Friday, January 30, 2015

Sanatan Fiji needs to be cleansed and rejuvenated - with a new leader

When a limping and wounded Sanatan Sabha in Fiji needs to be rejuvenated and strengthened: With a new President

Thakur Ranjit Singh

Shri Sanatan Pratinidhi Sabha of Fiji (Sanatan Fiji), the largest home-grown Hindu organisation in Fiji has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. Many Sanatanis (Hindus) have been disillusioned by the activities of this once proud organisation, which has been a matter of shame, rather pride for many of its followers. It needs to be “cleaned’ up and new executives elected to bring in some semblance of respectability, reverence and pride once it carried.

It is hoped the Easter Convention this year will make some crucial changes, remove all deadwoods and add life to the organisation. It needs to be fully “fumigated." The dereliction of its duties has created a vacuum and this has been filled by a nationalist Hindu political/religious organisation from India by some past disgruntled former members of Sanatan. If it starts operating the way it does in India, then it will spell bad news for Hindus in Fiji. More on this in the next article on FIJI PUNDIT
Dr Biman Prasad did not mince his words in pinpointing to the weaknesses in Sanatan Fiji. Concerned Sanatanis need to heed his caution and change Sanatan to bring back some semblance of respectability to a body that was a pride of the past generation. FIJI PUNDIT suggest a change in leadership, to be led by Ashok Balgoving as the most capable Sanatani to add credibility to Sanatan Fiji
Dr. Biman Prasad said a mouthful when speaking about Sanatan Pratinidhi Sabha of Fiji (hereafter referred to as “Sanatan Fiji”), during its 2013 convention. Dr. Biman Chand Prasad is a politician. He is leader of the National Federation Party and Shadow Minister for Finance, Planning and Statistics and Chairman of the Fijian Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee. When he said this, he was a Professor at University of the South Pacific, Suva, Fiji:
I had the opportunity to sit through the opening ceremony of the convention at the Shreedhar Maharaj College, in Nausori. A school named after a great Sanatani, moral and ethical community and religious leader and a businessman, the late Mr. Shreedhar Maharaj. The opening ceremony had a total of approximately 300 people….In fact, more people are usually present during individual Ramayan Mandali gatherings around the country and in temples than the numbers present at the annual convention…..”
Dr Prasad raised grave concern about the caliber, or lack of it, of Sanatan Fiji’s current leadership:

The current leadership of the Sabha has put the whole organization to disrepute. One has to only compare ethical and professional leadership standards shown by other religious and cultural organizations in Fiji with what the Sanatan Dharam Pratinidhi Sabha is able to put up. It then does not take long to understand why so many Sanatani’s have been put off by the current leadership. ..

Dr Prasad specifically spoke about the top position, the Presidency of Sanatan Fiji:
“… a man who is currently before the court ….. has been elected National President. If he was a person with principles, he should have stood aside and let one of the senior Vice Presidents e.g. Mr. Ashok Balgovind to act as President until his court case is resolved.”

Ashok Balgovind, (centre) who should take over the Presidency of Sanatan Fiji as its most-senior, respectable, clean and professional administrator to bring  order and sense to Sanatan Fiji. Seen here with his daughter on left, Doctor Priti Balgovind, and wife on Sister Shobha Balgovind. The whole family has been of service to the community in their respective professions and personal capacity as respectable member of Sanatan Community. Sanatan Fiji needs a clean person with a mana to add credibility to it. Ashok Balgovind fulfills that role.

The whole issue boils down to the weaknesses and dereliction at successive Sanatan Committees, which have let the room wide open for another organisation to fill the vacuum, and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) has taken full advantage of lapse in leadership capability of Sanatan Fiji. [Read in the next article the need for caution with VHP in Fiji in FIJI PUNDIT -]

Has Sanatan been jinxed?
For some years now, Sanatan has been trying very hard to make an impact, but as has been usual with Indo-Fijian community, the internal bickering, a wanting leadership, a non-democratic constitution and tendency of people to accept mediocrity and inefficiency seem to add to the problem.

The biggest issue that I see , as a former Executive of a Sanatan Fiji Branch, is the undemocratic Constitution which passes the power of election, and hence, decision-making to Branch Executives (read Presidents) and top executives and influential people in the organisation. The delegates and rank and file members have little say. That is exactly what happened when the past national president appeared to have supported a lawyer who was under cloud and pending court case, and bypassed a more popular, clean and conscientious person, Ashok Balgovind, who would have added credibility, respectability and professionalism to the organisation. I personally know this as I had worked under him as the Secretary of Nasinu Branch over a decade ago, and we held a very successful and houseful convention in early 2000. I am aware of Balgovind’s professionalism, calibre and no-nonsense administration style, which is very urgently needed rescue Sanatan Fiji from its sad affairs.

I tend to agree with Dr Biman Prasad’s solution to the issue:
“The trustees of the organization must act now and ask all the national officials to stand aside until an independent investigation is carried out on all the activities of the Sabha, its elections, its finances, processes and procedures…”

In my visit to Ba earlier last month, I happened to meet a very senior official of Sanatan Fiji, who himself felt powerless and ashamed with the affairs of Sanatan Fiji. He wished some heads to roll during the coming convention in Easter, I think, in Ba.

By a copy of this blog article to Indo-Fijian Hindus in Indo-Fijian Diaspora around the world, concerned Sanatanis overseas are requested to add credibility and respectability to the memories of their Girmitiyas, and put life and respectability back into Sanatan Fiji. This can be done through their input, affiliation with this parent organization and through financial help and other resources whereby Sanatan can become a modern organization for coming generation. They can help strengthen Sanatan branches in their respective district, as they show support for their soccer teams.

Past Executives of Nasinu Branch, from left a younger Thakur Ranjit Singh (Auckland) who was Secretary of Nasinu branch for some years in 2000. Hemant Vimal Sharma  (middle-in Melbourne) has been past Secretary of Nasinu and National Vice-President of Sanatan Fiji, while Ashok Balgovind (extreme right) is President of Nasinu Branch and National Vice President of Sanatan Fiji for over a decade. He now deserves to take over as President of Sanatan Fiji to clean it up. The past people with a soft-spot for Sanatan Fiji in overseas countries would be prepared to add life and respectability back to Sanatan once it comes under a credible leadership. Ashok Balgovind is one such person.

Sanatan Fiji needs a paradigm shift, to promote service to humanity and stop all the bickering and too ritualistic and fundamental new-found religious rituals from India that does little for the living beings. It needs to be seen to be drifting away from Godman or Swamis parachuting from India and need to promote the home-grown version of commonsense religion and service to humanity. There has to be a concerted effort to empower women and youths. There has to be lesser attention and priority to sports, especially bickering soccer unless and until they are able to kick out the dead wood, have a workable and democratic constitution and pass the power back to delegates, rise profile, gain credibility and stop top officials from manipulating  the procedures for their narrow interests.

Most importantly, if this is not done, then a home-grown Sanatanis will lose power and support to an imported Hindu-organization from India, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, which has been causing controversy within India for its strong stance on promotion of Hindutva as compared to secularism enshrined in India and Fiji’s Constitution respectively. Fiji has to exercise caution in giving rise to a fundamentalist nationalist Hindu organization to be transplanted into Fiji where Hindus or Hinduism seem to have no external danger, if we have any, they are within. This is so soon after it has gained some semblance of stability after a fundamentalist and conservative Methodist Church has been brought in line to stay out of politics and promote goodwill amongst all people. Hindus in Fiji need to exercise caution. While some of the activities of VHP are commendable in empowering youth and leadership activities, we need to be careful of their underlying objectives which may be in conflict with Fiji’s situation where all the other religious and ethnic organizations are rooted in history, not transplanted from another socio-economic and political environment.

Dr Biman Prasad summed his concerns about Sanatan Fiji very well:
If the largest Hindu organization in Fiji begins to put its leadership into the hands of a person who is currently before the court, and allows it to be run by unconstitutional, unethical and unclear means, it is unlikely to serve its members effectively.

That is more the reason why sensible members of the Sanatani community, both in Fiji and overseas, need to pitch in together and sort out the reason for disgracing and humiliation of this once respectable organization. Sanatan Fiji needed to be a fruit-bearing tree, from the seed germinated from the tears, sweat, sufferings, sacrifices and blood of our Girmitiyas. They should not allow a foreign tree, alien to local environment and history, to be transplanted from overseas into a peaceful secular Fiji where all religions co-existed peacefully for over a century.

Please help us serve and strengthen the existing home-grown tree, rather than a foreign transplant imposed on us and eating away the food of the home-grown one.

Please Sanatanis, wake up, and add respectability to memories of your Girmitiya forbears, help rejuvenate and strengthen Sanatan Pratinidhi Sabha of Fiji, AND START BY SUPPORTING AND STRENGTHENING YOUR LOCAL BRANCH IN FIJI.

[Thakur Ranjit Singh is a former Executive of a Branch of Sanatan Sabha in Fiji, is a blogger and a media commentator who believes in the adage: FOR EVIL TO TRIUMPH, IT ONLY TAKES GOOD PEOPLE TO DO NOTHING.]

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Annual Akhand Hanuman Chalisa heralds New Year at Shri Ram Mandir in Auckland

Akhand Hanuman Chalisa now annually heralds New Year at Shri Ram Mandir in Auckland

Thakur Ranjit Singh

Annual Akhand Hanuman Chalisa will be held at Shri Ram Mandir, Henderson on 24 and 25 January, 2015 as follows:
 Sat 24th: 8 am: Sthapna and Roth Pooja of Hanumanji
                10am: Akhand Chalisa Paath for 24 hours

Sun 25th:10am: Akhand Chalisa Paath ends
                 11am: Hawan Yagya and Arti
                12pm: Prasad and Mahaprasad (lunch)

Akhand Hanuman Chalisa Paath, apart from annual auspicious thanksgiving to Ram Bhakt Hanuman, also promotes, teaches and enhances the practice of Sewa or service to the community at the temple and community centre. A group of youth volunteers, fondly called “Bajrang Dal”(friends of Hanuman) and adult volunteers, freely provide service to promote this concept of walking the talk on religion. It also builds network with other religious and singing groups to sing praise to the lord while spreading goodwill and wellbeing in the community.

Ram Bhakt Hanuman
What started off as a one-off religious gathering of devotees in Auckland some three years ago has taken the form of an annual event, heralding the New Year.
It started off with a very humble beginning when all the site at 11 Brick Street had were the founding stones, vacant land and a great deal of dreams. The two-day event on 19 and 20th January, 2013, was the first religious gathering of devotees at the Mandir site exactly 6 months after Bhumi Pooja in July, 2012. The committee felt that there was a need to further bless the site with an Akhand Hanuman Chalisa. Some may connote Akhand with 108 Hanuman Chalisa, but in our case, it is a 24-hour non-stop continuous service. What started off in 2013 was followed in January 2014 and now this has taken root as an annual event.

Pundit Anil Sharma,  served 'Purohit" apprenticeship in India in the ashram of Pundit Latchman Das Maharaj, and formerly was resident  Purohit at Laucala Bay  Ram Mandir in Suva. He now lives in Hamilton, New Zealand, and will be the Pradhan Archarya (Lead priest) of Akhand Hanuman Chalisa. He introduced this concept in Suva over a decade ago and continues with his spread of spiritual knowledge in New Zealand. He is seen here leading Akhand Hanuma Chalisa of 2014.

The 2015 Akhand Hanuman Chalisa Paath will be held at Shri Ram Mandir, 11 Brick Street, Henderson, Auckland on Saturday 24 January following on to Sunday 25 January, 2015 in a marathon 24 hours of Hanuman Chalisa recital. People will also be able to witness how the dream three years ago has taken shape and how the partly –completed complex is yet again going to be blessed with 24 hours of the Holy recital.

The"aasan" or stage of the Pooja last year at Shri Ram Mandir

The Hanuman Chalisa literally means forty chaupais on Hanuman. A chaupai is a complete poem consisting of four lines. Hanuman Chalisa is traditionally believed to have been authored by 16th-century poet Tulsidas in the Awadhi language. The word "chālīsā" is derived from "chālīs", which means the number forty (40) in Hindi, as the Hanuman Chalisa has 40 verses (excluding the couplets at the beginning and at the end).

The Managing Trustee of the Mandir, Pravin Kumar has again called upon the devotees to join in the usual way they supported in previous two years.
“In previous years, we had very encouraging support of individuals, community, religious groups and various mandalis who made this into a memorable religious bliss for 24 hours where all took part willingly, heralding excellent community support for the project. What this event also did is to have brought a great number of like-minded religious groups and organisations together in show of support for the project,” he said. He added that that this 24 –hour event is a thanksgiving prayer to the Supreme Being in the form of Lord Hanuman to acknowledge our existence and give thanks to what we have in this world.

Part of the youth group that is trained in "sewa " and service to community in doing voluntary work. Standing, from left: Prashant Kumar, Sagrika Kumar, Pooja Kumar and Sanjay Dutt Sharma. Sitting, from left, Shivani Kajal Kumar, Adeshwar Naidu, Arnold Singh and Kajal Kumar. The group, referred to as "Bajrang Dal (friends of Hanuman) have been serving devotees and community at the centre for the last three years. They have been doing commendable and exemplary work and a pride for the elders at the temple.

What this event is also trying to inculcate in devotees, especially the youth is the “Sewa” concept of religion - service to humanity and fellow being, on doing good deeds to the others. In doing so, a brigade of volunteers, also known fondly as ‘Bajrang Dal” (a group devoted in service to Lord Hanuman), comprising devotees of all ages have got together to facilitate food, refreshments and other necessities to devotees gathered at the Mandir throughout the event. Adult volunteers have also joined in to promote and enhance the noble cause of service to humanity. Prasad and food will be available and served throughout the 24-hour event.

This  is the adult face of service and voluntary work for the community where Hindus walk their talk  by being of service or "sewa". From left, Thakur Ranjit Singh, (unidentified) Lotus Manager from Fiji, Pundit Mahendra Sharma,  Jayen Singh (back) , Harry Goundar, Hardip Singh-head chef, and Ram Kumar.

The other unique advantage of this 24 hour chanting and singing is that it tends to bring the best in music and tunes, where different mandalis tend to use different tunes, taal (rhythm) and their musical talents to make the singing more melodious. And there is opportunity for anybody and everybody to join in with the Mandali in recitals.

Devotees will also have opportunity for abhishek (bathing of murti) and mustard oil will be available, which people could also take away for use in pooja at home. Another great opportunity is for people to offer special prasad for Hanuman Ji, what we call Roth. They can either bring it from home, or a unique facility is provided where devotees do not have to go home, but prepare and cook roth on the site. Kitchen facility is provided for devotees who may have no time to go home – they will be able to use the homely atmosphere for this auspicious preparation, while listening to the chant of Hanuman Chalisa at the same time. This indeed provide them a blessed environment to show their reverence to beloved Hanumanji.

The Managing Trustee Pravin Kumar has cordially invited all to attend this annual event and take advantage of the opportunity, facilities and the chanting and enchanting environment. “This 24-hour recital is a unique opportunity for people of West Auckland to start the year with an auspicious event and have the whole year blessed. We invite people to choose any time within 24 hours from 8am on Saturday 24th when we commence with Roth pooja and commence recital from 10am to the following day, culminating in Hawan, Yagn, Arti and lunch on Sunday. Please honour the occasion with your valued presence,” said Kumar, while inviting all to this blessed event. All are welcome.

Part of the devotees during finayagya  last year - January, 2014.

Akhand Hanuman Chalisa Paath- 24 and 24 January, 2015
Sat 24th: 8 am: Sthapna and Roth Pooja of Hanumanji
            10am: Akhand Chalisa Paath for 24 hours

Sun 25th:10am: Akhand Chalisa Paath ends
             11am: Hawan Yagya and Arti
             12pm: Prasad and Mahaprasad

Pradhan Acharya – Pundit Anil Sharma of Hamilton, NZ


January, 2013

January 2014

January, 2015

About the author: Thakur Ranjit Singh is a volunteer at Shri Ram Mandir community center and temple project, and supports introduction  inculcation and enhancement of service in our religious environment, and especially in Hindu youths of today. He also volunteers for media and communications portfolio of the center.


Thursday, January 8, 2015

PK: When a drunk makes you sober and challenges religious bigots

PK: When a drunk makes you sober and challenges religious bigots

 Thakur Ranjit Singh

PK movie seems to have ruffled quite a few dhotis and beards of religious some fraud Godmen who have been thriving on ignorance and religion of fear in their subjects and devotees. Despite all protests and objections saying that this movie degrades Hinduism, nobody could produce a coherent argument in defense of that. Even the Delhi High Court dismissed a petition seeking a ban on it, through lack of evidence. There have been no facts to defend this claim.  As a Hindu, I do not find anything offensive, and similar view comes from educated and religiously-enlightened Hindus in my Indo-Fijian Diaspora.
PK-the Alien who, through his questions is considered a drunk (pee kay) who makes us sober, and make us look at some of our religious rituals with another perspective. He exposed religious Godmen who thrive of human nature of fear of the unknown.
When I started watching this movie, I was reminded of my visit with my father to a so-called Mandir of Pujari Ram Sewak in Balevuto, Ba, Fiji, some 10km in interior of Ba town. That was some 45 years ago and I was a DAV, Ba, form 3 student, with an eye- strain or pain in the eye. My father, being a religious and righteous person, was also a believer in Mandir and the ability of pujaris and so-called priests to solve human problems. Priest, ojha or pujari are modern day witch doctors or Godmen, who pretend they have shadow of Gods /Goddesses and possess extraordinary powers to heal. When my turn came, the “possessed” Pujari told me that I had received a love-letter from a girl in my class, and that letter has “karal” or spell-binding bhabhut or ashes that was causing me the pain.  (I wondered if she loved me, why she would cause me pain.) Seeing my father having so much faith, I found myself in a dilemma, hence lied for his faith, that what was said by the pujari was the truth. I never then had any girlfriend or received any letters, and when I did she was from a different class and religion. And I was given some rituals which had no bearing to my eye-pain, same sort of fraud that the movie PK has been trying to portray to people. Hence I got enlightened over four decades ago and have since been fighting against these sort of fraud and religious bigotry depicted in PK.
What riled many Hindus is when PK questions why so much milk is wasted when so many of God's subjects are going hungry. He questions why cannot that milk be used to feed the hungry. Isn't that what the right God would want?
The synopsis of Raj Kumar Hirani’s and Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s PK is that an alien research team lands on a Rajasthan desert to study humans. (I named the producers to show the decision-makers of the film are non-Muslims.).  Amir Khan lands stark naked, as those aliens remain unclothed. His tracking remote, that helps him send signals back to his spaceship, gets stolen, and that kicks off the rough trip of this alien. He has to find the remote to contact his spaceship and till then survive on earth on his own. He is unaware of our ways, manners or language, and meets with Sanjay Dutt who becomes his dear friend and assists him with life here. He learns the language and manners from a prostitute, whose hand he holds for some six hours to transfer and “copy” all human knowledge to him. Thus he learns Bhojpuri language and steals from “rocking cars” in remote places where couple are having sex. He comes to Delhi in search of the remote, and then begins the tumultuous and lightening pace of the story in an unknown city. Like a baby child, this alien (named PK, which means a drunk in Hindi “Pee Key aya hai”) asks questions that despite their innocence hold a valuable and deep meaning. He teams up with beautiful Jagat “Jaggu”Janani (Anushka Sharma) on this journey and PK challenges some of the oldest rituals of religion that are ruling life of people on earth. In search of his remote, PK stumbles on to the hypocrisy and deceit in organised religion. He then sets about exposing a Hindu “Godman”, a term for a particularly charismatic guru who may claim to have paranormal powers, and ability to speak to God (We have Indian palm readers and astrologers, promoted by Indian media in Auckland. In Fiji this is an old joke where some witchdoctors speak to God, using shank or conch-shell.)

The good side of human being is shown through Sanjay Dutt who becomes PK's friend and assists him to settle on earth, and helps him search for his missing remote control.
The underlying theme is that there are two types of Gods: one that created all of us, and the other that we have created individually that creates so much confusion for this being from one outer planet. PK is told that a Hindu woman wearing white is a widow while he gets ear-bashing for passing condolences to a white-dressed Christian bride, for the death of her husband. He is told Christian widows wear black, and hence expressing sorrow to Muslim ladies in black burka, gets almost bashed by the husband(Lucky 4 wives, and how many children?) He is chucked out of Church for taking coconut, essence and prasad and breaking it on the altar. He is told Christian God loves wine, and gets abused for taking wine to a Mosque.  This confusion reigns in PKs mind when he meets a person dressed as Lord Shiv in a toilet and confronts him to seek for his remote, he chases him through town to the ashram of the Godman where he sees his remote, which the Godman uses to fool people to speak to God. He claims it is from Kailash but in fact had been sold to him by the thief for 40,000 rupees. PK uses his skills to expose the fraud and dishonesty of the Godman, reveals that he is ringing the “wrong number”, and not getting to the proper God, and helps Jaggu find her Pakistani lover, who she had lost through misinformation from the Godman.

Protests from Hindu fundamentalists groups like Bajrang Dal are unfounded and insults a hitherto peaceful religion. This is especially when there is no shred of evidence or fact to show that the movie PK degrades Hinduism or defames Hindu culture and religious practices in any way. Even Delhi High Court found no case to ban the movie or any other reason to censure it.
Religion of fear is well depicted when, outside an exam hall PK picks up a stone, puts a sindoor (vermillion) tikka on it and throws some coins in front. You have long queue of people coming to worship and donate. This is equivalent to what my school head teacher, Master Dharam Dutt Sharma, a liberated and educated Brahmin, told the class half a century ago: if a dog shits and it is in form of a snake or when a mushroom germinates from under a floor in shape of a snake, people will run with milk, flowers and prasad to pray to it. We have had cases in Fiji, with one Hanuman with a tail, a cow with three eyes and unusual phenomenon of nature which is used as religious rituals and money, offering of prasad and flowers come into the play. Somebody makes money in this madness.
A naked alien tasted the first experience of India by being looted: that is the impression many visitors get, especially Indo-Fijians visiting temples, where the commercialization of religion becomes evident.
There is nothing in the movie that degrades Hinduism or any other religion. Some object to Shankar in a toilet. So, if any actor dresses like Shankar (as we used to do in Ram Lila), where would you expect him to piss and go for a smoke break? In a kitchen or a toilet, or does he need to go to Kailash for that? And how about putting milk on stone while so many are starving? What is wrong with that reasoning? That has been previously debated on social media and seen as ungodly by educated people. People have started making comparison to Islam and why it has been spared. Amir Khan is the worker, the actor in the film, the decision-makers on the story or scene are not his –they are non-Muslims. And anyway, the producers and directors may have been expedient to avoid death and danger, as there is no other religion as democratic, accepting and accommodating as Hinduism, where unlike other religions, we are told that change is inevitable. Gita had warned Hindus about bad and unholy practices becoming part of religious rituals. My final answer to that is the not-so-famous dialogue of film “Deewaar”: Doosro ke jurm ginaane se apne kum nahin hote – by talking about crimes, bad deeds and sins of others, yours do not become any lesser.

PK spends nights in jails by deliberately breaching laws. His friend , Jaggu, who gets  knowledge of his powers, helps PK, who returns the favor by getting her lost love, an understanding of her father, and exposure of the fraud Godman..
Despite all protests and objections saying that this movie degrades Hinduism, nobody could produce a coherent argument in defence of that. Even the Delhi High Court dismissed a petition seeking a ban on it on the ground that it defames Hindu culture and religious practices. There have been generalised talk and a great deal of hot air, but no facts. As a Hindu, I do not find anything offensive, and similar view comes from educated and religiously-enlightened Hindus in Indo-Fijian Diaspora.  If anything, the movie PK, after OMG and Singham Returns, warns us against being gullible and teaches to reason out things without blindly committing stupidity by being with the crowd of sheep. We should stop nonsensical practices under the guise of being culturally-correct, conforming and unquestionably following action of forbears who were themselves in darkness, influenced by religious bigots who thrived without the type of boldness coming out of PK.

[About the Author: Thakur Ranjit Singh is an Auckland-based Indo-Fijian, tracing his roots to Karouli, Rajasthan, India. He runs FIJI PUNDIT blog site which says things that other media tend to shove under the carpet. It has been a front-runner in raising social, religious, cultural and political issues in Fiji and India that affect our people. He may be unpopular with orthodox religious persons and organisations, which find his views outrageous, as they have found PK]