Sri Sri Kali Puja cum Diwali was celebrated with due solemnity at Nivedita House on Sunday, 27th October 2019. 92 people attended the function which began with Sri Ramakrishna Puja followed by Sri Kali Puja. Mother Kali was worshipped with 16 items (Shodasopachar puja).
It was appreciated that during Puja time, the assembled devotees maintained silence and focussed on Puja. Thereafter, the vesper service began and after a short break, Swami Vimokshananda gave a Talk on the Significance of the Kali Puja and Mother Kali’s iconography. During the Puja time, the children were taken to the adjacent Library Room where they were engaged in colouring activities.
Everyone who put his/her time, money and efforts in meeting the deadline for the Puja and assisting the performance of Sri Kali Puja, felt blessed. The Eire Vedanta Society offers deep appreciation and prayers for the well being of all.
It was indeed a joyous occasion! Special thanks to the children whose presence added to the joy! Prasad was distributed to all at the close of the function. This occasion was dedicated to Sister Nivedita whose birthday was on 28th Oct 2019.
“Deepavali” – Is Kali black? ——————– On Sunday, the 4th November 2018, brother monk Swami Shantatmananda requested me to deliver a Talk on the “Deepavali” Festival. It was held at the Sarada Auditorium. Deepavali is not a stand alone Festival as it is preceded by two other holy occasions and followed by another two holy occasions, thus can be in effect it is a Five-day Festival! I gave a synopsis of these five days’ occasions and went into introspective mode of discussing whether these five days can be imagined as linear progress in material and mental spheres of the human soul. While bringing up the topic of Kali Puja that is widely observed in the eastern parts of India on the Deepavali amavasya night, obviously the discussion veered round to a point of view on the subject of Mother Kali and the concept behind Her worship… This lecture can be heard here:
My hearty greetings to all the devotees, friends and admirers in Singapore and all over the world! My maiden Diwali night is here in Singapore! What a joyous day to worship Mother Kali in all Her glory!
e-Satsang thru Blogging
WordPress provides statistics for Blogs hosted by them. Generally I am not a frequent visitor to statistics page to see how my Blog is fairing in the cyberspace. Today on the eve of Diwali just I was curious and saw the results: The number of Visitors has been steadily rising. Each visitor has been hitting the pages 10 to 12 times! The cumulative hits from the beginning as on today stands at over 219,000 !!
Regarding the maximum number of readers of this Blog, the majority still is coming from USA followed by India and then by South Africa. Most Singaporean devotees till recently did not know that I have a Blog and hence slow in picking it up. Many of them told me that they never had any inkling that I wrote a Blog! “A Blog from a monk!” was a usual surprise exclamation when they come to know of it! The devotees of other parts of world who have been frequenting this Blog are well familiar with this e-Satsang. That this Blog has been a source of joy to many a reader can be understood from the sincere comments they provide. Some are wont not to write; nonetheless they communicate either though email or cell phone and acknowledge their happiness. There are so far more than 1990 comments for 200 Posts. Perhaps the e-Satsang is still to catch up here!
On this day when I reviewed my Diwali experiences in the nearly last eight years of my stay in South Africa, I did become a little nostalgic! I wrote four posts in this Blog earlier about my Diwali days in SA. I thought that like me those devotees who were all associated with my travel to many parts of SA celebrating Diwali and who were with me may also experience nostalgia by re-reading those posts. And to all those new comers to this Blog, I do think that these posts would make interesting reading!
Focus on Four Posts
Diwali is a celebration of Lights. Staying in a comfort zone we thank God for providing prosperity. But should it end there? Should we not take it a Day to Light up another life? This question was discussed here in 2008 in this post.
Escourt Hindu public conduct Diwali Festival every year. This postappearing in 2010, details how the people of Escourt celebrated in a grand way when I was invited to be the Chief Guest in their celebration!
Diwali is a Five-day festival for Hindus. What did our sages earmarked each day to a particular event of the festival? Does this signify five levels of progress in one’s spiritual Life? An introspective peep into the rationality of five-day Festival is made in this postappearing in 2011.
Diwali nights are not dark nights. In worship the dark Kali is invoked though. Lamps of lights are lit. What do they signify? Who lights the lamp of knowledge inside us? And what is that darkness that is destroyed? This is discussed in this post written in 2013.
Hearty, Happy Diwali Greetings! May this Diwali brighten up your life, may it lighten your burden and may it enlighten your path!
Swami Saradaprabhanandaji, officials from Headquarters and all devotees here join me in wishing you all a wonderful Diwali !
Ray of hope?
Our world today is at the crossroads. While charity to help the poor and needy is increasing, it is disconcerting to see the rise of violence – domestic or national, crime, obscenity, corruption and other expressions of ill-gotten wealth. Serious people devoted to God and godly means of living are indeed worrying about the future prospects of their children. Is there, among the gloomy cloudiness, any shiny ray of hope?
It is in this context that the various celebrations that have come to us from time immemorial from the spiritual land of Bharat hold the clue. One of the most loved celebration of all the Hindus the world over, is the Festival of Lights – Diwali, also called Deepavali. This ‘Five-day Festival’, as I explained in my last year Diwali post, traces the spiritual expansion of human growth culminating in the gaining of knowledge of God.
Diwali signifies lighting of lamps in every household on the Amavasya night that follows the bright fortnight after Vijaya Dashami. No doubt this occasion marks joy and merriment. On the Diwali Day, rows of lamps decorate the houses and presents are exchanged. Diwali, in the north of India, is associated with the coronation of Lord Sri Rama when he returned to Ayodhya (in Uttar Pradesh) after vanquishing the demon King of Ceylon, Ravana on the day of Dasshera. Sri Ram had been in exile for fourteen years and the people were pleased to see his return to Ayodhya.
We get a graphic description of how the people of Ayodhya welcomed Sri Rama, Mother Sita and others in Sri Ramacharitamanasa written by the great saint Tulasidas.
He says that “when the information reached the citizens, men and women all ran out in their joy (to meet their Lord). With gold plates containing curds, Durva grass, the sacred yellow pigment known by the name of Gorocana, fruits and flowers and young leaves of the sacred Tulasi (basil) plant, the root of all blessings, ladies sallied forth with the stately gait of an elephant, singing as they went.
All ran out just as they happened to be and did not take children or old folk with them. People asked one another: “Brother, did you see the gracious Lord of the Raghus?” Having come to know of the Lord’s advent, the city of Ayodhya became a mine of all beauty. A delightful breeze breathed soft, cool and fragrant. The Sarayu rolled down crystal clear water.
Again continuing to explain the warmth of reception accorded to Sri Rama, saint Tulasidas says that “the citizens were transported with joy at the sight of the Lord. All the woes begotten of their separation from the Lord now ended.
“Seeing all the people impatient in their love to meet the Lord, the All-merciful Slayer of Khara wrought a miracle. He forthwith appeared in countless forms and in this way the gracious Lord met everybody in an appropriate manner.
“amita rupa pragate tehi kala, jatha joga mile sabahi kripala”
Saint Tulasidas just wonders how the mystery of Sri Rama in taking many forms and meeting each citizen could not be comprehended by anyone! Here in the words of Sri Ramakrishna, God became the ‘needle’ and the bhakta, the ‘magnet’.
Diwali is also indeed associated with the worship of Divine Mother in the form of Kali. The famous Sanskrit hymn Sri Durga Saptashati called Sri Sri Chandi in short gave Kali worship a new meaning.
When the Devi Chandika battles with different demons, there emanates from Her forehead the awesome and ferocious Kali. As Her origin is associated with the third eye, called ajna chakra in the yogic parlance, She represents the intellectual and intuitive faculties. Kali seeks out and destroys the little lower self (which is ruled by rajas and tamas) so that it will obtain progressively higher levels of knowledge. This chakra denotes the silence of a soundless state when the true knowledge dawns.
The worship of the Divine Mother Sri Sri Kali at Belur Math on 13 November 2012, will be LIVE webcast at http://www.belurmath.tv
Lamp of knowledge
This festival gives us, Hindus, an opportunity to go beyond the external extravaganza. It offers an opportunity to dive deep into one’s heart and search for all types of demoniac qualities residing inside. Thus, the need is felt to clear the darkness from the heart. To drive away the darkness we have to light the lamp thus let the Light of knowledge in.
Sri Krishna encountered the demon Narakasura, who before his death entreated the Lord to celebrate with lighting of diya and burning firecrackers. We all do the latter part but do not pay attention in removing the darkness. As Swami Vivekananda says, darkness in a sealed room over one thousand years will instantly vanish the moment a matchstick is lighted. Knowledge of God is light. When a lamp is lit on Diwali, just pray to your chosen ideal that the darkness of ignorance be removed from your heart.
Destroying the darkness
It is in the Gita that ultimately the philosophy of Diwali emerges. In the Bhagavad Gita, Sri Krishna says that out of compassion for the devotees, He, residing within their hearts, certainly destroys the darkness born of ignorance with the radiant lamp of knowledge. (Ch X.11). In The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, we find Master singing melodiously this song:
“Light up O Mind! Light up! True wisdom’s shining lamp and let it burn with steady flame unceasingly in your heart”
Hence, while celebrating Diwali, let us pray to the Divinity (in whatever form one may believe in) to bestow the right knowledge by which we can lead a peaceful and prosperous life with service to the poor and needy.
It is my fervent prayer that each one of us be blessed with such noble and divine qualities! May the light of the lamp burn brightly in our hearts on this holy occasion of Diwali !
असतो मा सद्गमय | तमसो मा ज्योतिर्गमय | मृत्योर् मा अमृतं गमय | ॐ शांति: शांति: शांति: || Om asato ma sat gamaya | Tamaso ma jotir gamaya | Mrityor ma amritam gamaya | Om shanti shanti shantihi ||
Spiritual seekers are of many types. Some have unquenchable thirst for knowing about God; some others love to take the name and sing God’s glory. Yet others would like to spend their time and efforts in serving the suffering; and a few would devote their life in contemplation. Whatever path one may follow, no one is exempted from doubts. We are often assailed by doubts that go on and on till they are cleared. One such doubt is about prayers. Do our prayers reach God and whether God listens to our prayers? On this auspicious holy birth tithi of Bhagawan Sri Ramakrishna it is pertinent to inquire.
Regarding this, Sri Ramakrishna says:
“If a son clamors persistently for his share of the property, his parents consult with each other and give it to him even though he is a minor. God will certainly listen to your prayers if you feel restless for Him. He has begotten us, surely we can claim our inheritance from Him. He is our own Father, our own Mother. We can force our demand on Him.”
Here is a mind-grippping account of a devotee about how prayers are fulfilled. Once we had gone to Belur Math, the Headquarters of the Ramakrishna Math. We met the Vice-President Swami Vishuddhananda and he was talking to us. He loved us like our own father, guide and teacher. He asked us casually, “ Sri Ramakrishna has said, if you pray for three days and three nights, you will get him. Well, do you pray ? What happens to your prayer?” I was young, and I used to talk boldly. I said, “ We have prayed for so many days, yet there is no response. He has not given us his darshan”. He became very serious and said “ what do you mean?”. Do you mean to say that what he has said is not true? I was taken aback. I said “I am not saying that what he has said is untrue. But my own experience is that I have prayed for many days, but nothing has happened.”
Then he narrated an incident. A nephew of Sri Ramakrishna, named Ramlal was in Dakshineswar as the Head Priest after the Master’s passing away. Once a sadhu came from Ayodhya to Dakshineswar early in the morning. Ramalal saw this sadhu standing there covered with dust from head to foot. As soon as the man saw Ramalal, he said, “ I have come to meet the Paramahamsa. Where can I meet him?”.
Ramalal was taken aback and said, “ Now the mangalarati is going to begin. Come inside the temple.” That man did not enter because he was full of dust and he stood faraway in the temple hall. He saw the mangalarati and then recited a beautiful stotra in praise of Mother Goddess. It was full of devotion and it seemed as though the whole temple hall was vibrating with that and the Mother was highly pleased with it.
Ramlal took a long time cleaning the room and so on because he did not want to face the sadhu again.
When he came out, the sadhu was standing in the same place with the same question. “I have come to meet the Paramahamsa. Where is he?”. Ramlal brought him to the room of Sri Ramakrishna and said, ‘This is the room where he used to stay. This is the small bed where he used to take his nap in the dytime and this is the big bed where he used to sleep’. Ramlal was using the past tense, ‘used to sleep, used to take rest’, so the sadhu said, ‘Why do you talk in this manner? I want to meet him. Where is he?’. Very reluctantly Ramlal had to disclose him that Sri Ramakrishna was no longer alive, ‘Unfortunately you have come seven days late. He passed away a few days ago.’
It was a shock to the man! He later narrated that he was a sadhu doing tapasya in Ayodhya for a very long time. And one day he had the vision of his chosen deity, his Ishtam, who told him, ‘Now go to Dakshineswar. I have come in the person of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. Why don’t you come and meet me?’. In the beginning the penniless sadhu did not believe it. He thought that it was his imagination. Later, thrice he had the same vision. Then he decided to go. He walked all the way as he had no money. He took rest at some places asking people on the way about the direction to go to West Bengal. After three months, he arrived at Dakshineswar, believing the words he had heard in his vision. He had reached his destination, and now here was this person saying that the Paramahamsa was no longer alive.
He was simply taken aback, ‘What is this? What do you say? It can not be!’ he exclaimed. Ramlal said, ‘I am very sorry. If you had come even fifteen days earlier you could have met him. He was not here of course. He was ill and was living in the Cossipore garden house and you could have met him there. But unfortunately, he no longer lives’.
The sadhu was crestfallen. He could not believe it. He just rolled on the ground moaning, ‘What is this? Why did you cheat me like this? You could have told me you were’nt going to live, that you were not going to be in the body for more than three months and asked me to come immediately. You should have told me! Why did you deceive me?’. The tremendous blow was too much for him. That continued for some time. Later, it was time for worship in the room. People were coming and the sadhu just went outside and sat on the verandah. He sat there while the day passed and the night came. The sadhu did not move. Ramlal came and tried to console him, ‘Get up and have some rest. Take some food’. The sadhu just snubbed him saying, ‘Get out! I have not come for all that!’. Ramlal was afraid of this very tall and strong sadhu. He went away and did not say anything.
Another day and night passed. The sadhu was sitting in the same position. Sometimes he used to cry, but otherwise, he was quiet and calm. One more day passed, two days passed and third day came. Ramlal was afraid, because he was the person who spoke first with the sadhu. If he were to die there, Ramlal would be blamed. So again Ramlal went to console the sadhu and to make him get up and eat something, but he could not make him budge. The night also passed. It was hot that night. So Ramlal and others who were working in the temple slept outside on the verandah. That early next morning, before four o’clock, suddenly, Ramlal saw the sadhu, coming upto him on the verandah. He shook Ramlal and laughed shouting with great joy, ‘Did you not see him?’. At first Ramlal did not understand. He thought that may be the man had gone mad as he had not eaten for days and tired from travelling.
Then the sadhu said, ‘Did you not hear the sound of his wooden slippers? He came! Look here! He has given me this Payasam. He came from the side of the Panchavati. I heard the sound of his wooden slippers. He came near me and put his hand behind my back and said, ‘ What are you doing? Why are you crying? Where have I gone? See, look at me’. I was simply overwhelmed and looked at him. He embraced me and told me to get up, “Come, you must have a good wash”. He took me to the steps leading to the Ganga and then said, “Put some water in you burning eyes. Let them be cool”. With such loving words, he consoled and said, “Eat, you have not eaten for the last seven days. Eat my dear!” I could not eat. Tears of joy were flowing from my eyes and I was just looking at Sri Ramakrishna. After some time I could not see him any longer, but my heart was full of joy.”
After narrating this incident, Swami Vishuddhananda said, “Now do you believe it or not? You will say, this is just one of those stories”. He told us that even now that earthen pot in which the sadhu got the Payasam is kept at Dakshineswar and continued, “Tell me, how was his intense sorrow removed? How did he feel full of joy? Do you see how prayers are answered!’. Intense longing prayer… “I have come all the way…. and three days and three nights”. That is what the Master has promised in the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. So three days and three nights of one constant, longing prayer, brought Sri Ramakrishna down. He had to come. Prayer has that wonderful power to bring the Almighty down to this earth.
Sri Ramakrishna taught the devotees how to call on the Divine Mother…. “I used to pray to Her in this way: ‘O Mother! O Blissful One! Reveal Thyself to me. Thou must!’ Again, I would say to Her: ‘O Lord of the lowly! O Lord of the universe! Surely I am not outside Thy universe. I am bereft of knowledge. I am without discipline. I have no devotion. I know nothing. Thou must be gracious and reveal Thyself to me.’ ”
Today is the first night of navaratri which is holy and auspicious to all Hindus. Here in SA, the Divine Mother Goddess Durga is worshipped in Her three aspects as Mahakaali, Mahalakshmi and Mahasaraswati, three nights each during this nine-day celebration. Not only Sri Ramakrishna kept in his room several pictures of Gods and Goddesses but also advised devotees to do so. “Divine feeling is awakened through such pictures” he said. Once he went all the way to see a home of a devotee, hearing that he had a large collection of religious pictures! You can also enjoy seeing one hundred ninety-nine ennobling pictures of Hindu Goddesses, one hundred twenty-seven of which especially on Durga at this Flickr site. The Lord of Durga – Neelakantha Shiva has eleven aspects that are called Rudras. The Shiva puraana speaks about the Eleventh Rudra who incarnates as Sri Hanuman. I am thankful to Simon Ram of UK who gave permission to place a rare picture of Hanumanji with Gauri-Shankar which you can find at the bottom of this post.
The drawing and a write-up on Visual Art Work that is displayed in a box down below, is by one 14 year old school student who regularly attends our Sunday School for Children. Presently this boy is schooling at Ladysmith High School and in Gr.9. His name is Yashteel Raj. He attends the Ramakrishna Centre – Ladysmith branch. He also enjoys reading and learning about Hindu religion through stories like the Ramayana, etc. Recently he wrote to me an email which I reproduce here:
Om Namo Narayanaya Swamiji
It was very good to see you on Saturday after such a long time.
I had to make an artwork about my culture this week and I was so inspired by your talk on Sri Hanumanji that I made a drawing of him carrying the Drona Mountain. I wanted to show you how it looks – I hope you like it.
Mom, Dad and Chiara also send their pranams.
Yes, beta Yashteel, I am immensely pleased to see your art work. Congrats! Indeed, your devotion to Sri Hanumanji has brought Hanumanji’s grace to you and you have excelled in it. May He bestow you the three essential things which Tulsidasji, in his mystical prayer hymn, demands from Sri Hanumanji – bala, budhi, vidya!
Arts & Culture:
Visual Artwork Project
What is Culture?
Culture, as I understand it, is a word which describes an individual’s lifestyle. One’s culture is basically their way of life: their social and religious norms, cuisine, literature, and choice of music and art. Culture thus consists of person’s customs and traditions.
What is your Chosen Culture and
Why can it be defined as a Culture?
I have chosen to make my artwork about my own “hybrid” Hindu culture as it would be personal and I already know much about it.
My chosen culture can be described as a culture as it includes all of my social and religious norms. It consists of the food I eat (spicy) and governs, to an extent, the type of literature, art and music I come into contact with. It also consists of all of my customs and traditions.
My religion plays a very important part in my culture, so I chose to make an artwork which is relevant to it. My artistic talent lies in drawing; hence I chose to depict an event from the epic tale, the Ramayana, in this form. Here Lord Hanuman carries the huge Drona Mountain on his shoulders, from the Himalayas to Lanka, as it contains the rare sanjeevani herb required to heal Lakshmana.
What I found Difficult
I faced many difficulties while creating my artwork and tried to overcome them as best I could. These problems were:
My colouring was uneven and looked bad, so I “smudged” or “shaded”.
Some garments blocked vital muscles, so I made them semi-transparent.
I had some trouble drawing Hanuman’s hands and feet, but I got it right in the end.
Lord Hanuman’s ape-like mouth was hard to blend in to the face so I experimented with sfumato.
It was hardest for me to give texture to Lord Hanuman and the mountain. I tried utilizing tonal value to aid me in my plight.
What I Learnt and Enjoyed
I learnt how to draw another type of abdomen and six-pack, which stems from “Hercules-type” animation.
I discovered how to add tonal value to give texture and depth to an artwork.
Shading, in some cases, is more effective than colouring.
If you shade on differently textured surfaces, their texture will be implied on your artwork. This can be a easy way to create texture.
I enjoyed drawing Lord Hanuman and experimenting with different muscle-types and colours, etc.
I really liked making this artwork. Drawing is lots of fun and I really enjoyed expressing my culture in this form.
With these auspicious words, I greeted this monk, on his arrival at Durban airport from India this morning. No, not any new monk from Belur Math, our international HQ in India but our well-known brother Saradananda – the Vice-President of our centre – who has been re-christened with a new name “Swami Saradaprabhananda”!
Henceforth he shall be known in this new name only. In India, he spent a little more than two months recently visiting different centres there.
The new name “Swami Saradaprabhananda”, was bestowed on the holy birth tithi of Bhagawan Sri Ramakrishna on Friday, 27 February, 2009. That was the day he was inducted into the Ramakrishna Math & Ramakrishna Mission as a regular member of the Ramakrishna Order of Monks, when Most Revered President Maharaj – Srimat Swami Atmasthanandaji– was pleased to bless him with the “yoga-patta” of the new name.
On his arrival at Durban, Swami Saradaprabhananda was given a befitting welcome reception by the devotees and self at HQ’s Ramakrishna Temple at Glen Anil. In his reply to welcome address, Swami Saradaprabhananda explained his holy tour of Belur Math and other centres of the Ramakrishna Math & Mission in India and thanked everyone who had come to greet him.
It is well-known that the august Ramakrishna Order of monks was started by Sri Ramakrishna himself when he distributed the ochre cloth to his disciples in 1885. Explaining the raison d’être for the change in the name, I spoke about the tradition of this Order, as per which the names of the direct disciples of Sri Ramakrishna, and the names of the Presidents and Vice-Presidents of the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission and also the names of the Trustees were not to be used again. As such, the erstwhile name Swami Saradananda, – that was the name of Sharad Maharaj, a direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna – had to be replaced with a new name Swami Saradaprabhananda on his joining this holy Order.
The Trustees of the Ramakrishna Math had accepted the affiliation of the Ramakrishna Centre of South Africa which was formalized when I was appointed the President on Sri Rama Navami 2007. With the admission of Swami Saradaprabhananda into the Belur Math, the integration of the local Ramakrishna Movement started by Sri Swami Nischalanandaji Maharaj in 1942 into the worldwide Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission is complete. This had been the vision and prayer of Swami Nischalanandaji Maharaj and his disciple Swami Shivapadanandaji Maharaj. Due to historical reasons this integration was not possible earlier in our history.
I am here reminded of the earnest prayer of the holy saint Swami Shivapadanandaji at thefamous shakti peethaKalighat Kali temple in Kolkata some years back. This was retold by a reliable source which I narrate for those who have not heard of it.
During one of his visits to the temple of Divine Mother Kali, Swami Shivapadanandaji stood silently at the barricade in front of the Mother doing his japa. The plate wherein the puja articles and a garland were placed was being carried by an attendant-devotee. As usual it was terribly a crowded day. Scores of people – men, women, children in their traditional costumes – have been queueing up in front of Mother Kali. Even the mantras uttered by the worshipping pujari (priest) was not audible. The pujari was seen taking the garlands from each and every devotee’s plates and placing them over the shoulder of the Divine Mother.
Swami Shivapadanandaji had only one prayer…that was the Ramakrishna Centre of South Africa had to be duly affiliated with Belur Math. When?… was not the question, but, it had to be done. So, when he saw his attendant-devotee taking the garland plate to the pujari, the Swami made a prayer and wanted to know mentally from Mother, whether She had accepted his prayer! He wished in his mind that if the pujari took the garland and kept it at the holy feet of Kali, then, that would be a definite indication that She has granted his prayer. This was not expected as the pujari was wont to place the garland on the neck of the Mother.
But, lo! the Mother confirmed! When the pujari received the Swami’s garland, suddenly he turned and amidst the din and bustle of the crowd, he simply placed the garland at Mother’s feet instead of placing it on Her shoulders. That was enough for Swami Shivapadanandaji. He narrated this incident to Swami Saradaprabhananda and told him to keep up the confidence in Mother’s grace by which one day this Centre’s affiliation to Belur Math would be an accomplished task.
May Mother Kali bless all the devotees here and everywhere!
Sri Swami Nirvananandaji Maharaj (Sujji Maharaj), a disciple of Swami Brahmananda, was one of the Vice-Presidents of the Ramakrishna Order. I had the blessed fortune of being initiated by him. On this auspicious occasion of Sri Guru Purnima, I am happy to recollect one wonderful incident in my Guru’s early life – how Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi guided him. Originally published in Sri Sri Mayer padaprante (Vol. III), in Bengali, these reminiscences are translated by Mrs. Maloti Sengupta.
Holy Mother – the Guide
by Swami Nirvanananda
It was March or April of the year 1915. I was then engaged in attending on Brahmanandaji Maharaj at Belur Math. I used to notice monks and brahmacharis of my age set out for tapasya with the permission of Maharaj. They would go off to the Himalayas or go elsewhere and spend a year or so there in spiritual practices. One day I too approached Maharaj and asked permission to go for tapasya. At once he said: ‘What else are you doing here? Your serving here is much more effective than tapasya. You don’t need to go anywhere else.’ In spite of these words when I kept pressing him for permission he suggested that I obtain permission from Mahapurush Maharaj. As soon as Mahapurush Maharaj heard my prayer he exclaimed: ‘Are you crazy? Where else will you go for tapasya? Be assured that everything can be gained by just serving Maharaj.’ Still I persisted with my request. At last he said: ‘Well, go to Baburam Maharaj. You may go only if he gives permission. When I went to Baburam Maharaj his response was the same but more vehement. He cried out: ‘Have you really gone mad, Sujji? Don’t you see that Thakur dwells within Maharaj? Will you be in such close proximity to the spiritual son of Bhagawan Sri Ramakrishna anywhere else?’ Finally he gave in to my pleadings and said: ‘Okay, Mother is now at Udbodhan. If she allows you, then you may go. But at first go to Kalighat and worship Kali there. Then go to Mother for her blessings. Know that she who is in Kalighat and the one who is at Bagh Bazar (Udbodhan), are one and the same.’ Having visited the temple at Kalighat I reached Udbodhan. I was the last in the queue of devotees desiring darshan of Mother. From afar I observed Mother sitting with her face veiled and blessing everyone who offered pranams to her. Finally all the devotees departed and it was my turn. When I stood up after prostrating at her feet I found that Mother had uncovered her face completely. All smiles, she said: ‘Take this sweet, son, eat it.’ She herself gave me the prasad. I gave her an account of activities at the Math. Lastly I placed my appeal before her. After giving me a patient hearing Mother said: ‘Thakur did not like the practice of going out and indulging in harsh disciplines, my child. Besides, where will you go for tapasya leaving the Math and Rakhal? You are serving Rakhal, isn’t that sufficient?’ But I went on insisting childishly on having her permission and blessings for tapasya. Finding me adamant Mother yielded: ‘Well, you may go for tapasya, but go to Kashi. However, you have to give me word that you will not undertake austerities intentionally and needlessly. If on the way help comes unasked, you will accept it. Even during tapasya at Kashi if anybody offers you anything, you will accept it. You will stay at the Sevashram and if the urge is very strong you may beg your food outside. This will serve both purposes – Kashivas (dwelling in Kashi, a centre for pilgrimage) and tapasya.’ I gave her word that I would abide by her instructions. However, I sought her permission for travelling to Kashi on foot. I did obtain her consent but I was aware that the proposal was not to her liking. After offering my pranams to Mother and receiving her blessings I returned happily to the Math and reported everything to Maharaj, Mahapurush Maharaj and Baburam Maharaj. A few months later, having bathed in the Ganga before daybreak I set out for Kashi with only a little cloth-bag. I had a staff in one hand and a kamandal (water pot used for religious purpose) in the other. Being then a brahmachari I was clad in white cloth. I tore the cloth into two pieces, wearing one half around my waist and wrapping the other half round my shoulders. I was on my way to Kashi, alone, along the Grand Trunk Road. It was the month of Bhadra (August-September), the weather, therefore was sultry. As I trudged on I realized that my walking down to Kashi was against Mother’s will. On the way I was rather unwell and grew weak. For two days I had almost nothing to eat. At times I felt a little aggrieved that I was in such a predicament in spite of her blessings. On the third morning I lay exhausted under a large mango tree on the wayside. Silently I complained to Mother about such an outcome of her blessings. A little later a car halted under the tree. A family alighted from the car intending to have their food under the shade of the tree. I lay down as before, not interested in them or their activities. Suddenly I heard a familiar voice: ‘Isn’t it Sujji Maharaj? What brings you here?’ On looking up I saw a well-known face, that of a devotee who was a frequent visitor at the Math. When he heard that my destination was Kashi he said: ‘Come with us in our car. We are going to Madhupur. We’ll take you along as far as we can. I thanked him and said: ‘But I have resolved to walk all the way.’ At that he had food served to me first – some parathas, fruits and sweets from what they had brought and filled my kamandal with water. I ate what he offered but despite their entreaties I neither boarded their car nor accepted their money. When they also had eaten, they departed and I resumed my journey. It seemed to me that I was walking endlessly. Due to walking barefoot, blisters had developed in my feet, and the whole body was aching. I walked mostly at night, because walking during the day was painful. Three more days passed during which I had only a few guavas to eat. It struck me then that those people had wanted to take me along some distance in their car but I had not agreed. Mother had said: ‘Don’t undertake austerities intentionally and needlessly.’ By turning down the devotee’s request I had disobeyed Mother, so my suffering may be due to that. When I asked for alms people mocked me. Being clad in white was perhaps another reason for alms not coming my way. However, I used to walk about 20 miles each day. Travelling in this manner in the evening of the seventh day, I reached a village on the border of Bengal and Bihar, in the district of Hazaribagh. The name of the village was Birpur [sic]. After much searching I succeeded in finding a temple of Shiva where I took shelter for the night. The place was swarming with mosquitoes. I realized that it would be impossible to spend the night there. As I sat there warding off the mosquitoes, once again the potency of Mother’s blessings was revealed to me. At about 9 o’clock the priest, a young man, arrived. He took a close look at me and put some questions to me. Then he sat down to worship and when that was over, said to me in Hindi: ‘Come home with me. Bears and other animals come here at night.’ I was about to say ‘No’ but Mother’s words came back to me: ‘don’t undertake austerities intentionally.’ So I accompanied him without further delay. I found a quite well-to-do family. His widowed mother was very pleased to see me. She took me to their shrine to perform my japa etc.
I was startled when I noticed a picture of Sri Ramakrishna amidst those gods and goddesses. I stood there overwhelmed, and tears filled my eyes. How did he come to be there, an obscure village on the border of Bihar and Bengal? I can hardly describe the joy and the faith that surged in my heart. The old lady detained me for three nights with her loving care. She herself prepared khichuri, malpua and so many other things for me to eat. She applied some ointment to the blisters under my feet and smeared a paste of turmeric and lime on my sprained foot to reduce the pain. After three days I felt that I was quite well and could resume walking. The old lady, however, objected. She said: ‘No, my child, you are still weak. You can’t walk alone such a long distance to Kashi and do penance there. Here is your ticket, you will travel by train.’ Remembering Mother’s words this time too I did not refuse. They helped me board a train at a nearby station. The old lady and her son recounted to me the story behind the picture of Thakur in their shrine. Once the son had made a trip to Kashi. Seeing the picture of Thakur on a calendar hanging in a shop selling homeopathic medicine he had asked for it and brought it home. I think it must have been M. (Mahesh) Bhatta-charya’s shop. He had learned at the shop itself that the picture was of Sri Ramakrishna – ‘Ramkishan, perhaps some Bengali avatar.’ Both mother and son stated: ‘However, after bringing this picture home everything has taken a turn for the better.’ When I asked the son why he had asked for the picture, he answered: ‘There seemed to be some magic in Ramakrishna’s eyes. His eyes drew me irresistibly, so I asked for the picture. Then I had it framed.’ I reached Kashi by train. The old lady and her son had wanted me to spend a few more days with them. I somehow succeeded in leaving on the fourth day, much to their disappointment. Till I reached Kashi everything went smoothly. I realized then that after leaving the Math, Mother had been constantly with me. Mother had stated: ‘Stay at the Sevashram and if the urge is very strong you may beg your food outside.’ But my impetus for tapasya being excessively strong I decided that the period of my tapasya I would spend outdoors. If I put up at Sevashram the sense of security would affect my tapasya. So I resolved to stay outside and also to beg my food. I found a suitable place in an old garden house near the Ganga and I earnestly devoted my time to meditation, japa and tapasya, while depending on alms for food. The place was not a healthy one. It was infested with insects and mosquitoes which hardly let me be in peace. I understood why Mother had advised me to stay at the Sevashram and to live on alms ‘if the urge was very strong’. The alms in North India, consisting of dal (lentil soup) and chapattis did not suit my constitution. Soon I started to feel quite worn out. I felt my enthusiasm was fast declining. To revive my fervour I visited revered Latu Maharaj (Swami Adbhutananda) who used to dwell on a ghat on the banks of the river. Seeing me he asked very tenderly: ‘Sujji, what has come over you? Why do you look so weak? I fear that begging does not suit you. Well, take these two rupees. Master Mashay (M.) sends the money to me every month to have milk. Take these two rupees and have a little milk everyday.’ As he himself used to practise severe austerities, it hurt me to accept the money. However, Mother’s words: ‘don’t undertake austerities intentionally’ recurred to me. So I was compelled to accept it. This expression of his love brought tears to my eyes. My health did not improve, rather it declined further. I contracted dysentery which aggravated due to my living on begged food. One day my condition was so bad that I just lay down in that garden house alone. I had nothing to eat and there were frequent evacuations. Suddenly I heard the sound of some people nearby. The owner of the house – a lady – entered my room. She had come to see the house after several years. At the sight of me, in that state, everything was clear to her. She may have heard about me from the caretaker of the house. Immediately she gave orders for a good room to be fixed up for me and added that rice, vegetables, milk, etc. – everything essential for my diet, should be provided to me. This time too I was about to refuse but remembering Mother’s instructions, I accepted all. It seemed to me that Mother herself had come in the form of that lady and made arrangements for my food and rest. In a few days I recovered. By then I had realized that instead of doing tapasya I was accepting service from others. Calling Mother’s instructions to mind, I now took shelter at the Sevashram. After 6 or 7 months had passed in this manner, packing up my scanty belongings, I returned to the Math where Maharaj had been awaiting me with the anxiety of a father. I fell at his feet. That was the end of my desire to leave the Math and engage in tapasya.