After flying from Catania, Italy, to Geneva, Switzerland--quite a stark contrast--and
spending the night at a little hotel in a small village just across
the border in France, our traveling swamis met for breakfast with Dr. K.
Kalyanasundaram, a long-time friend of the monastery. As the leader of
Project Madurai, he is well-versed in Tamil scripture, language, fonts
and such topics, and our publications team has benefitted from his
expertise for at least two decades. It was a boon to finally meet him.
The conversation was lively. He then took us to see the Sri Arputa Vinayakar Temple in the nearby suburb of Versoix, on Lake Geneva. The temple was unfortunately closed, as it was a weekday, but we enjoyed seeing it in its beautiful country surroundings.
Our next meeting in Switzerland was in Bern, but not until the afternoon. Thus, we took the opportunity to drive the long route, up into the Alps. It was quite cool, cloudy and raining on and off, but beautiful nonetheless. A welcome respite, in fact, to the sweltering summer heat blanketing all our other stops.
Arriving at the University of Bern, we met Dr. Frank Neubert, a scholar who has been studying with great interest Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, Saiva Siddhanta Church and Hinduism Today magazine. We rarely meet a Western scholar who is so fond of Gurudeva, of the monks and our work. He shared links to a paper he has written on Hinduism Today for a European journal and an article he has written on Gurudeva and Saiva Siddhanta Church for the Encyclopedia of Hinduism.
Next to drive through the countryside of one of the world's most pristine nations. We halted at a traditional Swiss country inn where we would spend the night. A 45-minute drive from Bern nearly doubled in length because it was raining cats and dogs. Fortunately, at this time of year here it doesn't begin to get dark until around 10:00pm, so we were spared having to do that in the dark. And fortunately Swiss drivers are quite accustomed to driving in adverse conditions, so everything went quite smoothly.
Our final visit that day was to the Sri Manonmani Ampal Alayam. This temple, built by immigrants from Sri Lanka just in the last few years and inaugurated only six weeks back, is a remarkable feat for the community here. It is the newest and largest traditional temple in Switzerland, and quite a powerful one, despite being so new. Little did we know that the cool, wet night we visited was the final night in a ten-day residual festival following the kumbhabhishekam.
Afte aratis to all the Deities, the primary and final offerings were made to Sri Bhairava. Many wonderful connections were made here, and we were able to breakfast with the temple's manager, Ramalingam, the following morning, while learning the story of this substantial immigrant community that came as refugees in the 1980s and 90s.
The next morning, getting off to a fresh start, graced again by sunny skies, we traversed the remaining quarter of this unbelievably gorgeous little nation on the way to Winterthur, a prominent suburb of Zurich. Here lies the Omkarananda Ashram and Divine Light Center, started in 1966 when the young Swami Omkarananda was brought to Switzerland by a wealthy devotee.
Hardly noticeable on an unassuming residential street, this seasoned ashram sprawls across ten buildings, housing about 25 monks and nuns, in addition to occasional guests like ourselves, an elaborate multi-level indoor temple to a veritable plethora of Gods, a lecture hall, libraries and reading rooms, publishing facilites, and on and on. The temple was the most precious element, of course.
The monks and nuns here joyously adhere to a rigorous discipline of daily pujas at all the shrines, including a Shanti homa that was once perpetual, 24 hours a day, but is now tended during the day as staff permits. They do pujas from morning to night, and invited us to the 90-minute late morning puja. Spontaneously while worshiping in the temple in the afternoon, we were invited to install three small murtis--Sri Venkateswara and His consorts--that Madhu Shastri had brought from London.
The Omkarananda Ashram was the site of our primary interview to find out about Hinduism in Switzerland. To our great surprise and delight, the Omkarananda monks had invited Satish Joshi, a long-time resident of the neutral nation and a bottomless well of knowledge about just what we came to find out--and an astonishingly articulate one at that. He was able to tell us every answer to our questions, before we even posed them. And he spoke with such clarity, we think we can just print his tale as told.
There is a powerful presence of the founder here, Swami Omkarananda, and his work, we found, is in overly competent hands.
The story of Hindus in this country was more nuanced than we had imagined, something that we were discovering more and more in every country. Also offering insights this evening were Satish Sharma, director of the Hindu Temples Association in the UK (he wants to print Hinduism Today in the UK!), our old-time friend Madhu Shastri, Swamis Vivekananda and Vishnudevananda of the ashram, and Shivani, a local yoga teacher, bharatanatyam dancer and devotee of the ashram. It was an interesting mix, leaving us with a thorough look at our religion here.
Among the delightful, disciplined monks was Vishnudevananda, who discovered Gurudeva's books some eight years back and has read every word of every book, and every issue of Hinduism Today. A scholar and student of Indian spirituality, he knew more about our works than many of us do.
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