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132. Origin of Mass Prayers
The significance and gradual development of the system of mass prayers evolved by him was explained by Mahatmaji in one of his speeches at Sodepur Ashram in December 1945. He said that in 1936 about a dozen Japanese monks paid him a visit when he was staying at Maganvadi (Wardha). The leading monk suggested to him that he intended to send one or two of his disciples to the Ashram, a proposal which he approved. First came one and later on another. Of the two, one was staying with him till the war with Japan broke out and as a result he was taken into custody. This Buddhist monk used to do all the tasks he used to be given punctually and methodically. In between his work he used to spend the time at his disposal in singing religious songs in the Japanese language, all the time beating a drum. This he did while taking his rounds. This was a Buddhist religious song in praise of the Infinite. Gandhiji said that he incorporated the song in his prayer. This was the first item of the prayer.
The second item of the prayer was a Sanskrit Shloka (verse) and was, according to him, universal in its appeal. This was an invocation to Mother Earth, sustainer of man. If there was any objection to it on any score he would plead that he was helpless. To him all faiths were welcome. He believed in all faiths but he saw no reason to give up his own faith. Possibly, said Gandhiji, this Sanskrit Shloka was symbolic but, according to him, many noble thoughts and ideas were couched in symbolic language.
Thirdly, there was the prayer quoted from the Koran. It was incorporated at the instance of the daughter of Abbas Tyabji, the well-known Congress leader. She possessed a gifted voice. When on a visit to the Ashram she expressed the desire to propagate the teaching of the Koran to the Ashramites, Gandhiji said, he readily agreed. She suggested a verse from the Koran for inclusion in the prayer and it was done.
The fourth item of the prayer was taken from the Zend Avesta written in the Pahlavi language. When he was fasting in the Aga Khan Palace, Dr. Gilder was there as were also Dr. Bidhan Roy and some other medical men. Dr. Gilder was a Parsi and from him the verse from the Zend Avesta was taken and included.
So far as the Bhajan songs were concerned, said Gandhiji, there was no hard and fast rule. It all depended upon the time and place of the prayer.