Gita Swadhyaya Programme
(Shri Parameswaran, Director, Bharatiya Vichara Kendram, Thiruvananthapuram, launched the “Gita Swadhyaya Programme” in Kerala, four years ago. The movement has attracted a large number of youth from Kerala and beyond and kindled in them a desire to study the Gita; “not merely for individual salvation but for social change and national upliftment,” to put it in his own words. He narrated his experiences during IFIH’s inaugural convention held on 18-19 November 2001 at New Delhi. Excerpts: )
I am greatly obliged for this opportunity to place before you a very small and humble attempt that is going on in the state of Kerala for the last four years. Like all good things, it was an unplanned one, probably, God planned it for us. It was in 1997 that Swami Tejomayanandaji organised a Gita Jnana Yajna in Cochin, and he kindly thought of me to inaugurate the Yajna. During the run-up to this programme, I received some literature from a gentleman from Pune, in which I came across this statement: “In the year 1982, America, under President Reagan, was undergoing a grave socio‑economic crisis. The American Congress adopted a unanimous resolution saying that 1993 should be observed as the ‘Year of the Bible,’ so that America can revive, deriving inspiration from the scripture that has sustained America for the last three or four hundred years. Without hesitation, President Reagan signed the proclamation. The year 1993 was observed as the year of the Bible.”
Suddenly, it struck me that we are in a much worse condition, especially so in Kerala. If the Bible can give inspiration to people to bring about a socio-economic transformation, how much more should it be possible for this immortal scripture, Bhagavad Gita, to inspire a nation to attain self-awareness and to bring about a radical change!
That was the time when Communism had collapsed, Kerala was also facing disillusion and all the youths had lost their idealism. There was no sense of direction. So, this idea came to me that Bhagavad Gita could possibly ¾ why possibly, certainly ¾ play the role. Therefore as an experiment, on Gita Jayanti Day of 1998, we convened a Gita Jayanti celebration at the Senate Hall of the Kerala University. To our surprise, we found that more than two thousand youths, both boys and girls, participated in this programme, in this atheistic state of Kerala!
This encouraged us to do something more substantial, more solid. We decided to hold a shibir [camp] for four days. The place selected was, naturally, Kaladi, Sri Ramakrishna Advaita Ashram. We thought around two hundred and fifty students might participate, in spite of all our efforts. But, to our surprise, more than five hundred students came, all our facilities failed to accommodate them! It was so inspiring, these five hundred youths, day after day, listening to various lectures by very eminent people from Kerala and outside, spiritual luminaries, and people who achieved success in their material life through the application of the philosophy of the Gita. They came and took classes for the participants. During this shibir, it was suggested that such gatherings should be held in every district of Kerala. It was their initiative and that was done!
Then, the idea came to us that we should keep this motto, “A Gita for every home and a Gita shibir for every panchayat” [applause].
Swami Ranganthanandaji, president of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission, sent a very beautiful benedictory message: “The Gita is not meant just for the devotee in the prayer room, it is for the hero in the battlefield. So, take this message to the youth.”
We invited youth representatives from every panchayat. About 1,500 youngsters came, representing nearly 1,000 panchayats, though not all of them were represented. We could achieve around fifty percent of the target, in spite of the fact that most of them are ruled by the Marxists or Muslim Leaguers. Yet, the youths came forward in hundreds. Nowhere was it below our expectation, either in terms of money or participation. It was an eye‑opener for us, a revelation.
Having done this, we felt that the thought of the Gita should be taken a little deeper to the youth. So far, we were trying to create an awareness among them, about the role the Bhagavad Gita can play, in bringing about individual and social upliftment, self-awareness, enlightenment and confidence.
Last year, we decided upon a bold plan: “A Gita International Seminar for the Youth.” With the blessings of all the cultural and spiritual organizations, no organization kept away from this programme, all of them blessed us.
You will be surprised to know that around 1,400 students came and attended the seminar, for four days, paying fees from their pocket! At least, a few of our eminent people present here, like Shri Kireet Joshi, Shri Michel Danino, Dr. Seshagiri Rao, Prof. Vasu ¾ all of them were present, they have seen it themselves.
For four days, from morning to evening, the youth listened to talks by eminent people from all walks of life: spiritual leaders, successful people like engineers, doctors, executives ¾ those who have shown that Gita can help us to achieve success not only in spiritual life but also in our material life.
Swami Gautamanandaji, president, Ramakrishna Math, Chennai, inaugurated the programme. Shri Bhai Mahavir, Governor of Madhya Pradesh, was the chief guest. On the final day, H. H. the Dalai Lama came, he handed over a copy of the Bhagavad Gita to the great-granddaughter of a revolutionary of the last century.
On that occasion, we felt that the motto “Gita for every home” was yet incomplete. Also, a new motto was placed before the youth: “Gita for Youth, Gita for Social Change.” Not just for individual salvation. There was a great renaissance movement in Kerala during the last century. Shri Narayana Guru, Shri Chattanna Swamigal and Swami Vivekananda were at the root of Kerala’s renaissance movement. It was hijacked by the materialistic philosophy later on.
So, last year, our workers carried around one lakh copies of the Bhagavad Gita, with simple Malayalam rendering, to the homes, and gave them to the youths. There were gatherings, in nearly 100 places, with collective chanting of the Gita; talks on how the Gita can bring about a change in our lives and in our surroundings were conducted. These were mostly held in our cultural and spiritual centres ¾ in the Ramakrishna Math, in the Chinmaya Mission, Mata Amritananda Mayi Math, Sai Baba ashrams etc. In a way, it was a coming together of all the scattered spiritual forces of Kerala, for spreading together the message of the Bhagavad Gita among the youth.
Initially, we thought of a Gita-decade. We felt that ten years will be needed to remove all the negative effects created by the materialistic outlook, and to put in place the genuinely enlightening, divine, spiritual message of our ancient masters through the Bhagavad Gita, since Gita is the most appropriate text for this purpose, as we all know.
At the moment, we are thinking of a three-pronged movement: Gita, Sanskrit and Yoga, these three should go together. Those who study the Gita should also learn Sanskrit and those who know Sanskrit should study the Gita. There is a great desire to learn Sanskrit now. So, we said, if you want to learn Sanskrit, take up the Gita as a text and learn Sanskrit through it. And then, Yoga also. People are attracted, fascinated, by Yoga. Gita for the mind, Sanskrit for the tongue, and Yoga for the body ¾ combining all these three we have manasa, vacha, karmana.
So, this three-pronged approach evolved for the youth of Kerala, to involve the youth of Kerala, in order to bring about an all-round change in their personal and collective life.
We feel that the people of Kerala are facing the condition of the vishaada yoga of Arjuna. From this vishaada yoga, the mind has to be saved and transformed. Nothing can do it better than the Bhagavad Gita, this has been our experience. Though we started without any experience, we have gained this conviction.
This movement is going on, we have been able to bring together all the speeches and papers presented at the seminar in a beautiful book of about 500 pages.
The movement is catching up. It has become like a mass movement of the youth. I feel that if this pioneering experiment succeeds, it can spread to other areas also.
To be frank, the Gita Swadhyaya Samiti which we have started, is not teaching the Gita, it is creating an intense desire to learn the Gita. Once the desire is planted, the youth will find a way of fulfilling it; they will find a teacher. But, the desire was not there earlier, this desire has been created.
We hope that with the grace of God and with the blessings of all our religious and spiritual leaders, this movement will create a new chapter in the history of Kerala ¾ the land of Shankara, Swami Chinmayananda, Swami Ranganathananda and many others. This is a small experiment.
(Update, May 29, 2002: Shri Parameswaran informs us that the three-pronged movement, “Sanskrit Gita Samyogam,” mentioned in the text above, has now been launched with the collaboration of Gita Swadhyaya Samiti, Vishva Sanskrit Prathishtanam and Patanjali Yoga Vidyapitham. A three-week course is being conducted presently at the ashram of Mata Amritanandamayi. Shri Parameswaran is hopeful that this new venture will be received with the same enthusiasm as the earlier ones. IFIH wishes him all success in this noble endeavour.)