Seasons Greetings – புது வருட வாழ்த்துக்கள்

Dawn of a new year
It has been three years and three months, since I started my inward journey here in WordPress. The objective was, is and continues to be “learning” and understanding mySELF.

In these three years, more than 27000 visitors from more than 30 countries with more than 50000 views have helped me in my inward journey, supporting me and encouraging me to continue this journey. I am indebted to everyone of you.

Here is my prayer for all of us in the coming New Year 2023.

May God Bless you all.
எனது ஆன்மீக பயணத்தை இந்த பதிவுகள் வழியாகத்  தொடங்கி  மூன்று வருடம், மூன்று மாதங்களாகின்றன.  என்னை அறிய யான் முற்படும் முயற்சிகளில் இதுவும் ஒன்று.

இந்தப் பயணத்தில் எனக்கு இதுவரை, முப்பதிற்கும் மேற்பட்ட நாடுகளிலிருந்து இருபத்தெழாயிரத்துக்கும் அதிகமான (27000) நண்பர்கள், தங்களது ஐம்பதாயிரத்திற்கும் (50000) மேற்பட்ட பார்வைகளின் மூலம், ஆதரவு வழங்கி நல்லாசி வழங்கியுள்ளனர். அவர்கள் ஒவ்வொருவருக்கும் நன்றிக்கடன் பட்டுள்ளேன் அடியேன்.

நம் அனைவருக்கும் இந்த இனிய புத்தாண்டில் இறையருளும், மன மகிழ்வும் பெற எனது பிரார்த்தனைகள் இதோ.
Prayer 2023

The SACSS Mantra – Service, Aid, Care, Share, SELFLESS

Recently, I have taken up a detailed study of “Moha Mudgara” otherwise known as Bhaja Govindam, of Adi Sankaracharya, one of the greatest ever Saints of India.  A total of 31 Slokas in Sanskrit advises us to develop the necessary grit and determination in our mind to be free from likes and dislikes,  understand the impermanence of every object that we experience through our sense and action organs and proceed with our inward journey to realise our true nature. My studies are covered in my blogs https://prabhusponder.com/category/spirituality/.

In Sloka 2, Adi Sankara talks about the impermanence of wealth. “Oh ignorant ! Win over the thirst for the inflow of wealth. In your mind develop detached noble thoughts. Rejoice your mind with that wealth which is obtained with your own efforts or karma” says Sankara. He drives home the point that wealth like our body is not eternal and is perishable. It is not an end in itself and cannot be the goal of our life. It is only a means to lead a Dharmic life to achieve our higher goal of “sorrow free permanent happiness”.

Contemplating on this, I was wondering if this message is relevant at all in today’s materialistic wealth driven world where everything conceivable is linked to wealth accumulation. As a widely traveled Senior Citizen, across the globe, I found more evidences supporting my thinking and I was craving for evidences that will be on the contrary. With social media being what it is, I didn’t want to rely on their evidences and wanted a direct experience as a true Vedantic student.
Amazingly coincidental,  I found one in the city I was in (NYC), on the day I prepared my blog on Sloka 2  of Bhaja Govindam .  Thanks to my daughter-in-law, no time was lost and there I was with my wife and daughter-in-law at the SACSS (South Asian Council for Social Service) at the Queens, Newyork City.
Here is my understanding of the activities there and how I relate them to my study of Bhaja Govindam.

Desire for selfless service – The Sudha Acharya way

As we entered the SACSS, we were welcomed and ushered in by a diminutive looking lady, who in an unassuming way introduced herself as Sudha, one of the team members who run the organisation.
Mme. Sudha Acharya
Photo Courtesy – SEEMA
We were seated opposite to her desk and she started her briefing about the Council and its works.  

“With such amicability in her demeanor and a burning fervor for her mission, it’s hard not to feel her purpose in your own bones, too” says Nupur Bhatnagar in the December 2021 issue of SEEMA, a multidimensional platform that focuses on connecting and empowering women of Indian origin globally. No one can disagree with that and I can vouch for it.

One can coin attractive phrases like the politicians do across the globe for this kind of work; but unless the goal is seamlessly integrated at the physical and meta physical levels in oneself, one cannot provide selfless service to humanity.

In Vedanta, Mumukshutva is the intense longing or burning desire for liberation, freedom and self-realisation. In order to reach their goal, aspirants must let go of all worldly kamas or appetites for sensual pleasures, such that mumukshutva becomes their only desire. In Bhaja Govindam, Adi Sankara brings out this in several Slokas either directly or indirectly.

Mme. Sudha Acharya displayed this at every second of our interactions which went on for nearly three hours on that day.

Care & Share – SACSS way.

In Sloka 5, Adi Sankara was talking about “family and relations”. Man is a social animal and seeks security in relationships such as those of family, husband, wife, brothers, sisters or children and close friends in the hope that they will always be with him. Those who sit all around you are called parivara. You are attached to your parivara, your family, your friends and retinue and feels that the love and attachment is mutual.  But, is this feeling of security/attachment/love eternal or permanent in life time?  When I saw the line of underserved  South Asian Immigrants and subsequently many at the Elder enrichment classes at SACSS I couldn’t help relating this with the Sloka 5 of Bhaja Govindam.  

SACSS have understood this very well and digested this philosophy in their system. SACSS standby these people when they need the security in relationships.
SACSS Parivaar

Service as the DNA

Recalling her childhood days in Kolar in Karnataka, Mme Sudha Acharya explained how she was inspired by her grandfather’ and subsequently her mother’ selfless social works in rural villages. This is a key ingredient in the mental makeup of an individual. 

Right inputs at an young age leaves indelible impressions in the mind, a point that Adi Sankara brought out in Sloka 7. The responsibility is on each one of us to bring Divinity (which is nothing but serving the needy) into our life at the earliest possible age. If this can be done before we get sucked into the worldly affairs of the Body, Mind and Intellect complex of ours, then it would save us a lot of bitter experiences in life.

Mme Sudha Acharya is a proof for this.

SACSS – A Satsang

During the discussions, Mme Sudha Acharya brought out that by identifying oneself with the needy, SACSS is able to crystallise specific action plans tailored to meet the  different needs of South Asian immigrants. 

Quoting the example of how a old Cancer patient’s (with Telugu as her only language of communication) specific needs for a pantry, Sudha identified the need for a culturally inclusive and varied food pantry that could serve the different needs, like rice, dal and wheat flour for South Asian immigrants in 2016.

Today this is underlying philosophy of their Pantry Service with spices added to the flavour (list) of the pantry. “When people identify you as a part of their own community and realize that you know them culturally, they begin to trust you,” she says.

This rings the bell immediately in me about Sloka 9 “Satsangatve Nisangatvam….”. The mind requires a suitable atmosphere to grow, in much the same way as a little plant does. As a sprout, it is very delicate and requires a lot of care and nurturing. Our mind is also like this sprout. It has to be taught and trained to follow certain values and priorities so that we get a proper perception of life. Satsang, or the company of those who are good and have wisdom and insight exerts a positive influence upon us. We need an inspiring atmosphere in order to maintain our enthusiasm in a conducive and positive manner.

Striving Ahead, Together

This is what SACSS seeks from the large hearted public. They have set an ambitious plan for 2023. They say

“Since SACSS opened in 2000, we have become a trusted, stalwart source for South Asian and other immigrant communities in New York City. In 2022, we have already served more than 160,000 people – our highest number to date. The pandemic hit our community particularly hard, and the aftermath is not over. Everyday, we meet community members striving to feed their families, pay their bills, stay healthy, and prosper in a daunting economic climate with severe and ongoing job losses.

The need is high. And we need you”.
If you are interested, please visit their website 

https://sacssny.networkforgood.com/projects/95467-striving-forward-22-eoy-campaign

Important Note from the Author:

This is not an advertisement or promotional material on behalf of SACSS. 

In this visit to the USA, my focus was on Spirituality and Service. That took me to SACSS.

I was just amazed by the zeal, commitment and energy displayed by the entire team of 19 people, speaking 18 different languages from several countries in providing selfless service and care for the community.

I just wanted to share the inner joy that got in abundance during my three hour stay there. That’s it. God Bless

Navyata 2022 – A fashion parade in our neighborhood

The nine day Navratri Festival just ended for us in India and for Indians abroad. The grace and colors of Garba in Gujarat, the beauty of dolls display (Golu) in Tamil Nadu and the divinity of the Durga Puja celebrations in Bengal are the hallmark of the festivities.

Out here in Pennsylvania in the USA, while we organized and celebrated Navratri with a Golu (display of Dolls), we didn’t miss the grace, colors, beauty and divinity at all. Nature was present in its full glory.

In fact, there is a fashion parade going on right now to celebrate Navratri and welcome Diwali soon in our neighborhood. Surprised! Yes!

Navyata 2022 is happening in our neighbourhood.

Welcome to Navyata 2022 – the fashion parade of Nature.

Navyata 2022
 Note: Keyboard support was provided by my little grandson Dhruv. 

Navyata - A Sanskrit Word for Fashion

Gujarat Tour Diary 4 – The bad Apples.

Through the previous three blogs we experienced a shining, wild and wonderful Gujarat that is standing tall.

“Hey, hang on ! Don’t tell me that everything is honky dory. You should have had bad experiences too”. 

I can hear loud and clear your murmur. For sure there were two experiences to forget during the ten day trip.

1. The first experience was scary. It was scarier than the roller coaster ride in Disneyland where at the least, I was confident that I will return 
back after the ride after a thorough shakeup.

2. The second one, left me wonder-stuck in disbelief with questions “How can it be like this? Is this not in His (you know whom I mean by ‘His’ !) Radar ? After all it is “His” own State !”

Let us get an idea of the two bad apples in my basket of experiences.

Okha-Beyt Dwaraka-Okha Ferry Ride – Disaster in Waiting

Gujarat Tourism (https://www.gujarattourism.com/saurashtra/devbhoomi-dwarka/bet-dwarka.html) gives a clear warning that boat connectivity could be sporadic and delayed to the Beyt Dwaraka otherwise called as Bet Dwaraka.

Bet Dwarka, also known as Shankhodhar, is said to have been the residence of Lord Krishna during his ruling years at Dwarka. It derived its name from the word ‘bet’ which translates to ‘gift’ and is believed that Lord Krishna received it from his friend Sudama. In the ancient epic, Mahabharata, Bet Dwarka is known by the name of ‘Antardvipa’ to which people of the Yadava clan needed to travel by boat.

In this modern era of technology and science, we were taken back to ancient times by the authorities responsible for the ferry.

This is nothing but a DISASTER WAITING TO HAPPEN ANYTIME. (Of course, it is based on the assumption that anything that cut shorts a human life is a disaster).

Here is a video of my ferry ride.

AMD – Ahmedabad Airport – Thriving on Chaos

The Domestic Terminal in Ahmedabad Airport, from where I commenced my return journey home, left me wondering with a few questions.

The Airport at the Capital of the State from where the Prime Minister of the fastest growing economy comes (Varanasi may be his adopted home) presented a feeling of a modern day chaotic mofussil bus stand.
Over crowded waiting area, jam packed lounges with huge queue to gain access to, noisy and vociferous crowd eager to form queues and rush even as the incoming aircraft is sighted, anxious and worried Senior Citizens on wheel chairs….. Ahmedabad Airport gives Chennai Airport a run for its money when it comes to chaos. No doubts about this.

This concludes the Tour Diary – Gujarat. Barring these two, the travel and tour was extremely comfortable and an amazing experience. Will see you soon from the other side of Atlantic .

Au revoir; à bientôt

Gujarat Tour Diary 3 – Standing Tall

This is the penultimate blog on our recent tour to Gujarat. I don’t intend to present the notes and photographs covering the  traditional tourist spots like the Step Wells, the Sun Temple, Somnath, Dwaraka, Masjids etc etc. 
I will rather present a few photographs that I took at three important places viz., Porbandar, Diu and Ekta Nagar.

These photographs bring out a clear message for me.

“ Freedom, Valor and Unity “.

No doubt in my mind that Gujarat stands tall when it comes to Nation building.

Porbandar & Sabarmati – Freedom through non-violence.

Diu – INS Khukri Memorial – Valor & Courage

Ekta Nagar – Unity in Diversity

Gujarat Travel Diary 2 – Wild and Wonderful Gujarat

Let us start this blog with a question.

When we say “wild and wonderful” where does our mind jump to immediately?

“Hakuna Matata. kusafiri” is the answer.

Confused with the answer? In the East African language of Swahili, it simply means “no worries”, “take it easy”. The answer is “Safari”.

Safari -An introduction

In Swahili, the word safari means “journey”, originally from the Arabic noun سفر, safar, meaning “journey”, “travel”, “trip”, or “tour”; the verb for “to travel” in Swahili is kusafiri. These words are used for any type of journey.

Safari entered the English language at the end of the 1850s thanks to the British explorer Richard Francis Burton. In 1836, British Army Engineer,

William Cornwall Harris led an expedition purely to observe and record wildlife and landscapes. Harris established the safari style of journey, starting with a not too strenuous rising at first light, an energetic day walking, an afternoon rest then concluding with a formal dinner and telling stories in the evening over drinks and tobacco.

The hunting aspect traditionally associated with the safari is said to have its origins where villagers got together to hunt wild boars and reclaim land for farming. However it was the British who used Safaris for hunting for personal pleasure and popularized it.

Gujarat – The wild and wonderful

Our trip to Gujarat contained two segments where we stuck to the spirit of William Cornwall Harris style of Safari as a means to understand the wild and wonderful Gujarat.

Segment 1 – Gir – The kingdom of the “Wild and Wonderful”.

Part A – Jungle Safari

The Gir National Park was established in 1965 in the erstwhile Nawab of Junagarh’s private hunting area, with a total area of 1,412 km2(545 sq mi), of which 258 km2 (100 sq mi) is fully protected as a national park and 1,153 km2 (445 sq mi) as wildlife sanctuary.

Kicking off the day at 0530 Hrs we started our Safari in the jungles of Gir. A four hour drive in an open Gypsy (A jeep) took us the nook and corner of the sprawling Gir Forest. We were lucky to spot a lioness marking her territory right at the start of the Safari. The rest of the Safari covered other animals and birds. Here is an overview.

Sasan Gir – Jungle Safari

This was followed by an exquisite lunch and siesta at the FERN GIR FOREST RESORT.

Part 2 – Devalia Safari

Evening Safari was a bit different; we wanted to present ourselves as “strange moving creatures with two legs” to the wild and wonderful. So we locked ourselves in a cage mounted on a Gypsy and paraded ourselves to the wild animals in the Gir Forest. Needless to say that the Wild and Wonderful didn’t bother about us at all and were busy at their routines.

Gujarat Tourism calls this place as “ Devalia Safari Park ” also known as “Gir Interpretation Zone- Devalia”. Here is our Safari with a dufference:

Devalia Park – Safari with a difference

Experience in this segment summed up – “High” on expectations (with increased Lions population and previous day sightings expectations built up) and “Moderate” on success in sighting.

Segment 2 – The Little Rann of Kutch – A saline sublime

In this segment, we moved away from the Jungle to the vast, dry and extremely hot saline desert.

Covering an area of 4954 Km2, Little Rann of Kutch is one of the most remarkable and unique landscapes of its kind. Wild Ass Sanctuary is located in this Rann which harbours the last population of Wild Ass (Equus hemionus khur).

It is a vast desiccated, unbroken bare surface of dark silt, encrusted with salts which transforms into a spectacular coastal wetland after the rains. The present saline desert of the Little Rann (saline desert-cum-seasonal wetland) of Kutch is believed to have been shallow sea.

We checked into the Royal Safari Camp at Bajana and relaxed after a sumptuous meal.

Part A – The Wild Ass Safari

We were ready for the Evening Safari. Temperature soared to 43 deg C (in the last week of March itself) and here we are driving in an open Gypsy towards the saline desert from the village center.

Wild Ass Safari – LRK

Part B – Nature’s Aviary at the Saline Desert

We even got down from the Gypsy and walked around the waterbodies to have an exclusive “darshan” of the birds around there. Wow. What a sight.

Nature’s Aviary

Experience in this segment summed up – “Low” on expectations (what do you expect, except a few Wild Asses and that too in a hot desert) and “High” on success in sighting (not only Wild Asses but also an impressive show by the Birds and Aditya, the Sun while setting).

Lessons learnt – Safari and Vedanta

This is our second Jungle Safari after the one at Kanha Tiger Reserve at Madhya Pradesh in 2018.

Safaris like these drive home several lessons, many of them straight from our Vedanta.

Here are some of my learnings:

1. If you are keeping your expectations (desires) high, you are bound to get disappointed (frustrated). After all you are looking for a few hundred wild animals (which are mostly territory oriented) in an area spanning thousands of square kilometers.

2. What you get to see (or otherwise) need not necessarily be seen (or otherwise) by someone who are either ahead of you or behind you. Your experience is unique to yourselves.

3. Time and Space can decide what you get or loose. In other words your experience is time and space limited.

4. Enjoy what you see, your experience. That moment is precious. The idea of being present and savoring the moment is not a novel idea, but it’s often a forgotten one. David Attenborough’s extraordinary documentaries on Animal Kingdom are awesome; no doubt about that. But nothing will ever have as big an effect as seeing the real beauty of the world and its inhabitants on safari by yourselves.

5. Silence is golden. Feel it and enjoy it. Through the day enjoy that moment where a bird or a monkey or a deer provides an alarm for an approaching animal. In the night at the Camp, listen to the insects’ hum and chirp; the stars in the sky and the sounds of nature.

6. See the positives. Even dirty roads and bushy terrain offers great views.

7. The Sun always provides spectacular views both in the morning and evening. Enjoy it and pray Aditya for keeping us alive.

8. Be patient. You have no choice. Sometimes what you want and expect doesn’t happen right away; sometimes what you want takes much longer than you thought it would.

9. Ears are better than mouth. Listening is Often Better Than Talking. Listen to the safari guide or just listen to the sounds of the bush. The point is that when we listen, our bodies are much more attuned to everything that’s happening around us. You also learn what you may not have known.

10. Life is not a rat race. Reconnect with the beauty of little things and enjoy.

Gujarat Travel Diary continues…..

Gujarat Travel Diary – 1 – Shining Gujarat

Post retirement we had a wonderful plan of exploring every year, one of the States and Union Territories in our country. That was working out nicely till 2019, when the dreaded CoVid 19 stuck. The years 2020 and 2021 saw us getting trapped in the residence.

At last, the opening came in March 2022. We decided that we will visit Gujarat (despite the fear of an oppressive heat). A detailed plan was drawn out (10 night & 11 days) covering nearly 2500 Kms of road journey. The tour was well coordinated and organized by Akshar Travels, Gujarat.

Here is a pictorial summary of our tour plan.

The explorer

Great experience it was. From the time we landed in Rajkot till the time we boarded our return flight at Ahmedabad, it was non stop learning about animals, places, heritage, culture, food and of course people.

From the non stop “Thambakoo” chewing Rajasthani driver (thanks to Film Stars who are responsible for this addiction in many people) to the tribal people selling their wares in Little Rann of Kutch, evidences of our Sanatana Dharma, everyone in search of pure happiness kept cropping up by the minute again and again.

My iPhone X literally cried for help. Help came only through places where photography was not allowed. Consolidating the photos and preserving them is a mammoth task. That process has just started and the first focus is on my favorite, the Sun – Aditya. The reason is “After all Gujarat is shining. Isn’t it?

Here is Shining Gujarat, a video of Sun Shine across our entire route in Gujarat

Shining Gujarat

Delightful News for the Foodies

A year ago, I had posted about a blog site “v8well” that deals with making healthy vegetarian food compelling enough that people want to eat it.

“We ate well” family has grown in the last one year.

Here is the latest update

https://v8well.substack.com/p/we-ate-well-turns-1?s=r

Enjoy healthy food. Happy eating.

Vantage View – A photographic Pranaam 🙏

Today is Thai Pongal. They say தை பிறந்தால் வழி பிறக்கும். The dawn of the Tamil Month of Thai is expected to bring in solutions to all our issues. Happy Pongal to all.

The day is also called Makar Sankranti or Uttarayan or Maghi or simply Sankranti (also known in Bangladesh as Poush Sankranti), It is a harvest festival day in the Hindu Calendar, dedicated to the nourisher Aditya or Surya (Sun). It is observed each year the day Sun enters the Capricorn zodiac which corresponds with the month of January as per the Gregoriyan Calendar. It marks the first day of the sun’s transit into Makara rashi (Capricorn). A very special day indeed for us.

On this auspicious day, here is my photographic Pranaam to Aditya.

Everyday during my walks in the early morning and in the evening, I was always under the impression that I had the best views of our nourisher “Aditya” the Sun and receive his Golden Blessings.

Somedays I get young guests joining me to share the gallery.

But never did I realize that there are always some “special beings” who had the vantage view, negating my “superior view” about myself. Here are these special ones.

No wonder we say “आदित्यहृदयं पुण्यं”. The Sun has a noble heart indeed.

Have a great day. God Bless. இறை அருள் பெருக. வளமுடன் வாழ்க !