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Love and Light

Region 2 - Skanda Vale Trip: Love and Service in action

On 16th February 2013 Harrow West Sai centre organised a trip to Skanda Vale Ashram. The trip had a dual purpose; a) to take devotees on pilgrimage and b) to assist two charities; ‘Wherever the Need’ who were supplying sarees to the poor in Gujarat as part of a major sanitation project and ‘Mohanji ACT Foundation’ who were working with Skanda Vale to serve the homeless by supplying Mother Teresa homes (Missionaries of Charity) in the UK with food aid. Thirty two pilgrims travelled on the coach and two devotees drove a van for the service projects.

Skanda Vale is a multifaith monastic community (ashram) located in about 150 acres of woodland deep in the heart of South Wales (near Carmarthen). The community is dedicated to worship of the lord in his many forms. Over the years Skanda Vale has grown into a major place of pilgrimage despite its remote location. Devotees flock there from all over the UK and Europe to experience the serene and peaceful atmosphere and to worship god in all his forms. As well as being a place of worship with temples dedicated to Lord Subramanium, Lord Vishnu and the Divine Mother Kali, the ashram is also a sanctuary for animals such as cows, bulls, goats, rabbits, horses, donkeys, deer, swans, peacocks, geese, hens, pheasants, parrots and even an elephant!

One of the highlights of the trip was a talk by one of the resident Swamis (Swami Brahmananda) who has been in the ashram for the last 23 years. Swami Brahmananda gave us an insight into how Skanda Vale started in the early 1970’s and how life was so tough that there was shortage of food and resources. He described how the first community members had to search for nails in skips for their building work. He also explained that even though Skanda vale is now very successful and they have no shortage of food or resources to keep the community going, the monks still lead very simple lives, relying on the divine to supply them with all they need.

He exhorted us to simplify our lives and to enjoy some discomfort in our lives otherwise if everything is too comfortable it makes our minds lazy. He described how Lord Subramanium came into being by the will of Lord Shiva to destroy a demon. He explained that the same demons in the form of greed, hatred, anger and jealousy are also within us and we need to work with the lord to destroy these demons in our hearts. Swami Brahmananda also talked about living in the present. He said that the minds of many of us are either focused on the past or the future. The past has left us and there is nothing we can do about it. The future is created by the present – hence we should live in the present.

After this uplifting talk we spent some time in the peaceful surroundings, enjoying the beauty, nature and fresh air. Some of us went to the Vishnu temple which is open to the elements and offered our prayers and chants of 36 Gayathri Mantra before making our way to the Mahashakti temple for the Saturday evening puja – the special abhishekam to the divine mother.

As stated earlier, we also participated in a couple of service projects. Skanda Vale gets many offerings from devotees such as food and sarees. Not all of this can be used and therefore Skanda Vale works with various charities to distribute freely the food and clothes to the needy who cannot afford the basic necessities. The van driven by the volunteers was loaded with 1.2 tonnes of rice, dahl, flour, pulses, sugar etc as well as 675 sarees to be transported back to London.

After loading the van with food and sarees and attending the last puja we returned tired but in bliss to London. The coach arrived back in London at 02:30 am. However the van had a more interesting journey! I later joked with the two drivers that the Divine Mother was so pleased with their service that she did not want them to leave Wales! The van broke down at a petrol station in Carmarthen at about 9.00 pm. The recovery vehicle had to come all the way from London and therefore did not get to the van until 4:00 am. The recovery driver then needed a rest so they did not leave Carmarthen until 5:00 am, having spent all night in the cold van (temperatures outside were close to zero on that night). They eventually arrived in London at 9:00 am!

However, the two drivers did not want to rest there. They hired a replacement van and we joined them to unload the contents into this new van and then took the sarees (8 boxes and 9 suitcases containing a total of 675 sarees) to the address in Harrow for shipping to Gujarat. We then made our way to Southall to unload the food at the residence of the sisters at the Missionaries of Charity. A van from the South London Missionaries of Charity also arrived to take part of the food back to South London. The sisters were kind enough to help us with unloading of the foodstuffs. They expressed their gratitude to the Sai organisation, ACT Foundation and Skanda Vale for this service to the poor.

While having a cup of tea with the senior sister there she explained in more detail how the food will be used. She told us that the food will be used to support local poor families; to serve the homeless/poor who attend the soup kitchens in Mother Teresa homes in Southall and South London; for the daily soup run to serve the homeless sleeping rough; and for feeding the temporary residents of the hostels. The sister also gave me some more insight into the families they support. She explained that some of the families were living in really squalid accommodation, sometimes with a whole family living in one room. Some unscrupulous landlords also allow many families to stay in one house meant for a family of four or five people. The properties are in very poor condition with mould growing on the walls etc. This food from Skanda Vale, delivered by ACT Foundation and devotees from the Sai Organisation will be used to support these families.

In summary the trip to Skanda Vale was truly a memorable occasion, characterised by love, devotion, worship and selfless service crossing all man made barriers. We offer our thanks to Swami for having given us the opportunity to have a truly memorable pilgrimage and at the same time to participate in some service.

Rajesh Ramanaidoo
Spiritual Co-ordinator, Harrow West Sai Centre