Review: Ramayana (Book 4) – Stand Strong by Shubha Vilas

Since last few years, author Shubha Vilas has been on a mission of rewriting the great Indian epic Ramayana in a six part book series. His intention is to present every little incident of the story in a way it appeals to the younger generation and provides them with wisdom to deal with everyday life situations.

After completing the first book, I was skeptical as to whether the author would be able to maintain the interest in the books to come. Today, I am glad to have been proven wrong. Vilas has continued the good work of the earlier three books in Ramayana: The Game Of Life – Stand Strong.

The story of this book focuses on Rama and Laxmana’s meet with Sugriva and its consequences. Sugriva’s life has been transformed into hell by his brother Vali. After an unpleasant mission in the forest, Vali develops great misunderstanding towards his brother. He kidnaps Sugriva’s wife Ruma and banishes him from the kingdom.

Ramayana 04 Stand StrongSugriva finds shelter at the Rishimukh mountain, where Vali can’t land due to a curse. But he continues to kick him daily without landing on it. Rama makes an alliance with Sugriva. He will help him eliminate Vali and free Ruma. In return Sugriva would help Him in His mission of rescuing Sita from Ravana.

The biggest myth Vilas has been able to smash through his books is that Ramayana is a simple story without many layers. He has once again put forward the deepness of the epic. So much so, that in this book, he has concentrated mostly on Vali and Sugriva than Rama. The story of the two warring brothers is surprisingly fascinating. Vilas makes it more interesting through the intelligent use of flashback.

The author has continued his own style of dramatic narration, which works again. His movie-like manner of presenting major as well as minor incidents regularly adds excitement. The very last portion related to Hanuman deserves special mention. It not only ends the book on a high but also produces the same effect that Bahubali generated whenever he shouted ‘Jai Mahishmati’ in the Bahubabli two movies.

But Stand Strong has a negative point which can’t be ignored. The portions where Sugriva introduces Rama with the chiefs of Vanarasena and later when he explains different regions for their search appear dry. You lose grip and also get confused with too much of information thrown in.

Besides, there is an incident that is more than questionable. When Laxmana angrily stomps into Sugriva’s palace to remind him of his promise, he kills a number of monkey soldiers while displaying his anger. Why kill them when they were just doing their duty? Besides, isn’t Sugriva your most trusted and only ally?

Overall: Stand Strong does what was required. The book continues the good work of the previous three books and makes you eager to read the next one in the series.

Review by: Keyur Seta

Rating: 3.5/5

Author: Shubha Vilas

Pages: 326

Price: Rs 350

Publishers: Jaico Books

Cover: This one is way different from the previous three covers. The sky blue colour and simple fonts make it look like a self-help book, which it is in a way.

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Get Value Based Education on Spiritual growth for FREE at this place

Ramakrishna Mission’s Mumbai branch has recently started ‘Value Based Education’ sessions for youngsters every Sunday from 10 am to 11 am. The basic aim of the sessions is overall spiritual development of an individual. It is conducted by Swami Shrimohanananda maharaj, who is also the librarian of the Ramakrishna Mission library.

Along with imparting knowledge, one is also taught meditation and chanting of Sanskri shlokas from ancient scriptures. The sessions take place in the air-conditioned Vivekananda Auditorium and they are FREE of cost.

Here’s more information on the sessions:

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Today was the first time I attended the session. The topic of the discussion was ‘Vedanta in education.’

Here are the highlights of the same:

– Vedanta means the essence of the Vedas.

– In ancient times when people didn’t know the art of writing, knowledge was passed on verbally to the next generations.

– Vedanta says that man is a divine being. He is not just a lump of body. Soul is his nature. We all are one.

– When somebody asked Swami Vivekananda about the solutions to the many problems in India and the world, his only answer was ‘education.’

– Today, people are earning many degrees. But has morality and sense of purpose of a person become better? It has actually gone down.

– For example, a Commerce student is only taught to add and subtract. A lot of CAs (Chartered Accountants) are even hired by companies to manipulate (numbers).

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A glimpse from today’s session

– It is a wrong belief that one’s only aim should be to earn a lot of money, buy a big house and have a big bank balance.

– Most school and college teachers teach in the same way. If you teach in the same way for 15 years and not make it more interesting (upgrade your teaching), how has it helped your students? They can get this (type of teaching) even in books.

– One should be greedy of knowledge.

– One should be greedy of religion. If you know your religion well but don’t study other religions, how will you respect them (other religions)?

– Foundation should be strong. Only then the building will be strong. The base of education should be to see your spiritual ideals.

– Nobody can dictate as to what this ideal should be.

– Vedanta is the only philosophy that can accommodate everything (every knowledge or faith).

Swami Vivekananda’s quotes on fearlessness

Swami Vivekananda, the patriotic monk, has been one of the most powerful motivational sources to have emerged from the land of India. Out of the many things he preached, the most prominent one remains ‘fearlessness.’ This is evident from his quotes that are widely available today.

On Swami Vivekananda’s 155th birth annniversay (12 January 2018), let’s revisit some of his thoughts that inspires us to be fearless:

Swami Vivekananda - 2015– Always say, “I have no fear.” Tell this to everybody –“Have no fear”. Fear is death, fear is sin, fear is hell, fear is unrighteousness, fear is wrong life. All the negative thoughts and ideas that are in this world have proceeded from this evil spirit of fear. This fear alone has kept the sun, air and death in their respective places and functions, allowing none to escape from their bounds.

– If you read the Vedas, you will find this word always repeated — fearlessness — fear nothing. Fear is a sign of weakness. A man must go about his duties without taking notice of the sneers and the ridicule of the world.

– The greatest sin is to think that you are weak.

– It is fear alone that is death. You have to go beyond all fear. So from this day be fearless.

– It is true that fear is the sure cause of degradation and sin. It is fear that brings misery, fear that brings death, fear that breeds evil. And what causes fear? Ignorance of our own nature. Each of us is heir-apparent to the Emperor of emperors; are of the substance of God Himself. Nay, according to the Advaita, we are God Himself though we have forgotten our own nature in thinking of ourselves as little men.

Also read: 5 inspiring incidents from Swami Vivekananda’s life

– Be brave! Be strong! Be fearless! Once you have taken up the spiritual life, fight as long as there is any life in you. Even though you know you are going to be killed, fight till you “are killed.” Don’t die of fright. Die fighting. Don’t go down till you are knocked down.

– Be not afraid, for all great power throughout the history of humanity has been with the people. from out of their ranks have come all the greatest geniuses of the world, and history can only repeat itself. be not afraid of anything. you will do marvelous work.

– The moment you fear, you are nobody. it is fear that is the great cause of misery in the world. it is fear that is the greatest of all superstitions. it is the fear that is the cause of our woes, and it is fearlessness that brings heaven in a moment.

– My child, what i want is muscles of iron and nerves of steel, inside which dwells a mind of the same material as that of which the thunderbolt is made.

Also read: How Swami Vivekananda attacked communalism, casteism, class division in one go

– The fear of reputation is stronger than the fear of death.

– This I have seen in life — he who is over-cautious about himself falls into dangers at every step; he who is afraid of losing honour and respect, gets only disgrace; he who is always afraid of loss always loses.

– All this is our work, our fear — fear, the beginning of misery, of disease, etc. By being nervous and fearful we injure others, by being so fearful to hurt we hurt more. By trying so much to avoid evil we fall into its jaws.

What else is there on Jan 1?

Each year, 1st January is celebrated as the New Year all around the world. The arrival of December itself sparks the mood of celebration among people of all religion, class, nationality and what not. And as December is about the end, the excitement for the first day of January increases even further.

But amid such atmosphere of celebration, not many would know that January 1 also holds a lot of spiritual significance. The Kalpataru Day falls on this date. It is believed that on 1 January 1886, Ramakrishna Paramhansa revealed himself to be an Avatar or incarnation of God.

New-Year-picture

It is also believed that Ramakrishna was given the status of a Kalpataru (wish fulfilling tree) by a follower. Hence, the day came to be known as such.

Kalpataru Day is celebrated among the followers of Ramakrishna Paramhansa and Swami Vivekananda in all Ramakrishna Mission centers around the world. On this day, devotees gather in large numbers and pray for their wishes to be fulfilled.

Even if you are not a believer in legends and in the power of getting your wishes fulfilled, it is still a peaceful and tranquil way to start your New Year. This is just what I personally feel.

Here’s wishing all of you Happy Kalpataru Diwas and New Year 🙂

Know more about Kalpataru Day here:

Pictures: Christmas Eve celebrations at Ramakrishna Mission, Mumbai

December 24th is known as Christmas Eve all over the year. It is a day before the birth of Jesus Christ, which marks the festival celebrated not just by Christmas but by people all around the world.

Christmas-Eve-MumbaiBut not many would know that Christmas Eve holds a lot of significance for the followers of Swami Vivekananda and Ramakrishna Paramhansa. On this date in 1886, Swami Vivekananda, then known as Narendra Nath Dutta, and nine other disciples of Ramakrishna Paramhansa took the oath of monasticism.

They renounced the world by becoming Sanyasis (monks) to selflessly serve and motivate humanity.

Hence, every year in every Ramakrishna Mission centre, Christmas Eve is celebrated with aplomb. The same was the case in its Mumbai centre in Khar, which I make a point to attend every year.

As per the tradition, the celebrations started with Jesus Aarti, which, I am sure, many of you might not have even heard about before. Important verses from the Bible were read in Hindi and then in English.

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Having heard Bhagavad Gita teachings in Hindi, the recitation of Bible in the language sounded like teachings from the Gita.

It was another reminder that His message is the same even if paths may differ.

By: Keyur Seta

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Christmas-Tree-2017

Book Review: A Week In Time

World War, especially the second one, has inspired a lot of stories in the historical fiction genre over the decades. It continues to do so even after more than 70 years of the unfortunate event. Bett Rose’s A Week In Time also revolves around World War II. But it is more of a moving account of the human sufferings of the families of those who are out on war.

The book tells story of a group of individuals living in England during the Second World War. The 29-year-old Frances is waiting for the return of her husband Joseph since three years. She is sure she is not a widow and her love would return some day. She has rented out a room to Eliza, whose husband is in the navy. Frances and Eliza are close friends who work at the same place. But they are poles apart in terms of nature.

Next door lives Joanie and Arthur. Their sons are serving in the RAF. Norma Watling and her four girls stay on the other side. Her husband Reginald, an engineer, has been sent to war. The ageing couple Harold and Violet too lived at the allotment. Their two sons too are fighting the war. Similarly, Ruby and Lizzie stay nearby. The American Air Force base was close to them. This enables Ruby to come in contact with the American officer John Parker.

A Week In TimeEscaping air raids was the constant battle of the aforementioned people. Each day they wonder when the war would end.

War appears very action oriented. What with two groups of people engaged in firing rifles and throwing bombs on each other. But at the core of it, it is an emotional event, more for the families of soldiers. A Week In Time focuses on the humane aspect of war. It gives very little footage to the war. There are only a few references made to the details of the battle and rightly so.

There is reality written all over the narrative as we are exposed to the in-depth everyday lives of the characters. Their sorrows are the main focus but care is taken to not make the proceedings depressing. In fact, the characters are seen enjoying whatever happiness that comes in their way; at times even creating it. This moves you even further.

A Week In Time starts off in an engaging manner. But after the initial portion, the narration goes onto a dry mode as there is nothing much in terms of story development. Thankfully, the story picks up steam later on and this ensures satisfaction once the book ends. But the author shouldn’t have disclosed in the introduction that the story has a happy ending. This turns out to be a spoiler.

Rose’s writing is simple and detailed. She has penned the minute acts and emotions of the characters, which plays a big role in creating an impact. But it becomes impressive only as the book progresses from one chapter to another. At times, some very long sentences should have been avoided.

There is one issue in the editing. A comma is missing in some sentences that need breaking-up and in every dialogue after the line is completed. One wonders why.

Overall: A Week In Time scores for its emotional moments of the sufferings of everyday people forced to accept war. But it eventually turns out to be a positive take on human spirit.

Rating: 3/5

Review by: Keyur Seta

Author: Bett Rose

Pages: 151

Pictures: Shiva Temple in the snow-clad Gulmarg where Quran is recited

Gulmarg, the small town in Kashmir, gets garnished in snow with the arrival of winter every year. In between the snow-peaked mountains lies a Shiva temple on top of a hill. Named Rani temple, it is visible from all corners of Gulmarg.

Spotting a Hindu temple in Kashmir is a rare sight as there are hardly any left in the region. The Rani temple is one of the last signs of the Dogra Dynasty and was built by Maharaja Hari Singh in the 20th century. He was the last Maharaja of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir.

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Far view of the Rani Temple in Gulmarg

The temple is named after his wife Maharani Mohini Bai Sisodia since she used to ardently perform prayers over here. She was one of his four wives.

The most incredible feature about the temple is the priest. He is not an ordinary priest. His name is Ghulam Mohammad Sheikh. Yes, the Hindu temple is guarded by a Muslim priest. But that’s not all. The priest daily recites verses from the Gita as well as the Quran. I guess this practice isn’t seen anywhere else. Unfortunately, he wasn’t present when we visited the temple.

Gulmarg-Shiva-templeThe Rani temple is also famous for being featured in the classic Hindi song ‘Jai Jai Shiv Shankar’ from J Om Prakash’s Aap Ki Kasam (1974) and was picturized on Rajesh Khanna and Mumtaz.

The way to the temple is through a long staircase. As Gulmarg lies at a high altitude of 8690 feet, one is bound to become breathless after the climb. But the effort is truly worth for the peaceful atmosphere the temple offers and the breathtaking view of this beautiful snow-clad town.

Gulmarg is known for its iconic Gondola ride that takes you almost as far as the PoK (Pakistan occupied Kashmir) at a height of close to 13000 feet at Mount Apharwat Summit. It is a place that is worth innumerable words.

Pictures and article: Keyur Seta

More pictures from the temple and Mt Apharwat:

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View from the Rani temple
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View from the Rani temple

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Shiva temple-Gulmarg

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Mount Apharwat
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Gondola ride to Mount Apharwat