BY RAVI R. PONANGI
Atlanta, GA: About a dozen functions were held in and around Atlanta on Saturday, January 12 commemorating the 150th birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda. A variety of programs were held in Vedanta Center of Atlanta in Tucker, Hindu Temple of Atlanta in Riverdale, Shakti Mandir in lake city, Global Mall in Norcross, Art of living center in Duluth, Ivy League Academy in Cumming, IACA temple in Smyrna and near Wills Park in Alpharetta.
The 150th birth anniversary celebrations of Swami Vivekananda included Bhajans and songs by the singers of Bengali Association, cultural performances, lectures, panel discussions on Swamiji’s messages of strength, fearlessness, spirit of service and spirituality, yoga demonstrations, photo exhibition of Swamiji’s life, and other activities. Speakers in these various places were Pravrajika Brahmaprana, resident minister of Ramakrishna Vedanta Society of North Texas based in Dallas, Pranab Lahiri of Vedanta center of Atlanta, Ravi Ponangi, Bureau chief of India Tribune, Mona Joshi from Art of Living Center, Atlanta based social activists Malla Reddy, Manhar Valand, Dhiru Shah Aparna Bhattacharya and Ian Boccio of Bhakti Messenger group of Atlanta. The speeches on Swami Vivekananda by these learned guests mesmerized the whole audience.
Vedanta Center of Atlanta and Atlanta Chapter of Hindu Swayam Sevak Sangh kicked off their yearlong celebrations of Swami Vivekananda’s 150th birth anniversary. As the first speaker of yearlong celebrations honoring Swami Vivekananda’s 150th birth anniversary at Vedanta center of Atlanta, Pravrajika Brahmaprana, resident minister of Ramakrishna Vedanta Society of North Texas delivered two lectures one “In the Footsteps of Vivekananda” and the second one “Swami Vivekananda had a specific message for the West”.
Hindu Swayam Sevak Sangh will conduct other events in 2013 as part of its observance of Swami Vivekananda’s 150th birth anniversary. These will include the Dharma Bee, a nationwide quiz contest for children; programs for high school and college students, such as a traveling exhibit on Swami Vivekananda’s life visiting major university campuses and “Vacation with Vivekananda” excursions to locations where Swami Vivekananda visited during his travels in the United States; and a culminating “Dharma and Yoga Fest,” scheduled simultaneously on a regional basis to commemorate Swami Vivekananda’s groundbreaking address at the World’s Parliament of Religions in Chicago on September 11, 1893.
Ian Boccio of Bhakti Messenger group of Atlanta, spoke very inspiring words on Swamiji and his influence in American lives and the eastern and western lives were connected and he was feeling blessed for being a part of such celebrations and felt that programs like this will bring the American Yoga practitioners and Indian together for bigger roles in future.
In his opening remarks at the event in Ivy League Academy, Cumming, Ravi Ponangi said that the 150th birth anniversary celebration of Swami Vivekananda should be an occasion for us to know about the life, teachings and the work of Swami Vivekananda in India and in the west. Swamiji inspired people across the world for working towards the good of humanity. Swamiji toured the entire country as a wandering monk and interacted with cross section of Indians to know their problems and to understand the strength of India. Ravi Ponangi encouraged the audience for a group reading of the life story of Swami Vivekananda. About twenty people, both students and parents enthusiastically read the life of Swami Vivekananda. Swamiji’s two quotations, “Take up one idea your life – think of it, dream of it, and live on that idea.” Another quotation, a clarion call of Swamiji to the youth- “Awake, arise and stop not till the goal is reached,” got the attention of the youth and they approached the speaker with a request for print outs of the two quotations.
At Hindu Temple of Atlanta, the highlight for the day was Karanam Arjun, a young kid’s appearance as Swami Vivekananda in bright orange robes and his speech. Ladies wing of HSS celebrated Swamiji’s 150 birth anniversary along with Haldi, Kumkum on Makar Sankranti in very traditional way. Mrs. Sneha Mehta and Mrs. Anita Houde gave very inspirational speech to all the women folks there on Dharma & Sankranti.
At Global Mall speakers explored and analyzed Swamiji’s short lifespan of 39 years covering right from his birth, devotion to his guru, Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, relentless pursuit to awaken the spirit of the people of India, his travels to West and the universal spiritual message to the world at large.
Sandhya Swaminathan from Chinmaya Mission Atlanta delivered Swamiji’s powerful speech at the 1893 World’s Parliament of Religions in Chicago.
This was followed by Amitava Sen and his team of wonderful singers with melodious Bengali songs conveying the spirit and message of Swami Vivekananda.
Rightly recognizing that Swami’s universal spiritual message has to be carried forward by the coming generation, the organizers had from the beginning decided to involve children and youth from the Atlanta community. Rhea Singi from VHPA Cobb Bal Vihar dressed in bright orange robe as Swamiji did 120 years ago started off with a very informative Power point presentation, followed by children from Gwinnett Bal Vihar Pulkit Gupta, Muknd Loiwala, who gave his speech in Hindi and Neil Pathak. Sadhana Dhurba from Chinmaya Mission Gwinnett Balvihar concluded this part with Swamiji’s message on Acceptance vs. Tolerance.
This young future ‘Vivekanandas’ stole the hearts and minds of the audience with their oratory skill, poise and simple but powerful language. Dr. Bhagirath Majumadar and Dr. Uma Majumadar, both long time associates of Vedanta Society that was started by Swami Vivekananda paid glowing tributes to Swamiji’s lifelong spiritual mission and making Hinduism a powerful force in the West.
A spiritual genius of commanding intellect and power, Vivekananda crammed immense labor and achievement into his short life, 1863-1902. Born in the affluent family of Calcutta, India, the youthful Vivekananda embraced the agnostic philosophies of the Western mind along with the worship of science.
At the same time, vehement in his desire to know the truth about God, he questioned people of holy reputation, asking them if they had seen God. He found such a person in Sri Ramakrishna, who became his master, allayed his doubts, gave him God vision, and transformed him into sage and prophet with authority to teach.
After Sri Ramakrishna’s death, Vivekananda toured the length and breadth of India as a wandering monk. His mounting compassion for India’s people drove him to seek their material help from the West. Accepting an opportunity to represent Hinduism at Chicago’s Parliament of Religions in 1893, Vivekananda won instant celebrity in America and a ready forum for his spiritual teaching.
For three years he spread the Vedanta philosophy and religion in America and England and then returned to India to found the Ramakrishna Math and Mission. Exhorting his nation to spiritual greatness, he wakened India to a new national consciousness. He died July 4, 1902, after a second, much shorter sojourn in the West. His lectures and writings have been gathered into nine volumes.