Approximately 250 persons participated in the Mahayajna following strict safety protocols. The harmonious and mellifluous chanting of sacred Mantras by our two Ashram priests, reverberated in the Umgeni River valley, bringing peace and solace to many, and adding solemnity and a sense of quiet dignity to this sacred event.
The following excerpts from an article by our Divine Master, Sri Swami Sivananda, read at the Satsang, traces the origin of the "All Souls' Day" in Rishikesh, India. The Master said to Ashramites, "From now onward the first of every month will be observed at the Ashram as 'All Souls' Day'. We should offer special prayer for the peace of all departed souls. In this modernised, materialistic world, Dharma has long ago been lost. Many religions have come into being in India itself that vehemently condemn the practice of ancestor worship, Tarpana and Shraddha. The departed souls are in great grief. They naturally look to us to help them. We must do this....in the morning we should arrange for consecrated food-offerings for the departed souls. There will be a special worship in the temple. We can have poor-feeding and feeding of the Sadhus also. In the evening there will be a special Ganga worship, when lights will be floated in the Ganga in the names of the departed souls. There should be special illumination in the temple".
In the same message, referring to the importance of prayer and good thoughts when one departs, Sri Swami Sivananda said, "Prayer and Kirtan, good thoughts or good wishes become very helpful to departed souls. They can be of invaluable assistance to the dead. Prayer acts on the principle of a radio station and broadcasts the waves of good thoughts just as the radio station broadcasts waves of sound....
"Departed souls remain in a state of unconsciousness or swoon immediately after death. They cannot feel that they are detached from their previous gross material bodies. Prayers, Kirtan and good thoughts from relatives and friends can give real solace to the departed souls. They create a potent vibration and awakening in their stupefied condition of mind, and restore their consciousness that has been veiled. They then begin to realise that they are not really in their gross material bodies.
"The weeping and uncontrolled grief of relatives gives departed souls pains and drags them down from their astral planes. This may seriously retard them on their way to the heaven world. This produces serious injury to them. While they are sinking peacefully, and when they are ready to have a glorious awakening in heaven, they are aroused into vivid remembrance of the mundane life by the weeping and wailing of their friends and relatives. The latter's thoughts produce similar vibrations in their minds and produce acute pain and discomfort".
The Master offered valuable advice to the bereaved, on the importance of prayer. He said, "Therefore, relatives and friends should do Kirtan and prayers for the peace of the departed souls. Then only can they really help and comfort them. Collective prayer and Kirtan exercise a tremendous influence...".
Appropriate to the occasion, was the message by Sri Swami Sahajananda. Pujya Swamiji highlighted the origin and role of Sivananda Ghat, and the importance of Sadhana and the various rituals for the deceased. Pujya Swamiji, in his message entitled, Sivananda Ghat Brings Peace & Solace, on the occasion of the official opening of Sivananda Ghat on 5 June 2005, said, "... Sivananda Ghat is also a warm tribute to the Hindus of South Africa, and also some Muslims and Christians, who have given the Society liberal financial support for more than 50 years, enabling it to undertake the school building and other projects for the underprivileged. Divine Life Society of South Africa has also given financial assistance to more than 40 Hindu temples, Ashrams and spiritual institutions in South Africa, and about 20 overseas, mainly in India. Besides enabling bereaved families to deposit the ashes of the deceased in the Umgeni River, Sivananda Ghat is a highly educational and spiritual centre. Often only when some calamity or death takes place does one ask questions like: "Who am I? What is the purpose of life? Where have I come from? Where am I going to? Why am I suffering? How to overcome my suffering?" According to Hinduism, in reality we are one with the Eternal Being, and the goal of life is to attain union with the Eternal Being through meditation and prayer. We are all looking for peace and happiness, but the peace and happiness we enjoy in this world is not lasting. To attain everlasting peace and happiness we have to pay the full price, because the bliss we enjoy when in union with God is so marvellous and stupendous that it is indescribable. Therefore, to attain this bliss we have to pay the full price by engaging in arduous meditation and prayer for many years. All the saints had to practise daily meditation for many hours to realise God. The inspiring sayings in Sivananda Ghat will definitely make many individuals to begin seeking God. Many are going to change their lifestyle. The sayings will also bring peace and solace to bereaved families. Today, sudden calamities shatter the minds of people. Sivananda Ghat will definitely help such individuals. The large amount of spiritual literature taken clearly indicates that today, many who are confronting serious problems, are looking for spiritual guidance. Our Master's book, What Becomes of the Soul After Death, answers many queries about the soul after it leaves the body. It contains valuable information on reincarnation, etc. This book is available here. The inspiration for this project came mainly from the Divine Master, Sri Swami Sivananda, who had spoken about the Shraddha ceremony and rituals for the deceased at his Ashram...".
Sri Thegraj Kassie, a close friend and well-wisher of Divine Life Society of South Africa, and an official of the Clare Estate Umgeni Hindu Crematorium Society, in his keynote address, traced the history of the Ghat from its formative stages, and the challenges that Pujya Swami Sahajananda encountered from various sectors in the Ghat's conceptualization and establishment. Mr. Kassie recounted in vivid detail, Pujya Swamiji's determination, iron courage and hard work in ensuring that the Ghat came to fruition. He said, "Swamiji was relentless and never gave up". Swamiji consulted with various professionals and stake-holders, and sought the assistance of renowned legal experts. Mr. Kassie explained that regular meetings were held with officials of the Clare Estate Umgeni Hindu Crematorium Society and other stake-holders. Golfers were individually interviewed, and none had any objection to the establishment of the Ghat. Interestingly, the Science Department at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (Westville Campus) was consulted, and their tests indicated that the human ash immersed in the river did not cause pollution. In the face of objections from various sectors, representation was made to the highest echelons of government, leading to the necessary approvals for the establishment of the Ghat, which was constructed in record time. Once constructed, there was also interest by persons and organisations from Canada and Pietermaritzburg for the establishment of such a facility in their respective communities.
Indeed, the following excerpt from Pujya Swami Sahajananda's inaugural message on 5 June 2005, encapsulates the importance of the All Souls' Day Satsang and Havan, and the role of Sivananda Ghat in the lives of the bereaved, "On the first of every month, Havan and Satsang are conducted for the peace of the departed souls. Those attending, walk around the Ghat singing melodious Bhajans and repeating Ram-Nam. About 2000 poor people are fed on this day in the name of departed souls. Those wishing to participate in this prayer for the deceased are kindly requested to attend the above monthly prayer at Sivananda Ghat. From the comments and response of individuals, Sivananda Ghat is bringing about a spiritual awakening and transformation in the lives of many visiting the centre. Visitors and members of bereaved families invariably comment about its serene and tranquil atmosphere. Several remarked: 'This place is heaven on earth'".
The numerous positive comments, innumerable messages of appreciation and gratitude, the growing number of ash-disposals and the large attendance at the All Souls' Day Havans and Satsangs, are indicative that the All Souls' Day Havans and Satsangs, and the Sivananda Ghat are playing an important role in giving solace in times of need, and are healing the wounds of the hearts of many of the bereaved.