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From: Vasudha Narayanan (vasu_at_religion.ufl.edu)
Date: Fri Oct 11 1996 - 12:51:10 PDT

I was asked by Sri Vijay Srinivasan what we can do to revive the
enthusiastic celebration of festivals.  I was under the impression that most
members of this group were already steadfast in anushtana, to the best of
their abilities in this country.  I'm afraid I have no special thoughts
about how we can do this -- I am also one struggling to juggle the special
need to keep some vestiges of our practices along with the overwhelming work
that all of us have.  However, there are small things I started doing when
my children were born -- they are nothing special, nothing new, nothing
worth speaking about, but I will briefly mention the most "successful"
efforts.  I measure the success only on one criterion here-- the degree of
spontaneous joy with which my children (Desika is 16, Ramanujan is almost
11) do it and how it has helped other children in the community be aware of
some aspects of our tradition.  (1) By the time the children started to
speak I started teaching them to "loudly" recite simple prayers like
Jnanaananda mayam devam, verses from Tiruppavai etc.  The physical beauty
and rythmn of the words (not to mention the meaning) is enough to enthrall
children and when they learn these at 2 years, they are not going to forget
it. It is very, very comforting for them to say these throughout their
lives. (2) My second son was born on Bhootatalvar's tirunakshatram; it
happened to be Saraswati Pujai in 1985.  The following year I revived
celebrating navaratri, just as my mother and grandmother did, even though my
friends told me I don't have to if I don't have daughters.  The kolu was
very simple the first few years; now more than 100 south Indians come with
friends from all over north central Florida  to hear the music and see what
special themes are on each year.  We try to do some new scenes, and recycle
old ones; in the past we have done Sri Venkateswara Kalyanam, Andal
kalyanam, Ramayanam, Stories of Krishna etc. I made the boys identify scenes
from our epics, make dolls for the characters and tell me why they liked
these scenes.  Starting them young helped; I don't think they would start
doing it after they are older; friends brought their children to help, and
of course, our kids will do anything their friends do! (It is a major
investment of time). Again, it is important for both parents to show
interest, even if one does not have the time; so the father *or* mother can
take the major responsibility, and the other should be encouraging.
Likewise, the children seem to enjoy drawing Krishna's little feet for Sri
Jayanthi etc. even now.  The kolu has a universal appeal and kids from all
Indian families look forward to it and I hope, learn from it. Major lack of
success: my kids do not appreciate Carnatic music the way we want them to.
Hopefully it will change some day.  I am sorry for this long post; however,
my children do not understand or care about the subtleties of our
philosophy, and I grope at what I can to tune them in. Suggestions from
other parents on what we can do will be accepted with joy.

I have one comment to make on the intersting discussion going on about the
secret/public nature of the meaning of the rahasyas.  I am fascinated
because I did not find this discussion when the great books went to print,
or the vedas were made into cassettes-- in short, there is public
dissemination of all this material, including meaning, in the great
commentaries of Uttamur Viraraghavacharyiar swami, Oppiliappan Swami, Sri
Prativadi Bhayankaram Annangarachariar, et al. Again, one can read these
when one is ritually or physically impure, and for any number of reasons,
including criticize them. But everyone has noted, and I think this is the
most relevant point, that there is no equal to studying under an acharya.
When that privilege is not here, we all learn from each other, and our
enthusiasm and desire to learn (the ruchi) gives us at least some sense of
minimal adhikara.  We have come together because of grace; we should not
forget that.  I would like to recount a small incident which humbled me.  In
1975, I was doing my Ph.D (the topic was "The Srivaishnava understanding of
bhakti and prappati: Alvars to Vedanta Desika").  There was no problem to
study alvar pasurangal and the commentaries of Periyavacchan Pillai etc; my
grand uncle, Sri V.S. Jagannathan who was involved with the Vishistadvaita
Pracharini Sabha introduced me to Sri C. Jagannathachariar of Vivekananda
College.  It was my fortune to study the commentaries and later, Sri Vachana
Bhushanam with him.  But when I wanted to study the commentaries of Swami
Desikan on Stotra ratnam, Gadya trayam and Chatussloki, Sri M.S.
Rajagopalachariar, the resident pandit at Sri Desika bhavanam (Madras) kept
telling me he was busy.  He made me ask him several times over two months;
later on, he taught me all of them.  I learnt several years later that he
knew it was not correct to teach an unmarried girl (I had no "initiation")
doing a Ph.D these texts which involved explanations of the rahasyas as
well.  Eventually he apparently took the problem to Andavan Swami, who after
hearing about the quandary, said that if I was really interested, to teach
me, and that it was necessary to teach those who were keen.  Please note
that the issue was not learning from live teacher vs. learning from book or
internet; it was that of adhikara based on initiation, marriage, studying
for a Phd and not exclusively for a spiritual quest.  But the general point
is that there was compromise on the part of the acharyas on these important
principles, and they were willing to be flexible on some counts.  I think
this kind of group is a good substitute for us living in the diaspora. At
least, unlike books, we can ask each other questions, as we can ask our
teachers; also we all know the limits of our knowledge and authority and
know we can only lead people in the general correct direction with the words
of our purvacharyas.  Please forgive me for this long post.  Vasudha Narayanan