Today is the glorious Guru Purnima! A day to venerate worshipfully the vishaala-buddhi (vast-minded) Sage Veda Vyasa! A day to pay reverence prayerfully to one’s own spiritual preceptor! And all those tireless teachers from whom we learn any training lesson…On this auspicious occasion this is my humble homage to one of our late monks who made me understand the secret of Karma Yoga in a most unconventional manner! Priti Maharaj a man of simple habits was no doubt a real karma yogi whose selfless and weariless work I had seen in close quarters for more than a decade. He joined the Ramakrishna Order at its Karimganj centre (in the state of Assam) in 1951. He was an initiated disciple of Swami Virajanandaji Maharaj and had sannyasa (formal vows of monkhood) from Swami Shankaranandaji Maharaj in 1961. He passed away on 10 February 2004 at the age of 73.
It was a crowded shrine hall. Mother Durga glowed magnificently. A tune in kedaar raaga wafted in the air, weaving a melody, working to soothe my wavering mind. Curious to know whose captivating vocal it was, I just peeped in through the window. That was the first time in 1976 at Rahara temple hall where Durga Puja was on, that I saw Revered Prathamanandaji Maharaj who to everyone was dear ‘Pritida’.
His music drew me like a magnet; because so long I have been hearing within the Mission campus only bhajans that are simple and straight. Here was a monk who elaborated a raaga in his inimitable style. The first song that captured my attention was ‘Jaya Shiva Shankara’. When his music ended I was, as if, transported to another world where I could feel the enchanting raaga taking an enticing shape.
Relief and Rehabilitation
Just before the conclusion of my Training Centre period in Belur Math, along with four other brahmacharins, I was, in 1977, deputed to Rajahmundry where a massive relief work was started by the local Ramakrishna Mission centre. First three months went into providing primary relief. The Diviseema area of Andhra Pradesh was devastated beyond recognition by the surging tidal waves. Thousands of houses were washed away. More than 20,000 people died in the sea waters that entered into coastal villages.
Our Headquarters at Belur Math urgently decided to construct 1100 new houses for the poorest of the poor in 11 villages bordering the sea coast – not a simple structure but cyclone proof shelters. A mammoth rehabilitation work had begun. Therein entered Pritida like a colossus taking the challenge head on, with whom I had the blessed opportunity to be with, day in and day out, month after month and year by year for almost a decade long since. Against insurmountable difficulties Revered Pritida struggled to make the rehabilitation work a great success. In order to get hollow bricks right at the spot, he created a huge brick manufacturing unit at Puligadda camp on the bank of the Krishna river with hundreds of local poor people getting casual employment. Seeing the hard working monk, the great cine-celebrity and later Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh – N T Rama Rao came in with his helping hand of large donations.
Under the scorching heat of Andhra, at the coastal area, a two-hour drive from Vijayawada, he used to work tirelessly knowing not what the time was or when to eat in the Rehabilitation camp. Meals used to be taken at random – many a time standing on the veranda. Several of his monastic assistants would stare at him in utter disbelief. Available at all time to everyone, oblivious to his personal needs, there he encountered serious stomach problem, which started draining his energy. Before beginning the Rehabilitation work in a massive scale, he gave the idea to perform a hawan for the peace of those thousands of lives lost by the tidal wave devastation and he gave the blessed opportunity to me to do the shodasha upachaara puja (16 item-worship) and hawan which I gladly did on the sea sands amidst fierce winds.
Memorable Medical Work
Once the Andhra work was over, Headquarters asked Pritida to take up the responsibility of running a newly started medical centre at Itanagar in Arunachal Pradesh. He was appointed the Head of that hospital. He needed one assistant immediately to start the work there and his choice deliberately fell upon me. I did not know whether I would be able to rise to his expectations because the place was absolutely strange to me. People were indigenous tribals. The culture was unknown. The path was unchartered.
Here at Itanagar under his umbrella cover, I saw before my eyes the blooming of a fresh venture with its own inherent problems. It was a treat to witness how a monk, supposedly innocent of worldly intricacies, tackled from multi various angles one by one troubles galore.
Be it laying the roads, aligning the buildings, fixing the electricals or designing the wards, recruiting and training the staff – from doctors down to sweepers -everything would come under the scrutinising scan of his sharp eyes. Here at Itanagar through his watchful eyes I came to know the tips and tricks of ‘man’ management. Pritida was massively brilliant in outwitting the manoeuvre of mischief mongers. Here at Itanagar under his protective wings I was pulled out of my own created cocoon and was exposed to the vast vagaries of people’s mood. It was Pritida who took me in his arms as it were and guided step by step so as to escape unscathed. Here at Itanagar with his able tutelage I had first hand experience in realising that mere outward personality cannot carry anybody farther; only a well balanced interior of mind and heart could sweep the feet off everyone. Revered Pritida was a shining example. He rarely paid attention to his attire. Have I not found my shirts or dhotis missing from the alna (wooden open shelf) only to spot them on his person! Such was his childlike nature that would not fail to charm anyone.
He used to say that his brain functioned so fast that to put the ideas on to paper was almost impossible for him. Even while talking to others, the words from his mouth would flow like a torrent. I received many times his deep appreciation for my secretarial assistance in putting his thoughts in black and white. Many would think that Prityda was restless and could not stay put steadily in one place. Even supposedly enlightened persons viewed him as an enigma. That was not the case. I had seen him lying down on a cot, absolutely carefree, unmindful of any hullabaloo outside and sipping hot tea in a nonchalant manner but seriously hitting on a pleasing solution to a perplexing problem! His involvement in that Centre was total. Was he attached to the work that he created and cared for, nurtured and nourished? No. At the time of leaving that Centre, on transfer back to Belur Math, he left with a simple bag containing a pair of clothes! Thats all that he possessed!
Revered Pritida had enormous admirers among the monks as well as devotees. People flocked to him with their grievances possibly having no method to set right. He took delight in tackling such circumstances. Be it an inter-caste marriage, or falling in penury Revered Pritida was there with ever ready solution in his pocket, always smiling like Ramana Maharishi!
Can I really exhaust about a multifaceted personality? How much have I known about him? Somehow my mind is unable to come to the terms of his termination; rather the thoughts of his traits do create ripples of admiration and astonishment. Slowly and slowly they rise and gather in my lonely moments, whirling into bigger circles like the emergence of smooth flowing air-bubbles, looming large over the head. Prodigious Pritida cannot be forgotten.
When alive he compelled attention, more – when no more.