WHAT BEGAN AS A STRATEGY to calm down two restless brats at home – me and my younger brother with only a year and a half separating us in age – ended up quite differently. Nearly four decades ago my younger brother and I were shepherded into the Bal Vihar classes conducted by the #Chinmaya Mission in Mangaluru. The class was ably conducted by Mrs Sunanda Shastri, mother of my elder sister’s classmate. She had assured my sister, who in turn had guaranteed my mother, that the two brats in question would quarrel no more!

THE BAL VIHAR CLASS COMPRISED OF 30-35 children aged between 5 and 15 and was held every Saturday between 5.30 and 7.00 pm, if I remember correctly. That was also the time when most children were out at play ! The class would begin within an identification of a good quality – sadguna – and its opposite : durguna. For about five minutes, the class would breathe in the sadguna and exhale the durguna. Soon this would be followed by recitations from the Vedas and the Bhagavadgita. In between several bhajans and kirtans in praise of the various deities in the Indian Pantheon – Shiva, Ganesha, Saraswati et al would be sung in unison  with Mrs Shastri in the lead. We were also taught how to recite the Venkateshwara Suprabhatam and the Bhaja Govindam. For nearly 6 years, without missing a single class, until we obtained our Secondary School Leaving Certificates, every Saturday, my brother and I attended the Bal Vihar classes. As we entered the portals of college for higher education, we were rather over aged for Bal Vihar classes and we did not feel emboldened enough to attend the next higher level of learning – The Study Group of the Chinmaya mission.

INTERESTINGLY, ALTHOUGH WE STOPPED ATTENDING THE BAL VIHAR classes, my brother and I continued reciting the Venkateshwara Suprabhatam every morning around 6 am at home and we usually ended up reciting a chapter of the Bhagavadgita after the evening prayers. Soon we landed in our respective jobs and there was no one to recite the slokas at home be it in the morning or in the evening. It was left to my mother to chant the non-denominational devotional hymns of #Sree Narayana Guru which she continues doing even today at the age of 95!

THE BAL VIHAR CLASSES ARE THE BRAINCHILD OF #SWAMI CHINMAYANANDA whose birth centenary is being celebrated this year. It was #Chinmayananda’s idea to inculcate spirituality in Indian homes by getting children to be familiar with the Hindu scriptures, particularly the #Bhagavadgita. Indeed his institution, the #Chinmaya Mission is one of the foremost institutions in the world today spreading the message of the Bhagavadgita besides establishing educational institutions all over India.

BY THE TIME I COMPLETED MY GRADUATION, I had already become an agnostic but attendance at the Balvihar classes had already drawn me to devotional and classical music without my consciously realising it. Indeed it also got me interested in grappling with questions of life and death. I ended up becoming a lifelong “seeker” and I cannot really say that I have found all the answers. But I owe a debt of gratitude to Swami Chinmayananda and the Chinmaya mission for hardwiring within me a certain kind of discipline, a certain awe of the universe, and inculcating in me a perennial sense of wonderment about the world around me.

TODAY IF I LOOK AT EXISTENTIAL QUESTIONS, I suspect it must be on account of the “early grounding” in “spirituality” that the Bal Vihar classes triggered in me and to this day I look forward to watching with enthusiasm any new lecture, say, by #Swamini Vimalanandaji or #Sunandaji posted on You Tube and if I am still keen to acquire the #Rig Veda Samhita Vol I to III just released by Dr Prasanna Chandra Gautam through the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, it is largely due to the curiosities triggered by attendance at Bal Vihar classes more than four decades ago.

FOR MY ABOVE INTERESTS, I OWE MY HUMBLE PRANAMS to Swami Chinmayananda and Mrs Sunanda Shastri, the conductor of Bal Vihar Classes nearly four decades ago at her beautiful home “Triveni” in the town of Mangaluru.


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