Sarada is an Indian artist and writer, resident in the U.K. since 1973 and in Wales since 1990. Born in Singapore she worked as a journalist for local newspapers. In England, she spent the next two decades raising a family, writing for local weeklies during this time.
Sarada has exhibited her artwork at numerous venues in England and Wales, Ireland and Australia and has offered story-telling workshops through art, drama, writing in schools and in mental health groups. Her work draws upon great Hindu classics, the multi-cultural influences of her background, life experiences and travels.
Sarada has won awards for her work in mini-tales in the National Association of Writers’ Groups in Durham, and won Travel and President’s awards in the local writers’ circle, and has had short stories published in both the University’s Anthology ‘Shadow Plays’ in 2010 and more recently in the writing group anthologies.
Sarada was awarded her Masters Degree in Creative Writing at Trinity St David Carmarthen; University of Wales in 2012. The first 20,000 words of ‘The Neem Tree,’ formed her dissertation, titled ‘Outcaste.’
"In the beginning there was the word."
In Sanathana Dharma (The Eternal Code) - Hinduism, the word is 'Aum' or 'Om.'
"Understand that word in its essence: Om! that is the word."
- Katha Upanishad, 1.2. 15 -1.2.
Thaipusam is a unique festival which can be confusing, bewildering, tiring or exciting, attracting over a million devotees and visitors every year. This festival is celebrated mainly in the southern states of India.
As the year draws to a close and day-light grows shorter, all over the world there is a theme of celebrating light over darkness.
Diwali or Deepavali, a major Hindu festival signifying the victory of light over darkness, was observed on October 30th this year The five-day festivities concluded on the darkest, new moon night of the Lunar-solar month of Kartika in Bikram Sambat calendar. Millions of lights in earthenware- clay pots would have been lit outside doors, windows, around temples and communities. People wear new clothes, exchange gifts, offer sweets and seasonal specialities; create rangoli patterns on the floor. Ancient stories of the victory of good over evil are always told. In some parts of India, it is an occasion to mark Lord Rama's triumph over the demon-king Ravana. Lakshmi the Goddess of Light and Prosperity is especially worshipped during this time.
It is an official holiday in Burma, Fiji, Guyana, India, Malaysia, Mauritius, Nepal, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago.
In a corner of the world in Wales, we lit lamps in coconut-halves, the latter offered to birds in the garden later. We had a traditional meal with treats, listened to chants, children played with sparklers and we wished everyone, ‘Happy Deepavali!’
We have always celebrated our tradition, enjoying both the Indian-western cultures. As we placed the ghee lamps outside the doors and lighted up the shrine and put on every light in our home, I could not help observing we may have to decorate it with cobwebs and pumpkins the next day on the 31st for Halloween and wished only for the children to dress-up and do the trick and treating!
When I looked up Halloween, I found its ancient Celtic roots in the Samhain (Samain) festival. In Ireland about 2,000 years ago, Samhain was the division of the year between the lighter half of summer and the darker half of winter. At Samhain the division between this world and the other world was at its thinnest, allowing spirits to pass.
Similar to Diwali, where family’s ancestors were honoured the day before and invited home whilst evil spirits were warded off, this practise was also observed amongst the Celts. People wore costumes and masks to disguise themselves as harmful spirits and thus avoid harm. Bonfires and food played a large part in the festivities.
Christianity incorporated this day into the Christian calendar with All Saints on November 1st, followed by All Souls on November 2nd.
According to the writer, John Gilroy ‘Tlachtga: Celtic Fire Festival,’ The Hindu Diwali, known as the Festival of Lights occurs about the same time as Samhain marks the Celtic New Year. The Author asks, ‘Could it be that Diwali and Samhain have a common root in antiquity?’
All I know is that, during Diwali, we were always able to purchase fireworks because Halloween was just round the corner!
The Jewish festival of Light too falls around this time and because the Jewish calendar is lunar, it can happen from late November to late December. This year it will be observed from the evening of Saturday 24th December for eight days until the evening of January 1st. During Hanukkah, on each of the eight nights, a candle is lit in a special menorah(candelabra) called ‘hannukkiyah.’ There is a special ninth candle called the ‘shamash’ servant candle used to light the other candles. The shamash is often in the centre of the other candles and has a higher position.
Hanukkah is also a time for giving and receiving presents and gifts are exchanged on each night.
The Winter Solstice is the day where there is the shortest time between the sun rising and the sun setting. It happens on December 21st or 22nd. To Pagans this meant that the winter was over and spring was coming and they had a festival to rejoice the sun for winning over the darkness of winter. In Scandinavia and some other parts of northern Europe, the Winter Solstice is known as Yule and this is where we get Yule logs. In Eastern Europe this festivities is called Koleda.
The Roman Festival of Saturnalia took place between 17th and 23rd of December, honouring the Roman god Saturn. Dies Natalis Solis Invicti means ‘birthday of the unconquered Sun’ and was held on December 25th, when the Romans thought the Winter Solstice took place, and it was also the ‘birthday’ of the Sun God Mithra – Indo-Persian ‘Mitra.’ The most popular hypothesis is that Roman soldiers encountered this religion during military excursions to these parts. In the religion of Mithraism, the holy day was Sunday and is where that word must come from! In Hinduism, Sunday is ruled by the Sun.
When King Constantine converted to Christianity in the fourth century, he had quite a challenge ahead of him to convert an empire full of pagans. It was simply decided that the birthday of the Sun God to be with the Son of God. In the Catholic Encyclopedia quotes an early Christian saying, “O how wonderfully acted Providence that on that day on which that Sun was born....Christ the Son should be born.”
However the festivals came about, as the days became shorter, all over the world different cultures marked the long drawing dark nights with celebrations of inviting light.
A reminder from Amma, Mata Amritanandamayi, the ‘Hugging Saint,’
“We are all beads strung on the same thread;” and “...when we let in light, darkness automatically ceases to exist...”
As we approach the New Year, much the same way as we observe Diwali, we will light lamps around our home to usher in the New Calendar, and we will offer prayers of:
‘Lokah Samastha Sukhino Bavanthu,’ remembering and wishing all beings to be well, in whichever worlds they may be and conclude with the universal prayer from Sanathana Dharma:
Asato maa Sadgamaya - From Untruth lead me to Truth
Tamaso maa Jyotirgamaya - From Darkness lead me to Light
Mrtyor maa Amrtamgamaya - From Unhappiness lead me to Happiness
Om Shanti; Shanti; Shanti - Om Peace; Peace; Peace
From Wales wishing all - ‘Nadolig Llawen a Blwyddyn Newydd Dda!’
Merry Christmas & A Happy New Year!
In India, Navarathri is celebrated as Garbha-Dandiya, Ramlila, Golu and Durga Pooja in various parts of the country. It is probably the most important Indian festival you may have never heard of! Essentially, it is an arts festival and the celebration of good over evil.
“And whatever states of being there may be, be they harmonious, passionate, slothful - know –they are all from Me alone.
I am not in them; they are in Me.”
Performed by the students of India Dance Wales, this annual showcase incorporates all Shishyas of all ages, abilities and backgrounds coming together for an exciting gala event.
The word "Guru" in Sanskrit is translated as "dispeller of darkness." Hence the Guru dispels the darkness of ignorance and leads the aspirants on the path to enlightenment. The day of Guru Purnima is traditionally the time when seekers offer the Guru their gratitude and receive his/her blessings. Guru Purnima is also considered an especially beneficial day to observe yogic sadhana/practice and meditation. This is on Full-Moon day in the month of Asadha(July-August.)
In yogic lore, this sacred day started, when a Yogi appeared in the regions of the Himalayas, over 15, 000 years ago. Nobody knew what his origins were, but his presence was extraordinary. People gathered around him. He exhibited no signs of life, but for the occasional tears of ecstasy that rolled down his face. As people began to move away, seven men stayed on. When he opened his eyes, they pleaded with him to impart his bliss. He dismissed them, but they persevered. Finally he gave them a simple preparatory step and closed his eyes again.
The seven men began to prepare. Days rolled into weeks, weeks into months, months into years. After eighty-four years of sadhana, on the summer solstice that marks the earth’s southern run, the yogi looked at them again. They had become shining receptacles. On the very next full moon, the yogi turned south and sat as Guru to these seven men.
The Adiyogi (the first yogi) thus became the Adi Guru, who taught the first transmissions of yogic sciences to the Saptarishis, the seven celebrated sages, who carried the knowledge throughout the world. Even today, every spiritual process on the planet draws from the spine of knowing created by the Adiyogi – Lord Shiva.
Hindu spiritual Gurus are revered on this day, by remembering their life and teachings.
This day is also known as Vyasa Purnima and commemorated as the birth anniversary of Veda Vyasa, the author and a character in the Hindu magnum opus Mahabharata.
Buddhists also celebrate Guru Purnima in honour of Gautama Buddha. The Buddha went from Bodhgaya to Sarnath about five weeks of his enlightenment. When he gave up his severe penances his friends, the five monks left him, and went to Sarnath. After attaining enlightenment, the Buddha, leaving Uruvela, travelled to Sarnath to join and teach them. He went to them because, he had seen with his spiritual vision, that his five former companions would be able to understand Dharma quickly.
When he found his five former companions, he taught them; they understood and as a result they also became enlightened. It was at that time the Sangha, the community of the enlightened ones was founded. The sermon the Buddha gave to the five monks was his first sermon. It was given on the full-moon day of Asadha.
According to Jain tradition, it was on this day Mahavira after attaining his realization made his close follower, his first disciple, thus becoming a Guru himself. Therefore it is recognized in Jainism as Guru Purnima.
The very first prayer, my mother taught my brother and I was,
Nandralga – All be well
Guru Valga- Guru be well
Guruvey Thunai’- Guru is the eternal companion
As a child, I was about ten and my brother even younger, when we first received ‘diksha-mantra.’ The Teacher was then the almost unknown ‘Maharishi Maheshi Yogi,’ from Rishikesh, stopping over in Singapore, on his very first journey enroute to America. He was initially giving talks in the Theosophical Society. Later, he was to become the famous Guru for the Beatles.
My Appa/father had been attending his discourses, and had been impressed with the joy, that sprang from this Guru. We found the ceremony quite overwhelming. But I was also disappointed, for unlike my mother, we were initiated together; we were under the adult age of twelve.
A few years later, at the age of twelve, Swami Madhavanandji, the Head of the Ramakrishna Mission, was visiting Singapore from Belur Math, and I reminded my Appa, I qualified for my adult rites.
We had to write our child-mantra on a piece of paper and attach it to a stick and throw it into a flowing river. As my father had received his mantra from the esteemed Swami Virajananda, a direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, in Belur Math, India, we were fortunate to be closely connected to this illustrious establishment. We were already quite well inspired by the narratives of Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother and Swami Vivekananda, and it stood us in good stead, as preparation.
On the appointed day, we took our full baths, wore new clothes and carried a tray of fruits, flowers and offered a voluntary envelope of dakshina/gift. It was early morning, and I still remember the room. Swamiji spoke to me in Bengali at first, perhaps because of my name, popular in that region. ‘Oh, how I felt on hearing my adult-mantra!’ He also showed me how to keep count with my fingers. The whole experience has proved invaluable in my life.
When I heard he had moved on, in my late teens, I felt quite responsible! All those years growing up, I felt I had lost out on growing up in a Guru-kula/community, where I could have learnt directly from a Master.
Years passed, and every time I thought I had met an adept, it was not to be. At length, even after moving into an ashram with my family, I did not find what I was seeking, until after a long painful process, I found myself being initiated by Amma, the Hugging Saint in the year 2000. Perhaps because of my background, I had encouraged our children aged twelve and eight to receive this gift in 1989, from Amma!
It is said, when the student is ready, the Teacher will appear. Maybe, I had to wait, to work out connections with other religious establishments, to search; a process in self-development, until the time was right?
Amma herself explains,
“A mantra with a bikakshara has to be heard from the Guru’s mouth directly. One has to be initiated by the Guru. That is what brings about a change, a transformation in the disciple.’
‘When a Satguru gives a mantra, he or she is infusing his/her energy into us, that can create a change from within us’ for me, I felt humbled that in giving us this present, while advising us to practice chanting the mantra diligently, She on her part, had also undertaken to be responsible for each and everyone of sikshas/pupils’ development until we reached our ultimate goal!
A mantra that is specially used on this day is:
"Gururbrahmaa Gururvishnuh Gururdevo Maheswarah|
Guruh-Saakshaat Parabrahma Tasmai Shrigurave Namah ||"
It means that the Guru is Brahma(Creator), Vishnu (Preserver) and Mahesh (Shiva), - the Trinity
The Guru is the witness of all that is around as the manifestation of the World, within and without. Salutations to that Guru with all our sincere humble respects.
As I conclude, I give my deep gratitude to my Guru in all I have encountered, be it human, friend or foe, or animals and in all of life, in Nature. I will give special thanks to my Satguru on Gurupurnima, who in Osho’s word on Master/Guru through Patanjali Yoga Sutra;
‘A master helps you to cross the gap, a Master – the first job is to help you to unlearn: that is the difference. A Master means somebody who is standing on the boundary of the human and the divine. He is more than human. And if you have surrendered to a Master, he can enter into your sleep. You will not be able to hear his footsteps. He can enter silently and work. The Master can twenty-four hours be with you – there is no problem.’
I also take heed from another Master, as he advises,
“Dedicate the day for your inner well being, eat light, listen to music, meditate, 'watch the moon.'
It will be fantastic for you because it is the first full moon day after the solstice. Tell other people that this is a significant day.”
“You’ll not be punished for your anger, you’ll be punished by your anger” - The Buddha
According to the Hindu Calendar, Buddha Purnima/Paurnami is observed on the full-moon night in the Hindu month of Vaisakh, which corresponds to the month of May in the Gregorian calendar. This year this most sanctified festival of the Buddhist community was observed on 21st of May 2016.
This day is also known as Buddha Jayanti, Buddha’s birthday, Vesak,/Wesak and Buddha Vishaka Paurnami, Hana Matsuri and Saga Dawa. It is also the day of Buddha’s journey towards his enlightenment and his day of Enlightenment. Countries all over the world celebrate Vesak, not only in India, but in Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, South Vietnam; and in Canada, Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom.
Born as Prince Siddhartha to King Sudhodana, in the city of Kapalivastu on the borders of the Indo-Nepalese region, he derived the title Sakyamuni meaning ‘Sage of the Sakyas’ as he was born into the Sakya clan.
According to tradition, his mother, Queen Maya, dreamt of a beautiful white elephant coming down into her womb, which was interpreted as a sign of a Buddha or a universal emperor, who was about to be born. The baby arrived unexpectedly, when the Queen was taking a walk in the Lumbini Gardens.
After a few days, his mother died and Siddhartha was brought up by his aunt Prajapati.
It is said the Kula-Guru: Family-Teacher, Sage Asita, came down from the Himalayas to meet the newborn prince and foreseeing his greatness, saluted him with clasped hands. When his astrology was consulted by Brahmin priests, it was revealed he would either become a universal ruler or turn to renunciation if he saw old age, sickness, death and a hermit.
His father wanted his son to be a great King, so Siddhartha grew up; leading a privileged life, in a palace surrounded by a guarded triple enclosure, until one day he decided to venture out to visit the town. Despite all precautions, Siddhartha saw an old man, an invalid and encountered a funeral procession. Finally he met a sadhu-hermit.
Soon after, Siddhartha left his beautiful young wife and his infant son, to become the monk Gautama. He studied doctrines for many years and fasted in extreme asceticism, where it is written that he was tempted by Mara (aka Lord of Death), with both sensuous temptresses and torturous demons to no avail.
After accepting a rice-pudding from a village maiden, he taught the 'Middle-way,' for he saw both the luxurious and the intense way, did not lead to the way of liberation.
Siddhartha Gautama attained the awakening passing through various stages as he saw beings live, die and transmigrate. During the night of meditating on human pain, he was enlightened about both its genesis and the means of destroying it. He identified the four noble truths and the eightfold path, which ultimately led to the end of suffering.
Under the Bodhi tree, his enlightenment is said to have shone radiant, and discovered that all beings were all capable of the same realisation. Instead of entering Nirvana, he chose to share his insights, establishing a Sangha of followers who would spread his teachings.
It is said the Buddha went into the jhana stages of meditative absorption's, from one level to another, deeper and deeper, coming out of the ecstasy for the last time only to pass into nirvana leaving nothing behind to cause rebirth. His body was cremated according to the tradition of the culture he was born into. This day which occurred on a full moon day about 483BC, became known in the Indian calendar as Vesak.
In my first year of my Secondary School, we were asked to illustrate a proverb. I chose ‘To err is human; to forgive divine’ – and drew the Buddha forgiving a soldier in medieval fighting attire.
Initially, I wanted to draw the Buddha’s serene encounter with Angulimala, whose name meant Garland of Fingers, for the dacoit had taken a vow to kill a hundred people, and to hack a finger from each to add to his gruesome necklace. Despite warnings, the Buddha had taken the path into the terrorist’s lair. When Angulimala had seen the lonely monk walking quietly, he had rushed forward with his sword, but could not catch up. Although he was fully fit, the monk’s steady paces outdistanced him. Exhausted, he had finally called out, “Stop monk!” The Buddha’s calm reply was “I have stopped, Angulimala.” The Buddha’s mind had stopped dealing in craving, hatred and ignorance and had arrived at a place which Angulimala could not reach with his sword. Angulimala became a disciple of the Buddha and I opted to for the soldier with a sword, for my artwork!
Later, as I took up reading some of our six Hindu philosophies, it struck me that the Buddhist teachings were remarkably similar to the non-dualistic Advaita branch in Vedanta. Now, in the month of Vesak, it is yet again, a reminder for us to follow his exemplary inspiring teachings through the mire of the world, in whatever way we can to find peace of mind, if not Nirvana. Meanwhile, I have decided to a create a picture-story of the Buddha, including his encounter with Angulimala.
Having long last realised my vision of writing and illustrating the picture-book of ‘Meenakshi Devi-The Green Goddess-The Warrior Princess,’ the printers’ could not meet the deadline. After ‘jumping over hurdles’ and going round in circles, it was ready for the first Llandeilo Book Fair. It proved popular.
Having observed Ram Navami, it seems only natural to celebrate Hanuman Jayanti soon after, in this month of Chaitra Purnima-Chittera Paurnami, on Friday April 22nd 2016 as per the Hindu calendar. In different parts of India the Hanuman Jayanthi is observed in different months. Hanuman is also known aa Mahavira, the Great Warrior, and also popularly as Bajrangbali, especially in Bali, Indonesia.
Who was Hanuman and why was he regarded as the greatest devotee of Lord Rama?