“Do not believe in a thing because you have read it in a book. Do not believe in a thing because another man has said it. Do not believe in words because they are hallowed by tradition. Find out the truth for yourself. That is realisation,” said Swami Vivekananda.
After having gained some amazing experiences in my recent tour to South Africa and Bharat, the above statement makes perfect sense! Since I was a child, I’ve been hearing about the most fundamental thought of the Hindus – ‘the existence of Paramatma in everything around us’. Great saints have lived their lives with this idea. This idea of the same Aatma pervading the whole universe took concrete shape in the life of Shri Ramkrishna Paramahansa. His self-identity did not remain confined to the human world; it spread to mute nature as well. He could feel the pain of the grass, the cows and all those suffering around him. So real was his selfidentity with these that often people around him saw physical wounds on his body.
While in South Africa, I heard the story of Lawrence Anthony, the “Elephant Whisperer (one who can communicate with animals)”. He was an international conservationist, environmentalist, explorer, and bestselling author who saved the lives of many violent and rogue elephants who were to be shot dead, by rescuing and rehabilitating them. Lawrence possessed a unique ability to communicate with the elephants, and so, one day line in theirs he left his home to go live in theirs. The day Lawrence passed away, something extraordinary happened. Herds of elephants, from different directions, slowly made their way through the Zululand bush. After walking for 12 hours they reached Lawrence’s homestead. His family witnessed a solemn procession of elephants that defies human explanation. For two continuous days, the elephants mourned the loss of their beloved friend, as one of their own. On the third day they left for their home. A man’s heart stops, and hundreds of elephants’ hearts are grieving. Many questions arose in my mind. How did the elephants know that Lawrence had died?
They were miles and miles apart. Who told them? How did they know where he lived? “Truly, some things in this universe are much greater and deeper than human intelligence.”
Similar was the experience of Sarisha Didi’s dogs; Khushi, Chand and Sonu. I was mesmerized by their selfless love and affection. Khushi, once explained to a “Dog Whisperer” that he does not like the ‘green’ cage. He also expressed his likes and dislikes to his parents (owners). This was something beyond my wildest imagination! On the other hand, Sonu would first make his way to the temple room everyday in the morning, to prostrate in front of Paramatma before continuing his daily activities. When Khushi, came home after months, Chand would cry for hours just to express his feeling that he missed her.
These experiences have been both Physical and Spiritual. Physical in the sense that, I now comfortably pat pets and do not run away from them; Spiritual because these wonderful animals took me deep into their world. In the beginning, it was only self-imposed human limitations that impeded my understanding. But now, these animals have whispered and taught me how to listen.
Amazingly this transcends even to plant life.
This makes me wonder, how many of us have heard the call of these amazing animals around us? How many of us have experienced oneness with the nature? Hearing is one thing, but experiencing is definitely another. The wilderness is alive; its whispers are there for all to hear and to respond to. It is time for us to reclaim oneness and bring some alchemy to our world.
These experiences have definitely changed my perspective of life. Without these, I would have never experienced life in everything around me. They have taught me that all life forms are important to each other in our common quest for happiness and survival and that there is more to life than just yourself, your own family, or your own kind.
(The writer is a Sevika from Nairobi, Kenya. She is currently a Pracharika for Hindu Sevika Samiti after being inspired by the message of Swami Vivekananda)
Jatta aai Baisakhi
Baisakhi is one of the major festivals of Sikhs and is celebrated with lot of enthusiasm and gaiety in the state of Punjab and all throughout the world where there is a significant Sikh population. For the large farming community of Punjab, Baisakhi festival marks the time for harvest of rabi crops and they celebrate the day by performing joyful bhangra and gidda dance. For the Sikh community, Baisakhi festival has tremendous religious significance as it was on a Baisakhi Day in 1699, that Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Sikh Guru laid the foundation of Panth Khalsa-the order of the ‘Pure Ones’.
What do people do during Baisakhi?
As the festival has tremendous importance in Sikh religion, major activities of the day are organized in Gurdwaras. People take bath in the holy river to mark the auspicious occasion. After the Baisakhi ardas, congregates receive specially prepared Kara prasad or sweetened semolina and this is followed by a guru ka langar or community lunch.
Later, during the day people of Sikh faith take out a Baisakhi procession under the leadership of Panj piaras. The procession moves through the major localities of the city amidst the rendition of devotional songs by the participating men, women and children. On Baisakhi, farmers thank god for the bountiful crop and pray for good times ahead. Cries of “Jatta aai Baisakhi”, rent the skies as men and women break into the Bhangra and Gidda dance to express their joy.
How does Indian diaspora celebrate Baisakhi?
Baisakhi has become one of the most popular celebrations in Canada. Nearly in every major Canadian city, this special occasion is celebrated with a great deal of enthusiasm. In a sense, Baisakhi has become a mainstream event in this country. Sikhs across the world and across Canada gathers to mark Baisakhi. The festival is marked with prayers and celebrations in various local Gurdwaras but Sikhs in Canada also gather to mark Baisakhi with colourful parades or “nagar kirtans” in all major cities. The parades are followed by a decorated float carrying the Sikh scripture Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Sikhs follow in procession behind the float singing hymns, displaying the Sikh martial art of gatka and distributing free food to Sikhs and non-Sikhs alike.
For Canadian Sikhs, Baisakhi is a special time to celebrate and share their faith with their friends and neighbours. Although Nagar Kirtans have been held in Canada since the early 1900s, in recent years in many cities they have become a massive event drawing tens of thousands of participants. Everyone is welcome to attend Khalsa Day Parades and the celebrations attract Canadians from every religious and cultural background.
The Nagar Kirtans in Metro Vancouver held in Vancouver on April 14 and in Surrey on April 22 last year brought out more than 300,000 people between them. People from other communities join the South Asian community in celebration of the birth of the Khalsa (the Pure Ones). Every year free food and drinks are made available to the attendees all along the Nagar Kirtan routes in cities of Canada. In addition to this, Baisakhi is also celebrated around the Metro Vancouver area by various organizations and schools. School buzz with Baisakhi related activities Impressive cultural performances are done by the students and teachers.
Overall its a commendable way of creating more pride amongst students about their cultural heritage in the Canadian context. Programs, activities and gestures like these go a long way in creating a positive image of the community and creating opportunities for cross-cultural understanding. Organizers of such special events at the national, regional or local level deserve thanks and appreciation by we indians.
(Heena Nanda with inputs from Balwant Sanghera)
Gregorian Calendar Reforms affecting Indian festivals
Unlike other Indian festivals which fall on the dates as per the Hindu Calender, Baisakhi is a festival that is celebrated according to Christian Calender (Gregorian Calendar) –Which has been the unofficial global standard for decades.
In the Julian and modified Julian Calendar that existed before 1582 AD, Makar Sankranti and Baisakhi used to fall on January 1 and April 13 respectively. On February 24, 1582 Pope Gregory issued a papal bull, Inter Gravissimas, establishing what is now called the Gregorian Calendar reform. The Gregorian Calendar is currently in use in all westernised countries. Few of the Gregorian reforms were:
n Shifting of New Year day from March 25 to January 1. Ten days were omitted from the calendar, and it was decreed that the day following (Thursday) October 4, 1582 (which is October 5, 1582, in the old calendar) would henceforth be known as (Friday) October 15, 1582.
n The rule for leap years was changed. In the Julian Calendar a year is a leap year if it is divisible by 4. In the Gregorian Calendar a year is a leap year if either
(i) It is divisible by 4 but not by 100
(ii) It is divisible by 400. In other words, a year which is divisible by 4 is a leap year unless it is divisible by 100 but not by 400 (in which case it is not a leap year). Thus the years 1600 and 2000 are leap years, but 1700, 1800, 1900 and 2100 are not.
n The position of the extra day in a leap year was moved from the day before February 25 to the day following February 28.
n The other was to delete 10 days in 1582. Accordingly October 4, 1582 was followed not by October 5 but by October 15. Thus the Christian
calendar was advanced by 10 days
Until 1582, the festival of Baisakhi was celebrated on April 1 which was also the Lunar New Year as per the Indian calendar. In 1583 however, April 1 preceded Baisakhi by 10 days and hence the festival was shifted again to April 11.
As a result the Christian Calendar further gained another 3 days, thus adding upto 13 days as the difference between April 1 and the Baisakhi day. That explains why Baisakhi falls on April 13 or 14 nowadays.
The above explanation is also valid for Makar Sankranti which falls on January 13/14 nowadays and originallywas celebrate on January1.