Ramakrishna Mission Vivekananda Memorial at Porbandar
On the bus ride people were busy with various things. Some people were checking their cameras to see the photographs they had taken. Boys were busy playing games to sharpen their intellect and imagination. Some were sharing jokes and laughing.
Porbandar was coming near. I thought to recite Bhagavad Gita Chapters 12 and 15. When we started the Bhagavad Gita dhyanam, Vijaya Aunty pointed to something outside. It was a divine coincidence! Out of the blue, we saw a big gate and lo and behold, on top of this gate was a large statue of Arjuna’s chariot driven by Shri Krishna, led by five horses. It was beautifully carved. There was no building or temple around—just the gate and chariot. Everyone was thrilled by this coincidence. It was as though Shri Krishna was with us. One can imagine how exciting the recitation of Gita Chapters 12 and 15 was. No wonder our enthusiasm doubled. For a long time we sat in awe, thinking about what had happened.
We were getting late for our lunch and the restaurant we had reserved kept calling Trupti Aunty to make sure we were going to be there. Trupti Aunty assured them that we would. We soon entered the Porbandar city. Our bus was huge and too big for the roads. There were three difficulties: One, driving the bus thru the narrow, traffic-filled streets with trees hitting the bus; second trying to figure out the exact directions; Third finding parking for such a big bus. Somehow, after some time, we were dropped off near the Swagat restaurant. According to city traffic regulations, we could not drive the bus through the town. So, the bus driver told us that he would quickly drop us off at our hotels after lunch and then he would park the bus at a proper place for the rest of the time. We had to get around the city in rickshaws.
It was around 3:00 p.m. when we had our lunch. It was delicious. There, Nilesh’s Aunt came and told us to visit her house. Her house was only a block away from the Ramakrishna Ashrama. But, first we had to go to our hotels to check-in. Porbandar is a small port city. Therefore it was difficult to find a good hotel that could accommodate our entire group. So, we had to divide into two groups. One group went to Hotel Kuber and one went to Hotel Kaveri. We had enjoyed each other’s company so much thus far, that this little separation felt a bit painful. Because of the small roads we had to quickly take our luggage out and stand on the sidewalks. But Vidyapith people are disciplined, and we had no problem adjusting to the situation. From the Kaveri hotel, one could see a play ground where there were several cricket matches going on.
After checking in the hotels, we called several rickshaws and packed ourselves in them- sometimes even accommodating 6-10 people in one rickshaw! This was an exciting experience for many, especially for our students. They really enjoyed the ride.
The Kuber group was the first to reach Nilesh’s Uncle and Aunt’s house. Nilesh’s Uncle and Aunty had visited Vivekananda Vidyapith before. They were also associated with the Ramakrishna Ashram. When the Kaveri group arrived, the Kuber group began to head to the Ramakrishna Ashram. They had experienced loving hospitality from the hosts and it was time to make way for the new group to enjoy the same. Nilesh’s aunt was busy serving everyone. Tea, cookies, and even chhash (lassi) were being passed out to all while the kids enjoyed a treat of some soda and potato chips. Some of us sat around Nilesh’s uncle as he shared stories and some fun adages.
Finally, both the groups reached Ramakrishna Ashram of Porbandar. One Swami guided us to the “Value Education building”. We looked at all the classrooms and exhibitions of posters depicting the lives of Thakur, Maa, and Swami Vivekananda. There, we met a 100-year-old devotee whose great grandfather had invited Swami Vivekananda’s to his home. He was related to Nilesh’s Uncle.
Then, the assistant Swami took us to the room that we had been waiting to visit. This is the room where Swami Vivekananda had stayed for several months as a guest of Shri Shankar Pandurang. There was also an exhibition of huge pictures depicting Swami Vivekananda and his teachings. In the lobby before the room, there were pictures of the direct disciples and their disciples. We went inside the room. There was a shrine on one side. It was a thrilling experience to think that Swami Vivekananda had lived here. We all sat quietly, recited pranam mantras softly and did japa, feeling the presence of Swami Vivekananda.
In the main Prayer Hall, Swami Atmadipananda had already started his lecture. We all went to the main prayer hall and quietly sat down. To our surprise we found that Swami Atmadipananda was giving his talk on Gita Chapter 12. People realized the familiar shlokas and enjoyed his talk. His talk ended at the “Adveshta Sarva Bhutanam….” After the talk, Swami Atmadipananda (Yagnesh Maharaj) spoke from the podium and shared with everyone that a group from Vivekananda Vidyapith, USA had come to participate in the Vadodara International Youth Convention and visit places that Swami Vivekananda had himself been to. To our pleasant surprise, he added that after arati they were going to sing. Ananta Maharaj, from Rajkot, had informed him that this group sang good dhoons and bhajans.
We all joined in the arati. Yagnesh Maharaj asked if any one played tabla. Rishi came forward and played during the arati. Afterwards, we all went in the front of the prayer hall near the shrine, and sang “Pranam Manras, Durgati Nashini, Tumi Brahma Ramakrishna, Gaurang Aradhang, and Paramhansa Ramakrishna.” Again, we all felt that we were very fortunate to have an opportunity to sing for Thakur, Maa, and Swami Vivekananda. During this singing one of our alumni wanted to record the singing on his phone. But, he was hesitant do so since Yagnesh Maharaj was sitting beside him. Then, he saw that Yagnesh Maharaj was himself taping it. Then, he took out his phone and started taping the singing. Yagnesh Maharaj looked at him and smiled.
Afterward singing, he met all of us lovingly downstairs and talked to all. He recognized meeting Sunita Aunty in Vadodara before. He was apologetic that he could not make arrangements for dinner for such a large group. We told him not to worry. We had made an arrangement for dinner in a restaurant. He invited us for breakfast. But, we told him that breakfast was included in our hotels with the charges of rooms. After talking to Swamiji for some time under the star lit sky, we bid good-bye.
Again, we called several rickshaws to go to the dinner place. In almost pitch darkness, we had to make sure that no one was left out and no one got lost. It was a tough task. We counted people again and again. The dinner place was famous in Porbandar. We all sat in an air-conditioned room. Vandana Aunty called at that time. It was the right time to call. She also had called on several occasions, which were just as appropriate. She must have heard a chorus of hellos from the entire group. All felt that Aunty (Vandana Aunty) had been with us in spirit. We had a delicious dinner and again filed into rickshaws and made our way to the hotels.
The next day, the Kaveri people had breakfast on the roof of the hotel from where one could see several parts of Porbandar and also the bay. The Kuber people were also happy with their hotel. After the bus picked up both groups, we went to the Ramakrishna Ashram again. We did japa in Swami Vivekananda’s room and went to meet Yagnesh Maharaj in the “Value Education Building.” We visited the ashram’s bookstore. People bought books and tapes.
Now we wanted to visit the Sudama Mandir and Kirti Mandir (the birth place of Mahatma Gandhiji).
“The road to good is the roughest and steepest in the universe. It is a wonder that so many succeed, no wonder that so many fall. Character has to be established through a thousand stumbles.” – Swami Vivekananda