The Significance of Deepavali – the festival of lights.

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Photograph : Ananta Prasad

Sri Nihar Ranjan Acharya, Director, TRUST

This is one of the most popular festival of India, otherwise called the festival of lights. It is also one of the most eagerly awaited festivals in our country. Business men and commercial establishments, consider it as an opportunity to boost their sales and increase profits, while individuals use the ocasion to celebrate life and strengthen relationships. It is a great opportunity to experience the joys of growing up and get acquainted with all types of fire crackers. It comes in the Hindu pair month of Ashwin-Kartik, as per the lunar calendar and corresponds roughly with either October or November depending upon the movement of the Sun and the Moon and their relative positions in space and time.

In fact, Deepavali is a Sanskrit word which is a combination of two words viz. ‘Deepa’ and ‘Avali’. ‘Deepa’ means lampa nd ‘Avali’ means a row. So, Deepavali is literally a row of lamps. Today, in many Western Countries Deepavali or Diwali has become famous as the ‘Festival of Lights’. Hindus string lights around their houses and temples. Deepavali is always celebrated on the new moon night at the end of the month of Aashwna. There are many stories connected regarding the origin of this famous festival. But, as far as my knowledge on Vedic Philosophy is concerned, I would prefer to connect it to the Nava Ratri and Vijaya Dashami Festivals. After Ravan was killed on the 10th Lunar Day (Vijaya Dashami), Sri Ram returned to Ayodhya, the then Capital of Bharat (India), on the following new moon night (amavashya). Deepavali comes exactly twenty days after Vijaya Dashami. Since there is no moon on that day of victory over the demon King Ravan, the residents of Ayodhya are said to have illuminated the city by placing lamps on their homes and surroundings to greet their Lord Sri Ram. This is one of the oldest Hindu Festivals occuring in the month of Kartik, which Northern India commemorates the return of Sri Ram to Ayodhya after a long excile of 14 years. It also marks the beginning of the New Year and is celebrated with the lighting of lamps.

Some context of Vedic Philosophy (Mahabharat) also says Southern India honours this as the day Lord Sri Krishna defeated the demon Narakasura. Sri Krishna accompanied his beloved wife Satyabhama, in battle. Together they subdued King Narakasura and freed the prisoners who were mostly women. Deepavali celebrations in the North also honour Sri Krishna who protected the citizens of Gokul from torrential rains under the Govardhan Mountain. So, the people of Gokul celebrated it with much enthusiasm and excitement. Deepavali inherited from that. In Western India the celebration is in honour of the day King Bali who gave away his kingdom and went to rule the nether-world (Patal) as odered by Lord Vishnu.

For Jains, Deepavali has an added significance. Lord Mahavira attained the Eternal Bliss or Nirvana this day. The Sikhs have always celebrated Deepavali as they are mostly fun loving people. Its significance increased when, on this day the Sixth Guru, Guru Hargovind was freed from captivity of the Mughal Emperor Jehangir, along with 52 Hindu Kings.
Buddhists from India and Nepal honour Emperor Ashoka who on this day, adopted Non-violence (Ahimsa) became influenced from Goutam Buddha’s teachings.

Goddess Lakshmi, (from the Sanskrit word ‘lakshya’ which means ‘aim’) is invoked for blessings to restart our worldly and spiritual accounting. Prayers of thankfulness, (Lakshmi Puja), are offered for future prosperity by people of all faiths. Lakshmi Puja is another common factor in Deepavali celebrations which binds the people of the Indian subcontinent and now globally.

Diwali traditionally marks the beginning of the New Year for Hindu businesses and the last harvest of the year before winter. Many close their books and open new accounts with prayers for success and prosperity. Symbolically it is a new start — forgive and forget — in all aspects of life including relationships with family and friends. It is the time for community and family celebration with prayers through puja, of togetherness, of sharing all resources, of food and gifts.

Today, Deepavali/Diwali is enjoyed by most Indians, regardless of faith – globally. Everyone celebrates it through festive fireworks, lights, flowers, sharing of sweets and worship as is customary for each religious and/or non-religious group. No house is too big or too small for illumination. Artisans of all faiths, including Muslims and Christians, participate in making the lamps, fireworks and sweets.

While the story behind Diwali varies from region to region, the essence is the same – to illumine the insight as the Vedic hymn goes Asato Ma Sad Gamaya, Tamasho Ma Jyotirgamaya, Mrutur Ma Amrutam Gamaya (Lead us from unreal to Truth, from darknes to light and from death to immortality). Deepavali unifies every religion, every home and every hearts and India transcends into a land of myriad lamps. May the spirit of Diwali bring joy, health, wealth, prosperity, peace and enlightenment to all human beings despite of their colour, caste, religion, faith or whatever whatever!
As burning crackers is a threat to environment, I would suggest this Deepavali burst your ego, not crackers.

Sri Nihar Ranjan Acharya

Sri Nihar Ranjan Acharya

(Views are the own words of the writer. For any clarrification, please contact writer at his mail id. E-mail: nihar.acharya@rediffmail.com, Ph.8895180621)

Experience at Press Colony Government School

Mahua Maharana

Date: 27.01.10

Volunteers: Lingaraj and Mahua

Background:

The Head Mistress of the Press Colony Government High School had requested for intervention from Bakul even before we had visited the school for book distribution.  She was rather excited about the entire idea of book distribution and it was one of the schools where book distribution happened quite early. However, intervention could not start immediately.

The school:

There is a high school (classes8 – 10) where we have started intervention from today.  There is an Upper Primary School (classes 1 – 7) in the same campus.  The Upper Primary School is interested in book distribution but not intervention as they are not too sure about the reaction of the competent authorities.

Background of the students:

Students mainly come from the nearby slums.  The drop-out rates and absenteeism among the students are very high.

Intervention of Bakul Volunteers:

The authorities had initially asked us to take the last two periods (from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m.) of classes 8 and 9.  However today when we actually went there they only agreed to let us take the classes from 3 p.m. to 3-30 p.m.

There were about 15 students in all in the classes 8 and 9.  So instead of taking the classes separately we clubbed them and took the class.

This is what happened in the class:

  1. Ice-breaking and self-introduction.
  2. Encouraging the students by telling them English is not something very difficult to learn, etc. and why should we learn English though this is not our mother tongue.
  3. Talked generally about the efficacy of education (without trying to preach). Tried to make it interesting by telling stories or bits of information woven around some adage.
    Example:  ‘Knowledge is power’ or “Pen is mightier than sword’ – we asked each of them what they felt about this sentence whether they agree with it or disagreed by giving reasons.  Here also we found that the boys were much more vocal than the girls. We told them stories about Alexander,  Ashoka and building of Rome.
  4. Made two groups of 4 boys and 3 girls in each group.  We played simple word game (antakshari types).  Now the girls opened up and we found that a spirit of competitiveness really helped them to come forward and participate in the activity.  We also made them use the words they have said in their own sentences or tried to point out the meaning, e.g. difference between ear and year or meanings of yell and yellow, usages of neither/nor, either/or, yet and yes, etc

Comments:

It was a good experience for us.  The students were quite bright but probably lack either proper guidance from home or motivation or the teachers’ empathy. Most of them confessed that they could not read very well.  They did not have any books given by Bakul or any other English text book with them, so it was not possible for us to map their reading ability.  Their vocabulary is quite encouraging.  The problem area will be to make them become independent and happy readers.  The writing ability will follow as a logical sequence.  However, it is too early to comment anything conclusive about it but we can always go on trying.

Request to all volunteers:

Please send suggestions as to how we can further enrich the intervention.

Best wishes,

Mahua Maharana

Bakul Childrens Library

Treely…

Team bakul

Compassion with BLISS

Sanket Mishra 

Fresh from an overnight hangover, one day you wake up ….. see the morning charming sunrays…. N from the window what you see ???….. some barefooted kids dressed in dirty torn clothes, with rusty amber colored hair… ….  Fighting for a piece of roti ….. U feel pity on these poor lads…. Feel like doing something good to rescue them from poverty……. The next second u think ….. “What can I do alone ????….. How the hell can I change the world !!!!”

The moment you turn your head away from the window panes ……  the thoughts of philanthropy are all gone ……..!!!!!!

I was the same …….. until I met “BLISS”……

As the name says …..  it is an organization with a vision to serve the illiterate….. to infuse a sense of intellect in the budding minds of those underprivileged kids…. Who might be an IITian or might turn out to be another Kalpana Chawla …..  who will take India’s pride and valour to zenith…

Ever thought of that …..  !!!!!! .   If not ……  then …. We at BLISS ……give you a food for thought..

At around 6 PM …. When I was about to set off from office ….. a mail item popped up which read ….”BLISS intervention this Saturday !!!”.

I pondered for a while …whether to go or not !!!!….. What will the team like ??….. will the people force me to come every day ??…. Is the meeting so urgent to b attended…… that too when u r planning for a movie-magic with your roomie???

Willy-nilly…..I called up Sai…. Whose name I checked from the To mailing list….as he was the only one I knew earlier… Asked him whether he would join me…..????  Seeing his enthusiasm …. I asked myself ….is it really that interesting ?????  As our talks extended…. He told me how his debut visit to a nearby school was cancelled due to critical health conditions of this father.

Anyways….. we landed up at the meeting room sharp at 6:30…as per the meeting schedule…..

Wondered……if the count of Infoscions would go beyond 4 including me and Sai… And I was bang on target !!.. it was 4 out of around 20 people from the mailing list.

A very jolly person welcomed us and introduced himself as Sujeet…(Hope I spell his name right !!)….. He was so rich with energy and bounce that we almost forgot that I had planned for a new movie..

Just then my cell fone rang with my roomie’s name on it ….. Asked me my plans ….. I avoided his proposal saying …..”Dude….. M busy with a new Severity 2 IMR (something work related)… Can we plan it tomorrow ???”…….. just to mention that I was not a damn good liar before joining Infy….. probably 😉

Although he was not OK with it ……. But somehow ….. he had to agree….

Back at the meeting room four new folks had joined us…. The first thing I noticed was a white lady with somewhat gray hair…..named Cera.

Later on when she introduced herself …… I came to know that she has been with BLISS and with some other NGO’s for the past one and half years serving the poor and needy….visiting places…..trying to grasp the language a  bit …. Failing always….. but never letting that last hope of flame to learn the local language blow off ..!!!!

Later that night as I was on my bed ….. I was drowned in the thoughts …..where I felt so miserable that being an Indian ….. I lie so comfortable and cozy on my bed……where my countrymen lie naked on the chilly winter nights on the platforms of railway stations… waiting for the death to shadow them any moment….. But at the same time, there was a feeling of elation that ….. if a white lady can travel sixty thousand miles leaving her caring and loving family behind…… just to serve my people …….. then why can’t I create a wave to change the current scenario of my state and my nation…..??????

I hear an echo  …”Thank GOD …….. I am with BLISS !!!!!!!!!”

Anyways…. Back at the conference room….. the 4 other members introduced themselves to us……

There was a girl in red … who bore an attitude with her… studying Bio. Tech …..

She had something scribbled on her T-shirt…. But was very difficult to read it as …..it is considered indecent to stare at a girl…. although with a clean heart….

A person in ethnics with thick specs …..named Govind….. very close to his eyes…. and a diary….which perhaps was his only travel mate …. I came to know that this person is an alumni of TISS…. Which I aspired to join some months ago ….. But my dreams were reduced to ashes…. as I was sandwiched between my work and studies… Hope I will have better luck next time..

There was another member who was quite simple ….. and was not the my center of attraction…

Then comes Sujeet….. the core member of BLISS…with his never ending speeches and mantras …… and not to forget …..he carries with himself a big everlasting smile and plenty of energy.

Just wondered ……  if he would be doing a multitasking of sleeping and smiling together…..

He gave us some tweaks on how would be our interaction with the school children that we will be visiting tomorrow….. Then he gave us some quick logics on the approach ,……which was a tongue twister for me…

I was a silent spectator till Sujeet’s question invaded my peace of mind….. which I could not answer…… probably I was lost in some dreams…..

Imagined …….. how this person was a nuclear bomb of energy with so different an attitude ….. He was that kinda guy who would make people laugh at him …… He was damn confident of what he spoke…

He had devised his own ways to break the ice between the kids… Occasionally….. his damn good ideas were boosted by the red girl….. which were live experiences from her past…

In a nutshell……. We planned to visit a school near DAV Public School…. Exactly at 9 A.M in the morning….. to distribute some books given in charity to BLISS… and to teach these school kids.

********************************************************************************************************************************************************************************

9:20 AM ….. Saturday…. (but 9AM as per India’s time….as we tend to run late by 20 mins always…..;-))……  everyone was there at our destination..

We were to take a class from 10 AM to 11 AM ….. after the children had a break from 9:50 -10:00 AM…

Altogether we were around 8 people on the school ground taking the sun bath on the cold winter morning….. Although the winters are not that cold in Bhubaneswar…… yet the feeling was awesome …

Not before long …… I imagined myself 10 years back …studying in my school…..waiting for a 10 min break … where I would go stand in the sun ….and feed my skin Vitamin K…..where the winters are far chillier in my home town ..

As the bell rang at 9:50…… groups of guys n gals in uniforms rushed out of the doors….. Some started playing with a ball….. and some went to have some breakfast….. others running….fighting…shouting….Yelling.

But, we 8 people were the show stopper that day ….. everyone around had talked and discussed who we are and what are we here for ….. with perplexed looks???….  Wish….I could whisper in each one’s ears ….”We all are your friends and have come here to bring sweet smiles on to your faces and a mission to enjoy studies with you all !!” ….

So…. As the clock’s minute hand moved 36 degrees ….to strike 10:00….  We moved on to our assigned classes… I was paired up with Bishakha and Shiv….

After we enter the class… the students all stood up to wish ….. but we made everyone sit…. Saying we are here to enjoy with you along with little bit of studies as well….

The next thing we asked the children was to introduce themselves to us …. Mentioning their name and hobbies….

Sooner or later ….the classroom get friendlier to us …… and we were not a stranger to them …..

One thing I noticed is ……. the children were addressing me as “Sir!!”…..which was not a very usual thing for me ……. Being an IT guy…

The preferred language was of course the local language……Oriya ….. but the class was pretty familiar with Hindi as well ….. as Bishakha ….conversed with the folks very conveniently.

The next mission of ours was to distribute the books …. Which we had got from Pearson ….as a reward to carry on this good work ….. Exactly 9 books per student was given …. All in english…

The beneficiaries were made clear that these are the books which would be taught in their class ……and they would be bringing them ….every Saturday.

We (Bishakha n me ) …..  the new invaders of the class had already made up our mind that ..they will be no studies today ….. n Fun and masti would command the day….  Then started the division of our class into 2 groups according to their roll numbers……. (all odd one’s in Group 1 n even one’s in Group 2)…… One thing that caught my attention was …… the students who were very shy while introducing themselves to us ….. were now active participants for the game……. N this is all how we broke the glacier between us …….  J

Slowly as the class gelled with us more and more ……. We got to know the raw un-nurtured talents of the class… n the next moment we were amidst the beautiful voices of the class inmates.

Meanwhile ….. we never forgot to appreciate the good with toffees…. and the better with some more….

When I stole a moment to have a glance on my cell phone ….the time was 11:45 AM… As per our schedule the student must have left the school by 11 AM ….

But you know…. When you are with some of the life’s finest moments …… you never know…. How fast have the Clock’s hands run !!!!!!!……

So,…..Do I need to tell more on ….how did I feel and how was it all ????

Now….. if I plot a graph between time and the noise level of the class….. It would be a steep slope going up and up till 11:45…

I guess…..only a missile launch could compete with this decibel level change per unit time ……  Pretty techy huh ???…. Ok….enough with it now….

The class was dispersed at around 11:50 AM …….but I had filled myself with an eternal satisfaction ….. of having done something good ……

So…now the Question is that ….. “Can I bring change to the budding generation ????”….. the answer is “YES”……..  As every drop of water makes an ocean….

Thank you.

Regards,

Sanket Mishra

American Express|BCMD |BBSR| INDIA

BLISS continues…

“Somewhere on this planet, someone has a solution to each of the world’s problems. It might be one of us. With your help, we can build a more helpful world.”

BAKUL: Bakul Foundation is a non-profit organization that promotes volunteerism and channelizes cumulative efforts towards community development. For us, community development initiatives are not just confined to the immediate tangible goals, but go beyond to invoke and instill the spirit of volunteerism that underlines the project.

BAKUL LEARNING INITIATIVE FOR SCHOOL STUDENTS – BLISS. The Bakul learning initiative for school students (BLISS) started with certain well-defined objectives:

1. To promote volunteerism and public participation in educational development

2. To create an interest and joy in learning leading to promotion of independent learning

3. To develop reading skills in children first to enable them to read books at their grade appropriate level and then beyond

4. To create interest in reading leading to a reading habit

5. To develop confidence in children and to develop their imagination and creativity

Why BLISS?

Our initiative should ensure that after certain stages through the intervention, the children in each of these classes should be able to read and write the English text at their grade appropriate levels.

During our intervention it was quite disheartening to see that even children from Class 7 are not able to read or write in English alphabets.

BLISS Process

This mode of intervention has at its centre two parties. One, the children who are subject to the intervention and two, the volunteers who engage themselves with the children during school hours on a particular day in a week. Thus, it is an intensive and individualized process of interaction between the child and the volunteer for over a period of time. This intervention allows the volunteer to enter into a personalized relationship with the child that creates a space between the child and the volunteer in identifying and understanding the problems faced by the child in accepting a foreign language and then gradually being comfortable with its usage.

Why you?

“If not us, who? If not now, when?”

2 hours (out of 168 hours in a week) can make a difference to the life of a child!!

Have a lot of work around?

Hi all,

Have a lot of work around?

Feel stressed??
need a break??

Come to the stress free world…

Here… you’ll forget all your tensions…

Here…you’ll  laugh and enjoy for two long hours…

Here…you’ll  realize the importance of what you have…

Here…you’ll  feel that you are the luckiest person on earth…

Come join hands with us and have two hours of pure fun
Come and make somebody’s day special…

BLISS is an initiative to utilize your two hours with children who wait eagerly to see you. During weekdays, when you are so busy with your work, and wait for the next saturday to come, they do the same as they know that we will go to meet them, spend some time with them and make them learn new things they never knew.
KITS college is already volunteering and around 6 of infocions including me joined them last weekend. It was pure fun.We are looking for more volunteers. If you are willing to donate couple of hours in the weekend  for this cause please let me know.
Today is the last day to get yourself registered as a volunteer for BLISS for this saturday(21st nov)…
Please reply to this mail if you want to be a part of this initiative. Please get back to me in case you have some queries.

With Regards,
Divya Kapoor

Infosys, Bhubaneswar

Sometimes…

Hi all,

Sometimes…
Having so many twisted relationships makes you feel unwanted…

Sometimes…
You want to have some one who needs you more than anything…

Sometimes…
You want to make a difference in somebody’s life…

Sometimes…
You want to be the change…

Here is a chance for you…

I am not a part of any foundation, nor am I here to promote anything…Just want to share my experience of  two hours with the people who made me feel so wanted.

Here goes my experience…

On last saturday (7th nov) …we went to a school. A school which was very different from the schools we studied in or the schools we have been to.  The moment we entered the school premises, the students started touching our feet. We tried to stop them, so some of them started shaking hands with big smiles on their faces. On entering into the classes , we found that they were flooded with children.Some sat on the benches and some on the floor itself.  The kids had so much energy in them and were waiting eagerly for us to talk with them. At first, I was a bit reluctant to interact because of the language barrier, but later on, I realized that there was no such barrier as their smiles spoke their hearts out. They were ready to learn every new word, were ready to grab every opportunity to speak up what they knew. They innovated their own ways of learning and remembering things. I never stopped smiling for those two hours. It was so much fun, I felt like a kid with these wonderful kids.

I remember I never used to love studying and my parents and teachers forced me to do so, and these kids are so enthusiastic about learning new things but don’t have a helping hand who could teach them. After spending two hours with them, I felt that the reality is that they need me and they need each one of us.
I have decided to volunteer; to give away my 2 hours out of 168 hours every week. You can choose to sleep at home or to join hands with us to add a little light to their future.
I decided to volunteer only after having a glimpse of it. Even you can come with us on 21st (next saturday) to spend some time with those who need you so much. Its two hours of pure fun.
Please reply to this mail if you want to join us this saturday.

Regards,
Divya Kapoor

Infosys, Bhubaneswar

Bakul Learning Initiative for School Students

Bakul Learning Initiative for School Students or BLISS as we call it is what we get when we combine the movement for volunteerism with a socially useful cause like inculcating the habit of reading amongst children. The Bakul Children’s Library, located at 16, Satyanagar in Bhubaneswar has laid down a roadmap for setting up children’s libraries with the objective of encouraging people to come together for the change that they want to bring in their immediate environment and hence their societies. One of the most important developments in the last few months has been the donation of 2,00,000 books written in the English language from the publishing giant Pearson Longman. Bakul took it upon itself the task of distributing the books amongst children who ‘need it the most’. As a beginning, the volunteers at Bakul decided on identifying specific slums in the city of Bhubaneswar, and where State government run upper primary and secondary schools function, for the initiative to begin.

However, the distribution of books provided by Pearson amongst the schools came with a disclaimer, mainly because the challenges were many.

1. The children amongst whom we wanted to distribute the Pearson books written in English were not very well versed with the Enlgish language in the first place.

2. For children to start using the books that we would otherwise distribute, we needed to carry out an intervention with the active participation of volunteers (more and more of them), through whom we engage children with activities such that they reach a level where they could find utilization of the books.

3. Since the Bakul intervention was more pedagogical than advisory, we set a time frame for the intervention to bear fruits. Currently we have a time frame of October 2009 to December 2010.

4. Considering the time frame that we propose, we need volunteers and their engagement with children to be consistent and sustained for over the entire period of time.

5. We need to regularly churn out ideas and activities that would keep the children learn with fun, and at the same time keep our volunteers motivated.

With these challenges in mind, we started off our intervention on the 31st of October 2009 with one school (Sikharchandi Vidyapeeth, upper primary school) near the Sikarchandi Slums of Patia, Bhuabneswar. Currently BLISS is on in two upper primary schools in Patia. We shall add three more schools to our initiative by the 21st of November 2009.

Blissfully yours,

Rajshree Bedamatta

KIIT School of Rural Management, KIIT University

Bhubaneswar