Thursday, May 22, 2014

From Your Daughter, With Love...


... Hush me in your arms, Ma ...
Press a soft kiss on my cheeks,
And tap my lil head,
Put me off to sleep;

Tell me, Ma, what should I do?
But I want to be 'just' like you!
Your unmitigated blessings pull out on all my life’s holds,
And, all the beauty I seek in the outside world,
 I discover, in your loving folds.

So, hush me in your arms, Ma;
put me off to sleep.
Coz, that's my haven,
that place ... where all my treasures keep.

#LoveYouMa

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PS: This post was In(di)Spired by a prompt chosen by IndiBloggers:

"Post a picture of your mom from her younger days and write a brief personal note to her. It could be anything that you wish to say.. don't worry about things like length, grammar, etc. these mean little to her. Just pour your heart out. #LoveYouMa"

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Announcing the winners of 'My Most Memorable Memento Contest'!


27 posts, 27 mementos and 27 beautiful moments to go along …what a magnificent, moving, spiritual journey this has been …

One month back, when I had decided to take a dig at this contest titled 'My Most Memorable Memento Contest', I had a hunch that I was in for something very exciting. But one thing that I could never anticipate at that time was the level to which this contest would be reaching. I wondered how the topic would be accepted, or even then, whether bloggers would be willing to share their memorable stories with me…

But, you did it. You brushed off all my anxieties aside and opened your hearts out.

And now when the day has come that I have to get down to declaring the results, all I can say is that this has been one of the most incredible (and memorable!) collections ‘My Yatra Diary…’ has ever seen. Going through all your entries has been an experience moving beyond words, something that cannot be expressed. Your mementos have not been mere objects; they have reflected dreams, aspirations, love, lessons, achievements, life and so on.

My Yatra Diary... along with IndianCoupons, thank you with the deepest of our hearts for all your wonderful entries and responses which made this contest … so much more exciting and fun.

Today, to choose a best, seems somehow improper, also difficult, because there are really many (?!); but I realize, to leave it up isn't any option that I have either.

So I have decided to take one easy way out, guess what?

We have a tie!

Yes, we have two winners amongst us today. And,

… 

The two winners of the ‘My Most Memorable Memento Contest’ are:




1. Prateek Mathur for his post, "Memento"

A letter from his (almost blind) grandmother when he left home, around 9 years back.

--- AND ---


2. Kimi Colney for her post, "Perfume Memories"

Sweet memories of her mother linger on... in a bottle of a perfume.


What the judges say:

'Aah, this was tough! All the posts were absolutely phenomenal! But these two, they touched us at a different level, not only were they packed with emotions, they also mirrored a longing, a deep yearning to bring a few long lost memories back to life.’

...

BIG hearty congratulations to the winners for winning Rs. 4000/- GiftBig giftcard Vouchers each and a BIGGER thank you once again to all of you, for taking the time to share such amazing mementos with all of us thereby making this contest a lovely success.

And last but not the least; I sincerely hope that all those who could not make it to the winners list will not feel dejected / sad in any way. You all have been winners in your own right; this was a lot closer than perhaps you can even imagine!

“Winning isn't everything, but the will to win is everything.
~ Vince Lombardi”

...

Note: Both the winners will be contacted by the end of this month via e-mail.


Friday, May 9, 2014

ISKCON Temple in Melbourne (Melbourne Mahaprabhu Hindu Temple.)

Our tram drives past tall skyscrapers and high rise buildings through the city of Melbourne in Australia. As we start moving away from the city, the landscape begins to change – from a mob of chaos and cacophonous rush – to a silent retreat. It’s meditative, almost. I inquire about my destination with my co-passengers in the bus, ‘Where should I get down for Dank’s street?’

A young lady, also an Indian, standing at the door and ready to alight, pips in, ‘This is the stop, get down right here,’ saying thus she continues in a rhetorical tone, ‘You must be going to the ISKCON temple, right?’

She is right. Situated in Danks street, Albert Park, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness or better known as ISKCON temple is a religious place of worship, a spiritual getaway for many Indians staying in Melbourne, like the young lady, like me and like all the others who just alighted along with us from the tram, all believers of Krishna. 

Together, we head through the silent deserted streets lined with quaint houses, tall trees and narrow pathways – the entire setting exuding an old English charm. No one talks as if in harmony to the frame of tranquility; occasionally the winds produce a whistling sound charming the delicate flowers of the gardens to dance.


Quaint houses in Dank Street, on the way to ISKCON Temple in Melbourne, Australia
On the way to the ISKCON temple, Danks street, Melbourne.

Flowers on Dank Street, ISKCON Temple in Melbourne, Australia
Pretty flowers giving company.
I could have easily walked past the iron gates plated ‘197’ if not for my fellow tram passengers; the ISKCON temple looks like any other house. On closer inspection, I spot the name: Sri Sri Radha Ballabha Temple.

The ISKCON Temple building in Melbourne, Australia
The ISKCON Temple at a glance.

Inside, I am greeted by Keerthi, a devotee who handles the reception area. ISKCON temple is home to the bhaktas, the followers of the ISKCON movement and despite being primarily of Indian origin, the temple is essentially international. The residing bhaktas, priests and the managing staff are mostly Melburnians, responsible for operating the place - they run a guest house, carry out all the temple proceedings, prepare the prasadam (offerings to the Lord later consumed by the temple bhaktas), host guests like me – and if this is not enough – they also chant Sanskrit Shlokas with utmost dedication and precision, an ancient Vedic language that is slowly losing its hold for most Indians today.

Clad in a green sari, bespectacled and petite, Keerthi pushes aside the papers she is holding and warmly welcomes me by folding her hands in a Namaste. Her beatific smile is striking. She instantly recognizes me as Arti, the lady with whom she had been conversing via e-mail for the past few days, someone whom she had been eagerly looking forward to host.

‘Mataji, aapne darshan liye, aarti ka samay ho gaya hai. Let’s go.’

She guides me to the main temple hall where the deities are still resting. The temple hall is a humble room, neat and calm devoid of any superfluous ornamentation. Pictures of Radha Krishna adorn the walls on all sides along with a print of Krishna Mahamantra – Hare Rama, Hare Krishna. At one end of the room is the seat of Srila Swami Prabhupada, the founder teacher of the ISKCON movement. Next to the Swami's seat is a blackboard chalked in lessons learnt from the Bhagavad Gita class conducted in the temple every morning. Exactly opposite is the altar with the presiding deities, Sri Sri Radha Ballabha and Sri Sri Gaura-Nitai, along with Lord Jagannath, Lord Baladeva and Lady Subhadra ready to give a glimpse from behind the closed curtains any moment now.

Srila Swami Prabhupada, ISKCON Temple in Melbourne, Australia
Founder Acharya: His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.

I take a seat near Keerthi, who is busy immersed in chanting like many others in the hall. I follow suit.

Soon, with a loud echo of the conch and a thumping encore of the chant Hare Krishna, the curtains are pulled giving way to the beautiful deities of Radha Damodar decked up in colorful dresses and glimmering in bright gold and other ornaments. This first sighting of the Lord is acknowledged by the devotees who instinctively throw their hands up in the air as if in question: where were you till now, O my dear Lord?

Radha Ballabha ISKCON Temple in Melbourne, Australia
Presiding deity of Sri Radha- Ballabha in the temple.
Krishna Balaram deity at the ISKCON Temple in Melbourne, Australia
Deity of Lord Krishna and his brother Baladeva.

The priest ignites the lamp, the hymn is played on and the entire place is suffused in divinity. Devotees stand transfixed with hands folded, heads bowed and eyes closed; everyone seems to be in a trance.

The aarti ends with Keerthi, my guide for today inviting me to show the place around.

'How long have you been staying here,' I ask her, a native resident of southern India. '4 years,' she says with a smile. 'Don’t you miss home?,' I nudge.

‘Yes, sometimes I do but this place has given me a lot of love; the devotees have been my family. This temple has nurtured my soul. I have found happiness here. No matter where I go, this place shall be my home.’ she says sagaciously.

 I cannot help but marvel at the contentment in her life – good people, engrossed in service, to the Lord and to mankind alike, good food, happiness within, a serene pace of livelihood – A place that helps you grow, inwardly and actually teaches you the art of living – who wouldn't want call it home? This is the quality of living we all strive for yet seldom do we find it even after running around frantically all our lives.

She takes me to the house of Srila Swami Prabhupada, the same room where he apparently stayed during his two year visit to Melbourne in 1975-76. Artifacts in display range from items like sandalwood paste with which he was annointed after he passed away, the transistor he used and strands of his hair.

Srila Swami Prabhupada's transistor, ISKCON Temple in Melbourne, Australia
Srila Swami Prabhupada's samadhi dust, ISKCON Temple in Melbourne, Australia
Srila Swami Prabhupada's bed, ISKCON Temple in Melbourne, Australia
Things which carry the essence of Swami Prabhupada today.

All these things transport you back to the 1970s, a period when Srila Prabhupada regularly visited Melbourne to hold lectures and spread the message of spirituality. Keerthi takes me through the years: 'In 1973, He installed the presiding Deities, Sri Sri Radha Ballabha in the temple which, at that time, was located at Burnett Street, St Kilda.  2 years later, the temple found a new residence, and Srila Prabhupada attended the opening at 197, Danks Street, Albert Park, also installing the rest of the Deities of Lord Chaitanya and Lord Nityananda, Sri-Sri Gaura Nitai and Lady Subhadra.’

‘Srila Prabhupada loved Melbourne.’ She goes on, ‘He once said, this place is like Vrindavan to me,’ she chips in with a subtle hint of pride.

Next, we head to the kitchen area and the wardrobe room of the Lord. In the kitchen, containers of spices line the rows of shelves used by devotees for preparing the Prasadam. The Prasadam is served 3 times in a day – breakfast, lunch and dinner – and is offered to all the devotees coming to the temple, in accordance to the wishes of Swami Prabhupada. I try imagining the hullabaloo resonating in the place during festivals like Janmashtami which are celebrated with great pomp and fervor across all the ISKCONS round the world. For now, however, it bores an empty look.

Kitchen of ISKCON Temple in Melbourne, Australia
A row of containers, from the kitchen.

In the clothing room, Keerthi opens up the cupboard for me and I am awed by the sheer number of dresses I see. Laughing softly at seeing the look of amazement on my face, she tries to explain, ‘the Lord is very fond of dressing up and so we take full care to satisfy His wishes. You might be surprised to know but we have a designer on board too. She comes in from time to time to discuss, take the measurements and raw materials from us and stitches His garments accordingly. Every day, the Lord sports a new garment and special ones during the festival days. The Lord also has a large collection of matching earrings and other ornaments;' she points out drawing my attention to a side-section of the cupboard.

Lord's wardrobe ISKCON Temple in Melbourne, Australia
The Master's wardrobe!

‘And what about these garlands, what do you do with these?’ I ask of the dried festoons kept on a table. She picks one of them and hands it to me, ‘Ah these – we distribute these among the devotees. This one is an offering of yesterday, perhaps it was kept here because the Lord wished for you to have it,’ she says with one of her marked beatific smiles again. I accept it with both hands; this is a blessing from the Lord.

The following day, I return again as insisted by my gentle guide, to attend the evening aarti and take the Mahaprasadam (an assortment of sweets, offerings for the Lord). ‘The auspicious celestial month of Kartik (a month in the Hindu calendar) is going on and here, in ISKCON we celebrate it by lighting candles for the Lord. It goes on for the entire duration of the month. You should attend it Mataji, it is an experience not to be missed and also take the Mahaprasadam, it’s distributed immediately after the aarti.’ Her words play in my mind as I mingle with the devotees - young, old and tiny tots – gradually filling the temple hall.

Karthik month arti, ISKCON Temple in Melbourne, Australia
Just moments before the Kartik month candle lighting ceremony

Amid ringing of bells, loud passionate Hare Krishna chants and the beating of the dhol, priests appear with huge lit lamps and the aarti begins. In one corner, a queue forms for the candle lighting ceremony. I join in. As I near the altar, I am handed a lighted candle.

As I circle my candle and close my eyes, I lose focus of my complete attention on the deity of Radhe-Krishna, The light seeps within…

Deity of Radhe Krishna at the ISKCON Temple in Melbourne, Australia
Personal moments with the Lord...

The light clouds my vision or perhaps it is the other way round. The light is opening a connection, between me and my Father. This is a light of peace, a light of humanity and a light of bonding.

After the aarti, I try scouting for Keerthi but alas! The reception is locked and she is nowhere to be seen. Apparently she had left early today.

While I walk to catch a tram back to my hotel in the city, relishing every bite of my Mahaprasadam, I realize I am not alone: the stillness in the dark of the night, the golden shadows of the halogen lights, the pure innocence of the moon in sight and vivid memories of my cheerful guide are all here, to keep me company. 

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Planning to visit the temple? Here's some information that might help you.

1. Prasadam: The full meal main course is called the Prasadam while the ones containing a small assortment of sweets is called the Mahaprasadam. If you are on the lookout for pure vegetarian food in Melbourne, this is the place to go! Though this is a little off from the center of the city, but once you purchase the Myki card, the distance should not be problem. The food is hygienic, very tasty and served in abundance. In addition, it's cooked and dished out with so much love, that it's an experience in itself. When I was there, we weren't asked any member id's and food was given wholeheartedly to all, for free. I'd absolutely recommend having it to anyone visiting Melbourne.

Prasadam Timings: Breakfast - 8:45 am, Lunch -1:00 pm, Dinner - 5:30 pm. Mahaprasadam Timings (distributed after the aarti): 4:15 am, 7:15 am, 4:15 pm, 7:15 pm, 9:15 pm.

2. Guest House: Facility is available for the  members. It is advised to book in advance via e-mail to avoid last minute hassles.

3. Temple darshan timings: Morning: 4.30 to 5.00 AM; Afternoon: 12.30 to 1.00, 4 to 6.30, 7 to 7.30, 9.00 to 9.15 PM.

4. Getting there, address and contact Info:

International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON Temple)
Founder Acharya: His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.
Melbourne Mahaprabhu Mandir.
197 Danks Street, Albert Park, Victoria 3206.
+61 (03) 9699-5122

For any other queries and information, please visit their official website.

Melbourne things to do #8: Walking the Yarra River Trail.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Akshaya Tritya and My Good Deed for the Day

O Yudhishthir, the offerings made and the oblations offered in the sacrificial fire (havan) on this day never go in vain. Hence sages have imparted the name Akshay Tritiya to this day. Everything done on this day for the sake of deities
and ancestors is permanent. ~ Shree Krishna.

I came to know about the importance of today from my mother. While we got chatting with each other just like any other normal day, it took me only a few minutes into the conversation to realize that today was not any other ordinary day.

‘Arti, today is Akshay Tritiya’.

‘Ah, is it?’

‘Yes, do your good deed for today, share something with someone or just express your sincere gratitude. Seek blessings, seek wisdom. Any blessings you receive today shall stay with you for life.’

Though we had to snap our conversation right there but her words continued to echo in my mind.

Seek blessings, seek wisdom.

My echoes helped me dive into a sea of information I had gathered around this day ever since I started learning.

What is Akshay Tritiya or Akha Teej?

Akshay Tritiya or Akha Teej is the birthday of Shri Parshuram, one of the many avatars of Lord Vishnu thus marking it as a very auspicious day in the Hindu calendar. Falling on the third day of the waxing moon in the month of Vaishaka, Akshay Tritiya, broadly translates to a day that has celestial powers such as to bestow an abundance that is immortal and everlasting.

Akshay Tritiya in the Hindu Scriptures.

A lot of Hindu Scriptures have highlighted interesting tales that revolve around this day:

This was the day River Ganga came down to earth from her abode in the Heavens; This was the day when Ved Vyasa together with Lord Ganesha began writing the epic Mahabharata; this was the day when the Pandava queen Draupadi received AkshayaPatra (inexhausitible bowl) by Lord Shri Krishna which kept filling itself with limitless food; this was the day Lord Kubera, the treasurer, chose to please and invoke Goddess Lakshmi of wealth; this was the day when a broke Sudama received a treasure of wealth and happiness when all he had to offer was a handful of rice to his rich friend, Krishna; this is the day when Jains observe fast and break it with sugarcane juice as the first tirthankar monk Lord Adinatha or Rishabhdeva had broken it in a similar fashion after keeping a year-long fast; this was the day when the golden cycle of cosmic era Satyuga ended and Tretayuga began.

Relevance of Akshay Tritiya today.

Eventually over the years, the positive energies these tales vibrate in have evolved into a connotation making Akshay Tritiya a special and sacred day for all those who believe. Which is why, people can be widely seen celebrating this day in their own ways. Some keep a fast, some indulge in daan or charity, some others wish for wealth while a lot of people can be seen investing money in gold and real estate with a belief that their endeavors will continue to flourish and bring prosperity that will be ever enduring.

The temples deities are not behind in the celebrations either. The Badrinarayana temple in Uttarakhand will open its gates today for darshan and will remain open for 6 months till the time they close down again while the chariots for the Jagannath Rath Yatra at Puri will initiate with their construction today.

My small little good deed for the day.

Amid all the above thoughts, I wondered what I could do and the very next moment it struck.

I had a Milaap voucher, a prize I won for my post Gift a smile this festive season, which conferred me with Rs. 15,000 that I could lend to anyone listed on this page.

Milaap: Lending a loan to Dhanalaxmi and Group.


I chose Dhanalaxmi and group. It was heartening to read how the group have to trek every day for half a kilometer to fulfill their and their family's requirements for water. Summers must be making their lives terrible. However, they are still short of Rs. 5,500. If you feel for their cause and wish to know more about them, please check out their profile here: http://milaap.org/fund/dhanalakshmi-and-group/2476. Remember, the money you give away is just a loan and not a donation so that it will come to you once they start repaying it back. 

As for me, I feel grateful for I had an opportunity to do my good deed for the day, perhaps this was the blessing my mom was talking about.

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