from nondescript to nonpareil

Today is varuthini ekadashi when Lord Vishnu is worshipped in His avatara form as Vamana. Hence I pay my loving homage to one sadhu of our Order who was an ardent devotee of Sri Hari.
Swami Purananandaji Maharaj, a spiritual torch
Swami Purananandaji Maharaj, a spiritual torch – Image Courtesy: Dr J S Shukla, Kanpur

Swami Purananandaji (Sunil Maharaj) passed away on 12 February at 2.15 am at Seva Pratishthan, Kolkata. He was 84 and had been suffering from chronic kidney disease and diabetes for some years.  Initiated by Swami Shankaranandaji, he joined the Order in 1951 at Belur Math and had Sannyasa from his Guru in 1961.  Besides Belur Math, he served at Patna, Mumbai and Gol Park centres as an assistant, and Kanpur, Mauritius (for a short period), Puri Mission, Cossipore and Barasat centres as Head.  He had been living a retired life for about six years at Gol Park centre.  The Swami was a good singer and an impressive speaker and was known for his gentlemanly manners.  Soft spoken and amiable by nature, he endeared himself to all those who came in contact with him. 

– Source: Belur Math website

About a sadhu

from nondescript to nonpareil

Even after seeing many deaths in close proximity during my more than four decades of organisational life (all along I was somehow posted in hospital centres), the inevitable always holds my attention in a mysterious manner. The news of the passing away of the respected Swami Purananandaji Maharaj made me more introspective.

It was my good fortune that by the grace of our Master, I could join Kanpur ashram and could live, albeit a short four and half years, with a sadhu who appeared to be unparalleled to me. I asked him before leaving for my learning at Brahmacharins’ Training Centre to tell me about some of his personal anecdotes before he came into the Order. He said sweetly that I should not bother about knowing of his past as he was merely a nondescript.

Kanpur Ashram temple...
Kanpur Ashram temple…

If he was really nondescript as he claimed, the Order then made him nonpareil. The foremost characteristic of this sadhu that comes to my mind is his utterly humble nature. When I would in my audacity comment on his humility as bordering the vaishnavite, he would never fail to rejoin “How can I explain the joy of Harinam?”. It made sense to me much later that unless one gets the joy in repeating the name of God, humility can never be one’s possession.

Learn from living

As a new entrant into the Order, I was as often happens asked to take up the puja work to develop devotion to Master. There was an elderly Pujari Maharaj who needed assistance too. He was an expert in the art of decoration of the holy altar. Performing puja in the shrine gave me immense satisfaction. And Purananandaji taught me the intricate rituals only after I learnt by heart all the puja mantras. It was a joyful experience to learn under him as he would not only explain the rituals but also expound the inner meaning of those rituals.

The beautiful shrine of Kanpur ashram
The beautiful shrine of Kanpur ashram

One day after the lunch prasad, when I had retired to my room for the usual quota of noon siesta, I heard a knock on my door. It was highly sultry in the summer, and as there was no electricity the fan could not be turned on. So with just a ‘gamcha‘ around me I opened the door. There he was standing. He was the Head of the centre during those days. He asked me “Would you mind please going to the Bank now as some urgent matters have to be attended?” I replied, “Maharaj I am only a Brahmachari. Why should you be so polite to tell me like this? Just please order me and I would gladly do any work at any time.” His humble way of not disturbing a Brahmachari after the lunch hours made a deep impression on me.

A discussion came up at one night class among the brahmacharins as to what one should pray. Obviously every one agreed including a few senior sadhus that we all should pray for only devotion, detachment and knowledge. It was Revered Maharaj who pointed out that we should also ask for secular knowledge – only to that extent which can be put to use in the performance of Master’s work.

Taste of Tulsidas

Hindi was not my subject in school days. Hence I found it hard to communicate with devotees and also the public who frequented our Kanpur ashram. Those were the years when there was not only an apathy but also some sort of  ‘hatred’ towards speaking English in public places. Understanding my difficulties, Revered maharaj taught me the conversational Hindi very quickly.

He made me go through the writings of Sri Hanuman Prasad Poddarji whose articles used to appear in the famous monthly magazine Kalyan published by the Gita Press. I think I have not come across any other person, writing on spiritual subjects, in Hindi so clearly, in a simple style and understandable even to the learners of Hindi. They were fascinating in meaning as well as in the use of language. I found joy in learning the language by studying the magazine! Even today by the munificence of Sri Nandlal Tantia, one of our devotees in India, I receive a copy of the Kalyan every month by post!

Saint Sri Tulsidasji
Saint Sri Tulsidasji

I noticed that Revered Maharaj had scholarly interest in Tulsi Ramayan as well as in Adhyatma Ramayana as he was equally facile in Hindi and Sanskrit. I would avidly attend all his classes at the Kanpur Ashram’s beautiful shrine hall as they would open to me the doors of insights into the scriptures. One thing I could understand was this: the words of shastras have always an internal meaning that can be communicated only when a person is a sincere sadhaka. A scholarly exposition many can make (I felt it was like eating saltless meal!) but revealing the spiritual import is possible only for a profound striver. His set routine to sit and meditate was a classic example for all the brahmacharins there.

For the first time I heard from him about a saint by name Sri Ramkinkarji. I am eternally indebted to this Swami for this generous act of goading me to study the books of Sri Ramkinkarji. Effortlessly I became a ‘fan’ of him because his fabulous explanations ‘fanned’ my interest in learning a few concepts from the Tulsi Ramayan. They help me in my personal spiritual practices.

Later from Ranchi I used to visit Gol Park centre in Kolkata only to see Revered Maharaj and whenever it was coincided, I would not fail to attend his class. He was of course greatly pleased with my presence and would always tell other devotees painting me in the most (undeserving) glorious terms!

mahaprasad mahatmyam

I had an opportunity to visit Puri when he was the Head of the Mission branch. Undoubtedly he was very pleased to have me at his centre. He instructed the respected Ashram Panda to take me for the darshan of Lord Jagannatha. I thanked Revered Maharaj for all the arrangements that he did for me and quipped to him that he was in the right place as he was a vishnu-bhakta! He replied solemnly that Lord Jagannatha in His infinite mercy brought him there to savour His mahaprasad daily. He explained to me at that juncture about the utmost veneration that Master and Mother had for Jagannath mahaprasad.  So forceful was his narration that it made deep impression on my mind. Even now staying in far away South Africa, I do partake one or two dana (grains) of that mahaprasad which is also called ‘Nirmalya’.

Sri Jagannatha Swami, the two siblings – Subhadra and Balabhadra at Ranchi Jagannatha Temple
Sri Jagannatha Swami, the two siblings – Subhadra and Balabhadra at Ranchi Jagannatha Temple

Whenever I would come to Kolkata from Itanagar or when I was posted in Seva Pratishthan in Kolkata itself, it was my pleasure to be with him in Cossipore and spend at least three nights there just to have his holy company. The conversations were never of worldly nature but always centred around Master, Mother and Swamiji.

Listening pleasure or pain?

Once I travelled to Mumbai from Itanagar. I was there in connection with the import of some medical equipment that had to be taken delivery of at the airport. At the ashram the Swami was happy to receive me and showed me my room. Somehow I would rush from my work before the evening arati started only to listen to his mellifluous singing. During my Kanpur stay I had really enjoyed his singing style which was layered with his love for the  Master.

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So I just lamented to him saying that how I was deprived of the listening pleasure while the Mumbai devotees were blessed to hear him day in and day out! In his unique jocular way he smilingly replied that after finishing two or three songs, he would just turn around to see whether devotees were pleased or not and invariably they would sport a broad smile by which he understood that they had enjoyed his music. Only after a long time, he added covering his mouth by his palm, that he realised to his dismay the smile on the devotees’ lips was not due to their liking his singing but to the relief they felt when he concluded his singing!

It took me some time to understand why my mind during my visits to Kolkata would not be set at rest until I met him. I would often wonder whether our generation could rise to such high levels of humility, practice of swadhyaya (self-study) and above all in pouring unbounded love to the recalcitrant juniors!

Swami Purananandaji was a sadhu nonpareil.

|| Aum Shri Ramakrishnarpanamastu ||