Spiritual Sites as Sources of Social Transformation:
Lessons from Svadhyaya
by Makarand Paranjape, A. M., PhD

Postscript: Manushya Gaurav Diwas

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Postscript: Manushya Gaurav Diwas

19 October 1996, Mumbai. Dadaji's birthday, also celebrated as the Manushya Gaurav Diwas. Over 3.5 lakh Svadhyayis from all over India came to the Chaupati beach to felicitate Dadaji. It was also the day when the first Svahayayi cargo ship, Jayashree, was to be launched. This ship had been built entirely out of voluntary labor, without the loss of a single day's wages. After a full day's work, the volunteers worked from 7-11 PM each day for months to realize this ambitious dream. In fact, the whole ship was built entirely out of bhakti, perhaps for the first time in human history. The ship, whose carrying capacity was about 600 tonnes, was worth more than a hundred crore rupees.

When we entered the city, we saw large processions of Svadhyayis moving towards the Chaupati. The parking lots from Marine Drive to Nariman Point were crowded with Svadhyayi buses and vehicles. Later, from the stage, we saw a sea of humanity which almost rivaled the Arabian sea itself. But what was remarkable was the total discipline and orderliness of the assembled people. They were divided into manageable lots, each with a leader. Each lot was identified by special caps or clothes. The arrangements, as usual, were flawless. Different groups of Svadhyayis had assumed various responsibilities; some had built the stage, other took care of lighting, still others of crowd control, and so on. What was remarkable was that as soon as people sat down, they were offered water to drink by a group of Svadhyayi ladies. The logistics of providing drinking water to over 3.5 lakh people were mind boggling, to say the least. But that was just one example of Svadhyaya in action.

There were several speakers that evening, all of whom felicitated Dadaji. The VIP enclosure near the stage was full of various dignitaries, including the Deputy Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Shri L. K. Advani, two of the Hinduja brothers, and several other important people. An unforgettable sight was Maulana Wahiduddin Khan's offering his namaz while Dadaji's pravachan was going on. What better demonstration could one get of the communal harmony so aptly depicted in the large, all-religious symbol on stage?

There were several notable speakers including Rahul Dev, Rev. Samdhong Rinpoche, Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, a senior Catholic priest, Shri Ved Prakash Vaidik, and so on. Some even likened Dadaji to an avatar. The process of deification was quite obvious in the evening's proceedings. Yet, it was Dadaji himself, who struck a different note. Turning away the attention from himself and his achievements, he spoke about human dignity. When all of us had gathered there to celebrate Human Dignity Day, surely the question arose as to what the source of human dignity was.

Dadaji said that it was conventionally thought that human dignity came from wealth, education, social status, and so on, all of which were conferred from the outside. However, he asked, if this were so, then about 80% of Indians could never hope to have any dignity. Dignity, he said, came not from wealth, education, or power, but from character. Alas, no one was interested today in character building. Even the present education system was ignoring this prime need.

Character, said Dadaji, came from kritagnata, namrata, tejasvita, and asmita - from gratitude, humility, integrity, and identity. When we are no longer grateful to our Creator, how can we be grateful to anyone else? Thus, We are bound to neglect our obligations to our parents, to our friends, to our community, and to the nation too. Similarly, namrata, or humility, though a hallmark of Indian culture, is disappearing from our midst. We have become rude, aggressive, and violent. Given the prevailing predominance of corruption, we tend to lose our integrity quite easily. Finally, we have forgotten who we are, what our identities are. Without these four virtues we lose our character and when character is lost, we also lose wealth, prestige, honor, and independence.

Dadaji's speech was rivetting. It went into the very heart of the matter. While the other speakers, however inspiring, could only offer praise or best wishes, Dadaji was actually pointing the way to self-transformation. Without Dadaji's speech, the whole evening would have remained incomplete. Even the massive crowds, the impressive fireworks, the large turnout of VIPs, the cargo ship - all these would have paled into relative insignificance. After all, the latter were material achievements which could be duplicated, even bettered. But what Dadaji offered was far greater. It was the very stuff that could connect the human with the Divine. It was that for which I thirsted, I realized instantly, nothing less.

Once again, I understood that the essential core of Svadhaya, was this tremendous, transformative energy which Dadaji generated from within himself. Without it, it would be like any other movement, more innovative perhaps, but not fundamentally different. My original intuition was now doubly confirmed: Svadhyaya, whatever be its external manifestation, implied going inwards, tapping that perennial source of spiritual power which comes to us directly from our Creator. Svadhyaya helps us activate and awaken that inner power. Without such a deep transformation and awakening, all our efforts will be wasted. In more ways than one, this great event on 19 October, 1996, brought to a completion my introduction to Svadhyaya.


Bibliographical Note

The secondary material on Svadhyaya is not very extensive. Much of it consists of newspaper reports, personal accounts, and travelogues. Most of it has been collected by Rajiv Vohra in the Svadhyaya Special Issue of the Hindi Gandhi Marg (March-April 1996). The July-August 1996 issue also has some interesting discussions arising out of the response to the Special Issue. In contrast, there is a considerable body of primary material published by the movement itself. This includes transcripts of Dadaji's pravachans and several books on Indian traditions and culture. Available in Marathi, Gujarati, Hindi, and English, this material can be ordered from Sat Vichar Darshan, Nirmal Niketan, 2 Dr. Bhajekar Lane, Mumbai-400004.

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