across the near-empty cavern of the church. 

A month ago the villagers were just afraid of the virus.  Now they are restless to boot. Emotions are raw and ever on the verge of multiplying like uncontrollable audio feedback. Still, these Irish are practical people. In their hearts they are calm, they view the pandemic as one more passing thing.  Life will return to the old ways sooner or later.  Shops and pubs will reopen, crowds will watch the Galway races elbow-to-elbow, and churches will fill up on the major feast days. This is a conservative place where tradition dies hard, if it ever dies at all. Famines and wars have devastated this part of Ireland, forcing half the population to emigrate and decimating the rest.  Those who remained passed down to their descendants a stubborn identity as Catholic Connemara Irish. 

For seven centuries, the English colonial rulers suppressed the native Irish and their Catholic religion.  They starved the populace, reduced it to serfdom, burned its churches and banished or killed its priests. They cynically offered conversion to Protestantism as a way up and out for those who would repudiate their Catholic faith – but few accepted the offer. Instead, mistreatment by the English bound the Irish forever more tightly to their church. 

But he Catholic church in Ireland isn’t what it used to be.  I think for Irish society at large that is actually a good thing.  Years of unjust persecution conferred immense moral authority on the Irish Catholic church. Subsequent years of arrogance and complacency have effectively squandered that authority.  The Church has slid increasingly into irrelevance, causing pews to empty out, vocations to thin, and young people to tell the reporters from Irish Television that the Church means nothing to them.   

But you wouldn’t know it out here in the country.  Most people here identify themselves with a parish – there are several in the area – and go to Mass at least monthly.  Though no longer its unrivalled heart, the parish church remans a vital organ of the community. 

Catholicism is the de facto religion of the west of Ireland to a degree unimaginable to most twenty-first century Americans.  Newspapers and radio stations keep their audiences up to date with local parish services and holy day activities, and host opinion columns by local clergy.  In the shops you will find cards for novenas and Holy Communion mixed in with the birthday cards. The ubiquitous Catholic ‘national’ schools are funded by the State. 

A half block up the main street is another church in my village – the Church of Ireland, as the Anglican Church in Ireland is called.  All over the Republic, the Church of Ireland is struggling, because Protestants are nowadays few, less than one in twenty among the populace.  Also, Protestantism is a reminder of the English occupation, though the Irish for the most part no longer bear any ill will toward the English. Once upon a time this was the established church in Ireland, meaning that all Irish, including the Catholic majority, had to tithe in its support.  Two hundred years ago on any Sunday morning this little church would be filled with dozens of soldiers from the local British garrison, their bright scarlet uniforms standing out among the plainer clothes of the local landowners and merchants.  Now the church is lucky to have a dozen souls in attendance on a given Sunday.  But those who attend are committed.  The silver lining in the decline of organized religion is that the parishioners who would come to church mainly to be seen have fallen away. Only the dedicated are left in the nearly empty pews. 

This is the church I look forward to attending regularly when services are allowed to resume. Its small but ardent numbers call to mind the words of Jesus: ‘For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.’  

. . . . . . . . . . 

I was profoundly touched on reading a conversation between Swami Ramakrishnananda and an Irish monk who had converted to Buddhism, disavowing the Catholic faith in which he was raised.  To the monk Swami said, ‘God can be attained through all paths. You could have got liberation by following your own religion.  You have made a blunder by giving up your own [Catholic] religion and accepting another.’  For the swami, the monk’s blunder lay not in his embracing of Buddhism, but in his rejection of his native religion, where everything he would need to realize God was already at hand.  

It would be splendid to see a Vedanta Society grow up in the west of Ireland, bringing to light in this region the teachings of Ramakrishna and Vivekananda, all the while seen as a unity with the traditional Catholic faith. There already are wonderful spiritual riches all about here – people here only need to be awakened to them.  If Vedanta can be propagated in such a way as to breathe new life into the ancient Catholic traditions, it will surely catch fire among the latent Irish spiritual seekers now disaffected from their country’s religious past.  

Every Indian child growing up is exposed to the stories and myths surrounding such divine figures as Krishna and Rama.  The Irish too have access to a vast treasury of spiritual legends, made tangible in the stone crosses, holy wells and monastic ruins from Ireland’s glorious past.  I will mention just two places of pilgrimage near where I live that I am fond of visiting: Balintubber and Knock. 

Across the lake from my village and some miles to the north is Ballintubber Abbey, where Mass has been said without interruption for eight hundred years.  Norman invaders burned the Abbey in the 13th century, English kings further suppressed it, and Cromwell’s soldiers burned down the Abbey roof and surrounding buildings in 1653 – but the Abbey walls remained standing, and Mass continued to be celebrated in the apse of the church.  A short walk from the Abbey is St. Patrick’s well, where the legendary fifth-century patron saint of Ireland is said to have baptized his converts (and from which Balintubber, “village of the well”, gets its name).  A nearby stone is said to bear the imprint of the saint’s knee. 

Balintubber Abbey, restored 

Several times each year, beginning on Easter Monday, pilgrims assemble here to walk an ancient 22-mile route known as Tóchar Phádraig, or St. Patrick’s Causeway.  Their destination is Croagh Patrick, the sacred mountain on whose summit the great founder saint of Ireland fasted for forty days in 441 AD.  The priest leading the walk is in high spirits as he points out dozens of spots along the way, each with a story of its own.  There is, for example, the ‘Dancora’ (bath of the righteous) where medieval pilgrims, in ritual expression of being cleansed of sin, washed after their pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick before their return home. Hot stones kept the water in the Dancora warm. 

Ruins of Balintubber Abbey 

It is said that when St. Patrick ended his fast on the mountain summit, he threw a silver bell down the mountain knocking Corra, the mother of all demons, out of the sky and into Lough Nacorra where she drowned. He then banished all the snakes in Ireland into the sea. Some believe that snakes were regarded as symbols of the druids, the high priests of the pre-Christian Celts.   

There is no paved path up the steep mountain, only sand, mud, rocks and gravel.  In days gone by the especially devout would sometimes climb the mountain on their knees.  Halfway up the mountain is a cairn of rocks, atop which you will find a small informal shrine.  Coming close you will see it is devoted to the twentieth-century Italian saint Padre Pio, who was known for his extreme piety and service to the sick, and for the stigmata which he tried to conceal but could not, much to the consternation of his superiors in the Church. 

Twenty miles to the northeast of Ballintubber is Knock, where in 1879 fifteen villagers had a vision of Mother Mary on the outer wall of their parish church.  Wearing a crown and dressed in white, she was flanked by the Lamb of God, Saint Joseph and St. John the Evangelist.  For two hours the villagers were transfixed by the vision as they recited their rosary on bended knee.  When Pope John Paul II visited Knock to celebrate Mass one hundred years later, he was greeted by a throng of nearly half a million – about one in ten inhabitants of the country. 

Pilgrims at the Knock Shrine in the 19th century 

Over the years Knock has become a major center of pilgrimage, with a modern basilica that dwarfs the original parish church. It even has its own airport. Nonetheless, in the off-season Knock can be surprisingly quiet and intimate.   

On one of my visits to the town I was graced with the company of an American sannyasin, who toured the site enthusiastically.  Naturally outgoing and spontaneous, he entered into spirited conversation with one of the many shopkeepers along the main street that sold statues and other memorabilia of the Shrine.  I was skeptical that such a shopkeeper would have any interest in a place of pilgrimage beyond the purely mercantile.  But how delighted I was when our swami emerged with several mementoes of Padre Pio presented to him as gifts.  The shopkeeper was in fact a sincere devotee of Padre Pio and a devout Christian – as doubtless are countless other merchants and hoteliers at pilgrim centers, grateful for the privilege of dwelling and making their living in a holy place. 

St. John The Evangelist, Mother Mary, St. Joseph, and the Lamb of God surrounded by angels 

John Curry (d. 1943), last living witness of the apparition 

Mother Teresa visiting the Shrine 

Friday, May 29, 2020 

Walking home the other day from the village, we noticed the front entrance to the Catholic church was open. Almost on tiptoe we approached and opened the inner door.  The apse was empty and still, save for three or four votive candles burning near the main altar.  We sat and prayed and meditated awhile.  It had been two months since we had last been inside of a place of worship – how cooling was the relief we felt, how soothing the knowledge that we could come back again to sit where the Lord was especially manifest. 

Saturday, June 19, 2020 

The lockdown continues to lift. We expect services to resume in our Church of Ireland Sunday after next.  It will be joyful to see again the little band of parishioners whose acquaintance we had just begun to make earlier this year. The Catholic church in the village has been raising funds for, among other things, repair of the church bells so that we can hear their living musical tones once again. Yet the church will not be able to resume its services for some time in order to respect social distancing. And when it does, how soon will the choir sing together again? When will congregants join together again in the body and blood of Christ?  

Nowadays the word ‘together’ evokes hope and fear and anxious caution.  The realization is dawning on us all that even after the pandemic has become a distant memory, its impact on our lives will be lasting and disruptive. Things cannot and will not go back to as they were before.  

Old forms are dissipating, new forms are in creation, yet the Divine and our relation to Him stay the same, at all times and in every place. 

A Vedantist in Ireland

Saturday, March 28, 2020 

I can hear the church bells ring for noontime Angelus from our house in Connemara.  They are a reminder to repeat a prayer: 

The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary, 
And she conceived of the Holy Spirit. 

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art Thou . . . 

Now and at the hour of our death. 

The Divine Mother everywhere is the remover of obstacles and affliction.  But in Ireland we pray to Mary in particular to intercede with Jesus her son and with God the Father in times of distress.  If there has ever been a time to ask for her help, it is during this Covid-19 pandemic, for those who are sick or facing destitution or otherwise in fear. 

The bells of this Catholic church are virtual. Their machine-generated tones, broadcast from loudspeakers, reverberate over the unnaturally still streets of the village. 

The following day (Sunday) 

Only one or two parishioners are allowed inside the Catholic church to assist the priest for Mass. I am not one of them. 

But I can see the priest in my mind’s eye.  I can hear him repeat Christ’s words, ‘Do this in memory of me.’ And I ask – is it merely memory?  Is not the Last Supper being recreated at this moment?  Does not the remembrance by even a single worshipper usher the Lord’s Lila into existence? 

Meditating on the Eucharist through the lens of the Gita, we understand the Mass as the eternal sacrifice.  The sacramental host, the act of its offering, he who consecrates the host in the inner flame of his being – if you realize the Divine in each of these, you will reach the Divine. 

Meanwhile – the little village where I live has eight rumored cases of Covid-19, which, relative to its tiny size, implies an astronomical rate of infection. Naturally people here are fearful.  They accept lockdown without reservation.  As recent arrivals from abroad, my wife and I are more restricted than the other villagers – we may not enter shops or any public building.  

Sunday, April 26, 2020 

Now the church is live-streaming Mass with an iPhone for camera. It is reassuring to watch, to picture myself there, though the priest sings off key and his words are difficult to make out as they echo across the near-empty cavern of the church. 

A month ago the villagers were just afraid of the virus.  Now they are restless to boot. Emotions are raw and ever on the verge of multiplying like uncontrollable audio feedback. Still, these Irish are practical people. In their hearts they are calm, they view the pandemic as one more passing thing.  Life will return to the old ways sooner or later.  Shops and pubs will reopen, crowds will watch the Galway races elbow-to-elbow, and churches will fill up on the major feast days. This is a conservative place where tradition dies hard, if it ever dies at all. Famines and wars have devastated this part of Ireland, forcing half the population to emigrate and decimating the rest.  Those who remained passed down to their descendants a stubborn identity as Catholic Connemara Irish. 

For seven centuries, the English colonial rulers suppressed the native Irish and their Catholic religion.  They starved the populace, reduced it to serfdom, burned its churches and banished or killed its priests. They cynically offered conversion to Protestantism as a way up and out for those who would repudiate their Catholic faith – but few accepted the offer. Instead, mistreatment by the English bound the Irish forever more tightly to their church. 

But he Catholic church in Ireland isn’t what it used to be.  I think for Irish society at large that is actually a good thing.  Years of unjust persecution conferred immense moral authority on the Irish Catholic church. Subsequent years of arrogance and complacency have effectively squandered that authority.  The Church has slid increasingly into irrelevance, causing pews to empty out, vocations to thin, and young people to tell the reporters from Irish Television that the Church means nothing to them.   

But you wouldn’t know it out here in the country.  Most people here identify themselves with a parish – there are several in the area – and go to Mass at least monthly.  Though no longer its unrivalled heart, the parish church remans a vital organ of the community. 

Catholicism is the de facto religion of the west of Ireland to a degree unimaginable to most twenty-first century Americans.  Newspapers and radio stations keep their audiences up to date with local parish services and holy day activities, and host opinion columns by local clergy.  In the shops you will find cards for novenas and Holy Communion mixed in with the birthday cards. The ubiquitous Catholic ‘national’ schools are funded by the State. 

A half block up the main street is another church in my village – the Church of Ireland, as the Anglican Church in Ireland is called.  All over the Republic, the Church of Ireland is struggling, because Protestants are nowadays few, less than one in twenty among the populace.  Also, Protestantism is a reminder of the English occupation, though the Irish for the most part no longer bear any ill will toward the English. Once upon a time this was the established church in Ireland, meaning that all Irish, including the Catholic majority, had to tithe in its support.  Two hundred years ago on any Sunday morning this little church would be filled with dozens of soldiers from the local British garrison, their bright scarlet uniforms standing out among the plainer clothes of the local landowners and merchants.  Now the church is lucky to have a dozen souls in attendance on a given Sunday.  But those who attend are committed.  The silver lining in the decline of organized religion is that the parishioners who would come to church mainly to be seen have fallen away. Only the dedicated are left in the nearly empty pews. 

This is the church I look forward to attending regularly when services are allowed to resume. Its small but ardent numbers call to mind the words of Jesus: ‘For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.’  

. . . . . . . . . . 

I was profoundly touched on reading a conversation between Swami Ramakrishnananda and an Irish monk who had converted to Buddhism, disavowing the Catholic faith in which he was raised.  To the monk Swami said, ‘God can be attained through all paths. You could have got liberation by following your own religion.  You have made a blunder by giving up your own [Catholic] religion and accepting another.’  For the swami, the monk’s blunder lay not in his embracing of Buddhism, but in his rejection of his native religion, where everything he would need to realize God was already at hand.  

It would be splendid to see a Vedanta Society grow up in the west of Ireland, bringing to light in this region the teachings of Ramakrishna and Vivekananda, all the while seen as a unity with the traditional Catholic faith. There already are wonderful spiritual riches all about here – people here only need to be awakened to them.  If Vedanta can be propagated in such a way as to breathe new life into the ancient Catholic traditions, it will surely catch fire among the latent Irish spiritual seekers now disaffected from their country’s religious past.  

Every Indian child growing up is exposed to the stories and myths surrounding such divine figures as Krishna and Rama.  The Irish too have access to a vast treasury of spiritual legends, made tangible in the stone crosses, holy wells and monastic ruins from Ireland’s glorious past.  I will mention just two places of pilgrimage near where I live that I am fond of visiting: Balintubber and Knock. 

Across the lake from my village and some miles to the north is Ballintubber Abbey, where Mass has been said without interruption for eight hundred years.  Norman invaders burned the Abbey in the 13th century, English kings further suppressed it, and Cromwell’s soldiers burned down the Abbey roof and surrounding buildings in 1653 – but the Abbey walls remained standing, and Mass continued to be celebrated in the apse of the church.  A short walk from the Abbey is St. Patrick’s well, where the legendary fifth-century patron saint of Ireland is said to have baptized his converts (and from which Balintubber, “village of the well”, gets its name).  A nearby stone is said to bear the imprint of the saint’s knee. 

Balintubber Abbey, restored 

Several times each year, beginning on Easter Monday, pilgrims assemble here to walk an ancient 22-mile route known as Tóchar Phádraig, or St. Patrick’s Causeway.  Their destination is Croagh Patrick, the sacred mountain on whose summit the great founder saint of Ireland fasted for forty days in 441 AD.  The priest leading the walk is in high spirits as he points out dozens of spots along the way, each with a story of its own.  There is, for example, the ‘Dancora’ (bath of the righteous) where medieval pilgrims, in ritual expression of being cleansed of sin, washed after their pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick before their return home. Hot stones kept the water in the Dancora warm. 

Ruins of Balintubber Abbey 

It is said that when St. Patrick ended his fast on the mountain summit, he threw a silver bell down the mountain knocking Corra, the mother of all demons, out of the sky and into Lough Nacorra where she drowned. He then banished all the snakes in Ireland into the sea. Some believe that snakes were regarded as symbols of the druids, the high priests of the pre-Christian Celts.   

There is no paved path up the steep mountain, only sand, mud, rocks and gravel.  In days gone by the especially devout would sometimes climb the mountain on their knees.  Halfway up the mountain is a cairn of rocks, atop which you will find a small informal shrine.  Coming close you will see it is devoted to the twentieth-century Italian saint Padre Pio, who was known for his extreme piety and service to the sick, and for the stigmata which he tried to conceal but could not, much to the consternation of his superiors in the Church. 

Twenty miles to the northeast of Ballintubber is Knock, where in 1879 fifteen villagers had a vision of Mother Mary on the outer wall of their parish church.  Wearing a crown and dressed in white, she was flanked by the Lamb of God, Saint Joseph and St. John the Evangelist.  For two hours the villagers were transfixed by the vision as they recited their rosary on bended knee.  When Pope John Paul II visited Knock to celebrate Mass one hundred years later, he was greeted by a throng of nearly half a million – about one in ten inhabitants of the country. 

Pilgrims at the Knock Shrine in the 19th century 

Over the years Knock has become a major center of pilgrimage, with a modern basilica that dwarfs the original parish church. It even has its own airport. Nonetheless, in the off-season Knock can be surprisingly quiet and intimate.   

On one of my visits to the town I was graced with the company of an American sannyasin, who toured the site enthusiastically.  Naturally outgoing and spontaneous, he entered into spirited conversation with one of the many shopkeepers along the main street that sold statues and other memorabilia of the Shrine.  I was skeptical that such a shopkeeper would have any interest in a place of pilgrimage beyond the purely mercantile.  But how delighted I was when our swami emerged with several mementoes of Padre Pio presented to him as gifts.  The shopkeeper was in fact a sincere devotee of Padre Pio and a devout Christian – as doubtless are countless other merchants and hoteliers at pilgrim centers, grateful for the privilege of dwelling and making their living in a holy place. 

St. John The Evangelist, Mother Mary, St. Joseph, and the Lamb of God surrounded by angels 

John Curry (d. 1943), last living witness of the apparition 

Mother Teresa visiting the Shrine 

Friday, May 29, 2020 

Walking home the other day from the village, we noticed the front entrance to the Catholic church was open. Almost on tiptoe we approached and opened the inner door.  The apse was empty and still, save for three or four votive candles burning near the main altar.  We sat and prayed and meditated awhile.  It had been two months since we had last been inside of a place of worship – how cooling was the relief we felt, how soothing the knowledge that we could come back again to sit where the Lord was especially manifest. 

Saturday, June 19, 2020 

The lockdown continues to lift. We expect services to resume in our Church of Ireland Sunday after next.  It will be joyful to see again the little band of parishioners whose acquaintance we had just begun to make earlier this year. The Catholic church in the village has been raising funds for, among other things, repair of the church bells so that we can hear their living musical tones once again. Yet the church will not be able to resume its services for some time in order to respect social distancing. And when it does, how soon will the choir sing together again? When will congregants join together again in the body and blood of Christ?  

Nowadays the word ‘together’ evokes hope and fear and anxious caution.  The realization is dawning on us all that even after the pandemic has become a distant memory, its impact on our lives will be lasting and disruptive. Things cannot and will not go back to as they were before.  

Old forms are dissipating, new forms are in creation, yet the Divine and our relation to Him stay the same, at all times and in every place. 

The Crystal Award 2021

s.

The Crystal Award 2021 for excellence in art hosted at Raj Bhavan was conferred by the Governor of Meghalaya Shri Satyapal Malik to Mr Wanhi-i Challam of Chilliang Raij, Jowai at Raj Bhavan today the 12 of August, 2021. The fourth edition of award instituted by Riti Academy was awarded to Wanhi-i Challam for his excellence in animation film. Speaking as chief guest during the occasion, Shri Satya Pal Malik, Governor of Meghalaya emphasised on the need for art education in the state for graduate, post graduate courses and advanced studies in visual arts. he lauded the efforts of Riti Academy and urged upon the State government to provide necessary support in this regard. Other guests who spoke on the occasion included Commissioner & Secretary, Arts And Culture Department, Federick R Kharkongor, and Chief Art Director, Riti Academy of Visual Arts, Mr Raphael Warjri. The Commissioner & Secretary, Arts And Culture Department, Federick R Kharkongor, also lauded the Chief Art Director of Riti Academy, Raphael Warjri for his continued efforts in not only promoting art but also identifying and nurturing upcoming artists in the field. He reminded those present that art is immortal and lives beyond generations and praised the novel cause of Riti Academy that had instituted the Crystal Awards to celebrate the works of various upcoming artists across the State. The chief art director of Riti Academy, Raphael Warjri in his address expressed his gratitude to the Governor of Meghalaya for having hosted the award ceremony at the raj bhavan, Shillong. Raphael Warjri further expressed his desire for an art college to be set up in the state as potential expertise and other prospects are available except for certain resources that would require the support from the State Government and other private initiatives and stakeholders

Phan Nonglait (the First Khasi Lady Freedom Fighter)

Ka Phan Nonglait is among the few local ethnic conceptual painting based on historical narrative about the first among female freedom fighters from the region. Ka Phan Nonglait was an astute female warrior who fought alongside Tirot Sing Syiem.
Shanborlang Kharbudon ‘Sdenzil’ is a self-taught and accomplished artist of Shillong with creative nuances for design. He had designed several album cover and corporate merchandise for a wide range of purpose with clientele extending even to western countries. Some of his artworks depicted ethnic concept with contemporary applied skill, while others are trendy and universal yet original to his innovative style.

Pashupatinath Temple (A painting by Shri Bikram Bir Thapa)

Cradled among the lofty peaks of the Himalayas, the ancient Pashupatinath Temple stands with all its grandeur and glory in Kathmandu, Nepal. Although a silent witness to trumpets of dynasties and nuances of common people, you may hear its bricks whisper some untold stories if you care to. Shri Bikrambir Thapa pulled out one such thread from the time warp of the colonial era.
Amidst the distracting details of the temple, we see a white woman walking near the temple gates. However, the gates of the grand temple remain barred to her.

The painter believes that if the priests could come over the orthodoxy and threw open the doors instead, she, and the likes of her, would not have been alienated. And instead of influencing us with their culture, the West could have bathed in the spirituality of the East.