Shri Ramakrishna Ashram at Rajkot
From Limbdi we headed to Rajkot. It was raining in Limbdi when we were getting into the bus. Later the rain became even heavier. But, inside the bus we were all remembering the experience of the presence of Swami Vivekananda in the Durbar Hall and love of Swami Adibhavanandaji.
We said our “five jai’s” and continued on our way. Since it was evening, all did prayer together. As we joined in prayer, we appreciated that having all Vidyapith people together on this journey made it a unique experience. It gave us all a special joy.
Heavy rain, roads filled with pot-holes, and driving in the dark on Indian highways created some concern. We saw many trucks with no reflectors or red lights in the back. Some did not even have headlights. Drivers seemed to have their own driving logic—logic of a high-risk nature. Our only solace was based on three people: (1) our escort Kalpitbhai, a family friend, who was always in the front with a small van keeping an eye on everything related to transportation. (2) A known, reliable, calm, and skillful bus driver Rafik, who had in his mind the complete dimension of the bus and was fully aware of the whole traffic situation. He was also fixing the bus whenever we ran into mechanical problems. (3) Ketan, a helper of the bus driver who was driving away cows, buffaloes, and sheep from the front of the bus, helpful in making U-turns or reversing the bus, and helpful in giving food to the driver and giving him company. Those who were in the front were a little worried during overtakes when there were about two inches of distance between fast driving vehicles and our bus.
We reached Rajkot around 8:30 p.m., after dark, much later than expected. Anant Maharaj, (Swami Sarvasthananda) head of Rajkot Ashram, had been informed by phone about our estimated time of arrival. With little difficulty the huge 56-seater bus was pulled in the ashram. Swamiji was waiting for us. He asked us to go straight into the shrine before they closed it. With the help of umbrellas and ponchos we protected ourselves and went to the shrine. It was a beautiful shrine. We all quietly saluted Thakur, Maa, and Swamiji, sat down and did some japa. Then, we went to Anant Maharaj to meet him. He received all of us and asked about our plans. He told us to come tomorrow before 8:00 a.m. since buses were not allowed into the city after 8:00 a.m.
We had a dinner invitation by Mr. Virani. He and his wife were also waiting for our arrival. They took us to a very special Rajasthani Restaurant. Even in the drizzle, a drummer, dressed up in Rajashtani outfit, started playing the drum. A small girl in a beautiful dress welcomed each of us with a tilak of kumkum. Inside there was a huge ground with pillars, statues, plants, and flowers. We entered into a huge, palace-like building. There was a huge room with sofas all around where two musicians were waiting for us. While playing the harmonium, one started singing a Rajasthani song in a melodious voice. He was accompanied by a person on dholak. We all enjoyed their songs. It was late and all were hungry. We went to a nicely decorated dining room and had delicious dinner. We were told that there were dancers waiting to entertain us upstairs. But, we apologized to them and said that we had a long day and we were exhausted. We wanted to check in our hotel and take some rest. We checked in the hotel “The Fern.” It was a very nice hotel and some were amazed to see cricket bats with signatures of famous players. We were a large group of 54 people, but because of some pre-planning, the check-in was very smooth and we soon retired to our rooms.
The next day all got up early, had breakfast, and got into the bus. We had to get into the city before 8:00 a.m. We made it on time. Again, we all went to the shrine, quietly sat down, and did japa. After some time, when we started coming out, we found Anant Maharaj waiting to greet us near the entrance. He said, “I have heard that you sing good dhoons and bhajans. Would you like to sing by the shrine? It will be a good memory for all of you.” We were pleasantly surprised by this. I asked him how he found out that we sing dhoon-bhajans. He said that Prafulbhai, uncle of Shyam Gohel (Meera Gohel Aunty’s husband Rajen Gohel’s brother) had told him. Prafulbhai was joyfully standing by Swamiji’s side. We were thrilled by this idea of singing by the shrine. Swamiji asked us to wait a few minutes while some preparations were made for our singing. Meanwhile, I lovingly and joyfully gave a hug to Prafulbhai.
Prafulbhai told me that he regularly comes to the ashrama to do prayer. That day when he came, he saw stickers of “Vivekananda Vidyapith” on all of you. He was so excited that he could not do prayer anymore. He went out and met Anant Maharaj and told him that these people are from Vivekananda Vidyapith. They sing very good dhoons and bhajans and I have listened to their tapes for over the last several years.
Reflecting upon the all of this later, I told everyone that in a billiard-ball game, a player hits one ball, then that ball hits another one and so on and at the end the desired ball goes into the hole. When Nisha’s uncle Nimishbhai made stickers for all of us, he had no idea of this divine opportunity.
In the Prayer Hall two huge carpets were spread. On one carpet there was a harmonium and a pair of tabla. We sat down and sang Pranam Mantras, Sri Ramakrishna Suprabhatam, Tumi Brahma Ramakrishna, Jaya Sri Sarade, and Jaya Vireshwar. The singing was perfectly tuned, melodious, and filled with devotion. Swamiji had taped our singing. He was very much pleased with our singing. We felt as though Thakur wanted to listen to our singing. Indeed Swamiji was right – a life-long memory had been created.
Swamiji then took us to his office and told us about the Rajkot ashram, its “Value Education Program,” and its future building. He also gave us books. He talked about all the recently released DVDs about Swami Vivekananda and an upcoming movie on Swami Vivekananda. After that he showed us the original temple and the bookstore. It was an attractive bookstore. All were crazy to buy books, tapes, bags, and other things. Meanwhile a few people visited the “Sister Nivedita School” and other services run by Mr. Gulabbhai Jani and his wife.
Swami Sarvasthanandaji had offered us lunch. Plates were set on the dining tables for all 54 people. Swamiji himself was waiting to make sure we ate well. All were fed sumptuously. After lunch it was time for us to go. All saluted Swamiji and got into the bus. At the end Prafulbhai and his wife Chitraben handed me a bag filled with tasty “Khakhara” and famous sweet “Rajkot Pendas.”
It was a challenging task to get the huge bus out of the gate and make a U-turn in the busy street. Swamiji himself stood out to make sure we were okay. With the bus driver’s amazing skill and his assistant’s help, the bus was maneuvered successfully. As we pulled out, we waved our hands to say “bye” to Swamiji.
Out next destination was Dwaraka.