As our Pujya Guruji teaches us in Hindu Culture, the temple in Hindu tradition is not only for the purpose of fulfilling the spiritual needs of an individual – it is also a place for secular learning, for spiritual discourse, for the celebration of special festivals, and for the dedication of music and arts. The Hindu temple is a place where people can come together to share common experiences, not only of a spiritual nature, but also those that were for the total cultural awakening and upliftment of the people.
And as the morning of Vinaayaka Chathurti dawned at Sandeepany Sadhanalaya in Mumbai, Maharashtra, we saw that the beautiful Jagadeeshwara Temple in the ashram served exactly this purpose: a total upliftment of the people. Householders from across the city gathered in the grandly decorated mandir while students of the 17th Vedanta Course at Sandeepany also joined in celebrating the auspicious day. For them, it was auspicious not only because it was Ganesha Chathurti, but also because the day marked the beginning of their two-year study program at the ashram.
The festivities began before sunrise, with a few students helping the temple priests prepare for the pooja: cutting fruits for the abhisheka, setting up the sound system, and also offering a few fervent prayers to the Lord before the pooja officially began. By 5:56 am, the chanting of the holy Ganesha Atharvashirsha – for 1008 repetitions! – commenced. Devotees filled the temple, which reverberated with the awesome sound, while the abhisheka was performed to Lord Ganesha. Mukhya Swami Swaroopanandaji graced all with his presence, and an aura of devotion and dedication filled the place. The pooja could not have gone more smoothly.
At 11:00 am sharp, the brief yet impactful inauguration and commencement ceremony of the 17th Residential Vedanta Course began. Purna kumbha was performed for Mukhya Swami Swaroopanandaji upon his entering the Sarasvati Nilaya, and introductions were then in order by Kirti Bhima, CEO of Tara Cultural Trust. Just as Kirtibhai finished his speech and handed the microphone over to Swami Bodhatmanandaji, acharya for this batch of students, the magnificent Mumbai monsoon made its presence felt. Over the crisp hum of the rain falling outside, Swamiji shared his most heartfelt and welcoming message.
First, he offered a shloka composition at the feet of our Pujya Gurudev:
Cinmayam sarvagam sarvam Sarvabhuta guhaashayam
Yatsarva vishayaatitam Tasmai sarvavide namah
Salutation to Pujya Gurudev, who is all-pervading, who is all,
who resides in the hearts of all, who is beyond all, and the knower of all.
He then shared the uniqueness of the number 17: coming after the number 16, which represents purnatva, or completeness, the number 17 symbolizes a beginning – newness, the turning of a fresh page. To be a part of the 17th residential Vedanta course in the year 2017, he highlighted, was really a blessing and exceptional gift.
Swami Bodhatmanandaji emphasized that on this new journey undertaken by all students of the course, mumukshutvam is the crucial. As Gurudev has written in his commentary of Tattvabodha, “Man runs after objects, people, and experiences of the world. In this process, he experiences various measures of sorrows. At some point in life, he feels, ‘Enough is enough. I want to get out of this mess. I shall no more remain a slave to the world and my mind. I refuse to get tossed around by the world. I want to free myself from all limitations, feelings of incompleteness, hopelessness, and helplessness. I seek that which is permanent and complete.’ This desire is called mumukshutvam.” It is this desire which brought each student to the ashram, and will be most important along their studies over the two-year course.
Swamiji’s speech also contained a surprise: a letter to the students from our loving Pujya Guruji! Guruji expressed his love and best wishes to all the students, and it was a special moment to all those present who were able to hear his compassionate, ever-caring thoughts.
Directly following Swami Bodhatmanandaji’s speech, Mukhya Swami Swaroopanandaji shared the most eloquent message for the students. He vividly expressed his own memories and experience of joining the residential Vedanta course at Sandeepany Sadhanalaya 36 years ago, under the tutelage of Pujya Gurudev himself. Tears filled the eyes of both students and devotees in the hall as Swamiji recounted his journey, from his first day as a student, throughout the two-year course, and through the many years after that. He expressed the auspiciousness and magnitude of the new beginning which the students were experiencing. He then left them with an inspiring reminder to focus on nothing but Vedanta – look not even left or right! – and to make themselves available for Sandeepany to transform them.
Transform them into what, you might ask? Mukhya Swamiji reiterated what Gurudev had told him so many years ago: “Allow Sandeepany to transform each of us into the Lord Krishna’s of the 21st century, who can guide the Arjuna’s of today’s world, and who can protect the Draupadi’s in every society.”
And so the day progressed, with the bouquet of blessings from our most revered Guru Parampara, from Lord Krishna, and of course from Lord Ganesha too – dhol taasha processions and celebratory festival music were heard throughout the day at the ashram from the streets of Mumbai, reminding everyone of the omnipresence of His grace and love.