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Janmashtami fervour at Delhi, Gurgaon

By Deepak Arora

Lord KrishnaNEW DELHI, Aug 7: Janmashtami, to mark the birthday of Indian God Lord Krishna, is celebrated in India and the world over with religious fervour, devotion, music and theatre. The Capital city, Delhi, has this time gone beyond the traditional jhankis that are usually put up in temples and homes depicting the life of Lord Krishna and the city has put up some exciting events.

Janmashtami celebrations have begun with a great fervour in all centres of International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) in the city. In East of Kailash, the temple is decorated with lights and more than 500 varieties of flowers imported from across the world. The maha aarti at midnight of August 10 is the highlight of the celebrations.

A huge pandal is set up behind the temple for stalls and dramas on the life of Krishna. There will also be a play by in-house thereatre group, Baikuntha Players.

“Spirituality is suddenly cool amongst youngsters. We get a lot of young followers who participate in the aarti and dancing,” says Vrajendranandan Das, director, Iskcon Communications. Guests can also gorge on eggless cakes and saatvik snacks.

At West Punjabi Bagh, 41/77 Srila Prabhupada Marg, city’s only Krishna-Balaram temple, Iskcon will organise live music throughout the day. The evening will also see a spiritual rock concert by Gauranga, a four-member rock band— Prateek Bhatia, Mohit Bansal, Sonu Sargam, Sankalp Minaki. “The band’s name is inspired by the incarnation of dancing God— Gauranga or Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu— who led the massive dance and music movement during 15th century,” says Bhatia, lead vocalist of the band.

Delhi's satellite town, Gurgaon, is also celebrating Janmashtami at Huda Gymkhana club in Sector 29 in Gurgaon on August 10. The entire road leading to the club will be decorated with a huge gate signifying the entrance to Krishna’s world. Children of various schools in the vicinity will perform plays, enacting the life and mischievous nature of Krishna, his unconditional love for Radha and his role in the big fight of Mahabharat. Group dance by Anoushka at 7.30 pm promises to make you sway to the tunes of love while the temple’s in-house drama group, Goloka Players, will perform a drama based on Lord Krishan’s life in the evening.

This is the fourth time that the Iskcon is organizing Janmashtami celebrations in Gurgaon. Iskon has roped in huge, decorated gates and beautiful lights from Chandannagar near Kolkata, which will add to the glamour and grandeur of the event.

"To make this birthday of Lord Krishna memorable, we will give 11 poor widows few gifts which will include clothes and some items of worship. This is being done to make the widows feel happy about themselves and their lives," said Guru Rasamrit Das of Iskon.

The committee also announced its plans of building another Krishna temple in Gurgaon and said it will take around two years for completion. Guru Sarvapalak Das, centre in charge, said: "The work will begin on October 10 on the 750 square metre area in Sector 45 in Gurgaon. So far, we have estimated that the cost incurred will be somewhere around Rs 6 crores."

People can also watch the life of Lord Krishna unfold before their eyes at the popular dance drama at the Shri Ram Bhartiya Kala Kendra in Mandi House. Presented by Shri Ram Bhartiya Kala Kendra, the epic had been performed every year during Janmashtami for the last 31 years.

“We try to include new elements each year to keep the audience’s interest alive,” says Shobha Deepak Singh, Director. The two-hour-long performance focuses on the childhood and adolescence of Krishna in the first hour and moves to the lesser known stories about his role in Mahabharat in the second half. The Radhika Ashtkam, a love scene between Radha and Krishna in the first half, is know to leave the audience awestruck. Girls creating patterns with fire mashaals to depict Krishna Consciousness is another favourite of the crowd.

Krishna's birthday is being celebrated at Zorba the Buddha this Friday with Raas-Leela – free flowing dance, music and masti. Raas, the dance of celebration is a profound attribute to creation. We know it that within each man, there is a woman and within each woman there is a man. This event is an expression and interplay of the masculine and feminine energies.

Damini will DJ and lead the dance with a fusion of many genres of uplifting vibrant and meditative music, aimed at loosening up inhibitions and discovering our free spirited self, according to Ashwin Bharti, Founder Director, Zorba The Buddha.

Damini is an ecstatic dancer who experiments with different styles of music and the variety of movements they inspire in the body. Dance is the most spontaneous form of meditation for her. The dance is followed by dinner.

Watch the different shades of Krishna captured on a canvas in a painting exhibition dedicated to the mischievous deity at Krish Art Gallery, M-66, M Block Market, Greater Kailash Part-1 till August 15. The paintings try to capture his naughty, innocent, romantic and divine moods. Lovingly called Bal Gopal and Makhan Chor during childhood, Krishna’s naughty acts perplexed his loved one yet his innocence melted the hearts of many.

“I have tried to capture his expression of innocence with the mischievous glint in his eye through my paintings,” says Sunil Mehra, the artist. The paintings show Krishna in various embodiments from honey-eyed laddoo Gopal playing on the lap of Maiya Yashodha or a grown up Krishna dancing with the gopis, can all be seen at this exhibition.

Delhi Lt Governor Tejendra Khanna has extended Janmashtami wishes to the people of the national capital. In his message, Khanna appealed to people to remember virtues of Lord Krishna and his teachings and follow them in their daily life.

He also urged people to strengthen their commitment in seeking well-being of all their fellow citizens through compassion, love and spirit of selfless service.

$2-million Hindu Temple planned for New York

NEW YORK, March 21: White Plains (New York) will have its first Hindu Temple in the near future.

According to reports, its construction is scheduled to begin in July and total cost can go up to $2-million. Besides a sanctuary for worship, it also plans to include cultural and community center, day-care center, senior citizens program, library, conference facility and classrooms; and besides White Plains, it will also serve Hindus living in adjoining areas of Connecticut, New Jersey and New York states.

Meanwhile, Hindu statesman Rajan Zed, in a statement in Nevada (USA) today, applauded efforts of temple-project leaders and White Plains and surrounding area community to realize this wonderful Hindu temple.

Rajan Zed, who is President of Universal Society of Hinduism, further said that it was important to pass on Hindu spirituality, concepts and traditions to coming generations amidst so many distractions in the consumerist society and hoped that this temple would focus in this direction. Zed stressed that instead of running after materialism; we should focus on inner search and realization of Self and work towards achieving moksh (liberation), which was the goal of Hinduism.

In the past, an area restaurant run by Jagdish and Monica Mitter offered venue for area Hindus to congregate or they went to Queens temple for worship needs. But beginning in May, temple leaders are planning to launch temple services under tents on the temple site. There are about 5,000 Hindu families in Westchester County in which White Plains is located and Jyotin Thaker is Temple Trustees President. A “Mata Ki Chowki” will be held on April one to raise funds.

Nicknamed "The Birthplace of the State of New York", affluent White Plains, created in 1788, still has a house which was General George Washington’s headquarters in 1770s during American Revolutionary War. This "City in the Park" claims to offer urban amenities with suburban living. Prominent people associated with it include Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, boxer Boyd Melson, actress Shelley Hack, footballers Art Monk and Bob Hyland, basketball players Channing Frye and Danilo Gallinari, and actor James Whitmore

Hinduism is the oldest and third largest religion of the world with about one billion adherents.

Amarnath Yatra registration to begin from May 10

JAMMU, May 6: Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) has said the registration for the annual Amarnath pilgrimage would begin from 10th May.

"The process of Amarnath yatra registration for this year in Jammu and Kashmir shall commence on 10th May, 2011," Chief Executive Officer of SASB, R K Goyal said on Monday.

Registration of the pilgrims will commence from counters established in 121 designated branches of the Jammu and Kashmir bank, 24 branches of the Yes Bank and 4 district cooperative banks, Goyal said.

With the curtailment in the annual Amarnath yatra by 15 days, the shrine board in its meeting held on 18th February, this year decided that pilgrimage shall commence simultaneously, along both the Baltal and Chandanwari routes on 29th June and culminate on 13th August.

The SASB has succeeded, this year to increase the number of registration counters from 121 in 2010 to 149 this year by securing support from other banks in various states, he said, adding the counters in the state of Bihar shall remain open from 3 pm to 6 pm on all weekdays and 1 pm to 4 pm on all Saturdays during the period of registration, upto 10th August.

The registration form can be collected from any of the designated branches of the banks or downloaded from SASB's official website, he said.

Registration will be done through a yatra permit which will be issued on the submission of the form, along with the payment of handling charges of Rs 15 per pilgrim, Goyal said.

He also said every registered pilgrim has been provided, an accidental insurance cover of Rs one lakh at the cost of the shrine board.

Sathya Sai Baba interred with State honours

PUTTAPARTHI, April 27: The mortal remains of the 85-year-old spiritual guru, Sathya Sai Baba, were interred amid State honours at the same spot in the Sai Kulwant Hall from where he used to deliver his message to his devotees for decades.

Vedic rituals were performed as the body was laid to rest while Christian, Muslim, Buddhist and Jewish priests recited their scriptures. The last rites were performed by the Sai Baba's nephew R.J. Ratnakar, who is also a member of the Central Trust, amid chants by a group of scholars led by Kandakuri Kondavadhani from East Godavari district.

The ceremony commenced behind the large maroon screen which was lifted once the religious rites were completed as the audience watched the ceremony, fighting emotions.

A guard of honour was given by policemen who came in slow march, draped the national tri-colour on the glass casket and removed it after a while as the buglers sounded the Last Post.

Half a platoon of policemen fired three shots in the air in a gun salute. A general salute was also offered by the men in uniform.

Among the VIPs present were Governors E.S.L. Narasimhan (Andhra Pradesh) and Shivraj Patil (Rajasthan), Chief Ministers N. Kiran Kumar Reddy (AP) and B.S. Yeddyurappa (Karnataka), former Chief Ministers N. Chandrababu Naidu (AP) and Ashok Chavan (Maharashtra) and Andhra Pradesh Ministers N. Raghuveera Reddy (Revenue) and J. Geetha Reddy (Major Industries).

The actual process of laying the mortal remains to rest began after the rituals were completed.

The vault had a foundation and a layer of the finest marble, said to have been sourced from Rajasthan.

Water from sacred rivers and soil from every State in the country were sprinkled on the memorial.

After the casket was lowered and the ‘samadhi' made ready, VIPs walked upto it and sprinkling sacred ash, prayed and paid their last respects. The ceremony that started at 8.45 a.m. came to a close with a traditional ‘harathi' after which entry into the Sai Kulwant Hall was barred for a while. Devotees were allowed to have darshan and pay their respects from noon. Interestingly, media attention peaked when Sai Baba's personal caregiver Satyajit, who has been provided security by the police, made an appearance the first time after Sunday when Sai Baba passed away.

He was seen seated near the body throughout the whole two-hour long ceremony that started at 8.45 a.m. and came to a close by about 11 a.m.

Sathya Sai Baba passes away

Sathya Sai BabaHYDERABAD, April 24: Iconic spiritual leader Sri Sathya Sai Baba passed away at Puttaparthi in Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh on Sunday morning, leaving behind millions of mourning devotees in India and abroad, and a sprawling system of educational, medical and philanthropic services that has huge resources at its command. He was 85.

He had bravely battled complications of the heart, lung and kidney for four weeks. The end came at 7.40 a.m., after 28 days of intense anxiety among his followers and frenetic activity by doctors of the Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences (SSIHMS). The medical team gave him expert care but could not save his life as multi-organ failure set in. After his admission to the hospital on March 30, a cardiac pacemaker was implanted. As his condition deteriorated, doctors put him on a ventilator system and on dialysis.

The formal announcement was made by SSIHMS Director Dr. A.N. Safaya. He declared in a statement that the spiritual leader “is no more with us physically. He left his earthly body due to cardio-respiratory failure.”

A few hours later, the body was shifted in an ambulance from the hospital to the Sai Kulwant Hall in Prashanthi Nilayam, about 7 km away. The mortal remains will be kept in this huge and ornately decorated hall, regularly used for congregations and for Sai Baba's elaborate birthday celebrations, on Monday and Tuesday for devotees to pay their final respects.

The body will be interred in the hall on Wednesday, April 27, around 8 a.m.

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Kiran Kumar Reddy, who flew into Puttaparthi along with Governor E.S.L. Narasimhan, declared State mourning for four days and a holiday in Anantapur district on Wednesday. He said Sai Baba would be given State honours at the funeral.

As news of the demise spread, thousands of devotees began thronging Puttaparthi. There was chaos on the narrow Gopuram Street leading to Prashanthi Nilayam. Police personnel had a tough time controlling the surging crowd at the gates of the ashram.

It became apparent after some time to the authorities that the decision to keep the body in the Sai Kulwant Hall instead of at the 50,000-capacity stadium in the town would pose difficulties in managing the crowds whose number during the next three days is expected to reach nearly five lakhs.

A host of national and State leaders, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Vice-President Hamid Ansari, BJP leader L.K. Advani, and several Governors and Chief Ministers condoled the death of Sai Baba.

A steady stream of leaders, including Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa, BJP president Nitin Gadkari, Punjab Governor Shivraj Patil, former Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan, Tamil Nadu Deputy Chief Minister M.K. Stalin, Telugu Desam Party president N. Chandrababu Naidu and Praja Rajyam president K. Chiranjeevi, reached Puttaparthi to pay their respects.

After the passing of Sai Baba, a vast empire spread across Puttaparthi, Bangalore, Kodaikanal, Hyderabad, Chennai and Mumbai, and overseas centres, needs to be administered as effectively as before. The spiritual guru was the Chairman of the Sathya Sai Central Trust that manages funds pouring in from devotees across the globe, as well as the affairs of a string of service and spiritual organisations.

The Trust, which has as its members well-known persons such as the former Chief Justice of India, P.N. Bhagwati; the former Central Vigilance Commissioner, S.V. Giri; former IAS officer K. Chakravarthi, who is the Trust Secretary since 1994; and the former CII president, V. Srinivasan, has now to select an eminent person acceptable to the devotees to chair the Trust.

This is no mean task, considering numerous reports of internal differences between Sai Baba's relatives, particularly his nephew R.J. Ratnakar, a member of the Trust, and some other Trustees.

'Baba's words, actions have lit lamp of love in devotees' hearts'

NEW DELHI, April 24: The Vice-President, the Lok Sabha Speaker, the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the Congress president were among those who condoled the death of Sri Sathya Sai Baba at Puttaparthi in Andhra Pradesh on Sunday morning.

Lauding the work done by various institutions set up by the Baba to promote egalitarian values, education, and public health, they said the Baba's “words and actions have lit the lamp of love in the hearts of devotees.”

In his message, Vice-President Hamid Ansari said the Baba's message of love should be the guiding light in this trying hour.

Expressing “deep and profound sadness” over the death of the 86-year-old Baba, the Prime Minister said he was a spiritual leader who inspired millions to lead a moral and meaningful life even as they followed the religion of their choice.

“Sri Sathya Sai Baba, as a preacher of the highest human values, was an iconic figure for over five decades. He endeared himself to the people through various institutions, with headquarters at Prashanthi Nilayam, that promoted egalitarian values, education and public health,” Dr. Singh said.

He said the Baba believed that it was the duty of every person to ensure that all people had access to the basic requirements for sustenance of life.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi said the news greatly pained her. “He was a spiritual person in whom lakhs of people had faith. In his lifetime, he inspired the people of this country and those abroad towards spiritualism and religion,” she said in her condolence message.

Bharatiya Janata Party leader L.K. Advani and Nitin Gadkari, in separate messages, expressed their grief and sorrow at the passing away of the Baba.

Mr. Advani said that in modern times stalwarts like Swami Ramakrishna Paramhans, Swami Vivekananda, Swami Dayanand and Mahatma Gandhi were reckoned as ideals for the country, and of the titans in the spiritual field in present day India, few had had the phenomenal following the Baba had.

Mr. Gadkari, who condoled the Baba's death said, “The departure of such a great cultural and social icon of global fame from the spiritual world has left a void, which will remain unfulfilled for a long time to come.”

In his condolence message, External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna said he had the “unique privilege” of knowing the spiritual leader for a number of years. “The most impressive part of his personality was the love and compassion that he always brought into his endeavours,” he said.

Expressing her deep sadness, Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar said: “I am pained to know about the sad demise of Sathya Sai Baba.”

“Baba's inspirational presence and his eternal message of love and compassion have enlightened the people across the world,” she said in her message.


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