Srimad Bhagavad Gita, considered as one of the greatest religious text across the globe, is a hand-book of instructions for how we human beings can live effectively in a world of challenge and change. It reveals the eternal principles which are fundamental and essential for spiritual life from all perspectives. Contained within the 700 verses of the Bhagavad Gita are several closely interrelated paths of yoga that instruct man on how to attain liberation from the pangs of suffering and ignorance. The purpose of this short yet powerful philosophical literature is spiritual freedom.
The Sringeri Acharya Jagadguru Sri Sri Bharati Teertha Mahaswamiji in his recent Anugraha Bhaashanam at Tiruppur extolled the virtues of Gita and said that even if we take just one of many essences offered within the Bhagavad Gita, our lives would be free of pain and suffering. One of the channels through which Sri Sharada Peetham of Sringeri propagates Sanatana Dharma is through the Gita Jnana Yajna. Under this scheme anyone who chants the 18 chapters of Srimad Bhagavad Gita from memory would be awarded Rs.21,000 on the spot by the Acharya himself. Since the inception of the Yajna, about 350 persons have participated and received rewards. Sringeri Vidya Bharati Foundation (SVBF), USA under the guidance of the Acharya, continues the same tradition of promoting Bhagavad Gita and offers many rewards for chanting and speaking on Bhagavad Gita. A unique scheme SVBF offers is state level college tuition assistance (of up to $10,000) to anyone who would recite the entire Gita by heart before its judges. In addition, an aspiring college student can continue getting a scholarship in this amount every year, if he/she can recite the full Gita every year, speak on the substance of Gita for an hour, and write an essay for the Foundation’s Journal – Paramartha Tattvam. The reason SVBF promotes and encourages the study of Bhagavad Gita, especially among the younger generation, is because we believe in the Acharya’s message that through proper understanding of the substance and significance of Gita, we can build a noble person and a good society.
The Gita Day is an annual tradition of SVBF that furthers the message of His Holiness. It is held annually on the first Saturday after the summer solstice (typically June 21st), with the intent of encouraging as many people to come and chant Bhagavad Gita in the abode of Sharadamba. This year, the Gita Day fell on June 23rd, 2012. The day was marked by Gita Chanting competition for all ages. Following the competition, there was Sampoorna (full) Gita Parayanam (Chanting) at the sannidhi of Lord Krishna.
The focus for 2012 Gita Day was Chapter 16 (Daivasurasampad Vibhaga Yoga) & Chapter 17 (Sraddhatraya Vibhaga Yoga). With a newly designed online registration form, that was active until 11:00 p.m. on June 22nd, we had over 155 registrations for the competition. To encourage participation, we had a category for devotees of every age and every level of Gita learning. All in all, there were 8 categories to choose from:
- Memorized recitation of verses 1-4 of chapter 16 for kids under age 5
- Memorized recitation of verses 1-8 of chapter 16 for kids between ages 5 and 7
- Memorized recitation of verses 1-12 of chapter 16 for kids between ages 8 and 9
- Memorized recitation of chapter 16 for kids between ages 10 and 12
- Memorized recitation of chapter 16 and chapter 17 for contestants age 13 and over
- Fluent reading of Chapters 16 and 17 for contestants over age 18
- Memorized recitation of the Entire Gita and one or more Shatkas
- Gita Talk on verse 66 of Chapter 18
To encourage participants to demonstrate their efforts, we allowed contestants to register across multiple categories. While this led to some scheduling challenges, it gave our young Gita aspirants to test out their limits.
It gives us great pride in mentioning that a total of 152 participations were recorded across the 8 available categories. We had over 20 contestants registered across 2 categories, 4 contestants registered across 3 categories and 3 contestants registered in 4 different categories. The highest number of participations was recorded for the “memorized recitation of Chapter 16” category with 36 contestants, followed by the “fluent reading” category with 33 participants. Our youngest participant, 3 year old Santhosh Thiagarajan, enthralled the judges with his rendition of 4 verses from Chapter 16.
Many kids and their parents took to heart the, message of Jagadguru Sri Sri Bharati Teertha Mahaswamiji and we had record breaking participation in the Entire Bhagavad Gita and Shatka competition recitation.
Kudos to all these participants -
Entire Bhagavad Gita – Venkat Velamuri, Bharat Krishnamurthy, and Ashwath Subramanian
Two Shatkas recitation – Sriram Srinivasan, Smruthi Srinivasan
One Shatka recitation – Suhas Jambhekar (Adult), Pranav Bhat, Pranav Swaminathan, and Anika Nerella
Each one of these participants and their coaches deserve special recognition for the momentous effort. They inspire us through their efforts and show us that the task of memorizing the Gita is possible irrespective of age. We can surely expect one or more of the Shatka recitation participants to take part in the ultimate challenge next year.
Judging and Ranking
While the prime directive of the Gita Day is to encourage Gita awareness and regular chanting, we believe that a contest helps kinder the competitive spirit in each one of us. The most difficult task by far in this competition was judging and this was more of a challenge this year because of the number of the contestants, multiple participations across categories, and last but not the least- high quality of the renditions.
All of the memorized recitation categories (except for Entire Bhagavad Gita and Shatka recitation), were judged individually and scored across the following–
- Pronunciation : The focus is on ensuring that the contestant is correctly enunciating the short / long vowel sounds (ह्रस्व / दीर्घ), paying attention to aspirations (अल्पप्राण / महाप्राण), and distinguishing between voiced / unvoiced consonants ( प vs. ब etc.), and clearly identify the fricatives (श / ष / स) in delivery
- Posture, attitude and concentration of the contestant were taken into consideration
- Lastly, bonus points were awarded for exceptional attention to the finer points of chanting such as अनुस्वारः, जिह्वामूलीयः, उपध्मानीयः, attention to meter, uniformity of speed etc.
For the fluent reading competition, the emphasis was on pronunciation (as indicated above) and fluency. While the Entire Gita and Shatka recitation is also judged along the same guidelines as memorized recitation, there is more focus on memory. The judge quizzed the contestants to recite from a random starting point, on poignant details on a specific chapter such as the first/last sloka, and identification of the chapter from a particular sloka.
The Gita Talk competition was judged based on the participant’s originality of matter through which he/she explained the purport of the sloka, the cogency and structure of the delivery, and lastly presentation of the material. Again, the greatest emphasis was on how the contestant explained the context of the sloka within the Gita and how he/she drew relevance from everyday life to explain the practical significance of the sloka.
Award distribution ceremony
In the spirit of encouraging as many aspirants as we can, we awarded only one prize to a contestant, irrespective of the number of categories he or she scored high marks in. It is with immense pride, we say that the number of winners in this year’s Gita Day competition exceeded 40. Over $5,500 was distributed amongst the winners of the competition. The names of all winners are listed below and are posted on SVBF website (www.svbf.org).
That Gita Day is one of SVBF’s most celebrated events is evident from the fact that SVBF’s chairman, visionary, and our beloved Guru Dr. Yegnasubramanian landed at Newark from a hectic India trip earlier in the day and drove directly over to Sringeri Sadhana Center from Newark airport. He arrived in time for the prize distribution ceremony.
Dr. Yegnasubramanian’s enthusiasm and pride in encouraging Gita were truly felt when he awarded a SVBF shawl, as a special prize, to Pranav Swaminathan, a 9 year old contestant from Delaware. Such is Pranav’s command and mastery over Chapter 16 that he is able to recite the entire chapter forward and backwards – a truly remarkable achievement. Dr. Yegnasubramanian inspired the attendees by mentioning similar remarkable feats that he has witnessed in his travels – a 10 year old, who can recite the entire Bhagavad Gita and also give the meaning of each sloka, another young boy who can recite the entire Bhagavad Gita forward and backwards, and a gentleman whose mastery of the Gita has earned him the title of Gita Avadhani (scholar) from the Jagadguru himself.
Events such as this not only bring out the competitive spirit but also the volunteering spirit within the community. Thanks to the many judges who volunteered their time for the event, for without them, this event would not have been possible. Due to the large number of participations, several judges had to spend over 6 hours examining candidates. Thanks to their service, we were able to accommodate every individual who expressed an interest to participate in the event. A full list of the Judges and the categories they judged is listed below.
Many thanks to the volunteers who helped out with participant registration (three cheers to the Sharada Youth Volunteer team), coordinating the events at the different competition sites, and last but not the least, the entire kitchen volunteering team who kept all of us well hydrated and well fed.
While the events went off successfully in many quarters, we sighted weakness in several others, the most severe of which was not having all the participation certificates available. Our sincere apologies to every one we missed. We hope to and improve in this and other areas we identified for the next year’s event. Speaking of next year’s event, it is never too early to start preparing for that. 2013 Gita Day will focus on Chapter 18 – मोक्षसन्यास योगः||