From Mohan to… Mahatma
This truly was Mohandas Gandhi’s journey of life, from Mohan… to Mahatma! Gandhi was known as Mohandas, and his name means the ‘loveable’, ‘attractive’ and ‘fascinating’ one. And with a name like that God was sure to create a wonderful destiny for Gandhi. His name foreshadowed his life even in the beginning, and then at the end of Gandhi’s journey he became the Mahatma, someone who was loved and respected by a whole nation, if not the world.
Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD), was celebrated every year in India on the 9th January. It is a day celebrated for those souls of Indian origin who live outside of India, known as Non-Resident Indians, NRI’s. The day also commemorates the return to India of the father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi. It was on the 9th January, 1915, that Gandhi travelled from South Africa back to Bombay, now known as Mumbai.
In 2016 it was decided that the PBD should be celebrated once in every two years. The aim is to strengthen the engagement of the overseas Indian community (NRI’s), with the Government of India, and it also seeks to help people to re-connect with their roots.
The 15th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas was held in the holy city of Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh this year from January 21st to 23rd January, 2019. The theme was: “Role of the Indian Diaspora in Building a New India”.
Uttar Pradesh – was a perfect backdrop to the three-day convention. The Government could not have chosen a better venue for such a reunion, the meeting of both the east and west. Uttar Pradesh or UP, as it is affectionately known, has been the cradle of civilization and culture. And why is this? It is because of the Holy River Ganga, where many ancient cities and towns sprang up in that location along the banks of the mighty river. UP is the fourth largest state economy of India and holds the title for the most populated state with 16.17% of the country’s population. Every 12 years UP hosts one of the largest religious gatherings in the world; the famous Kumbh Mela.
Uttar Pradesh is home to some of India’s most visited historic sites, the most famous being the Taj Mahal in Agra towards the south west. Then there is the confluence of the Ganga and Jamuna rivers in Prayagraj (formerly known as Allahbad), towards the south east. In between there are historical cities such as Jhansi, Lucknow and Meerut. Some of the most famous holiest cities of the Hindu religions are Mathura, Vrindavan, Varanasi, Ayodhya. Sarnath in Varanasi is also a pilgrimage highlight for the Buddhists, since it was from here that Buddha began sharing his teachings with his first five followers.
This year the convention included many speeches from members of the BJP Government and many other speakers: Shri Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India, Shri Ram Nath Kovind, Honourable President of India, Shrimati Sushma Swaraj, Minister for External Affairs, Shri Yogi Adityanath, Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, and the Chief Guest H.E. Shri Pravind Jugnauth, Prime Minister of Mauritius, and General (Dr.) V.K. Singh, Minister of State for External Affairs.
Modiji began by saying that we, the NRI’s, were standing on the soil tilled by our forefathers. He showcased his efforts for creating a better India, and requested everyone to bring or encourage at least five people to come to India. His speech was not written and yet he spoke with great fortitude and confidence.
Prime Minister Modiji has made great strides in uplifting and elevating India in many areas during his four and a half years in office. With elections soon to take place in May, many are hoping he will get another term in office to be able to accomplish his many visions.
I met many interesting and humanitarian people on my visit and also had a personal audience with Shrimati Sushma Swaraj, the Minister of External Affairs. We had met earlier in Kuwait and I was touched that she remembered that meeting. She is a very lovely, strong yet gentle soul, a very personable and caring human being.
There was also an awesome dance ballet called the “Ganga” by the famous Bollywood actress Hema Malini in Varanasi last week. (Ganga meaning the sacred River Ganges), known as the Divine Ganga. As the story goes, Ganga is constantly disturbed by the frantic calls of despair emanating from the distant cries of the human world, so Ganga is called to Earth to help mankind find freedom from sorrow and eternal liberation. In essence this is the story of our world in microcosm today.
A day trip was arranged to the Kumbh Mela for those who wished to take a dip in the Holy Ganges. The Kumbh Mela sees the largest peaceful congregation of pilgrims on Earth, during which participants bathe or take a dip in the sacred river. It is quite an event in itself.
If you are unfamiliar with all the paraphernalia around this event, then you may be asking: Why is this time of the Kumbh Mela important? So, let me sketch in a little background information with the help of Wiki. The founding myth of the Kumbh Mela is attributed to the Puranas, (these are a collection stories with myths and legends). Basically these stories recount how the gods and demons fought over the pot, the (kumbha) of ‘amrita’, the elixir of immortality produced by their joint churning of the milky ocean. During the struggle, drops of the elixir fell onto the Kumbh Mela’s at four earthly sites, and it is believed that at these holy sites the rivers turn back into that primordial nectar at the climactic moment of each Kumbh Mela, giving pilgrims the chance to bathe in the holy waters and return to their state of purity, auspiciousness, and immortality.
I do not know if I can emphasise enough how big this mega event was. 90 Volvo buses arrived from Delhi to take the delegates from Varanasi to Prayagraj by road. 3000 NRI’s were escorted by the Government of India. We were given total police security along the way. We were approximately 25 people, in our 45 seater coach, so there was plenty of room. In no time we became a small international family comprising South Africans, British, Americans, Mauritians, Nepalese, and a few more. Since there was a (working!) microphone on board, the ones in the front began with introductions and beckoned everyone else to introduce themselves and each shared something of themselves and their connection with India. Within an hour, we had set up a Whatsapp group to stay in touch! The journey passed quickly with singers singing, jokers joking and story tellers all telling their stories. We were truly a warm and happy band of travellers on the road to the Kumbh Mela.
Upon our arrival in Prayagraj at the Kumbh Mela, we had the most beautiful welcome. As we got off the bus we were garlanded with the typical orange Kumbh Mela sash, gifted flowers and serenaded with dance and music from all states of India. Then we were ushered towards the beautifully decorated lunch area. There was food from every state. Nothing was spared in terms of warmth and hospitality and we left feeling like kings and queens.
The place where the River Ganga and the River Jamuna meet is considered to be the most holy of spots, and this was cordoned off especially for our visit. We were escorted in small boats across the river to this sacred spot for our once in a lifetime experience! Although the water was cold, many commented on how easy it was to step in and just submerge in the holy waters. Perhaps it was proof of the devotion or mind over matter! Nevertheless, it gave many an exhilarating experience. We were shown around many historical spots and then taken to the railway station at Prayagraj. We were given an auspicious and comforting Indian send off with a tilak on our forehead and flowers, all set in front of a sea of cameras and media attention. Wow! Wow India! Such colour and beauty! I want to express my deep appreciation during my visit, and to acknowledge all the hard effort that went into making the event such a success.
Three special trains were organised specially for NRI’s and our journey took us on to Delhi. The trains departed one hour after the other. We were in the first train as we were in one of the earlier coaches. Everything was meticulously arranged and ran like clockwork. About 30-40 minutes after settling down and after dinner, everyone congregated again in our cabin for more laughter and spiritual discussions! There begun a debate as to whether the Ganges really purified the soul or was it just symbolic. Did Arjuna, (a character from the famous story the Mahabharat), really have to kill his relatives and fight? Or was it an inner battle? Perhaps, like Arjuna we have to take the inner initiative to kill our own inner demons. No one insisted on being right and were still friends after all the discussions!
On arrival at the railway station at Safdarjung we were given our special entry passes for attending the Republic Day for India on 26th January. Republic Day honours the date on which the Constitution of India came into effect, on 26th January 1950. This was a wonderful showcasing of India’s military power, youth and sports abilities and Modi’s achievements over his term.
I feel that the objective of PDB was certainly accomplished. And I personally felt a strong re-connection with my roots and appreciative and proud of the past, present and future of what India has to offer to the world. A big big thanks to the Indian Government and especially Shrimati Sushma Swarajji! Jai Hind! Quite simply… Incredible India!
It’s Time… to make our own inner journey from Mohan to a Mahatma.
© ‘It’s Time…’ by Aruna Ladva, BK Publications London, UK