Magnanimous Mother

Sri Sri Jagaddhatri
Jagaddhatri in full regalia - clay image used for worship at Ranchi Ramakrishna Mission TB Sanatorium

From The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna

(To M.) “One must accept the forms of God.  Do you know the meaning of the image of Jagaddhatri? She is the Bearer of the Universe.  Without her support and protection the universe would fall from its place and be destroyed.  The Divine Mother, Jagaddhatri, reveals Herself in the heart of one who can control the mind, which may be compared to an elephant.”

RĀKHĀL : “The mind is a mad elephant.”

MASTER: “Therefore the lion, the carrier of the Divine Mother, keeps it under control.”

Today is Sri Sri Jagaddhatri Puja! I cannot escape from indulging in a little nostalgia with regard to this most important Puja of the Ranchi Sanatorium in India where I was blessed to witness for  12 long years. The enthusiasm and exuberance that expressed in different forms in staff of the hospital, devotees of the Ashram and the tribal public of the neighbouring villages and also well-wishers from distant towns are something not explainable! it was a puja fever under the spell of which we all came to our great delight.

I remember to have written a small piece in Wikipedia in 2005 which I reproduce below:

The formal difference between Durga and Jagaddhatri occurs in ‘Mayatantra’ and Jagaddhatri is mentioned with reference to Durga in Krishnananda’s ‘Tantrasaar’. The special puja of the Goddess on the ninth lunar day of the light fortnight in the month of Kartick has been referred in ‘Krityatattarnab’ by Srinath Acharyachudamoni of the 15th-16th century.

As per ancient pauranik lore of the Hindu scriptures, soon after the victory over Mahishasur the Devatas became highly egoistic. They thought because of lending to Durga their instruments the mighty asuras were vanquished. To make them understand that the primordial power is alone behind every action, the Brahman appeared before the Devatas in the form of effulgent Yaksha. Bewildered by its presence one by one the Devatas approached Yaksha. First the god of wind Vayu. The Yaksha asked him what he could do. The Vayu replied that he could throw away huge trees, tumble high mountains. The Yaksha then placed a small grass and asked him to move it. The Vayu utilised all his powers but lo! he could not even displace it. So also the god of fire Agni, could not even burn it. Likewise one by one the Devatas failed. And it dawned on them that their powers are in reality not their own but derived from the supreme power who as protecting mother holds the entire creation and therefore called Jagaddhatri. Anybody who worships Jagaddhatri becomes absolutely egoless and a true servant of the world which is nothing but a manifestation of the Brahman.

While thinking of Ma Jagaddhatri, some readers may wonder how this Puja was started in a TB Sanatorium which may seem unconnected. But I want to share a true incident that I heard from the eye-witnesses.

It is pertinent that this memorable puja was indeed started by one in-patient of this Sanatorium in 1958. He was late Bhupati Bose from Howrah. It is said that he had a divine aadesh in dream one day for doing Devi Puja. The then Secretary Maharaj late Swami Vedantanandaji rejected his offer saying that doing Durga Puja in a hospital set up is not a joke. But Bhupati, distressed at the decision, prayed to the Mother and sought excuse for his inability to carry out Her wish. Who can eventually stop the Divine Will? He again dreamt of the Mother who said that there was one-day Puja also available! On hearing about the second dream, Vedantanandaji was ready to reconsider his decision and acceded to the patient’s request for Jagaddhatri worship. Bhupati himself prepared the image beautifully for consecutive two years. The entire staff and all the in-patients stood together in completing the one-day Puja with great devotion.

Image of the Divine Mother taken in procession for Immersion

Sri Lalita Sahasranama in its 173 verse speaks of Tripurasundari as Jagaddhatri .

Vishvamata jagaddhatri vishalakshi viragini

Pragalbha paramodara paramoda manomayi .. 173

Vishvamata: Who is the Mother of the Universe.
Jagaddhatri: Who is the holder of the universe.
Vishalakshi: Who has large eyes.
Viragini: Who is utterly passionless.
Pragalbha: Who is surprisingly daring
Paramodara: Who is supremely generous.
Manomayi: Who is all mentation.

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.

Ganesha – the Giver

||Om hrim vighneshwaraaya namaha||

Ganesha at the temple altar of Ramakrishna Centre of SA, Durban
Ganesha at the temple altar of Ramakrishna Centre of South Africa, Durban

Today we observe Sri Ganesh Chaturthi. The wonderful Bengali song, “Giri Ganesha aamaar shubhokaari” ends with this line “Suresha kumaar Ganesha aamaar | taader naa dekhile jhore noyona baari ” is being sung in the beginning of Durga Puja. “Ganesha be my auspicious. Ganesha is mine, Kartik, the son of Shiva is mine; If I dont see them, tears flow from my eyes.”

The day started with a special puja to Sri Ganesh in our temple. Devotees, by turn perform japa of the above-quoted mantra from 6 am to 6 pm on a relay manner.  After the Puja, my mind started munching albeit nostalgically the childhood days when we would bring the image of Ganesh from the market the earlier evening. Oh! What an enthusiasm in holding Him, as Ganesh, in that small idol, appearing so cute and everyone in the family vie for each other in having Him in their hands.

Sweet Kozhuk kattai
Sweet Kozhuk kattai

We, as children would eagerly await the completion of puja so that we are served with tasty modakam, in Tamil, Kozhuk kattai stuffed with purnam. There used to be two varieties one sweet and the other savoury (ellu and usili ). After leaving Madras in 1970, I have not had the taste of it as I went on moving in North and Eastern India. And now in South Africa, Tamil devotees have not even heard of this term, not to speak of its preparation!

In Ranchi where I was stayput for long 12 years (a yuga, in local parlance), Ganesh Chaturthi was uneventful. However, I used to relish the news of the Puja getting extremely popular all over India in the last two decades and I remember how a Maharashtrian family once invited me for lunch on the Puja day and to our hearts’ content, besides the sumptuous meals, we discussed the importance of Ganesh Puja and how the veteran freedom fighter Bal Gangadhar Tilak began. 

This happened in Ranchi. On one Ganesh chaturthi day during the noon break, I went strolling towards our school called ‘Vivekananda Vidyalaya’. The school was in recess and I found groups of pupils sitting together and enjoying their tiffin. I came near to one group of girls, studying in class IV. Among them one girl, a poor Munda Tribal, was not eating anything though the tiffin box was lying in front of her. Naturally my curiosity was aroused and I enquired her why she had not been eating while all others students were taking their tiffins. 

She kept mum as these tribal girls do not speak out immediately. One trait I noticed with them was that to get an answer one had to repeat the question while with the non-tribals, you just ask once and you get ten answers! The tribals by nature are very timid. 

I enquired whether somebody – one of the bullies – has eaten away her food. She nodded her head briskly to indicate that no such thing has happened. Then, what was the matter, why she was not eating, I persisted.

She stood up shyly and said that she herself had given to one of her friends. Why, I demanded to know, stating that how in the early morning, her mother had prepared so lovingly a tiffin for her and by giving away that to someone, would it not have hurt her mother’s feelings?

How foolish I was!

Sri Ganesha, in all His grace, wanted to give me the wisdom. 

The child now spoke with determination: “Maharaj, my friend had not eaten anything in the morning before coming to school. Her mother is sick and her dad went out for work. But, I did have something to eat. So, I gave her my noon lunch so that at least my friend does no go empty stomach.”

It was hard for me to control my tears. That small girl has such a vast heart! How many of us can think of ‘others’, denying the comfort to ourselves? Did she not go out of her little ‘being’ and spread out to reach for her friend? If this is not Vedanta in practice, then what?

May Sri Ganesha give us all the ‘feeling’ for others!

Ethics always says, “Not I, but thou.” Its motto is, “Not self, but non-self.” The vain ideas of individualism, to which man clings when he is trying to find that Infinite Power or that Infinite Pleasure through the senses, have to be given up–say the laws of ethics. You have to put yourself last, and others before you. The senses say, “Myself first.” Ethics says, “I must hold myself last.” Thus, all codes of ethics are based upon this renunciation; destruction, not construction, of the individual on the material plane.

Swami Vivekananda

Milk of kindness

Swami Vivekananda on Lord Buddha’s heart
He was the only man who was ever ready to give up his life for animals to stop a sacrifice. He once said to a king, “If the sacrifice of a lamb helps you to go to heaven, sacrificing a man will help you better; so sacrifice me.” The king was astonished. And yet this man was without any motive power. He stands as the perfection of the active type, and the very height to which he attained shows that through the power of work we can also attain to the highest spirituality… I wish I had one infinitesimal part of Buddha’s heart.
…what did Buddha say with his dying breath? “None can help you; help yourself; work out your own salvation.” He said about himself, “Buddha is the name of infinite knowledge, infinite as the sky; I, Gautama, have reached that state; you will all reach that too if you struggle for it.” Bereft of all motive power, he did not want to go to heaven, did not want money; he gave up his throne and everything else and went about begging his bread through the streets of India, preaching for the good of men and animals with a heart as wide as the ocean.
…In Buddha we had the great, universal heart and infinite patience, making religion practical and bringing it to everyone’s door…
Buddha photo courtesy : thusness

During the weekly satsang on last Saturday, in my Talks on Buddha, I dwelt upon the Buddha’s infinite compassion to the suffering beings of this world and how much adoration Swami Vivekananda had for the Buddha’s heart! Today being Buddha Purnima, I want to share with my readers a glimpse of that Buddha’s heart that I witnessed some years ago in our Most Revered President Maharaj, Srimat Swami Atmasthanandaji whose birthday happily falls on Buddha Purnima!

It was the year 2002 when the present President Maharaj, most Revered Swami Atmasthanandaji Maharaj visited Ranchi Sanatorium. His stay during that period coincided with Buddha Purnima, the well-known thrice blessed day due to the fact that on the same purnima tithi falls Buddha’s birthday, His Nirvana day and His Mahaprayan day.That was also a thrice blessed Day indeed for the Sanatorium devotees. In the words of one devotee from Kolkata, Debraj Mitra (thanks Debraj! for the photo courtesy) who was present on that day: “Indeed, May 26 2002 was  a thrice blessed day, as we were privileged to witness three major events on that day. Firstly, in the morning, President Maharaj replaced the old photos of THAKUR, SRI SRI MAA & SWAMIJI  with new ones in the shrine. Secondly, Maharaj released the Commemorative Souvenir on Revered Swami Gambhiranandaji’s Centenary and also all the monks celebrated Maharaj’s birthday. Thirdly, in the evening, Revered Maharaj delivered a lecture on Lord Buddha and then he followed it up with a guided meditation – A  BONUS.”

Revered Atmasthanandaji had worked at this centre as Assistant Secretary way back from 1952 to 58. He knew all about the poverty that surrounds in the neighbouring villages. His keen observation has not missed the malnutrition prevalent among the tribal children. While taking morning walk, during his visit to Sanatorium in 1999, on the road leading to Indoor wards, suddenly he turned to me and said, “Why don’t you start giving milk to the children here? I see your dairy farm has grown in size and the milk is very good indeed.” he continued after a pause, “How much milk we pour on Shivalinga! Just imagine! Shiva will be truly pleased if we can only pour milk in these children’s stomachs!

That was it! Immediately the scheme of feeding milk to 100 Children was started. We would obtain fresh milk from our own Dairy farm within the campus. It was just situated on the back of our Ashrama kitchen. But from where the required money will come? By blessings of the Revered Maharaj the scheme started attracting kind-hearted people all around who began sending their donations. I remember the first donor was my gurubhai Ranjit Sinha who immediately paid the money. Well, the scheme that started with 100 children initially began to grow so fast that it doubled within two years. Now I understand, it caters to 280 children.

It was sight to see the children coming in queue from the Vivekananda Vidyalaya to Ashram first, and after making pranam to the Holy Trio at the shrine, they would march on to the central kitchen where they would be fed with 200 ml of milk with bakery made rusks. On the way if they happen to see me or any other Maharaj, they would all in chorus shout loudly Pranam Maharaj!  Today that sweet sound of the children is reverberating in my ears diffusing the deterrent distance between India and South Africa!