Summer Youth Camp – May 2018
Youngsters learn the secrets of a ‘True Sevak’ through Kodai camp
It was 9th May 2018; a group of youngsters with brightly-lit faces stood at Chennai Egmore station ready to board a special summer express that passed via Kodai Road. It was time for the exuberant youth to embark on their 4-day visit to Kodaikanal for a youth camp organized by Sri Arunachala Smaranamrutam Seva Trust.
The theme of the camp was ‘True Sevak’ with the lectures by Camp Acharya Swami Ramana Swaroopananda bringing out the glories of Lord Hanuman ji based on the Sundara Kandam of the Ramayana. The primary purpose of the retreat was to kindle the young minds on the importance of service in today’s world and how one could become a distinguished true sevak in life.
Getting into the groove
De-boarding at Kodai Road junction, two vans took the 37 heads uphill to the camp site – the beautifully laid out Kumara Giri cottage. After freshening-up and settling down in their respective rooms, the camp participants were soon ready for the inaugural session. After quick intro talks by the Camp Acharya and Camp Coordinator N. Balasubramanian, camp kits were presented to the participants. Then came the fun part – ice-breaking! The participants were paired through a fun game and each one had to introduce his/her partner. The fact that there were four mothers, couple of little children, a handful of siblings in the group made the activity all the more fun and enjoyable. Not to mention the hilarious question-shooting by the Acharya to some of the participants! It was a laughter riot to start the proceedings.
Post-lunch, the theme ‘True Sevak’ was brought out in the form of a movie; and who could better portray the qualities of a true sevak than the great Swami Vivekananda. The movie brought out by Ramakrishna Mission had dialogues that were a replica of the exact statements made by Swami Vivekananda about his own life. The screening made for a stirring entry into the camp theme, leaving the group wondering in awe as to how much a single soul could care for fellow beings and dedicate one’s life for serving the nation.
Satsangs – the core
Soon after the film session, it was time for the first of six talk sessions on ‘True Sevak’ by our Swamiji. The talk sessions made for the central focal point of the camp as it brought out the fundamental qualities of a true sevak – physically fit, mentally free and intellectually inspired (there’s one more that comes at the end!) – which actually turned into buzz words that represented the camp theme.
Swamiji’s talks had everything in it to keep the youth group engrossed, keeping them on the edge of their seats (though they were seated on the floor!), eager to know what would happen next. Across the six sessions, Swamiji spoke about how a common man leads his life – self-centered and bothered only about himself and his immediate family – glided into unfolding how Hanuman ji majestically, one-pointedly, tactfully and humbly fulfilled his mission of finding Sita, highlighting all the qualities of a true sevak portrayed by Rama’s matchless servant. Of course, the talks were filled with their own share of hilarious jokes and common-day examples that helped the youth remember and personally connect to the ideas contained in the Acharya’s words.
While being ‘physically fit, mentally free and intellectually inspired’ were described as the three pillars of being a true sevak, there was a final quality revealed right at the end of the satsangs – one that forms the crux of a true sevak – being humble and not harping about one’s ability to be a true sevak. The revelation left the campers thinking long and deep about the importance of humility as one evolves in life, both materialistically and spiritually.
This, that & everything else
While two satsangs were slotted each day, one in the morning and another in the evening, the rest of the day was packed with an interesting line up of sessions. The day started with a chanting and meditation session that gave an experiential glimpse of how our mind functions and the effort involved in keeping it under control, or rather, trying to keep it under control. Refreshed and energized by the day’s first session, the participants would enter into the morning satsang that was accompanied by ear-soothing bhajans.
Anyone for lecture after breakfast? No thanks! Once food went into the tummy in the morning, the youngsters had to get their thinking caps on and take centre stage in activity sessions. The first one was a talk show that was held at a beautiful park nearby. The talk show was in line with the camp theme and brought out some really interesting ideas and suggestions on how one ought to begin from oneself and grow into serving the family, relatives, friends, society, environment and so on, broadening one’s mind and accepting the entire creation as his recipients of service without any exception.
That evening, the campers made a walk down to the enchanting Kodai lake with a clear agenda – do whatever each one wished to! Some took to boating, others were satisfied with a long walk around the lake, munching yummy stuff all the way and there were some who hopped on to cycles and covered the periphery of the lovely water body. After 90 minutes, it was time to get back to the camp site and lo, down came the rains! The rain Gods made for an adventurous retreat back to the cottage, in a manner that was totally unplanned. Some extra spice is always welcome, isn’t it?
Just in case you were wondering what the ‘everything else’ in the sub-heading referred to; just ask the boys about their spell-binding compact-ground post-lunch cricket sessions and the girls about their post-dinner unabated fun & frolic sessions in the king size room in their quarters!
The third day had two activity sessions – both turning out to be the favorite sessions for many participants. The participants were grouped into four teams; each team was assigned a famous personality – Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, Swami Shivananda & Swami Chinmayananda, Bill Gates and Subramanya Bharati – all of whom had lived their life as shining examples of a true sevak. The teams were given an hour to prepare and come back with a speech presentation on the assigned personality. As hoped, the presentations brought out striking facts from the stalwarts’ lives, serving as a knowledge-sharing platform and also an hour of inspiration for the young minds.
Once the personality talks were done, the four teams were given the task of preparing for a skit performance based on their understanding of the qualities of a true sevak. Enough inputs were fed into their minds by then and so expectations were high for some thought-provoking and action-packed performances.
Off the groups went for lunch and back they came by evening to act out their scripts – and boy, they didn’t disappoint! Each of the four groups had its own style, flavor, stage presence and approach to the theme that made for a thoroughly-entertaining hour and half of skit performances.
Both the day’s activities involved the picking of a best performing team, the results of which were announced at the valedictory session the following day. Best performing team or not, everyone present there was a winner in the true sense, having been blessed with such a priceless opportunity to come together, learn, enjoy, with a common goal of becoming better individuals in life.
Make way for the fire
The last night at the camp site it was; which meant it was time for an electric finale – the Camp Fire. It could have been more electric, given the fact that it was young blood all around, but our youngsters had their own way of having fun around the camp fire that was lit up after a good amount of mental penance to keep the rain Gods away. A rapid-fire boys vs girls antaakshari took the prime spot in the camp fire that made for a wonderful session under black skies before the group’s final slumber at Kumara Giri.
May 13th dawned and it was pack-your-bags time. It was also a divine coincidence that the day happened to be Bhagawan Ramana Maharshi’s aradhana day (accordingly to thithi). The morning satsang was followed by a Guru Paada Puja to dedicate all the tides & ebbs of the camp at His lotus feet. Then came the valedictory session during which the best performing groups were announced and also came surprise announcements revealing the names of ‘The Most Dynamic Camper’ – Akshaya and ‘The Intelligent Camper’ – Vallab Narayan. The participants prostrated in front of Bhagawan’s picture and accepted the Yajna Prasad from Swamiji, officially bringing to a close a truly wonderful & memorable camp that would remain etched in the young minds for a very very long time.
The train back to Chennai was late in the night which gave time for the group to catch up with some sight-seeing in and around Kodaikanal. Though the day held some unforeseen hiccups along the way – the main one being the ridiculous traffic jam en route to some of the most popular tourist spots – undaunted youth spirit prevailed as the youngsters hardly cared about the hurdles and had their own share of fun during the bus rides.
After an eventful day, the would-be true sevaks reached Madurai junction to take their train back to Chennai. The participants were back home the next morning after what some consider a life-changing experience, a camp that awakened a whole new thought process within them, one that is likely to have a deep & significant impact on their lives as they strive their way into becoming true sevaks in life.
The camp participants take this opportunity to whole-heartedly express their gratitude in thanking Swamiji for all the love, affection and care showered during the camp and for the unforgettable experience and also to all the sponsors, well-wishers and service providers right from start to finish, without whose support & cooperation the camp would not have been possible.
May the kind Lord shower His grace and help us imbibe the true spirit of selfless service in life!
Om Tat Sat!
Swamiji’s talks were the highlight of the camp. We thoroughly enjoyed the story format of bringing out the greatness of Hanumanji. Bhajans were very soothing Overall, it was a much-needed camp for all ages. Wonderful and memorable experience at a very nice place!…..Shyam and Sarada
The talks on the True Sevak theme were very thoughtful. I personally felt all the inputs were given to us at the right time by the right person at the right place. Such camps will help us face this crucial part of our life bravely and lead us through the best and easiest path. A big thank you to everyone who made the camp an entertaining one and a very good learning platform…..Sri Lakshmi Priya
It was a great camp and I enjoyed a lot. The main shortcoming was the food quality. Of course there are always some minor drawbacks in everything; for instance, the planning could have been better for the last day’s sight-seeing. That apart, the camp was planned and executed very well. Camps conducted in tourist spots like Kodai are very good as they give us a chance to learn as well as enjoy. In future, even Upanishad camps could be conducted in such locations!….Govindarajan Raja
Swamiji’s talks on True Sevak was great, no compromise he made. He ensured each one of us understood it in a better way. The favorite session for me was the skit – the learning we had, the fun during preparation and the cooperation among our team members, everything was great. The camp was surely a great learning platform; whatever I’ve learnt I’m trying to practise in daily life wherever possible. Looking forward to more such camps in future….Swagath Sandilya
My favorite sessions were play time, group activities and Swamiji’s talks on Lord Hanuman and his service. Swamiji’s talks were enlightening and precise. The activity sessions were engaging, entertaining and brought out uniformity, teamwork, a sense of belongingness within our group and rapport with other participants. On the whole, it was a great experience and the camp was very well organized…..Purujit Narayanan