Jaya Helin is a founding member of Ananda. In November 2008, he and his wife Sadhana Devi moved to Pune, India, to lead the development of Ananda’s new land there as a spiritual community.
My first assignment upon arrival in Pune was “to do the needful” regarding our newly purchased land and prepare the site by March 1st for our inauguration ceremony, known in India as a “Bhoomi Puja.” That date had been set months before, and plans were in motion for a hundred guests to arrive for a major weekend retreat. To get everything ready in time, we needed to get busy.
Our land is a one-hour drive outside the city of Pune, in Watunde Village. A group of us began to make the drive most mornings to start on various projects, using local village labor where needed. We cleared brush, smoothed roads and building sites, developed a preliminary water system, built a shade pavilion, fixed up the house that was already on the property and built a toilet/shower facility to serve visitors.
Most days found us in the nearby town of Pirangut, buying supplies and learning hard lessons in the art of business in India. Thank God for our friend Hari Sharma, a carpenter from Gurgaon, who moved to Pune with us. Without him, we stood little chance of negotiating fair prices. Doing business in a foreign land is an education, and I learned, “When going to school, you must pay tuition.”
While us guys were working on the land, others of our group were coordinating logistics and organizing parts of the Bhoomi Puja Celebration taking place within Pune. Most of the retreat activities were held within the city, and only a few hours of the weekend were scheduled to be on the land itself.
For some mysterious reason, everything we planned seemed to go wrong at one time or another, and we ended up scrambling until the last minute to plug the gaps.
The venues for some of the events had to be changed four times, the last time just one week before the retreat. We had reserved a major hall for Swami Kriyananda’s presentation months ahead of time, only to be “bumped” a week before the event!
We had to scramble, finally reserving the original hall for a few hours in the evening instead of all day as planned.
The hall “secured,” we rented a pandal (big tent), and set it up on the courtyard of our apartment complex, booked a caterer, and completely rearranged the weekend’s schedule.
The monks [editor’s note: Ananda India has a monastery] rented buses to ferry retreat guests between hotels to our ever-changing venues and in the end, it all turned out beautifully. I suspect that to the guests it seemed like it was all planned that way.
Over 150 came to the dedication of our land on Sunday, March 1st. Most were ferried from Pune by bus, arriving early to tour the property and join in kirtan (devotional chanting) while they awaited Swami Kriyananda’s arrival. Fortunately, the day was not too hot.
An altar was set up under a large mango tree in the vicinity of where our future temple will be located. There we had leveled the ground, erected a shade tarp, and created a spot for the Vedic fire ceremony.
Swami Kriyananda arrived, and after a prayer and invocation to God and Ananda Gurus, led the crowd in recitation of the Gayatri Mantra (ancient Vedic prayer), while offering ghee (clarified butter) and rice into the fire before him. Many of the locals, who were invited to join us, at spontaneously began to chant traditional mantras (invocations) associated with a Bhoomi Puja. I found it very touching.
Dharmadas Schuppe, one of the Yogacharyas (Spiritual Directors) of Ananda Sangha India, used a powda (small shovel – see photo) to turn a bit of earth, after which Swami Kriyananda, he and I mortared into place a brick to symbolize the creation of our new community and the temple we hope build one day.
Swami Kriyananda followed with a short discourse addressing the local villagers, which was translated into the local language of Marathi, explaining our hopes for the community, then ended with a final prayer and blessings to all. As usual, many came up to him for his blessings, which he kindly gave to all.
When it was all over, I admit to being tired, simply because so much effort had gone into preparing for the weekend. Underneath the physical tiredness, however, I felt greatly blessed to have been a part of something special. On the surface, this was but one of many other dedication ceremonies I have participated, but somehow I felt this one to be extra special. It wasn’t just about starting a community in the little village of Watunde near Pune. I think something more was involved.
Whether this particular venture succeeds or fails seemed to me immaterial. Rather, larger currents of energy were at play in the dedication, putting into motion Paramhansa Yogananda’s vision for communities, in India and in the world that transcends Ananda and Pune.
We are planting seeds that will spring forth and bear fruit far into the future. I hope and pray that others be drawn to carry forward this vision.
Slideshow of the ongoing the community being built: