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Articles from Pre-1998 Issues 

Two Centenary Celebrations

by Susan Walters

Once remarked to an Indian holy man that India was the only country in the world that produces holy men. He smilingly replied, 'it's the only thing it produces!' Of course that statement, as he well knew, was an exaggeration, but what is actually true is that holy men are the only thing India produces that other countries cannot produce.

And it is these holy men who have kept alive, and are keeping alive, the great spiritual traditions of India though not for the sake of India alone, but for the sake of the whole world. In the words of Swami Vivekananda, 'India's gift to the world is the light spiritual.' He also said, 'Our sacred motherland is a land of religion and philosophy-- the birthplace of spiritual giants-- the land of renunciation, where and where alone, from the most ancient to the most modem times there had been the highest ideal of life open to man."

At the very base of India's spirituality are the four mahavakyas, the condensed truths of the Vedas, one of which is tat tvam asi, 'That thou art.' This tells us that we are in reality the innermost Self-the eternal, divine Atman, and not the body-mind complex, which is always changing and is perishable. This truth, when through the teaching of an enlightened Indian holy man we learn to make our own, gives us great strength and peace. It weans us away from our desire for worldly pleasures and possessions and makes our life a blessing to ourselves and others. Today we need this teaching more than ever before.

This brings us to the subject of this paper, two holy men of india who have something in common besides the spiritual message of India that both have taught. They are Swami Vivekananda and Bhagawaan Gopinathji. And what they have in common is that the 'Centenary' of both is being celebrated in 1997 and 1998.

One hundred years ago, in 1897, Swami Vivekananda returned to India as a conquering hero from the West where he had captured many people with his message of Vedanta. He was given a reception all over India befitting such a great hero. And in Kashmir, around the same year, a baby was born who was to become the great saint and spiritual leader, Bhagawaan Gopinathji. Both of these events are being celebrated this year in 1997 and next year, 1998, with great eclat.

The arrival of Swami Vivekananda in Columbo on 15 January 1897 and his triumphal procession from there to Calcutta, and then on to northwestern India has been re-enacted this year, with thousands of people greeting him (in his life-size image) with cheers and flower-offerings on his train journey from Rameswaram to Madras (Chennai) where he boarded a ship for Calcutta. Tens of thousands of people welcomed him in Calcutta, the city of his birth, where many celebrations were held before he continued his journey to Almora. Almora greeted him with the same wild enthusiasm as it had a hundred years ago.

(In 1897, Swami Vivekananda had received an invitation to tour the Punjab and Kashmir, and had gone to Kashmir with a group of his disciples where he stayed for over a month, leaving Jammu in early November. It is not known whether the Punjab and Kashmir will be re-enacting his stay in those places this year.)

The birth centenary of Bhagawaan Gopinathji is also being celebrated this year with many activities being planned by his disciples and followers. Among them are: holding seminars on spirituality, the printing of rare manuscripts to preserve precious ancient writings, the publication of a commemorative magazine, issuing a postal stamp in his memory, and other projects. These activities will continue in 1998.

The followers of Bhagawaan Gopinathji have all along been 'celebrating' his birth (and holy life) by keeping alive the spirituality he represented, in the face of great hardship in Kashmir. Driven from the city of Srinagar, they have built ashrams in Janunu, Delhi, and Bangalore. Here, besides performing the daily arati, work for the poor and suffering is being carried out as before, and other activities such as essay competitions for students are being initiated.

At a time when India is going through difricult times, and it seems that corruption and violence are holding sway in this holy land, all these activities and the dedication of these devoted disciples of Bhagawaan Gopinathji inspire us not to lose heart, and to remember Swami Vivekananda's words:

'In the midst of our misery, our poverty and degeneration, the heart beats as warm as of yore, when the "wealth of Ind" was the proverb of nations and India was the land of the "Aryas", and 'Thou blessed land of the Aryas, thou wast never degraded.'

References

1. Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Advaita Ashrama, Calcutta, 1990, III p. 109
2. Ibid III p. 137.
3. Ibid V, p. 122.
4. Ibid IV, p. 314.
[The author is a learned scholar from America, engaged in useful literary work at the Institute of Culture, Ramakrishna Mission, Gol Park, Calcutta-700029]
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