A Long and Rewarding Spiritual Journey

ALKA LAJMI recalls all the memorable moments that have inspired and brought immense joy and fulfillment 
( KSA August 2021)

We had gone to Shirali to attend the celebrations on the occasion of the first anniversary of Parama Pujya Swamiji’s Pattabhisheka when I noticed a Bhatmam doing so many things for Swamiji with a lot of devotion and dakshata.  I too wanted to offer some seva to Swamiji. Will the fact that I am a woman come in my way, my ignorant mind wondered. But soon enough I realized that seva does not differentiate between genders and that my sincere desire to offer seva had been blessed by Swamiji and Lord Bhavanishankar, perhaps even before the thought had come to my mind!

I feel fortunate that I was born in a Chitrapur Saraswat family wherein I grew up hearing stories about our hallowed Guruparamapara since childhood and was blessed with the Darshan of  Guru Swami - Parama Pujya Parijnanashram Swamiji III on a number of occasions. But my real connection with the Math began in 1997, when we went to Shirali to take the Darshan of Parama Pujya Sadyojat Shankarashram Swamiji. During our first meeting Swamiji asked me, “What do you do?’’ To my surprise I blurted out “I am a Bharata Natyam dancer”. In those days I  used to avoid telling anyone that I was a dancer, but I revealed this to Swamiji without a twitch of hesitation … 

On that very day I was told to offer my dance in the Math and that was my first opportunity of offering seva! At that time musicians used to accompany artistes for their performances. Moreover, I was not in the least expecting to perform in the Math. So the only option I had was to dance and sing as well! I know that I am not a singer so I was not at all confident, but I really do not know how I mustered the courage to do both simultaneously! It was a pure offering of my art with no external paraphernalia to enhance it, at the Holy Feet of Parama Pujya Swamiji and Lord Bhavanishankar. 

That day in particular was also very special and divine because I received my mantradiksha early that morning - one of the most precious gifts I have ever received. For over the years, my daily japa has given me inner strength, calmed my nerves to face challenges with courage and deepened the bond with my Ishtadevata.

After that maiden nritya-seva I got many more opportunities for the same. These occasions of performing in the Math for our Lord strengthened my devotion, made me believe and trust my art. I was able to offer nritya-seva during Rathotsav, Chaturmas, Chitrapur Rangaranjani – so many beautiful occasions; each one is special in its own way, each one fulfilling my desire to do my bit…

These occasions were also great learning experiences.  I remember one instance, when I was to perform in the Rajangana one night during Rathotsav (1998). I was in our room getting ready, donning my make- up and there was a power outage. On that evening I learnt to do make- up in candle light!

I was also fortunate to be given the opportunity to choreograph a few dance sequences for the  Yuvadhara and Prarthana Varga presentations. When I was asked to do it for the first time, it was for the Prarthana Varga children. I particularly recollect the play based on Adi Shankaracharya in which Sudhir Balwally mam wanted the children to present some stotra-s in Bharata Natyam.  I was apprehensive because I was to teach children who may or may not have learnt dance. Another challenge was that the children were from different Sabha-s, so I was wondering how and where I would manage to teach all of them. But I soon realized that my fears were unfounded. Sudhir mam who had conceptualized the theme and written the play had planned everything meticulously. He had divided the play in parts and assigned each part to the children of one Sabha. This made the entire process of setting up the dance and getting it performed by the children easy indeed! In fact, I used his way of setting up the play for my next dance production!

The many instances when I got the opportunity to offer nrityaseva also made me reflect deeper about the meaning of the compositions, think about my art and its presentation in a different perspective, and try to connect with the Divine through my art.

I must say I am truly blessed because along with my nrityaseva I also got the opportunity to be a part of Shivir-s organized by the Math and offer seva. These Shivir-s are organized to introduce the Yuva-s to our Math Parampara and Math-activities. But being part of the Shivir-s as a Sanchalika I learnt much more than that like applying discipline, planning and organizing, effective communication. I know I still have to travel a long way on the path towards my Ultimate goal but these wonderful opportunities certainly help me to become a better person and move a few steps closer to it.

In all these years the most reassuring thought for me has been that my Guru is there to take care of me and this feeling became all the more stronger during the pandemic.  For the first few days I did experience panic, fear, anxiety but one day while doing my japa a thought emerged from within – ‘I belong’ and at that moment, all my fears just melted away! Every opportunity to offer seva, be it at the local Sabha level, or during Swamiji’s camp in our Sabha has given me ample scope to discover my strengths. It is our Guru who inspires, encourages and leads us all the time. The past 25 years have enriched our lives in so many ways by the teachings, guidance and the numerous occasions for seva given by Swamiji. We are incredibly blessed to have a Guru who strives selflessly for the well-being of the laity!

Envy is a feeling we should never harbour, but I am grateful to that little spark of envy I had felt years ago when I saw our Bhatmams devoutly offering seva, because that actually flagged off my long and rewarding spiritual journey. I am truly fortunate and eternally indebted that my Guru heard my prayers and allowed me to offer seva in the form of whatever I knew, whatever I could do. I hope and pray that I can continue to do all I can for our Beloved Math, our Guru and Lord Bhavanishankar!