40 and Timeless
Happy Birthday, Revered Swamiji.
The 30th of November, each year is a reminder to be in gratitude. Swamiji’s birthday was celebrated gracefully amid great excitement on November 30, 2019. It was also his 40th. Each year, devotees celebrate this day to express their feelings of love, affection, and gratitude towards their living guru. Local villagers and devotees from across the world congregated to be part of this joyous occasion.
The celebrations were simple yet lively and very much in his signature style. Swami was greeted with loud cheers and almost unending applause. To be led into singing the Sri Hari’s Aarti by Swami especially on this day, was a sheer moment of grace and it left everyone with an inexplicable magical feeling.
Regular visitors to the ashram are aware of Swamiji’s encouragement of talent. That evening talented devotees vied with each other to present Swami with the best of their musical renditions. Music set the mood for the evening celebration. The highlight of the evening was hearing Swamiji sing hymns. It seemed to everyone that he was serenading Lord Sri Hari who appeared visibly enthralled. When prompted by him to join in the chorus, devotees sang with fervor and many falling into a blissful trance.
“The temple gave a sneak peek into what Vaikuntha could be like,” remarked an elderly devotee.
It is almost a decade since Swamiji renounced the world and adopted monkhood. His magnanimous journey cannot be woven into simple words. The transformation in many lives he has touched is a testimony of him upholding the tenets of truth and compassion.
On the occasion of his birthday, what kind of a gift can make an appropriate offering? asked a gentleman to his friend. “After having met or rather found by Swamiji four years ago, I think, ‘The question you should be asking today is not about a befitting gift. A reflection into the purpose of our lives. There will be no better gift than this for him. As he is well known to say” Discover your own truth,” quoted an ardent devotee from Swami’s blog.
Why the celebrations one may wonder? and we are reminded by Swami himself :
“When your existence benefits others, even one person, you have a reason to celebrate. Whatever be the occasion, my preferred method of celebration is to be of some help, some use to those who need it.
~ Om Swami
The Youth Camp 2019
Every child is born with a talent, that needs to be identified and honed in a conducive environment. The Self Transformation Youth Camp held at the Ashram from 7-11th Nov 2019, was specially designed for the Gen Z children (aged between 10yr – 15yr). The primary focus of this much-awaited camp was to ‘catch ’em young’ and sensitize them to the core values of gratitude, kindness, forgiveness, and humility.
Led by Sadhvi Vrinda Om, Ma Shamata Om and supported by two other well-qualified facilitators, the children were kept engaged with a multitude of hands-on activities and interactive games. The targeted activities ranged from book reading sessions, role play, meditation and self-reflection. While being engrossed in the activities, they not only learned the essence of self-discipline and responsibility towards self but also towards others and society.
One of the notable moments was an afternoon in which the Black Lotus app was introduced. Inspired by the Random acts of kindness feature, the older children set a good precedent by sharing their personal kindness stories. The awareness of being kind soon became evident in a better group energy, forming of new friendships and the subtle discovery of the essence of kindness and compassion.
“It was truly a self-discovering experience for me.” A 12-year-old said while sharing her feedback on the event. The oldest teenager at the camp summed up the event with how they all had witnessed ‘kindness attracting kindness’ in real life. Close to 40 children from all over India attended the event.
The young ones returned home with confidence in self, awareness of their inherent potential, amid more life skills. This will not only help them navigate their teenage years but also equip them to deal with stress and distractions.
As Swamiji mentions in his book, The Children of Tomorrow,
“… right guidance at the right time can make any child recognize their true potential”.
Invoking the Shakti: Navaratri Celebrations
The religious festival of Navaratri, invoking the nine forms of Devi, was devoutly celebrated at the ashram, between September 29 and October 7.The highlight of this novena was the daily abhishekam of Sri Hari accompanied by the collective chanting of the beautiful Vishnu Sahasranma in the
mornings and glories of the Mother Divine through the Lalita Sahasranama in the evenings.
A book reading session followed by contemplation and sharing, based on Swamiji’s book, ‘Kundalini: An Untold Story’ was conducted daily by a disciple. “These sessions alongside private meditations led to a deepening of my spiritual experience,” stated an ardent worshipper of Devi.
For the first time since its inception, the ashram gates were kept open till dawn for the Devi Jagran held on October 2. Ashram residents, village folk and visiting devotees, all pitched in to make the necessary arrangements to welcome Devi. “I feel honoured to be present here in Devi’s Durbar,” expressed
a local woman while her eyes welled up as she looked up at the star-studded sky.The vigil began with the ceremonial lighting of the lamp in an invocation to Devi. Adding colour to the Jagaran was a countryside choir from Solan.
As darkness fell, the fervour among the devotees intensified with their earthly singing and the strains of their voices in unison seemed to reach the skies. As is customary of most religious community gatherings, a Bhandara (a community celebratory meal marking the culmination of a religious celebration) was meticulously prepared at the ashram kitchen.The Jagran came to a close at 5 am with Aarti. Devotees returned to their homes in gratitude, whispering silent prayers to be part of the Jagran next year as well.
Igniting The Spark of Kindfulness: Black Lotus Champions Orientation event
The Black Lotus (BL) Technologies team with its mentor Om Swami, hosted its first Black Lotus Champions Orientation event on July 12 and 13, 2019 at the Sri Badrika Ashram. The objective of the event was to brief and prep the BL Champions about the vision and mission of Black Lotus: to inspire and create a world full of mindfulness and kindness – one person, one community at a time.
Out of more than 400 applicants, aspiring to become the Black Lotus Champions, about 200 were meticulously selected by the BL team and were invited to participate in the orientation event either physically or virtually from across the world.
On the day of the event, energy levels ran high. After the opening address by Shelly Singh, CEO Black Lotus Technologies, Om Swami was invited to share his vision about Black Lotus and to elucidate the role of a BL Champion. He took the budding champs through a guided BL meditation session and encouraged them to start holding such sessions on their own. Om Swami also reiterated the significance of the three pillars for a ‘BL Champion’ – Truthfulness, Mindfulness, and Kindness.
Everyone contributed to an energetic atmosphere; from interactive group sessions to presentations followed by Swamiji’s honest feedback. Later he described it as ‘eclectic’. The event ended with the presentation of awards to the champions who had shown outstanding app usage and the much-awaited winners of the 10-day ‘Rakathon’.
In all, it was a power-packed program, that ignited the spark of Kindfulness among the BL Champs to become the harbingers of kindness and mindfulness for the world.
“… When a group of people starts to live in a manner conducive to everyone’s wellbeing and welfare, others around them adopt that way too. No doubt, like any other transformation, that it’s a slow and a long process but it works.” ~ Om Swami
(Blog: Kindness Matters)
The Night The Stars Align: Guru Purnima
Along the path of life we meet people who teach us many things. As children, we drew knowledge and inspiration from our teachers and other elders around us. As adults, it was often our peers and friends who took on this role. But, once in a while, we are fortunate enough to meet someone who makes us look at the universe and all it offers in a whole new light. This person not only leads us to the path of enlightenment but helps us become better versions of ourselves every day. For us at the ashram, this person is our beloved guru Om Swamiji.
Year after year, over 200 devotees brave the rainy weather and flock to the ashram to meet their beloved guru Om Swamiji and receive his blessing. For disciples everywhere, Guru Purnima marks not just an auspicious but also a very important occasion. It is a day meant to honour and celebrate our gurus and truly express our gratitude for all that we have received. At the ashram, Guru Purnima was celebrated on July 16 with much enthusiasm and devotion.
Devotees beautified the temple premises, bringing alive the theme of ‘Krishna’. They adorned the temple with peacock feathers and created a quasi Vrindavan to mark the occasion. In the morning, Om Swami was welcomed with chants from the Guru Paduka Stotram. Soon, the temple was filled with the sonorous singing of Sri Hari Aarti and exclamations of ‘Sri Hari Bhagavan ki Jai!’.
Led by Swami Vidyananda Om, the disciples performed Guru Puja by washing Swamiji’s feet with water from the Ganges and anointing them with sandal-wood paste and flowers. While everyone offered their gratitude and obeisance, a choir of devotees created the perfect backdrop by singing the Guru Paduka Stotram with great piety. Swamiji also formally introduced a devotee who was initiated into living life as a renunciant and some others who were initiated into discipleship.
To mark the evening celebrations, a few talented devotees made musical tributes that were appreciated by Swamiji and all others present. The day pulsated with the celebration of the love between the Guru and Disciple.
“The guru-disciple relationship is like no other for its free of the usual give-and-take exchanges. It’s one of the most intimate and purest relationships because there are no secrets and there’s no hidden agenda. It’s a bond, a covenant, capable of rapid, profound, and irreversible transformation.” ~ Om Swami
Sewing New Dreams: Silai Kendra
In keeping with its mission to empower local women, Sri Badrika Ashram started two more Silai Kendras(Vocational Centre for imparting practical skills in Cutting & Tailoring) early this year, in the adjoining villages of Dudham (on March 12, 2019) and Kotla Barog (on July 16, 2019). Both were equipped with sewing machines and related supplies. In spite of being located in difficult terrain, the Dudham and the Kotla Barog centre registered admissions of 13 and 19 women respectively.
A former student at the Ashram Silai Kendra was hired as a teacher at the Kotla Barog centre. Designed by a resident devotee and supported by a local teacher, the six-month training program imparts theoretical and practical vocational training in drafting, cutting, and sewing. Post the training, there is a plan in place to market their products. This financial empowerment is bringing self-esteem and a sense of independence in the lives of these local women.
Van Mahotsav – ‘Ek Prayas’: Plantation Drive
The first edition of an annual plantation drive was undertaken by Sri Badrika Ashram on July 20, 2019, on the banks of the river Giri Ganga.
The ‘Caring for Nature’ initiative was generously supported by the District Forest Officer of Sirmour, Rajgarh, Himachal Pradesh. Residents of the ashram and visiting devotees undertook the arduous task of planting 300 saplings of four varieties – Arjun, wild Pomegranate, Amla (Indian Gooseberry), and Sheesham (Indian rosewood). This event totally embodied and lived the vision of Black Lotus of compassion, inspiring acts of kindness, being mindful of the environment and giving back to nature.
A pioneering outreach and celebratory program was undertaken for the Primary Government School students on the 14th of August. Tucked away in the nearby village Shalamu, this small school with basic facilities is run by Mr Devender Singh, who is also the only teacher. The idea to make Independence Day a memorable event for the 26 students at the school was a success. It provided them with a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the national festival.
While the national flag was hoisted, the entire place reverberated with the beautiful strains of the Indian National Anthem sung by the young jubilant voices. In order to sensitize the little minds to the values of freedom and the struggle that our freedom fighters went through, a drawing and colouring competition was organized. Splendid works of art were created and students were presented with goodie bags filled with stationery items and snacks. The celebration made Independence Day a memorable event for these youngsters. The Ashram residents, who accompanied the team, were overwhelmed to witness the innocence of the students and their sincere efforts to participate in the event.