The Sacred Groves of Meghalaya

Many villages in Ri Khasi or Ri Hynñiew Trep, comprising the districts of East and West Khasi Hills, Ri Bhoi and Jaiñtia Hills, are bordered by what is commonly known here as a sacred grove. In many cases, this is a misnomer, since they are actually enormous forests. Such forests, however, did not become sacred on their own or because of some supernatural visitation. They were sanctified by men through religious rites and solemn prayers, and much pleading with God, U Blei, asking him to bless and consecrate them and charge the guardian spirit of villages and the wilderness, U Ryngkew U Basa, with the task of protecting and preserving them. There might have been a thousand and one reasons why such deliberate sanctification of woodlands was carried out, but I will enumerate only some of the most obvious of these.
At the root of it all is the Khasi pantheistic philosophy and their belief that God exists in all things, animals and people within the universe. In short, to Khasis, God is the universe and manifests most closely through nature. Therefore, to disregard nature is to disregard God, and to deprive forests of trees is to deny God his favourite haunt on earth. Because of this, the old Khasis never indulged in wanton destruction. When they went to the forest to cut wood, for instance, realising that everything must carry God’s sanction according to Ka Hukum Blei, the Divine Law, they would do the job only after paying obeisance to God through the ceremony of Ka Nguh ka Dem, the bow the homage. As part of the ceremony, the woodcutter would have to intone words of supplication before he could even touch a tree:
Look here, that I have come to cut you down is not because I detest you or want to destroy you without cause. I have a great need for you. Through Ka Hukum, the Divine Law, God himself has given me his consent that I may cause your fall, so you too may have a role in all my undertakings, so you may live again by becoming a part of my home, a part of my fields and gardens. Therefore, allow me, obey me, bend to my will, so I may fell you with a machete or an axe, for even though you may fall now, yet your fame shall rise and grow before God. Before the spirits, it shall rise, before kings and nobles, before priests and elders, before all the people from generation to generation. So that your seeds, your branches, your trunk may proliferate, may spread, may rise, may grow, hey ho, I have given you my blessing, hey ho, God will give you his blessing, and you too, forgive me. I have spoken.
It is owing to this unique green consciousness that the old Khasis used to maintain forests where the felling of trees was either prohibited or regulated. Foremost among them were the law kyntang, the sacred groves and sacred forests. In this type of woodland, not only is the cutting of trees forbidden, but also, nothing can be taken out of it: not a fruit, not a flower, not even a single leaf.
The most famous law kyntang in Ri Khasi is the Law Lyngdoh sacred grove at Mawphlang, about twenty-four kilometres south-west of Shillong. The grove is so named because it belongs to the Lyngdoh Mawphlang clan (the priestly as well as the ruling clan of the traditional state of Mawphlang), which had sanctified and dedicated it to God and the guardian spirit, U Ryngkew U Basa.
According to legend, the sacred grove had been founded by an enterprising woman by the name of Khmah Nongsai. The legend goes back to the very beginning of Mawphlang’s history, to how elders of the Ïangblah clan were one day compelled to perform obsecration ceremonies appealing to God for a sign as to who should be their future ruler.

Inside the Law Lyngdoh Mawphlang.

The clan had originally migrated from Ri Pnar (Jaiñtia Hills) and was in control of the state, but for some unknown reasons, there seemed to be widespread discontent with it at the time. The augurs and diviners who conducted the egg-breaking rituals and extispicy, which is the use of animal entrails for divination, declared that a woman named Khmah Nongsai had been revealed to them as the most fitting person to be the ruler of Mawphlang. Nobody knew who she was. Even the diviners had only learnt that she lived in a place called Laitsohma, in the state of Sohra, with her husband, Lyhir Sohtun.
Ka Khmah Nongsai and her two uncles, in fact, had been wandering from place to place for reasons not very clear. One story says she was orphaned after an outbreak of cholera and had to leave home with her uncles to search for new places to farm. Another says she and her uncles had to run away because of a conspiracy to wipe out her family since they were considered a threat to the state’s ruling clan. Whatever the reason, Khmah first went towards Ri Bhoi in north Ri Khasi and settled down in a place called Patharkhmah. Later, she left for a village called Nongsai, and that may be why she was known as Ka Khmah Nongsai, after Patharkhmah and Nongsai. Next, Khmah shifted to the village of Mawlieh in contemporary East Khasi Hills, where she met her husband, who took her to Mylliem in the state of Shyllong. However, owing to differences with a powerful clan, they moved away to settle in Laitsohma.
It was to this place that the Ïangblah elders went to meet Khmah Nongsai and offer her the state of Mawphlang. But she did not appear to be interested. She said she would seek divine guidance by planting diengsohma (a kind of rhus tree) and diengsning (a species of oak) saplings, one of each, in Laitsohma and Phiphandi in Mawphlang. She promised the Ïangblah elders that she would settle in the place where both the saplings grew well. When the saplings were inspected a year later, only one was growing in Laitsohma, whereas both were alive and well in Phiphandi. This prompted her to go to Mawphlang to become the first ancestress of Lyngdoh Mawphlang, the priestly ruling clan. Khmah Nongsai also had Phiphandi consecrated as a special place of worship, where the religious ceremonies of the clan could be conducted. As part of the ceremonies, more and more trees were added until the entire area grew to become a large grove that has remained sacred to this day.

Climbing plants and orchids colonizing an
ancient tree at the Mawphlang Sacred Grove.

This centuries-old woodland is a temperate rainforest with evergreen broadleaved trees. It can be described as a biodiversity wonderland, not only because of the variety of trees in it but also because of the diverse plants, flowers, insects and birds. Enter the
grove, and it is like walking into a vast, dimly lit dome with sunlight barely filtering through the canopy of incredibly old trees, many with a thick covering of green moss and lichen, and others with a decoration of wildflowers and orchids of various species. The floor is covered with a carpet of rotting, rufescent leaves, several inches thick, judging from the way one’s feet sink into them. The atmosphere is as peaceful and solemn as a house of worship. One can hear only the calming sounds of the forest. The water from its many springs is heavenly.
L.H. Pde, a Khasi writer who has done some research on the sacred grove, tells many stories of how it is protected by the guardian spirit, Basa. He says, for instance:
Ever since I was a small boy, I have heard tales of the Basa. It comes, they say, in two forms, snake and tiger. If a person goes into the grove to do anything destructive, such as cutting grass for his pigs, the Basa will appear as a snake and position himself in the sty, so that the pig will not dare to venture inside. When people see such strange happenings, they begin to enquire where the grass came from. Then they say to the snake, ‘Go, please. They have done wrong and abuse the grove.’ Then, as the people throw the grass back where it was taken from, the snake will disappear.
Elsewhere in the same article, he says:
The locals also consider the Basa, in the form of a tiger, to be a guardian of innocent people. When suddenly, for some reason, people near the grove find themselves overcome with fear, they may cry out, ‘O —i, O Kong, O Ryngkew, O Basa, please protect us from danger.’ Immediately, it is said, the characteristically guttural sounds of the tiger, ‘khor, khor, khor’, will be heard at their backs and the tiger’s spirit felt on all sides. And when they consider that they are out of danger, they send the Basa away.
The kind of total prohibition on the exploitation of forest resources that Pde speaks of is more or less true of all the sacred forests in Ri Khasi, sometimes also known as ki law lyngdoh, where the ruling clans of a state perform their religious rites. There are some, however, like those in the Sohra areas, where the felling of trees for very specific purposes are allowed after the mandatory ritualistic pleading with God. Now, unfortunately, the rituals are not observed except in some places.
Many have asked me if the Khasis had had entire woodlands consecrated for the love of God. The answer is ‘No.’
To imagine that, would be to idealise the community beyond belief. Of course, given their natural respect for trees and forests, the Khasis must have found conservation as a policy easier to implement. But definite and pressing needs for such conservation must also have been felt. That is why, apart from the sacred groves and sacred forests, there are also other types of protected woodlands. Among them are ki law adong (prohibited forests) or law shnong (village forests), controlled by village authorities; ki law raij (community forests), controlled by the state; and ki law kur (clan forests), controlled by elders of the clan. These forests are not subject to total prohibition, although their use is carefully regulated by the authorities concerned.
For instance, when a village allows trees to be cut for firewood from a prohibited forest, only a portion of it is declared open for use. If the east wing is opened, the inhabitants are assigned their shares only in that wing after they have paid the fees to the village council. Other parts of the forests are strictly prohibited. Also protected are saplings and young trees that have not reached a certain prescribed girth. This is how other types of forests are regulated too. Even in the so-called law pyllait (unprohibited forests, found mostly around Sohra or Cherrapunjee), which can be freely exploited by citizens for domestic purposes, wanton acts of destruction are not permitted.
There are many complex reasons for the Khasis’ veneration of forests. For one, the hills were given to fits

The Sanctified Grove at Khlieh Shnong, Sohra.

of furious rain and wind, which often put houses and the lives of men and domestic animals at risk. The forest surrounding a village formed a natural wind-break that considerably lessened the threat of decimation at the hands of these primal forces.
To the old Khasis, the forest was a temple where priests performed their many elaborate ceremonies connected with faith and culture. It was also an enormous storehouse of everything they needed: water sources, firewood, building materials, fruits, wild vegetables, herbs, medicinal plants, wild honey, flowers and marketable orchids, animals and birds. And all of these form part of the incredible biodiversity of our forests. As an illustration of how rich and diverse our sacred forests are, take the one at Narpuh in Ri Pnar. According to a study by an environmentalist, quoted by H.H. Mohrmen, a local writer, ‘More than 400 species of birds, at least 120 species of mammals, which include 37 species of bats, 30 species of carnivores, 7 species of ungulates and 30 species of rodents are endemic to this forest. It is also the source of the three major rivers of Jaiñtia Hills: Ka Kupli, Ka Apha and Ka Lukha.’ And this is more or less true of all the sacred and prohibited forests found in Ri Khasi today.
However, the mode of cultivation in those days (unfortunately, still true today) was not very conducive to the conservation of the forest cover. The slash-and-burn method of shifting cultivation, with its large-scale clearing of jungles, had caused the depletion of these sheltering woodlands at a frightening pace. In many places, this had been exacerbated by the production of lime and the manufacture of iron, which necessitated the use of wood in furnaces. One dreads to think what havoc their complete disappearance would have wrought in these hills. Everywhere, dwellings would have been exposed to the ravages of fierce thunderstorms. Erosion on a massive scale would have taken place, and all the covering soil would have been washed away to the plains of East Bengal or Assam. Even more calamitously, springs, creeks and rivers, most of them originating from deep inside the forests, would have dried up within no time, and there would not have been enough water to drink in the dry, windy months between winter and spring. Moreover, no trees would have meant no firewood, and the poor would have been left without a free supply of timber to build their homes and burn their dead. No trees would have meant no birds or animals, no life of any sort—complete desertification.
These must have been some of the most powerful reasons that prompted the ancient Khasis to conserve at least those woods that lay near their villages. And it certainly speaks volumes of their civic wisdom. But perhaps the most unusual motive for conservation is also the least talked about: the call of nature. For, above all else, the forest, to a Khasi, also meant, and still means, in many places, one gigantic loo.
A small clarification here. Sacred forests cannot be desecrated in this manner. When we were kids, we used to do it in the prohibited forests. But many people mistakenly refer to them as sacred groves or sacred forests. You may very well ask, ‘How come?’
You see, having determined the necessity for conservation as a policy, the ancient Khasis sought effective ways to implement it. They settled on sanctification, called on God and his serving spirit, U Ryngkew U Basa, performed rites and pronounced injunctions to prevent anyone from defiling a forest so sanctified. Any surreptitious felling of trees, for instance, would invite upon them not only the wrath of man but also that of God and the preserving spirit. That done, these wise men of the past sat back and dared all possible offenders to call their bluff. But such sanctification, was done not only in the case of sacred forests, the Khasi temples, where any act of desecration is strictly forbidden, but also in all categories of prohibited forests. Hence, the confusion.
And if you question the wisdom or effectiveness of sanctification as a strategy, this is what I would ask: is the manner of conservation today more competent? The forest department spends crores every year on the salaries of forest guards alone. Sanctification does not require any guards to protect its trees.
I strongly feel there’s an urgent need to revive the tradition of sanctifying forests to meet the challenges of climate change and global warming, and as a countermeasure to the large-scale commercial logging and charcoal burning in our state, which continue unchecked despite the Supreme Court ban. New forests should be created out of barren hills and unused land. The village forests, controlled by the village authorities, and the community forests, controlled by the traditional state authorities, should all be converted into sacred forests to render them more secure. At the same time, alternative means of livelihood and new modes of cooking and heating homes should be made available.

Dr Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih, poet, writer, and translator, and writes in both Khasi and English. Nongkynrih works as Reader in the Department of English, North-Eastern Hill University (NEHU), Shillong. He ws awarded a ‘Fellowship for Outstanding Artists 2000’ by the Government of India. He also received the first North-East Poetry Award in 2004 from the North-East India Poetry Council, Tripura.

Shillong – About Identity and Nostalgia

While watching 83 the film at a multiplex in Kolkata a friend and I were reminiscing stories we had heard about the final from our parents. We were of course too young to remember anything about the iconic run the Indian team had, but we could recollect the stories. For me, these stories were of course about the game of cricket and brand India but they were also about Shillong. In 1983, there were not too many TV sets in the then sleepy town of Shillong. So I remember my father telling me about how his friends and colleagues had come over to our home in Jail Road and they had watched the match for some time.
For any child who has seen Shillong of the 80s and 90s, the memories are so different from the Shillong of today that it seems almost unreal, a leaf out of the book of fiction. My earliest memories of Jail Road revolve around the TV set, much like the day the finale match. Those were the days of Doordarshan and probably a film would be telecast on Sunday evenings. Few neighbours would come along and even though I was too young to watch a film I enjoyed the presence of so many people, the laughter, and the warmth that filled our home. Two furry friends of our neighbours would also come along. Like me, they weren’t interested in the film and wouldn’t bother anyone watching the film. I remember they’d dutifully sit in the veranda and maybe keep a watch as everyone also around them would be engrossed in the movie. During the interval, my mother would make tea and feed the dogs with some biscuits. Sometimes there’d be a power cut and all the elders would just sit and chat for hours. If the electricity was restored, they’d watch the film again, if not they’d just chat and eventually go home, some complaining about not being able to watch the film again.
Those were also the days when there’d be regional language films on Doordarshan every Sunday. No one had dreamt of OTT in the 80s and therefore I remember my parents would be excited every time it was the turn of the letter ‘B’. Some weeks they were lucky. On others, there was a powercut.
Eventually, every house around us got their own TV sets. But the feeling of a neighborhood or community continued to be as strong as it was earlier. Houses in the 80s didn’t have too many gates and fences. And so if we had to go from one house to another or take a shortcut to Polo, we would go through a neighbour’s house and they’d go through ours. The courtyards and gates were always open and yet everybody was safe. In grief and in joy people were always together and when the squash plants were full and it was time to pluck the produce. I remember we’d sent bags full to our neighbours and the years our plants just refused to stay green we’d get bags full from our neighbours. There was so much unadulterated joy in these simple acts. Now when vegetables are just a click away, it feels unreal that such a tiny vegetable would have so much power to connect households.
On the days of cricket matches, power cuts were absolute dampers and I remember neighbours talking turns to call the electric supply office. Sometimes the same person would call with two different accents.
A very important part of my childhood was of course my days as a student of Loreto Convent. And when we say ‘life was so simple then’, we might sound like really old people. But life indeed was. On school fetes, we’d get about 4-5 rupees and with that money, we’d feel like a princess for half of a day. The taxis in Shillong weren’t as popular as it is today. So we’d go by bus, including those that are vintage today and the signature of Shillong. The Volvos that run in cities today, air-conditioned and with comfortable seats will never probably feel like something you’d want to hold on to. But even today whenever I visit Shillong, I yearn to at least get a glimpse of the bus that is a free ride back to childhood.
Also, everyone that has ever studied in Loreto Convent would know the aloo muri that was sold outside school. Now street food is almost celebrated. There are festivals and every city has its favorites. But that’s a taste I’d never forget and also always revisit every time I am in town.
Or I yearn for a glimpse of the old Police Bazar. Was just a child when Kelvin Cinema and the shops around were gutted in a fire, but I remember the tiny shop around there that would cell peppermint lozenges and that was my treat from my mother. And then there were the paper stalls in Police Bazar, which are now housed in the shopping complex, but the feel of those tiny shops was so real and personal. When the new building was being constructed I remember I was in Shillong for a vacation. The university had probably closed for the summer break. And there I was standing there lamenting the old giving way to the new. A friend had said that is the development and maybe it is. It is also necessary. But quietly just like that things fade into memories and memories are eternal.
Like the houses of Shillong, maybe sleep was this easy to come by because of the lullaby the rain drops would sing on the asbestos roof tops. But after a point we’d be so parched for sunlight that the days when the sun was up it was almost a celeration. For someone who has laid her roots in a city at a much lower altitude, I am mostly parched for rain and that monotonous sound on my roof. Or the ‘planking’ that those houses had, where many games of hide and seek were played.
Its been two decades since I have shifted base. But everytime I eat an orange in the winter sun or a simple dry fish is cooked at home, I am in Shillong. Everytime I see the blue sky I am a child. Or every time a well baked biscuit is served my heart aches for Shillong. Shillong is homeland and identity and Muse for my stories and that sense of being privileged to have been born and raised in the town will always remain an important part of my identity.

The Goddesses Ka Ngot and Ka Iam

Illustrations: Henpilien
Ka Iam and Ka Ngot, the twin daughters of the god of Shillong, were two very beautiful beings; they were lively and frolicsome, and were indulged and given much freedom by the family. Like all twins they were never happy if long separated. One day the two climbed to the top of the Shillong mountain to survey the country. In the distance they saw the woody plains of Sylhet, and they playfully challenged one another to run a race to see who would reach the plains first.
Ka Ngot was more retiring and timid than her sister, and was half afraid to begin the race; Ka Iam, on the other hand, was venturesome and fearless, and had been called Ka Iam because of her noisy and turbulent disposition. Before the race she spoke very confidently of her own victory, and teased her sister on account of her timidity.
After a little preparation for the journey the twins transformed themselves into two rivers and started to run their race. Ka Ngot, searching for smooth and easy places, meandered slowly, taking long circuits, and came in time to Sylhet; but not finding her sister there, she [53]went forward to Chhatak, and on slowly towards Dewara. Seeing no sign yet of her sister, she became very anxious and turned back to seek her; and, in turning, she took a long curve which looked in the brilliant sunshine like a curved silver chain, and the Khasis living on the hill-tops, when they saw it, exclaimed with wonder: “Rupatylli, Rupatylli!” (A silver necklace, a silver necklace!) and to this day that part of the river is known as “Rupatylli.”

Ka Iam, full of vigour and ambition, did not linger to look for easy passages, but with a noisy rush she plunged straight in the direction of Shella, the shortest cut she could find. She soon found, however, that the road she had chosen was far more difficult to travel than she had anticipated. Large rocks impeded her path at many points, and she was obliged to spend much time in boring her way through; but she pitted her young strength against all obstacles, and in time she reached Shella and came in view of the plains, where, to her chagrin, she saw that her sister had reached the goal before her, and was coming back leisurely to meet her. It was a great humiliation, for she had boasted of her victory before the race began, but, hoping to conceal her defeat from the world, she divided herself into five streams, and in that way entered the plains, and joined her sister. The rivers are called after the two goddesses to this day, and are known as “Ka Um Ngot” and “Ka Um Iam” (the river Ngot and the river Iam).

Ever since Ka Ngot won the great race she has been recognised as the greater of the two twins, and more reverence has been paid to her as a goddess. Even in the present day there are many Khasis and Syntengs who will not venture to cross the “Um Ngot” without first sacrificing to the goddess; and when, on their journeys, they happen to catch a glimpse of its waters, they salute and give a greeting of “Khublei” to the goddess Ka Ngot who won the great race.

Dougel Henpilen is an established cartoonist of Shillong who hails from Imphal, Manipur. He dud his schooling from Delhi and later passed from Jamia Milia Islamic university of Lucknow. His cartoons were featured in the very first issue of Kajingshai -the Light—under Larger Than Life Section

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. 

Seng Khasi – An Oath to the Truth

The Khasi people reside in the central and eastern part of the state of Meghalaya in North East India. They are known to be one of the oldest inhabitants of the Indian subcontinent and a significant number also live in the state of Assam and in Bangladesh. The word Khasi includes the various sub tribes of this pristine part of the world: Pnar, Bhoi, Khynriam, Maram, War, Nongtrai, Muliang, Lyngngam. The language and dialects spoken by the Khasis belong to the Austroasiatic family of languages (Mon-Khmer) at their root, but words derived from Sanskrit, Arabic and Persian are found in common usage and have enriched the language. Anthropologists and scholars have offered many theories as to the origin of the Khasi people but no single theory has been accepted conclusively. However, there is no dispute as to their mythological origins. According to Khasi mythology they descended from the celestial abode of the Divine Creator, U Blei. The foundations of the indigenous faith ‘Niam Khasi- Niamtre’ are lodged deep in the story of these origins. The spiritual truth of the faith shines within the inner meaning of the legend of ‘Ka Jingkieng Ksiar halor U Lum Sohpetbneng’ (The Golden Bridge at the Navel of the Universe).
All religions of this world convey their meanings through parables and so too does our religion. 1
(H.O. Mawrie)
The story begins at the dawn of consciousness, when the Sun and the Moon were young, and the world was silent and calm. Sixteen families of Man (Ki Khadhynriew Trep) lived in the celestial realm beyond the visible sky, beyond the stars, in cosmic harmony with the Divine Creator (U Blei). The Earth remained quiet and desolate until, Mei Ramew (Mother Earth) and U Basa (Guardian spirit of the World) were blessed with three children- Air, Water and the youngest, Fire. With time, the world began to grow. Rivers flowed, mountains grew, birds sang, flowers bloomed, the creative fires of Biskorom grew brighter- Natures song had begun. The deafening quiet was replaced by the sound of life bursting open. However, Mother Earth would need help in governing the chaos that ensued, so she pleaded to U Blei and she was answered. It was decreed in a Grand Assembly of the Gods (Dorbar Blei) that Seven families would be entrusted with the sacred task of nurturing life on Mother Earth. The seven – U Hynñiewtrep – are believed to be the progenitors of the Khasi people.
Before the seven families descended to begin their sacred duty they were blessed by U Blei with their own Way of Life and Worship (Ka Niam ka Rukom), and they made an oath to never lose their spirituality. They traversed the two worlds through a Golden Bridge (Ka Jingkieng Ksiar) that stood at the summit of the sacred hill, U Lum
Sohpetbneng – the Navel of the Universe. The bridge was a divine link that connected Man, Mother Earth and the Divine Creator. This period of harmony and unison is known as Ka Sotti Juk (Age of Purity) or Ka Aiom Ksiar (Golden Age). But, the clear conscience of the Hynñiewtrep would soon be gripped and swallowed by greed and envy (U Thlen). Man grew distant from himself, his fellow man and his sacred duty. The Golden Vines (Tangnub Tangjri) were severed. The seven had grown in wealth and numbers but they had also grown distant from their spiritual bond. The joyous soul was broken.
If they were to rebuild the divine connection they would have to look within, guided by the three tenets of Ka Jutang Sohpetbneng. The Golden Bridge (Ka Jingkieng Ksiar) now resides within a Golden Heart (Mynsiem Ksiar)- a place where the limitless energy of a joyous soul grows with and in, Truth. U Lum Sohpetbneng, stands witness to this heritage and to the spiritual reality of the ‘Hynñiewtrep’. It is the unshakable foundation of the indigenous faith, Niam Khasi- Niamtre, and a light for all to find true inner peace.
The Khasi way of life, worship, philosophy, spirituality, identity are all tied to Lum Sohpetbneng and the three tenets of the indigenous faith:
• Kamai ïa ka Hok
• Tip Briew Tip Blei
• Tip Kur Tip Kha
‘Kamai ïa ka Hok’ means to earn righteousness. Only a path of Truth brings Divine Blessings. It is stressed in the teachings that righteousness can not be given or taken – it must be earned.
‘As nothing material can be carried to the House of God, the emphasis is on earning righteousness, which is the only thing that can be associated with one forever. Hence living on Earth is a blessing as it offers greater opportunity to earn righteousness’. 2
(Sib Charan Roy jait Dkhar Sawian)
Tip Briew Tip Blei’ literally translates as ‘Know Man Know God’ but there are an infinite number of interpretations. However, they all converge into the wisdom that in order to reach the Divine, one must first search within oneself and strive to understand our fellow man. An understanding of one without the other is to fail at self-realisation.
‘Tip Kur Tip Kha’ stresses the importance of knowing both Matrilineal (Cognates) and Patrilineal (Agnates) lines. The religion is practiced based on knowledge of these relationships. The descent system is matrilineal but knowing and understanding both lines are crucial, particularly in matters pertaining to Marriage. Graceful manners are imbibed as one follows this system of respect.
The tenets weave into and greatly inform the conduct of Khasi rites, rituals and ceremonies especially in:
Ka Jer Ka Thoh- Khasi Naming Ceremony
Ka Poikha Poiman- Khasi Marriage Ceremony
Ka Ïap Ka Duh)- Cremation and last rites of the deceased.
The Khasi identity is tightly bound to the traditional faith, and the social systems, traditional forms of governance, custodianship and kinship all sprout from its foundations. Niam Khasi-Niamtre is a spirituality, philosophy, a way of life, guided by Truth – it leads, and it stands above all. A single word of Truth is greater than all untruths put together.
“Ieng ka Hok ka Shi Kyntien khyllem ka Pop Shi Byllien” (Motto of Ka Sengbah Nongshat Nongkheiñ Hynniewskum Hynñiewtrep)
“To revive the true faith of our forefathers; to understand the true meaning of conscience and truth as handed down by them, which were being neglected, misled and blinded by the teachings of foreigners”. 3
The need to protect and preserve the ancient yet timeless wisdom and knowledge of the land led to the formation of the Seng Khasi on November 23rd, 1899 by sixteen young Khasi men, all under the age of thirty. The Khasi way of life was being uprooted and replaced at a rapid rate by the imperialists who had gained control of most of the land by the latter half of the 19th century. Initially called ‘Khasi Young Men’s Association’ it took shape as the custodians and protectors of Khasi religion and culture under the guidance and mentorship of U Jeebon Roy Mairom, a pioneer, social reformer and spiritualist, described by many as the “Father of Modern Khasis”.
The Seng Khasi movement is driven not only by the aim to protect and preserve ones roots but also to progress with them intact. The founders wished to instill a true sense of pride in the Khasis, for their unique way of life and worship. They foresaw that this would bring confidence, clarity and strength to the lives of future generations. It is said that a divine thread connects the culture, traditions and values that have developed over centuries. The sixteen understood that for the religion to survive, and for peaceful and positive growth to be achieved, then this thread must be kept intact. The strength and resilience of Seng Khasi is drawn from this belief.
The last century saw a large decline in the population of Niam Khasi-Niamtre faithful. The most significant factor contributing to this fall is the proselytisation that occurred with the advent of Christianity in these hills. It began in the mid 19th century, when the British colonists ruled India and it flourished under their aegis. It continues to be seen in present times. High rates of conversion were achieved using this method in conjunction with a control over education. Education leads to material betterment in any society and in this field there was a clear monopoly. Not only was there a monopoly, a cap was kept on the level of education given. The motive for imparting education, in the early years, was to teach the natives how to read the holy book of the colonial masters.
Efforts by Seng Khasi to establish schools of their own met several hurdles. Funding was often denied unless their curriculum conformed to the ideology of the mission schools. A circular written by the first Seng Khasi Chairman, U Rash Mohon Roy Nongrum, decrying the bias in allocation of funds even reached the hands of Mahatma Gandhi, who published the circular in his magazine ‘Harijan’ and concluded with this statement:
“If what is stated here is true, it enforces the argument often advanced by me that Christian missionary effort has been favoured by the ruling power. But I advertise the circular not for the sake of emphasising my argument. I do so in order to ventilate the grievance of the Secretary of the school. Surely he has every right to object to teaching proselytising literature prepared by the missionaries. It should be remembered that the School has been in receipt of a grant from the Government. It is not clear why the question of the missionary books has now cropped up. It is hoped that the school will not be deprived of the grant of the Secretary’s very reasonable objection ”. 4
(Mahatma Gandhi, Harijan Magazine, 9th March, 1940)
As proselytisation through education progressed swiftly, the aspirations of those who had converted began to also change quickly. Khasi beliefs were deemed backward and a harsh rejection of the traditional culture and its values set in. This seed planted in the days of divide and rule has not fully withered, but the work of Seng Khasi and its sister organisations has awakened younger generations to the beauty of their ancestral faith and its universal wisdom. Self discovery through the prism of ones own culture has magnified the uniqueness as well as revealed similarities with other cultures in the subcontinent, diminishing significantly the sense of alienation and distance from fellow countrymen.
Abandonment of the traditional faith was also caused by the de-stabilisation of the unique traditional family structure, with the arrival of external forces of change and the onset of urbanisation. In the traditional set up, the eldest uncle (U Kñi Rangbah), is the caretaker, the mediator of the family, and the youngest daughter (Ka Khatduh) is the custodian of family property. The ancestral home is a place that upholds the sanctity of the lineage. It is in this home that all important family matters are discussed and religious ceremonies performed. As families relocated, maintaining this system posed many challenges, subsequently leading to a breakdown in the completion of important rites, rituals and ceremonies. This caused a withering in spirituality and in the understanding of the deeper meanings within the teachings of the religion.
By the late 1960’s, as calls for statehood started to resound, so too did a non-secular political ideology. A Christian state was envisioned by some in the chambers of power. A political wave energised by religious fervour disregarded the sentiments of the population who still belonged to the indigenous faith of the land. Even today, it is not uncommon to find articles and letters in local newspapers projecting and claiming Meghalaya as a Christian state, while simultaneously defending the need to keep India secular and decrying anyone or anything that may suggest otherwise. The existence and growth of Seng Khasi always serves as a gentle reminder that there is a religion born of this land that carries a universal ethos and fosters co-existence. This was eloquently described by an outstanding leader of Seng Khasi, U Hipshon Roy Kharshiing: “The world of religions is a garden of flowers and each religion with all its settings blooms with all its beauty and fragrance and each adds to the beauty and glory of the whole garden. Theirs is to supplement and theirs is not to supplant”.
The last 122 years have seen active steps taken by the Seng Khasi to address these issues.
Several working bodies and committees have been formed over the years that have all helped to keep the movement and its spirit alive. Today there are over three hundred branches of Seng Khasi in the Khasi Hills. In the field of education a great milestone was achieved this year as The Seng Khasi Higher Secondary School celebrated its centenary.
The working bodies of the Seng Khasi, armed with greater spiritual understanding and organisational power, have been able to revive ancient rituals and mass movements.
Amongst the most successful and powerful of revivals is the annual pilgrimage to the sanctum sanctorum at the summit of Lum Sohpetbneng (Kiew Pyneh Rngiew), held on every first Sunday of Ferbruary. On June 18th, 1989, U H. Onderson. Mawrie, who was president of Seng Khihlang at the time, wrote a letter urging U Dipshon L. Nongbri to conduct a survey of the summit of Lum Sohpetbneng, for the purpose of holding a gathering there for the Niam Khasi Niamtre faithful. Thus began the process of securing the sacred hill. Respected Seng Khasi elder, U Sumar Sing Sawian, one of the greatest Khasi minds, through his writings, brought great clarity to the origins of the faith which are found in the legend of this sacred hill. With the combined efforts of these individuals in particular and countless other, who cant all be named here, the first pilgrimage was held on 20th February, 2000. Thousands climbed to the top of Lum Sohpetbneng on that day and now even greater numbers continue to participate, growing with each passing year. The pilgrimage has created an awakening that has strengthened the spirituality of the followers of Niam Khasi Niamtre. With Lum Sohpetbneng secure under the guardianship of Seng Khasi, the indigenous religion ‘Niam Khasi-Niamtre’ it can be safely said, will never be lost.
The Seng Khasi and its sister organisations follow a philosophy of preservation through practice. The fruits of which are showing in the growing participation in religious festivals. ‘Shad Suk Mynsiem’ (Dance of the Joyful Hearts), a spring dance festival held across the Khasi hills, is witnessing increasing numbers of participants on the grassy fields. The dance is a form of public worship where peaceful souls exhibit love for their culture and offer gratitude to the Almighty. Behdeiñkhlam and Chad Sukra, organised by Seiñ Raij (a socio-religious organisation focussed on the spirtual awakening and preservation of the traditional faith in the Jaintia Hills region) are celebrated by thousands. Indigenous festivals banned by the British and kept supressed after they departed are steadily being revived.
Beginning in the late 70’s, a mass contact programme was initiated by Seng Khasi. Dynamic and fearless leaders such as Hipshon Roy Kharshiing, H.O. Mawrie, and R.T. Rymbai, toured all over the Khasi and Jaintia Hills, lecturing about the ideology of Seng Khasi and the philosophy of the traditional faith. They wanted to instill a sense of pride in religious identity by awakening the people to the wisdom and beauty of the ancestral faith. In 1981, they founded Seng Khihlang (The United Endeavour Society), a branch of Seng Khasi which comprises of members of Seiñ Raij too. Two invaluable pieces of literature on Khasi religion, traditions and the history of Seng Khasi were commissioned by its Executive Committee: ‘Where Lies the Soul of our Race’ and ‘The Essence of Khasi Religion’. Another congregation aimed at inspiring and educating the future generations is Ka Lympung ki Khynnah (a gathering of Seng Khasi and Seiñ Raij youth). Ka Sengbah U Nongshat Nongkheiñ Hynñiewskum Hynñiewtrep (Grand Organisation of Diviners) was also born out of the mother organisation and their contribution in keeping the religion alive especially in the rural areas is outstanding. The social and spiritual aspects of the ancestral faith, deeply entrenched in the teachings of its forebears, have stayed relevant to each generation due to such congregations. All these branches stem from the mother, Seng Khasi Kmie, and each one strives towards the same goal, encapsulated in the slogan “Im Ka Niam, Im Ka Jaitbynriew”, which carries the message that if the religion survives, so too will the Khasi.
“The founders of the Seng Khasi, however were firm in their resolution and steadfast in their aims and objectives. So also, in their thoughts, words and deeds. They took up the leadership with an amazing unique statesmanship to establish the organisation in a humble way. They had in their simplicity, a deep concern for the future of the Khasi race – its traditional faith, its social structure, its moral ethics; its cultural heritage and highest of all ‘Human Right’ as a Khasi”. 5
Inspired and guided by the great work laid down by those who have come before, a revival grows energised by a positive philosophy directed at awakening the spiritual truth of the land. The internal strength drawn from this has brought spiritual upliftment and community progress. Niam Khasi Niamtre, will continue to bloom in a harmonious garden of flowers, growing in strength with the spirit of Mother India. Khasi spiritual knowledge is gaining recognition as a treasure of humanity and the Seng Khasi momentum set into motion on November 23rd, 1899 grows stronger into the future.

Always take heed
O ye elders, you the youths,
All around keep vigil,
The wisdom of forebears,
Remain visible like the Sun
For Truth to ever prevail;
Cling to the Roots
Blessings from Divine Creator would shower (Poem by Sumar Sing Sawian)
The article was scripted and compiled in consultation with: Sumar Sing Sawian (Author and Scholar on Khasi Culture), Paia B. Synrem (Secretary, Seng Khasi Literary Committee) and elders of Seng Khasi (Kmie).

  1. H.O. Mawrie: “The Essence of The Khasi Religion”. 1981 Edition.
  2. H.O. Mawrie: “The Khasi Milieu”.
    [Translation of moral commandment in “Ka Niam ki Khasi”- Sib Charan Roy Sawian.
  3. Introduction. Pg 11]
  4. Seng Khasi Series No. 2: “Where Lies the Soul of Our Race”.
    Selections from the Sneng Khasi English Supplements on Khasi Culture and Religion. 1982. Page 11.
  5. Seng Khasi Series No. 2: “Where Lies the Soul of our Race”. Selections from the Sneng Khasi English Supplements on Khasi Culture and Religion, Page 17.
  6. Sweetymon Rynjah- “The Living Patriotism: A Khasi Thought” Seng Khasi Centenary Celebration Souvenir. (1899-1999). Page 126.
Hammarsing L Kharhmar, President of ‘Ka Tbian Ki Sur Hara’, a Performing Arts School of Seng Khasi (Kmie)

Ramakrishna as Example, Guide and Presence

I am a Western secular adherent or aspirant, and my talk was based on reading the many accounts of Ramakrishna. In addition, I want to comment on the presence of Ramakrishna which is part of my meditative practice and everyday life. We have many written accounts but we each only have our own everyday experience.
I find that the written and the everyday experiences penetrate each other. Without the written, the everyday loses its context, substance and logic. But without the everyday, the written is more abstract and less meaningful. Both are necessary. I suggest that one can’t meditate using the process of the Ramakrishna tradition without being exposed to his life in whatever detail makes the most sense to the aspirant.
For the non-Hindu Westerner, however, there are two aspects of his life that are puzzling: his devotion to Kali, and his status as an avatar. His devotion to Kali is the source of his understanding of himself and of his realisation of himself as God in a man’s body. His devotion explains many if not all of his actions and the basis of his discrimination. Was this devotion necessary for him? Scholars may debate this. I can say that I had a powerful very brief moment at Dakshineswar walking by statue, which had a resonance unlike other holy objects at the compound. As for his status as an avatar, I believe this is specific to Indian tradition and foreign to Westerners, and perhaps to those in some other countries with meditative traditions. For example, Tibetans (and Buddhists in general) have a belief in incarnation but not in god in man in a repeated way. One could say that the role of an avatar is to induce devotion and help mankind become more spiritual. Christianity thinks of Jesus in this way but would not use the word avatar to characterize him. These two aspects of Ramakrishna are therefore somewhat alien and perhaps outside the core of his meaning for Western aspirants.
For me Ramakrishna has three roles: an example, a guide, and a presence. Let me discuss these in turn.
I will start with Ramakrishna as an example. To illustrate this, we can use four of his well-known characteristics, his austerity, his rejection of false reasons for devotion, his openness to all paths to God and his personal renunciation.
As for austerity, there are many stories. He spent six months in thrall being fed by an itinerant monk, who struggled to relax him enough to stuff some food in his mouth by force. Ramakrishna experienced long periods of nirvikalpa samadhi. And he went through a range of rituals over twelve years (Tantric, Vedantic, Vaishnaic and Islamic) leading to extraordinary experiences.
He also rejected false reasons for devotion. First, he had a visceral opposition to anyone who came to him seeking siddhis and used them as a test. In a well-known story about Narendra, Ramakrishna asked whether he was interested in powers or God and was pleased to hear that Narendra was focused on God only, a good and right answer. Finally, Ramakrishna was averse to anyone trying to fulfill a wish through him. He could feel the wish in any gift he was offered and rejected it.
Regarding his catholic attitude towards the path to God realization, he was markedly inclusive. His path included the realisation of God through Kali, the practice of rituals in a wide variety of spiritual traditions. He experienced Jesus and Buddha and sensed the location of Chaitanya’s temple under water. My guess is that if something else had come up, he would probably have tried that too.
Last, he strengthened his personal character through renunciation. He was able to attach his mind to whatever was apparent to him at a particular moment. He therefore focused on his own personal achievement as an individual.
Next, Ramakrishna is a guide. He was devoted to anyone who was devoted and provided direction for future aspirants.
As for his openness to different degrees of devotion, there are three examples ranging from the most disorganized to the most organized individual. The most disorganized was Girish Chandra Ghosh, an actor in Calcutta who came to see Ramakrishna wanting to build a spiritual practice.
Girish asked Ramakrishna: what should I do? Ramakrishna told him to just keep doing what he was doing and think of God in the morning and at night. Girish said – I can’t do that, my schedule doesn’t allow me to have a morning and a night practice. So Ramakrishna said okay, how about thinking about God when you eat and when you go to bed; and Girish said, I’m sorry I can’t do that, I eat at different times and I sleep at different times, so it’s too confusing for me. Ramakrishna then said just give me your power of attorney, basically meaning that he himself would be the way. And that worked. Girish said alright – you’ll just take over my life.
Then, moving up in terms of an organized life there is the example of Hriday, his cousin and factotum. Hriday was not known to be a spiritual person but the more time he spent with Ramakrishna, the more interested he became in ecstasy. Ramakrishna put him off repeatedly, saying – serving me is all you need. But Hriday was persistent, and one night Ramakrishna went out to meditate and Hriday followed him. Hriday looked at Ramakrishna and saw that he was luminous. He then looked at his own body and saw that it too was luminous. This caused him to panic and he started yelling. Ramakrishna became upset with him because Hriday might wake everybody. In one telling of this story, Ramakrishna rubbed Hriday’s chest to calm him down, reducing the pain of the ecstasy he was feeling.
Finally, an example of the most organized spiritual aspirant is Gopal Ma, an elderly woman who lived in Kamarhati near Calcutta and worshipped Gopala – Krishna as a child. Gopal Ma had become attached to Ramakrishna and one night had a vision of him. The next day Gopala appeared at her house, and for two months she played with him in delight. The young god had been manifested by Ramakrishna. After their sojourn together, Gopal Ma and Gopala went to visit Ramakrishna and she saw Gopala enter into Ramakrishna’s body and come back out. Gopala then vanished, and Ramakrishna told Gopal Ma that her sadhana had been completed. She didn’t need to repeat japa any more and so on. She was upset about that but he was quite clear.
Thus, there is the spectrum from Ghosh through Hriday to Gopal Ma in terms of daily discipline and God focus. Ramakrishna was there for each one of them in a different way. I think that is important because when you think of him as a guide you need to understand that he is there for you in the same way, no matter what your life may be at a particular moment.
Also associated with Ramakrishna as a guide are two lists of directions – in a sense – for life and meditation – the eight tethers and the five moods. The eight tethers – to be conquered – have been listed in several ways, but a composite includes: shame, hatred, fear, pride, good conduct, ego, fame, hesitation, secretiveness, and grief. When you read the list, you see that it comprises what you face in meditation. The five moods are part of the Vaishnava tradition: peace, parenting, the role of a lover, friendship, and being a servant. These moods are obviously not be conquered but describe the emotional tenor of the mind, singly or in combination, when you are meditating at any particular moment.
In contrast to Ramakrishna as an example or a guide, his role as a presence is perhaps more straightforward since it involves current personal experience. In an interesting way, he is a constant in a calm, attractive way that induces trust and acceptance in meditation. He can also be present exterior to meditation, an awareness that is however inextricably linked to meditation itself. For me the meditation creates the presence that can be called upon in daily non-meditative life, but his presence can also be involuntary.
Ramakrishna talked about his bite as like a cobra, not a non-poisonous snake. I think that is a good metaphor for his insertion into a particular life. It’s not something you can get better from. You are either bitten or you are not. There is no half-way.
Finally, I would like to present some valuable instruction that exists on a panel outside Ramakrishna’s room at Dakshineswar, which you have likely also seen. The panel is called Om Tat Sat – the absolute truth. I don’t know who wrote this panel, but probably not Ramakrishna, although he conceivably inspired it. The panel contains a list of principles in threes. I will present them in order:
In human life we should not have: embarrassment, pride and fear; worth pride: compassion for living beings, respect for elders, love for God; worth respect: love for justice, humility, equanimity; worth praise: helpful to others, good behavior, good company; worth happiness: beauty, simplicity, freedom; worth love: knowledge, wisdom, dispassion;
worth disgust: saying ill of others, backstabbing behavior, ingratitude; temporary: wealth, life, youth; things that will certainly happen: disease, loss, death; deliver us from: lust, anger, greed; things we should give: kind words, forgiveness, good treatment to others; worth defending: truth, friendship, self control; worth removing: sloth, overactivity, decadence; worth suspicion: sycophancy, deception, untested friendship; worth wishing for: health, positive disposition, good character; worth interacting and living with: a saint, good books, good thoughts; scarce things: humanity, desire for higher goals, and the blessings of great men; worth praying for: respect for god, love, peace.

Prof Gordon Walker, is Bobby B. Lyle Professor of Entrepreneurship and Chair of the Strategy and Entrepreneurship Group at the Cox School of Business at SMU. His executive training programs include senior management seminars at SMU, the Wharton School, Yale University and INSEAD. He has been listed in Who’s Who in America and Who’s Who in the World. He was named among the best Business Policy teachers in the U.S. in 1994 and 1998 by Business Week magazine and received the President’s University Teaching Award in 1999 at SMU. He is closely associated with the Vedanta Society, Providence.

The Goddess who came to live with Mankind Illustrations:

On a certain day, when the lads came as usual to the familiar rendezvous, they were surprised to see, sitting on the top of the rock, a fair young girl watching them silently and wistfully. The children, being superstitious, took fright at sight of her and ran in terror to Mylliem, their village, leaving the cattle to shift for themselves. When they told their news, the whole village was roused and men quickly gathered to the public meeting-place to hold a consultation. They decided to go and see for themselves if the apparition seen by the children was a real live child, or if they had been deluded by some spell or enchantment. Under the guidance of the lads, they hurried to the place on the hill where the rock stood, and there, as the boys had stated, sat a fair and beautiful child.

The clothes worn by the little girl were far richer than any worn by their own women-folk, so they judged that she belonged to some rich family, and she was altogether so lovely that the men gazed open-mouthed at her, dazzled by her beauty. Their sense of chivalry soon asserted itself, however, and they began to devise plans to rescue the maiden from her perilous position. To climb up the face of that steep rock was an impossible feat; so they called to her, but she would not answer; they made signs for her to descend, but she did not stir, and the men felt baffled and perplexed.

Chief among the rescuers was a man called U Mylliem Ngap, who was remarkable for his sagacity and courage. When he saw that the child refused to be coaxed, he attributed it to her fear to venture unaided down that steep and slippery rock. So he sent some of his comrades to the jungle to cut down some bamboos, which he joined together and made into a pole long enough to reach the top of the rock. Then he beckoned to the child to take hold of it, but she sat on unmoved.

By this time the day was beginning to wane, yet the child did not stir and the rescuers were growing desperate. To leave her to her fate on that impregnable rock would be little less than cold-blooded murder, for nothing but death awaited her. They began to lament loudly, as people lament when mourning for their dead, but the child sat on in the same indifferent attitude

Just then U Mylliem Ngap noticed a tuft of wild flowers growing near the cave, and he quickly gathered a bunch and fastened it to the end of the long pole and held it up to the maiden’s view. The moment she saw the flowers, she gave a cry of delight and held out her hand to take them. U Mylliem Ngap promptly lowered the pole and the child moved towards it, but before she could grasp the flowers the pole was again lowered; so, little by little, step by step, as the men watched with bated breath, the little maid reached the ground in safety.

U Mylliem Ngap, with general consent, constituted himself her champion. He called her “Pah Syntiew”, which means “Lured by Flowers”, for her name and her origin were unknown. He took her to his own home and adopted her as his own daughter, cherishing her with fondness and affection, which the child fully requited.

Bhogtoram Mawroh is a freelance Cartoonist and Artist. He works as Senior Associate, Research and Knowledge Management at North East Slow Food and Agrobiodiversity Society.

Ka Jingwan Iuhkjat U Swami Vivekananda Sha Shillong

U nongthoh poetry ba radbah bad ba pawnam ka ri India u Rabindranath Tagore u la ai ka jingim ba shijunom ïa ka jing itynnad bad jing pyniapmat ka jaka jong u Lumshyllong bad ka sor bah jong u ha ka poetry ba u la thoh ha u snem 1928-29 kaba kyrteng ‘Ka Shesher Kabita’. Une u nongthoh poetry bad ruh u ba dei u riew khraw pyrkhat ula juh wan iuh kjat teng ha kane ka jaka rilum, ka sor Shillong ha u snem 1919 bad ula sah la kumba lai taiew eiei, bad ruh ha u snem 1923 u la wan poi biang bad u la sah la kumba ar bnai eiei. Hynrei ha shuwa jong kane ka jing wan iuh kjat u ne u Nongthoh bad riew khraw pyrkhat sha kane ka jaka ruh, ha u snem 1901 uwei na ki riew khraw ka Ri bad u ba dei ruh u riew ieid ri bad Riew khraw pyrkhat u ba baroh shityllup ka sla pyrthei ka ithuh bad ka burom, uta u dei U Swami Vivekananda, u ba la wan ban kham pyn kyntang shuh shuh ïa kane ka khyndew ba kyntang jong ka nongbah Shillong da kaba u la wan iuhkjat ha kane ka sorbah ha u snem 1901. Kane ka jaka kaba la shong ha pneh ka khasi bad ka jaintia hills (ha kaba mynshuwa la tip kum ka Assam, Northeastern province of India), ka sorbah ka la ju long bad kaba dang iai long ka jaka ki lum ki wah kaba don ka bor pynkoit pynkhiah bad ki briew na kylleng ki jaka ki ïa wan ban sah kai pyngngad, ban pyn jahthait ialade bad ruh ban wan ioh biang ïa ka jingkoit jingkhiah jong ki sha kane ka jaka; ki juh sngew tynnad eh ruh ban ïa lehkai golf ha ka madan ialeh kai Golf kaba pawnam ha ka pyrthei baroh kawei, kaba la plie lai snem ha shuwa ban wan iuhkjat une u riew khraw ka Ri u Swami Vivekananda, kaba don kumba khatphra tylli ki thliew ialeh kai golf, kaba la shna lane pynwandur ha kaba ïa syriem bad ka St. Andrew jong ka ri Scotland. Tharai lada u Swami Vivekanand un iohi ïa kane ka jaka ialehkai golf un da lah kynmaw tharai ïa ki por ba u ialeh kai golf ha ka sien ba nyngkong bad ka sien ba khatduh, kata ha Ridgely Manor ha Stone Ridge, kaba don ha New York ha u snem 1899; ha kata ka por ula ioh ban pynrung saw thliew ha ka hole-in-one on a par-four hole- ka badei ka “double eagle” ha ka Golf’s lexicon. 1
Ha u snem 1901, ka nongbah Shillong ka dang hap ha ka Administrative Headquarter jong ka Assam, kaba la pynlong pura kum ka Chief Commissioner’s province ha u snem 1874. Kaba don kumba 5000 feet eiei ka jing jrong na ka sla duriaw, kane ka nongbah ka long kawei na ki jaka jngohkai lane ka hill station kaba pawnam tam ha ri India. Ha ka jingsah kynmaw, Ki nong Bilat kiba lah juh sah teng ha kane ka nongbah ki shait khot ieid ïa ka “Ka Scotland Of The East” kata ka Ri Scotland Jong ka thain Mihngi, na ka jing itynnad jong kane ka jaka kaba lah ban pyn shohbiej ïa kino-kino ruh ki khmat bad ruh ka jing itynnad ki lum kiba ïa ker ba da ïa kane ka nongbah. Haduh u snem 1972 kane ka jaka ka la long ka nongbah jong ka Assam, bad hadien ba lah ioh ïa ka state lane ka Jylla Meghalaya ka sor Shillong ka la long ka nongbah jong kane ka Jylla bad ka Gauhati kaba la tip mynta kum ka Guwahati kala kylla long ka nongbah jong ka Jylla Assam.
U Swami Vivekananda hadien ba u la wanphai na ka jingleit jngoh kaba ar jong u sha ki ri Sepngi, ha u bnai Nohprah, 1900, u la pynlong tang kawei ka jing leit sha Mayavati ha shuwa ba un sdang ïa ka jingleit iaid jong u sha East Bengal (Bangladesh) bad sha Assam. Kane ka jingleit jngoh jong U Swami Vivekananda ka long ruh ka jingthrang ba shida jong u ban ioh leit ialam iala ka kmie sha ka pilgrimage, kum ka kamram bakhuid kaba u khun rangbah u hap ban pyndep kat kum ka jing bthah ha ka rukom ka lariti ki Hindu. Ha ka Shithi kaba u la thoh sha ka Mrs. Bull ha ka 26 tarik u kyllalyngkot, u la thoh – “La shem taiew ngan leit ialam iala ka kmie sha ka pilgrimage. Ka lah ban shim por da ki bnai ban pyndep ïa kane ka jing leit pilgrimage. Kane ka dei ka jingkwah kaba khraw bad kaba kyntang eh jong ka briew Hindu ka ba la sah wei briew. Baroh shi katta nga lah ai tang ki jing sngewsih bad jing diaw suda ïa ki briew lajong, nga dang pyrshang ba la kumno-kumno ngan lah ban pyndep ïa kane ka jingthrang jong i mei jongnga”. 2
Hynrei kane ka jingpyrshang jong U Swamiji kam lah satia ban urlong haduh ba ha ka 24 tarik u Lber, ka kmie jong U Swamiji ha ryngkat bad kiba ha iing jong u bad u Swami Sadananda (Gupta Maharaj, U nongbud) kila ïa mih na Calcutta ban leit iakynduh bad U Swamiji ha East Bengal, ban leit sha ka jing iaid pilgrimage. U Swamiji u la don lypa ha Dacca naduh ka 19 tarik u bnai Lber ha ryngkat bad katto katne ki nongbud jong u; kumba ngi la ioh ban tip hadien na ka dairy jong u Swami Brahmananda, U Swami Nityananda (Nitai) bad U Nirbhayananda (Kanai) ki dei kiba la don ryngkat bad U Swamiji ha Dacca. 3
U Swamiji u la ïa kynduh bad la ka kmie ha ryngkat ki ba haiing jong u ha Narayanganj bad kila ïa leit sum ha ka wah Brahmaputra ha Langalbandha, lane Langalbandh. {Footnote: Lah ban ong ba Dei ha Rajghat ha kaba U Swamiji Bad ki ba haiing jong u kila ïa shim bynta ha kane ka jing ïa sum ba kyntang ha kane ka wah. (T.Acharjee, Mahatirtha Langalbandh (Toma Prakashan, Dhaka, 2004, Page no. 85)} kaba don kumba khatar mile shaphang shathie phang mihngi jong ka Dacca, kane ka jing ïa leit sum ba kyntang, ka lah ban iadei lang bad ka sngi kha jong u Buddha ( 8 tarik u bnai Hindu ha ki bnai Lber-Iaiong), kaba hap ha ka 28 tarik u Lber 1901. Da ki Phew hajar ngut ki riew ngeit ka niam Hindu kila ïa wan ban shim bynta ha kane ka jing ïa sum ba kyntang kaba la tip kum ka Astami Snan, kaba juh long manla u snem ha kata ka sngi.
Hadien kata kila leit phai biang sha Dacca bad ha ka 5 tarik u Iaiong kila leit sha Chandranath kaba don hajan Chiitagong. Bad ha kaba khatduh sa sha Kamakhya Dham ha Guwahati. Baroh ar kine ki jaka ki don ka jing iadei bad ka Riewblei Sati, ka bynta ba shiteng jong u Blei shiva (Lord Shiva’s Consort). Bad kiba la ithuh kum ki Shakti peeth. Ha ka lynti iaid jongki sha Kamakhya, Baroh ki ïa sahmiet katto katne sngi ha Goalpara bad Gauhati. Don katto katne ruh ki jing ngeit ba U Swamiji Ha ka por ba u dang leit sha Kamakhya, U la leit iuh kjat ruh katto katne ki jaka kiba don ha rud ka wah Brahmaputra.
Shwa ba U Swamiji un pynkut ïa ka jingiaid jong u na Dacca bad leit sa sha Assam, U la sah kumba ar taiew eiei ban ïa kynduh ïa shibun bah ki briew bad ai shi bun bah ki jingkren, haduh ba Ka koit ka khiah jong u ka la sdang ban hiar stet. Ka long kaba eh bad kaba jynjar bha ïa U namar ba shuwa ba un leit sha Kamakhya ula sdang ban ioh sa ka jingpang dap shadem, kumba la tip kum ka asthama. Hamar hangta ula pyrkhat ban leit sha Shillong (Halor ka jing ai jingmut lang kiwei ruh), ha kaba u tharai ba un ioh jingiarap na ka jinghiar ha ka koit ka khiah jong u. 5 kumba ngi lah ban iohi, lehse ki don kiwei ruh ki daw kiba la pynurlong ïa U Swamiji ban wan iuh kjat sha Shillong.
Ka long kaba la tip shai ba, ban bud dien ïa ki Khnapkjat jong u Swami Vivekanand, ki shithi jong u ki long kiba la ai shibun bha ki jing iarap. Hynrei naduh ba u la mih na Dacca ha ka san tarik u Iaiong haduh ka khatar tarik u Jymmang ba u la leitphai sha Belur Math, hadien ba u la pyndep ïa ki jing leit iaid pilgrim jong u sha East Bengal bad Assam, u khlem la thoh iwei ruh i shithi. U Swamiji ula ioh ïa ka kyrteng kum U “Cyclonic Monk” na America, na ka daw ka jingiad iad lynti ba khlem shong thait jong u ha East Bengal lyngba ki lynti kiba ha khyndew bad ruh ki lynti sla um, haduh ba um shym la ioh por shuh tang ban thoh iwei ruh i shithi; kane ka jingai kyrteng kala pynskhem shisha ïa kane ka jingsnewtynnad shang jong u ha kine ki jaka. Na kane ka daw jong ka jing bym thoh shithi U Swamiji, khnang ban tip ïa ka tarik kaba u Swamiji ula wan iuh kjat sha Shillong ngi hap ban shim jing iarap bad pynshong nongrim halor ki katto katne ki tyllong jingtip kiba ngi don, kiba katto katne ki dei kiba shisha, katto katne ki dei tang ki jingtip hamsaia, bad katto katne kiba don tang ki sur ka jingshisha. Kaei kaba ngi lah ban tip bniah ka long ba, U Swamiji u ai jingtip shaphang ki arngut ki shipara kiba dei naka jait panda “pandas of shri Kamakhya Peetham” ryngkat bad ka shithi ai jing iaroh kaba la thoh ha ka khat Hynniew Tarik u Iaiong, kaba don ka jing thoh “Gauhati” ha jrong jong ka. Ka shithi ka ong kumne :
Nga dap da ka jing sngewkmen kaba khraw eh ban pynshihsa ïa ka jing jemnud, ka jing sngur mynsiem bad ka mynsiem ai jing iarap jong kine ki para, U Shivakanta bad U Lakshmikanta, kiba dei ki Pandas jong ka Shri Kamakhya Peetham. Ki dei ki briew kiba kloi ban iarap shibun bad ki bym juh thait ban ai jing shakri. Khlem da don kano kano ruh ka jing artatien nga tyrwa ïa ka jingkloi jong kine ki ar ngut sha ki Hindu kiba wan peit wan jngoh ïa kane ka jaka lehniam kaba kyntang.6
Kat kum ka jingtip ba ai u Khun ksiew jong U Lakshmikanta Panda uba dei ruh u khun jong u Ramdas Panda, U Niranjan Panda; u la ong ba U Swamiji ula sah la kumba lai sngi eiei ha iing jong kine ki para (Shivakanta bad Lakshmikanta).7 Kane ka lah ban long kaba shisha namar kat kum ka riti dustur, kito kiba wan iaid pilgrim ki shait sah haduh lai sngi ha Kamakhya ban pyndep ïa ki rukom leh niam leh rukom.8 U Niranjan panda u ong ruh ba U Swamiji u la wan sha Kamakhya lyngba ka Parbatipur, Amingaon bad Pandughat. Kane ka jing ong jong U Niranjan kam lah ban long satia kaba shisha, namar ka jing bymdon ka lynti rel kaba pura ban pyniasoh ïa ka East Bengal bad ka Asam ha kita ki por. U Swamiji ryngkat bad ki ba haiing jong u kila wan lyngba ka Chandranath shaduh Pandughat (hajan Kamakhya) Da ka kali Um (Steamer), da kaba iaid lyngba ïa shibun ki jaka ba syndah jong ka wah kiba don shaphang sepngi jongka Gauhati.* {Footnote: Ngim lah satia ban lap ïa ki dak ban pyn shisha ba U Swamiji u la wan lyngba ka Parbatipur (East Bengal). Ka Parbatipur ka jngai kumba hynriew phew mer shaphang sepngi jong ka Dhubri, Bad U Swamiji ula wan sha Gauhati lyngba kane ka Phang. Ka long kaba jngai bha na Ka wah Brahmaputra kaba dei ka lynti iaid jong ka Kali um(Steamer) jong u. Watla katta ruh ka Parbatipur kam dei ka jaka kaba la juh tip kum ka jaka Pilgrimage. Tharai ka lah dei ka Pandughat kata ka jaka rung jong U Swamiji sha Kamakhya (Shaphang sepngi jong ka Gauhati). Lada U la leit beit sha central Gauhati ka jaka rung jong u kan lah ban dei ka Sukreshwar Ghat, sha kham shakhmat shaphang Mihngi jong ka Pandughat.} Kat kum ka jingtip jong nga, ka lynti rel kaba nyngkong eh kaba pyniasoh ïa ka Parbatipur(East Bengal) bad ka Dhubri(Assam) la sdang ha ka 1902, Bad la pynjrong shaduh sha Amingaon ha u snem 1907.9 U Niranjan Panda ula pyrkhat tharai ba u Swamiji Ula wan sha Assam da ka Lynti Rel.
Ka long kaba suk eh ban ong ba u Swamiji ula ialam nyngkong eh sha Kamakhya ïa ki ba haiing jong u, khamtam na ka bynta ka kmie jong u. Hynrei ban ong pat ba kila poi mynno hangta ha jaka, ka long kaba eh. Na Pandughat ban poi sha Gauhati la hap iaid lyngba na Kamakhya. Ka shithi kaba u la thoh sha ki shipara ki panda, kaba dei artat tang kawei ka sakhi kaba ngi don, ka lah ban long ba u la thoh ïa ki hadien ba u la poi sha Gauhati. Lada dei ka shithi kaba la thoh na Kamakhya, te u la thoh hi hajrong jongka “kamakhya” lane “Kamakhya Peetham” ha ka jaka ba un thoh “Gauhati”. Ha kawei pat ka liang, ka Kamakhya ka don ha Gauhati. Tharai na kane ka daw ruh u lah ban thoh ha ka shithi “Gauhati”.
Lada ngi ngeit ba u la thoh ïa ka shithi na Kamakhya hi, da kaba thoh Gauhati hajrong jong ka, ngi lah ban ong ba lehse U Swamiji u lah ban poi ha Kamakhya ha ka khatsaw Tarik u Iaiong bad u la sah ha iing ki shipara ki Panda lai sngi bad ha ka khathynniew Tarik u Iaiong u la mih noh sha Gauhati. Ki briew barabor ki shait thoh shithi ha ka sngi ba ki mih na ka jaka ba ki sah, hadien ba ki lah ioh ban mad ïa ka jingleh sbun bad jing iarap na kata ka iing. Ha kane ka rukom ngi ruh ngi tharai ba U Swamiji ruh ula leh kumta hi. Ha u snem 2001, katba ka jing rakhe ïa ka jingdap shispah snem ka jingwan iuhkjat U Swamiji ha Kamakhya Ka dang iaid, ngi iohi ïa ki jingthoh ba la shim na ki shithi jong u kiba la tyngshain ha ki iing.
Hadien ba la sah bad la ai jingkren ha Gauhati kumba lai ne saw sngi, ha kaba la suba ba u la sah bad u wei u Brahmin uba kyrteng u Padmanath Bhattacharya u ba la tip ruh kum u Padmanath Saraswati, U Swamiji la mih noh ban leit sha Shillong ha ryngkat ka met kaba shitom. U Rai Saheb Kailash Chandra Das bad U Jatindra Nath Basu, kila wan ialam ïa U Swamiji sha Shillong ha ryngkat bad ki nongbud bad ki tiar ki tar jong u. Ha ryngkat Ka jing jngai kaba la don la kumba Hynriewphew saw mer lane shispah ar kilometers eiei. Ka la shim por ïa ki kumba ar sngi ban poi sha Shillong da ki kali kulai, bad kila ïa sah miet sha rud surok da kaba shna da ki iing trep ba shipor. U Kailash Chandra Das bad U Jatindra Nath Basu kila shu ïa iaid kjat narud-narud ka kali kulai naduh Gauhati shaduh sha Shillong. U Rai Saheb Kailash u la pdiang sngewbha ïa U Swamiji ha ka iing jong u kaba don ha Laban, baroh ki jait bynriew Bengali kiba sah marjan bad ki paralok jong u, kila ïa sah lang hangtei baroh ki por ba u dang don ha Shillong.10
Kat kum katei ka jingkdew haneng ngi lah ban ong ba U Swamiji u la wan poi ha ka 23 Tarik u Iaiong ha sor Shillong. Ka la long kaba eh bha ban pyrkhat ba kila lah ban poi Shillong tang hapoh ar sngi ha ryngkat ki ar ngut ki nong ialam ba shu iaid kjat bad ruh ka kali kulai kaba kit ïa ki kynthei bad U Swami Vivekanand uba don hapdeng ka met kaba tlot. Halor ka lynti kaba kiew lum bad ruh ki kulai kiba donkam shongthait manla ka por lane ba hap bujli kulai naka por shaka por. Tharai lai sngi ka la long kaba sngew dei eh ban shim por ïa ki ba kin poi sha Shillong. Watla katta ruh U Swamiji ula ioh teng ban mad, ban iaid kum kine ki jait lynti balong lum da ka kali kulai kaba la tip kyrteng kum ka ‘Deligences’, ha ka por ba u don sha Switzerland ha u snem 1896.
Ha ka kot ba la thoh da u Prof. Shyamadas Bhattacharya (1931-2017) kaba kyrteng ‘Shillonger Bangalee’ lane ‘Ki Bengali Ha Shillong’ *{Footnote: U prof Shyamadas Bhattacharya u dei u nonghikai History ba la shongthait, ha Lady Kean college kaba don ha Shillong naduh u snem 1956 haduh 1991. U dei u nongthoh, Nonghikai bad u briew u ba ieid bha iala ki riti-dustur bad u ba don burom bha. U dei ruh U ba la ioh pdiang ïa ka khusnam na ka Sorkar India, ka “Bharat Jyoti” ha u snem 2001, na ka bynta ka jingnoh synniang bapher-bapher jong u ha kiba bun rukom na bynta ka roi ka par jong ka Jylla Meghalaya baroh kawei.} Ngi lah ban shem ïa ka jingthoh shaphang ka jingiaid lynti jong U Swamiji na Gauhati sha Shillong.11 Ha ka jingthoh kaba u la ai kyrteng ka “Shillong pahare Swami Vivekananda” lane “ U Swami Vivekananda ha U lum shyllong”, U professor u la pynphuh rong da la ki kyntien ïa ki jingshisha ha kaba u thoh shaphang kane ka jing iaid lynti jong u Swamiji, kane ka rukom thoh jong une u nongthoh ka la pynlong ka jingeh ïa ngi ban pyn iapher ïa ka jingshisha bad ki rong ba u bet ha ki jingthoh jong u ban pyn sngew tynnad ïa ki nongpule. Ka la long ruh kaba sniewbok ïa ngi namar ba u ne u nongthoh u khlem lah iathuh eiei shaphang ki tyllong jingtip jong u kiba u la thoh ha kane ka kot, hynrei u la shu thoh kyllum lang ha kaba kut jong kane ka kot, tang ïa ki kyrteng jong ki kot bapher-bapher kiba u la pule khnang ban ioh jingtip ban thoh shaphang kane ka kot. Kane ka la wahrah ka jing eh ïa kito ki nongpule kiba kwah ban tip bniah ban pyn iasoh ïa ki jingthoh jong u bad ki tyllong jingtip ba u ioh. Watla katta ruh kine ki jingthoh jong une u nongthoh kila iarap shibun ban ai ïa ki jing donkam kiba lah ban pyniasoh lang bad kiwei pat ki jingtip kiba la don lypa, khnang ban shna biang ïa ka jingiathuh khana kaba lah ban long kham shajan ïa ka jing shihsha. (Lehse une u nongthoh u la thoh lane pynbeit pynbiang ïa kine ki jingthoh jong u hadien u snem 1997, namar une u nongthoh ula jer kyrteng napdeng ki tyllong jingtip ba u shim jingiarap, ïa ka Diamond Jubilee Souvenir jong ka Shillong Ramakrishna Mission kaba la rakhe ha u snem 1997. Ka kot jingthoh shaphang kane ka jingrakhe la pynmih ha u snem 2004).
Ngin shu ngeit ba Ka kmie jong U Swamiji ryngkat bad ki saw ngut ki ba haiing jong u ruh kila sah lang bad u shi lynter katba u dang don ha kane ka jaka, watla khlem don kaei-kaei ruh ka jing pynshisha kaba lah ban batai shai shaphang kane ka jing sahlang jong ka kmie bad ki ba haiing jong u. U prof. Bhattacharya u la thoh tang shaphang kawei ka kali kulai kaba la pyndon kam ban kit ïa U Swamiji bad ar ngut ki nong synran kiba la ïa wan poi lang sha Shillong. Lada shim ïa kane kum ka jingshisha, te kita ki ar ngut ki nong synran kilah ban dei U Swami Sadananda bad U Swami Nityananda (Nitai) lane U Swami Nirbhayananda (Kanai). Watla katta ruh ka jingthoh shaphang ka Jingim jong u Swamiji ka kdew ba “U Swamiji ha ryngkat U Swami Sadananda, ka kmie jong u, ka para jong u, ka aunty jong u bad ka lok jong u Ramadas kila wan phai na Shillong sha Calcutta ha ka 12 tarik u Jymmang.”12 Lada kine ki longkmie kim shym la don ryngkat bad U Swamiji ha Shillong, te kila ïa leit shaei baroh shi katta ki por? Kat kum ka jingtip ba la ioh na ka khun jong u Rai Saheb Kailash Chandra Das, ka Dipanjali Majumdar, ka la iathuh ba; “U Rai Saheb Kailash Chandra Das Bad U Jatindra Nath Basu kila wan ialam ïa U Swamiji bad kiba bud ïa u sha Shillong”, hynrei kam shym la iathuh ba kidei mano kita kiba la wan bud ïa U Swamiji sha Shillong.13 Kat kum ki jingtip ba la ioh lum shaphang ka jing leit iaid U Swamiji sha East Bengal bad sha Assam, Halor ka bynta kaba u Swamiji u la leit ban pyndep ïa kata ka jing iaid “Pilgrimage ba pura” na bynta jong ki, ka la thoh khyndiat eh shaphang ka kmie bad ki ba haiing jong u.
Ka jingthoh jong U prof. Bhattacharya shaphang ka jing iaid lynti U Swamiji ka kdew ïa ngi ba U Swamiji ryngkat bad ki kynhun jong u, kila wan synran da uwei u Ophisar Phareng uba Kyrteng U Mr. Norton. Bad ba kila sahmiet shimiet ha kawei ka shnong Umiam kaba jngai kumba khatar mile eiei na Shillong. Tharai, kala jia ba U Chief Commissioner ka Assam ha kata ka por u Sir Henry Cotton, U la iawer ïa U Swamiji ba un wan long u Guest jong u sha Shillong, ba un wan ban ioh biang ïa ka jingkoit ka jingkhiah kaba pura jong ka met jong u ha Shillong. Ka dei artat halor ka hukum jong une u Sir Henry Cotton ba u Mr. Norton ula wan ban synran ïa U Swamiji sha shillong. U Swamiji U la ai khublei ïa ka jingkhot sngewbha jong u Sir Henry Cotton, bad u la ong ruh ba ki briew jong u kila pynkhreh lypa na bynta ka jing wan sah jong u sha Shillong.14
Kat kum ka jingthoh jong u Prof. Bhattacharya, la don bun bha ki briew kiba la wan ban ïa kynduh ïa U Swamiji ynda u la poi ha Shillong, ha Laban ha ka iing jong u Rai Saheb Kailash Chandra. U la thoh ruh ïa ka jing don ryngkat u Deputy Commissioner U Capt. Herbert hangta ha iing, khnang ban pynbeit bad ban khmih ïa ka jing bun ki paidbah kiba la wan ban ialum ban iohi ïa U Swami Vivekananda. U capt. Herbert u la iathuh ïa U Swamiji ba u Doctor Civil Surgeon un sa wan ban peit ïa u ha ka por mynsngi bad ba u Sir Henry Cotton pat un sa wan ban ïa kynduh ïa u ha ka step ka ban wan.15 Kat kum ka FIBIS (Families in British India Society) kaba don ha London, U capt. Herbert, I.C.S., U dei u Deputy Commissioner jong ka Shillong ha kata ka por. U ta pat u Doctor Civil Surgeon, Uba u Sir Cotton ula bthah ïa u ban sumar ïa U Swamiji, La tip kyrteng kum U Major Robert Neil Campbell, U ba dei ruh u Civil Surgeon jongka Shillong naduh u snem 1896-1897 haduh 1906; U la bat ïa kane ka kam naduh u snem 1897 ha ka por ba u la wan u jumai ba radbah ha Shillong (Assam) ha u snem 1897. 16
Katto katne ki riew rangbah kiba la ïa don ryngkat lang ha kata ka sngi ban pdiang burom ïa U Swamiji ki dei, U Rai Bahadur Sadaya Charan Das, U Rai Saheb Prasanna Kumar Bhattacharya, U Upendranath Kanjilal, U Bishnu Prasad Barua Bad U Munsi Mohammed Amatullah. Tharai U Swamiji u la don ki jing ïa kren bad kine ki riew rangbah namar ba, ha ka step kaba bud kine ki riew rangbah kila ïa poi biang ban ïa kynduh bad U Swamiji. U Hormurai Diengdoh, u dei u wei na kine ki nong wan kynduh bad U Swamiji. Kine ki riew rangbah kiba wan ban ïa kynduh bad U Swamiji kidei kiba trei na bynta ka Imlang-Sahlang lane ki kam kiba iadei bad ki kam niam. U Rai Bahadur Charan Das ha kata ka por u dei u Secretary jong ka Brahmo Samaj kaba don ha Police Bazaar.
U Sir Henry (John Stedman) Cotton(1845-1915) u ba dei U Chief Commissioner jong ka Assam, bad ka Office Jong u ka don ha Shillong ha kata ka por. Ïa une u saheb la kha ha South India ha ki kmie-ki kpa kiba la wan long briew ha india hi (Indian-Born British Parents). Hynrei u la pyndep ïa ki jingpule jong u naduh Elementary haduh ba un dep ïa ka jing pule Indian Civil Service Examination na England. U la sdang trei naduh u snem 1867 ha kylleng ki jaka jong ka Bengal ryngkat bad ka Calcutta. Naduh u snem 1896 pat une u saheb ula wan trei noh ha Shillong bad U la trei ha ka kyrdan kum u Chief Commissioner haduh u snem 1902. Namar ka jingdon mynsiem sngewlem jong u ïa ka jing ialeh laitluid jong ka Ri India, la jied ïa u ba un long kum u President jong ka Indian National Congress ha u snem 1904. Hadien nangta ula leit phai biang sha England bad ula long u dkhot jong ka House Of Commons.
U Sir Henry u la thoh kawei ka kot kum ka dak jong ka jing sah kynmaw ïa ka Ri India, kaba u la ai kyrteng, ka “Indian and Home Memories”, kaba la pynmih ha u snem 1911. U la thoh-“Sha ka Ri India kaba nga la ai ka jingshakri, ka jingim samla bad jingim rangbah jong nga. Nga dap da ka jing babe bad jingsahnud kaba jurbha. Hadien ka jing pynkut noh ïa ka jing shakri jong nga kaba la kot kumba laiphew san snem eiei.” 20
U la thoh shibun shaphang ka jingwan jumai bah ha u snem 1897 ha Assam, ha kaba, ma u bad la i kurim kila shu ialait salit na kane ka jingwan u jumai bah. Tangba halor ka jing lyngngoh, shaphang ka jingwan iuhkjat jong U Swami Vivekananda pat u khlem la thoh eiei ruh em. Ha kane ka kot jong u, u la buh khnang kawei ka Lynnong kaba kyrteng “Men I have Known”, ha kaba u la thoh ïa shibun ki kyrteng ki riew donnam donburom jong ka Ri kiba u la iashem, ïa khana ha kipor ba u dang don ha India. Napdeng kita, U Bunkim Chunder Dutt, Robindro Nath Tagore, Arabindo Ghose, Mohendra Lal Sircar, Keshub Chunder Sen, Romesh Chunder Dutt bad kiwei de ki riew donnam, tangba u khlem la thoh pat ïa ka kyrteng U Swami Vivekananda. Kane ka la long kaba pynlyngngoh bad kaba pyn kyllain jingmut bha bad kaba pyn sngewsih bha ïa ngi. Kane harum ka dei ka jingthoh naka kot ba la thoh shaphang ka jingim jong U Swamiji, kaba batai shaphang ka jing ïa kynduh jong u bad u Sir Henry:
“U la juh ioh sngew shibun bah shaphang U Swami Vivekananda bad u la kwah eh ruh ban ioh iakynduh bad u. Halor ka jing kyrpad jong u hi ba U Swamiji u la ai ka jingkren ha khmat ki ophisar bilat bad ruh kiwei pat ki kynhun nong India. U Sir Henry Cotton, uba la sngewtynnad eh iaki jingkren U Swamiji, u la iakynduh bad U Swamiji bad kila ïa kren bad pyllut por ban ïa kren shaphang ka Ri India bad ki jingeh jong ka kum ka ri baroh kawei. Haba u iohi ba U Swamiji u khlem da sngew khlain, ula bthah ïa u Doctor Civil Surgeon ba un ai ki jingiarap ban sumar bad ban pynbiang katba lah ïa ki dawai kiba iadei bad ka jingpang jong U Swamiji. Katba U Swamiji u dang don, une u Chief Commissioner ula phah kylli man la ka sngi ïa ka jinglong-jingman jong ka koit ka khiah jong U Swamiji. U Swamiji u kren shaphang jong u kum u briew uba sngewthuh ïa ka ri India bad ïa ki jingeh jongka kumka ri, u ba don ka jingsngew ban trei na bynta ka jingbha bad jingroi jingpar jong ka India kum ka ri baroh kawei. U la long u briew u ba donhok ban ioh ïa ka jingieid jong ki nong India kumba ki ieid iakiwei.” 21
Une u Sir Henry u la long u briew uba don jing sngew synei ïa ka jingbha jong ka ri India bad ïa ka jing ieid ri jong ki nong India, bad U Swamiji u la shem ba une u ophisar u don ki shkor kiba kloi ban sngap bad ba burom ïa ki jingkren kiba iadei bad ka hok. Lehse kila ïa kren daka ktien Bengali namar une u Sir Henry u la long uba nangbha ban kren bad ban pule ruh iaka ktien Bengali.22 U Swamiji bad u Sir Henry ki ïa don ha kajuh ka madan ha ki ba bun ki liang. Baroh arngut hi ki ïa don kane ka jing pyrkhat ba ka jingpule kadei kawei ka phang kaba kordor tam. Ka Cotton College kaba don ha Gauhati, kaba la long ruh ka college kaba la rim tam napdeng ki college kiba don ha katei ka thain shatei lammihngi ka ri India (Norhtheast India), la seng da une hi u Sir Cotton ha u snem 1901. Kane ka college ka la ioh ïa ka kyrdan University (Cotton University) ha u snem 2017. U Sir Henry u la wan iakynduh bad U Swamiji ha ka Iing ba don ha Laban; u ju kylli khubor ruh manla ka sngi shaphang ka jingkoit jingkhiah jong U Swamiji.
The English version of the present Article can be found in

Ehsing Khiewtam: Author, Poet, Senior Research fellow, Hindi Dept, NEHU

शिलाँग मे मेरा प्रथम वार्षिकोत्सव

शिलाँग के संस्मरणों की यह एक किस्त पेश कर रहा हूँ। प्रथम किस्त में केवल वहाँ के पेहले दिन की स्मृतियाँ शब्दबद्ध की थी; इससे ऐसी आशँका न हो कि मैं वहाँ के प्रत्येक दिन की स्मृति एक एक लेख में प्रस्तुत करने जा रहा हू। पाठकों पर इतना अत्याचार करने का मेरा कोई इरादा नहीं है। इस किस्त में प्रारम्भ के दस दिन की कुछ विशेष स्मृतियों को लिपिबद्ध करने का प्रयास कर रहा हूँ।
जीवन का हर अनुभव कुछ शिक्षा लेकर हमारे पास आता है। मेरे जैसा कोई साधारण व्यक्ति भी पीछे मुड्कर बीते दिनों पर नज़र डालता है तो देखता है कि छोटे छोटे प्रसंग भी बड़ी सीख देने की क्षमता रखते हैं। प्रसंग विस्मृत होने के बावजूद भी उस्से प्राप्त शिक्षा भीतर बनी रहती है।दूसरे दिन से श्रद्धेय रघुनाथानन्द जी और आश्रम के अन्यान्य संन्यासी-ब्रह्मचारी मुझे वहाँ का काम समझाने में लग गये। कई कार्य मेरे लिए बिल्कुल नये थे। नागपुर में रहते समय हिसाब-किताब रखना मैंने कुछ हद तक सीख लिया था, किन्तु वहाँ कोई सरकारी अनुदान नहीँ मिलता था। ऐसे अनुदान का प्रस्ताव ठीक शासकीय पद्धति के अनुरूप बनाना होता था। उसका जमा-खर्च इत्यादि भी, जो सारे सरकारी नियम थे, उसी ढाँचे मे डालने पड़ते हैं। मेरे लिये यह कुछ अजीब सा मामला था, थोडा हास्यपूर्ण भी। उदाहरण के तौर पर – वहाँ साफ सफाई का काम करने वालें दो कर्मचारियों को “लाइब्रेरियन” के नाम से तनखा दिखानी होती थी। इसके पीछे क्या कारण हैं मुझे यथावकाश समझाए गए। कल औपचारिक रूप से कार्यभार ग्रहण करना था।
आश्रम के कई भक्त, संचालन-समिति (Managing Committee) के कुछ सदस्य, कर्मी और स्वयंसेवक मिलने आ रहे थे। कई फ़ोन भी चल रहे थे। यहाँ के भोजन के विशिष्ट गंध से भी परिचित होना मेरे लिए सहज नहीं था। विशेषकर ‘शूटकी’ पकाने की गंध। यद्यपि आश्रम में ‘शूटकी’ शायद ही कभी बनती थी, चारों तरफ से वह गंध (जो मेरे लिए अति दुर्गन्ध थी, अन्य लोगों के लिए वह कोई परेशानी नहीं थी; कुछ ऐसे भी थे कि उस गंध से वे बडे खुश हो जाते थे, मुँह में पानी आ जाता था। इससे यह सिद्ध होता है, कि कोई भी गंध, या कोई भी इन्द्रियानुभव अपने आप में अच्छा- बुरा नहीं होता; हर व्यक्ति की रुचि भिन्न होती है)। नाक को भर देती थी, और फिर भोजन करना एक प्रयास बन जाता था। शिलाँग में रहते रहते ऐसे गंधों से मेरा नासिकेंद्रिय परिचित हो गया। मैं माँस, मछ्ली इत्यादि कुछ नहीं खाता था – मुख से; किन्तु नासिकाद्वार से वह मेरे भीतर प्रविष्ट हो रहा था। ‘घ्राणेन अर्धभोजनम्‌’ यह उक्ति कितनी सार्थक है !
दूसरे दिन, अर्थात गुरुवार, २८ मार्च १९९६ को श्री रामकृष्ण का दर्शन कर मैं और रघुनाथानन्द जी दफ्तर में आए। अन्य साधु – छात्रावास के छात्र भी उपस्थित थे। मैने अनुमति पत्र (Letter of Acceptance) पर हस्ताक्षर किए। अब इस औपचारिक कार्यक्रम से इस आश्रम के सेक्रेटरी का भार रघुनाथानंद जी से मुझपर आ गया। हंसते हुए उन्होंने कहा, “अब बाघ की पूँछ तुम्हारे हाथ देकर मैं मुक्त हो गया।” मुझे इस कथन का तात्पर्य समझ में नहीं आया। तब उन्होंने केरल देश में प्रचलित कहानी सुनायीः
“एक नंबुद्री ब्राह्मण (ये लोग अपनी जिज्ञासु वृत्ति, चतुराई, तीव्र बुद्धि के लिए जाने जाते हैं) जंगल की एक पगडंड़ी से गुजर रहा था तो उसने देखा कि किसी शिकारी ने लगाये हुए पिंजरे में एक बड़ा बाघ फँस गया हैै। कौतूहलवश वहाँ जाकर उसने बाघ को एक टहनी से नोचा। गुस्से में आकर बाघ ने टहनी को खींचा, नंबुद्री ने भी खींचा दोनों की खींचा-तानी मे वह टहनी की अटकनी लगी और पिंजड़ा खुल गया। बाघ बाहर निकल ही रहा था कि बुद्धिमान नंबुद्री ने पिंजडे के बाहर निकली हुई बाघ की पूँछ कसकर पकड़ लिया। अब बाघ बाहर निकल नहीं सकता था। पर कितनी देर वह सारी शक्ति लगाकर पूँछ को पकड़ कर रख सकता था? कुछ थोड़े ही समय में वह थक गया; किन्तु पूँछ छोड़े तो बाघ बाहर निकलेगा और फिर…?
जान की बाजी लगाकर वह पूँछ पकड़े हुए वह बै्ठा था तब उसने पगडंड़ी से गुजरते हुए एक व्यक्ति को देखा और उसे पुकार कर कहने लगा, ‘यह बाघ मेरी पकड़ में आ गया है; बस अब इसे राजा के पास ले जाऊँगा और बहुत बड़ा इनाम पाऊँगा। तुम मेरी थोड़ी मदद करो तो तुम्हें भी कुछ हिस्सा मिलेगा; एक मिनट यह पूँछ पकड़ो, मैं अभी पेशाब करके आता हूँ। ’ उस मूर्ख व्यक्ति ने पूँछ पकड़ते ही नंबुद्री जी तो तेजी से भाग निकले। ” इतना कहकर रघुनाथानंद जी और हम सब हँसने लगे। उन्होँने मुझे बाघ की पूँछ पकड़ा दी है, इसका प्रमाण चंद दिनों में ही मिला। वह प्रसंग बाद में इसी किस्त के अंतर्गत बताऊँगा।
श्रद्धेय रघुनाथानंद जी ने फिर एक सुन्दर सा कोट निकालकर मुझे दिया। ‘मेरे पूर्ववर्ती सचिव देवदेवानंद जी ने दस सालों तक इस कोट का इस्तेमाल किया और फिर मुझे दिया; मैंने भी पिछले दस साल इसका उपयोग किया और अब तुम्हें दे रहा हूँ। मेरी इच्छा है कि तुम भी दस या अधिक साल उसका उपयोग कर फिर अपने उत्तराधिकारी को दे दोगे। ’
उनकी इस इच्छा को मैं पूर्ण नहीं कर सका। मात्र चार सालों के तुरन्त बाद ही मेरा शिलाँग से तबादला हुआ और मेरे उत्तराधिकारी श्रद्धेय स्वामी जगदात्मानंद जी को यह कोट (और बाघ की पूँछ भी) सौंपकर मैं शिलाँग से निकल पड़ा। जगदात्मानंद जी का कद उस कोट की लम्बाई से अधिक ऊँचा था, बाहें भी लम्बी थीं। उस कोट का उपयोग उन्होंने शायद ही कभी किया हो। उनके उत्तराधिकारी श्रद्धेय ब्रह्मदेवानंद जी को उस कोट की कोई जानकारी भी नहीं थी।
शुक्रवार, २९ मार्च १९९६, ठीक सढे नौ बजे संचालन समिती की मीटिंग शुरु हुई। श्री आर. टिं. रिम्बाई, मेघालय के जयंतिया जनजाति के एक प्रमुख व्यक्ति, इस समिती के सम्मानीय अध्यक्ष थे। आने वाले दो-ढाई सालों में उनके साथ मेरा धनिष्ठ संपर्क रहा। मीटिंग में उपस्थित सभी सदस्यों से वार्तालाप हुआ। इन सभी का आंतरिक सहयोग आश्रम की गतिविधियाँ सुचारु रूप से चलाने हेतु आवश्यक था। विगत दो महीनों का लेखा-जोखा और मीटिंग का इतिवृत्त (minutes) सारा रामकृष्ण मिशन के मुख्यालय को भेज दिया गया। श्रद्धेय रघुनाथानंद जी को बिदाई देने का (send-off) बड़ा समारोह करना होगा इसपर भी सभी ने उत्साहपूर्वक सहमति दर्शायी।
रामकृष्ण संघ के परमाध्यक्ष पूज्य भूतेशानन्द जी, उपाध्यक्ष रंगतानन्द जी, गहनानन्द जी इन्हें पत्र लिख्कर आशीर्वाद याचना की।
इसके दूसरे दिन रामकृष्ण मिशन चेरापुंजी (जिसे अब सोरा नाम से जाना जाता है) जाना था। बचपन से ही चेरापुंजी का नाम सुनता आया था – जहाँ दुनिया की सर्वाधिक बारिश होती है। जीप गाड़ी से सुबह निकले; शिलाँग में तो सुनहरी धूप निकल आयी थी। चेरापुँजी तक का लगभग ४० कि. मि. का पहाड़ी रास्ता पूरा करने को पूरा एक घण्टा लगा। शिलाँग से १५ कि. मि. के बाद ही दृश्य बदल जया। बायी और गहरी घाटी से घने बादल भी हमारे साथ मानो चेरापुँजी चल रहे थे। ‘देखो, अब आप की समझ में आएगा कि चेरा में इतनी बारिश क्यों होती है। ये सारे बादल जल से पूर्ण है। इस घाटी से गुजरते हुए वे चेरापुँजी के ऊँचे पहाड़ से टकरा जाते हैं। इतना सारा पानी का वजन लेकर ये बादल पहाड़ चढ़ नहीं पाते तो सारा पानी बारिश के रूप में वहीं फ़ेंक देते हैं’- हमारे एक सहयात्री, जो कि इस प्रदेश में कई साल रह चुके थे, बना रहे थे। उनका यह कथन मेट्रॉलाजी की दृष्टि में कितना वैज्ञानिक था, ये बताना मेरी औकात के बाहर होने पर भी बड़ा ही रोचक प्रतीत हुआ। आनेवाले कई वर्षों में उनका यह कथन मैंने कई बार नवागतों के सामने (कुछ अधिक मिर्च-मसाला डालकर) दोहराया है।
चेरापुँजी के रास्ते पर विभिन्न ग्रामों में रामकृष्ण मिशन, चेरापुँजी द्वारा संचालित कई स्कूल दिखाई पड़े। उन स्कूलों के बच्चे हमारी जीप को (जिसपर रामकृष्ण मिशन, शिलाँग लिखा था) देखते ही ‘खुब्लेई महाराज’ का घोष लगाकर अभिवादन करते थे। हम लोग भी गाड़ी जरा धीमी कर उन्हें ‘खुबलेई शिबून’ कहकर आगे बढते थे। रास्ते में दोनो तरफ कहीं कोयले के और कहीं बालू के ढेर लगे थे। कई ट्रक उन्हें उठाकर विक्रय के लिए अन्य स्थानों पर ले जाते थे। इस सम्बन्ध में पूज्य भूतेशानन्द जी महाराज एक विनोदपूर्ण किन्तु शिक्षाप्रद घटना सुनाया करते थे। उसे बाद के किस्त में लिखूँगा।
चेरापुँजी आश्रम के प्रमुख स्वामी इष्टानन्द जी मेरे साथ ही बेलुड़ मठ स्थित ‘प्रोबेशनर्स ट्रेनिन्ग सेन्टर’ में दो साल थे और हमारी अच्छा मित्रता थी और अभी भी हमारी आपसी मुलाकात और वार्तालाप आज भी जारी है। मेरे अमेरिका आने के कुछ महीने पहले वे भी यहाँ पहुंच गए थे और इन दिनों सेण्ट पीटर्सबर्ग, फ्लोरिडा में स्थित रामकृष्ण मिशन के वेदान्त सेंटर के प्रमुख बने। एक कार्यकुशल संघटक और अच्छे वक्ता के रूप में इस देश में भी सुख्यात हैं। हम दोनों एक-दूसरे से मिलकर बड़े हर्षित हुए। वहाँ का मंदिर, स्कूल, छात्रावास इत्यादि देखकर बहुत आनन्द हुआ। पिछले 20 सालों से से इस आश्रम के स्फूर्तिशाली इतिहास को मैंने गौर से कई बार पड़ा था, और मराठी मासिक पत्रिका ‘जीवन- विकास’ (जिसका प्रकाशन रामकृष्ण मठ, नागपुर से होता था) मैंने उसके विषय में प्रबन्ध भी लिखे थे। वहाँ अब मैं जब प्रत्यक्ष रूप से सब देख रहा था तो कितनेही पवित्र, ‘त्याग और सेवा’ इस स्वामी विवेकानन्द जी के मन्त्र से प्लावित भावतरंग मन में उछलने लगे थे। अच्छा खासा भोजन हुआ। वहाँ की संचालन समिती के एक सदस्य के रूप में मुझे सम्मिलित किया गया। उन की मीटिंग भी सम्पन्न हुई और शाम तक हम लोग शिलाँग आश्रम आ पहुँचा। चेरापुँजी के संस्मरणों को किसी अगली किस्त में लिखूँगा।
इसी बीच मुझे व्याख्यानों के लिए चंडीगढ़ जाना था। शिलाँग में तबादला होने के कई दिन पहले ही यह कार्यक्रम निश्चित हुआ था। ४ अप्रैल को शिलाँग से रवाना हुआ और वहाँ का व्याख्यान इत्यादि कार्यक्रम समाप्त कर १० तारीख को सुबह ७ बजे शिलाँग लौटा तो एक बुरी खबर मेरा इन्तजार कर रही थी।
वहाँ विवेकानन्द कल्चरल सेंटर (क्विण्टन हॉल) में दो लोग निवास करते थे – एक भक्त – स्वयंसेवी और एक वेतन कर्मी (उनके नाम यहाँ नहीं दे रहा हूँ)। इनमें जो वेतन कर्मी था वह मानसिक-पीड़ा से त्रस्त था और स्वयं वो भक्त से सख्त नफरत करता था। पूर्व रात्रि को उसने उस भक्त के मस्तक पर हँसिया से वार किया। वह लहुलहान अवस्था में भागकर जान बचाने में किसी प्रकार सफल हो गया। पुलिस ने उसे अस्पताल में भर्ती किया और हमलावर कर्मी को जानलेवा हमला (Attempt to murder) करने के जुर्म में गिरफ्तार कर लिया।
क्या करूँ मुझे कुछ समझ में नहीं आ रहा था। ऐसी परिस्थिति से सम्मुखी होने का प्रसंग मेरे जीवन में पहले कभी भी नहीं आया था। आश्रम के मेरे सहकारी साधुओं के लिए भी ऐसी जटिल समस्या का कोई अनुभव नहीं था। एक अच्छा समाचार इतना था कि उस भक्त की हालत ठीक हो रही थी, जीवन को खतरा नहीं था, पर पूर्ण रूप से स्वस्थ होने में अभी काफी समय लगेगा। उस प्रसंग के कारण पुलिस स्टेशन में और वकील लोगों के पास कई बार जाना हुआ। फिर अब विवेकानन्द कल्चरल सेंटर में अब काम कौन करेगा यह भी एक बड़ी समस्या थी। यह हादसा क्यों हुआ और इसमें दोष किसका है इस बारे में भी साधुओं में मतभेद था।
कुछ महिनें के गुजरने के बाद यह समस्या समाप्त तो हुई किन्तु उससे काफी शिक्षा भी मिली। यहाँ इस घटना से सम्बन्धित एक बात लिखना चहता हूँ। जिनसे मैंने कार्यभार स्वीकार किया था वे श्रद्धेय रघुनाथानन्द जी इस सम शिलाँग में ही थे। उनसे जब मैंने इस बारे में सलाह पूछी तो उन्होंने हँसते-हँसते कहा, “हाँ, अब बाघ की पूँछ तुम्हें सौंप दी है; मैं फिर से पकडने की मूर्खता नहीं करूँगा। ”
और उसी दिन आश्रम का वार्षिकोत्सव शुरु होने जा रहा था। किन्तु आज भजन- गान होने वाला था, किन्तु गायक-वादकों का दल – जो दिग्बोई से आनेवाला था- वह नहीं आ पाया – उन लोगों में जो मुख्य थे, उन्हें चुनाव के कारण छुट्टी नहीं मिल पायी। यहीँ आश्रम से सम्बन्धित कुछ गायकों ने भजन किया।
उत्सव में सहभागी होने हेतु काशी से स्वामी शुद्धव्रतानन्द जी और तपनानन्द जी पधारे थे – दोनो रघुनाथानन्द जी के घनिष्ट मित्र थे; वे तीनो १९६० के दशक में शिलाँग आश्रम में लगभग एक ही साथ ब्रह्मचारी के रूप में प्रविष्ठ हुए थे।
शुक्रवार को दोपहर ३.३० को उत्सव का दूसरा कार्यक्रम हुआ। आश्रम के ही एक स्वामीजी ने कुछ और गायक-वादकों के साथ ‘गीति-आलेख्य’ (गीतों के माध्यम से श्री रामकृष्ण के चरित्र का आख्यान) सादर किया। फिर श्रीमती दीपाली चक्रवर्ती, शुद्धव्रतानन्द जी, तपनानन्द जी के सारगर्भित व्याख्यान हुए।
अच्छा भक्त- समागम हुआ था। उत्सव और दो दिन तक चला। बड़े अच्छे व्याख्यान और भजनादि हुए। एक बड़ा कार्यक्रम विवेकानन्द कल्चरल सेंटर में भी हुआ। श्रद्धेय रघुनाथानन्द जी को ‘विदाई पार्टी’ (send-off) भी इन्हीं दिनो दी गयी। शिलाँग आश्रम में मेरा प्रथम व्याख्यान भी हुआ। बहुत सारे भक्तों से वार्तालाप हुआ। प्रायः सभी भक्त मेरे साथ बांगला में और आपस में सिल्हेटी भाषा मे बात करते थे, जिसे समझने में मुझे काफी कठिनाई होती थी।
अगला दिन रविवार, १४ अप्रैल बांगला सालगिराह ‘नोबो बोर्षो’। प्रातः काल से ही भक्तों की बड़ी भीड़ लगी थी। उन सब के साथ मिलना हुआ, परिचय हुआ। सुबह- शाम विवेकानन्द कल्चरल सेंटर में उत्सव का अंतिम दिन मनाया गया। एक विख्यात गायक का सुंदर गायन सुबह हुआ और शाम को कई स्वामीजी लोगों के सुंदर व्याख्यान!
शिलाँग पहुँचकर मुझे केवल १२ दिन हुए थे, (उनमे से ६ दिन चंडीगढ़ की यात्रा मे खर्च हुए) किन्तु लग रहा था कि मैं यहाँ कई बरसों से हूँ।

स्वामी योगात्मानन्द वेदान्त सोसाइटी आफ प्रोविडेन्स के मंत्री एवं अध्यक्ष हैं। ये 1976 में रामकृष्ण मिशन में शामिल हुए और 1986 में संन्यास की दीक्षा ली। 20 वर्ष तक रामकृष्ण मिशन नागपुर, में कार्य करने के उपरांत रामकृष्ण मिशन शिलांग मेघालय, के अध्यक्ष के रूप में कार्यरत रहे। तदुपरांत आप सन् 2001के ग्रीष्म ऋतु में अमेरिका में वेदांत सोसायटी आफ प्रोविडेन्स के मंत्री के पद पर आए।

The Music of the Brahmaputra Valley.

An appreciation of culture helps immensely if we wish to understand a people, a society. For the person who comes newly to a region, or a State, several aspects of the ways of life of a place are often so novel that she finds herself exposed to a different world view altogether. This is the reason that well travelled people find such delight in the cultural richness and diversity of the state of Assam.

Geographical location is undoubtedly the single most important factor in shaping culture. It is geography that determines how accessible a place is, and this in turn, determines whether it is accessible to migrants from different lands, people who bring with them the influences of their own cultures, and their own ways of life. Geography also determines to a great extent how attractive a place is for potential migrants. Is the place well watered, is the climate suitable for agriculture and for living?

The location of Assam is unique in the sense that it is situated at the cusp of two great civilizations, the Indian and the East and SouthEast Asian. It is therefore inevitable that it should reflect the influences of both of them in various spheres. Till the other day, Assam, bound by heavily forested hills, and one of the biggest river systems of the world, was largely inaccessible to the rest of India, as well as to the lands to its east. But these fertile valleys that bask in the mellow sunshine of a moderate climate could not fail to attract migrants from great distances. The difficulty of the terrain leading into this golden land however ensured that historically, these migrations have taken place slowly. These migrants brought with them the culture of the lands of their origin. Because of the slow pace of migration, the assimilation process of each of these influences threw up newer creations, while retaining the flavour of the original. Over time, these mixed and melded with the local culture, to produce something that remains unique to this day. So whether it is cuisine, dress, textiles or literature, music or indeed the many other facets of traditions that manifest themselves in our everyday life, there is always something distinctive about the cultural markers of this land.

The musical ancestry of migrants is often a kind of race memory of the land from which they have come, even centuries after the actual migration has taken place. Music is the nostalgia, the recollection that migrants carry with them as remembrances of the land they have left behind for ever. In Assam, the various strands of its rich repertoire of music, both the vocal and the instrumental heritage, glisten with those memories. The melodies of this land are a seamless intermingling of the airs of the rest of India, particularly Northern and Eastern India, and also, on the other hand, of the many tribal cultures that surround the valley, in the hills of the region. There is also the Oriental aspect. These two latter influences are seen in the more staccato nature of the melodies of this part of the world, compared to the music of the rest of India, which is based on “meends”, or glides. Also, the melodies of the ethnic music of Assam are usually based on a descending scale, unlike the folk and Raag based melodies of much of the rest of the country. The mingling of the influences over the centuries has ensured a composite melodic end product that is as attractive as it is unique.

The music of Assam is rich in both the traditional as well as the folk kinds. Both these categories are often an accompaniment to dance, though they are also performed without this pairing. Among the most luminous of traditional music forms are those that spring from the Sattriya culture. These Sattras, or monasteries, were established by the great Vaishnavite saint, Srimanta Sankardeva (1449-1568) and his primary disciple, Madhabdev (1489-1596) Sankardeva himself wrote many works of devotion, among them the Kirtan Ghosa, Bhaonas and Naats (dramatic works) and so on. The Borgeets, or Great Songs that he wrote are performed with great piety even today. These are effulgent with devotion, and are based on Raags whose nomenclature is different from both the Carnatic and Hindusthani systems, and also a complex system of Taals or rhythmic patterns. The lyrics are in the sweet language known as Brajawali, a mixture of the Assamese of the time, and the language of Braj. The accompanying instruments of the time were the khol and the taal, or cymbals, but today, recitals of Sattra music are accompanied by the taanpura, violin and flute as well.

It is not the Vaishnavite faith alone that has beautiful devotional songs. Several other deities are worshipped through music. The Mother Goddess, in various forms, has always been very important here. Ai Naams extol her virtues and glories, and are usually sung by women.

Another category of traditional songs are the OjaPalis, where a group of men, and, these days, women too, divided into the main singer/narrator and the accompanying chorus, play out a dramatic musical narration, complete with basic dance steps and hand gestures. Small cymbals accompany the songs.

Muslims have their own songs of piety and devotion in Assam, known as Jikirs. These often sing of moral values and are accompanied by hand claps.

Assam is very rich in folk music, of which there is a large variety to be found here. In the Westernmost districts of the State, in Goalpara and Dhubri, for instance, one finds the luminous Goalpariya folk songs. These are related to the river songs of nearby Bangladesh and North Bengal, though their melodic development and vocabulary is different. These are the regions of the great wandering elephant herds. It is no wonder that “elephant songs ”have such a distinctive position in the folk music of this area. Boatmen’s songs from these musically rich districts are also very evocative in both their melodic and rhythmic schemes.

The adjacent districts also have a rich repertoire of folk music, Kamrupiya Loka Geet being highly melodious. There are also some intriguing categories, such as the “Moh Kheda Geet”of Barpeta which is sung by groups that fan out with burning torches, to chase away mosquitoes. The boat songs of Barpeta “Nao Khelor Geet”sung during boat races, are vigorous and energetic. There are several other categories of folk music, heard up and down the valley. These include the Tokari Geet, the Bongeet, the soothing lullabies or Nisukonigeet. Besides, there are the group songs such as Biya Naams (wedding songs) which are often extempore. These can be sad, as well as merry.

The best known folk form of Assam is the Bihu, an expression of joy and merriment, which is today a dance that is synonymous with the people of Assam. It is a dance celebrating fecundity and fertility, and is part of the Bihu festivals of April and January. The Bihu of Spring, especially, is a joyous one, with dancing and singing galore. The songs that accompany these dances are an integral part of the whole performance. The rhythm encompasses a vibrant double beat that is guaranteed to set feet tapping, and bodies swaying. The lyrics are often quite risqué, and depict the boy wooing the girl, and the girl’s teasing reply. Indeed, the whole tone of the songs is lighthearted, with lots of teasing and double entendres, guaranteed to bring a smile to the faces of the audiences. These songs are full of stunning descriptions of nature, evoking the lush beauty of the fields, the rivers, the trees and foliage all around. An intriguing aspect of these lyrics is the fact that they lend themselves to extempore creations quite readily. Many events of a contemporaneous nature are often incorporated into these short stanzas, as are teasing references to the audiences, especially if they are too inhibited to join in the dancing and singing!

Indeed, every tribe of Assam’s multi-ethnic community has its own distinctive music The Bodos celebrate “Baishagu”with song and dance. The Bagurumba dance, accompanied by song, describes the beauties of Nature. Every tribe celebrates Spring in its own way, with its own songs and dances, which enrich the composite culture of Assam. The Adivasi people of the tea gardens have their lively and graceful Jhumur dances and songs.

Among the traditional instruments of Assam are the flute made of bamboo, which is ubiquitous in the rural areas. There are, besides, the stringed folk instruments such as the Ektara and Dotara, which yield tunes that are resonant with feeling. There are also instruments such as the pepa or pipe, sometimes made from the horn of a buffalo, and the gogona or Jew’s harp. Among the percussion instruments are the khol, mainly used for music of a religious nature, and the more secular dhol, the nagara, and the bamboo clappers. It is to be noted that these are all made of material found in abundance in nature. The Ciphung Bahi of the Bodos is a long bamboo flute, played during festivals.

Contemporary music in Assam draws on this solid musical foundation. The amalgamation of various categories, and also more contemporary influences from outside the region, has resulted in some beautiful outpourings of music. Renowned artistes such as Bhupen Hazarika, Zubeen Garg, Papon and Kalpana Patowary, who have been nourished by the musical streams of this land, owe much to this rich heritage, which has nurtured their genius to produce their remarkable musical outpourings.