Immensely Inspiring…

Srimat Swami Gitanandaji Maharaj
Srimat Swami Gitanandaji Maharaj

Swami Gitanandaji was born in Arial village of Dhaka district (now in Bangladesh) on 17 April 1924.

An initiated disciple of Swami Virajanandaji Maharaj, he joined the Order at Chennai Math in 1946, and had Sannyasa from Swami Shankaranandaji Maharaj in 1956. Besides his joining centre, he served at the Headquarters and Kanpur centre as an assistant and Ranchi Sanatorium, Varanasi Home of Service and Kankurgachhi centres as head. He also served Swami Virajanandaji Maharaj as a personal attendant, and was a Secretary to Revered Shankaranandaji Maharaj for some time.

In April 1973, he was appointed a Trustee of Ramakrishna Math and a Member of the Governing Body of Ramakrishna Mission. In June 1974, he was elected an Assistant Secretary of the twin organizations, and in April 1975, he was elected Treasurer of the Math and Mission. In 1985 he was re-elected an Assistant Secretary in which capacity he served for a decade.

He was elected a Vice-President of the Ramakrishna Order in April 2003, which office he held till the end. During his spiritual ministry, he blessed many devotees with mantra diksha (spiritual initiation) in different parts of the country. He has two Bengali books to his credit: Sri Ramer Anudhyan (Contemplation on Lord Rama) and Bhagavat Katha (Selections from the Bhagavata).

–source: Belur Math Website

The Kanpur-connect

The news of mahasamadhi of Most Revered Gitanandaji reached me in the morning of 14th March when I opened my laptop to check my emails. Bowing to him mentally, I re-read the news. Immediately my mind was occupied with nostalgia about my brief joyful association with this holy monk.

Widely known as ‘jaapak sadhu’, he was a veritable inspirer in our spiritual life. The very first time I met him in Belur Math at the start of my Training Centre session, he lovingly enquired about my stay at Kanpur. He was once working as Assistant Secretary in the Kanpur ashrama. I told him that the shrine in that ashram was exceedingly beautiful. He then went on telling me how he would love to do his sadhana in that shrine where he found Master ‘living’.

Due to perhaps ‘Kanpur-connect’ there was no bar even if I go and sit at his office just to exchange a few loving words. He was one of the Assistant Secretaries then. I was able to go to his room too whenever I was pleased to. In those out of office hours, I had found him in his room sitting straight, doing japa with his mala in his hand. The screech of the door opening would make him realise that someone was in and slowly as if he was awakened, he would so welcomingly invite me to take my seat. There was not a single time I found any expression of “you fellow disturbed me”!

The Telling Tears 

Two times in my association I had seen his tears flowing down his cheeks. The first time I was stunned at his shedding tears. I innocently enquired of him whether he was finding any physical discomfort. He affirmed no and said that the only discomfort was that he could not do ‘enough’ japa!

The second time was a memorable travel with him in the same car from Jamshedpur to Ranchi Sanatorium. I should mention here that he was once the Head of Ranchi Sanatorium and my being Head there somehow brought me closer to him as I would always convey the pranams of the old employees especially of the tribal ones for whom he had great love. In the car of course his Secretary was also present. As I knew that Revered Maharaj was fond of stories of Shri Ram, I picked up the subject of his then recently released Bengali book on Shri Ram. I did read it and I could start the discussion on the relationship that Shri Hanuman had with Shri Ram. And in a childish way I asked him whether he knew that once Shri Ram was about to ‘kill’ his greatest devotee Shri Hanuman.

I could see his face on the front small mirror of the car instantly changing pensive. “Tell me, tell me” he quickly responded with perhaps some sort of anguish. He exclaimed loudly how Shri Ram could even think of annihilating his own servant-devotee Shri Hanuman! Lo! It was impossible! Continuing the story I built up the climax scene when Shri Ram had strung the brahmaastra onto his bow and that he was just ready to aim on his ‘dearest’ target, tears swelled in Revered Maharaj’s eyes and he could not stop sobbing! His Secretary and self were just amazed at the emotional involvement of Revered Maharaj had while listening to the story where he could not ‘accept’ the fact that Shri Ram would kill Shri Hanuman. Of course the story as usual had a happy ending with Shri Hanuman being embraced by his Lord Shri Ram. He was greatly relieved at the turn of the events in that story and he was much appreciative of this wonderful legend.

A Treat to Tribals 

One more thing that touched my heart about him was his loving nature towards tribals. At Ranchi Sanatorium he would sit on a bench kept outside in the entrance verandah. Next to him would be our Durga maharaj. But both would remain silent and would not have any conversation for a long time. While Durga maharaj would be immersed in his loving prayers, Revered Gitanandaji would continue in his japa in spite of the cushioned sofa set kept apart for the ‘Vice-President’ in the lounge. If pointed out by any monk, he would assert that he was happy to sit in a bench. Then quickly he would ask that monk whether he was keen in ‘his’ happiness! The monk had no other option but to allow his own way.

Besides the treatment facilities for the TB patients, the Sanatorium had by then expanded into many types of rural development activities wherein the tribal – old men and women and also children – getting direct benefits. I took him to some of the nearby villages where he was extremely happy to see those old people whom he knew personally. He was charmed at the welfare measures that go directly to the service of the poor. He encouraged all of us to perform these welfare activities thinking that Master and Mother are being served.

Indeed he was always an inspirer to the monks and brahmacharins.


Here is a slideshow of four pictures of Swami Gitanandaji when he visited Ramakrishna Mission TB Sanatorium on 19th September 2004.


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|| Aum Shri Ramakrishnarpanamastu ||

Divinely demise

Swami Brahmananda
Swami Brahmananda

It is easy to do great deeds, the deeds that bring name and fame. But it is by his small, everyday actions that a man’s character is known. The true karma Yogi does not work to gain publicity. No matter how insignificant his work may be, he throws himself wholeheartedly into the task, because, for him, his work has become worship of God.

Life, like a stream, is ebbing fast away. The day that is once gone can never be recalled. Make the best use of your time. If you leave it to the last moment, it will be too late to cry, “Alas, alas!”

– from The Eternal Companion

A fort of protection

The reason why I was reminded today of this quote from the famous Ramakrishna-Vivekananda devotional literature is the news of the demise of one of the senior devotees from Ranchi. He was Ranjit Sinha. My Gurubhai too. Rather his entire family had mantra-diksha (initiation) from my Gurudev.

I don’t think I have sufficient words to soothe hearts of his wife and daughters as I myself beset with grievance. He was indeed a fort of protection not only to the immediate family but also to many monks and brahmacharins. His influence as I had seen him in Ranchi and elsewhere made a palpable effect on every one who came into contact with him.

What I understand now is that he passed away with peace in the heart. He had an inexplicable feeling of his closeness with Holy Mother and Ma would take care of his soul. I recall several meetings with him on many an occasion, his discussions about our Gurudev and what a tremendous faith that he had on him! Well, as a monk I would wonder in those days and continue to do so even now, if only I had one tenth of this house-holder’s faith!

The greatest surprise

Screen Shot 2014-01-11 at 6.28.28 AMIn Mahabharata, the narrated story about Yudhishthira is a case in point. When the Yaksha asked him what was the greatest surprise, Yudhishthira replied that so many people die everyday. Yet, human beings want to somehow avoid death. That, he said, was truly surprising. Knowledge again and again gets eclipsed by ignorance!

I don’t know how all my Gurubons (Guru-sisters – his wife and three daughters) are coping with. One thing I am sure is that in spite of the irrepairable loss, they would see through the impermanence of this world and its beings as his entire family was nurtured on spiritual insights that he generously provided especially influenced by the spiritual teachings of Swami Brahmanandaji.

His home looked a veritable temple. Not only he saw to the external neatness of the place but also insisted upon noble vibrations of thoughts. “The Eternal Companion” was his favourite book. He used to discuss passages from this book with me and we both would forget how the time passed. He would never let go an opportunity to serve sadhus.

‘Preferred treatment’

However, is ‘Death’ to be dreaded or be desired? How many can get a host of monks and brahmacharins around them during death? Here is the touching account of one of his daughters who wrote to me in detail the ‘preferred treatment’ that her father got. Was this due to his extraordinary devotion?

“He was on  ventilation since 29th Nov ’13. He was taken to Morhabadi ashram at 9.30 pm and 10-15 sadhu-brahmacharis chanted shanti mantras and Revered Shashankanandaji offered charanamrit and Thakur’s nirmalya. On reaching home  at 10.30 pm  we found 3-4 Swamijis  including Revered Prayag Maharaj from Sanatorium were already waiting. They then recited verses from Bhagawad Gita. At 2 am we all started  for Kolkatta for cremation at Cossipore Ramakrishna Mahaasmashaan (Grand Cremation-ground). We arrived there by 11.45 am and to our surprise we found therein Srimat Swami Vagishanandaji Maharaj waiting for us.

I had briefed him about baba’s condition on 20th morning  itself and to my surprise he asked me what you intend to do for his cremation and he said “Raater journey te ektu kosto hobe taachaara sob thik hobe” – There will be a little difficulty in night journey but everything will be alright.  I said, “Maharaj, baba is still alive!!”. But he said nothing. Evening around 6 he again rang me up saying “Shibani ratre  ektu kosto hobe tobe tuee niye chole aasis. – There will be a little difficulty in night journey but you bring him.”

And at 7 pm my father passed away.

All rituals were done there under Revered Vagishanandaji’s supervision. From 11.45 am to 5.30 pm he was there till his asthi visarjan (ash-immersion) in Ganga. It was due to the Divine presence of a very senior monk who is also Trustee of the famous Belur Math that we all including my Mother overcame our greatest loss.”

What a glorious divinely demise that this wonderful devotee had!

|| Aum Shri Ramakrishnarpanamastu ||

Devout Durga Maharaj

Swami Umeshanandaji Maharaj
Swami Umeshanandaji Maharaj

The day of 7th may reminds me of the departure from this world, a devout venerable monk of our Order, Swami Umeshanandaji Maharaj. During my 12 year-stay at the Ranchi Sanatorium centre, I had the privilege of having his wonderful company for a little more than 11 years. Holy men come in different hues and Umeshanandaji was unique in his own way.

Smiling always, bringing cheers to every heavy-hearted soul, Swami Umeshanandaji dedicated his life for the service of TB patients since 1962. He was popularly called Durga Maharaj. He was born in a place near Mangalore of Karnataka State on 20th February 1923.

He left Indian Army service and joined the Ramakrishna Mission, Belur Math. He was given mantra diksha by the sixth President of the Ramakrishna Order, Srimat Swami Virajanandaji Maharaj. Later in 1959 he was initiated into Sannyasa by the seventh President Srimat Swami Shankaranandaji Maharaj.

It is said that Swami Shaswatanandaji Maharaj, the then Assistant Secretary of Belur Math told Durga Maharaj in 1962 “to go to Ranchi and serve the poor tribals and suffering TB patients and die there in harness”. During his long forty-four years of extraordinary service, Durga Maharaj never went outside. He was fully engrossed in the patient matters like admission of patients, preparation of patient files, making ready discharge certificates etc. He knew every patient by his name and address.

Straight forward and simple, Durga Maharaj was indeed highly popular among the local Adivasi (tribal) public. No one would forget to meet this smiling Swami and make pranams to him. His admirers are now spread all over the country who would feel blessed to take his name in the very morning.

The mortal coil of Swami Umeshanandaji Maharaj readied on the pyre
The mortal coil of Swami Umeshanandaji Maharaj readied on the pyre

He was 84 when he breathed his last, after suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease with old age ailments for a few months. Swami Satyeshananda, the ‘doctor maharaj’ informed me of the final end and we, all the monks, devotees, staff and others immediately rushed to his room. His mortal coil was consigned to flames the next day at 9 in the morning. The final rites were performed at “Panchavati” within the Sanatorium campus. On this solemn occasion, Sannyasins and Brahmacharins of Morabadi Ashrama and Sanatorium, Swamijis of Tupudana Advait Swarup Ashram, devotees from Ranchi and local adivasi admirers along with employees of the Sanatorium were present in good number.

As per our monastic tradition, on the 13th day of death, a ‘special worship’ of Sri Ramakrishna is done in the temple and a ‘saadhu bhandaaraa’ would form a special feature. And on that day i.e., Friday, 19th May, prasad feeding to all in-patients, employees and devotees was arranged at Sanatorium Ashrama premises in honour of the departed soul. A Smritisabha (memorial meeting) was also conducted preceding the Bhandara. That Sadhus from Bihar and Jharkhand branch centres of Ramakrishna Mission and also of the other outside organisations with a huge number of devotees attended the Bhandara was a memorable experience.

During my Address in the Memorial Meeting, I narrated how wonderful the Life of this monk was and we always rejoice when a monk leaves his body and do not weep over his passing away. As Tulasidas says in his Hanuman chalisa “antakaala raghuvarapura jaayi, jahaan janma hari bhakta kahaayi” (after death he enters the eternal abode of Sri Rama and remains a devotee of Him, whenever, taking a new birth on earth), we also believe that Durga Maharaj has gone to the Ramakrishnapura, the eternal abode of Sri Ramakrishna.

It was on the birthday of his Guru, Swami Virajanandaji Maharaj,(he was a disciple of Holy Mother; a historic audio recording of his Voice is available here) in the last year, I had to deliver a Talk here in South Africa to the devotees of Durban Central Satsang group. My mind naturally, while talking about the Founder of South African Centre Swami Nischalananda, who was also a disciple of Swami Virajanandaji – reverted towards this devout Durga maharaj  and spoke at length my ennobling association with him.

Knowing that Durga Maharaj, in his pre-monastic life, was a Muslim, I naturally could not contain my curiosity and enquired how, he could join this Hindu Order of Monks. He would, always in an forthright manner, say in his loud, sterling voice that it was all due to his Guru’s grace. He had unshakable faith in the Master’s presence. His forthright walking with a shoulderbag consisting of Office keys and in left hand, a lantern became an icon to all patients. One could feel the stillness of the soul when he would sit on the bench outside the parlour room and bless whoever came and touched his feet in obeisance, those unforgettable words of blessings “jeete raho” (may you live long!).

There was never a curse, nor an indignant expression but there was always that charming childlike simplicity with overwhelming concern and affection. Unknown to the outer world, such holy men go finally unsung but unknowingly, many a heart is filled, unseen and unheard, with the fragrance of unbounded love.  

Well, the impression that he created in my mind is well imprinted and I pay homage to this great monk.