Gurudev Swami Nischalanandaji was the Founder of the Ramakrishna Centre of South Africa. Every year, during his birthday weekend some program or other is arranged in various ways. This year, on the 84th birth anniversary, our Centre held a Seminar on Religious Education.
Following erudite Papers were presented to the delight of all the listeners accompanied by captivating slide-shows.
1. Identifying a Curriculum for Hindu Religious Education by Ms S Naidoo from Sri Sarada Devi Ashram, Asherville
2. The Role of Sunday School Teachers in Promoting Hindu Religious Education by Dr N Balkaran from Ladysmith
3. The Role of Parents in Home-based Religious Education by Mrs R Singh from Newcastle
4. Using Distance Education and the Electronic Media to Promote Hindu Religious Education by Mr V Mohanlal from Headquarters
While inaugurating the Seminar, I drew the attention of all to the wonderful early spade-work done by Swami Nischalanandaji in introducing variety of ways in keeping up the heritage of religious ideas among the Hindus who due to the prevailing political conditions in those days, could not maintain their cultural contact with Mother India.
He had several disciples. I met a few who are pretty old now. The name of Mother Henny (sweetly called Henny Maa), now 87, spending quite days in Asherville Sri Sarada Devi Ashram is not unknown to many devotees of the Ramakrishna Centre in South Africa.
Her original name was Henny Maria Thekla Schimmel, was born at Leipzig in East Germany. She arrived in South Africa in 1950. She was 28 years old then. In 1956, a friend introduced her to the local branch of the Ramakrishna Centre in Johannesburg. A doctor of homeopathy – Dr Mckippen, ran the branch. She visited the branch every Thursday. In 1956 (after a few months of attending satsangs) she was informed that the leader of the Ramakrishna Centre was arriving in Johannesburg from Durban.
It was a Thursday towards the end of 1956 that Henny first saw Gurudev.
“We were singing, when I felt a gust of wind brush past me. I turned my head and saw the feet of Gurudev. At that very moment, I thought to myself these are the feet of Christ – the anointed one. I was not myself after that. I was transported to a higher plane of consciousness. All my life I was looking for something. On seeing these divine feet, I knew that it was Gurudev I was waiting for. At last, I had found him.”
She continued to say in a choked voice,
“Gurudev informed me that he was going to India. I asked him to give me initiation before he left. I was initiated on the 6th of February 1957.”
Henny Maa could relate to us some of her memorable experiences vis-a-vis Swami Nischalanandaji. I give below two of them as narrated by her. One was on Yoga Camp and the other was Dance of Shiva.
“I was looking forward to going to the yoga camp when I got very ill with double pneumonia. Gurudev phoned me. Disappointedly I informed him that I could not make it to the camp. He said to me, “You will come. Phone me after midnight.”
I called him after midnight and felt better soon after. Needless to say, I attended the yoga camp. It was relayed to me later that Gurudev got seriously ill after my telephone conversation with him. He had taken over my illness.
Dance of Shiva
At one of the camps, Gurudev had dressed as Nataraja the cosmic dancer. He danced using classical intricate steps, with no formal training or knowledge of knowing how to dance. The devotees were moved by this experience. Some cried and some laughed each having a different experience. A trained dancer wrote down the movements and informed Gurudev that the intricate steps he performed could only be done by the rishis.
He was a saint of this century. Not many people knew of the power behind his deep spirituality. His sannyasa Guru, Swami Purushottamananda knew about the positive influence that Gurudev would have in South Africa.
I am truly blessed to have been associated with Gurudev.
35 thoughts on “Never to forget Nischalananda”
What devotion Henni Maa has!
Another Sister Nivedita; she lived her life for her Guru Swami Nischalanandaji.
Her devotion and guru bhakti is very difficult for us to emulate.
Thank you Swamijee for giving us this insight of Henni Maa and “guru-bhakti”.
Dr Naren Rana
Dear Dr Rana
Amazing indeed her Guru-bhakti !
Her Guru has told her to read or listen to Gita and you will be surprised that in spite of her inability to walk even a little, she forces the residents of Asherville Ashrama to take take her by their car for my Gita classes on Tuesdays at HQ! And quitely she listens to whatever exposition is made. Sometimes, she closes her eyes and I foolishly think that because of her age and tiredness, she must be dozing off but to my queries later, she would tell what I said in the class!
Amazing the power of the Guru!
Swami Nischalanandaji has definitely done all the “spade-work” and we are reaping those benefits. If it wasn’t for Swami Nischalananda’s perseverance we would never have the Ramakrishna Centre in South Africa. Mother Henny is definitely blessed to have met Him.
Swamiji, I watched the programme shown on Sunday on television where you (Swami Vimokshanandaji) talked on Guru Purnima. It was definitely interesting. I think more programmes like that with the insight of Swamiji and other holy people should be aired.
Om Namo Narayanaya!
Yes, the Guru Bhakti indeed ignites the transformation of the personality.
Well, many devotees seem to have enjoyed the SABC2 show on my appearance on the National TV channel. I myself could not see, though! In India, of course, there are full-fledged channels airing 24 hours only religious and spiritual topics. Here it seems the religious content in the national channels is meagre, I was told. And Hindu viewpoints are obviously less aired! But even the short program on Hinduism is most welcome and is to be appreciated.
Dear Swami Vimokshanada Maharaj…
My pranams to you!
It is always so inspiring and uplifting to hear these stories of Henny Maa‘s.
She has truely lived a remarkable life and has survived countless struggles. Thank you for sharing this incident with us.
Growing up in the ashram we have only heard a few snippets from Gurudev‘s life, Henny Ma’s memory of the past shows us how we got to where we are today.
Thank you again, Maharaj.
Om Namo Narayanaya
Yes, indeed ‘we got to where we are today’!
You have rightly mentioned two factors for the progress:
remarkable Life and countless Struggles
Henny Maa is one of those rare souls who deliberately chose to live the Life and dared to face struggles.
Seeing the blooming of wonderful children (including YOU) in the Ashram atmosphere is really an eye-opener that even in such a far-away land, the spiritual thoughts of that great mother-land, are pulsating in true colours.
May the Master shower His blessings!
I was 15 and making my way to my bus in Johannesburg, when a cloudburst made it impossible to cross the road. To pass the time I walked down an arcade and was struck by a photograph of a serene woman in the window of a piano shop. Inside, a German woman told me that the woman was Holy Mother, Sri Sarada Devi. I knew nothing about Hinduism or Yoga at the time.
Seven years later when I first came to the Ashram I was surprised to see Holy Mother sitting on the shrine. Henny Maa was present and recognised me.
I never knew Gurudev but Henny Maa later sat me at Gurudev’s desk to work on a book of his writings. I felt Gurudev’s presence and inspiration then and now. Henny Maa established The Yoga Bookshop where I worked with her in the 70’s and first taught Yoga.
When I was recently caring for my mother, we were attacked in our old home and were forced to leave. I could not find anywhere to move to. I searched for three months while we rented a flat. I asked my mother if we should go back to our old house. Not being able to speak she answered by pushing her wheelchair back- a sign that we have to move. The same day we drove up the coast and by Gurudev’s grace found our new home in a forest in Westbrook.
We stayed there for two years before I found out, on Gurudev’s birthday, that the Ashram used to own the forest and that Gurudev had conducted Yoga camps in the forest!
Yes, one day Henny Maa did narrate to me how you came into contact with our tradition through her by visiting her shop. Her father was an upright man whom Swami Nischalanandaji liked very much. He was helpful and drawn to him like a pure iron to the magnet.
To go back into the history sometimes, is a journey very nostalgic. In every turn one can visualise the hidden hands of the Master.
May your mind be at the feet of the Master!
I am pleased that you have highlighted our dear Henny Maa as she always shies away from the spotlight.
Your loving son,
Dear (Eriks)son !
The nature of the world is such! It is said that what you fear of, it verily comes into! If you run away from anything that very thing chases you! She shied away from the spotlight and that spotlight, unknown to her turned on her that she has become famous in the Ramakrishna circle of devotees who take interest in the Ramakrishna Movement in SA.
Sister Ishtapranaji told me the other day that Henny Maa was brought before the computer and she was shown her photo that has been placed in my blog. She keenly listened to all those comments and my replies and laughed at the joke on her in one of my replies!
Whatever happens, lets take it as Mother’s wish!
I am sure she enjoys the attention and I can hear her happy laughter!
Om Namo Narayanaya!
My humble prostrations at the Lotus Feet of Sri Ramakrishna!
As an avid reader of Maharaj’s blog, I will be failing in my duty not to air my comment on this wonderful article! Henny Ma‘s reverence and devotion to her beloved Gurudev is truly inspiring. The real essence of Guru Bhakti is to have utter faith and complete obedience in carrying out the Guru’s orders and practising his teachings in daily life.
With Respectful Pranams at thy Feet!
As our scriptures say,
Dhyana moolam guror moortim
pujaa moolam guror padam |
Mantra moolam guror vaakyam
moksha moolam guror kripaa ||
The form of the Guru is the basis of meditation,
The feet of the Guru are the basis of worship,
The words of the Guru are the basis of mantra,
The Grace of the Guru is the basis of liberation.
May the grace of your Guru be with you ever is my prayer!
Om Namo Narayanaya!
I am so grateful for Your reply. Just like Ankur, I also consider it a great blessing! May Swamijee always Guide and Inspire us through His writings, wonderful talks and by allowing us serve and sit at His feet when Master affords us the opportunity.
With Respectful Pranams
I was quite moved to read about Mother Henny. Thank you for sharing. You have mentioned, “Henny Maa is one of those rare souls who deliberately chose to live the Life and dared to face struggles.” How inspiring indeed!
Guwahati, Assam, India
Yes, it was her deliberate choice to lead entirely a different pattern of Life. I said that because just consider – she was born in Germany and in those days of aparthied, how the whites looked down upon Indians…and to overcome those inhibitions she must have had a tremendous Will Power to sit under the feet of an Indian who was socially a despised lot. I beleive her earnestness in leading a spiritual life brought the contact with her Guru. You can see in her the constant rememberance of her Guru on her face! Such is her devotion.
A torrential cyclone may topple tall trees but many a time a gentle breeze may bloom a little flower, unknown to the world around!
May your devotion to your Guru be intensified!
Thank you, Revered Maharaj for your kind reply and blessings, and also for all your replies to the comments of various devotees. It is an education for me.
Om Namo Narayanaya
Thank you Swamiji for this article on Swami Nischalanandaji – the Saint of South Africa.
When I hear about Gurudev and read any article on Him, I feel truly blessed and so happy. I clearly remember as a child, the excitement at the Children’s Rally and the singing of the sweet name of Ram, Ram through the streets of Natal – how wonderful and how eager we were to perform our items with all enthusiasm before the Master!
It is through Gurudev that we have become part of the Ramkrishna Family. We are therefore, so indebted to him for bringing the Holy Trinity to us. Henny Maa is living proof of the impact a Guru has on a disciple.
My Humble Prostrations at Your Lotus Feet
I am so glad that after reading my post on Gurudev, you once again travelled past the memory lane and you derived joy in remembering the olden days’ Children’s Rally. Yes, the children of Ramakrishna devotees were attached to Ramakrishna Children’s Club. The children would hold what was called an Annual Mass Rally where they would display their talents in scripture recitation, singing of kirtans and bhajans, speeches, plays and their knowledge of religion tested in a Quiz contest. The Rally inaugurated in 1955 would begin with march past of branches with banners led by the bugle band and drum majorettes.
You can see a few photos of old days by clicking the below links:
Children’s Rally 1
Children’s rally 2
Who knows you may be marching in one of the photos as a little girl ?!
May Master make you transmit the same old enthusiasm to the new, young generation!
Om Namo Narayanaya!
Wow! Henny Maa was indeed very lucky to meet Gurudev. Thank you for sharing her beautiful memories with us. Its amazing what devotion Maa has !
Living in Newcastle, I sometimes try to imagine Gurudev playing by the river banks when he was a little boy. A little boy who was destined to make such an impact in all our lives.
It was such a pleasure watching your inspirational talk on television. I too feel that we, as Hindus, lack religious programmes on television. The Digital Satellite television has TBN, a christian channel which is very inspirational but it would be wonderful if we could have one channel dedicated to the teachings on Hinduism.
Jai Shri Durga, Jai Shri Durga, Jai Shri Durga.
Newcastle, Northern KZN, SA
Exactly so! I deeply appreciate your imagining Gurudev playing as a little boy by the river bank! I had such inclination too when I recently visited Newcastle for the 2-day Gita class. With about 15 devotees Anup, one of the long associates of the Ramakrishna Centre there, took us to the Jordon riverside and showed the birth place of Gurudev. See the photo here.
At the birth place, unfortunately the house where he was born is no more and on its grounds instead, only an apple tree stands there perhaps as a mute witness to one of the ground-breaking events in the history of SA Hindus. See the photo here.
I am getting much feedback from many devotees on the TV program on Guru Purnima giving my Talks along with our Ashram temple, devotees, Master’s murti etc. Its nice to know that people instantly connect to the Ramakrishna family when they see such things on TV.
May the Divine Mother inspire you to know more and more about the Holy Trio!
Today I am going to write one word (I dont know whether it is appropriate to do or NOT?) and that word is MASTER STORY-TELLER.
As with everyone else I also wait anxiously your posts on your Blog. And again just like everyone else, I also feel proud of myself as a DEVOTEE OF HOLY TRIO.
I have always felt that ONE SHOULD BE A DEVOTEE OF DEVOTEES. I feel the same kind of Devotion to Devotees like Adarneeyaa Henny Maa.
Thanking you with deepest gratitude for strengthening our devotion at the Feet of Holy Trio.
Generally you are the first to comment. So I was awaiting yours as you await for my Post…
Your attitude of being ‘devotee of devotees’ is one of the cardinal principles of true devotee’s behaviour. Sri Krishna, in the Adi Purana in one place says :
ye me bhakta-janah partha
ne me bhaktas ca te janah
mad bhaktanam ca ye bhaktas
te me bhaktatama matah
“Those who worship Me directly are not real devotees; real devotees are those who are devoted to My devotees.”
In Tamil bhakti literature there is one scripture called Tiruvaimozhi written by Nammaazhwaar. he says:
What a Bhaagyam I have- The one who has committed only sins and nothing but that!
I am blessed to be the servant of His Servants. When I have that-
HOW does it matter- if I have the wealth of all three worlds! Or
have the Atmaanubhavam! These two I do NOT need.
All enjoyment that I am in need of- is being the servant of My Lord’s servants.
The pleasure and blissful experience of serving the
Bhaagawataas/servants who serve at the Lotus Feet of My Lord-
the Blue hued – black cloud coloured Lord Sriman Naaraayana-
alone is the Most worthiest pleasure of this birth.
There is NOTHING EQUAL TO THAT. 8.10.2
May your devotion to serve devotees increase manifold!
Om Namo Narayanaya
My humble pranams to Maharaj
Yes, Ma Henny is a truly amazing person. Such silence, yet strong devotion to Gurudev! I honestly feel lucky and blessed to see Ma Henny almost everyday.
Yes, when i asked her once, how did she come into contact with Gurudev, she told me the same story, as if it was Christ that walked past her. She knew in that instant that she had found what she was looking for.
An amazing thing is that during our Sunday satsangs at Asherville, although she will come in late, but WILL attend satsang. Such devotion and love for Thakur, Ma and Swamiji! She is genuienly a rare GEM.
My humblest respects.
Asherville, Durban, SA
Yes, Gurudev came as colossus on the SA scene and he drew many from other religions too. They had no ideological conflict as he taught them the true meaning of spirituality. I find it interesting to read Revered Swami Tathagatanandaji‘s book Meditation on Shri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda, pp. 28–30 and quote below:
May Master give us clear understanding!
Om Namo Narayanaya
It was indeed heart-warming to read Sister Henny‘s experiences. We are indeed blessed to have had such a great soul as Swami Nischalanandaji in our midst.
These incidents always reminds me of the Late Mr Bhagoo Parbhoo when he explained the hardships that Gurudev had endured in his lifetime for the betterment of our organisation. We are indeed indebted to him as you rightfully pointed that we should never to forget Swami Nischalanandaji.
Jai Sri Ramakrishna
Newcastle, Northern KZN, SA
Thanks for your visit to this blog!
And a special thanks for taking me and other devotees, during my recent stay at Newcastle, to the birth place of Gurudev. You told me that earlier you all had taken up a proposal to put up a plaque or some such thing in order to keep that place as a memorial. Yes, the municipality did not allow that because that very place is often inundated by the surging floods in the river and the place is not safe. But, Gurudev lives in the hearts of thousands of devotees in SA.
May your devotion to the Holy Trio be deep set!
om namo narayanaya
Reading the responses and your post on the guru, reminds me how blessed we are to be able to follow Master, Mother and Swamiji’s lineage…. we would not be anything had it not been for our gurus! And Henny ma‘s faith reminds us of the love and faith we must always have for our gurus, as devotees. Henny ma is inspiring as she is the living example of that.
JAI SRI RAMAKRISHNA!
with love and respect to you maharaj,
Dear Beti Niriksha
Yes, you got the core point of the Guru worship. We are indeed blessed to have a Guru-parampara as the lineage is called in Sanksrit. There are many Gurus who arise like meteors in the sky and disappear. And there are some who are like boats that can carry a few men. And there are some like steamers which can carry hundreds of people. No Guru should be disrespected. Sat-chit-ananda alone is the Guru and comes in many names and forms.
Yet its wonderful if a lineage of preceptors continue to carry forward the tradition and in that respect our devotees are indeed blessed. The advantage is the preservation of the original teachings and opportunity to see them in practice, verily before our eyes.
May our Guru-parampara inspire you!
Thankyou very much for illuminating all of us with the exemplary life of Mother Henny. What a Wonderful Guru and an illustrious Disciple!
The holy life of Mother Henny is one more valuable lesson which reinforces our faith in the Master’s Divine utterance, “Whoever has prayed to God sincerely for one day must come to me.”
The only thing we can do after coming to know about such devotees’ experiences is to adore Him and wonder at His Leela. Really the Master’s plan is “The Master Plan”. How perfectly He directs the whole play!
Mother Henny’s Life is a testimony and reassurance by the Master to every one of us that everyone of us is carefully handpicked by Him. Every one of us, His children are specially privileged.
Thank you once again Maharaj, for sharing such a wonderful life with all of us.
JAI BHAGWAN SRI RAMAKRISHNA DEV KI
With Most humble Pranams,
New Delhi, India
Your comment “…Master’s plan is The Master Plan.” is indeed very touching! It made me remember the story of an ancient Inca chief, a wise old man of the 16th century. For many years he had led his people in the worship of the Sun. One day he surprised his tribesmen by announcing that he could no longer lead them in the act of Sun worship. Stunned, the people asked him why.
He pointed out that for a long time, he had perceived that the Sun rose and set at exact times throughout the year, and moreover, that the Sun repeated that exact routine every year. Thus he had come to the conclusion that the Sun was subject to a Law. He continued, behind that law there must be a Supreme Being Who was the Designer and Administrator of that law! Therefore he advised his people to worship that unknown but Supreme Being to Whom the Sun was so utterly obeyed.
Do you see here an echo of our famous Katha Upanishad about which Swami Vivekananda was ecstatic, where the rishi says that “bhayaat tapati suryaha” even the sun shines due to fear?
There are thoughtful people in every community who feel that there must be some meaning behind the meanderings of present world affairs, probably deeper than what is generally understood. Many of these turn instinctively to the holy scriptures in search for an explanation of life and its perplexing problems.
I find answers to such questions in The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna which is truly a “scripture” “shaastra” of the modern times. The Master’s Plan in operation ultimately leads us to his Master Key! for the future.
The spade of the archaeologists and the labs of the scientists are coming to our aid to help us recover our lost faith in the Scriptures, and to re-discover its glorious message of hope. Renewed faith is the result.
May you be revealed of the secrets of Life by the Master Key!
Thankyou very much for your yet another illuminating and loving reply.
Yes Maharaj, whenever we take refuge in the Gospel the Master speaks to us with so much love and compassion. Once I heard Revered Swami Raghaveshanandaji Maharaj telling in one of his talks – that Revered Swami Madhavanandaji Maharaj use to read Kathamritha even when he was very ill. And when some devotee asked Maharaj what was there to read still in the Kathamritha for a Swami of his stature, it seems, Maharaj replied, “This is the only book that gives me a new meaning on every reading.”
Maharaj, please bless us all, so that, we devotees, should have ‘Gospel Reading’ as a daily sadhana. It is really a ‘Divine Appointment Hour’ with Sri Gurumaharaj.
Revered Swami Gautamanandaji Maharaj often used to tell in his lectures, that bhakta Meera‘s grandfather used to tell her when she was a little girl that when we sing the glory of God and do the Kirtan it is Prayer – that is we are talking to God. And in Meditation, we sit calm and quiet in His presence, and Bhagwan starts speaking to us and we simply listen to His divine words. Gospel Reading is such a divine time that our beloved Gurumaharaj speaks to each and every one of us.
Thank you once again Maharaj for your kind reply.
JAI BHAGWAN SRI RAMAKRISHNA DEV KI !
With Most Humble Pranams,
Dr S Adhinarayanan
New Delhi, India
Sadar pranam at your feet.
the disciple and guru are great. It takes a true disciple to show the greatness of the Guru. Humble salutations to the guru-parampara that has sprung out of Sri Ramakrishna.
Utah, Salt Lake City, USA
||Sri Ramakrishna sharanam||
Well said, Prabesh!
Sri Ramakrishna transmitted the power of God consciousness to His disciples, and it continues to be handed down generation after generation!
I understand from your spiritual sister Avithaa that recently you were blessed with mantra-diksha at the Holy Belur Math.
May your Guru’s grace lead you to your chosen Ideal
As we sing “Karuna-saagara Sree Gurum” the grace of Guru is an ocean of mercy. May you dive in to your capacity!
||Sri Ramakrishna sharanam||
Your love for all of us is beyond description. Devotees from SA talks about you all the time. We all are blessed to have you as our guardian.
Utah, Salt Lake City, USA