Three chance meetings …

It is a little over 42 years now and memories of three chance meetings hover in my mind’s canvas like fresh wet paint taking time to dry. They are ever fresh springing up now and then when I read the odd Facebook post or these days triggered by intrusion of What’s App pings disturbing a well earned afternoon siesta! I just saw one that I deemed as two sides of the same coin of Greed and Capitalism that we may be vexed about but are party to.

It was late August 1979 and it was hot even at 6 PM as you would expect in Hyderabad, India. I was in a car with my former boss who owned a locomotive business in the same industrial district where I was working. Seeing an elderly couple at a bus stop nearing the city centre, he pulled aside and asked the two to get in and that he could drop them off at the railway station nearby.

The gentleman was a bit stressed saying that they need to get to Madras (Chennai) for a wedding the following week as his niece was getting married to a lad from the US. He was vexed that it seemed all in a hurry and was unsure if his brother had done enough due diligence on the groom. I heard the conversation and said that my wife’s brother fits the description and would his niece be the daughter of a retired Major? You can imagine his shock given his concerns expressed just a few minutes earlier!

After the wedding of my wife’s brother, I was away in Paris on work where I stayed in a Hotel in Champs Elysee. I had just got off the Metro returning from work and a travel weary Indian was dragging his suitcase along and seemed somewhat lost. I thought I should ask if he needed any help. He was grateful for any assistance and pulled out a paper from his wallet saying that he would like to contact the person. Believe it or not it was my name on it as we were suppliers to Telco and the gent was the head of R&D based in Pune.

A week after the above, I was visiting Fontainbleau on my own and enjoying the many admirable walks around the well maintained gardens. At one of the many fountains in the sprawling gardens, I thought a picture of myself there would be nice and looked around and found a middle-aged Indian couple and sought their help for a picture with my camera. The pictures taken, we introduced ourselves and that he was based in Singapore and that he had a brother in Hyderabad working for a French collaboration. And guess what, the brother this gentleman was referring to was my boss in Hyderabad!

The above three are in my life remarkable coincidences. Was it meant to happen the way it did? What makes these events take place the way they did in our lives? I have no answers other than to say that everything happens according to a divine plan!

Sri Avudai Akkal Program of Friday 17th Sep 2021 @ Rasika Ranjani Sabha, Chennai

In my Foreword in Sri Robert Butler’s recent book titled ‘A Concert of Songs by Avudai Akkal’, I had written:

“Bhagawan Shri Ramana Maharishi said that whatever is to happen will happen however much we try to prevent it from happening and that even if we try as we may to make certain things happen, they will not happen. Such is the universal divine will that takes it’s natural course. As to what this is we do not know but must only accept it while not giving up our efforts.”

Precisely in the spirit of what was written, we were blessed this year with having a live program, albeit with very restricted number of people in the audience. The program featured our traditional music- a Carnatic Vocal Concert of Vidushi Smt Nisha Rajagopalan and a Harikatha of Kalaimamani Vidushi Smt Vishaka Hari.

Sri Avudai Akkal Songs by Vidushi Smt Nisha Rajagopalan

We thank Vidushi Smt Nisha Rajagopalan, Vidvan Sri RK Shriramkumar (Violin) and Vidvan Sri K Arunprakash (Mridangam) for a very memorable concert. We owe a special thank you to Sri Shriramkumar for setting the Tamil lyrics of Sri Avudai Akkal to melodious music.

It is only in recent months that I got to know Smt Nisha and could discern her commitment to sing the exquisite Advaitic songs of Sri Avudai Akkal. I knew it was going to be special and that her concert surely would be an endearing one of both head and heart. When she advised me of her fellow Vidvans, I said that it was my dream team. I have known them for over twenty-five years from our time in Adelaide when they toured with a then strapping cricket-mad singing Accountant- Sanjay Subramaniam!

Sri Avudai Akkal Harikatha by Kalaimamani Vidushi Smt Vishaka Hari

We extend our gratitude and thanks for the Sri Avudai Akkal Harikatha to Kalaimamani Smt Vishaka Hari and her fellow artistes, Vidvan Sri B Ananthakrishnan (Violin) and Vidvan Sri SJ Arjun Ganesh (Mridangam). The idea of a Harikatha on Sri Avudai Akkal was mooted some two years ago as Vishaka Ji recalled in her discourse. This seedling of a mere idea then planted needed time to germinate as an Akkal Harikatha, and germinate it did splendidly as we now know.

Divine will plays out, period. Vishaka Ji had lost her dear father a month ago and I was not sure how to approach her and suggest that we postpone the Sri Akkal Harikatha. When I called her, she simply replied that she is absorbed in Sri Akkal’s Atmabodha and the program should go ahead with or without a live audience, be recorded and premiered on YouTube. Hence it should come as no surprise that her Harikatha was one polished by deep reflection and as we say, ‘living the script’.

Live audience and virtual attendance!

Given Covid constraints that kept us and others here confined to Sydney, my wife Soumya and I could not attend the two programs. Thanks to technology, we were ‘virtually’ there but missed being part of the live audience. We would have loved to thank in person the artistes and all those who have made this possible.

I have had innumerable calls and messages- in a word or two they all said what I have conveyed to both Smt Nisha and Smt Vishaka that the program was, Wonderful, Brilliant!

To get a feel for what it felt being in the audience, see below feedback from Usha and Gopal:

“I had the good fortune of attending the programme on Avudai Akkal arranged by you @ RR Sabha on 17th instant. For one thing, it was the first real time performance attended by me since the pandemic set in. Secondly, it turned out to be a celebration of a less known but a greatly divine woman sage of yester years.

The music concert by Smt. Nisha Rajagopalan was very mellifluous. She sang chosen songs of Avudai akkal, set to tune by Violinist Sriram Kumar. Sri Kumar deserves full credit for the manner in which he has composed the ragas, and Smt Nisha for the rendering of the songs because they complimented nicely in bringing out the richness of the content of the compositions. It was on the whole an enriching experience thanks to the devine music by Smt Nisha and her accompanying artists.”

Kalaimamani Smt Vishaka Hari, true to her innate style brought alive Akkal of the 17th century. Her striking drawing of parallels and apt associations  brought out details in not only stories we have heard but not Known, it also gave a deep insight into spirituality in its true sense.
The Harikatha exponent with her expertise wove the spiritual journey of Akkal beautifully inspite of the fact that not so many details  were available.
Pranams to the efforts of all in bringing  Akkal and her works to the community at large at a time when most of us feel lost in this physical plane
.”

The Hindu has a glowing review, ‘Tracing Avudai Akkal’s Journey’, of the program. We are grateful to Dr Renuka Suryanarayan for her attendance and coverage.

Now that you may watched these videos, we may well ask: How was the program and what does it mean for you? I encourage you to provide constructive feedback here as well as subscribe to the YouTube channels of both Smt Nisha Rajagopalan and Smt Vishaka Hari to post your comments.

Towards a larger purpose ….

I want us all to also think for a moment of the artistes who had to address Covid issues in their communities, research, learn from scratch entirely new songs, practice and perform with uncertainty as their constant companion. Anchoring on their passion with unrelenting commitment for music, story-telling and innovation, they are in their own ways leading us all towards a higher cause and our inner spiritual growth.

With the grace of Sri Bhagawan and Sri Avudai Akkal, we have had two consecutive years of programs dedicated to the Advaitic teachings and songs of Sri Avudai Akkal. In 2020 we had the Pravachanam of Sri Nochur Venketraman and Carnatic Vocal Concert of Vidushi Smt Gayathri Venkataraghavan, links to which are in my earlier blog.

Let us look ahead to continue this as best we can into the future with the continued support of Rasika Ranjani Sabha, Mylapore- Chennai.

And finally …

Our thanks to Smt Aruna Ranganathan for working closely with us over the past two years on these programs, Sri R Nagarajan and Sri Ramachandran from the Sabha for their help, Dr Renuka Suryanarayan from The Hindu, Sri K Sriram from Sri Achalam Ramana Satsang for his brief address and Sri Chella for the photos, streaming and video recording of the two concerts.

Thank you all for your support and we look forward to the future with prayers and hope for peace in all.

PS: Our next program for Friday 23 Sep 2022 (6 to 8 PM): Kum Sivasri Skandaprasad presenting ‘Akkal and Abhangs: Gnana and Bhakti are ONE’

Book Review … may not interest punters!

A RANDOM WALK DOWN WALL STREET: The time-tested strategy for successful investing

by Barton G Malkiel- Emeritus Professor in Economics, Princeton University

(2020 Edition, first published in 1975)

I first heard of this author in one of Forbes podcasts earlier this year. I don’t follow Forbes nor the pastime of disc jockeys who are anti-Democrats. Never mind, fast forward to near the seven minute mark to hear the interview with Prof Malkeil.

It was featured in a blog in little known Australian investment firm- Stockspot. I liked what I heard and ordered the book, one that I would recommend to both working folks and retirees. As to whether you would use his recommendations is up to you and the usual disclaimers on not providing financial advice holds in these forums.

Prof Malkiel says: ‘Investors would be far better off buying and holding an index fund than attempting to buy and sell individual securities or actively managed mutual funds.”

Based on his experience in the US, he then goes on to say that buying and holding stocks in a broad stock market average was likely to outperform professionally managed funds whose high expense charges and large trading costs detract substantially from investment returns.

He questions whether ‘Beat the Market’ is consistently possible and is wary of charting and tricks of the trade to pick winners.

A random walk is one in which steps or directions cannot be predicted and when applied to the stock market, it means stock prices are unpredictable. Hence earnings forecasts and chart patterns are useless!

As if he has not upset readers enough, he goes on to say that a blind-folded monkey can select a portfolio throwing darts and makes a plea that we need to be clear if we are investors or speculators as therein lies the difference. He writes for investors and provides many examples from the 17th century to the mid 2015 where speculators drew naïve people into their orbit and eventually went downhill, often abetted by regulators and governments.

The academic in Malkiel does discuss in some detail Investment Theory:

– Firm Foundation and the theory of intrinsic value from future dividend streams that Warren Buffet initially leaned heavily on where 90/10 is the logic/psychology split

– Castle-in-the air’ theory of Keynes where it is 10/90 with the split reversed.

– Modern Behavioural Finance,  CAPM, Modern Portfolio Theory and Cryptocurrency

What I found particularly interesting is the story telling and revisiting the past that makes an enjoyable read with learnable lessons. We know that forgetting the lessons of history increases the risk of repeating the same mistakes!

The ‘madness of crowds’ – the 17th century Tulip industry in the Netherlands, the South Sea Bubble and East India Company in Britain, the 1970s Japanese land prices, the internet bubble of the 1990s, Enron, Cisco and Bubble.Com’s hype and GFC of 2007/08 are all discussed that makes the book all the more interesting from an investor perspective.

Malkiel pointedly says: ‘The lessons of market history are clear. Styles and fashions in investors’ valuation of securities can and often do play a critical role in the pricing of securities. The stock market at times conforms well to the ‘castle-in-the air’ theory. For this reason, the game of investing can be extremely dangerous. Beware of IPOs backed by Fund Managers who all have a vested interest.’

A company called Globe.com was listed at $9/- and rocketed to $97/- the same day and was backed by Credit Swisse First Boston. Boo.com on chic fashion caught my eye too. They did not last though their founders enjoyed Concorde flights and boutique fashion being on OPM- pronounced opium – Other Peoples’ Money!

Hence beware of institutional failures, fancy financial footwork like Enron and speculative manias that still abound where modern day incarnations of Tip Sheet writers and Pool Managers leverage social media and technology to peddle hallucinating success stories.

Lest we go into a depression of sorts, Malkiel reassures us that eventually every stock can only be worth the present value of its cash flow and that in the final analysis, true value will win out. There is no evidence he says that anyone can generate excess returns by consistently correct bets against the collective wisdom of the market.

Markets are not always or even usually correct but NO ONE PERSON OR INSTITUTION CONSISTENTLY KNOWS MORE THAN THE market.

Markiel is very clear on a few things throughout his book of some 400 pages.

  • Investment strategies must be age related (page 361 on Life Cycle Investment Guide)
  • Risk in many investments decreases with the length of time an investment can be held and hence optimal investment strategy must be age related
  • Buy only if expected to have above average earnings for five or more years
  • Technical analysis is often amusing, comforting but of no real value!
  • Random events have great influence, and are unpredictable
  • Even if stock prices move randomly, you should not.
  • Each individual has a sleep index- age, financial situation and income/earnings for chosen or desired lifestyle is a non-trivial matter (page 302)

What then are the key takeaways?

  1. Specific needs require specific dedicated assets
  2. Buy shares in broad based index funds and ETFs for different asset classes to build a diversified portfolio with CASH 5%, BONDS/SECURITIES 28%, REAL ESTATE 12%, STOCKS 55% – Local 27%, International 14% and Emerging 14%
  3. Rebalance your portfolio annually
  4. Where possible, consider dollar-cost averaging and invest regularly over time
  5. If indulging in a bit of DIY portfolio of individual stocks, above average earnings over five years, PEG ratio less than 1 and only buy ‘anticipated’ castles-in-the-air while keeping trade as little as possible.

It comes to me as no surprise that Warren Buffet has stipulated in his will that cash from his estate be invested solely in index funds!

But there is a vexed question: With Australia having a much smaller equity market and an active Australian Shareholders’ Association, how much of the advice from the Random Walk is really applicable in Australia?

Sri Avudai Akkal 2021 Program

It gives us much pleasure to announce that this year’s program is planned for Friday 17th September at Rasika Ranjani Sabha, Mylpaore- Chennai, Tamilnadu. We are grateful to Rasika Ranjani Sabha for their foresight to nurture and encourage the wider dissemination of Tamil saints and sages, particularly women of yester years.

Given the unpredictability of Covid-19, our plans may come unstuck with any semblance of a resurgence and/or a new incarnation of Covid-19. All we can do as both individuals and as a global community is pray that we have a yet to be defined post-Covid normalcy and that live performances can take place with at least partially filled auditoriums.

Our program features two very talented women known for both their passion and commitment to their respective classical traditions. They are much admired across the globe performing to packed audiences with a growing online following.

The program would commence at 5 PM with well known Carnatic vocalist, Vidushi Smt Nisha Rajagopalan. With her penchant for innovation and making a difference, she would be setting to tune and singing hitherto unsung songs of Sri Avudai Akkal in a Carnatic concert.

Vidushi Smt Nisha Rajagopalan

Following the vocal concert, Kalaimamani Smt Vishaka Hari will present a Harikatha on the blissful story and compositions of Sri Avudai Akkal at 6.30 PM. She will explore the range of Vedantic outpourings such as Vedanta Ammanai, Vedanta Pallu and Vedanta Kappal from Sri Avudai Akkal’s nectarine downpour.

Vishaka Hari | MDnD
Kalaimamani Smt Vishaka Hari

We are grateful and thank both Smt Nisha Rajagopalan and Kalaimamani Smt Vishaka Hari for accepting our invitation to present their programs. The program is free of charge for those attending. The only condition for their entry to the auditorium is that attendees abide by Covid-19 public health protocols.

We are well aware that the local authorities in Chennai would need to allow assembly of people within auditoriums and that for public health reasons, people attending have had their two jabs of Covid-19 vaccines, wear masks and maintain social distancing. This is the least the attending patrons can do for their welfare, the Sabha staff and importantly for those artistes performing and giving so much of their time and talent in these troubled times.

In the event that the public are not allowed to attend the program, we would work on alternative arrangements and have the concert and Harikatha recorded and streamed through online platforms, details of which would be announced through social media.

Sri Avudai Akkal .. from plans to programs!

Om Namo Bhagavate Shri Ramanaya

Namaskarams from Sydney, Australia

Over a year ago, I was deeply moved reading about the life and teachings of Tamizh Saint Senkottai Sri Avudai Akkal in Sri Ramanasramam’s Mountain Path. It made me wonder as to how many others across the globe were in the same situation as I was with only a passing awareness of Sri Avudai Ammal as Bhagawan Sri Ramana Maharirshi had referred to Sri Akkal and her songs.

In earnest, my wife Soumya and I wanted to explore how best to enable a wider dissemination of Sri Akkal’s songs. While a few publications including the Senkottai Sri Avudai Akkal Paadal Thiratu in Tamil of Sri Akkal’s songs (available from Sri Gnananda Niketan) and the book Transgressing Boundaries by Dr Kanchana Natarajan have been in print for many years as well as a recording of 10 songs by Bombay Sisters Smt C Saroja and Smt C Lalitha, knowledge of Sri Akkal’s songs have remained largely within families who to this day recite them in their daily Parayanam.

It is with the grace of Sri Bhagawan that our journey of exploration led to the recent Pravachanam on Sri Akkal by Sri Nochur Acharya. Sri Acharya’s discourse was launched on YouTube on Advent Day (1 September 2020) commemorating the arrival of Sri Bhagawan in Arunachala in 1896. Many of you would have heard and been moved by Sri Acharya’s discourse and no doubt as he alluded to, are eager to hear more over the coming years.

To Sri Nochur Acharya whom we approached late last year, our eternal thanks for agreeing to our request for a discourse on Sri Akkal. Our thanks also to Sri Chandramouli for all his help coordinating arrangements for the online posting of the discourse.

Today, I have much pleasure in announcing that our spiritual journey to imbibe the teachings and songs of Sri Avudai Akkal continues with a Carnatic Music recital by Smt Gayathri Venkataraghavan (GV) accompanied on the Violin by Sri Mysore V Srikanth and on the Mridangam by Sri B Ganapathyraman. Our gratitude to Smt GV and her fellow musicians for this concert. This concert will be released at 5.30 PM IST on Saturday 26th September on Smt GV’s YouTube and Facebook channels.

There are many who have accompanied us on this journey. Sri Robert Butler in the UK, a good friend of ours from our Sri Ramanasramam connections had yet again at short notice transcribed and translated the songs chosen by both Sri Nochur Acharya and Smt GV.  Earlier this year Sri Robert published Songs of Avudai Akkal that featured the 10 songs sung by Bombay Sisters.

Readers may also be interested in a Sri Akkal song titled ‘Rama Naam Pazham’ that was the favourite of my wife’s aunt (Athai), the late Smt Heimavathi Ammal, a staunch follower of Sri Akkal and her guru-shishya lineage. Athai’s own words as well as the song appear in Sri Robert Butler’s book. You can hear (and learn!) this piece beautifully sung by my friend Sri Ramkumar Chidambaram,

Sri Christopher Quilkey, a fellow Australian and resident of Arunachala helped us connect with Sri Nochur Acharya as did Sri KVS (Mani Mama) at Sri Ramanasramam.  Smt Nalini Venkateswaran in the UK has also been an integral member of our core team from the very beginning of this project.

We are grateful for the blessings of Swami Nityananda Giri whom we met in January this year at his Ashram at Gnananda Niketan outlining our plans on Sri Avudai Akkal. Our thanks to Sri Shivakumar and Sri Venkatesh at the Niketan for all their help over the last 12 months

The Pravachanam and concert were to have been a free public program in front of a live audience at Rasika Ranjani Sabha in Mylapore, Chennai on Sunday 27th September 2020. Our thanks for the foresight of Committee Members Sri R Nagarajan and Smt Aruna Ranganathan for agreeing to offer their auditorium and host this program at their Sabha. But with Covid-19 intervening across the globe, we had to leverage online media to reach out to you all as best we can.

Thank you all, family and friends who have joined us on this journey on Sri Avudai Akkal. It is our sincere wish and prayers that the Vedantic teachings of Sri Avudai Akkal reaches out to a global audience.

Saturday, 26 September 2020

Sri Avudai Akkal Program: September 2020

It is nearly six months since my last update. The ongoing impact across the globe of Covid-19 pandemic is well known and it continues to wreck both health and economy. We can only pray and do things under our control to keep ourselves and our communities safe as best we can.

Our planned live talk of Sri Nochur Acharya and Carnatic music concert of Smt Gayathri Venkataraghavan at Rasika Ranjani Sabha on Sunday 27th September in Chennai is deferred indefinitely due to Covid-19.

In lieu of the two live performances, a pre-recorded Pravachanam on Sri Avudai Akkal by Sri Nochur Acharya will be available for viewing from 6.30 PM IST on Tuesday 1 September. It was on 1 September 1896 that the spiritual quest of a young lad by name Venketraman, later to be known as Bhagawan Sri Ramana Maharrishi, reached Arunachala and remained there for 54 years. Known as Advent Day, we feel blessed that this Pravachanam on the songs of Sri Avudai Akkal that Bhagawan Ramana Maharishi was fond of would be released on that auspicious day.

Click here to view Nochur Acharya’s Pravachanam on Sri Avudai Akkal on YouTube.

With Nochur Acharya’s discourse ringing fresh in your ears, you would also delight from a short Carnatic vocal concert of Sri Avudai Akkal songs by Smt Gayathri Venkataraghavan. The concert will be made available on many platforms by mid September.

On behalf of all our family, friends and well wishers across the globe, we offer our sincere pranaams to Sri Nochur Acharya and our thanks to Smt Gayathri Venkataraghavan for their respective contributions to the global community of spiritual seekers and rasikas of Carnatic music.

 

 

Key factors in a post-Covid 19 Scenario

Good old fashioned scenario planning is one useful tool-set to dust off and put to use today given the ramifications of Covid-19. Obviously, the scenario one constructs must relate to a major investment or life decision one plans to make and cover the time span of such a decision.

We tend to hide under the pretext that the future is uncertain and hence accept what comes our way largely unprepared. But not all of our future is uncertain as many factors are right before us that would play out over time and become key considerations in the story of our future.

A good scenario following Covid-19 in Australia would include the following:

– Predetermined events: These are factors that we can rely upon in our planning

  • Social distancing with consequential effects on many industries- Travel (All modes including Air, Sea and Land transportation including Uber, taxis), Tourism (regional, interstate and international), Hospitality (including hotels, Air BnN), Conventions and Conferences, Retail Centres and retail outlets including those at air/sea ports, Sports (including big name championships like Australian Open), Theatre and Performing Arts, Religious Conventions and attendance at places of worship, Weddings, Funerals and Family/Community programs;
  • Blurring of Private/Public Information Security with mobile phone Apps being pervasive despite the mistrust of governments;
  • Surge in mobile and home internet data demands for in-house entertainment such as Netflix, YouTube, Audible etc;
  • Reallocation of budgets by governments, companies, communities, families and individuals;
  • Increase in online retailing and local freight delivery services;
  • Disrupted schooling and higher education with consequential problems on families and teaching institutions with shifts to online courses; and
  • Other factors that we can categorise as pre-determined.

– Heavy Trends: These are factors we should not fail to include in our planning as they are most likely to become a ‘pre-determined’ factor within a sort time, say one to two years:

  • An accelerated decline of US global influence along with a mistrust of Peoples’ Republic of China;
  • Rising unemployment in aforementioned industries and consequential debt servicing with negative impact on the financial sector and dividends;
  • Falling real incomes from pension/superannuation funds, share market dividends and bank deposits;
  • Lower commuter traffic and environmental emissions;
  • Falling real estate prices with steeper decline in multi-rise housing complexes;
  • Pressures on mental health and well-being issues across all sections of the community;
  • Growth in holistic medicine, yoga and spiritual programs;
  • Increased public debt that ‘debt is good’ as against ‘greed is good’;
  • Reduction in travel leading to bankruptcy of airlines, holiday cruise liners and coach travel;
  • Organizations accepting of telecommuting and working from home;
  • Growth in video hosting platforms for meetings, concerts etc along with high fidelity acoustic devices for concert quality home hosting;
  • Increased private funding of pandemic related vaccines and fast tracking of approval processes;
  • Quantum leaps in tele-medicine;
  • Further erosion of rural communities given slow recovery from bush fires; and
  • Other factors that we discern as a heavy trend.

– Future Carrier: These are factors that are not yet a heavy trend but have a reasonably high potential to become a heavy trend in the next few years. These as we see today are:

  • Local point of sale manufacturing and ‘order to print’ product manufacture and assembly;
  • Co-opetition rather than mere competition becoming the framework for governments and corporations;
  • Realignment of geo-politics;
  • Move to greater self-sufficiency and reduction in manufactured imports;
  • Reallocation of defense funding with reduced emphasis on hardware and more on bio-security and related R&D; and
  • Other factors that are not yet a heavy trend but have the potential to become one.

– Impossibilities: While we have a reasonable idea on all of the above, we must rule out a few in developing our future scenario for the impending decision we plan to take. These would be:

  • Australia going for nuclear energy in the next 10 years;
  • Australia adopting the New Zealand model of reducing the size and budget of its defence forces;
  • China opening up and admitting its guilt for Covid-19; and
  • The International Court at The Hague trying the triumvirate of evil (Bush Jr, Blair and Howard) for war crimes for their part in the Iraq invasion.

Now that we have set the broad range of factors for our planning scenario, we must now identify what are truly those that we are uncertain about.

–  Core Uncertainties: This is what we really do not know but were we to factor in all of the above, we would be better able to address the following:

  • How long would it take for the free world to come back to a semblance of normalcy?
  • How would China act given that most major powers believe it is their Wuhan debacle?
  • Would China fragment under the pressure of political upheaval and with it impact Australian exports and critical manufactured imports?
  • How would the forthcoming US elections shape geopolitics and US-China relations?
  • What industries would seek to mend their supply-chain pressures and start local manufacturing in line with national strategic imperatives?
  • How would Australia-China relations play out over the next few years?

I would like this to be just a starting point for any of you to take up and post your comments so that we can have hopefully, a lively discussion!

Update on Sri Avudai Akkal Programs

The last few months have been momentous, and the last fortnight more so!

  • Robert Butler’s book on the ten songs of Sri Avudai Akkal sung by Bombay Sisters was published in early December 2019;
  • We bought several copies of Robert’s book to give them away as gifts to elders who attended my mother’s 90th birthday celebrations and to a number of music teachers and friends in Sydney as well as musicians in Chennai;
  • We met with Carnatic vocalist Smt Gayathri Venkataraghavan (GV) in Chennai on 29th January when she expressed her prayerful desire to sing Sri Akkal songs first at Sri Ramansramam if possible before the free public concert at Rasika Ranjani Sabha (Mylapore, Chennai- India) at 4.30 PM on Sunday 27th September;
  • We made our annual pilgrimage to Sri Ramanasramam on 30th January and met with Sri S Krishnan at the Ashram office, gave him a copy of Robert Butler’s book and took up my earlier request that Sri Ramansramam become the spiritual home for Sri Akkal songs on one day each year given that Mother Azhagammal would sing these songs in the presence of Sri Bhagawan;
  • Sri Ramanasramam have agreed to our request and we are all delighted. In my presence, Sri Krishnan formally invited Smt GV to sing at the annual Advent Day program at 8 PM on September 2 this year to which she readily consented;
  • At Sri Ramanasramam, my friend Christopher Quilkey introduced us to Sri KV Subramonyam who has been instrumental in helping us connect with Sri Nochur Venkataraman Acharya; Sri Nochur Acharya will present his Pravachanam on Sri Akkal’s songs from 6.30 PM after GK’s concert at Rasika Ranjani Sabha on Sunday 27th September;
  • We then sought the blessings of Swami Sri Nityananda Giri at Sri Ganananda Niketan. Swamiji was delighted to hear our update and advised us to focus on the spiritual teachings of Sri Avudai Akkal and not get caught up with commentaries on social conditions of past centuries;
  • On my return home, Smt Vishaka Hari Ji confirmed that she would be delighted to present a program on Sri Akkal in September 2021 at Rasika Ranjani Sabha.

We look forward to a house full program, both for the Carnatic Vocal concert at 4.30 PM  of Smt Gayathri Venkataraghavan and the Pravachanam of Sri Nochur Venkataraman Achary at 6.30 PM at Rasika Ranjani Sabha on Sunday 27th September in Mylapore, Chennai. Please note that both these programs are FREE to the public.

Surely, there will be a divine grace that is guiding us as we move forward. As Swami Nityananda Giri advised us ‘Leave it to HER grace, and it will all happen. Focus on the teachings and that alone is your work.’

How did Sri Avudai Akkal come into our lives?

There is an old saying that things happen for a reason. Others might contend that it is our ‘prarabdha’ karma that takes its course. One may well ask, how did Sri Avudai Akkal come into our lives? Let me set it out, as best I can, of what happened.

The July-September 2019 (Vol.56, No.3) issue of Mountain Path, a quarterly publication of Sri Ramanasramam contained an article featuring the lives of two Saints, St Teresa of Avila (Spain) and Sri Avudai Akkal (Shenkottai, India). Both these women lived some 350 years ago and though separated by geography, their spiritual outpourings, according to the author, Dr Kanchana Natarajan, had similar mystical trajectories.

I had heard and read about Tamil women Saints, Auvaiyar, Aandal and more recently Aandavan Pichai but not of Akkal. Dr Natarajan’s article made reference to an earlier article of hers on Akkal in the Jan-March 2010 issue of Mountain Path. Fortunately, this was available online from the website of Sri Ramanasramam.  That led me to consult, as we light heartedly say, Swami Googleananda and thence many weblinks on Akkal including articles in the newspaper The Hindu and references to the book Transgressing Boundaries- The Songs of Shenkottai Avudai Akkal (ISBN 978 93 81017 16 6).

I ordered and devoured these readings and thanks to Dr Natarajan advising people to contact her with any information on Akkal, I emailed her complimenting her on the book and asking for more details on the CD of Bombay Sisters featuring 10 songs of Akkal. Incidentally, it was these songs of Bombay Sisters and four pages (Avvadayakkal, pages 357-360) in the Lives of Saints (a publication of Sri Shivananda Ashram, ISBN 81-7052-095-9) that had set Dr Natarajan on her extensive field research on Akkal.

Much that I had googled and asked people here in Sydney and families well versed in Carnatic music whether they had this particular CD of Bombay Sisters, I was getting nowhere. To my utter surprise, none of the Carnatic music teachers I knew had heard of Akkal. I discovered later even our top tier musicians- male and female vocalists and accompanying artistes were all unaware of Akkal but were supportive of my enquiries and encouraged me to share with them whatever I had chanced to find of Akkal’s songs.

As a last desperate act, I wrote to Dr Natarajan asking her to send me a song or two copied on to WhatsApp (even if it meant breaching copyrights for a larger purpose!) and the cover of the CD to track down. While no audio was made available, Dr Natarajan had kindly sent me the cover of the CD and the address of Sri Gnanananda Niketan in Tirukoilur, Tamilnadu to make enquiries on their availability.

In parallel, I contacted my classmate Sri R Venkatraman whose brother Sri R Nagarajan, is the Secretary of Rasika Ranjani Sabha in Mylapore, Chennai. I called Sri Nagarajan and sought his help to get the phone number for Bombay Sisters and contacted them.  While polite with an international phone intrusion, their daughter took the call and asked that I send an email with the details I was looking for. Shortly thereafter, I was advised that the sisters would ask their recording company and come back to me about their CD of Akkal songs.

Luck was turning in my favour now as the Niketan had the CDs and copies of the Tamil book of Akkal’s teachings (Paadal Thiratu). These were promptly ordered and on arrival, I took to the Tamil book as a duck to water absorbed in the uplifting philosophy and lyrics of Akkal.

I took the liberty to again contact Bombay Sisters saying I had found their CD of Akkal songs as well as the book of Akkal songs and that they may now be able to get them from the Niketan should they so desire.

With the CD with me and the lyrics of all the Tamil songs from the Paadal Thriatu, I made a copy of the lyrics and sent them to Bombay Sisters to help me identify the raga of each of the songs in their CD as a few seemed uncommon to me. They were kind enough to send me the raga of each track and that helped close a significant missing link.

I must add here that Track 1 of the CD has a beautiful introduction of Akkal by Swami Nityananda Giri. Listening to him, it becomes abundantly clear of the special reverence we all owe Akkal, both for her Advaita teachings and songs. But for Swamiji’s introduction, we would not know that many people had worked hard leading to the production of the CD and that our musical delight hearing Akkal’s songs is entirely due to vocalists Smt C. Saroja and Smt C. Lalitha and Sri L Krishnan who set the music for the ten songs.

Readers may note that Akkal’s first song in the CD is Ethanai Naal Thedi Vandeno (How many days have I searched for Thee!). I can verily say, it is equally true of this search for Bombay Sisters’ music of Akkal’s songs!

I had not only approached several musicians referred earlier, but also learned scholars and Harikatha exponents. These people like the many musicians were also totally unaware of the teachings and songs of Sri Avudai Akkal.

By now it would be clear that Akkal’s songs were not known widely amongst Carnatic musicians barring Bombay Sisters Smt C. Saroja and Smt C. Lalitha, and a select few vocalists who were personally advised by Dr Natarajan to sing Akkal songs. I was therefore convinced that much work needs to be done to ‘mainstream’ both Akkal’s Vedantic work as well as her lyrics that were well suited for Carnatic music.

Knowing that my friend Sri Robert Butler in London would find the Tamil lyrics of Akkal uplifting as I did, I suggested that if his time permits, it would be wonderful if he could translate these verses into English, and perhaps have it published in Mountain Path. Robert was delighted and co-opted Smt Nalini Malarkan to work with us on this to which she readily consented.

Let me now take you aside on an important family connection with Akkal. My wife’s aunt (Athai), Smt Haimavathi Ammal (Haimavathi Ramanathan) is 95 years old and recalls sitting with the late Smt Gomathi Rajangam and writing a bound notebook full of Akkal songs in Varanasi. Some of those Akkal songs that Athai recollected and wrote down may well be in the Paadal Thiratu. We may never know unless the notebook is found somewhere, perhaps even in the Niketan archives!

You may well ask as to why I harbour hope that this Athai’s notebook could be amongst the collection of manuscripts at the Niketan? Well, in a private correspondence with Dr Natarajan, she says:

‘According to Swamiji, many years back when he went to Kashi, a big sack of texts was given to him by Gomathi. She wanted Swamiji to edit and the print the same. It was with Swamiji for many years. He finally edited and published the book.”  (the book is the Paadal Thiratu, our source document for Akkal’s Advaitic work and songs).

In the weeks prior to writing this note, we made a commitment, call it our ‘sankalpa’ to sponsor an Akkal program at Rasika Ranjani Sabha in Mylapore, Chennai in September 2020. We envisage a keynote address or two on Advaita and Akkal’s teachings and Carnatic music concerts of Akkal songs by both well-known and up-coming musicians.

Given the above family connection of Athai and her Akkal songs, it seemed fitting if only we could prevail upon Athai to pen a few words of her Akkal experience. We are all grateful that Athai has now done this for us, thanks largely to the untiring efforts of her daughter Smt Sankari Amrithakumar.  We have now heard first hand from Smt Sankari that she has vivid memories of school days in the late 1950s of her mother and a number of ladies visiting their home and singing song after song of Akkal while she and her siblings were trying to study!

Sri Robert Butler, Smt Nalini Malarkan and I, pray that this project is successful and that all readers and listeners of Akkal’s teachings and songs would benefit from it. That Akkal’s works are largely an unexplored treasure would indeed be an understatement. It would be truly wonderful to dedicate a day to Akkal’s teachings and songs beyond 2020. Towards this, we seek your support in joining us in this endeavour.

Swami Nityanandagiri of Sri Gnananda Nitetan has blessed that the grace of Satguru help us with this Akkal project and guide us all in our spiritual journey within.

Kailash Yatra is a Satsang with Truth

Over the past few months, and more recently, I have been asked as to what our Kailash Yatra meant for me and how would I describe it?  The second part was easy as I would refer people to my 14 Part blog where our Kailash Yatra is described including what I believe is an useful checklist in Part 5 for those wanting to take up this very special quest.

As for the first part of the question as to what it meant for me, there is no simple answer. At best I would say that it meant ‘EVERYTHING’ for me, and one where mere words can do no justice. And in that ‘EVERYTHING’, nothing is excluded!

Prior to our going on the Yatra, I had only read the very detailed blogs on the Kailash Yatra of my friend G Kameshwar and heard first hand of the experiences of those who went earlier. From all that I had concluded that the journey was arduous and not for the faint hearted and that one should be in a constant state of preparedness at what nature and circumstances may throw at you.

Just last week I had the good fortune to attend over three days a Satsang of Sri M in Hyderabad where his central theme was the practice of Kriya Yoga. Reconnecting with the Master and revising what I had learnt earlier and incorporating the fuller version in my practice was indeed a blessing.

The Satsang provided me the perfect answer to what I felt intuitively as to what the Kailash Yatra meant for me.

In his book ‘Kailash Yatra’, Sri M says:

‘Consider this pilgrimage to Kailash to be the same as our life’s journey towards the lofty heights of Truth. Mahadeva represents that Truth. When you go on this pilgrimage, reflect on this matter, that in everyday life too we are on a pilgrimage.’

All is Bliss in life’s pilgrimage.