At the Belur Math
August 3, 2015
Most of the pilgrims woke up in the morning and kept looking at the sky. Rain was in the forecast and it had been pouring for several days. There was one question lingering in the minds of all: Is it going to rain today? We were wondering if it would be a washout after all of the logistical trouble, all of the expenses, and all of the arrangements made. However, to our surprise there was not a single cloud in the sky. Sunrise filled the sky with light. We all felt that this must be a miracle. God’s blessings were on us.
Our first full day of the pilgrimage started at an early 5:45 am. All 91 pilgrims made their way down to the Hyatt’s “Guchhi” restaurant, our breakfast location for the week. The room was a sea of white and blue Vidyapith uniforms. Our pilgrims were walking here and there excited to see each other and excited to taste the variety of items we had for breakfast. Many were still fighting off jetlag, but the aromas of dosas, parathas, muffins, and fresh fruit kept everyone energized.
On the buses:
At 6:45, all of us gathered in the lobby of the hotel and divided into our 7 groups. Group by group, we left the hotel lobby at 7:00 and entered the luxury buses we were going to ride all week. The buses were excellent and we even discovered that seats were recliners!
The group for each bus was arranged beforehand, making it was very easy for all of us to board. As soon as the buses started, each bus gave a loud joyful cheer: “Jai Shree Maha Mayi ki Jai!” “Jai Shree Guru Maharajji ki jai!” “Jai Shree Swamiji Maharajji ki jai!” “Jai Ganga Mayiki Jai!” “Jai Saba Santana ki jai!” Meaning: “Victory to Great Mother Sri Sarada Devi, to Sri Ramakrishna, to Swami Vivekananda, to Mother Ganga and to all the Saints!” These cheers came from the hearts of all. We were eager to start our trip and moreover there was not a single cloud in the sky or a trace of rain. All thanked God for this beautiful weather. Three buses now set foot for Belur Math.
The bus rides began with our Pranam Mantras, Sri Ramakrishna Suprabhatam, and our morning Vidyapith prayer. This prepared all of our minds for this special pilgrimage. The ride to Belur Math was about one hour long. The bus weaved through the highways and local streets of Kolkata. Each bus had three club7 representatives: an assistant for the driver, a tour guide, and an individual who would be in constant communication with the other buses, the main office and the destination. During the rides, we would listen to the guide’s notes on each destination and in between we would sing various dhoons, bhajans, and hymns.
At the Belur Math:
The buses arrived at Belur Math after an hour. We had received special permission by the Belur Math office to allow our buses go inside the heart of the Belur Math Campus, by the shoekeeping room and the bookstore. As we walked out of the bus and into the Belur Math campus, we were welcomed by the revered Tapas Maharaj, a swamiji who is in charge of the Belur Math Office.
Tapas Maharaj had such a glow on his face – pleased to see the Vivekananda Vidyapith group he had heard much about. Swami Girishananda, the Manager Maharaj of Belur Math, having been to our Vidyapith himself, had taken a special interest in our pilgrimage group and had arranged everything to make our trip to Belur Math smooth, welcoming, and spiritually fruitful. Mr. Prakash Chakraborty from Queens, New York, USA also had contacted several Swamis to inform them about the Vidyapith activities and had requested them to do whatever they can to make our pilgrimage most memorable.
We walked from the buses to a special place near Belur Math’s main office to leave our shoes. While walking on the Belur Math campus, everyone was greatly impressed by the serenity and cleanliness of the place. Mother Ganga was flowing on one side. Three small temples stood on the bank of the Ganga. Green grass and trees added the serenity in the environment. The centrally located main temple was calling all to go inside. Many had goose bumps as they remembered that Holy Mother Sri Saradadevi, Swami Vivekananda and several direct disciples had walked on this ground and had done great austerities here.
Our Honorable Guide:
Revered Tapas Maharaj introduced us to the revered Swami Sarvapriyananda, who to our great surprise was going to be our guide for the day. Swami Sarvapriyananda is a renowned swami who is famous for his lectures (especially those recorded on the Internet).
Our first stop at Belur Math was the main temple of the complex. Revered Swami Sarvapriyananda led us to the temple.
The main temple of the Belur Math was a beautiful site. In fact, the architecture of the temple was designed by Swami Vivekananda himself. The design included concepts from various religions including Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam. Placed on the front entrance of the Math was the Ramakrishna Mission symbol, also designed by Swami Vivekananda. The symbol displays a swan sitting on the waves of water, lotus, the sun and a cobra. The swan represents our true spiritual Self, the water represents karma yoga, the lotus represents bhakti yoga, the sun represents Jnana yoga and the cobra represents raja yoga. Thus showing that there are four main paths to which one can manifest his/her divinity.
As we entered the main entrance of the main temple, we saw a white marble statue of Sri Ramakrishna beautifully adorned with a cloth and a garland. The atmosphere was very serene as we can hear the worship-mantras chanted by a Swami who was doing worship of Sri Ramakrishna. We felt that Sri Ramakrishna was present in person and was very happy to see us all. A few devotees also remembered Sri Ramakrishna’s words that “Loren! I will go wherever you take me.” When establishing Belur Math, Swami Vivekananda had brought Sri Ramakrishna’s relics to Belur Math with great reverence and had done worship as if he was present in person. We could feel the importance of this place as we saluted Sri Ramakrishna.
After saluting, we sat down to do japa and meditation. When we closed our eyes, we could feel Sri Ramakrishna’s presence throughout the hall. Half an hour passed unnoticed.
After the japa and meditation, we walked out through the main entrance of the temple. Tapas Maharaj and Swami Sarvapriyanandaji told us that we can take a picture in front of the Belur Math Temple. Swami Sarvapriyananda told us to stand on the steps on either side of the entrance, keeping the entry way unblocked so Sri Ramakrishna could also join us. Tapas Maharaj and Swami Sarva Priyananda knew that this will be a life-long memory for all of us.
The Old Temple and Swamiji’s room:
After the picture, Tapas Maharaj and Swami Sarvapriyananda led us to the Belur Math office courtyard. Here, there were two buildings. One included the old shrine, the prayer room where Sri Ramakrishna was worshipped before the main temple was built. It was here that Swami Vivekananda and Holy Mother worshipped Sri Ramakrishna after his passing away.
In the nearby building was Swamiji’s room, which gave a wonderful view of the Ganga nearby. In that room laid many belongings of Swami Vivekananda, including the tanpura and mrudungam Swamiji used to play! Can you just imagine the melodious bhajans and dhoons sung by Swamiji? This was also the same room where Swamiji went into Nirvikalpa Samadhi.
Visit to Water Treatment Plant:
When both groups finished visiting the old temple and Swamij’s room, Swami Girishananda told us that he had arranged our visit to the Ramakrishna Mission Water Treatment plant, which is located within Belur Math premises. On the way there, some of the students and parents took “totos” (long golf carts) to the water plant location while others walked. The Ramakrishna Water Treatment plant was a service effort started by the Swamis that provides clean water to all of Belur Math as well as the local community surrounding it. The process, which is very detailed and intricate, essentially pumps Ganga water into a filtration system to be purified. The water is distilled through the use of chlorine gas and sand. The purified water eventually serves people in the area. This plant was the vision of the Manager Maharaj Swami Girishanandaji. It was so wonderful to gain the opportunity to see swamis practicing karma yoga and service firsthand.
Totapuri Ramakrishna Monastery:
Following the plant visit, Swami Sarvapriyananda took us to the sadhu’s quarters, also called “Totapuri Ramakrishna Monastery.”
Students enjoying conversations with Swami Sarvapriyananda
Uncle With Swami who takes care of the Water Treatment Plant
This was Swami Girishanandaji’s project and he lovingly told us that many of you had contributed towards this building.
We were also shown the construction site of a 3-story dining facility to serve devotees who visit Belur Math. For many years, Belur Math would serve Prasad to thousands of devotees during celebrations. This would finally give them a proper facility to serve as Mother would have wished!.
Construction of the dining facility is all the way on the left corner of the first picture and on the slight right of the Belur Math Temple.
At the Totapuri Sadhus quarters, we were served delicious samosas and caramel candy to add some sweetness! When we finished our snack, Swami Sarvepriyananda took us to the three temples and memorial place of all several direct disciples located on the bank of Ganga.
In addition to the main temple, there are other temples on the Belur Math campus: Swami Brahmananda’s temple, Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi’s temple and Swami Vivekananda’s temple.
We visited each temple. Holy Mother’s in particular was beautiful. It is actually the only temple on the campus that is facing the Ganga. We offered our salutations at each temple. Divine fervor was in the air and Mother Ganga only was added to it, her spirituality and waters traveling all the way to Gangotri. After visiing the three temples, we saw the tree under which Swami Vivekananda used to sit.
Nearby is a memorial of direct disciples of Sri Ramakrishna. Through this entire visit, many of us remembered life incidents and teachings of the direct disciples. Devotees who were visiting first time felt that everything they had read and studied about Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi, Swami Vivekananda, and direct disciples of Sri Ramakrishna was becoming even more real and tangible.
On left is Swamiji’s temple, Middle is Holy Mother’s temple and on right is Swami Brahmananda’s temple
Offering salutations to Senior Swamis:
Next, we were told that Swami Suhitanandaji, General Secretary of Belur Math would receive our Vidyapith group.
One by one, we all saluted Swami Suhitanandaji and Swami Girishanandaji. They received us so lovingly and even talked to us all.
We were then informed that Swami Smarananandaji, Vice President of Belur Math would receive us as well! We were so lucky for this opportunity. Just couple of days ago on a rainy Gurupurnima, hundreds of devotees had to wait for hours to offer lotuses to Swami Smarananandaji. We considered ourselves fortunate to get this opportunity without waiting for long time in a line. Swami Smarananandaji talked to us about his pleasant experiences of guiding youth groups.
Going to Old Math:
After saluting to Swami Smarananda, we all were led to the Nilambar Babu’s house. This was the “Old Math.” Before Belur Math, the “Atmarama” (the relics of Sri Ramakrishna) was worshipped here.
Holy Mother lived at the Old Math for some time and also conducted the “Panchatapa” austerity here. This was also where she a had vision of Sri Ramakrishna standing in the Ganga and Swami Vivekananda pouring the water of Ganga to all over the world. Another importance of this place is that here Swami Vivekananda composed arati “Khandan Bhava Bandhan” and the hymn “Om Hri Ritam.” Unfortunately, Holy Mother’s room was closed. We decided to come later on our trip. Swami Sarvapriyananda also talked about the Veda Vidyalalya which was next to this place.
Formal Welcome Program:
To our great surprise, we found that Revered Swami Girishanandaji had arranged a special “Welcome Program” for us in a cultural hall. When we reached the cultural hall, we saw that a stage had been prepared with a few chairs, a table and microphones. There was a harmonium and a pair of table on the front of the stage. In the background, there were large size pictures of Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother Sri Saraada Devi and Swami Vivekananda.
In the auditorium, over 100 chairs were arranged nicely for our group. The auditorium was filled by Vidyapith students, teachers and parents. On the stage were Tapas Maharaj, Swami Devpriyananda, Swami Girishananda, Uncle, and Swami Sarvapriyananda.
Tapas Maharaj was emcee of the program. He heartily welcomed our Vidyapith family to Belur Math and then conducted the whole program. To begin the program, one Swami of the Ramakrishna Mission sang a bhajan. Then, revered Swami Girishanandaji welcomed us all. He told about his positive experiences and impressions about Vivekananda Vidyapith when he visited the institution during his recent USA tour.
Then, on behalf of all Vidyapith students, teachers and parents who were present, Uncle sincerely thanked all Swamis for extending their hearty welcome to all of us and going out of their way to shower their love. Uncle continued and said, “Today we see the significance of the saying that if we go one step towards God, then God comes 10 steps towards us. What we have done is to try to follow lives and teachings of Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi, and Swami Vivekananda. And in return we received lots of love and encouragements from all these revered Swamis.”
Following Uncle, Pr. Shuddhatmaprana spoke. She said how she was thrilled to see familiar faces since she had accompanied us on our Gujarat Tour in 2013. She was excited to meet many new faces as well. Pr. Shuddhatmaprana talked about the great time she had being with our Vivekananda Vidyapith group during the Gujarat Tour.
Following Pr. Shuddhatmaprana, alumni Meera Rajani and Nilesh Shukla spoke about their experiences at Vidyapith and their appreciation for our warm welcome to Belur Math. Then, Swami Devapriyananda gave his talk and showed his happiness to see Vidyapith’s students, teachers, and parents.
Next, Swami Sarvapriyananda spoke. He said, “You look all very happy because here in Belur Math you are at home.” He said, “Consider Belur math as your home and come and visit it whenever you can.” He continued, “It is great that in the US you are learning the essence of Indian Culture and practicing them. We even see that Indian Culture [and philosophy] is manifesting in many American literature and films.” He referred to the Star Wars and few other resources. He emphasized the two main essential teachings of Vedanta: the potential divinity of each soul and Oneness of all beings.
Swami Sarvapriyananda expressed his admiration for Vivekananda Vidyapith as well by stating, “Vivekananda Vidyapith is a successful model for a youth program preparing our next generation.”
Dr. Shuvendu Majumdar, a professor at the Vivekananda University expressed his thoughts and joy to see all of Vidyapith’s students.
The students and alumni of Vidyapith were then given the opportunity to offer their prayers. We melodically sang Durgati Nashini for the swamis as Sneha Shah played harmonium and Apurva Shah accompanied on the tabla.
17 – Picture – students singing
Prasad at Belur Math:
Following the cultural hall, we sat down for lunch.
Swamis reciting “Om Brahmarpanam…..”
Revered Sukumar Maharaj (Bhandari Maharaj) was lovingly taking care of our Prasad. Revered Tapas Maharaj and Uttam Maharaj were joyfully helping. We were served a variety of delicious dishes, with several Bengali sabzis, some warm rotis, and daal which was then topped off with ice cream and sweet mangos! We came to know later that sweet mangoes and ice cream were a special treat to all of us and Mr. Prakash Chakraborty had made arrangement for this. With so much love of Swamis the Prasad became more delicious.
(The original report was prepared by Priya Parikh and Bindi Parikh.)