Massive turnout for Vivekananda’s birthday

Flower girls: From left) Kreena Harichandran, Alisha Raja Singham, Sreedha Harichandran and Hereshini Athialagan selling flowers at the event to raise funds for the east coast flood victims.

THE sound of music filled the hall of one of the oldest building in Brickfields last Sunday.

The melodious strains of the veena and sitar, the beat of the mrindangam and tabla, the tinkle of ankle bells and the soothing sound of bhajans spread through the century-old Vivekananda Ashram.

The hall was packed. And chairs were placed outside under canopies for visitors who came from all over the city and the outskirts to enjoy a musical and cultural event held in celebration of the Hindu philosopher Swami Vivekananda’s 152nd anniversary of his birth.

Men, women and children from all walks of life started trickling in as early as 11am to attend the various activities that included talks by the Malaysia Hindu Sangam, Vivekananda Margam, Ramakrishna Mission, bhajans by Hindu Sevai Sangam, Sri Sathya Sai Baba group, a sitar and tabla show by Samuel Dass and Prakash Kandasamy, a carnatic music recital by Vijayalakshmi Arumugam and Harihaaran Arumugam, dance and music performances by Datuk Ramli Ibrahim, Sutra Dance Theatre and the Temple of Fine Arts.

Amongst the guests who attended the event were brother and sister Gaithiry and Gunalan Ramalingam from Penang.

“Our family are staunch followers of Swami Vivekananda’s teachings, and my late grandfather, T. Kandasamy, used to attend carnatic musical recitals here,’’ said Gaithiry.

“When we heard about this event on Friday, though it was pretty last minute, we decided that we had to attend,’’ Gunalan added.

Retired Court of Appeal judge Datuk K. Anantham was also spotted at the event with his wife.

“I came here to give moral support to the group who are fighting to keep this ashram safe,’’ Anantham said.

“My wife’s family has been living in this neighbourhood since the 1930s and this building is an integral part of their roots.’’

Many in their twilight years took the opportunity to recall their childhood memories of playing in the area as well as attending musical and dance recitals at the Vivekananda building.

Toh Puan Umasundari, the wife of the late Tun V. T. Sambanthan, as well as Tan Sri Devaki Krishnan, who is part of the Universal Peace Federation of Malaysia, were busy sharing their childhood memories with those who attended the event.

Brickfields Asia College founder Raja Singham said that over 40 volunteers were engaged to ensure that everything went well.

“Volunteers were tasked with helping the elderly get seats, helping those in wheelchairs and serving people with food and drinks,’’ he said.

“We were only informed by the Vivekananda ashram trustees that we could use the hall three days ago, despite requesting for permission a few weeks ago.

“But even though it was short notice, the support that we got from the public was overwhelming.

“We are truly grateful to the people who made this day possible,’’ Raja Singham said.

Vivekananda, the chief disciple of the 19th century Indian mystic Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, wowed the West after speaking at the inaugural 1893 World Parliament of Religions in Chicago, preaching oneness of humanity among other things.

The Mughal-styled building was built after a round of fundraising in 1911 to commemorate Vivekananda’s visit to Malaya in 1893.

The Vivekananda Ashram started out as a reading hall in 1904.

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