Festivals Bind Souls together

In Conversation with Author Ravi Valluri

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RAVI VALLURI retired from the Indian Railway Traffic Service as the Principal Chief Commercial Manager, Southern Railway, Chennai and has worked at several places on different zonal railways. He has also served in Mil Rail (Army Headquarters), where he was decorated with the Chief of Army Staff award.

Currently he is the CEO of Chhattisgarh East Railway Ltd. & Chhattisgarh East-West Railway Ltd. at Raipur, Chhattisgarh.

Born in Kanpur on 14th December, 1962 and brought up in Delhi, he was educated at St. Xavier’s School, Delhi. He completed his B. Com (Honours) from Hindu College, Delhi University and did his Master’s in Business Economics from Delhi University. Subsequently he was sponsored by the Ministry of Railways for the National Management Programme (Executive MBA) from Management Development Institute, Gurugram.

He is the author of twelve books (fiction and non-fiction) – The Matter of the Mind, Make the Mind Mt. Kailasa, The Infinite Mind (co-authored with Ankush Garg), NaMo 303 Words to Victory, Indian Stories: Images & Thoughts, Heartbreak at Coffee Shop An Array of Tales, Divine Whispers 365 Quotes of H. H. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Magic of the Mind, A Tale of Parallels, A Quote A Day Inspiration 202, Art of War to Art of Living and A Story of Faith and Miracles, which is his latest book. Ravi Valluri, along with his wife Lakshmi Valluri has also curated a bi-lingual collection of short stories titled Festivals: A Ray of Hope.

Many of his books were unveiled by H. H. Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. His first book The Matter of the Mind has been translated into Telugu and is available under the title Manomoolamidham and Magic of the Mind has been translated into Tamil under the same title. His sixth book Heartbreak at Coffee Shop An Array of Tales has been translated into Hindi and NaMo 303 Word to Victory has been translated into Kannada. Divine Whispers 365 Quotes of H. H. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has been converted into an audio book and is available at audible.com. 

He is also a faculty of the Art of Living and conducts the Happiness Programme, yoga and meditation sessions of the Art of Living, besides helping counsel addicts and undertaking courses for those dependant on alcohol and drugs. He has had a penchant for theatre, music public speaking and writing since his school days and continues to fuel these interests. At present, he contributes to the Daily Pioneer. Ravi Valluri has been interviewed by Doordarshan National, Doordarshan Uttar Pradesh and Doordarshan Gorakhpur apart from appearing on Radio FM, Secunderabad and Rainbow FM, Bareilly.

The author can be reached at 9618564024 (WhatsApp) and at valluri.ravi@gmail.com. 

 

  1. What is your favorite festival and why?

Image : Author Ravi Valluri

At this time of the year people around the world are getting ready to celebrate Diwali, the festival of lights. It is one of the biggest festivals of the East which is also my favourite festival.

Deepavali- which lights up the sky with myriad colours, overcoming darkness also illuminates one’s mind, emotions, and feelings.

The sheer vibrancy adds sparkle to our lives. Since childhood, I was always soaked in fixing candles, lighting diyas, bursting crackers, wearing new clothes and gorging on delicacies. There is so much of jollity and harmony which connects us with family, friends and relatives.

 

Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar says, “Lamps are lit on this day not just to decorate homes, but also to communicate this profound truth of life. Light the lamp of wisdom and love in every heart and bring a radiant smile on every face. Diwali is also called Deepavali, which literally means rows of lights. Life has many facets and stages to it and it is important that you throw light on each of them, for life to be fully expressed. The rows of lights remind you that every aspect of life needs your attention and the light of knowledge.”

As I look back, Diwali is also associated with return of Lord Rama to Ayodhya after vanquishing the demon, Ravana and spending fourteen years in exile.  

But there is a humungous significance to the festival and about the two principal protagonists in Rama and Ravana of the Ramayana, the epic. Let us understand the meaning of these names Rama (symbolising good) and Ravana (representing the fiendish forces).

 Rama, an avatar of Lord Vishnu, is full of radiance and brilliance. He spreads luminosity through his valour, sacrifice, and exemplar behaviour.

On the other hand, Ravana though a demon was a learned king and it is believed that the ten heads of Ravana represent the six shastras and four Vedas, which he had mastered through tapasya.  Importantly the ten heads are also symbolic of lust, pride, ego, attachment, greed, anger, envy, insensitivity, hatred, and fear. Lord Rama annihilates these negative attributes in Ravana to dispel darkness, rescues his wife Sita and returns to Ayodhya.

This is the quintessential truth about Deepavali. Humans need to acquire skills to overcome such antipathetic traits and be in unalloyed pristine knowledge.

 

 

  1. How do you usually celebrate festivals with your family and friends?

Since I was with Indian Railways for long (and am still associated although in a different manner), we have been used to club functions where Holi, Janmashtami, Deepavali, Dusshera-Durga Puja, Christmas have been celebrated. The participation of all officers, staff, their families make it a wonderful association. There are cultural programmes, eating out, the usual gossip (but without rancour), which is itself a rainbow of colour and thoughts.

 

As a child I accompanied my mother and younger sister to attend Navaratri and Shivaratri Pujas at Mysore Ashram of Gyan Bodha Sabha whose spiritual master is Ganapathi Sachchidananda Swamiji.

Being a faculty of Art of Living compels me to go, along with my wife, on a peregrination to the Art of Living International Centre, Bengaluru to celebrate Shivaratri, Gurudev’s birthday, and Navaratri. The chanting of holy mantras like Rudram (propitiating Lord Shiva) and Devi Kavacham (obeisance to the Mother Goddess) reverberate in the mind and energises us totally.

 

It is also so wonderful celebrating Deepavali, Holi and New Year’s Eve with my children. We always look forward to their visits.

 

During my childhood and adolescent years, I accompanied my parents, grandmother and sibling to attend Good Friday, Easter and Christmas celebrations at Chandigarh. These religious ceremonies were solemnised by the Rt. Rev. Bishop Gilbert Rego, who was known to our family. Similarly, we also attended some of such events which were consecrated by Bishop Remegius, who was the Bishop of Kumbakonam at that time.

 

Essentially, my mother in particular, was highly catholic and spiritually inclined who eschewed rituals for the sake of rituals, which enabled us to see beyond the Hindu pantheon of deiform. The only mantra she chanted was Jai Bajrang Bali. She prayed to the Mother Goddess of Healing – Velankkini, and believed immensely in Lord Venkateswara, the presiding deity of Tirumala and in Raghavendra Swami, a Dvaita Saint of the Mantralayam Mutt. I had the opportunity to visit all these holy places and participate in various religious and spiritual festivities.

 

I fondly recall savouring seviyyan (or sweet vermicelli) at the residences of my Muslim friends both in school and college.   

Stored in my memory bank is attending the Durga Pujo at various pandals of Delhi and dancing to the beats of Garba at Baroda (now Vadodara) as probationary officers of the Indian Railway Traffic Service. It was pulsating stuff where we mingled with the Bengali and Gujarati populace learning about their culture, cuisine, vibrancy of the people and traditions which had been nourished over the years.

 

I would reckon it has been a blessing attending all these programs and soaking in the remarkable and diverse culture and traditions of India which has shaped my thought process and provided me with a pluralistic attitude. I am certainly grateful to my parents for opening these opportunities. 

 

  1. Can you share a memorable moment from a festival celebration?

Oh, there are several. But I will narrate a few instances from my memory bank. How the family went uproarious when my septuagenarian grandmother toppled from a rickety rickshaw in the cold of winter before midnight mass at Chandigarh, for which me and my sibling were squarely admonished.

 

Another was when Ganapathi Sachchidananda Swami entered the fire pit (or havan kund) during Navratri celebration; the way he produced a Shiv Linga during Shivaratri from his throat upon emerging from havan kund, which sent all the devotees in a tizzy.  

Then again, witnessing Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar slipping seamlessly into ecstasy or bhaav as the chanting of sacred mantras reached a crescendo, quite like Ramakrishna Paramahamsa attaining this blissful state of seventh heaven. These moments electrify the devout and transport them to stratospheric heights. Through Kirlian photography it has been observed that the celestials descend upon Bengaluru Ashram while the pujas take place and is indicative of the Spiritual Master’s divinity.

 

I have experienced a few singular moments during Navratri celebrations which I would like to share. The first one is when Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar unveiled my maiden book The Matter of the Mind in the presence of a huge crowd of more than fifty thousand devotes. The second is when once again he unveiled another book of mine, The Infinite Mind (which I coauthored with Ankush Garg). Another wonderful memory was when my book Namo 303 Words to Victory was released by Gurudev. I also had the unique opportunity to organise a classical dance programme by a Padma Sri awardee (also my senior in the Railways) at the sacred place where the pujas are held and then being served sumptuous prasadam on two occasions by the Master himself.

 

One can only feel humbled and count one’s blessings.

 

  1. Do you have any unique traditions or customs that you follow during festivals?

From the above the reader will observe the variety of experiences I have had. I am grateful to my ancestors, parents and my wife and of course the Spiritual Masters. I really do not fast, but do take sankalpa (the donation goes to various Art of Living projects) for the well-being of my family and the world and meditate as intensely as possible. Of late we have been contributing towards Anna Danam (this donation–will not use the word charity-goes to feed the hungry and indigent).

 

 

  1. Have you ever celebrated a festival from a different culture? How was your experience?

Attending the World Culture Festival (WCF) of the Art of Living at Delhi in 2016 and watching the others through online has been an extraordinary experience. All these events showcase talent and bring people of various faiths, cultures, traditions under one roof, which are spellbinding.

 The Art of Living Foundation documents the first edition of the WCF as 2006 at Bangalore. However, the event received little media attention as compared to the 2011 and 2016 editions.

In July 2011, the festival was organized at Berlin Olympic Stadium. The attendance was estimated at 60,000.

In 2016, the festival was held on the Yamuna floodplains in New Delhi from 11th to 13th March. It was organised by the foundation to commemorate thirty-five years in service of mankind. The event was inaugurated by Hon’ble PM of India Shri Narendra Modi.

Around 3.5 million people in audience with 37,000 artists performed over three days. The performances were held on 100 feet tall and 1,200 feet wide stage with an area of seven acres.

I had the unique opportunity to organise the transportation logistics pertaining to train travel and was seated on the dais on all the three days in close proximity to Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.

The three-day World Culture Festival 2023, from 29th of September to 1st of October 2023 held at Washington DC drew to a close after electrifying performances showcasing the cultural richness of South Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean Islands. Additionally, a diverse group of interfaith leaders graced the stage, offering prayers for global peace in their own distinctive ways and issuing a resounding call to transcend hatred and bigotry. Over a million people hailing from 180 different nations converged in an unprecedented celebration at this event. It showcased talent from across the world and focused on ‘One World family or Vasudaiva Kutumbakam’ and focussed on promoting peace and hope in the backdrop of violence in different parts of the world especially the Russian-Ukraine conflict.

 

 

  1. In your opinion, how do festivals help in creating stronger bonds among people?

In my opinion celebrating festivals bring about a spirit of togetherness. Festivals bring with them a spirit of togetherness and belonging amongst people. Festivals bring joy and happiness to people. It is an occasion to help other people in society and to give back in the spirit of joy and giving.

 

One has to transcend petty egos, squabbles and work for a common goal to celebrate the festivals. As always there would be naysayers, but the collective synergy of the faithful creates a robust bonding among people.

 

 

  1. What is the most interesting or unusual festival you have heard of or experienced?

India is a land of festivals, where people from different religions coexist harmoniously. The wide variety of festivals celebrated in India reflects a true manifestation of its rich culture and traditions. There are several Indian festivals and celebrations, the most exciting of which are mentioned below. While the celebrations happen all over the year, October till January is the real period when the country can be seen at its vibrant best.

India is one country where every religion and community celebrates their culture. There are festivals of India state wise, religion-based, and community-wise.

  But there are two festivals I would like to attend and I share them below.

  During my visit to Kochi, I visited a quaint synagogue adjoining a temple called the Pardesi Synagogue.

This is a historic place of worship located in Kochi, Kerala, India. It is one of the oldest active synagogues in the Commonwealth of Nations and is an important symbol of the Jewish heritage in Kerala.  We were informed that only two Jews attend the weekly ceremony every week and the annual festival hosts around 100 odd Jews from across the country and the world. It would be fascinating to attend the celebrations.

 This Jewish Synagogue in Kochi was constructed in 1568 by the Malabari Jewish community, also known as the Cochin Jews, who have a distinct culture and history. The synagogue was named “Paradesi,” which means “foreign” in the local language, as it was primarily meant for the use of the Sephardic Jewish immigrants from Spain and Portugal. 

In addition, it is my desire to attend some important tribal festivals celebrated in the country. Some of these are Kailpoldu by the Kodavas of Karnataka, Sarhul festival in Jharkhand, Thisam Phaint celebrated by the Naga tribe in Manipur, Bhoramdeo Mahotsav of Chattisgarh, Karana festival of Odisha, Baneshwar Festival celebrated at Dungarpur, Rajasthan, Marriannan Thiruvizha observed in the Andaman Islands and the Folk Dance festival at Daman and Diu. It would be fascinating to be a part of these festivals which would be quite different from what we usually celebrate. 

 

  1. If you could create your own festival, what would it be like?

In a world where fiendish forces are once again raising their ugly heads of destruction, I dream of promoting harmony and health. 

We have just emerged from a scourge; thus, a festival of health is paramount to save life, a festival to promote harmony and hope, a festival which promotes happiness among people. As India is surely but slowly emerging as a five trillion-dollar economy, hunger needs to removed – a festival to provide food for the hungry and indigent, promote festivals of sports and culture as India is on the cusp of taking the world by storm in these areas as we are pitching to host the Olympic Games in 2036. Another is a festival to celebrate science (India’s contribution to develop indigenous vaccine, PPE kits, sanitisers, masks and ventilators all within a matter of two years) and space research where we are making massive strides be it  Mars Orbiter Mission, Chandrayaan Missions or Aditya-L1 solar observatory.

I would like to promote festivals through scientific, sporting and cultural events to bind the soul.

 

  1. How do festivals contribute to promoting unity and harmony among different communities?

India has a rich tapestry of culture and traditions. Festivals provide a platform for people all faiths, traditions, caste, creed, sex to come together and live in harmony. There should be no violence of any kind be it Diwali, Holi, Easter, Eid, Christmas, Durga Puja, Navroz, Buddha Purnima, Kartik Purnima or Guru Purab.  

 

When religious, spiritual and political leadership come together on one common platform it reminds one of Ugadi Pachadi which has tamarind, jaggery, unripe mango, neem flowers, black pepper and salt. Ugadi Pachadi is prepared on Telugu New Year’s Day. Its flavour is akin to the rainbow taste where people of all faith and disposition adopt an attitude of scientific temperament, rationality, logic, tolerance and forgiveness. 

 

 

  1. What role do festivals play in your life and why are they important to you?

 

One to celebrate, serve and meditate daily and finally spread the spirit of happiness. Secondly to cogitate on this quote by Gautama Buddha, while observing the festival of Buddha Purnima –

“Radiate boundless love towards the entire world.”

This sums up all given the present conflicts in various parts of the world, be it Ukraine, Gaza and fiendish head of terror rising once again.

 

Happy Diwali readers.

 

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