Activist plays great leveller in salvation of souls

Astronaut Neil Armstrong never met meteoric superstar Rajesh Khanna during his space odyssey but their souls may have got nirvana together after social activist Suresh Narayan performed pinddaan for them in Gaya on Tuesday.

Hindus perform pinddaan on the banks of the Falgu, believing that it would release the souls of their ancestors from the eternal cycle of rebirth.

But Narayan has taken a more secular route: the list of people for whose souls he prayed included first female astronaut from the US Sally Ride, former Indian National Army captain Lakshmi Sehgal, wrestler Dara Singh, actor AK Hangal, JD(U) spokesperson Shakeel Ahamad Khan, founder of Amul Dairy Verghese Kurien and senior journalist Satish Bhaskar.

All these national and international personalities departed from their mortal lives over the last year.

Guided by Swami Raghwacharyaji Maharaj, a senior priest of Ramanuj Math, Narayan performed the rituals at Deo Ghat.

It is not a new experience for him, though. Narayan has been performing pinddaan for strangers since 2001.

"Swamiji (Raghwacharyaji Maharaj) inspired me," he told The Telegraph.

Stretching the limits of his inspiration, he has performed rituals for the nirvana of former Pakistan prime minister Benazir Bhutto, pop icon Michael Jackson, artist MF Husain and CPM leaders Jyoti Basu and Harkishan Singh Surjeet.

The reason for performing pindaan at this time of the year is Pitripaksh Mela ' the 17-day-long festival when pilgrims throng Gaya to pray for the salvation of their ancestors' souls. This year, the festival began on September 30.

Apart from famous personalities, Narayan remembered to seek deliverance for the souls of others ' Satnam Singh Mann, a resident of Gaya, who was allegedly killed by Kerala police on August 1 while attending a meeting of religious leader Mata Amritanandamayi at Kollam and Avinash Kumar Dev, a general manager of Maruti Udyog Ltd who was burnt alive at the Manesar factory in Haryana on July 18.

Victims of the ethnic clashes at Kokrajhar in Assam in July, those who perished in the Iran earthquake or the floods in Russia, the children who succumbed to encephalitis in Bihar and policemen and soldiers who laid down their lives in the line of duty ' their souls, too, received Narayan's prayers.

Narayan's son Chandan Singh ' a Patna-based businessman ' funds the mass salvation ritual. Swami Raghwacharyaji, too, contributes by providing oatmeal, black gingili, rice, honey, ghee, betel nut, condensed milk and other essential items. Narayan purchases towels and dhotis.

The activist also offers to help anyone who cannot come down to Gaya. "One can just contact me and provide me with the details of the deceased person and I shall perform pinddaan for him or her from my own resources," he said.

Swamiji Raghwacharyaji Maharaj also organised a meal for 400 people.