On 15 January 2023, Chyks from all over Tamil Nadu gathered in Karur for the annual state-level Tamil Nadu CHYK Camp ‘Kathiravan’, at Chinmaya Mission Karur’s Sri Ramadoota Dhyana Hanuman Mandir. The next three days were Makara Sankranti or Pongal Celebrations in Tamil Nadu and we had all gathered not just to celebrate–but to find out a little more - about our society, culture, traditions and individual identities as Hindus.
In the first session, Swami Ramakrishnananda, from Nagarcoil, urged everyone to fearlessly spring into action and work for the cause. ‘Face your challenges, head-on. Do not shy away.’ His thunderous words gave instant clarity to many who were going through tough times in their life. He narrated his successful building of not one, but 23 temples at Nagarcoil under the project ‘Om Jirnamandirodhayakaya Namaha’. While everyone was rattled by the kind of challenges he had to overcome to achieve this feat, his story of how his mere conviction to serve dharma paved the way for him to work inspired all those who were listening.
After a delicious lunch, it was time for some fun. Our phones were confiscated for the rest of the day. We were excited about the treasure hunt around Karur in two groups - the Cholas and the Pandyas. Having cracked the clue, we boarded the bus for our first location, the Thanthondi Malai Perumal temple. After completing our tasks there we cracked the clue which took us to our next location, one that made us stare in awe - the Jivasamadhi of Sivananda Brahmendra Siddhar. As Brahmachari Vignesh Chaitanya narrated its inspiring story, he urged us to DROP something at this holy place. After taking darshan of Kashi Vishwanath Shiva who was there to spend time in silence at the samadhi, we headed to visit Mother Cauvery.
At the banks of mother Cauvery, as the sun slowly set, we invoked her blessings and performed aarti and sang bhajans. Anyone visiting Karur must, without fail, visit the 2000-year-old Pasupatheswar temple and witness the Devaram pooja at 8.45, wherein the priests sing with complete devotion to lull Lord Shiva to sleep. We also visited the samadhi of Karur Siddhar who played a key role in the lives of the Cholas.
Post a sumptuous breakfast of piping hot Pongal and chutney, Swami Anukoolananda introduced us to the topic ‘Hindu Identity’. The crux of the topic was that Religion = Philosophy + customs and traditions. The key takeaways were:
(1) the core of Hindu philosophy is that God is only one in different forms (ekam sat), God is nothing but our own self (Tat Tvam Asi), righteousness (dharma) and a life of austerity and discipline (tapa swadhyaya niratham)
(2) Hindu culture is a means by which one may reach god, be it our day-to-day rituals, art, our actions and our values they all aim at attaining the god within us.
He also discussed 30 different features of Hinduism. We also got clarity on topics such as the difference between spirituality and religion and how both are necessary for a Hindu; that Hinduism does not have a beginning or a single creator; that we are Hindus by birth, belief and practice all put together; and the systematic cultural misappropriation of our culture.
The session by Chyk KS Yashaswini from Chennai, was inspiring and helped us identify qualities that must be harnessed to become a dynamic leader. Through games and activities, we rediscovered the youth potential within us that will help us become leaders that contribute to the nation. We then proceeded towards the Pongal celebration to play games such as murukku eating, sugarcane eating, tug of war, uri adi. We learnt the significance of Maatu Pongal and cooked delicious pongal. We had an inspiring guest speaker Bharadwaj Chandramouli who is a YouTube producer. He gave us insight into the world of social media and suggested ways to be an alert and educated consumer or a productive creator. The key takeaway was that one must use social media to enhance one’s knowledge and ignore the misleading and fake stuff that sucks our time. The day ended with a bonfire and a night of music and bhajans.
The third day began with tasty kuzhi panniyaarams followed by a session by Swami Anuthamananda regarding the significance of Surya Pongal. The session was filled with stories and facts about the Sun god and the reason we worship him. This was followed by a session with guest speaker Indhumathi, an advocate of the Madras High court, who has contributed immensely in the field of women's rights and runs her own NGO by the name of ‘Voice for Justice’ that works predominantly for the issue of Love Jihad.
After lunch, Brahmachari Krishna Chaitanya inspired us to stand up for our culture. He asked us to be fearless and confident while practising and following Hinduism, interspersed with quirky jokes and situational songs. This was followed by the last session of the camp by Brahmachari Anand Chaitanya summarising the entire camp through a quiz, the last clash between the Cholas and the Pandyas. The camp was motivating and an awakening experience as it touched many aspects of ourselves and Hinduism. The Chyks helped us bond and were an inspiration to us to work for the upliftment of our culture.