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Multi-Faith Akhanda Bhajan for World Peace in UK

 

The story of how the Milton Keynes and Luton Sai Centres in the UK, for the Fifth Year, host a unique session of continuous devotional prayers for universal peace and harmony.

In Milton Keynes, a city of some 230,000, about 50 miles north of London, on 10/11 November another successful Multi-Faith Akhanda Bhajan took place, the fifth such annual event, organised by the Sai Centres of Luton and Milton Keynes. The event started at 6:00 p.m. on Saturday the 10th, and over the following 24 hours, a series of devotional singing sessions conducted by Groups from different faiths, took place. Amongst the participants were representatives from the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist and Hindu traditions.

The planning of the event began some months before November. Through interfaith organisations in both Milton Keynes and Luton, various faith groups were contacted and invited to participate in the Akhanda Bhajan, after explaining to them what it was.

The arrangements for setting up the hall, preparing refreshments for 150 people (including hot meals at the appropriate times), establishing the sound system (duty and stand-by [one never knows what will happen!] and organising the ‘seva’ rota (with eight different duties, ranging from Catering to managing the Car Park), were all enthusiastically undertaken, with excellent teamwork shown by the two Sai Centres involved.

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Deputy Mayor of Milton Keynes Jan Lloyd welcomed by Mrs. Moodley from Milton Keynes Sai Centre

 

As background, Milton Keynes Sai Centre was established in January 2002, by Seelan Moodley, an IT Consultant from South Africa, and has attendance of about 40 at its weekly Bhajans. Most of the devotees are from South Africa, and bring with them a refreshing new outlook from a different continent.

Luton Sai Centre, located about 20 miles south of Milton Keynes has a much longer history, having been established in 1979. It draws about 50 people to its monthly Bhajans. Luton counts Brother Victor (Krishna) Kanu, a long standing respected devotee of Bhagavan, amongst its founding devotees. Both Centres celebrate all the major festivals in the Sai Calendar, and at such events massive numbers of devotees attend.

November 10 saw feverish activity at the hall, with cleaning and decorating taking place both inside and outside. The neighbouring houses were all informed of the forthcoming event, and invitations extended to them.

Indira Vasantlal Thakker (affectionately known as ‘Indu-Ma’ by everyone) and her team beautifully and lovingly set up the altar. There was a portrait of Swami, together with flowers and the Sarva Dharma emblem. Outside the hall, a banner welcomed all to the event.

The 'Eternal Songs' Begin

The event began right on time with two children from the Sai Spiritual Education classes at Milton Keynes and Luton lighting two candles near Swami’s picture. Naveenbhai Maharaj, the Chairperson of Milton Keynes Sai Centre, gave a brief welcome speech and vote of thanks. Vedic Chants led by Shankar Hariharan, an ex-student from Prashanti, followed this.

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Kirtans being sung by members of the
Bedford Valmiki Sabha Temple

The first Group to sing Bhajans was the Milton Keynes Sai Centre, who rendered both Sanskrit and English songs to uplift everyone present. Then came Cookie and Vijeyan, a talented couple from South Africa, whose melodious Carnatic-trained voices, and fantastic music with the harmonium and tabla, really gripped the crowd.

Next came the Bedford Sai Centre, accompanied by a Group from the Valmiki Temple at Bedford (about 18 miles east of Milton Keynes). The senior citizens from the temple lent a certain air of serenity to the event. It was commendable that the Group came on a coach, rather than drive individually to the Hall. Apart from being environmentally favourable, this also meant that everyone was under less stress.

During the Akhanda Bhajan, the handover between participants and Groups was always seamless. Wherever there was a gap, say, in order to set up instruments, the mantra ‘Aum Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba ya Namah’ was chanted continuously in order to avoid a break and to maintain good vibrations.

Following the Bedford group were David Rennie and Louise Rawlence from the Reverend Sun Myung Moon’s ‘Family Federation for World Peace and Unification’. David and his family spent about 10 years working in India, and have a deep regard for the spirituality of the country. David and Louise sang both popular sacred songs and their own compositions related to Peace and Love, playing a combination of guitars (Louise) and flute (David).

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David Rennie and Louise Rawlence from the Reverend Sun Myung Moons’ Family Federation for
World Peace and Unification

 

For the finale, David sang most beautifully a 1,000-year old Korean song on ‘Loyalty’, which moved many members of the audience. David told the live BBC radio broadcast that Reverend Moon’s teaching of high spiritual and family values “living for the sake of others” makes partnership with Sai Baba devotees both a natural and a joyful experience. David and Christa Rennie are committee members of Milton Keynes Interfaith and are very active in the local voluntary sector.

All the attendees (participants and well-wishers) at the Akhanda Bhajan were treated to welcome hospitality, with lovingly prepared food provided by Sai devotees. The event was graced on Saturday evening by Deputy Mayor of Milton Keynes Jan Lloyd, who arrived during David and Louise’s hour. She spent 90 minutes with everyone and was very keen to know more about the Sai Organisation.

Among the attendees at the Akhanda Bhajan were UK Council members, Kishor Kumar, National Secretary of the Sri Sathya Sai Service Organisation, UK, and Sunthar Uthayanan, the Region 3 Chairperson.

At this point it should be said that both the Luton and Milton Keynes Sai Centres undertake a number of community-based Service Projects involving:

  • Visits to Residential and Nursing Homes to entertain elderly residents.
  • Feeding and entertaining the needy and the homeless of Luton.
  • Working with the charity ‘Age Concern’ to provide a Befriending scheme for elderly citizens.
  • Working in the Faith Woodland Project, whose aim is to promote mutual understanding between peoples of all faiths, through the common ground of the natural world. (As part of the project, a permanent spiritual and educational space is being created in Moulden Wood, an ancient woodland near Luton.)
  • Renovation and garden maintenance undertaken at schools and the local Buddhist Temple in Milton Keynes.
  • Conducting Prayer sessions for Hindu prisoners at Her Majesty’s Prison, Woodhill, in Milton Keynes.
  • Co-ordinating a Literacy Programme (called Toe-by-Toe) at Woodhill Prison, whereby literate prisoners teach those needing help.

After David and Louise, came the lady members of Milton Keynes and Luton Sai Centres, led by Ranjan Maisuria (lovingly called ‘Ranjan-Ma’ by all), who chanted the ‘Hanuman Chalisa’ and sang Bhajans. Ranjan-Ma is a long-time resident of Milton Keynes, and her house-bhajans paved the way for the establishment of the Sai Centre here.

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Ranjan-Maa and the Milton Keynes Ladies Group
The 'Well at Willen' Group from the ecumenical community

The Night Hours Bring a Special Ambience

It was now 11:00 p.m. and time for the Group from the ‘Well at Willen’ to take to the stage. The ‘Well at Willen’ is a family-based ecumenical community, which fosters spiritual growth. We were treated to their moving music for an hour.

There was a tangible spiritual atmosphere in the Hall, and the strength of love was immense. Many of the Groups had come to the event in previous years, and so it was a great time to catch up with old friends, and re-affirm our love and respect for each other.

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Spiritual performance by the Bedford Sai Centre

From midnight to 2:00 a.m. saw devotional songs being sung by a Bhajan Group from Bedford. There were devotees who accompanied them at this inhospitable hour, all in an effort to keep the vibrations going.

A maestro, Balubhai, then took over for an hour. A modest musician with much talent, Balubhai has been on the Milton Keynes scene for over 20 years, singing with various Hindu groups.

The lively Luton Youth Group came on next, with superb playing of tabla and dholak accompanying the bhajans. Then came the adults from Luton and Milton Keynes, who continued till 5:00 a.m.

Beautiful Dawn Chorus

The slot from 5:00 a.m. to 7:00 a.m. saw the ‘In2Self Foundation’ take the floor. Led by Jiten Patel, this small, select group conducts courses on Spiritual, Personal and Corporate Development for people of all denominations in the UK and internationally.  The principle driving the ‘In2Self Foundation’ is a belief in the innate potential of everyone for self-advancement and transformation.

A change of tempo took place at 7:00 a.m. when the Milton Keynes Hare Krishna Group took over. Michael Howson, the leader of the Group, born in India, was a familiar face, having given the Milton Keynes devotees classes on the Bhagavad Gita. After an hour, the Hare Krishna Group took a break whilst a Sikh Group took over with their ‘kirtans’. The Hare Krishna Group came back at 9:00 a.m. for a further hour, after which they were treated to a hearty breakfast!

From 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. something special took place at the Akhanda Bhajan. It became the location for a live BBC local radio programme called ‘Melting Pot’ which brings together news and views of spiritual groups in the counties of Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire (which encompass Luton and Milton Keynes).

Ian Pearce, the host of the radio programme, is well known to Sai members in this part of England, having broadcast his radio programme from Akhanda Bhajan sessions in the past. He interviewed three of the participants over the course of the programme. They were:

Dhirubhai Mistry, the Chairperson of Luton Sai Centre who (not having slept for at least 25 hours!) gave a summary of Swami’s teachings and how the Akhanda Bhajan was being simultaneously conducted worldwide.

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Veda Chanting

 

David Rennie presented a good case for promoting world harmony, as he said, “When we don’t wish for animosity between given members of a family, why should we wish for it between nations?”

Michael Howson emphasised the oneness of all peoples, and the significance of good vibrations to rekindle our spirituality.

Feedback from participants at the Akhanda Bhajan was prompt. The Valmiki Temple sent an e-mail:

“With the Grace of the Paramatma that is the indweller of everything that has been created by Him, we take this opportunity to thank you and your Organisation for inviting us to the Akhanda Bhajan. We truly feel blessed that we were able to participate in an event that was surely arranged by God Himself. On entering the Divine abode, we were inspired more so by the vibrations that were being created, which were immensely uplifting”.

At 10:00 a.m. the children from the Milton Keynes Sai Spiritual Education Classes began their Bhajans. Aged 5 to 14, these children showed great discipline and enthusiasm in all the songs that they sang.

Sunday, the 11th being Armistice Day conferred a sense of solemnity to the morning’s proceedings. All the non-singers in a side room observed a two-minute silence at 11:00 a.m. Nirasha Ramlugan, the teacher who was instrumental in getting the various faith groups together for the Akhanda Bhajan, made a display of posters related to ‘Peace’, created by children from her school.

Following the SSE children, were another set of talented youngsters, from the Bal Ambika Mandir. The four children, all cousins aged 12 and below, played a harmonium and tabla and sang in a professional manner for a whole hour!

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Cookie and Vijeyan, with their daughter

Next came Uma Gandhi, from the Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist Sect, who attend an ornate, Japanese-style Buddhist Temple in Milton Keynes. Uma chanted the Sect’s mantra for Peace - Namu Myo Ho Reng Ge Kyo, during her hour.

It was lunchtime by now. One of the devotee families lovingly provided a full Indian meal for all present, and this was well received.

Messers King and Patkunan captured the whole of the Akhanda Bhajan on film (both video and still) so that a life-long record was made.

During lunchtime, a set of young parents from a local Playgroup performed, with the music being provided by a versatile keyboard player.

A Christian Group from the landmark church in Milton Keynes, Christ - the Cornerstone, followed the Playgroup parents. It was apparent that they had practiced quite hard, as they were impeccable in their rendition.

The Day Continues with Renewed Fervour

Next came the ‘Dosti Club’, a lunch club for the elders in the Hindu Community, run by the Milton Keynes Hindu Association. It felt good to have such esteemed members of the Community at the Akhanda Bhajan.

They were followed by the Jewish Ladies Choir, a small group of enthusiastic ladies keen to maintain their ancient heritage through music. They shared the one-hour slot with the Milton Keynes Youth whose enthusiasm was quite infectious!

Over the many years of the Multi-Faith Akhanda Bhajan being held in Milton Keynes, several Groups and individuals have supported the event. Muslim colleagues have always attended, and here a special mention must be made of Fazle Khundkar, a much-respected citizen of Milton Keynes, and long-standing friend of Sai devotees.

Then, arrived the final hour – by then 23 hours of uplifting music and chanting had really overwhelmed everybody present. The Luton Sai Centre took the floor, and the event reached a climax at 6:00 p.m. The end was both emotional and joyful. The sense of camaraderie was intense, and everyone just knew that they wanted to repeat the event in 2008.

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Aarthi being performed...
...at the conclusion of the Akhanda Bhajan

“The Akhanda Bhajan served to bring together different faiths, something that is desperately needed in these troubled times. It also enabled us to work together towards the principal aim of our Guru, that is, to make us realise that we are all indeed one. It was quite plain that this message had been perceived by all who attended the 2007 Multi-Faith Akhanda Bhajan,” say the Sai Devotees who organised this unique event.

- UK Sai Devotees


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Vol 6 Issue 01 - JANUARY 2008
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