Bhanumathi Narasimhan in conversation with Bharathy Harish
A bright afternoon in the month of August - it was the usual comfortable, calm and content atmosphere in Bhanu Didi’s house. It was time to get ready for another Art of Meditation (Sahaj Samadhi) Course. “I’ll change and come,” She says. It is always a pleasure to wait for that moment of “wow” when she steps out. Today was no different.
She steps out in a bright maroon sari with simple gold zari, mallige (jasmine flower garland) in her hair, ornate earrings in her ears, maroon bindi (a little red dot) on her forehead. “Akka (sister), you look like its Navratri already!”
“Even I felt that way,” she said.
One who has experienced Navratri in the presence of Sri Sri Navratri cannot forget the experience. Navratri – just the memory of it takes one to a space within, which is so full of joy and wonder. Who better to tell us about this beautiful and divine celebration than Bhanu, sister of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.
I start off by asking her, “So, what is Navratri?”
Navratri Pujas and Mantra Chanting Create a Divine Atmosphere
“Navratri is nine nights of celebration. As Guruji said, the first 3-days of Navratri are tamasic, the next 3-days are rajasic and the last 3-days are sattvic. The 9-days represent the 9 months a baby spends in a mother’s womb. During Navratri, our consciousness evolves everyday from tamas to sattva, from delusion to awakening.
In life there are positive and negative (qualities) around us. Navratri represents how the negativity in life can be conquered by inherent, positive divine qualities present in every individual, elevating them from mere ordinary mortals to the height of divine beings. During this time one can experience this progressive ascension. The mantras chanted during the pujas create positive vibrations, more so in the presence of our Master. This is the beauty of attending Navratri pujas in the ashram (The Art of Living International Centre in Bangalore).”
Suddenly she breaks away from our discussion, “Chiku (her pet dog), go inside! Vijay Bhaiya, kaun aaya hai, dekho (Vijay, please see who’s at the door),” and just as smoothly continues,
“The puja represents everything...”
We are interrupted many times. One would think that the flow of our conversation would be disturbed, and that she should not be interrupted while giving the interview, but it does not bother her at all. She moves in and out of the inner and outer worlds with such effortless grace. Is this what integration of knowledge in our life means?
“Puja caters to the mind, body and spirit. For the body, there is dance and music. (She swings as she speaks, I thought she may just get up and start dancing - her voice is like music anyway!). All the colour and splendour we see is the celebrative aspect of Navratri. Through outer beauty we can get in touch with inner beauty. It also symbolizes the richness of our culture and heritage. This feast for our eyes uplifts our mood and spirit. We are influenced by our moods, so when a divine atmosphere gets created through celebration, our mood is also uplifted.”
“Mood is the correct word, no?” she asks so sweetly.
I agree with her. When Sri Sri speaks, what he says moves one to a space of wonder. But it is also a wonder how Sri Sri expresses the deepest knowledge so simply – in so few words. The way Bhanu Didi explained Navratri, gave me the same feeling.
Navratri Pujas at Ashram - Then and Now
“What else?” she asks.
“25 years Akka,” I remind her.
“Yes... For the past 25 years I have seen the puja in the ashram. It is an integral part of the ashram culture. Even then it used to be the same in all its grandeur, but on a much smaller scale. Now the Navratri pujas have gained a multitude of dimensions because of the sheer number of people who attend and participate. But it is as beautiful and divine now as it was then. Whether in a big or small crowd, our inner space is always a vast space – Chidambaram. When you close your eyes, you are transported to that same space in the presence of the Master. The true essence of this puja has remained the same through the years because puja makes one go inward and discover this vastness. That is the real beauty of this puja, but the magnitude now is truly beautiful and amazing."
“Hi Yeshaswini, aao idhar baito”, she picks up the 2 year old baby girl and seats her on the swing next to her. She points at the animal chart in her hand and says “Lion, say Liiiiiooooon”. “LLLIOON KIIIIIINGG” replies the little girl. “The little one seems to know her animals very well!” Didi’s eyes become wide with joy and she bursts into laughter!
Navratri Celebrations have Something for Everyone
Didi continues, “Navratri in the ashram is like one of the most participated family functions. There is a chance for everybody and everybody feels special and welcome. Family members from all generations attend, from the older and younger generations to the youngest of children, there is something for everyone. There is Dhampathi Puja for old couples, Kanya Puja for young girls, Vatu Puja for boys, Sumangali Puja for married women. You feel a sense of belongingness and connection.
Why, there is even Gau Puja for the cows and Gaja Puja for the elephants, even the animals are included- we honour everything in creation. In fact, during Ayudha Puja, even buses, cars, bicycles and even tools are honoured and worshipped for their contribution to our existence and comfort,” she explains appreciatively.
“All different types of people come here – they sit, sing, dance and meditate together. It is a divine atmosphere. It is an at¬mosphere of celebration, love and gaiety – and of course we get lots of nice things to eat and a lot of opportunity for seva! So basically these are the days for introspection and a chance to learn from one another. Every year this celebration seems to become bigger & bigger as our family grows. It is truly a magical and enlivening experience.
Navratri – A Time for Miracles
During Navratri in the ashram, everything is transposed to a different dimension. It takes you to an elevated consciousness. It is all so upbeat - there is so much celebration and happiness. You must come and sit and watch. One must attend to understand the value of it. Many people have reported miracles that have taken place at that time. Because it is such a positive atmosphere, any sankalpa you take definitely gets fulfilled. From the heart level you are soaked in divinity. Divya sagar mein doob jaana hai, bhav sagar mein nahin (drown in the ocean of divine consciousness, not in negative emotions), and you become a lighthouse of divinity.” She nods her head gently. The secrets of Navratri have been shared. Now it is up to us to ensure that we experience it at the Art of Living International Centre in Bangalore.
Bhanu Didi is the sister of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, meditation teacher and Director of Women and Child Welfare programs of The Art of Living.
This article has also appeared in September 2006 edition of Rishimukh magazine.