Happiness, contentment, peace… Bhanu Swamigal links them all to devotion.
Bhanu Swamigal brims with positive energy. Devotion is a way of life for this monk, who recommends it as a panacea for all social ills. His prescription is simple chanting. According to him, devotion inculcates discipline, teaches humility and spreads love. It facilitates internal purification. “Absolutely essential for a crime-free society, right?” laughs the missionary. He believes that congregation of people with the same wavelength is sure to foster good will and peace.
Chennai has been Bhanu Swamigal’s base although he makes visits to the ISKCON headquarters in Mumbai, to Mayapur, the birthplace of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu near Kolkata, and so on.
Bhanu Swamigal, Japanese, was born in Canada, where he completed his education. Oriental Fine Arts was his subject at the University of British Columbia. “I was looking for an alternative to materialism. Money and position made life comfortable but something was lacking. Real happiness was still elusive,” he says about his past. Sri Prabhu Pada visited Canada and the U.S. to spread Krishna awareness.
“‘Hare Rama Hare Krishna…,’ the chant was catchy and soothing. Many took to the mantra and among them were those absolutely disillusioned with the materialistic world and desperately wanted a change. They had sought refuge in alcohol and drug, spawning a whole new culture. The ‘Hare Rama…’ concept drew them into its fold and cleansing had begun. “It is not possible to belong to the order and indulge in vices,” informs the Swami.
Quite a few of them came to India too. “Yes. But the hippie culture, as it was called, slowly faded out,” observes the Swami who accompanied Prabhu Pada when he returned. “He gave me diksha and it was as if I was born again.” That was in 1971. Has he evolved in the past 40 years?
“Certainly. My faith in the path I have chosen has become stronger. It is more relevant now than in any other age. People are chasing something or the other, setting themselves a frenetic pace. But there is no satisfaction. On the contrary, they reel under the burden which they have invited upon themselves. Devotion, especially chanting, is the best stabilising medium.”
“Oh, He is so charming, so reachable, in spite of his divinity. He played all the pranks that a mischievous child would, allowed himself to be tied, dallied with young girls and ruled like a monarch. All these may have layers and layers of meaning. But His expectation is simple – do your duty and follow Dharma. This he has codified in the Bhagavad Gita, a text that transcends religion. It is for all.”
Bhanu Swamigal lectures on the Gita at the temple. “The Upanishads may be abstract, but not so the Gita,” he stresses. He is enriching ISKCON literature by translating scriptures and the epics from Sanskrit and Bengali to English.
The new ISKCON temple, whose design was conceived by the swami, is based on the principle of universal love. “Age, caste, community, religion… nothing is a barrier here,” explains a volunteer. The thought is echoed by the swami when he points out to the prayer hall of massive proportions. “It is bathed in sun light with plenty of air flow. The idea is to welcome visitors to the open ambience,” he says.
It is indeed a new experience to see the huge images of Radha and Krishna, sculpted out of white marble sourced from Jaipur, neem wood figures of Baldev, Subhadra and Jagannath, gaily painted and brightly clothed. The priest offers a fruit, flower and tulsi as prasad. “Anybody who gets himself trained in the regimen can be the priest,” says Bhanu Swamigal. “You don’t have to renounce to serve here. Married men and women contribute equally to the growth of the organisation, taking part in the activities,” he adds.
Bhanu Swamigal has combined Silpa sastra, vastu sastra and his knowledge of the scriptures to fashion the temple. “Never mind the design factor. The bottom line is that people should come in thousands to feel the vibration and go back energised. Forget worries, come unburden yourself here. Let’s make life simple,” beckons the beaming monk.
Representation of Man
Spread on 1.5 acres, the ISKCON temple is tucked away at Injambakkam, far from the din and bustle of the city. Just a month after consecration, it looks new, saffron flags fluttering atop the vimanas. It is built in the Pallava style, Arivazhagan being the sthapati from the Mamallapuram school of architecture.
The entrance to the shrine is through steps that represent the six chakras or energy centres. The seventh chakra, sahasrara, is at the centre of the worship hall. Made of translucent onyx marble, it is lit up underneath in the evening to give a beautiful glow.
“A temple represents the visva rupa, the universe, in the form of a man,” says Bhanu Swamigal, citing the Angor Wat temple in Cambodia as an example. “The feet are the main gate and the head is the sanctum sanctorum, housing the deities. Mount Meru, representing the principal deity, is symbolised by the sikharas (peaks) over the deities,” he elaborates. At this temple, the sikharas are in (Odisha style).
The worship hall has huge windows embellished by Vijaya Govinda Dasa's paintings that shimmer in the streaming sunlight. The avatars of Vishnu are depicted, each representing a direction with the corresponding yantra… Rama for East (Sun), Nrisimha for South (Mars), Krishna for North-West (Moon) and so on.
The cow and the nursing calf at the entrance form a symbol too. “The cow is a giver; it nurtures life and is a personification of Dharma. Here it stands for the Earth. You take care of it, it gives. You abuse it, it stops producing,” the Swami explains.
Expansion plans are on the anvil, including a marriage hall with a full-fledged kitchen. Work will progress as and when funds trickle in.