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A monk on a man-making mission

It was a befitting occasion for the chief minister of the state to make a plea. Standing on the ground where Swami Vivekananda had initiated his man-making mission, Mamata Banerjee made a wish for an institution that would make real human beings unnatatara manush, for which she is willing to paint 365 canvases through the year. As chief guest of the 150th birth anniversary celebrations of Swami Vivekananda at Belur Math, Mamata Banerjee was delivering the valedictory address at the math. “We are lucky to have been able to celebrate this occasion and I have even asked for Vivek Utsav to be celebrated in every block,” she said. Talking of the ideals of the monk, the chief minister elaborated on service to the poor and leadership qualities. “A leader is one who works with the masses and does not just stand at the top and give orders. Swamiji always said to walk with your head held high and never to give up,” she said. Seated next to her was Swami Atmasthanandaji Maharaj, the president of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission, who said, “We do and will continue to work for people. Taking sannyas does not mean sitting in our rooms and praying and meditating, we have duties to fulfil as well.”

The year is auspicious for the Ramakrishna Mission as the order commenced the formal celebrations of the birth anniversary of its founder. The conference on January 20 was a sequel to the inauguration of the celebration of Swami Vivekananda’s 150th birth anniversary by the President of India, Pranab Mukherjee, on January 18 at Swamiji’s ancestral house at Simla Street. A hasty change of venue forced the members of Ramakrishna Math and Mission to organise the huge event at the Belur Math itself instead of Netaji Indoor Stadium. “Within eight days we had to arrange the programme here which meant that a huge work load suddenly fell on the shoulders of the monks of the math,” said Swami Suhitananda, the general secretary of Ramakrishna Math and Mission. The gathering was a mixed one, with people coming from all walks of life, from different parts of the state and country.

Titled ‘Relevance and Significance of the Life and Message and Work of Swami Vivekananda in the Present-day world’, the day-long conference revolved around Swamiji’s ideologies and expressing the need for their implementation in the present day. As the crowd swelled in the morning, Vedic chants by the brahmacharins of the Probationers’ Training Centre at the math announced commencement of the programme.

The first session was presided over by Swami Smaranandaji Maharaj, the vice president of Ramakrishna Math and Mission, Belur Math. Swami Goutamanandaji, the trustee of Ramakrishna Math and member of the governing body of the Ramakrishna Mission, delivered the welcome address.

The first speaker, Mohammad Mostafa Kamal, head of the madrasa cell of the government of Tripura moved the audience with his speech. “Swamiji is mrityunjay (one who has overcome death) because of his work. He broke barriers between faiths and religions, bringing Hindu scriptures and other religious texts on a single platform. At a programme in a school in Tripura on January 12, I told the children that you put together all the mischief you do in a year, it would be equal to Swamiji’s single day’s mischief. Yet at the end of the week, you wait to watch Spiderman or Dabangg 2 on TV but he meditated because he wanted to see Shiva,” said Kamal. Swami Atmapriyanandaji, the vice-chancellor of the Ramakrishna Vivekananda University, said, in his vote of thanks, “One unique characteristic of Swami Vivekananda was his ‘unlimitedness’. Sri Ramakrishna would often refer to him and say, ‘Naren ekta kando niye ashey’ but what he meant by ‘kando’ no one can really say.”

Prior to lunch was the second session, introduced by Raghab Chatterjee’s devotional songs. Shyama naamer laglo agun, Chal man ganga jamuna teer and Swamiji’s favourite Mano Chalo Nijo Niketaney left the audience asking for more.

The session was opened by a welcome address by Swami Purnatmananda, the secretary, Ramakrishna Mission Swami Vivekananda’s Ancestral House and Cultural Centre. “We live in an age of widespread negativism of violence, intolerance, lack of values. Swamiji is as relevant today as he was at any other time because of all this,” he said. Swami Nikhilatmanandaji, the secretary of Ramakrishna Mission Sevashrama, Allahabad, delivered a short speech in Hindi.

He spoke of the four important characteristics that Swamiji always stressed, namely, physical fitness, mental strength, social and nationalistic responsibility and love for family and people.

Bikash Chandra Sanyal, the director of India House, Paris elaborated on Swamiji’s educational values. “In 1993, I had shown to the director of UNESCO the principles on which Ramakrishna Mission was formed. He was surprised to find the similarity between the constitution of the order drawn up in 1897 and that of UNESCO drawn up in 1945,” he said. Sanyal concentrated on women’s education, how Swamiji brought about an interface between science and religion. “His discussion with Jamshedji Tata on the way to Chicago was inspirational for Tata to start the science institute,” he said.

Retired scientist of ISRO, TGK Murthy, however, vehemently expressed Swamiji as an ‘intuitive scientist’ and reasoned a lot of scientific development to the monk. But the most touching talk was delivered by Marufi Khan, principal of the Ispahani Girls’ High School and College in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Speaking from personal experience, Khan related how she had managed to draw a parallel between her religious texts and the ideals of Sri Ramakrishna, Sarada Devi and Swami Vivekananda. An ailing woman who has undergone 11 surgeries in the past 10 years, Khan’s emotional words of deep faith and reverence left many moist-eyed.

The presidential address for the session by Swami Prabhanandaji Maharaj touched some pertinent topics. “Swamiji expects something from us at this time, specially from the youth of the nation. The recent Delhi incident triggered off a new revolution from the youth that surprised many. Perhaps now the youth of our nation are waking up.”

In between discussions were cultural sessions, a mandatory arrangement at any programme organised for Swami Vivekananda. Dhrupad, bhajans and other devotional songs were presented by the monks of the order. Swami Divyaratananda presented Kabir bhajans. Dhrupad songs were presented by Swami Narendranandaji and Swami Kripakaranandaji. Sandipan Samajpati, the opening singer of the valedictory session, sang Swami’s own Nahi surjo, nahi jyoti in the presence of the chief minister, Mamata Banerjee.

Before the start of the valedictory session, Swami Atmasthanandaji Maharaj launched a special edition of The Cultural Heritage of India. Mamata Banerjee launched a multimedia CD titled Personality Development and Partho Chatterjee launched a DVD by Softoons titled Education According to Swami Vivekananda. A special DVD on the social activities of the order titled Rising India was distributed among the speakers on the day.

Apart from the programme, the Mission has launched four massive service projects, for which the Government of India has sanctioned Rs 100 crore. The Gadadhar Integrated Child Development Project, Vivekananda Health Care Project, Sarada Integrated Rural Development Project and the Akhandananda Poverty Elimination Project aim at education, healthcare for women and children and eradication of poverty.