In February 2021, the children of Sri Ram Ashram returned to in-person learning at the school next door, also founded by Babaji (Baba Hari Dass), due to the declining COVID-19 cases in the state. The school is called Sri Ram Vidya Mandir. Students alternate days attending by splitting classes in half to reduce the amount of students on campus at a time, as well as wear masks. This was the first time most of them had been to school in person since India entered a lockdown at the end of March 2020!
I am liking to go to school after a year. We are meeting our friends after so many days and feeling comfortable studying in person. Before, when we were attending online classes, I could not understand everything and there was a lot of work to do. Now, I am understanding everything so clearly.
If we are having doubts we can directly ask our teacher. In online learning, we had to message the teacher and had to type long questions. It was difficult. We are meeting our friends at school but social distancing instead of shaking hands with each other. We used to all play together but due to COVID, we can’t handshake or touch. But it’s good that we are going to school. I like going to school! – Student at Sri Ram Vidya Mandir
Basant Panchami is an Indian holiday in which we pray to the god Saraswati for knowledge. In this holiday, idols of Saraswati are decorated with flowers, colors, garlands, etc. We fly kites, play with each other, and enjoy the holiday with lots of happiness and joy.
On this day, the sky becomes colorful from all the kites. The weather becomes very windy and it looks beautiful outside. Many leaves fall from trees. We like to celebrate this festival together with all our brothers and sisters and whole family. Yellow is a common color worn on this day, because in India during spring time, many of the yellow flowers are blooming and filling the fields with color. Happy Basant Panchami! – Children of Sri Ram Ashram
Four Mount Madonna School alumni reflect on their visits to Sri Ram Ashram.
I’ll never forget my first time entering the blue gates of the ashram. The immediate rush of friendship and acceptance you feel pulling through those gates is uncanny. The ashram means so much to me because it is a place that makes you feel like you are home, no matter where you’re from. You are immediately being pulled in so many directions with the kids wanting to meet you, get to know you and share things about themselves. The friendships I have made at the ashram are ones I will hold on to for eternity. The overwhelming emotion I felt when we left at first was sadness, but then became gratefulness. Grateful that I was able to meet such amazing people of all ages, that moved me and made me want to become a better version of myself. The ashram will always be a second home to me; I am grateful every day for Mount Madonna bringing the ashram into my life.
– Emma Petersen (’11)
For me, visiting Sri Ram Ashram was like having a magnificent square of cloth stitched into the life-quilt that I wrap myself in. To say it was “unforgettable” is not permanent enough. When my class and I arrived in April of 2011, we were greeted with smiles, laughter and open hearts. The younger children jumped into our arms while the older kids introduced themselves without reservation, asked questions, and shared jokes and laughs. The overwhelming acceptance and outpouring of love was so unique, that the first day felt more like a reunion than an introduction.
Over the course of our time there, we played volleyball with other children from neighboring villages, danced and sang at a raucous birthday celebration, and sipped sweet chai tea from hot metal mugs that burned our fingers if we held on for too long. And while these precious memories flood in and out of my mind when I reflect on the visit, the cloth square in my life-quilt remains, stitched in using the everlasting bond that is family.
– PK Hattis (’11)
Growing up in the Mount Madonna community, I was frequently told about Sri Ram Ashram (SRA). I watched from afar as I grew up alongside the kids yet for long I wasn’t given a chance to visit. It felt like having a side of my family I had never met despite knowing so much about them. It wasn’t until my senior trip in 2017 when I finally got to visit. I remember clearly riding the bus from Haridwar and pulling into the gates of the ashram to be met by a sea of shining smiles. At last I was home. My time at SRA felt like a family reunion. I was able to meet all my brothers and sisters I had heard so much about, and they were excited to hear about my life in America. I was instantly welcomed into a big family with nothing but love to share. My memories of my trip have since melted together but there are some things that will stay with me forever. I will remember the afternoon siestas of drinking chai and learning I wasn’t so good at backgammon. I will remember the days spent pushing the young ones on the swings as they scream with laughter. I will always remember the contagious joy of everyone, and the unconditional love given to anyone. – Param Walker (‘17)
My time at Mount Madonna taught me many things. Significantly, MMS showed me that there are always things to look forward to, things to be excited about. In the summer we would look forward to the rafting trip, once classes started we couldn’t wait for the winter musical. Then there was the Ramayana which we looked forward to the entire year. As soon as we took our final bows, we were excited about the roles we wanted the following year. All of these opportunities we had at Mount Madonna were not just exciting because we got to go on fun trips and perform in front of audiences—they were exciting because they offered us invaluable experiences to leave our small mountaintop campus, to see things we had never seen before, to hear voices we had never heard before, to grow as students and as human beings in ways we could never have imagined. From the time I stepped foot on the mountain, I was excited about our senior year trip to India.
I distinctly remember our arrival at the Sri Ram Ashram. It was like all 11 of us changed immediately. I saw my classmates’ faces light up at the sight of a swarm of children coming to greet our bus. I saw my classmates pushing children on swings, learning dances from the kids, and truly embracing this experience that we had all been looking forward to for so long. We all felt an immediate connection to the ashram. Maybe it was because we had heard so much about it and students before us spoke so touchingly about their own experiences, but I think it was more than that. There’s a connection you feel as soon as you step off the bus, and it doesn’t go away—ever. You feel connected to the kids, you feel connected to the place, and you feel more connected with each other. During the first part of our India trip, I thought our visit to the ashram was meant to be a sort of break—a break from the interviews, and the traveling, and the visits. And it’s taken me writing this piece to realize that while the interviews, traveling, and visits were amazing experiences and I learned so much from them; going to the Sri Ram Ashram was the trip. In Values class with SN, we talked about big picture ideas, in DC we learned how to find our purpose and our passion, in Mendocino we learned how to deepen our friendships with each other, but at the Sri Ram Ashram, our outlook on the world shifted. Everything we had learned suddenly fit into place and made complete sense. It’s difficult to put into concise words, and after returning to Santa Cruz, it was hard to explain to people who asked the very simple question: ‘how was your trip?’ I didn’t have the words in my vocabulary—I still don’t—to really convey how life changing and meaningful our time at the Ashram was.
And to those Mount Madonna seniors who couldn’t go on this trip because of the COVID pandemic, I want you to know that you don’t have to physically be on the grounds of the ashram to feel its effects. Every time you go to campus, you are connected to the ashram; every time you’ve performed in the Ramayana, you’ve been connected to the ashram; the community and the loving environment of the ashram is reflected at Mount Madonna through the teachers, the students, the alums, and the wider community. I hope you all have the chance to visit the ashram sometime in the future, but until then, know that they are your Mount Madonna community, and they are a part of your Mount Madonna experience already.
By the children of Sri Ram Ashram
Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way, Oh what fun it is to have a family to celebrate!!!
We are always so thankful to Christ to give us such a wonderful family with whom we can celebrate his birth anniversary every year. No matter what our religion is, we tend to celebrate festivals of all religions. We love the way we celebrate Christmas here. On Christmas Eve, we gather in our main yard to make decorative things which are meant to be put on our tree. We enjoy our hand-made crafts. We learn new crafts every year. Then, in the evening we put them on the tree together. Our tree looks gorgeous with all the lights, decorations, and love put on it by the children. We dance and have snacks and sweets. We put on our names on a slip and attach them to our stockings, which Santa would fill with gifts. All the younger ones go to bed, excited to see their presents the next day. As there are many kids at SRA, the older ones help with the gifts (Shhhh…it’s a secret. Please don’t let the younger ones know). Next morning, after our prayers are done, everyone is assembled in the Mandir (prayer room). And then, our secret Santa, which is an adult from the Ashram, quietly sneaks in from the main gate, without anyone’s attention. When the Santa is ready, everyone is allowed to come out and guess who the Santa is this time. He throws candies to the children and they collect them. Next, we all go to our hall where Santa passes out our stockings filled with many gifts. We enjoy and make merry!
After a couple days, excited to welcome the upcoming new year, we plan our events. On New Year’s Eve we have a bonfire, dancing, and snacks. There are varieties of delicious snack treats, which the older kids make themselves. This is the night we get to spend in our TV rooms, girls in theirs and boys in theirs, separately. We lay our mattresses in the TV rooms earlier in the afternoon. Then, it’s our choice if we want to watch movies the whole night or want to sleep. We get to eat snacks the whole night. It’s like eat-watch-eat, the whole night. Exactly at 12:00am, we all gather in our courtyard and scream together, “HAPPY NEW YEAR!” Then we cut cake and the boys do firecrackers. Having enjoyed all night, we wake up in the morning, ready to welcome the new year, together with love. We do our daily morning prayer and get ready to clean up all the mess made last night.
WE WISH YOU A VERY HAPPY NEW YEAR FROM SRA FAMILY!!!
By the children of Sri Ram Ashram
Diwali!!! Bringing light to the hearts of the people, it is also known as the Festival of Lights. Diwali is a five-day festival celebrated annually in October or November. People exchange sweets along with love. We always await this festival the most. Excited, amazing, fun; are dull words to be described here. Every living organism at the Ashram, from the tiniest leaf to the tallest tree, welcomes the festival with so much grace and warmth.
On the first day, the day of Dhanteras, we go to town to shop for new things. It symbolizes welcoming Maa Laxmi (the Goddess of Wealth), home. As we don’t go out that often, we are very excited. Big children are given responsibility of the smaller ones. As a result, the big ones learn to be responsible towards their siblings, and the smaller ones learn to shop. After shopping, the most fun part is discussing with others what we bought.
On the second day, Choti (small) Diwali, in order to construct a mini Ayodhya (the city where Lord Ram lived), we build mud houses. Small children help the elders in constructing the huts by bringing bricks and mud. And having a mud bath is the ultimate game, in which the younger ones find the most fun. When all covered with mud, they enjoy basking in the sun while the elders give a finishing to their huts, decorate them, and lay diyas or candles. In the evening, the smaller ones get dressed up as Ram, Sita, Lakshmana, Hanuman, and the other characters from the Ramayana. Then we worship the huts we made. It feels like we are reliving the arrival of Ram and Sita to Ayodhya.
On the third day, known as Bari (big) Diwali, it feels like a total new festival. Playing songs on the speakers, we decorate our courtyard with flags, our Mandir, and the gateway to it, with decorative things and rangoli colors. It is like a perfect family reunion for a major cause of happiness and entertainment. At night, we do fireworks which fill our hearts with a lot of colors. You’ll see the same colors on the eyes of everyone. Being thankful to God for this opportunity of life, we go to bed, waiting to see the sun rise next day.
On the fourth day, Govardhan, in the morning, together we clean up all the mess we made last night, recalling how fun it was. In the afternoon, we happily make Lord Krishna out of cow dung from our own cows. We decorate the dried Lord Krishna with diyas, rangolis, candles, and a kind of hay. And just so you know, this is the day when you’ll no longer be afraid of feeding the cows. We feed the cows with love and express our love towards them. It is a day, especially for cows. We are so thankful to have them.
The fifth day, Bhai Dooj, as the name symbolizes, is all about the brothers in the family. Bhai means brother. We share the bond of our love with our brothers. We worship the boys and feed them sweets and coconut. In return, they vow to take our care and protect us from every possible obstacle. We are so grateful to have a family this big and loving.
In the end, we only wish we could undo the time and relive all these moments all over again from the beginning and wish all of it would pass more slowly.
Posted October 26, 2020
In India, October and November are the start of festival season, the equivalent of Thanksgiving through New Year’s in the USA.
However, before festival season begins Hindus observe Shradh, a 15-day period of remembrance when respect is paid to late family members and ancestors. Rituals are performed and food offerings are made. Observers don’t go shopping during Shradh, only essentials are purchased. Parties, engagements and marriages and other festivities are never held during Shradh. Instead, it is a time of solemn reflection. In 2020 the dates for Shradh were September 1-7.
The day Shradh ends festival season begins with the first day of Navratri, one of the biggest Hindu festivals of the year. For nine days and nights a special puja to Goddess Durga is observed in the morning and each evening a portion of the Ramayana is read or performed on stage. Stages, big and small are erected throughout town where scenes from the Ramayana are performed late into the night. This year the dates for Navratri are October 17 -25.
On the eighth day of Navratri there is a special ceremony called Kanya Jeevan. This ceremony is dedicated to little girls and boys. The small children are honored as incarnations of God. Their feet are washed, they are hand-fed a specially cooked meal, draped in a symbolic red scarf and given small gifts. In 2020 Kanya Jeevan will be held on October 23.
The final, tenth night of Navratri, is called Dushera. On Dushera Lord Ram slays Ravana and is reunited with Princess Sita. Giant effigies of Ravana are built throughout cities, towns and villages. After a drama reenacting Ram slaying Ravana, the effigy of Ravana is set on fire to the cheers of “Jai Sri Ram!” Fire crackers are often placed inside Ravana to emphasis his demise. Dushera is a celebration of good over evil, the day when positive energy brings success and victory into our lives. This year Dushera will be celebrated on October 25.
Jai Sri Ram. Jai Hanuman!
Posted October 8, 2020
By the children of Sri Ram Ashram
Teachers’ Day is celebrated annually in India to thank and remember all the teachers. It is celebrated on September 5, the birth anniversary of the country’s former President, scholar, philosopher and Bharat Ratna awardee, Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan.
The tradition of celebrating Teachers’ Day started in 1969 in India. On this day, the teachers and students go to school as usual, but the activities are held as celebrations. Teachers are given various kinds of gifts by their students. Some people not only thank their academic teachers, but also the teachers who taught them the real meaning of life.
We, the children of Sri Ram Ashram, celebrate this prestigious day at our school, Shri Ram Vidya Mandir, with the teachers and other students of the school. As usual, the school begins with the morning assembly. We sing prayers, speak about the day, the importance of a teacher in our lives and some interesting facts. The principal also addresses the assembly and blesses all the children. The morning assembly is dismissed by national anthem, which is the daily routine. Eventually, students head to their respective classrooms.
Unlike the other days, the classes are taken by the students of class 12. Class 12 students come to school dressed up as teachers, like the head boy and the head girl act as the principal for the day. Students who have interest in English, mathematics, Hindi, science etc. act as the English teacher, mathematics teacher, Hindi teacher, science teacher, respectively.
Teachers also come to the school, dressed up beautifully. As mentioned earlier, the first two classes are taken by the students of class 12. Meanwhile, the students go and gift the teachers with presents. And, all this time, grade 11 students are busy decorating the assembly ground and getting ready for the performances they have prepared. Then, a bell rings, signaling the whole school to gather at the assembly ground.
Class 11 students are responsible for all the celebration activities. They start with a guru mantra and a religious dance performance. Then, the principal, along with the chief guests, is called upon the stage to lighten the lamp of knowledge and prosperity. Students, then, perform various acts and dances. In between, teachers are called upon for some fun games. Teachers compete with each other and the winner(s) is/are awarded with interesting prizes.
The most fun part is the “titles.” Titles are the descriptions of the teachers (in the form of short poems), written by the students of grade 11. A student would speak out loud, a title of a teacher, and the whole school would guess who is being talked about.
Then the teacher, escorted by a class 12 student, comes forward to receive the title. When they walk forward, a song is played, which is dedicated to that particular teacher. We all have a lot of fun!
Next is a photo session of all the teachers. When the celebration is ended, all the students go to their homes and teachers party at school. They share their thoughts about the importance of teachers’ day and the fun-filled moments they spent with each other, playing games, receiving gifts and dancing together. At last, they have a feast and savor the enjoyment of their day.
September 9, 2020, A Cross-Cultural Exchange: Since the founding of Mount Madonna School (MMS), the MMS community has enjoyed a strong connection with the Sri Ram Ashram in India. Through the decades, many MMS students (some since preschool) have appreciated this cross-cultural connection, and yet over the years this connection has faded. The new MMS-Sri Ram Ashram Connection Committee, is made up of a group of interested high school students, and advised by faculty member Harjit Punj. It was formed to rebuild this connection between our two communities, with a goal of connecting our communities through a cross-cultural exchange.
Some of the ways we plan on establishing this connection are through educational posters about different traditions and general news at the ashram and a Facebook page where kids from MMS and the ashram can share and explore each other’s cultures. We hope you will join us in the rebuilding of a bridge that we have known for so long. – Grace Timan, 11th grade, on behalf of the MMS-Sri Ram Ashram Connection Committee.