Ruth Harris on ‘Guru to the World’

Ruth Harris has written a new book [“Guru to the World: Life and Legacy of Vivekananda,” Harvard University Press, October 2022] that examines Vivekananda’s life through his transformative relationships and the impact he had on transforming the Western understanding of spirituality and the global perspective as a whole.

Ka Jingshai (KJ) was in conversation with Prof Ruth Harris (RH). Here is an abridged version of the interview, which can be found in full at

KJ: Your book about Vivekananda covers the importance of his philosophy from multiple perspectives in an interesting way. How did you discover Vivekananda, and why you decided to switch genres in your writing?

RH: Well, there are two things. On one level, it was a shift, a tremendous shift, and I had to spend 8-10 years doing the book because I had no background. On another level, it wasn’t because I came to it through French history. I was reading about the relationship between Romain Rolland and Gandhi and picked up two other books he wrote. One on Ramakrishna (La Vie De Ramakrishna), and the other on Vivekananda ( La Vie De Vivekananda). It’s that book that got me started. 

The second reason is that people like Vivekananda came from the colonial and imperial world to the west, but they shaped our views and shifted our perceptions. Also, I wanted to explore why somebody like Vivekananda had such an impact outside of India before he returned to India. I began to read letters, and I got a sense of him as a human being. That was very enticing.

KJ: When you read him first, what really struck you? 

RH: What struck me about him was his capacity to express very harsh, fundamental truths through wit and humour, especially to his western audience and, at the same time, his openness to their preoccupations. I was stunned by this because he could have been very angry. There were times when he said, ‘Please, don’t speak of us as heathens, don’t offer us stones when we need food.’ It was also his cultural ambidexterity that he could engage in any of the discussions Westerners were interested in. That struck me, and so did the first woman who dealt with him. He could talk about many things, and I began to think, ‘what does it mean for somebody like this, to so many different people, that he had to encompass all this learning and ability to communicate?’

KJ: Did you ever feel like ‘let me write on the Guru of Vivekananda?’

RH: Well, I have to say, of all the things I wrote, the chapter on Sri Ramakrishna was the most difficult. As a Westerner not brought up in this tradition, I had read the gospel of Ramakrishna, and I began to think of how difficult it is to convey the message of Ramakrishna. I was trying to understand, but we get that message only through devotees completely changed by his presence. We get an extraordinary sense of his charisma, humanity, and capacity to touch people with different psychological makeups. 

The story of Ramakrishna and Vivekananda is often told as a story of opposites, but it’s superficial opposites. Certainly, Ramakrishna comes across as  Bhakta, Vivekananda as sceptical Jnani. But underneath, it was Ramakrishna’s wisdom that he was learning. Vivekananda himself said, ‘I am a bhakta’. It is a complex and transformational relationship; I think Ramakrishna understands that you need somebody who can communicate in the wider world; the savviness of somebody like Ramakrishna really impressed me. 

Finally, I found out how he insisted on being a baby and said that innocence and play of babyhood are authentic Atman. He acknowledges Vivekananda’s intelligence; when he reasons too much, he says, ‘you must go beyond that.’ This is something that he used when he was speaking to his audience. It wasn’t just the rational Vivekananda that they loved.

KJ: What thoughts made you think that the concept of ‘Swami Vivekananda and America’ needs a new light? 

RH: There was a personal dimension here in a weird way. It brought many things together for me. Of course, I am American, ended up in Britain, and married an Englishman. It was interesting that working on Vivekananda brought my American, British and Indian friends together. 

Most of my American friends said, ‘we’re growing up; we’re not religious; we’re spiritual.’ I thought, ‘Where does that come from?’ Many of them were Jewish or Christian. But they all think of themselves as spiritual. Yet, they knew on some level that many of the ideas around spirituality they professed came from some vision of yoga or India. 

I realized that people had not grasped the connection between Vivekananda and William James, who was considered in America to be the founder of psychology. Romain Rolland, in  his discussion of Vivekananda, writes about William James. He recognizes that Vivekananda is part of a greater shift in views of self-consciousness and religious experience. I read some of his correspondence and realized that he was having a debate with Vivekananda. He does not accept Hinduism. He still thinks of it in very orientalist terms as metaphysical and transcendent, but not based on science.

KJ: It’s intriguing that you present and understand Indian ethos so delicately in this book. How challenging was that? 

RH: I can’t tell you. In the fourth year, I began to despair. I thought, ‘Oh, this time, I’ve bitten off too much. This time, I’m going to get into trouble.’ That’s because I could not understand, but I was working hard. I was raised in a Jewish tradition and spent a year working on Catholicism to learn about the Virgin Mary. 

I think the change came when I listened to a good translation of the Gita. When you begin to understand what it is, for Arjuna not to defend his family and his relations because of his Dharma, when Indian families mean so much. The sacrifice is extraordinary for the higher ethos I began to appreciate. 

Interestingly, many of my Indian friends began to recognize that we really can’t understand politics, and of course, the Indian anti-colonial struggle without religion. I had been working on religion and science for many years, but what I was doing on Vivekananda was different. It was in exchanges with my friends that I began to get an idea. I tried to be delicate, I’m not sure I always managed. 

I tried to use my historical imagination to enter into the world I was looking at. I realized that people pick and choose from Vivekananda. But the world he lived in was not like ours. We have to understand that it was a world of theosophy, spiritualism and Christian science. 

KJ: In Vivekananda’s writings and speeches, there seems to be a convergence between modern science and Vedanta. He also cautioned against superstitious beliefs in both science and religion. What is the main lesson to be learned from these opposing ideas?

RH: What he’s saying is don’t accept claims from either religion or science as blanket claims. Each individual must find her own path through intellectual understanding. Vivekananda globalizes Hinduism, he engages in debates, and he’s provocative. The Orthodox didn’t accept what he was doing. There are those who disagree with his vision of the relationship of Karma Yoga with Advaita. There are others who do not want to give up rituals. He never said you had to give up anything. He wanted people to question. Though he did prioritize Advaita above other forms, he never lost sight of the fact that Ramakrishna had achieved everything spiritually through Kali.

KJ: Do you think Swami Vivekananda, in a sense, was more unique in his approach than Ramakrishna?

RH: It is not that, that he isn’t unique; Ramakrishna is utterly unique. He’s not like anybody I’ve ever encountered, he’s remarkable. But what I’m saying is that Vivekananda becomes a global figure, he goes to Chicago, he does all those things that Ramakrishna could never engage with.

In his encounter with Ramakrishna, he wants to see God. Vivekananda has this mystical sense and he knows, that it was Ramakrishna who can do that. That’s when he accepts Ramakrishna. It’s a spiritual reconciliation of the highest order. I think that’s partially why he hopes to bring reconciliation when he goes to America. But he’s also savvy, he needs to impress them, he also acknowledges that there are dynamics of power that have to shift. He scolds the people in the West. He says, ‘You’re brutal, you’re materialistic. You don’t listen, you don’t see yourselves.’ When he comes back to India, he says, ‘You’re timid, you’re quarrelsome. you must learn self-reliance, commit yourself to practical Vedanta.’ Like a good Guru, he says different things to different audiences. Despite that, I don’t think that there are two Vivekanandas. He wishes he was back with Ramakrishna, but he has to shift his whole rhythm and psyche and it’s exhausting. That’s why his women friends in America, worry about him all the time, they see he’s exhausted.

KJ: Do you believe that the mental pressure and stress Vivekananda experienced was due to the obstacles and superstitious beliefs that he had to overcome?

RH: I do think it was very exhausting, it’s again that human capacity to acknowledge his weaknesses that I got attracted to him, that he wasn’t a Superman. That he not being a Superman, he’s extraordinary. He talks about ‘The imitation of Christ.’ You can imitate Christ, he says, be Christ, be better than Christ. But he doesn’t want Indians to imitate the British; he wants them to be Indian. How do you take the world, the universal, while remaining authentically yourself? That’s his message for individuals and nations.

KJ: How do you think these ideas about blending experience and reason are influencing the modern thought currents of the West? 

RH: In this connection, we may remember his discussion with William James. They all were trying to blend experience and reason. When people say in America, I’m not religious, I’m spiritual, what they’re trying to say is, I think, ‘we’re not superstitious, we don’t belong to these old ideas, but we are open to many different paths.’ 

He was interested in creating a Vedantic science, but he himself could not do that. He was interested in the idea that people would see the cosmic and the mundane together. They found it difficult because they think the universality is European rationality. But when science comes to India, it doesn’t shift. People are interested in science, but many continue to have their spiritual preoccupations.

In the West, there was a split. By the end of the 19th century, there was a revolt against these ideas and Vivekananda slots into those discussions. What’s interesting about Vivekananda is he believes in evolution, but he doesn’t believe that natural selection has a role in the higher mental and psychological faculties. Even Darwin’s co-discoverer, Alfred Russel Wallace, would have agreed with Vivekananda. 

KJ: There is a popular trend of using science to justify every religious ritual or practice. What was Vivekananda’s stance on this matter?

RH: Vivekananda wanted everyone to find his or her own way. He didn’t think that real spirituality was the miraculous. He encouraged people not to search for ‘getting powers or being miraculous’ He thought that a more enduring spirituality was based on perseverance and disciplined search. 

I think he’d learned that from Ramakrishna, and that’s why I begin that chapter by talking about how Ramakrishna has throat cancer and his disciples want him to cure himself, and Ramakrishna says, ‘I can’t ask for that. As I spent all my time explaining that the body is nothing.’

These are things that Vivekananda knew and tried to convey to his American devotees. 

One of the things about my book is to show how the vision of science changes very much over time. I still think that we have an overinflated view of science. It can explain some aspects of the world but not everything.

KJ: In your treatment of disciples of Swami Vivekananda, you have dealt with the Indians, the Americans and the British separately. Were their perceptions of Vivekananda different during his time? How do you look at this when the world is considered just one village?

RH: Absolutely. I mean, even though it is one village. In India, there are many who view Vivekananda through the eyes of family tradition; it’s there in the bone. Yet everyone has a different view in India of Vivekananda. 

In America and in Britain, it’s again, different because they see Vivekananda as basically the door opener to all these Indian ideas. I was trying to get them to understand that there’s a background to why he came to America. 

That Chicago thing is important because America is not yet an imperial power, it will be in 1898, five years after the Parliament. He’s glad to be in America because he speaks English but doesn’t have to deal with colonists. In Britain, people have heard of Vivekananda but don’t think of him through an imperial lens. They think of him as the founder of yoga. That’s what many people have heard of Vivekananda, but they don’t realize that he has had such a powerful afterlife in Indian society.

KJ: After reading Swami Vivekananda’s teachings on Vedanta, the concept of Self, Atman, and oneness, as a Westerner, how revolutionary were those ideas for you to comprehend?

RH: Yes, it really was revolutionary. But I also have to say what I loved about reading these high flights of Hindu metaphysical thought was how he joined them to stories.

First, I only understood the parable side, and then, with time, I began to investigate the other side. I spent so much time reading about American women because I was like the American women. But also because I’ve lived in Britain so long, I was like Margaret Noble.  Again the relationship between universalism and particularity is a very important issue for the Jews, the relationship between love and longing for spirituality. 

Vivekananda has been spoken about as a great cosmopolitan or a great globalist. But I think, after the pandemic, we realized that it’s not so easy when we are a village on one level, but we’re also highly fragmented. 

KJ: Vivekananda was many things to many people. Ruth, why did you want to attribute the word Guru to him?

RH: It’s very simple. I was saying that he was trying to be a guru to the world. But I also was trying to explain that India was often placed in that position. But rather than being easy to do, it’s also problematic because the idea that India is spiritual and the West is materialistic is basically a cliche.

We know that Indians are not purely spiritual and that Westerners are not purely materialistic. So while he enters into the Western world, by presenting himself as a guru to the world, he’s also constrained by these very categories that don’t allow people to step outside the box. I think that’s a great paradox for him.

I think it’s, if you don’t mind my saying, because I’m not Indian, it remains a great paradox for India today because India wants to be a world teacher, but it’s not always true that people do it that way. I wanted to explore that paradox honestly and with generosity.

KJ:  You mentioned that the book’s purpose evolved over time. Have you ever travelled to India, and if so, for what reason?

RH: I did. I went to the archives, and I did everything. I also went all over America to look at archives. I was in St. Louis, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Boston. I, of course, went to Calcutta, to Belur Math. I had to go to all these places. Because if you don’t have a sense of place, you can’t understand and, when you go and visit people, they give you bits of history. They give you their memories, what has been passed down to them, and you learn a lot.

KJ: Do you think Vivekananda’s philosophy should be taught to school or college students for a better world tomorrow?

RH: I think it would be very interesting to have some aspects of his work on universalism and diversity in the curriculum in our schools. In England, there is teaching in Christianity. But there’s also a lot of emphasis on religious studies, and now they’re starting to do courses on Hinduism.

 I would recommend reading ‘Practical Vedanta’, the lectures in London, where he describes that everything can be in the service of this Self that is God, even in the most humble things.

Professor Ruth Harris is a Senior Research Fellow at All Souls’ College and a Professor of Modern History at the Oxford University. She has been awarded Guggenheim Fellowship and Wolfson History Prize and was elected a Fellow of the British Academy. She has published widely in the history of science and medicine, the history of gender and religion, and the history of politics and emotion.

Manipur and Jagoi Ras

Manipur, an erstwhile kingdom, has a chequered history. In the beginning Manipur valley was a vast lake. When the lake started drying up people descended to the valley and settled there. The Meiteis of Manipur are said to be the descendants of a break-away group of the Shang Dynasty of Central China and the Lei-hou tribe of Koubru hill situated in the north-west of Manipur valley. They established their principality in Koubru hill range sometime during the 15th century B.C. Over the centuries, many people belonging to Tai Shan groups from China and Burma (Myanmar) migrated to Manipur and settled in the valley.

Jagoi Ras on stage by Brojendro Thounaojam

King Loyumba (1074-1112 AD) instituted Loyumba Shinyen, a written constitution, which was essential in the reordering of the society to integrate the dominant groups. In many ways principles of this constitution still govern the Meitei social system.

The Ningthouja dynasty of the Meiteis founded by Nongda Lairen Pakhangba in 33 AD ruled Manipur till the British took over in 1891. They installed a royal blood on the throne as a proxy ruler till they left in 1947. The reign of the Ningthouja dynasty continued until the monarchy was abolished in 1949 after the merger of Manipur with India.

Manipur’s connection with Hinduism started when Hindu kingdoms in mainland India were overrun by invaders and people, especially the Brahmins, started running off to safer places to escape the onslaught. Starting from the 15th century A.D. waves after waves of the Brahmins entered Manipur and assimilated into the local population.

Besides the Meiteis, there are 33 recognised tribes in Manipur. Frequent intermarriages with different tribes have also enlarged the gene pool of the Meiteis. More often than not ‘Manipuri’ is used as a generic term to encompass all the peoples living in Manipur.

Doyen of Indian Theatre, Ratan Thiyam maintains, “Manipur is beautiful because of its syncretic culture. We have accommodated every culture, every religion, every ethnicity that came our way, and out of this fashioned a unique identity for ourselves. This is an outlook we inherited from our ancestors and this is precisely what has made our arts great and our society resilient. Why are we questioning this greatness inherent in us now?”

Manipuri culture presents an amazing synthesis of artistic and moral aspects. Manipuri performing arts encompass dance, music, martial arts, drama, etc. To the Manipuris dancing is devotion and submission to God.

The tradition of worshipping pre-Hindu deities continued even after the coming of Hinduism. Meitei religion is centred on the veneration of deities. Lai Haraoba or pleasing of deities, ceremonial rites to appease deities, a pre-Hindu festival, is an important festival of Manipur.

Lai Haraoba has been preserved in its most pristine form — its dance forms and oral literary and poetic traditions are still intact even long after the Meiteis have become Hindus. Hinduism could not totally subvert the pre-Hindu Meitei religion. Even the kings who patronised Hinduism continued to worship pre-Hindu gods and goddesses. Meitei religion reached a modus vivendi with Hinduism.

Rajarshi Bhagyachandra (1759-1760, 1764-1798) is considered to be the most devout of all the Hindu Manipuri kings. During his reign the image of Shri Govindaji at the temple in Imphal was carved out of a jackfruit tree as Shri Krishna had revealed in his dream. He also arranged to cast the image of Sanamahi, a pre-Hindu deity, in metal. He worshipped both the deities. 

Classical dance is associated with spirituality and has a deep-rooted relationship with Natya Shastra. Manipuri Ras Lila known as Jagoi Ras in Manipuri is one of the classical dances of India. During his lifetime Rajarshi Bhagyachandra founded three Ras Lilas, viz., (1) Maha Ras, (2) Kunja Ras and (3) Basanta Ras. These original forms of Jagoi Ras belong to temples and are never performed outside the precincts of temples. His successors founded another two Ras Lilas, viz., (1) Nitya Ras and (2) Diva Ras.

Three years after the installation of Shri Govindaji, for the first time Maha Ras in classical tradition was dedicated to Shri Govindaji at Langthabal (Canchipur), on the full moon night of Hiyangei (October-November), in 1779 A.D. It continued for five days in which the chief queen and other members of the royal family took part with the young lady Vimbabati playing the role of Shrimati Radharani. King Bhagyachandra himself played Pung (Mridanga) while his uncle, Ngoubram Shai was the leader of the vocal group.

Jagoi Ras customarily starts with a Sankirtana known as Nat Sankirtana. The term ‘Sankirtana’ signifies a form of song or chanting performed in public to praise God. Dance, song and music all combine with devotion in Sankirtana. In a typical recital, two drummers and many other singer-dancers with cymbals in their hands perform, supplemented by conch blowers. The rituals of Nat Sankirtana are all continuation of the original rituals of Lai Haraoba with suitable changes made to adapt to the need of time, situation and other relevant factors.

“Sankirtana: Ritual singing, drumming and dancing of Manipur” was inscribed on the Representative List of the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity during the eighth session of the UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee meeting in Baku, Azerbaijan, held from Monday 2 to Saturday 7 December 2013.

Maharas at Shri Gvindaji temple, Imphal by Kosygin Leishangthem

There are different costumes assigned to the dancers playing Shri Krishna, Shrimati Radhika, Brinda Devi and the Gopis.

Jagoi Ras on stage by Brojendro Thounaojam

Shrimati Radhika, Brinda Devi and Gopis wear potloi, a cylindrical costume made of layers of stiff starched cloths covered with a bright coloured silk cloth (either red or green) on which chamaki or bright metal pieces are sewn. Green coloured potlois are for Shrimati Radhika and Brinda Devi. It is tied to the waist of the female performer. Above it she wears another short skirt like garment called poshwal (poswan). Potloi is so designed that any movement of the legs of the performer is correctly transferred to it. In other words, potloi dances along with the steps of the performer.

All the performers in the three Ras Lilas associated with Govindaji Temple gather up and tie their hair on the top of their heads. Each dancer wears a koktumbi, a conical headwear, over the hair. Then the head is covered with a maikhumbi (semi-transparent white veil).

Khwang-goi, a belt, is tied to the waist. Khwang-nap, a flap, is placed on the front. The upper portion of the body is adorned with resham phurit or velvet blouse. Khaon, astrip of embroidered cloth, is put on across the upper portion of the body from left shoulder to right waist and the flap is dropped below the waist. Khaon is used for the performers in Ras Lilas associated with Govindaji temple.

Shrimati Radhika, Brinda Devi and Gopis in Nitya Ras and Diva Ras can wear either koktumbi or another type of headwear called jhapa. But jhapa is not allowed in Govindaji temple. On their hands they wear khutnam topi (an ornament worn on the top of palm), khuji (bracelet)and khuji thak rattan zoor (an ornament tied to forearm and upper arm).

Shri Krishna wears golden-yellow silk pheijom (dhoti) with green borders. Two Khaons are put on across the upper part of the body from shoulder to waist, from right to left and left to right, with the flaps hanging below the waist on either side. Shri Krishna also wears Khwang-goi and khwang-nap.

Shri Krishna’s headgear comprises of chura, cherei and kajenglei. Chura is the crown of peacock feathers. Cherei or paper-flower is the thin strips of white paper on a string worn at the back of the head. Kajenglei is the circular headdress consisting of numerous brass strips with red tuffs.

On the hand from the top of palm to arm, Shri Krishna wears khutnam topi, khuji popchaobi (thick bracelet), taan (plaque), tanthak (an ornament worn above taan) and tankha (an ornament worn below taan). On the bridge of foot and around the ankle Shri Krishna wears khong-gi leiteng. It covers up sengao sarik or the string of small metal bells around the ankle.  

The complete set of costumes for Shri Krishna is called natavaravesh.

  • Maha Ras is performed at Govindaji temple at night on the full moon day of Hiyangei, a month according to the traditional Manipuri lunar calendar falling in October-November. It corresponds to Kartika Purnima.

Shri Govindaji representing Lord Krishna participates in Maha Ras. For this purpose, the deity is taken out of the temple in a grand ceremonial procession to the Ras Mandal after rituals. The deity is carefully placed on Vhadra Chakra, a revolving platform at the centre of Ras Mandal. The Gopis dance around while the deity revolves in all directions.

There are some basic differences between Govindaji temple and other temples including Bijoy Govinda. At Govindaji temple, the deity is present at the Ras Mandal. No dancer enacting the role of Krishna is present. At other temples, the role of Krishna is enacted by a dancer. The solo episodes of ‘Radha and Krishna’ or ‘Krishna Nartan’ are there. At Govindaji temple, instead of the episodes of ‘Radha and Krishna’ a significantly big Artika is offered in the beginning with the two deities of Shrimati Radharani and Shri Krishna installed on the Vhadra Chakra.

Historically, Maha Ras was performed in the precincts of Govindaji temple with the participation of the members of the Royal family. As it is more ritualistic and have certain practices to be followed, very little change has taken place in this form.

  • Kunja Ras is performed at Govindaji temple at night on the full moon day of Mera, a month according to the traditional Manipuri lunar calendar falling in September-October.

In Kunja Ras Shri Krishna meets the Gopis at a secret grove of their choice.

  • Basanta Ras is performed at Govindaji temple at night on the full moon day of Sajibu, a month according to the traditional Manipuri lunar calendar falling in March-April. The season of colours is enacted in the Ras. Chandravali, the second in devotional ecstasy to Shrimati Radharani too joins Basanta Ras. The episode of Mana signifying the discarding of Shri Krishna by Shrimati Radharani is the most thrilling and sympathetic portion of Basanta Ras.
  • Nitya Ras was founded by Maharaja Chandrakirti (1850-1886).

This Ras Lila is not dedicated to Shri Govindaji. One of king’s daughters, princess Sanatombi married and lived with her British husband major Maxwell, the then British administrative officer. This relationship was not approved by the Royal family. According to Manipuri custom at the time she was regarded as an outcaste. Princess Sanatombi organized the Nitya Ras founded by her father and celebrated it outside the temple premises with herself in the role of Makokchingbi (a major in the Ras Lila).

Nitya Ras can be performed in any month of the year except Sajibu, a month according to the traditional Manipuri lunar calendar falling in March-April. Female dancers of Nitya Ras were not allowed to use Koktumbi or the headdress of Shrimati Radha and Gopis for the three dance forms associated with Govindaji temple. Nitya Ras is also known as Nartana Ras.

  • Diva Ras was created during the reign of Maharaja Churachand (1891-1941).

Diva Ras is the youngest of the five Ras Lilas. It started during the reign of Sir Churachand Singh, the royal head during the British Manipur administration. The time was around 1940 A.D. before World War II.

This Ras Lila is performed during day time hence called Diva Ras. The time of Diva Ras is scheduled ahead of the time of Shri Krishna’s coming back home along with the cows from the pasture.

Manipuri Ras Lilas have undergone many transformations since Rajarshi Bhagyachandra created Maha Ras. In the olden days traditional dancers, singers and artists could survive because of the patronage of kings and dignitaries. Now, they are left to fend for themselves to stay alive. To earn their livelihood they have to bend their ways and try to adapt to the present trend. To attract tourists and entertain people Manipuri Ras Lilas have come out of temples. Excerpts have also been adapted for stage performance. Performance lasting whole night has been squeezed into ten to fifteen minutes

References: –

Tayenjam Bijoykumar Singh, ‘Beyond the Spectrum: The Tradition of Lai Haraoba’ / Northeast India: The Insiders’ Definition. Marg, Volume 63 Number 4, June 2012  

 R.K. Danisana, Manipuri Dances (A Panorama of Indian Culture). Rajesh Publications, New Delhi 2012  

Haobam Ibochaoba Singh, The Pre-World War-II Form of Ras Leela. Published by (L) Haobam Ongbi Shantibala Devi W/o H. Ibochaoba Singh, Uripok Haobam Dewan Leikai, Imphal, January, 2009  

 K.C. Tensuba, Genesis of Indian Tribes: An approach to the History of Meities and Thais (first published in India by M.C. Mittal, Inter-India Publications, New Delhi in 1993)  

 M. Kirti Singh, Religion and Culture of Manipur. Manas Publications, Delhi, 1988  

E. Nilakanta Singh, Fragments of Manipuri Culture. Omsons Publications, New Delhi, 1993  

Pradip Phanjoubam, “Drama in the time of bigotry: theatre director and poet Ratan Thiyam” in the Hindu, December 01, 2018 04:15 pm | Updated December 02, 2018 10:21 am IST; Accessed on December 4, 2022  

 Saroj Nalini Parratt, “The Court Chronicle of the Kings of Manipur; the Cheitharon Kumpaba”. Routledge, Oxon, simultaneously published in the USA and Canada, First published 2005. (CK Vol. 1)  

Saroj Nalini Parratt, “The Court Chronicle of the Kings of Manipur; the Cheitharon Kumpaba”. Vol. 2. 1764—1843 CE, Cambridge University Press India Pvt. Ltd., First published 2009 (CK Vol. 2)  

Tayenjam Bijoykumar Singh is a bilingual poet, writer and translator from Imphal, India. He writes poetry, short-stories and nonfiction in both English and Manipuri. His original writings and translations in English have appeared in Oxford University Press Volumes, Sabd, Pratibha India, Interstate Commerce Commission Quarterly, Chandrabhaga, Imphal Free Press, North-East Frontier, Sentinel / Melange, Katha Volumes, Glimpses from the North-East (published by National Knowledge Commission), Marg etc.He is the Vice–president of, North East Writers” Forum, a life member, of Naharol Sahitya Premee Samiti, Imphal, and an advisor, Chorus Repertory Theatre, Imphal founded by Ratan Thiyam.


For good or for evil, the religious ideal has been flowing into India for thousands of years; for good or for evil, the Indian atmosphere has been filled with ideals of religion for shining scores of centuries; for good or for evil, we have been born and brought up in the very midst of these ideas of religion, till it has entered into our very blood and tingled with every drop in our veins, and has become one with our constitution, become the very vitality of our lives.

-Swami Vivekananda


The epic Mahabharata as a legend is considered the foundation of Indian history and philosophy. With 2,111 chapters, 100,000 verses, 18 books (or “parvas”), 107 sub-parvas, and the appendix Harivamsha, is the longest epic in existence. The magnitude of this work is eight times larger than the size of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey combined. Not only is it a captivating story, but it also holds a wealth of profound knowledge and understanding about Indian culture and values. It has enthralled generations and remains an inspiration to people today.

The great sage Veda Vyasa, also known as Krishna Dvaipayana, is credited with writing this epic according to folklore. The Mahabharata introduces us to a wide variety of human characters, ranging from the sublime to the absurd. No human emotion, act of bravery, charity, selflessness, or malice is overlooked in this epic. Śri Krishna is undoubtedly the most brilliant and picturesque personality projected by the epic. He appears on the scene suddenly at the time of Draupadi’s svayamvara and continues to appear throughout the story. All his energies are channeled in one direction: protection of the right and the good, and punishment or destruction of the wicked. His remarkable prowess, matched only by the bewitching beauty of his perfect form, sage counsels, superb stratagems, and immensely superior statesmanship, captivate our hearts. The epic portrays him as God Himself come down to save mankind, as he himself admits in the Bhagavad Gita, which is a part of this great Epic.

In this edition of Ka Jingshai- the Light, we are delighted to present the Khasi rendition ‘Ka Mahabharata. Translated by Sri H L Pde and prof Streamlet Dkhar in 1974. This timeless classic had been lost to the annals of history.

In the English section of this edition, we bring you a rich variety of articles. You can read about the Vivekananda Cultural Centre from the memoirs of Smt. Champa Sen Choudhury, reminiscences of the late Dr. Bidhu Bhushan Dutta, and an exclusive interview with Prof. Ruth Harris from Oxford University. These articles offer unique perspectives on Indian culture and provide readers with valuable insights into the cultural legacy.

In the unexplored pages of history, tribute is paid to the freedom fighters of Northeast India – ‘Pa Togan Nengminja Sangma’ of Meghalaya and ‘Pioli Phukan’, a freedom fighter of Assam, who sacrificed their lives. This issue also raises serious contemporary issues such as the increasing migration from villages. The literary section features the poem ‘Jheeni-Jheeni Beeni Chadariya…’, while short stories ‘Catherine’ and ‘Moch’ are devoted to social concerns. The arrival of the season of spring ‘Basant’ and strength ‘Shakti’ are celebrated in Poesy.

We express our gratitude to the authors for entrusting us with their extraordinary works, allowing us to share them with our esteemed readers. With this edition of Ka Jingshai, we present a wonderful opportunity for our readers to explore the multifaceted and vivacious culture of India. We sincerely hope that this edition brings you immense pleasure and that the articles within it touch your hearts and inspire you to develop a deeper appreciation for the rich cultural heritage of India.

Keep sending us your suggestions.

Hunting the Stag Lapalang Illustrations: Peace

Once upon a time there lived with its dam on the Plains of Sylhet a young deer whose fame has come down through the ages in Khasi folk-lore. The story of the Stag Lapalang, as he was called, continues to fascinate generation after generation of Khasi youths, and the merry cowboys, as they sit in groups on the wild hill-sides watching their flocks, love to relate the oft-told tale and to describe what they consider the most famous hunt in history.The Stag Lapalang was the noblest young animal of his race that had ever been seen in the forest and was the pride of his mother’s heart. She watched over him with a love not surpassed by the love of a human mother, keeping him jealously at her side, guarding him from all harm.
As he grew older the young stag, conscious of his own matchless grace and splendid strength, began to feel dissatisfied with the narrow confines and limited scope of the forest where they lived and to weary of his mother’s constant warnings and counsels. He longed to explore the world and to put his mettle to the test.

His mother had been very indulgent to him all his life and had allowed him to have much of his own way, so there was no restraining him when he expressed his determination to go up to the Khasi Hills to seek begonia leaves to eat. His mother entreated and warned him, but all in vain. He insisted on going, and she watched him sorrowfully as with stately strides and lifted head he went away from his forest home.

Matters went well with the Stag Lapalang at first; he found on the hills plenty of begonia leaves and delicious grass to eat, and he revelled in the freedom of the cool heights. But one day he was seen by some village boys, who immediately gave the alarm, and men soon hurried to the chase: the hunting-cry rang from village to village and echoed from crag to crag. The hunting instincts of the Khasis were roused and men poured forth from every village and hamlet.

Oxen were forgotten at the plough; loads were thrown down and scattered; nothing mattered for the moment but the wild exciting chase over hill and valley. Louder sounded the hunting cry, farther it echoed from crag to crag, still wilder grew the chase. From hill to hill and from glen to glen came the hunters, with arrows and spears and staves and swords, hot in pursuit of the Stag Lapalang.

He was swift, he was young, he was strong—for days he eluded his pursuers and kept them at bay; but he was only one unarmed creature against a thousand armed men. His fall was inevitable, and one day on the slopes of the Shillong mountain he was surrounded, and after a brave and desperate struggle for his life, the noble young animal died with a thousand arrows quivering in his body.

The lonely mother on the Plains of Sylhet became uneasy at the delay of the return of the Stag Lapalang, and when she heard the echoes of the hunting-cry from the hills her anxiety became more than she could endure. Full of dread misgivings, she set out in quest of her wanderer, but when she reached the Khasi hills, she was told that he had been hunted to death on the slopes of Shillong, and the news broke her heart.

Staggering under the weight of her sorrow, she traversed the rugged paths through the wildwoods, seeking her dead offspring, and as she went her loud heartrending cries were heard throughout the country, arresting every ear. Women, sitting on their hearths, heard it and swooned from the pain of it, and the children hid their faces in dismay; men at work in the fields heard it and bowed their heads and writhed with the anguish of it. Not a shout was raised for a signal at sight of that stricken mother, not a hand was lifted to molest her, and when the huntsmen on the slopes of Shillong heard that bitter cry their shouts of triumph froze upon their lips, and they broke their arrows in shivers.

Never before was heard a lamentation so mournful, so plaintive, so full of sorrow and anguish and misery, as the lament of the mother of the Stag Lapalang as she sought him in death on the slopes of Shillong. The Ancient Khasis were so impressed by this demonstration of deep love and devotion that they felt their own manner of mourning for their dead to be very inferior and orderless, and without meaning. Henceforth they resolved that they also would mourn their departed ones in this devotional way, and many of the formulas used in Khasi lamentations in the present day are those attributed to the mother of the Stag Lapalang when she found him hunted to death on the slopes of Shillong hundreds and hundreds of years ago

Dr. Peacefully Kharkongor is an Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, Women’s College, Shillong. She also has a passion for art.

आजादी अमृत महोत्सव

हेमलता गोलछा, गुवाहाटी
आजादी की उमंग दिलों में जगाने को
नव स्वर्णिम युग का उत्थान हुआ।
बिगुल बजा विकास का भारत में
चहुँमुखी उन्नति का सूत्रपात हुआ।
तोड़ पराधीनता की बेड़ियों को
जीवंत लोकतंत्र का निर्माण हुआ।
ग्रामीण विकास योजना की नींव रखी
संविधान के आदर्श स्वरूप का निर्माण हुआ।
शिक्षा को मिला आधार स्तंभ
‘बेटी बचाओ, बेटी पढ़ाओ’ की धारा का प्रवाह हुआ।
खंड खंड में बंटे भारत को अखंड बना
370 धारा का सफाया कश्मीर से हुआ।
आतंकी हमलों का मुँहतोड़ जवाब दिया
सर्जिकल स्ट्राइक का कीर्तिमान नाम हुआ।
मिटाने को भ्रष्टाचार उठाए ठोस कदम
नोट, वोट और खोट में नव चमत्कार हुआ।
सैन्य का सीना चौड़ा, महाशक्ति मिसाइल से
अंतरिक्ष में छलांग से प्रगति क्षेत्र को मकाम मिला।
स्वच्छ भारत अभियान है जोरों पर
‘नमामि गंगे’ से नदियों का जीर्णोद्धार हुआ।
देश विनिर्माण में कड़ियाँ जोड़ दी लाखों
आत्मनिर्भर भारत के स्वप्न का संचार हुआ।
पारदर्शिता है चुनौतिशील है राष्ट्रीय नायक
तीन तलाक मिटा ‘सर्वे भवन्तु सुखिनः’ का आग़ाज़ हुआ।

आजादी अमृत महोत्सव

मुझे बोनसाई नहीं होना



Back to Autumn 2022

Mahatma Gandhi at Golakganj, Assam

Before 1901 there was no place called Golakganj. The place was known as Tokrerchara and was in fact pretty insignificant. It was not even a proper market but largely for the chhara or the water body. Other than paddy, the place also used to produce jute and that was one of the major attractions of the small-time merchants to sail upward in their boats from the downstream of the river Gangadhar and buy jute from the farmers. Till the late nineteenth century many sailors used to come to this place to do their trade in the nearby haats of Materjhar and Pratapganj which were the major markets in the western part of the zamindar of Gauripur, who used to be called by the laity as the Raja Bahadur. As typical of the markets, Pratapganj and Materjhar attracted many merchants including the Marwaris. The Marwaris used to come to the district of Goalpara since the mid-18th century. Among the early Marwaris to Pratapganj were the Kanhailals of Pratapganj. Kanhailal had first arrived at the Dhubri port which was the district headquarters of Goalpara, but the main place was Gauripur which was the capital of the Raja Bahadur of Gauripur. In fact, it was Raja Pratap Chandra Barua who had donated the land to the British to set up their district headquarters at Dhubri. Raja Pratap Chandra Barua shifted their capital from Rangamati to Gauripur in 1850. Pratap Chandra was the descendent of Kabindra Patra who was the first zamindar of Gauripur and was one of the trusted generals of Chilarai, the legendary Koch warrior. His son Raja Prabhat Chandra Barua was an illustrious ruler. Golok Barua was one of the sons-in-law of the Gauripur Rajbari who was given the western part of the estate to look after which which comprised some of the major haats like Materjhar, Pratapganj, Tamarhat, Harirhat, Paglahat, Agomani and others.
Assam Railway and Trading Company under the British had introduced the railways in Assam in 1881 in upper Assam between Dibrugarh and Margherita. The purpose of the track was primarily to ferry timber and other forest resources and coal. Assam was not yet connected to the rest of country by railways. It happened in 1901 when they had opened a line to Assam through Golakganj. As per the railway plan to take the line from Lalmonirhat, Gitaldaha, Bhurungamari in Rangpur subdivision (now in Bangladesh) to Assam they had chosen the small village Torerchara as the Gateway to Assam. But then to lay the line they needed a considerable amount of land. At that it was Golok Barua who had agreed to offer land with the conditions that the railway track would be laid on the land he would provide and the railway station at the Tokrerchara village must be named after him. The British Railway company had agreed and named the station as Golokganj junction as it became the point for the track to divert to Dhubri and towards Fakiragram. In 1901, with the coming up of the station, the place came to be known as Golokganj and the otherwise insignificant village began to grow as an important place. That was the time when many Marwaris too began to come to Golakganj as it grew as a major trading centre as communication became easy to reach markets at Bhurungamari Lalmonir Hat and other places in Rangpur district, and more importantly Calcutta came closer to Golakganj. Under the Gauripur estate, the Golokganj became an important part of which Jogomohan Prodhani was the jotedar who was locally called the zamindar.
There were many stories about Golokganj railway station. The famous Bengali author, Bimal Mitra, they say, was here at Golokganj as the Station Master for some years. Golokganj gained importance because it turned out to be the first railway station of Assam through which trains entered the Assam territory. But the station has became famous for the arrival of two major figures of India’s freedom struggle- Netaji Sbhash Chandra Bose and Mahatma Gandhi.
Netaji Subhash came to Assam in 1938 after he became the President of Indian National Congress. He had come on the invitation of Bishnuram Medhi and Gopinath Bardoloi to Assam to save Assam from being a part of Pakistan as the Muslim League had carried out a massive campaign for that purpose. Sir Sadulla, a Muslim Leage leader from Assam was to become the chief of Assam at that time. He went to Guwahati and met the Congress leaders and came to Dhubri. On October 31, 1938 Subhash had arrived at Golakganj at around 7am to a big crowd gathered there to welcome him. From he had proceeded towards Dhubri to stay there for the next two days.
One of the most significant events in the context of the Freedom Struggle was the visit of Mahatma Gandhi to Assam. He had come to Assam thrice- 1921, 1926 and 1934. Since he came by train, every time he had to travel through Golakganj Junction. The train to Guwahati would invariably wait about an hour at Golakganj railway station.
Mahatma Gandhi’s visits to Assam were well recorded. During his first visit to Assam his train, Darjeeling Mail, reached Golakganj on 18 January, 1921. He was received by Nabin Chandra Bardoloi, who later became the General Secretary of the first Assam Pradesh Congress Committee. In1920 following the resolutions at the Nagpur session of Congress, Gandhi had launched the non-cooperation movement. Assam too became a part of the movement after the annual session of Assam Association held in 1920 at Tezpur. In March Gandhi had set a target to raise rupees one crore for the ‘Tilak Swaraj Fund’ and enroll at least one crore new members for Congress for four anna each. Accordingly the target set for Assam was Rs. 1, 30, 000 when the population of of Assam at time was around 4 crores 70 lakh (excluding the Surma valley). On 17 January 2021 Mahatma Gandhi came to Assam and reached Golakganj in the morning by train from Calcutta by Darjeeling mail. There was a huge crowd to have a glimpse of the Mahatma as though they had heard so much about Mahatma Gandhi, they never saw him. Besides, there were many tales doing the round among the common masses about his supernatural power turning him into a kind of a mythic figure for the general people. Nabin Chandra Bardoloi was among the major leaders from Assam to have welcomed him at that the station.
In 1926 Gandhi had come to Assam to attend the Congress Session held at Guwahati when the population of Guwahati was just about 16000 only. He began his journey from Calcutta to Assam on 23 December 1926. This time too he had stopped at Golakganj station to receive the warm welcome of a mammoth crowd. His last visit to Assam was in the year 1934 when he had come to Assam to raise funds for his movement against untouchability. On the morning of 10 April, 1934 Mahatama had arrived at Golakganj who was greeted by the Congress leaders like Omeo Kumar Das, Devendranath Sarma, Garhmuria Goswami, Kailash Chandra Prodhani, Bhuban Chandra Prodhani and others. On that day Mahatma went to the Kachari Ghar of zamindar Kailash Chandra Prodhani to take rest and address a gathering. Kailash Chandra Prodhani was the eldest son of Jagomahan Prodhani who was a major jotedar under the Raja of Gauripur. In the meeting Kailash Chandra Prodhnai had donated a pouch of gold coins to the Mahatma. In the evening Mahatma Gandhi along with other Congress workers went to Rupshi and spent his night there at the zamindar of Rupshi where the people had donated an amount of Rs. 1000 to Gandhi. He then went to Gauripur and Dhubri where zamindar Kumar Jagadindra Narayan Choudhury had delivered the welcome address.
These episodes were significant historical events which are reflective on how the general multitudes actively took part in India’s freedom struggle. This is part of the micro-history which has immense value to know and discover many untold stories of India’s freedom struggle which had made tremendous impacts even in the small, nondescript places like Golakganj

Hazarika, Sanjoy. “Subhas Bose and the ‘special’ case of Assam” , The Sunday Guardian, http://www. sunday-guardian. com/analysis/subhas-bose-and-the-special- case-of-assam. Accessed on 19 March 2022
Passah, Wandell. Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose in Shillong (June 12, 1927) in The Shillong Times. 28 January 2022
Saikia, Chandra Prasad. Ed. Asomot Mahatma. Guwahati: Asom Prakashan Parishad. 2007 (First edition, 1969)
Special correspondent. “Netaji’s visit to Dhubri remembered on his 120th birth anniversary” in The Assam Tribune 15 Sep 2010 5:30 AM https://assamtribune. com/netajis-visit- to-dhubri-remembered-on-his-120th-birth-anniversaray. Accessed on 21 April 2020
Dr Jyotirmoy Prodhani, a professor at English Department, NEHU he writes on different areas ranging from short stories to ethnicity of North East India. On the literary front he is a member of North East Writers Society and Asom Sahitya Sabha. He also is the president of North India East Association for Human Sciences (NEIAHS), Life Member of the forum on Contemporary Theory (FCT), Baroda. Hauthored several books that are both immersive and informative

Back to Autumn 2022

Traditional Medicine: its importance and protection

Indigenous knowledge has no single definition, however, it may be defined as knowledge that is unique to a given culture or society and provides the infrastructure for agriculture, health care, food preparation, training, environmental conservation, and other life processes at the local level. It is part of the identity of indigenous tribes. It has been regarded as an important commodity in global health development. World Health Organisation (WHO) in its recommendations on Health for All Declaration (1978) highlighted the need to include local people, their traditions, and practices in Primary Health Care (PHC).

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines traditional medicine as ‘the health practices, approaches, knowledge, and beliefs incorporating plant, animal and mineral-based medicines, spiritual therapies, manual techniques, and exercises, applied singularly or in combination to treat, diagnose and prevent illnesses or maintain well-being

Herbal medicine in traditional medical practice is an important resource that can be mobilized for the attainment of the common goal of health for all. These herbal medicines have contributed significantly to man’s struggle against diseases and the maintenance of health. In recent years, interest in the use of herbal preparations has increased. Herbal medicines are used in most countries within the state health care system or in communities and private practices outside the state system.

Traditional and indigenous knowledge is unique to a given culture or society and the Jaintias who adhere to the traditional belief system are no exception to this knowledge, particularly in health care.
The Jaintias have a rich variety of traditional healing systems. One common healing practice is known as ‘Prem ya ka Tiar”, where an elder with extraordinary folk knowledge use ginger and chant a spiritual song or mantra. The chanting goes like this, “Ko Syiem Synchar Biskorom Blai, ko jaid ko Thakur ko chanbnein ko chankhyndaw, lurmiet luchai soodong i pyrthai. . . . . ” This practice is used to cure intestinal gas, belching, bloating, and flatulence. There are different types of ‘Prem’ for different ailments. Back in the old days, when one is traveling by train outside the State, our parents would give us ‘Syin Prem’ to be used during our journey for healing different ailments like diarrhea, fever, toothache, etc. This healing process is prevalent in the niamtre community.
Let me narrate the story of when I was a child, regularly I would have ringworm all over my neck. And the infection worsens during the winter months. No matter how frequently I visited a dermatologist and applied antifungal cream, there is no sign of a cure. In 1986, in the winter month, my maternal uncle, took me to my hometown, Jowai to visit a traditional healer by the name Late Waheh Kento Sumer. Early in the morning, he took us to the paddy field at Dulong Poh Hali, Jowai. Here, he pick from the soil a tiny red insect, and with chanting, he rubbed the insect all around my neck. I was advised to sort of plaster my neck with a cloth for a week. After a week, the rashes which had become dry just fell off my neck and since then I never have had the problem of ringworm again to date.
Then in our hills we often heard of a tree we called Deiñ Kaiñ – a type of tree that causes skin allergy. Any person with less charm, if one happens to be in the proximity of the tree; one’s will experience rashes all over the body. We were warned by our elders not even to point the finger at the tree because it will also cause a rash or skin allergy. My friend’s father, Late Rev. P. L. Wann while at Sutnga was supposedly under the influence of the Deiñ Kaiñ, while strolling around. In a few minutes, he experienced an unbearable rash and his right arm was swollen. When he reached Shillong, luckily one student who study at St. Anthony’s College, Waheh Bal Pakma hailing from Kyndong Tuber (Six kilometers from 8th Mile Jaintia Hill) who came to heal him. The healing process was that he presses the palm with his fingernails. Within a week the swelling and the rashes disappeared and were cured.
Snakebite is a significant public health problem in many developing countries. Farmers are particularly exposed to snakes. There are more than 3000 known species of snakes of which around 300 are poisonous. In India out of 216 species, approximately 53 are poisonous. Traditional healers of snake bites are a vanishing breed. In Jowai, Waheh Tingboi Thma of Loomkyrwiang is a famous healer. Waheh Tingboi Thma has saved many lives over the years. Unlike traditional healing methods, such as local incision, herb ingestion, application of snake stones, and tattooing, Thma’s healing process involves some rites and rituals.
Since man first learned to make fire 1. 7 to 2. 0 million years ago, burns and scalds have been one of the most common of his injuries. Remedies for burn wound healing are practiced to date by the Pnar. One of the prominent traditional healers of burn injuries is Late Litis Kyndiah. The process of healing is called ‘Slu iñ diñ’, where the healer would use mustard oil and chant on it, which will be used as an ointment and applied to the burn wound. This practice is still in operation in Khasi and Jaintia Hills
However, the advent of western cultures has had a great impact on the traditional healing system. Today, the survival of many indigenous/traditional knowledge systems is at stake because of rapidly changing natural environments and fast pacing economic, political, and cultural changes on a global scale. Traditional knowledge is transmitted from generation to generation, often in oral form or by way of example, whereas written sources may not exist at all or only in local languages. Thus, it is imperative to preserve the knowledge held by our forefathers. It is in this context, that the Traditional Knowledge should be afforded effective protection.
Throughout the world, indigenous peoples and local communities have developed a wealth of traditional knowledge that they wish to protect and promote. Yet few have to use the intellectual property system to do so. Article 31 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (2007) is an important reference in this regard: “Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain, control, protect, and develop their cultural heritage, traditional knowledge, and traditional cultural expressions, as well as the manifestations of their science, technologies, and culture, including human and genetics resources, seeds, medicines, knowledge of properties of flora and fauna, oral traditions, literature, designs, sports, and traditional games and visual and performing arts. They also have the right to maintain, control, protect, and developed their intellectual property over such cultural heritage, traditional knowledge, and traditional cultural expression. It’s further declared that “In conjunction with the indigenous people, States shall take effective measures to recognise and protect the exercise of their rights”.
This valuable asset is at risk. Since traditional knowledge practices have ancient roots and are often oral – are not protected by conventional intellectual property (IP) systems. In recognition of the value and preservation and promotion of the traditional knowledge system, in recent years, the protection of TK has received increased attention in various international forums, including the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the International Labour Organization (ILO), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Health Organization (WHO), the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the UN Commission on Human Rights
The African proverb says “When an elder dies, a library burns down”. This clearly sums up the importance of traditional knowledge preservation and cultural continuity.

Dr Omarlin Kyndiah teaches Biochemistry at St. Edmund’s College, Shillong. Known for his insightful writing he also is the General Secretary of Sein Raij Niamtre Shillong

Back to Autumn 2022

U Sib Charan Roy: A True Khasi Nationalist and Indian Freedom Fighter

On 19th December 1929, the Indian National Congress voted for ‘Purna Swaraj’ – total independence from British rule. Several prominent national leaders of the time were at that historic session held in Lahore. From the Khasi hills there was only one gentleman present – U Sib Charan Roy Jaitdkhar Sawian.
U Sib Charan Roy, born on 4th April 1862 in Sohra, was the eldest son of the legendary Babu Jeebon Roy Mairom. Like his father, he too endeavoured to instill pride in his people, for what was their own, and dedicated his entire life to this cause. He wrote extensively on the philosophy of Niam Khasi (the indigenous faith), translated important Indian religious texts to Khasi, published comparative studies, gave influential lectures in the early formative years of Seng Khasi, wrote patriotic songs that are still sung today, and even battled the agents of the East India Company in a trade war. The famous ‘Shad Suk Mynsiem’ (Dance of the Peaceful Hearts) was initially known as ‘Ka Shad U Sib’ (Sib’s Dance). These are just a few glimpses into his life and contributions.
He was a staunch Khasi who believed in and subscribed to the idea of “India”. For him, there was no conflict between Khasi Nationalism and Indian Nationalism, as he was very clear with the following – the Khasi Way of Life and Worship was an integral part of the great cultural and spiritual heritage of the sub-continent, and British rule was a clear threat to its survival. He fought the British, at the height of their powers, using his intellect and his unshakable belief in himself and his faith.
This clarity led him to support the Swadeshi movement from very early on. He joined the Indian National Congress in 1920. Although he never held an official post at Seng Khasi, he was an icon, and his work greatly helped the organization grow in strength. He propagated the traditional Khasi systems of administration and governance and said that the Khasis were not a conquered people, but he saw how they were rapidly losing their identity. He wanted a Khasi state with its values intact within the “New India”. In his newspaper ‘U Nongphira’ (The Watchman) he shared information and articles about the freedom struggle, created awareness and clarity about the treaties that the Khasi states had signed and was never afraid to expose the propaganda and lies of the colonial machine. The paper was banned in 1915 but he returned with ‘U Nongpynim’ (The Reviver) which was also ultimately banned in 1940.
The British authorities attempted to suppress and silence him multiple times, but he never backed down. He won a very important case maliciously filed against him, known as the Weiking case, where he had been accused of trampling on cemetery grounds on the way to the traditional Khasi dance arena (Lympung Weiking) in Jaiaw, Shillong. This was proven to be false and today the public road that runs down the middle of the hill stands as evidence. Books misinterpreting what he said, to discredit him, are still in publication, an ugly inheritance of the colonial legacy. However, due recognition without bias is also coming to light.
He was a supporter of the non-cooperation movement and adhered to Mahatma Gandhi’s
‘Satyagraha’ -quest into truth. He admired Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and spoke highly of him, while sections of Khasi society were plotting to protest and pelt stones at the great revolutionary. The poison injected by the British into the psyche of the local populace had sunk in deep. This anti fellow Indian and anti self mentality, tantamounting to self – denigration sadly continues till today. The greatest and most dangerous lie the British and their hounds planted in our minds was that the Khasis had no links with the rest of the country. This sinister divide and ruin policy still weakens us, but I am certain newer generations will not fall prey as easily.
When U Tirot Sing Syiem was battling David Scott and the East India Company, in the early to mid-19th century, the idea of a single independent nation had not fully crystallized. Revolts had spread across the land, but they were largely unconnected. Princely states and small communities began to take up arms on their own. However, by the time U Sib Charan began to write and publish material against the British in ‘U Nongphira’ the idea of an independent and united nation was becoming clearer, although the boundaries would drastically change as demands for a separate Islamic state in the western and the eastern corners of Bharat gained ground. Natural barriers, like rivers and mountain ranges, overnight became the new international borders. Khasis lost vast tracts of land to the newly created East Pakistan, today known as Bangladesh. Communities were split apart on this side of the subcontinent too.
U Sib Charan was confrontational, and fiery at times, but he was always guided by Truth and the search for it. While most Khasis only talk of ‘U Hynñiewtrep’, the Seven Huts, he is one of the few who has ever invoked ‘U Khyndaitrep’, the Nine who remained in the celestial abode of the Divine Creator, U Blei. Not only did he protect the indigenous faith, he also strengthened it. No one can deny that the Khasi identity has been kept intact largely due to efforts of leaders such as him – for the greatest form of preservation is through practice.
He wanted us to grow with and from the power of being part of a deep and vast ocean of spiritual bonds and traditions. It is up to us to derive strength from our similarities, rather than retreat further into the suffocating walls of gloom, desperation, blame and confusion. U Sib Charan believed strongly in the need for reforms, but he was vehemently opposed to outside interference and foreign ideas determining the path forward. His vision was clear – we must progress from our own Roots and understanding of Divinity and Fellow Man.
U Tirot Sing, Kiang Nangbah, U Mit, U Hon, U Dur, U Sib Charan Roy and many more fought not just to protect the land. . They fought for the dignity and soul of the people. Today that soul is growing stronger and clearer, with prideand peace in the garden of our Mother Goddess – Ka Mei Ri India (Bharat Mata). May we and many more continue to bloom in the years to come. Happy 75th year of Independence!
Ïai Minot! Khublei! Jai Hind!

Hammarsing L Kharhmar, President of ‘Ka Tbian Ki Sur Hara’, a Performing Arts School of Seng Khasi (Kmie).

Back to Autumn 2022

Singpho Royal Family of Bisagaon

Image: Cottonbro(Pexels)

Margherita, a small town in Upper Asom, where tea-gardens roll up and down spreading lush greenery, takes one’s breath away. Hiten Bora, the then SDO had a lovely bungalow, in the midst of a tea-garden. We were there on his invitation, enjoying his hospitality, when he asked us if we were interested in going to a Singpho village. I jumped at the chance of visiting a tribal village. I have this fascination for villages, meeting different people, perhaps it’s the blood of my anthropologist father in me.
Bisagaon is a Singpho village. I had heard about tribal villages from my father, Bhuban Mohan Das. I was translating my father’s articles to be compiled into a book “The Diary of an Anthropologist” and in its process I got to know about different villages and different communities. I had also gathered some second hand knowledge about the Singphos. So, when I got the chance to visit a Singpho village, I was thrilled.
Just opposite Ledo coal mines a narrow path ran down. Our car followed that track. A big tea-garden loomed ahead. We steered along the passage through the green tea shrubs. Wherever we cast our eyes there were just green tea bushes, the looming sirish trees and the smell of the tea leaves. A never-ending field of tea bushes, as if we were lost amidst the greenery. At one point of time the car halted. A narrow river blocked our path. We got down from the car. We found some men waiting for us on the opposite bank of the river. The Singpho king was informed of our visit and so he had sent men to guide us. One of them was the Gaonburha, the village head of Bisagaon.
We crossed the river on a boat. Two men walked ahead leading us to the royal palace while Gaonburha walked behind us. We were to cover some distance on foot to the royal house. The fields were bare with only the stubbles sticking out of what were at one time green meadows. Harvest been over the crops were now stored safe in the granaries. Walking over the barren ground for some time we reached the king’s house.
A big chang-ghar, a house on bamboo stilts greeted us. A wide green field with ranges of hills all around and in front of us the big chang-ghar. The house seemed to merge in that natural surrounding. We walked up the wooden ladder. The verandah was made of dried leaves. Bare-footed we walked into a big room. The floor was of wood. Horns of a deer adorned the wall. The house seemed to speak of a past history. But modern possessions too were accommodatef. At one corner of the room was a television set.
We walked into another room. A long mattress was laid on the floor. Covering it was a Jaipuri bed sheet. We sat on it. A dwarfed table was laid before us and before each seat was a brass pot, a flat bowl and an empty glass. The pot was filled with water. We could pour water from the pot and wash our hands and faces into the big flat bowl.
The king sat opposite us. There was no mattress under him, only a rectangular piece of cloth. Above him was a rack on the wall where some English books found their place of importance.
When we asked him about his children he said he had five sons and seven daughters of which two were dead.

The king spoke about a lot of things. He was not a king now. There was no kingdom, hence no king too. But his grandfather was the king of that region called Bisagaon. They were Singpho people, their original home being Burma. To this date there were still relatives and friends in Burma. At one point of time there were no boundaries between Burma and India. They crossed hills and valleys and entered India from Burma to settle in Bisagaon. Till the days of his grandfather there were constant visits to and from Burma. But no one needed any pass to visit Burma, he said somewhat regretfully. “We may live in the plains, but we all are people of the hills. No matter how long one cuts ways to make roads, it will lead to the hills. ” The king said philosophically, “There is no other way. Hence, it’s no use showing our backs to the hills. ”
“Have you noticed one thing?” the king asked with a twinkle in his eyes. “There is no crow in this area. ”
True, this place had no crows. It was only when the king pointed out that we realised that there were no crows. He gave the reason too. “Tipam mountains are very powerful. If any crow crosses that hill then it is sure to fall sick and die. The mountain God does not allow any crow to cross the range. ”
They seemed to have a kind of fear and respect for the mountains.
“If you happen to show the rice filled bamboos towards the mountain god he gets very angry. He sends down rain and thunder in his fury. ” He meant the bamboos that were being used to steam rice.
When we discussed the problem of drugs among the present generation, and asked if his youths were falling into such troubles, the king smiled and said, “There is a story here too. There was a king. He had a daughter. She was Kani, i. e. blind. So, no youth came forth to marry her. She was very sad and cursed before dying – ‘No one was attracted towards me when I was alive, but after my death every one will fall for me. No one will be able to resist me. ’ When Kani died, she turned into a beautiful flower. Whosoever gets attracted towards her can never leave her. ”
Poppy flowers are called Kani in Assamese. We couldn’t help laughing at the way he narrated the story in reply to our curiosity regarding the youths of Bisagaon and their attraction towards drugs. It was quite a diplomatic response too.
Meanwhile, his daughters came out and put before each of us a bottle of Xaspani, i. e. home-made liquor, and a plate of pork. The king said, “This white xaspani is not at all strong. Very good for health. ” We were given some chutney to have with the pork. This cuts down the adverse effects of the pork fats.
The Singhphos eat their food before sunrise and after sunset. “There is a reason behind this, ” said one of the king’s men. He went on to explain the reason. Long time ago, when people used to live a different kind of a life, when they were more intent in gaining territories for themselves and their clan, at that time whenever they would cook and the smoke was seen from far, the enemies would get to know that there were settlers in that area and they would invade. In order that the enemies could not see from far the smoke rising out from the chang-ghar, they never cooked anything when there was light. This tradition continued to date.
It was time for our lunch. The girls put two bundles of rice wrapped in leaves on each of our plates. Then came the small bowls for each of us with chicken curry, fish curry, mashed fish, three or four types of vegetables. On opening the leafy bundles an appetizing aroma arose. However, one bundle contained so much of rice that we couldn’t even finish it. How were we to eat two bundles? When I said that one bundle would have been more than enough one of the girls said, “We are not supposed to serve just one pack. Even if you don’t eat from the other pack we have to serve two. This is our custom. ”
The girls who served us wore cloths tightly round their heads so as to cover their hair. One of the girls said, “When we cook and also when we serve we have to tie our head in this manner so that no hair falls into the food. ”
After lunch I went to see their kitchen. It was a big room with a cooking fireplace in the middle. A very big chang, i. e. a hanging platform, was over the fireplace with provisions to store things on it. A wooden staircase ran down from one side of the kitchen to a neat vegetable plot. Till the eyes could go there was a stretch of paddy field, now only with the stubbles sticking out.
When we were about to take our leave I stood below the house staring at the structure. A beautifully built large chang-ghar. At one time the king had ruled his kingdom from this very place. The king came out with his wife and said that she did everything, right from cooking to working in the paddy fields. My mind clouded as I looked at the queen. She did all her work silently. But she was the queen, even though there was no kingdom today. She was in the same position as the queen of yesteryears. Then why did she have to work so hard? When I voiced my thoughts, the king said, “I brought her with my money. I have paid for her. I have not brought her empty-handed. If I had brought her without giving anything I would be damned in hell. I have bought her and so she is mine. She has to work. ”
I thought of the dowry system in the other parts of India. There is no dowry system in Asom and the rest of the northeast, at least it was not heard of till recent times when people got to know about the system through media. Even then there are just stray cases in this region. But in the rest of India the bride’s family has to pay quite a lot to the groom’s family as dowry. When one ponders over what the Singpho king had said, then the boy actually belongs to the girl’s family, being bought with money. So, the boy should work under the girl. But things do not happen that way.
Once again we walked along the stubble field. This time the king, one of his daughters, two sons, Gaonburha and the two men who had come to fetch us from the riverside walked with us.
At a distance was a temple. The daughter pointed at it and said, “It’s a Buddhist temple. During Bihu festival, the idol of Buddha is taken out and put on a high place. The people pour water over the idol and also throw water on each other. Hence, this Bihu is known as Pani (Water) Bihu. There’s a lot of merry-making on this occasion. ”

The Singphos are Buddhist. Though they eat meat they do not kill any animal themselves. But the son informed us that at one time down history an elephant was sacrificed every year from the royal house. During the passage of time the elephant was replaced by a lamb and finally by a hen. While talking about hen, they said that the head of the hen should always be offered to the most respectable person. And for the Singphos their maternal uncle was the most highly regarded person. During feasts the heads of the chicken should be given to the maternal uncle of the family.
The king’s daughter told me that girls and boys worked equally hard in the fields as well as in the house. I asked, “Can your brothers cook?” to which the daughter said, “My brothers have to work in the kitchen in the same way as we the girls of the house do. ”
Today, we are talking about the equality of men and women, demanding that men should do the same work as the women do in the house. But the Singpho men and women have been working hand in hand in every field of life through centuries. The sons of the king were studying in English medium schools, getting their education like their counterparts in the rest of the country. Yet they had not forgotten their customs, their tradition. They talked with us in Assamese without any flaw. But among themselves they talked in their own Singpho language.
Pointing toward the distant mountain range, the king’s son said, “Through the passes of those mountains our forefathers had walked to Burma. At night they used to take shelter in the villages. The villagers offered all kinds of hospitality. They took days to reach Burma. Who can walk for such long distances today? It’s no point even if one can. You must have some kind of permit to enter. ”
It appeared that the youth of today too felt sad that the link between the mountains and the valleys had snapped. One cannot cross the political boundaries. These people still mourned their lost relationship due to the political rules.

Another interesting fact was revealed to me as I walked along with the king’s son and daughter. They did not take any food in some houses though they are on friendly terms with the family members. The reason was that their forefather had some quarrel with those families in the long past and had vowed by touching the dao (sword) that they would never take any food or water in their houses. The following generations kept that vow and the king’s family did not eat in some houses in order to stick to the pledge of their forefathers.

The history of the Singphos is not to be found in a written form. Their history had come down orally from one generation to the next. The king enlightened us with the story that their history was written on a piece of leather. But one day they were very hungry and could not find anything to eat; they made smoked leather out of the piece and ate it up. History went into their tummies. But the Singphos had to know their family tree up to the seventh generation. If they happened to visit another village they must be able to recount the names of their seven forefathers; if they couldn’t they were not allowed to enter the village or was not allowed to meet the person they were looking for. In the past when they had to travel to Burma, it was very essential that they knew the names of their forefathers up to the seventh generation. If they couldn’t, they were not permitted to stay in the village for the night. Even today the Singphos know the names of their forefathers to the seventh generation; the custom is still prevalent. It’s a nice custom; at least the people know their roots.
Once again we crossed the river by boat. I looked back at the Bisagaon we had left behind. I could never forget the people who still clung to their traditional beliefs and customs and took pride in working hand in hand, be it the royal family or the commoner of the Singpho community.
Srutimala Duara a lecturer in Handique college, Guwahati is an established writer who writes in English and Assamese. She has published a number of novels, collections of short stories and articles both in English as well as in Assamese
Her acclaimed works include ‘Autumn poems’ , ‘Ashes in seas’, ‘Steet Dogs Club’ and ‘Along my routes’

Back to Autumn 2022)

How I Came to Sri Ramakrishna

“And when you die and go to hell, it’s going to be for all eternity. You’ll be tortured there forever. ” To say I was shocked when I heard these words, coming from the mouth of the cousin of a good friend of mine while we were all playing cards together, would be an understatement. I was thirteen years old at the time. My friend’s cousin was an adult, and children of course tend to take what an adult says very seriously. My friend, who was also thirteen, had invited a few of us to join his extended family on a weekend camping trip. We were all having a wonderful time. At one point, a few of us sat down together for a friendly card game. As we played, the conversation had moved to the topic of religion.
All of this occurred in the rural countryside of Missouri, a state in America that has a large population of very conservative Protestant Christians. I was raised Roman Catholic, which made me religiously different from many of my friends and classmates. This difference had never been raised as an issue, until this fateful card game.
A couple of years before the “card game from hell, ” my father had been injured in a truck accident. He was hospitalized for many months, and then he was sent home, where my mother and I cared for him. His injury eventually led to his death, which happened when I was twelve years of age (one year before the camping trip and card game I have just mentioned).

During my father’s ordeal, and following his passing, I had begun to study the religions of the world. While I was still a devout Catholic, I also had an open mind, and wanted to know what many traditions and philosophies had to say about the big questions of life. What happens after we die? Why do we suffer? Does life have a purpose at all?
I was especially focused on the question of the afterlife. I was convinced that my father did not simply cease to exist when his body ceased to function. Indeed, as I saw him suffer through his many profound injuries, I became firmly convinced that we are not this body. If the body can become a prison, as my father’s had, or if it can turn against us, as it does in the case of someone with cancer, then it is something other than us. We are beings of consciousness who experience through the body, but we are not the body. And, not being the body, our existence could well be independent of it.
And indeed, this is what I was taught in the Catholic Church: that the soul and body are distinct, and that the soul continues to another destination after death. Like all Christian traditions, Catholicism teaches that souls in a state of grace reside forever in heaven with God after death, and that souls that are in a state of sin are punished forever in hell. The Catholic Church also has the view that there are souls who enter a third state, called purgatory, which is preparatory to life in heaven, where we are purified of our remaining imperfections.

There were aspects of this view, though, that troubled me. First, I did not feel that I knew of anyone who was so good as to deserve an eternity in heaven, or so evil as to deserve an eternity of punishment in hell. Eternity is a long time: forever. In fact, this was the topic under discussion when my friend’s cousin told me I was going to hell.
Secondly, the concept of hell itself made no sense to me at all. Whenever my parents had to punish me as a child, it was to teach me a lesson, so I would not make the same mistake again, and would do better next time. But an eternal punishment can have no end. It does not improve us. We just suffer forever. What kind of God would inflict an eternal punishment, with no purpose? And if God is all knowing and is our creator, this would mean that God, with full foreknowledge that we would be punished for eternity, went ahead and created us anyway, allowing us to live in a state of sin and then suffering forever. Such a God, in effect, creates beings precisely to punish them for eternity. This is a sadistic, hateful being, and not the God of love taught by Jesus.
The concept of purgatory made a great deal of sense to me, because it acknowledged that most of us are neither wholly good nor wholly evil. Most of the people I have encountered in my life are basically good, but imperfect. They typically do not seek to do harm willfully. I would say this of myself as well.
The problem with purgatory, though, was that it led me to the question, “If we still have imperfections that we need to work out after death, what was the point of this life? What were we doing here, if not working toward greater perfection?” The idea formed in my mind that perhaps we are already in purgatory: that we keep coming back, life after life, and gradually improve until we finally reach perfection and are received into the presence of God.
As I began to learn about the world’s religions, I found this idea echoed in the teachings of traditions like Hinduism and Buddhism: the idea of karma and rebirth, and an ultimate liberation from this process. This rang true to me as being consistent with my experience, with logic, and with the idea of a God who is both loving and just. We need to work out our imperfections. There is no free way out. But we have as many second chances as we need in order to do this.
I was especially drawn to India, and to Hindu traditions in particular, through seeing the movie Gandhi and through listening to the music of the Beatles, especially George Harrison, who was deeply influenced by Hindu traditions and teachings, having been prominently connected to both Transcendental Meditation and ISKCON, as well as the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda and Swami Vivekananda (whose Raja Yoga he read during a holiday in India in 1966). In both the writings of Gandhi and the music and lyrics of George Harrison, I saw references to the Bhagavad Gita. I thought, “This sounds like a very wise book. I need to find this book! ”
Around this same time, I went with my Grandmother to a local market that was being held in the parking lot of a church (the Methodist Church in our small Missouri town). I accompanied Grandma to many such markets, usually in search of old science fiction novels and comic books. But at this particular market, which I attended around the age of thirteen, I walked to a table with a lot of books and magazines and found, on top of the pile: the Bhagavad Gita! It was a turning point in my life, as I had been thinking of this book but did not know how to go about finding it. I felt almost as if God had left it there for me to find. I picked it up, and the first verses I read were Lord Krishna’s reassurance to Arjuna that when the body dies, the soul continues. Just as a person casts away old and worn-out clothing and puts on a new set of clothing, the soul takes on a new body.
I was astounded to find this ancient book, from another part of the world, which echoed precisely the philosophy to which I was feeling drawn. I have sometimes said that it was like being an extraterrestrial, raised by human beings, who had come across an artifact from his home planet. This book made more sense to me than anything else I had ever read or heard.
So, when I was playing cards on the camping trip and began expressing my views once the topic of religion arose, my friend’s cousin promptly informed me that I was going to hell. I was not only a Catholic. (She believed that all Catholics were going to hell in any case). I was a weird Catholic who believed in rebirth. I was definitely going to hell!

I had already concluded by that time that the idea of hell did not make any sense. I was also offended by the hypocrisy of someone who claimed to be a follower of Jesus (who said, “Do not judge others”) judging and condemning me to hell. But I was also shaken that an adult would speak in such a way to a child, threatening them with eternal damnation. It felt to me like a form of child abuse.
What made more sense to me, and seemed, again, more consistent with the idea of a just and loving God, was that paths to God must be universally available. It would be up to us, as free beings, to choose whether we took one of these paths. But a loving God would certainly not leave entire civilizations in darkness, as many Christians claimed.

Some time after the card game from hell, as I continued to my exploration of the world’s religions, I was reading Huston Smith’s The Religions of Man and came across the following words of Sri Ramakrishna:
‘I have practiced, ’ said he, ‘all religions–Hinduism, Islām, Christianity–and I have also followed the paths of the different Hindu sects. I have found that it is the same God toward whom all are directing their steps, though along different paths . . . The substance is One under different names, and everyone is seeking the same substance; only climate, temperament, and name create differences. Let each man follow his own path. If he sincerely and ardently wishes to know God, peace be unto him! He will surely realize Him. As with the doctrine of rebirth, and my finding the Bhagavad Gita, reading these words reflecting the Hindu teaching of pluralism–that many paths can and do lead to the ultimate goal–was a transformative experience. This made sense! Much more than the idea of only one true faith, with everyone else in the world going to hell

Early in my spiritual journey, I read the works of many great and wise teachers: not only Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda, but many others as well, like Paramahansa Yogananda, Aldous Huxley, Alan Watts, Swami Muktananda, Swami Rama, and still more, as well as classic texts such as the Upanishads, the Dhammapada, the Daodejing, and so on. I also continued to read and study from within the tradition in which I was born, exploring the works of Thomas Aquinas, Augustine, Anselm, and modern masters like Thomas Merton.
Many years later, after I decided to pursue a career in the study of philosophy and religion and was in the midst of my graduate studies, I met the woman who became my wife, best friend, and fellow traveler on the spiritual path. Mahua, a Bengali Hindu, was born to the tradition of Sri Ramakrishna. Her father was a great devotee of both Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda, while her mother was a similarly great devotee of Anandamayi Ma. It was through this family connection that I came to appreciate the teachings of Sri Ramakrishna at an even deeper level.
Early in my teaching career, after graduate school, the two of us attended a conference, where I presented on Swami Vivekananda’s role in the rediscovery of Buddhism in India. Several swamis and pravrajikas of the Ramakrishna Order also presented at this same conference. I found these presentations to be the best of all, blending both scholarly acumen with a spiritual sensitivity and an appreciation for the depth of Swamiji’s philosophy. My wife and I were both especially drawn to one of these swamis, who eventually consented to become our Guru, giving us diksha, or initiation, into the tradition of Sri Ramakrishna.
I feel that, in this tradition, I have truly come home. I am grateful for my upbringing in the Catholic Church. It gave me a solid foundation in morality and an appreciation for spiritual life. I found, however, the teachings of Christianity too confining, though I nevertheless retain a deep appreciation for it as a valid path to God-realization, as Sri Ramakrishna has taught. When I had ceased to identify with Christianity–ironically, during my time as an undergraduate at a Catholic university, the University of Notre Dame–I felt a sense of freedom, but also a sense of becoming “unplugged” from a source of spiritual energy and inspiration.
Since taking initiation in the tradition of Sri Ramakrishna, I again feel “plugged in. ” I have become convinced that the guru-shishya-parampara, the tradition from teacher to student, tracing back to a great enlightened being, and the guru-shakti, the spiritual energy, that is transmitted via this lineage, are real things. (In the Catholic Church it is called “apostolic succession, ” and is traced back to Jesus. )
As of this writing, it has been twenty years since I met my Guru, and almost twenty years since my initiation. I am grateful every day to God, to my Guru, to my wife, and to the family of all spiritual seekers around the world for the experiences that have led me to this place:
even that miserable card game all those years ago!

Jeffery D. Long is a religious studies scholar who works on the religions and philosophies of India, particularly Hinduism and Jainism. He is a professor of religion and Asian studies at Elizabethtown College. Dr. Long is associated with the Vedanta Society, New york. A major theme of his work is religious pluralism. Dr. Long has authored several books.

Back to Autumn 2022