O Gangamayi, Supreme Queen
You cardled me under your spell;
wrapped under the lustrous blanket of stars,
with cushions of eternal snow,
in your divine abode of the
Himalayas, beyond the reaches of fears and doubts
you granted me the first glances into your golden orb.
Dispelling the mind waverings forever
with the playful splashes of your roaring torrents, you whispered the mysteries of your words of power.
Since, you have sent me forth with your magical force of invisible winds,
and made me the witness of the veilings and unveilings of your creation.
O Gangamayi, Supreme Queen
Saturday, March 28, 2020
I can hear the church bells ring for noontime Angelus from our house in Connemara. They are a reminder to repeat a prayer:
The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary,
And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art Thou . . .
Now and at the hour of our death.
The Divine Mother everywhere is the remover of obstacles and affliction. But in Ireland we pray to Mary in particular to intercede with Jesus her son and with God the Father in times of distress. If there has ever been a time to ask for her help, it is during this Covid-19 pandemic, for those who are sick or facing destitution or otherwise in fear.
The bells of this Catholic church are virtual. Their machine-generated tones, broadcast from loudspeakers, reverberate over the unnaturally still streets of the village.
The following day (Sunday)
Only one or two parishioners are allowed inside the Catholic church to assist the priest for Mass. I am not one of them.
But I can see the priest in my mind’s eye. I can hear him repeat Christ’s words, ‘Do this in memory of me.’ And I ask – is it merely memory? Is not the Last Supper being recreated at this moment? Does not the remembrance by even a single worshipper usher the Lord’s Lila into existence?
Meditating on the Eucharist through the lens of the Gita, we understand the Mass as the eternal sacrifice. The sacramental host, the act of its offering, he who consecrates the host in the inner flame of his being – if you realize the Divine in each of these, you will reach the Divine.
Meanwhile – the little village where I live has eight rumored cases of Covid-19, which, relative to its tiny size, implies an astronomical rate of infection. Naturally people here are fearful. They accept lockdown without reservation. As recent arrivals from abroad, my wife and I are more restricted than the other villagers – we may not enter shops or any public building.
Sunday, April 26, 2020
Now the church is live-streaming Mass with an iPhone for camera. It is reassuring to watch, to picture myself there, though the priest sings off key and his words are difficult to make out as they echo across the near-empty cavern of the church.
A month ago the villagers were just afraid of the virus. Now they are restless to boot. Emotions are raw and ever on the verge of multiplying like uncontrollable audio feedback. Still, these Irish are practical people. In their hearts they are calm, they view the pandemic as one more passing thing. Life will return to the old ways sooner or later. Shops and pubs will reopen, crowds will watch the Galway races elbow-to-elbow, and churches will fill up on the major feast days. This is a conservative place where tradition dies hard, if it ever dies at all. Famines and wars have devastated this part of Ireland, forcing half the population to emigrate and decimating the rest. Those who remained passed down to their descendants a stubborn identity as Catholic Connemara Irish.
For seven centuries, the English colonial rulers suppressed the native Irish and their Catholic religion. They starved the populace, reduced it to serfdom, burned its churches and banished or killed its priests. They cynically offered conversion to Protestantism as a way up and out for those who would repudiate their Catholic faith – but few accepted the offer. Instead, mistreatment by the English bound the Irish forever more tightly to their church.
But he Catholic church in Ireland isn’t what it used to be. I think for Irish society at large that is actually a good thing. Years of unjust persecution conferred immense moral authority on the Irish Catholic church. Subsequent years of arrogance and complacency have effectively squandered that authority. The Church has slid increasingly into irrelevance, causing pews to empty out, vocations to thin, and young people to tell the reporters from Irish Television that the Church means nothing to them.
But you wouldn’t know it out here in the country. Most people here identify themselves with a parish – there are several in the area – and go to Mass at least monthly. Though no longer its unrivalled heart, the parish church remans a vital organ of the community.
Catholicism is the de facto religion of the west of Ireland to a degree unimaginable to most twenty-first century Americans. Newspapers and radio stations keep their audiences up to date with local parish services and holy day activities, and host opinion columns by local clergy. In the shops you will find cards for novenas and Holy Communion mixed in with the birthday cards. The ubiquitous Catholic ‘national’ schools are funded by the State.
A half block up the main street is another church in my village – the Church of Ireland, as the Anglican Church in Ireland is called. All over the Republic, the Church of Ireland is struggling, because Protestants are nowadays few, less than one in twenty among the populace. Also, Protestantism is a reminder of the English occupation, though the Irish for the most part no longer bear any ill will toward the English. Once upon a time this was the established church in Ireland, meaning that all Irish, including the Catholic majority, had to tithe in its support. Two hundred years ago on any Sunday morning this little church would be filled with dozens of soldiers from the local British garrison, their bright scarlet uniforms standing out among the plainer clothes of the local landowners and merchants. Now the church is lucky to have a dozen souls in attendance on a given Sunday. But those who attend are committed. The silver lining in the decline of organized religion is that the parishioners who would come to church mainly to be seen have fallen away. Only the dedicated are left in the nearly empty pews.
This is the church I look forward to attending regularly when services are allowed to resume. Its small but ardent numbers call to mind the words of Jesus: ‘For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.’
. . . . . . . . . .
I was profoundly touched on reading a conversation between Swami Ramakrishnananda and an Irish monk who had converted to Buddhism, disavowing the Catholic faith in which he was raised. To the monk Swami said, ‘God can be attained through all paths. You could have got liberation by following your own religion. You have made a blunder by giving up your own [Catholic] religion and accepting another.’ For the swami, the monk’s blunder lay not in his embracing of Buddhism, but in his rejection of his native religion, where everything he would need to realize God was already at hand.
It would be splendid to see a Vedanta Society grow up in the west of Ireland, bringing to light in this region the teachings of Ramakrishna and Vivekananda, all the while seen as a unity with the traditional Catholic faith. There already are wonderful spiritual riches all about here – people here only need to be awakened to them. If Vedanta can be propagated in such a way as to breathe new life into the ancient Catholic traditions, it will surely catch fire among the latent Irish spiritual seekers now disaffected from their country’s religious past.
Every Indian child growing up is exposed to the stories and myths surrounding such divine figures as Krishna and Rama. The Irish too have access to a vast treasury of spiritual legends, made tangible in the stone crosses, holy wells and monastic ruins from Ireland’s glorious past. I will mention just two places of pilgrimage near where I live that I am fond of visiting: Balintubber and Knock.
Across the lake from my village and some miles to the north is Ballintubber Abbey, where Mass has been said without interruption for eight hundred years. Norman invaders burned the Abbey in the 13th century, English kings further suppressed it, and Cromwell’s soldiers burned down the Abbey roof and surrounding buildings in 1653 – but the Abbey walls remained standing, and Mass continued to be celebrated in the apse of the church. A short walk from the Abbey is St. Patrick’s well, where the legendary fifth-century patron saint of Ireland is said to have baptized his converts (and from which Balintubber, “village of the well”, gets its name). A nearby stone is said to bear the imprint of the saint’s knee.
Balintubber Abbey, restored
Several times each year, beginning on Easter Monday, pilgrims assemble here to walk an ancient 22-mile route known as Tóchar Phádraig, or St. Patrick’s Causeway. Their destination is Croagh Patrick, the sacred mountain on whose summit the great founder saint of Ireland fasted for forty days in 441 AD. The priest leading the walk is in high spirits as he points out dozens of spots along the way, each with a story of its own. There is, for example, the ‘Dancora’ (bath of the righteous) where medieval pilgrims, in ritual expression of being cleansed of sin, washed after their pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick before their return home. Hot stones kept the water in the Dancora warm.
Ruins of Balintubber Abbey
It is said that when St. Patrick ended his fast on the mountain summit, he threw a silver bell down the mountain knocking Corra, the mother of all demons, out of the sky and into Lough Nacorra where she drowned. He then banished all the snakes in Ireland into the sea. Some believe that snakes were regarded as symbols of the druids, the high priests of the pre-Christian Celts.
There is no paved path up the steep mountain, only sand, mud, rocks and gravel. In days gone by the especially devout would sometimes climb the mountain on their knees. Halfway up the mountain is a cairn of rocks, atop which you will find a small informal shrine. Coming close you will see it is devoted to the twentieth-century Italian saint Padre Pio, who was known for his extreme piety and service to the sick, and for the stigmata which he tried to conceal but could not, much to the consternation of his superiors in the Church.
Twenty miles to the northeast of Ballintubber is Knock, where in 1879 fifteen villagers had a vision of Mother Mary on the outer wall of their parish church. Wearing a crown and dressed in white, she was flanked by the Lamb of God, Saint Joseph and St. John the Evangelist. For two hours the villagers were transfixed by the vision as they recited their rosary on bended knee. When Pope John Paul II visited Knock to celebrate Mass one hundred years later, he was greeted by a throng of nearly half a million – about one in ten inhabitants of the country.
Pilgrims at the Knock Shrine in the 19th century
Over the years Knock has become a major center of pilgrimage, with a modern basilica that dwarfs the original parish church. It even has its own airport. Nonetheless, in the off-season Knock can be surprisingly quiet and intimate.
On one of my visits to the town I was graced with the company of an American sannyasin, who toured the site enthusiastically. Naturally outgoing and spontaneous, he entered into spirited conversation with one of the many shopkeepers along the main street that sold statues and other memorabilia of the Shrine. I was skeptical that such a shopkeeper would have any interest in a place of pilgrimage beyond the purely mercantile. But how delighted I was when our swami emerged with several mementoes of Padre Pio presented to him as gifts. The shopkeeper was in fact a sincere devotee of Padre Pio and a devout Christian – as doubtless are countless other merchants and hoteliers at pilgrim centers, grateful for the privilege of dwelling and making their living in a holy place.
St. John The Evangelist, Mother Mary, St. Joseph, and the Lamb of God surrounded by angels
John Curry (d. 1943), last living witness of the apparition
Mother Teresa visiting the Shrine
Friday, May 29, 2020
Walking home the other day from the village, we noticed the front entrance to the Catholic church was open. Almost on tiptoe we approached and opened the inner door. The apse was empty and still, save for three or four votive candles burning near the main altar. We sat and prayed and meditated awhile. It had been two months since we had last been inside of a place of worship – how cooling was the relief we felt, how soothing the knowledge that we could come back again to sit where the Lord was especially manifest.
Saturday, June 19, 2020
The lockdown continues to lift. We expect services to resume in our Church of Ireland Sunday after next. It will be joyful to see again the little band of parishioners whose acquaintance we had just begun to make earlier this year. The Catholic church in the village has been raising funds for, among other things, repair of the church bells so that we can hear their living musical tones once again. Yet the church will not be able to resume its services for some time in order to respect social distancing. And when it does, how soon will the choir sing together again? When will congregants join together again in the body and blood of Christ?
Nowadays the word ‘together’ evokes hope and fear and anxious caution. The realization is dawning on us all that even after the pandemic has become a distant memory, its impact on our lives will be lasting and disruptive. Things cannot and will not go back to as they were before.
Old forms are dissipating, new forms are in creation, yet the Divine and our relation to Him stay the same, at all times and in every place.
The Crystal Award 2021 for excellence in art hosted at Raj Bhavan was conferred by the Governor of Meghalaya Shri Satyapal Malik to Mr Wanhi-i Challam of Chilliang Raij, Jowai at Raj Bhavan today the 12 of August, 2021. The fourth edition of award instituted by Riti Academy was awarded to Wanhi-i Challam for his excellence in animation film. Speaking as chief guest during the occasion, Shri Satya Pal Malik, Governor of Meghalaya emphasised on the need for art education in the state for graduate, post graduate courses and advanced studies in visual arts. he lauded the efforts of Riti Academy and urged upon the State government to provide necessary support in this regard. Other guests who spoke on the occasion included Commissioner & Secretary, Arts And Culture Department, Federick R Kharkongor, and Chief Art Director, Riti Academy of Visual Arts, Mr Raphael Warjri. The Commissioner & Secretary, Arts And Culture Department, Federick R Kharkongor, also lauded the Chief Art Director of Riti Academy, Raphael Warjri for his continued efforts in not only promoting art but also identifying and nurturing upcoming artists in the field. He reminded those present that art is immortal and lives beyond generations and praised the novel cause of Riti Academy that had instituted the Crystal Awards to celebrate the works of various upcoming artists across the State. The chief art director of Riti Academy, Raphael Warjri in his address expressed his gratitude to the Governor of Meghalaya for having hosted the award ceremony at the raj bhavan, Shillong. Raphael Warjri further expressed his desire for an art college to be set up in the state as potential expertise and other prospects are available except for certain resources that would require the support from the State Government and other private initiatives and stakeholders
१। जन्म मन से पूरे हों वचन, तब जीवन का सार।
जीवन के कुरुक्षेत्र में, संयम का आधार।।
संयम का आधार, करे इच्छा सब पूरी।
मन से मन का नेह, हटा देता सब दूरी।।
मर्यादा के राम, बने जाकर हैं वन से।
अच्छे हों जब कर्म, लोग अच्छे हों मन से।।
२। कैसे उदघाटित करें, दुख में सारे सत्य।
दिखें आचरण में सदा, मानव के सब कृत्य।।
मानव के सब कृत्य, रखें कोशिश को जारी।
समझ सकें यदि गूढ़, भक्ति की महिमा न्यारी।।
गीत रचे अब भक्ति, नित्य स्वागत में जैसे।
दिशा बदल दे क्रोध, सहज निश्छल मन कैसे।।
भारत माँ की तुम हो शान
सिसोदिया राजवंश के राजा, भारत माँ की तुम हो शान।
राणा सांगा के पोते तुम, उदय सिंह के पुत्र महान।
सकुशल योद्धा भारत के तुम, बहादुरी के परम मिसाल।
वीर महाराणा प्रताप तुम, जयवंताबाई के लाल। ।
वीर-पुत्र पाकर तुझ जैसा, धन्य-धन्य है राजस्थान।
सिसोदिया राजवंश के राजा…।
देशभक्त तुम, शौर्यवान तुम, मातृभक्त दृढ़, शिष्ट उदार।
थर-थर शत्रु काँप थे जाते, जब तुम भरते थे हुंकार। ।
तेज सूर्य का फीका पड़ता, उन्नत करते जब तुम माथ।
अंबर भी नीचे झुक जाता, देख तुझे सेना के साथ। ।
तुझसे गर्वित देश हमारा, गाए तेरा ही गुणगान।
सिसोदिया राजवंश के राजा…
मुगलों से टक्कर ली तुमने, कभी नहीं मानी यूँ हार।
किए प्रबल युद्ध वीरता से, चमका कर अपनी तलवार।
गद्दारों की कर दी तुमने, रण कौशल से खट्टे दाँत।
भारी भरकम सेना पे तुम, करते रहे निरंतर घात।
युद्ध किए हल्दीघाटी में, बरबस अपने सीना तान।
सिसोदिया राजवंश के राजा…
पराक्रमी घोड़ा था चेतक, जिसपर तुम करते थे नाज।
जिसकी एक छलांग की करते, चर्चा सारा जग है आज।
आवाज़ आज तक गूँज रही है, सुनो पहाड़ी के उस पार।
गौर करो कोई बोल रहा है, -नीला घोड़ा रा असवार।
‘खोड़ी इमली’ लहर-लहर कर, गाती चेतक का जयगान।
सिसोदिया राजवंश के राजा…
जन्म-दिवस के शुभ अवसर पर, श्रद्धा मन में लिए अकूत।
आज प्रतिज्ञा हम लेते हैं, हे भारत के वीर सपूत !
भारत माँ के आन-बान का, सदा रखेंगे हम सब ख्याल।
दुश्मन आँख उठाए तो हम, बन जाएँगे उसके काल।
पड़े जरूरत अगर देश को, दे देंगे इसपर हम जान। ।
सिसोदिया राजवंश के राजा…
१। उसकी महिमा सबसे न्यारी,
गोविन्द भी जायें बलिहारी,
शीश नवा कर ध्यान करूँ।
क्या सखि राधा ? ना गुरू।
२। खुद जलता जग रौशन करता,
ग्यान का दीपक उसमें जलता,
उसकी वाणी से सुबह शुरू।
क्या सखि पिता ? ना गुरू।
३। शंकाओं का समाधान दे,
सद्मार्ग का आत्मग्यान दे,
हाँथ जोड़ वंदन करूँ।
क्या सखि माता ? ना गुरू।
१। जी करता नैनन में भर लूं,
बंद पलक फिर कभी न खोलूं,
मैं अपना दिल उस पर हारी।
ऐ सखि साजन ? ना गिरधारी।
२। वस्त्र छुपा देता वो मेरे,
पैरों पड़ती तब वो छोड़े,
बड़ा वो चंचल है चितचोर।
ऐ सखि साजन ? ना रणछोर।
Cradled among the lofty peaks of the Himalayas, the ancient Pashupatinath Temple stands with all its grandeur and glory in Kathmandu, Nepal. Although a silent witness to trumpets of dynasties and nuances of common people, you may hear its bricks whisper some untold stories if you care to. Shri Bikrambir Thapa pulled out one such thread from the time warp of the colonial era.
Amidst the distracting details of the temple, we see a white woman walking near the temple gates. However, the gates of the grand temple remain barred to her.
The painter believes that if the priests could come over the orthodoxy and threw open the doors instead, she, and the likes of her, would not have been alienated. And instead of influencing us with their culture, the West could have bathed in the spirituality of the East.
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
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).
- H.O. Mawrie: “The Essence of The Khasi Religion”. 1981 Edition.
- H.O. Mawrie: “The Khasi Milieu”.
[Translation of moral commandment in “Ka Niam ki Khasi”- Sib Charan Roy Sawian.
- Introduction. Pg 11]
- 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.
- 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.
- Sweetymon Rynjah- “The Living Patriotism: A Khasi Thought” Seng Khasi Centenary Celebration Souvenir. (1899-1999). Page 126.
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.