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Vedanta Retreat, Manjakkudi, 16–30 Nov 2017

Once again Arsha Vidya UK students, along with fellow students from Germany, Australia and India, travelled to Manjakkudi for a Vedanta Retreat with our guru Pujya Swamini Atmaprakashanandaji, this time in late November 2017. On this occasion she unfolded Brahma-anucintanam then Mâyâ Pañcakam.

Brahma-anucintanam is a prakarana grantha of 29 verses, written by Ādi Shankara, in which he expresses his vision of the nature of reality (the nature of oneself) thereby providing a means of nididhyāsanam, contemplation, for the suitably prepared.

Mâyâ Pañcakam (five stanzas on māyā) is a poem by Shankara in which he marvels at how the veiling and projecting power of māyā, beguiling even the learned, brings confusion, temptation, wrong identity, attachment and delusion to the inadvertent.

During our fortnight's study we not only found time to visit temples in Kumbakonam but also visited the famous Brihadîśvara Temple, Thanjavur — the latter during world heritage week. With the help of chanting by the local Veda Patashala, we also celebrated our guru's birthday.

A few days later, Thiru was presented with a Sivalingam! The local sculptors, from whom he had commissioned it for a temple he is building in Sri Lanka, generously insisted on not accepting payment.

The next morning we visited a local girls' school and later looked in on the beginnings of the highly elaborate Dayananda Memorial Centre puja which began in the afternoon and continued into the next day. When finished in March next year the centre will be a standalone study and presentation facility with state-of-the-art audio-visual technology.

On the weekend we left for Rameśvaram where we of course did 22 teethas (bucket showers from wells) to wash away pāpa, visited the coast (only 8 km from Sri Lanka) and visited the Kothanda temple, where Râma crowned Vibishana king of Lanka. Later we paddled in the ocean, saw Rāma's footprints and the floating stones, and saw Minakshi and Siva put to bed!

The sculptures at Madurai were as astonishingly skilful – and beautiful – as its reputation proclaimed, and yet some are neglected and ignored in a market opposite the temple!

Some of us were thrown out of Madurai's Meenakshi temple — our white skins 'proving' we were non-Hindu. However, that same evening we returned and had darshan due to Swaminiji having by then obtained written approval from the temple Superintendent.

Later we wound our way back to Trichy, where in the evening we arrived at a Siva temple where Bhagavan is worshipped as water and heard the most gracefully beautiful temple singing.

The next day we concluded with a visit to the 280 acre Sri Rangam Vaishnavite temple where we met the 90-year-old ācārya (and had to use a golf buggy to partially negotiate the huge site!).

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