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.

Expansion is Life

ManSwami Vivekanandaju was studying in class VIII or so when she started coming to our ashram. Her village Dungri is not far from Ranchi Sanatorium. Along with the other girls and boys of her village, Manju would also participate in different functions. She had great admiration for Swami Vivekananda. As she grew up her admiration for Swamiji turned into devotion.

It was during one of those days of the severest spell of winter that I went to her village to explore certain welfare activity. On the way while we were walking through the muddy road I saw little Manju standing outside her home. She was visibly pleased. She requested me to come into her house to which I agreed to fulfil her desire on my return trip. When I went to her house I was as usual flocked with elder people of the village. With great happiness writ large on her face, Manju took me first to a room where on a shelf near the window, the photos of Holy Trio were kept. Flowers had been offered. holytrioweb-2.jpgWhen I made my pranams, it occurred to me that I should humbly place before the photos some pranami. In my pocket I had three notes of hundred rupees. After offering the cash there, I returned after taking the tasty milk-free liquor tea.

A week after, Manju came to my office. I asked her just out of curiosity, whether she had kept the three hundred rupee notes safely. She paused for some moments and appeared to be hesitant in replying to my query. I repeated my query. “Ok Manju, so you are not going to tell me.”

Manju replied still hesitantly, “No Maharaj, I do not know how to explain to you.”

“What does that mean? I saw window open next to the shelf. Did the wind carry the money away?”

“No Maharaj, I have spent the money.”

“Oh! it as nice. You see, Manju, money comes for spending only, nothing to feel embarrassed about. Ok, now tell me, what did you spend it for?”

manju.jpgManju was again keeping silent. It is anybody’s guess that what a 14 year old girl would spend the money for. How many things are there that she could purchase bangles, cosmetics and what not.

“Did you spend it on your dress or any such thing?”

“No Maharaj, I did not spend on anything for myself.”

“Then Manju tell me the truth. I am eager to know it.”

What she told me at that juncture simply stunned me. Imagine a little girl like Manju not spending the money on herself but going out of the way in doing something else.

 “Maharaj, you know my neighbour, how poor they are! I saw the three little kids shivering from cold. I could not bear to see their suffering. So I went to the Tupudana Bazaar and purchased three sweaters of hundred rupees each. When I gave the sweaters to them, you know how happy they were!”

Did not Swami Viekananda say, “They alone live who live for others?” I was amazed at Manju’s expansive heart, the centre of which transcended her small body-mind complex and embraced the socalled unrelated ‘others’.