By Mansi Agarwal
The Gayatri Pariwar has over 70 million practitioners of its path, 10 million dedicated active supporters and 4,000 centers all over the world. A profile of this humongous organization that has been quietly transforming the country and, indeed, the world.
I entered the small gate, and an almost tangible wave of well-being hit me as I took in the panorama of calm and harmony that lay before me. The cool breeze tempered the bright sunshine, while birds chirped merrily from trees overhead. The narrow path was flanked on both sides with herbs of high medicinal value. People in saffron and yellow moved with a relaxed sense of purpose. A beautiful chant from a loudspeaker far away rippled through the atmosphere, spreading peace and calm. As I went closer, I realized it was the unceasing chant of the Gayatri mantra. The people around me seemed steeped in the peace and tranquility that the atmosphere generated. With each step I could feel it sink into me too. Little wonder too, for I was at Shantikunj, the abode of the All World Gayatri Pariwar, one of the country’s biggest and most active spiritual organizations.
With over 70 million adherents to its path of moral and spiritual upliftment, 10 million dedicated followers who support the organization through seva and donations, 4,000 centers all over the world, and 30,000 local Swadhyaya mandals where devotees gather together, the Gayatri Pariwar is a huge force for the good. The mission has spread to nearly 80 countries all over the globe with centers in USA, UK, Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Kenya and Mauritius.
In its own low-key and deeply sincere manner, the organization has had a seminal impact in the lives of millions of Indians, particularly in the Northern belt. It disseminates its thoughts through two humungously popular magazines, Akhand Jyoti Hindi, a monthly magazine and the Akhand Jyoti English, a bimonthly magazine. Their joint circulation, together with translations, comes to more than a million copies. Their mission is to help birth a new era and they do this through a spectrum of activities that include programs for individual transformation, for the transformation of society by targeting government organizations and rural communities and for the well-being of the environment. They promote vegetarianism, an addiction-free society, scientific spirituality and universal brotherhood. One-and-a-half crore people have been said to have left addictions like alcohol under their influence and turned towards spirituality Their manifesto, a lofty and idealistic statement, affirms that they would rather fail and stand by moral principles than succeed through unfair means.
The philosophy of the organization is woven around the supremacy of the Goddess Gayatri and is an evocation of the spirit of ancient India reinterpreted for modern times. The chanting of the Gayatri mantra, the performance of yagnas, the recourse to ayurveda and other alternative medicines, respect for elders and other traditional values are adopted by testing them against the touchstone of scientific proof and discriminatory wisdom.
And to think it all began with one man!
The Gayatri Pariwar is the embodiment of the vision of Pandit Shriram Sharma Acharya, lovingly referred to as Gurudev by all. He was born on September 20, 1911, in a small village in Agra. At the age of 15, he started having visions of a yogi known by the name of Swami Sarveshwarananda who then became his initiator. A year later, he met him in the Himalayas in astral form during his first pilgrimage. He quotes in his autobiography, ‘The direct result of this pilgrimage was that my carnal mind was totally subdued and my higher self won decisively.’
Moving steadfast on his guru’s path he started the Gayatri sadhana, consisting of chanting the Gayatri mantra. He set himself a momentous goal – that of chanting the mantra for 24 mahapurashcharanas, each consisting of 2.4 million recitations while maintaining strict discipline on oneself. It took him 24 years to achieve this. He also whole-heartedly participated in the Freedom Struggle of India under the inspiring guidance of Mahatma Gandhi.
In 1943, he married Bhagwati Devi, lovingly known as Mataji. When he completed the 24 mahapurashcharanas in 1953, he established Gayatri Tapobhumi at Mathura at the bidding of his guru. Mathura remained the hub of Gurudev’s sadhana for a very long time, his purity attracting a multitude of devotees. This was how the ‘Gayatri Pariwar’ was born. Virshwar Upadhaya, Gurudev’s companion in Mathura, and now a member of the Gayatri Pariwar’s Managing Committee, says, ‘Gurudev always wanted to work for the happiness of others, without any compromise. I was lucky to be associated with him since an early stage.’
In 1971 he instituted the mission’s headquarters at Shantikunj in the holy city of Hardwar, as a society for moral and spiritual awakening and training. Here he began the revival of ancient spiritual disciplines that were the hallmarks of Indian culture. A saint and scholar, he wrote 3,000 books in his lifetime, which are being collected in 108 volumes, of which 70 have been published already. His mammoth work includes simple Hindi translation/commentary of the four Vedas, 108 Upanishads, 20 smritis, 18 puranas.
In his own estimate, the weight of the books he has written would equal his own physical weight. Most of his literature is available on their official website without copyright, for his main motive was to disseminate his teachings far and wide.
By all accounts, he was a phenomenon. Recalls his son-in-law, Dr Pranav Pandya, ‘His command on time was remarkable. I have seen him utilizing each and every moment of time available. He wrote at one place, ‘Time is life; those who waste it are wasting their life’. The huge amount of literature written by him, the massive organization that he established, the great penance that he undertook, the number of disciples he initiated into Gayatri sadhana, his revival of rishi culture and its worldwide dissemination in its true spirit, are proof enough of his remarkable achievements.’
Gurudev is reported to have said, ‘Liberation for me means release from the clutches of desire and cravings. This I have attained; heaven for me means mingling together as a river, of the triple streams of moulding one’s life in accordance with sublime and ennobling ideals; seeing only the good in others behind the facade of appearance to the contrary; and loving others through identity of spirit. I have been bathing in this river of heavenly joy for a long time. I have now no desire either to go to heaven or attain liberation.’
He passed away on June 2, 1990. Dr Pranav Pandya, present head of the organization, says, ‘The faith of the people remained steadfast even after Gurudevji left his physical body only because he is still there with us in astral form. The mission’s following has become even vaster, which is the biggest proof that he is still with us.’
They believe that spiritual realisation is possible for all living entities irrespective of caste, creed, color, religion, region, language or sex. A human being is the creator of his own destiny and to promote self-transformation, Gurudev devised a program called Thought Transformation Movement (TTM). It consists of upasana – contemplation on divine virtues, sadhana – the practice of self-control for the acquisition of divine virtues, and aradhana – using acquired resources for the welfare of society. Members of Gayatri Parivar donate 50 paise and two hours every day to the organization. He is reported to have reiterated to his followers, ‘Do try and at least place one foot of yours on my path. I will open up all doors of material and spiritual prosperity for you.’
Anand Giriraj, 58, a follower since 1989, says, ‘I was on a spiritual quest since my youth. I came in close contact with various missions but Gayatri Pariwar touched my heart. The Thought Transformation Movement is a simple set of principles, which, if followed religiously, can lead to nirvana in this lifetime.’
Girish Desai, 45, says, ‘My life was in shambles when I came to the Gayatri Pariwar four years back. I do not know what enlightenment is, but if it is something profound, it could be attained only with the philosophy of the Gayatri Pariwar. My practice says so.’
The Gayatri Pariwar, as the name suggests, believes in the powerful force moderating the entire humanity, Goddess Gayatri, the goddess of wisdom and pure intelligence. She is also considered the protector of the vital life force. The Gayatri mantra is the most revered mantra of the Vedic tradition. I spoke to a couple of toddlers who were still learning to speak, but to my amazement they knew the Gayatri mantra by heart, with reasonable pronunciation. To make the greatest ever Vedic mantra at the center of sadhana and giving it the respect due to it, is Gurudev’s most significant achievement.
The yagna therapy forms another significant aspect of their practice. It has been scientifically proven to reduce air pollution and is beneficial in the treatment of various diseases. Research has proved that inhalation of yagna fumes purifies the quality of blood.
Padma Hiraskar, 36, a Pune-based housewife and follower since 1996, says, ‘My arrogance and short temper disappeared, my tolerance level went up and I am now capable of understanding what is right and what is wrong, ever since I became initiated into the Gayatri sadhana. I regularly chant the mantra and attend the yagnas as and when they take place.’
These traditional practices have been validated through the use of science. Pankaj Shukla, a follower for the past 12 years, says, ‘They do not ask followers to follow the traditions blindly; they have proven their benefits; that is what appealed to me in the first place.’ The devotees who come for meditation camps are required to undergo a medical checkup, once at the time of inception and the other after its completion, to see the physical improvements for themselves.
The organization is also firm in its commitment to the uplift of women. Gayatri Parivar actually trains women even to do karma kand (rituals).
Says B L Shastri, a renowned astrologer, ‘It is because of the Gayatri Pariwar that women today enjoy the same respect as men do.’ The main aim of the TTM is to establish:
o Rise of divinity in human beings and heavenly atmosphere on earth
o Individual, familial and societal refinement o Healthy body, pure mind and civilized society
o Atmavat sarvabhooteshu – all living beings are soul kins,
o Vasudhaiv kutumbakam – The world is one family
o One nation, one language, one religion, one government
o Everyone should get equal opportunity for self-growth
The sprawling headquarters of the organization is impressively self-sufficient, consisting of meditation halls, canteen, library, alternative therapy department, a hi-tech sound system and departments for every activity. Shantikunj is fully equipped to accommodate 1,000 residents and over 4,000 guests at any given point of time. Everywhere, there is sustained and focused activity. Ceremonies like mundans and marriages happen ongoingly and training to conducts these sanskars is also given. Elsewhere, discourses are going on. Different duration sadhana camps are on too.
While exploring, I reached a huge pier with two tiny marble temples, in front of which children as well as adults alike were bowing with deep respect. I later learned that the temples contained the marble footprints of Pandit Shriram Sharma Acharya and Mata Bhagwati Devi Sharma. There is also a Gayatri temple halfway in the complex. Life-size mirrors are adjusted on one wall for everyone to see the reflection of their own true self, unclouded by illusions. When I saw my reflection, for the first time I felt I was looking at the real me.
Situated at a distance of a few kilometers, amidst beautiful countryside, are their research centre and university. The former is called Bhahmvarchas Research Institute and the latter Dev Sanskriti Vishwavidyalaya. The research centre conducts studies to find the scientific basis to puja – archana, spirituality, divinity and morality. They have an EEG machine, with ongoing projects to study body-mind and parapsychological aspects of consciousness. There is a machine to study the human aura and bio-energy.
The university is nothing like a university, it is more or less a practical training institute, imparting bachelor’s degree in traditional courses as well as modern day courses such as mass communication. Herbaceous plants are mass cultivated at the university campus. They are refined and processed naturally and sold at specific outlets at nominal price throughout the country.
Krishna, a young consultant at the research center, says, ‘I came here as a student, but could not leave this organization; this place is so beautiful.’
Others agree. Divyesh Vyas, the head of the media division, says, ‘I am an engineer, and I used to work with ONGC; once I came here I could not go back.’ Kirtan Desai, a faculty member at the university, says, ‘Everything is in accord with nature over here. I won’t leave it for anything in this world.’
The Simple Life
I got to learn the true meaning of a salubrious lifestyle during my stay. A day within the organization starts as early as 3.30 am, a sacred time, according to the Vedas. The officials, trainees and other devotees gather in the courtyard to offer morning prayers and to chant the Gayatri mantra, followed by meditation kriyas. Then comes the yagna, performed with great solemnity. Everyone then forms a line for the darshan of Akhand Deep, which is a lighted lamp. Initially lit by Gurudev on Basant Panchmi day in the year 1926, it has been kept uninterruptedly lit since then as a symbol of enlightenment.
The rest of the day is spent on discourses, sermons, chants and video shows. Two meals per day are given free of charge to anyone who is present at the Gayatri Pariwar. At exact six pm I saw a sight, which left me open-mouthed. A soft congregational music enveloped the entire premises for fifteen minutes. This time is reserved for Naadyog meditation. The gates are closed, and no one is allowed to come in or move out. The vast complex comes to a complete standstill, people transfixed to their positions in deep meditation.
I learnt from the facilitators that apart from a slight delay during winters, the entire day’s activities remain the same the whole year round.
The transparency of their actions won my heart; they are what they say they are. Dr Pranav Pandya says, ‘Many corporate executives come here to learn the art of management. The practicalities of a situation cannot be taught theoretically.’
Gayatri Pariwar is about unity and the scope of realisation is broad. Ahanya Hazare, a 19- year-old BDS student from Nagpur, says, ‘I was born as a part of the Pariwar as my grandparents were associated with it. The peace that I have in my heart is because of my association with it.’ He narrated an incident where his family conducted a yagna in prison and three Muslim prisoners chanted the Gayatri mantra and became followers.
My visit was nearing an end now but the image that the Gayatri Pariwar has established in my heart will stay with me for life. Their principles of living life are very simple. But there is a profundity and naturalness in that simplicity that convinces me that this is the way to go.
Contact: All World Gayatri Pariwar, Gayatri Teerth – Shantikunj
Haridwar, Uttaranchal, India – 249411, www.awgp.org
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