Monday, June 29, 2015

The colorful Chariot Festival: Indian tradition going worldwide

By Ila Garg (for NewsGram)


Chicago: On June 28, 2015 Hare Krishna devotees celebrated the 41st annual Chariot Festival organised by ISKCON. This year in Chicago, the Chariot Festival saw the participation of 5000 people, with 400 new attendees  joining in the celebration. Team NewsGram too joined in this vibrant festival to catch a glimpse. The parade began at 11:30 AM at Daley Plaza (50 West Washington Street, Chicago) and concluded at 12:30 PM. The grand festival which comprised of ecstatic dancing, live music, vegetarian food, and meditation went on till 6 PM.

11667208_10153347982504017_1341296734_nThe organizer, Nityanand Pran Das introduced the festival. The Chariot Festival (traditionally known as Ratha Yatra) started with hundreds of people pulling a 36 foot tall Chariot in which the ancient deity form of Krishna is placed. This form of Krishna is called Jagannath (the origin of the word juggernaut – an unstoppable force) and is very unique with big eyes and big smile that will melt your heart.

One of the devotees, Yadhoda Nandana Das told NewsGram, “I came across ISKCON philosophy for the first time in 2007 and since then I am associated with it.” Yadavacarya Goswami Das, another devotee who is a native of Chicago got initiated at the age of 17. Ananda Vrindavan (now 52), a native of Philippines was only 9-years-old when she became a disciple.

11696685_10153347984884017_1789004118_nHare Krishna movement began flourishing worldwide since 1960’s. This is a 5000-year-old tradition which originated in India and is now celebrated all over the world since the explosive growth of the Hare Krishna movement. About 108 countries all over the world have now joined in this celebration including Dublin, Belfast, Birmingham, London, Bath, Melbourne, Montreal, Paris, New York, Singapore, Toronto, Antwerp, Kuala Lumpur, Los Angeles (celebrated in coastal Venice, CA), Mexico, and others.

The concept of the chariot has been explained in the Kathopanishada in the following words –

Atmaanam rathinam viddhi shareeram rathamevatu Buddhim tu saarathim viddhi manah pragrahameva cha. (The body is the chariot and the soul is the deity installed in the chariot. The wisdom acts as the charioteer to control the mind and thoughts.)

The festival is also known as Gundicha Yatra, Ghosa Yatra, Navadina Yatra, Dasavatara Yatra, and by a variety of other names. Here, it started in 1974 and since then the ISKCON society has been celebrating this event with thousands of people participating every year.

Ruchira Jairam provided volunteer henna and face painting at the festival while Sundar Anand Das manned the book stall. “Looking forward for more such events,” Das remarked. He has been volunteering at ISKCON events for past 10 years.

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This article first appeared on NewsGram.

Friday, June 26, 2015

In Conversation With Ratnadip Acharya

Ratnadip Acharya is a well-trained street magician and has demonstrated his skill to many across the country. Graduated from NIT Jamshedpur, he lives in Mumbai and is an Electrical Engineer. As far as writing is concerned, he has written many inspirational write-ups for 'Chicken Soup for the Soul' collection. His debut novel titled Life is Always Aimless... Unless You Love it was published in December 2012. His latest book Paradise Lost & Regained carries surreal, strange and inspirational vibes.

Here, he lets his readers know a little more about himself and his journey so far. Ladies and Gentlemen, I bring to you Ratnadip Acharya: 

Ila Garg: Tell us something about you and the book.

Ratnadip Acharya: A blissfully introvert being who is deeply interested in life and its mysteries. What thrills me the most is mystical experiences, esoteric matters & the world of magic. I have learned street magic for many years and performed it at many places too. About the book, I can only say, life is unpredictable and uncertain, which in a way, adds beauty to life. In Paradise Lost & Regained, I have sincerely tried to go deep into this fathomless uncertainty of our life and extract beauty and bliss out of it. Now, only the readers can tell me how successful I am in doing so. 

IG: How does it feel to be a writer?

RA: I am a loner, deeply enjoy my own company and when I am alone it really does not matter to me whether I am an author or something else. Only thing which is really rewarding to be an author is to get love and respect from unknown people. Nothing on earth can substitute that. I am reminded of a Nobel laureate who had delivered a moving speech when receiving the award. He said, ‘I am not sure what I will do with so much of money. But I have already been rewarded in such a way that nothing on earth can be compared with it. It is the love and respect that I get from my fellow countrymen.’ You simply feel wonderful when readers give a positive feedback.

IG: How do you envision your book will impact your readers?
RA:  Anyone who is interested in reading some serious stuff will have a soul-wrenching experience while reading the novel. It is not a commodity to offer you some short-lived entertainment but a book to touch your being, to inspire you, to help you see life more closely. 

IG: What’s the biggest mistake new writers make according to you?

RA: After reading a few chick-lit fictions, youngsters think they are well-equipped to write a novel. Many youngsters send me their manuscripts to have a look at them. There are hundreds of grammatical mistakes in those manuscripts. To learn a language well, you have to study a good deal otherwise your work cannot have impact on readers. To be a writer, you must first be a good reader. 

IG: How do you make sure the information used in your books is accurate and up-to-date?

RA: I don’t write novels which are based on research works. In my understanding, they are soulless works. For instance, read the works by Amitav Ghosh. His books are based on thorough research. They are teeming with many original facts and astounding historical events. His English is also wonderful but stories do not have any soul, they are lifeless.  Whatever little information I need for my work, everyday life is enough to garner those. 

IG: How do you feel when someone disagrees with something you say or have written?

RA: I have no issues with anyone who does not like my work. Everyone is free to have his or her opinion. It does not bother me at all otherwise I could not have written a 250-page novel based on a little deer. You can only attempt to write something like that when you do not bother at all about prevailing market trend. 

IG: How did the idea for this book shaped up in your mind?

RA: Only Almighty can answer this question. Believe me, in the beginning, I had thought of writing a novella of about 25000 words on this deer. But as I sat to write, I felt as though someone was guiding me to add more events to the novel that I had not planned before. And at last, it became an 85000 words novel, taking me by surprise. 

IG: What made you go ahead with Frog Books?

RA: DESTINY; just a stroke of luck. 

IG: Any plans for sequel of this book?

RA: No sequel... but perhaps, another mystical novel similar to the story of this deer. 

IG: Share some of your interesting memories you lived while writing this book?

RA: There is only one interesting event that is worth mentioning. I feel I was possessed throughout that period of writing. As I had mentioned before, I felt, as if someone was guiding me to write whenever I picked up the pen. 

IG: What is your least favourite part of the writing process?

RA: No part in particular. 

IG: What genre do you particularly like?

RA: Classic, spiritual work (non-fiction), works on mystery (Edger Allen Poe and the likes). 

IG: Describe your writing style in 10 words or less.

RA: I bare my soul and let it pour on paper. 

IG: What was your biggest inspiration behind this book?

RA: Life, Nature, Sky, Birds, Silence, Clouds, Star, Full moon and life’s unfathomable mysteries. 

IG: What are some things you like to do when you’re not writing?

RA: I have varied interests. I perform street magic, read lots of books (mostly non-fiction), go for long walks all alone and sometimes indulge myself in a few pegs of Whiskey. 

IG: Tell us something about your future projects.

RA: Another mystical work, exploring the unknown dimension of life.

IG: Any words for the interviewer? 

RA: Being interviewed by you means an opportunity to peep into life.

IG: Lastly, is there a message you would like to convey your readers?

RA: Be with me, I will never produce stale work.

Paradise Lost & Regained


Whispered the forest & its trees, ‘Little deer, tell us your story again.’
Smiled I & asked, ‘What will you gain hearing it time & again?’
Replied the forest at once, ‘It is not just a story of a deer,
but of we all - forest, earth, sky, trees, wind and river.
It is a testimony to trust, love, hope & courage
that we will all remember for ages.’
With a smile, again I began to narrate my story,
which breathed my love, fear, success, failure & glory.
It spanned from my birth in the forest to human captivity,
from where I escaped to explore life’s other possibility.
Everywhere and every moment I received help from Nature,
& it taught me to experience life from closer.
I learnt that the other name of life is Mystery,
and that it is beautiful with all its unknown twists and unpredictability.
Once I finished my narration, the forest was throbbing with life,
there prevailed only peace, silence & joy, and no strife.
‘Name your story,’ breathed the forest and every living entity it contained.
Thought I for a while and replied...
‘Paradise Lost & Regained.’

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