Alandi: Photo tour of the village where Sant Dnyaneshwar and Jalaram Bapa reside

Alandi is a small village situated around 27 kilometers from Pune and around 147 kilometers from Mumbai.

When a person generally thinks about India, he or she ends up thinking about Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Chennai, etc. But we tend to forget that a large portion of India stays in villages. As the saying in Hindi goes, ‘Bharat gaon mein basa hai (India lies in the villages).’

Therefore, there are countless little villages in the country, which are unknown even to those who have been staying in India since more than 50 years. These places never come in the mainstream. Alandi is one among the thousands of such small villages in India.

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River Indrayani at Alandi. 

It falls on the banks of river Indrayani, which is a pleasant sight when in full flow. It’s dry during summers for obvious reasons.

Alandi is mostly known for being the Samadhi of Sant Dnyaneshwar. Also known as Dnyandev or Mauli, he was a poet, saint and philosopher who was born in Apegaon in 1275 and passed away in 1296 in Alandi. It is believed that he went into Samadhi after writing a commentary on the Bhagavad Gita. His Samadhi is visited by a large number of his followers who belong to the Varkari sect.

A sacred temple of Jalaram Bapa is also situated in Alandi, which is also famous among his devotees. Jalaram Bapa was also a saint, who is highly regarded by his followers, mostly from Gujarat. He was born on November 14, 1799 in Virpur and passed away on February 23, 1881. A temple in his honour is built in his hometown Virpur. An exact replica of it was built in Alandi in 1960s.

There are chances that you would find Alandi peaceful, more so if you have always been a city-dweller like me. The best time to visit here is winter. The roadside food over here is very tasty, especially Misal and Vada Pav.

Since last decade or so, a lot of buildings and hotels have cropped up in the village and around. But the village-like feel still remains.

By: Keyur Seta

Here are some more pictures of Alandi (The first picture above is clicked during the winter of 2011. Others during summer of 2017):

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Sant Dnyaneshwar
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Jalaram Bapa
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Lord Vishnu with his 10 avatars inside the premises of Jalaram temple.

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Group of Varkari singers performing inside the premises of Jalaram temple.

Book Review: Don’t Believe In God Till You Experience Him

The title of Mukul Kumar’s Don’t Believe In God Till You Experience Him gives an idea that the book is a non-fictitious account of someone’s realization of God or almighty. However, that is far from the case. It’s a fiction novel which may be based on the author’s personal experiences to some extent. It portrays an extraordinary journey of an ordinary and poor village boy.

The story starts in the yesteryears in the small town of Rajgir in Bihar, India. Mukul is born in a joint family that is poor and constantly quarrelling. His mother is his father’s second wife. In those days, one was allowed to have more than one wife. She goes to Patna to continue her studies after marriage. Mukul also goes to stay with her to complete his education. Despite coming from a poor family, he scores very well in exams. He is hailed as a bright student.

Dont-Believe-in-God-bookBut once he enters college, he gets spoilt in the hostel life despite the strict atmosphere. He somehow manages to pass class 12 but doesn’t clear a single competitive exam to enter a premier engineering college. Mukul starts working for it and appears next year. He finally makes it to an engineering college. But at this moment, his life takes a sudden and unexpected turn. His perception and meaning towards life goes through a complete change.

Don’t Believe In God Till You Experience Him keeps you guessing about its main story for quite long, which isn’t a bad thing. The preface at the start appears more interesting later because almost 50% of the content, which follows, is poles apart from it. So, you keep wondering when the preface will find a place in the main plot. Although there are moments in the latter half of the book where the story drags, the final conclusion is impressive.

The book throws light on the menace of fake Godmen. But I personally could also relate to it from the point of view of politicians and their blind supporters.

The narrative is the major drawback here though. The book isn’t a fast read because the writing isn’t engaging enough. On most occasions, it appears bland during important turns. The balance between simple and rich language isn’t maintained. It tilts more towards the former thereby making it too simplistic. Also, few details about the protagonist’s everyday life could have been avoided.

Overall: Don’t Believe In God Till You Experience Him is worth reading due to its storyline.

Rating: 3/5

Author: Mukul Kumar

Review by: Keyur Seta

Price: Rs 275

Cover: Beautiful image of a sanyasin walking into enlightenment, although it’s quite similar to Hidden Road To Lifemanship by the same publishers

Pages: 265

Publishers: Leadstart Publishing

When Javed Akhtar gave a profound tribute to Lord Ram through SRK…

Mainstream Hindi cinema has hardly featured stories from Indian epics like Mahabharata or Ramayana in the modern era or last two decades. The two aforementioned epics have innumerable incidents that can fit into the parameters of typical ‘Bollywood’ melodrama. But somehow they have escaped our films.

As tomorrow (April 4, 2017) is Ram Navami or the Birth Anniversary of Lord Ram, we shall look at one film that has given a deep and profound description of His qualities.

Ashutosh Gowariker’s Swades (2004) remains a much-loved film that didn’t work at the box office. One of the most striking moments in the film is the song ‘Pal Pal Hai Bhari,’ which comes during the Dusshera festival in the story.

Swades-Pal-Pal-Hai-BhariGayatri Joshi, who plays Geeta, mostly features throughout the song, which talks about Sita’s separation from Ram after she was kidnapped by Ravana. While expressing her anguish on being away from her husband for so long, she lists down Ram’s great qualities.

But it is the ending part of the song that takes the cake when Shah Rukh Khan intervenes. In what can be called as a monologue, the actor, who plays Mohan, gives a profound tribute to Ram. In fact, in my opinion, there hasn’t been such a sensible yet appealing compliment to any God in a mainstream Bollywood film in the colour era.

The end of the monologue with the line, ‘Mann Se Ravan Jo Nikale Ram Uske Mann Mein Hain’ speaks a lot than it actually does. It translates in English to – The one who removes Ravan (evil) from his heart has only Ram (good) within him.

Javed Akhtar, the lyricist, has displayed the qualities of both Ram and Ravan in just 10 words! One can only expect a legend like him to come up with something like this. Anyone who is unaware about Ram and Ravan would be enlightened about their respective natures through just a single line. Singer Vijay Prakash, who sang that part, also shouldn’t be forgotten.

Before watching this film, very few would have associated SRK to feature in a song about Lord Ram. But Gowariker had other ideas and thankfully so. Apart from Khan, the only superstar actor to have played a hugely worshipped God in recent decades is Akshay Kumar. He played Lord Krishna in Umesh Shukla’s OMG! Oh My God (2012).

There is another hidden trivia or information in Swades that I have just noticed while writing this piece. SRK’s character is named Mohan who falls in love with Geeta, played by Joshi. Mohan is another name for Krishna. And Krishna is the one who is associated with his great gyan in the form of the Geeta.

And both Ram and Krishna (Mohan) are avatars of Vishnu.

But there is more to it. Krishna was born to Devaki but he grew up with his foster mother, Yashoda. In the movie, Mohan grows up with his foster mother, Kaveri amma, played by Kishori Balal.

Gowariker also featured Lord Krishna and his lover Radha’s love story in his earlier film, Lagaan (2001) in the song, ‘Radha Kaise Na Jale.’

By: Keyur Seta

Difficult to say if Mcleodganj is more peaceful or Tibetans: See photos

Our trip to Mcleodganj was a part of our November tour which also included Amritsar and Dalhousie. Although I had a memorable time in the other two places, the feeling after entering Mcleodganj was unexplainable. It was like suddenly switching over to a TV channel hugely different from what you have been watching since long.

mcleodganj-monks-monasterySuddenly I was surrounded with the most serene atmosphere I have ever experienced. The Himalayas provided the enchanting visuals of nature. The buildings and architecture in the town oozed not only colours but also calmness.

But the most pleasant sight was the presence of Tibetans in the entire town, especially the monks. It’s a sheer pleasure to talk to them. They appear unreal for their peaceful demeanor they carry. In fact, just to see them go about their daily, everyday routine calms you like nothing else can.

Mcleodganj has two monasteries. The main one is also a place of residence of the great Dalai Lama. It is quite an experience to be there. But it is the other one in the market area that is easily more beautiful and vibrant.

The Tibetans have been living in India as refugees ever since China occupied Tibet in the 1950s. They still have a glimmer of hope of returning to their homeland, although the chances are very bleak.

But, more importantly, after seeing the way they have nurtured Mcleodganj like their own baby, will Indians like me be happy if and when they return?

Needless to say, after such an experience I would love to visit next time and stay for a much longer duration.

P.S:– I was pleasantly surprised to not see a single political banner or poster in the entire town. Later on, I realized that Tibetans have no voting rights as they are refugees. That explains it all.

By Keyur Seta

More pictures from Mcleodganj:

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Swami Vivekananda’s inspiring thoughts on India

Swami Vivekananda is one of the greatest spiritual gurus of the world. But he is also who can also be called a ‘Patriot Monk.’ His love, admiration and respect for his motherland shines brightly through volumes of his teachings.

Here are some of his inspiring thoughts on India on the occasion of Republic Day:

– I am proud that I am a countryman of yours. You the descendants of the sages, you the descendants of the most glorious Rishis the world ever saw. Therefore have faith in yourselves, be proud of your ancestors.

swami-vivekananda– Shall India die? Then from the world all spirituality will be extinct, all moral perfection will be extinct, all sweet-souled sympathy for religion will be extinct, all ideality will be extinct; and in its place will reign the duality of lust and luxury as the male and female deities, with money as its priest, fraud, force, and competition its ceremonies, and the human soul its sacrifice. Such a thing can never be.

– Once more the wheel is turning up, once more vibrations have been set in motion from India, which are destined at no distant day to reach the farthest limits of earth. Believe, believe, the decree has gone forth, the fiat of the Lord has gone forth – India must rise, the masses and the poor are to be made happy.

– India will be raised, not with the power of the flesh, but with the power of the spirit; not with the flag of destruction, but with the flag of peace and love, the garb of the Sannyasin; not by the power of wealth, but by the power of the begging bowl

– Let us all work hard, my brethren; this is no time for sleep. Do not figure out big plans at first, but begin slowly, feel the ground, and proceed. Up, up, the long night is passing, the day is approaching, the wave has risen, nothing will be able to resist its tidal fury.

– Let her New India arise – out of the peasants’ cottage, grasping the plough; out of the huts of the fisherman, the cobbler, and the sweeper. Let her spring from the grocer’s shop, from beside the oven of the fritter-seller. Let her emanate from the factory, from marts, and from markets. Let her emerge from groves and forests, from hills and mountains…

– Arise and awake and see her seated here on her eternal throne, rejuvenated, more glorious than she ever was – this Motherland of ours.

Guru Gobind Singh 350th Birth Anniversary: 15 facts about the 10th Sikh Guru

Today marks the 350th Birth Anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh ji. He was the 10th and the last Sikh Guru. His life is an ideal example of service to humanity and adherence to truth, even if it means laying down your own life. Here are 15 facts from Guru Gobind Singh ji’s life story on his 350th Birth Anniversary or Gurpurab (2017):

– He was born in Patna, Bihar in 1666.

– He was earlier named, Gobind Rai.

– He was considered a leader by his friends right during his childhood.

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Picture: Pinterest

– During the time of his birth, his father, Guru Teg Bahadur was in Dhaka (then Bengal, now Bangladesh). He saw his child Gobind Rai for the first time when the latter was three years old.

– Guru Gobind Singh ji migrated to Anandpur, Punjab with his mother, Mata Gujri ji in 1671.

– Even during his childhood, he was well-versed in a number of languages like Hindi, Persian, Sanskrit and Brij Bhasha (along with his mother tongue Punjabi).

– Gobind Rai was only 10 years old when he was given the responsibility of leading the Sikhs by becoming their next Guru after the passing away of his father.

– Guru Gobind Singh ji not only became an expert in warfare (martial arts, sword fighting, etc) but also trained a large army of Sikhs to fight the oppressors in the form of Mugals and, at times, caste-conscious Hindus.

– Raja Bhim Chand of Kahlur and other rulers got insecure of Guru Gobind Singh ji and waged a war against him and the Sikhs in 1687. But the Sikhs fought valiantly and defeated the enemy forces.

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Guruji asking for heads (Picture: Gurbani.co)

– Guru Gobind Singh ji found the Khalsa Panth in a dramatic way in 1699. He took a sword and asked for the heads of the most beloved Sikhs. Although people were confused, five Sikhs came forward. The Guru took one inside and returned with a blood stained sword and continued the same exercise for all five followers. He later came out with all five of them and, highly satisfied with their faith and dedication, he honoured them as Panj Piara (five loved ones).

They became the heads of the Khalsa Panth. This is also how the slogan, “Wahe Guru Ji Da Khalsa, Wahe Guru Ji Di Fateh” was born. It translates in English to, “You are a pure soul created by Wahe Guru (God) and hail victory to him.”

– Guru Gobind Singh ji and his troops fought quite a few battles from here on. He lost his two elder sons in a battle against the Moghuls at Chamkour. His two younger sons were brutally killed by being buried alive straight in walls by Moghul emperor Wazir Khan in Sarhind. Soon thereafter, their mother passed away in custody.

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Guruji with family (Picture: PunjabiDharti.com)

– Despite losing his sons and wife, Guru Gobind Singh ji continued fighting battles against oppressors.

– In 1707, Guru Gobind Singh ji arrived at Nanded, Maharashtra where he came across Madhav Das, who became his follower and was named Gurbaksh Singh. He later came to be known as Banda Singh Bahadur.

– Over here, Guru Gobind Singh ji was attacked by a Pathan with a dagger when he was doing his prayers. But Guru ji managed to kill him but not before sustaining serious injuries. This is how Guru Gobind Singh ji merged with the Supreme.

– Before passing away, he announced that henceforth, Sikhs should worship the Guru not in a physical form but in the form of their religious book, Guru Granth Sahib.

Book Review: Open-Eyed Meditations

Open-Eyed Meditations is author Shubha Vilas’ latest offering. He has gained popularity with his Ramayana: The Game Of Life series (three of the six books have released so far). His admiration and keen interest in ancient Indian epics is clearly felt if you have read the three books.

Apart from retelling the epic, a notable feature of his version is the wisdom at the end of each page. So, it doesn’t come as a surprise to see him come up with a book full of wisdom. As those wisdom lines in his earlier books aren’t limited to Ramayana, it also doesn’t come a surprise that he has also included examples of Mahabharata in it.

Open-Eyed Meditations is a non-fiction book with a series of chapters based on the teachings of Mahabharata and Ramayana. Each chapter takes up one issue and offers a practical solution to it by linking it to one or more incident from the epics.

open-eyed-meditations-shubha-vilasThere is a misconception that ancient epics like Mahabharata and Ramayana or any of the Vedas for that matter are outdated items. It is believed, especially by people carried away with urban culture, that they are irrelevant in the current time. However, if one looks deeper, one would understand that they are more relevant now than they were before. Open-Eyed Meditations reconfirms this.

Shubha Vilas has delved deep into human mind and brought to light varied types of negative emotions and behavior. He has offered solutions to them using from most famous to least known incidents from the epics. His lessons might appear preachy but if looked closely, they are practical solutions.

Another reason why Open-Eyed Meditations generates appeal is that the author has tackled problems pertaining to the current, modern era. For example, issues faced at workplace, modern relationships, degradation of the psyche in the fast-moving world, management issues in the corporate world, etc. In other words, it’s a subtle reminder on living life rather than just surviving.

The language used also doesn’t come as a surprise. Just like his previous works, he has maintained a fine balance between rich and simple sentences. In other words, it will appeal to those well-versed with English language to those who aren’t. The copy editing is also up to the make with no grammatical and punctuation errors as such.

There is not much of a flipside here. Probably the book should have ended before almost 280 pages. Also certain issues appear repetitive. It should have been crisper.

Review by: Keyur Seta

Author: Shubha Vilas

Rating: 4/5

Publishers: Fingerprint! Belief

Price: Rs 250/-

Pages: 279

Cover: Vibrant as well as simple. The image gives a clear idea of what to expect from the book.