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Report: Sivananda Conference 2024

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Divine Life Society of South Africa held the Sivananda Conference on 1 and 2 June 2024, as part of its Centenary Celebrations commemorating Sri Swami Sivananda's 100th Sannyas Anniversary. The Sivananda Conference was held at Sivanandashram, Reservoir Hills on Saturday 1 June from 1pm to 6pm, and at Sivananda International Cultural Centre (SICC) on Sunday 2 June 2024 from 6am until 3pm.

Divine Life Society of South Africa is hosting its Centenary Celebrations in and 2025, because the Society celebrates three significant events during 2024 and 2025, namely: Swami Sivananda's 100thSannyas Anniversary in 2024, the 100th Birth Anniversary of Sri Swami Sahajananda (1925 – 2007), Spiritual Head of Divine Life Society of South Africa in 2025, and the 75th Anniversary of Divine Life Society of South Africa in 2024.

It is with deep and profound gratitude to Sri Gurudev and Pujya Swami Sahajananda that we report on the Sivananda Conference.

Almost a year of planning and preparations saw the realisation of a cherished dream of ardent devotees, when almost 1 850 devotees, well-wishers, donors, members of the public and patrons of the Society graced the Sivananda Conference over the two days, and paid tributes to one of the foremost saints of the 20th century. The theme of the Conference was, "Our Glorious Hindu Dharma: Swami Sivananda's Life and Legacy".


Saturday 1 June 2024: Session1: 1pm – 3pm:

On Saturday 1 June 2024, the first session of the Conference comprised the official opening of the Conference, welcome and overview of the programme, lighting of ceremonial lamps, performances by guest artistes, branch cultural items, a presentation on "The Divine Personality of Sri Swami Sivananda" and closure.

Our Estcourt Branch Spiritual Darlings enthralled the audience with their dance entitled, "Nine Forms of Devotion and Siva Tandav Dance". Estcourt Branch also recited the Ramayana. The Pietermaritzburg Branch skilfully brought out the misconceptions of the lay public about Swami Sivananda's work and teachings. The play, "People versus Sivananda", a powerful courtroom drama, enacted with skill and dexterity, brought home the message that Swami Sivananda's teachings and legacies will stand the test of misguided understanding and resistance, and will shine as a beacon of hope for ardent spiritual seekers, spiritual aspirants and humanity, now and always.

SC24 SHIVA NATARAJANThe Manormani Dance Academy which had the distinct honour of being invited by Pujya Swami Sahajananda in the past to perform at our major celebrations and official openings of schools in rural areas, presented two dance items, which were done by young dancers of the renowned Academy. Archaria Rathna, Isaiselvamani V Karthiegasen Pillay, South Africa's seniormost and leading Carnatic and most versatile vocalist, sang soul-stirring Kirtans and Bhajans.

An address by Sri Bala Nadasen on the "Divine Personality of Sri Swami Sivananda", captured the Master's personality, teachings and legacies with logic and coherence. The following excerpt from the address provides the gestalt of the presentation: "In the book, The Mighty Godman of our Age, Sri Swami Krishnananda, seniormost disciple of Sri Swami Sivananda states, 'The purpose of Sri Gurudev's coming into this world and the intention behind the coming of any sage and saint, is the waking of the slumbering soul of mankind. His teaching is usually summed up in a pithy statement: 'God first, world next, yourself last.' This statement, this little message, this one-sentence teaching perhaps sums up the great gospel of life which brings God to the Earth. This is the divine personality of Swami Sivananda"! Pujya Swami Sahajananda states that the status and the spiritual dignity which Divine Life Society commands today is the fruit of his (Sri Gurudev's) Tapas and his spiritual stature. Pujya Swamiji further explained that Gurudev's teaching is that all success is the result of Tapas. There cannot be a saint without Tapas. There is no spirituality without Tapas. And Tapas is the same as Sannyasa. It is not wearing an ochre-coloured or yellow robe. But it is an entry into the dedicated life of austerity and control of oneself. The speaker further explained that "Regarding the Divine Personality of Swami Sivananda, Pujya Swami Sahajananda states, 'The Master radiated peace and serenity because he was himself filled with the peace and serenity of God.... His practical life taught us that we, too, can realise God in and through life without having to resort to caves and jungles. His life was the perfect example of the teachings of the holy scriptures'."


Saturday 1 June 2024 Session 2: Satsang: 3.45pm – 6.15pm

Ganga Arati commenced at 3.45pm. The Satsang programme comprised Kirtans, Bhajans, Pujya Swami Sahajananda's audio message, a reading from N. Ananthanarayanan's biography of Sri Swami Sivananda, From Man to God-man, a message from Divine Life Society of South Africa, a keynote address by the guest-of-honour, dance items and the release of the Sannyas Brochure.

Pujya Swami Sahajananda's audio message focused on our Master's intense Tapas, his spirit of renunciation and the need for us to follow the path of Swadharma – the duty of an individual according to his disposition so as to purify the mind and transform spiritually. To illustrate this, Pujya Swamiji recounted a story of a Sannyasin who was seeking alms and came to a palace where a marriage proposal was in progress. When the princess saw the Sannyasin amongst the many suitors, she chose him and garlanded him. Disgusted, the young Sannyasin threw the garland down and ran away, to be followed by the princess. Having reached a forest, the princess and her entourage spent the night under a tree, on which were some householder birds. The birds regarded the humans as their guests and fell into the fire, so as to offer themselves as a meal to their guests. The birds sacrificed themselves, this being their Swadharma. Pujya Swamiji said that "If you do your duty, that is the most important thing". Like the sannyasin who threw away the garland, a sannyasin should have the highest degree of renunciation. Pujya Swamiji further explained that we are enjoying the fruit of the Master's intense Tapas and spirit of renunciation. A father leaves behind his wealth to his children. If we are enjoying good health and prosperity today, it is because of Gurudev's Sadhana, Tapas and Grace.

The commemorative Sannyas Brochure contains priceless information relating to our Master's Sannyas initiation and his spiritual practices which give one a deeper insight into his life. Dr Kuppuswami was initiated into the Holy Order of Sannyas on 1 June 1924 by the venerable Swami Vishwananda Saraswati. From that day onward, he became known as Swami Sivananda Saraswati. The fire of his Tapasya, his burning desire for God and his deep compassion for suffering humanity are all hallmarks of a spiritual giant who blessed the soil of India. The brochure recounts his life and teachings, based on ancient Hindu scriptures, Sri Swami Sivananda made significant contributions to the world in the fields of religion, health care, education, philosophy, culture, the promotion of ethical values, and other disciplines. These fields are covered in the estimated 250 books he wrote. Devotees and the public will definitely find the Sannyas Brochure a priceless jewel to savor for years to come.

An excerpt from the message from the Society, pregnant with meaning, is reproduced herewith. "Sri Swami Sivananda's spiritual aura has spread across India and the world, touching countless lives and inspiring generations to follow the path of a Divine Life, and aspire for Self realisation. His teachings are encapsulated in the cardinal tenets: Life is short. Time is fleeting. Realize the Self. Purity of the heart is the gateway to God. Serve, Love, Give, Purify, Meditate and Realise. Be good; do good. Be kind; be compassionate. Enquire, know Thyself. These remain ever fresh and continue to guide countless souls on their spiritual journey".

SC24 NATESHWARThe Nateshwar Dance Academy, a haven for those who seek to immerse themselves in the rich cultural heritage of India, presented two dance items through mesmerising expressions, colourful costumes, dexterous sequences and artistic beauty. The dances, Ganesh Stuti – Ekdant Pratham Naman, in praise of Lord Ganesha, and Khana Re, a special item dedicated to Lord Krishna, where the dancer portrays His playful and mischievous nature, as well as His wisdom and compassion, were both enthralling, graceful and beautifully executed.

The keynote address by Dr Thelma John David, Honourable Consul General of India in Durban, paid glowing tributes to Sri Swami Sivananda, his life and legacies, as well as the illustrious work of Sri Swami Sahajananda and Divine Life Society of South Africa. The talk focused on the Master's literary charity through his profound writings, and how these influence the world. Indeed, the simple, yet profound, and lucid contents of the Master's books, have left indelible impressions on readers. Swami Sahajananda through his vision and foresight led the work of the Society with distinction. Honourable Consul General also focused on the roles of the Society in poverty alleviation through its school-building and other projects, Pujya Swamiji bringing the sacred Ganga to South Africa through our Ganga Ranis, and the link between the South African Indian diaspora and our motherland, India. The role of the Society in nation-building and in education were highlighted, as well as its contribution to upholding Hindu Dharma.


Sunday 2 June 2024: Session 1: 6am – 8am

SC24 STALLSThe morning Sadhana programme was resplendent in an array of spiritually elevating items. Guided meditation by Smt Madhu Patel, highlighting Swami Sivananda's basic principles in meditation, gave the congregation a holistic view of the techniques and benefits of meditation. The soulful ambience of the Prayer Hall created the most conducive environment for this refreshing and invigorating exercise. Guided Meditation was followed by Havan. The chants of sacred Mantras and the offering of oblations charged the atmosphere, setting the tone for the day's events that were yet to unfold.

The presentation by the youth boys, a television interview, was both informative and educational. The topic, "Sri Swami Sivananda on the Power of Prayer as a Pathway to Peace", brought forth the inestimable power of prayer, necessary for inner peace and mental poise. The topics for discussion were Pranayama, Mantra Chanting, Likhit Japa, the Sri Hanuman Chalisa, Agnihotra, Satsang and Ganga Arati, which are essential for inner peace. The following quotation on prayer by Swami Sivananda underscored the presentation. "Prayer generates good spiritual currents and produces tranquillity of mind. If you pray regularly, your life will be gradually changed and moulded. Prayer must become habitual. If Prayer becomes a habit with you, you will feel as if you cannot live without It". In respect of chanting of Mantras, Gurudev says that the best form of prayer is complete surrender to the Lord. Surrender contains within itself all prayers. It is the essence of all Tapas and austerities. When you completely surrender to the Lord, then He Himself holds your hand and leads you safely to Himself. Satsang is association with saints, sages or the spiritually minded, engaging in prayer, study of scriptures and chanting the Divine Name. Sri Gurudev regarded chanting as a powerful tool for spiritual transformation and inner awakening.

Swarang – a musical odyssey was performed by talented and renowned musicians, Manesh Ramjathan, Dr Avin Rugnath and Saahil Bridglall, who skilfully brought out the meaning of "Swarang" – which roughly translates to the "Colours of Music". A unique feature of the presentation was the playing on the santoor – a musical instrument generally made of walnut, which has 25 bridges with a total of 100 strings. The mellifluous music of the group was beautiful, spiritual and highly elevating, bringing the morning's programme to an irresistible close. SC24 BHAGIRATHI

Ganga Arati commenced at 8.30am. Parallel to Ganga Arati, was an array of stalls, exhibiting memorabilia, souvenirs, gifts, sewing school items, Sunlit Path products (plants, soya products, health foods and artefacts), a Yoga Camp Awareness stall and a Sunlit Path Schools' stand, creating awareness of social ills, namely drug addiction, alcoholism, smoking, gambling, suicidal tendencies, and coping strategies.


Sunday 2 June 2024: Session 2: 10am – 12pm

SC24 SONG OF SALUTATIONSThe Satsang programme comprised Kirtans, Bhajans, readings from How to get Peace of Mind, and Swami Sivananda in Pictures, Pujya Swami Sahajananda's audio message and dance items.

Pujya Swamiji's message focused on the glory of renunciation, and power of meditation and Sadhana. Referring to true renunciation, Pujya Swamiji said, "...first we have to renounce all that belongs to the world". He further added that if one renounces because one is escaping from one's problems, spiritual life will be fraught with challenges and difficulties. The glory of renunciation is such that the mere presence of a Sannyasin "illumines everyone". Pujya Swamiji said that "India is built on Sannyasins", and alluded to the noble and great work of prominent saints such as Swami Vivekananda, Paramahansa Yogananda, Swami Omkar, Ramana Maharishi and Sri Ramakrishna. He further elaborated on the power of meditation, which can even extend to watching over and controlling one's dreams. A saint can be asleep but can be fully conscious due to intense meditation. He also alluded to Swami Ram Tirtha's intense yearning for God, his great dispassion, and his evolved magnetic personality. Being a professor of Mathematics, he renounced the world and his family to spread the message of Vedanta, later going to the United States of America. These references and anecdotes, by implication, have profound lessons for us all.

Kashmira Bhajan, a senior student of the Kala Darshan Institute of Indian Classical Music and Dance under the tutelage of Guru Shri Manesh Maharaj, presented two dance items. The first offering was dedicated to Lord Ganesha, and the second, to Lord Rama. Kashmira's excellent performance, dexterity of movements, graceful and elegance enthralled all.


Sunday 2 June 2024: Session 3: 1pm - 3pm

SC24 CONGREGATIONThe last session of the Sivananda Conference had an array of cultural items. The Shiva Natarajan Dance Institute performed two dance items. The first dance "Naadha Gana" was dedicated to Lord Ganesha, and the second dance, "Naada" to Swami Sivananda. Both the items depicted the devotee's immense love and adoration for God and Guru. Performed by Kumari Pameshree Ganess and Shrimathi Vaneshree Ganess, the items were professionally and beautifully executed. They brought the beautiful Bharatanatyam art form, the oldest classical dance tradition in India dating back about 3000 years, to us in this day and age.

Dr Sarushen Pillay made a presentation on "Sri Swami Sivananda on Karma Yoga – its practical implications for younger people". An insightful talk, punctuated with quotations of Sri Swami Sivananda on Karma Yoga, the talk was lucid and pertinent. Our Phoenix Branches made their love offering with a medley of Kirtans and Bhajans by our Spiritual Darlings, to the accompaniment of music by the adult musicians. Youth girls brought to the fore, Sri Swami Sivananda's cardinal teachings, namely: benefits of Satsang, the Divine Name, meditation, Sadhana, vegetarianism, power of prayer, need for a Guru and the Yoga of Synthesis. The exceptionally well-researched presentation carried the Master's potent message of Divine Life succinctly.

SC24 VIJAYVijayluxmi Balakrishna, a renowned musician, dancer and singer, as well as a radio personality, presently on Southside FM, sang inspiring Kirtans and Bhajans. Her professionalism, talent and love for the Master and Pujya Swamiji, were evident in her renditions. Risa Raeanne Moodley, a young student of music, is tutored by Guruji Monali. Her melodious rendition of Kirtans and Bhajans, her stage presence and deep understanding of her musical genres, are highly commendable. Her performance was a fitting closure to the Sivananda Conference.

SC24 YOUTH GIRLSWhat impact do the Centenary Celebrations, and in particular, the Sivananda Conference have on us? The take home message is definitely one of leading a Divine Life in the midst of all the trials and tribulations of this earthly plane; one of upholding our glorious Hindu Dharma; one of peace and service to mankind. For each one of us to become a beacon light to suffering humanity. What we take from these celebrations, is an individual prerogative. Let us hope that this "spiritual wave" penetrates our very beings, and as Sri Swami Sivananda said, "The pious, receptive attitude prevalent on such an occasion draws forth the Grace of the Guru and God upon the devotees".

Sri Swami Sivananda, a man amongst men, a jewel amongst saints, a diamond amidst grains of sand, a symbol of hope for the crest-fallen – walked this earth but once, but the theme of the Sivananda Conference, "Our Glorious Hindu Dharma: Swami Sivananda's Life and Legacy", live on! Can we be ever more grateful? 

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Sri Swami Sivananda

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