August 3, 2015
Bus-ride to The Institute of Culture at Golpark:
After having a wonderful time, scrumptious meal, and feeling fully satisfied with the first part of our pilgrimage at the Belur Math, we all got into our assigned buses and headed to the Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture. The bus ride was about an hour and half to the Institute. It was not the distance, but the traffic and narrow roads, which added to the time. However, our pilgrims made the most of it and there was nothing to worry about. The air-conditioning in the buses was at full blast and the reclining cushioned chairs were very comfortable. Some caught up with their sleep while others sang bhajans and dhuns. The “Bhajans and Dhuns Book,” which was specially made for the pilgrimage, was very handy. It helped all to join in on the singing.
The Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture:
The Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture is a branch of Ramakrishna Mission which started its activities in 1938. It was established to promote the study of culture in general, encompassing all cultures developed in the world. The Institute has a number of departments including a school of languages, a Center for Indological Studies and Research, and a publication department. The Institute invites scholars from all over India and abroad, and supports their boarding and lodging. It maintains a large library which provides useful material to the scholars for their studies and research.
The Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture also has a wonderful Museum and an Art Gallery, which includes a number of valuable artifacts. Furthermore, it conducts a P. G. Diploma Course for the Appreciation of Indian Art, runs the Sarada Devi School of Fine Arts and Crafts for children, and organizes an Annual Exhibition of Art and other conferences and cultural programs throughout the year.
At the Institute of Culture:
All 100 of us (91 Vidyapith pilgrims + guides + Club 7 members) soon arrived at the main entrance of the Institute. We entered and eagerly awaited Revered Tapan Maharaj who shortly came running in to greet us. It was an air-conditioned building. All were feeling very comfortable.
With his loving smile he welcomed us and asked us to go to the museum. Some took elevators, but most decided to walk on the staircase as we all needed some exercise.
We entered a beautiful museum, which housed a collection of rare and valuable pieces from renowned artists. This collection included sketches by the famous painter Nandalal Basu. Sri Ramakrishna had visited Nanadalal Basu’s house to see his paintings. As we walked through the exhibit, we delved into the rich Bengali art culture. We looked at some beautiful art pieces of deities, different types of textiles, and Bengali saris.
After the museum, we visited the large library to get a feeling of the Institute’s research activities. The library was filled with scholars and students. Lined against the walls were classic novels, encyclopedias, and non-fiction writings from around the world.
Rev. Swami Suparnandaji’s lecture:
After browsing the library at the Institute, we were lead to a lecture hall (which was big enough to fit us all!). As we waited for Rev. Swami Suparnandaji, Trupti Aunty and others started singing “Rama bhajo bhai Rama bhajo, Rama bhajo bhai Rama, Rama bhajo bhai Rama Sita Rama bhajo bhai Rama.”
Two chairs and a table were set on the stage. Finally, the hall started cooling down and Rev. Swami Suparnanandaji, the Head of the Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, arrived. He asked Uncle to sit on the second chair next to him on the stage.
Uncle introduced Rev. Swami Suparnanandaji and thanked him for giving his valuable time to share his thoughts with us. Rev. Swami Suparnanandaji talked about the importance of having a spiritual guru as well as practicing meditation and pranayama to help us manifest that divinity within. He further discussed how we think we are seeing with our eyes but actually we are seeing with our minds. That is why in the dream state we are not looking at the dream with our eyes but with our minds. Hence, if we have a pure mind we can see things in their true nature. Rev. Swami Suparnanandaji asked if Dr. Vandana Jani (Aunty) was in the audience. Finding that she had not accompanied the group to come to India, the Swami jokingly said that is the reason why Dr. Mahendra Jani (Uncle) is very quiet 🙂
After Rev Swami Suparnanandaji spoke, Rev. Tapan Maharaj quickly took us to a room where tea and some refreshments including a pound-cake were ready for us. We all enjoyed the snack and came outside the building where the buses were waiting for us. Rev. Tapan Maharaj personally came in the bus to tell us come again! We were moved by his infinite love for us. He waited until all the buses left.
We were supposed to go to Hyatt for a small break. But, it was getting late and we decided to go straight to Yogodyan. We were worried that it was going to be a long day without a break. But, to our surprise, all including young children were in good spirit and were ready for Yogodyan.
The bus ride to Yogodyan was not long.
Yogodyan was originally a garden house (like a retreat home) of Ramachandra Dutta, a great householder devotee of Sri Ramakrishna. He was the instrument to introduce many youngsters and devotees to Sri Ramakrishna. On Wednesday, December 26, 1883 Sri Ramakrishna visited this house. He liked the place and said that “It is a fine place. You can easily meditate on God here.” Sri Ramakrishna sat in one room of the house and had taken refreshments. At this spot, some of Sri Ramakrishna’s relics were kept in the ground and the present temple was built here. Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi, Swami Vivekananda and other disciples of Sri Ramakrishna had visited this place several times.
On our way from the bus to Yogodyan, we saw the Charitable Dispensary run by Ramakrishna Math, Yogodyan. Two Revered Swamis of Yogodyan, Swami Shivapremanandaji (Shiv Sankar Maharaj) and Swami Sarvasukhanandaji (Tilok maharaj), welcomed us lovingly and took us to a recently new building of Yogodyan where underprivileged students had opportunities to learn computer programming.
Swami Vivekananda’s chariot:
Then, as we walked towards Yogodyan’s temple, we saw a motor-running chariot with very majestic statue of Swami Vivekananda sitting in a throne-like chair.
During Swami Vivekananda’s 150th birth-anniversary celebration, this chariot had traveled all over West Bengal. All of us were attracted by grandeur of this chariot and thought that it is a great idea to take a group picture in front of it to capture this moment in our life-long memory.
After our picture, the Swamis took us to a reception hall where refreshment including freshly made “Khamans,” “Sandesh,” soft drinks, water, and tea were ready for us. Rev. Swami Pradhanananda (Suhas Maharaj) had taken care of our refreshments. Many enthusiastic volunteers lovingly served us. The Swamis made sure that we all were served to our full satisfaction. Here again, the Swamis had gone out of their way to welcome us and with so much love and care kept all the refreshments ready for us. We felt nothing but the grace of Thakur, Maa, and Swamiji.
Now it was time for evening arati at Yogodyan. As we sat in the prayer hall, we found several students with white uniforms (dhoti, kurta, and a wrapper) nicely sitting in front of the altar. It was like Vivekananda Vidyapith’s prayer hall. A few of the students were taking care of the sound system and the instruments going to be used in the arati. One little boy (most likely a 3rd or 4th grader) came with a stick and a small gong that he was going to play. He carefully put the gong in the exact place which was designated for it and sat in a prayerful posture. We soon realized that all of the students were sitting in prayerful posture. We learned that these are the students of Vivekananda Balak Sangha (Vivekananda Group of Young Boys).
Arati began. The singing of arati was mainly conducted by the students. There was a professional mridangam player accompanying the singing. The singing of arati was similar to the Belur Math arati singing. The slow paced singing of “Khandan Bhava Bandhan…” was followed by a fast pace of the whole “Khandan Bhava Bandhan…” and “Namo Namo Prabhu…” Those who were observing the students found that the young boy with the gong never missed a beat! They then sang “Om Hri Ritam…” and “Sarva Mangal Mangalye…” All of the Vivekananda Vidyapith pilgrims enjoyed the arati as they knew the words.
After the arati, Rev. Shiv Sankar Maharaj asked us to sing something. As an offering of our own, with Uncle leading us, the Vidyapithers sang “Jaya Vireshwara…” accompanied by the skilled mridangist from the Mission.
After saluting Thakur, Maa, and Swamiji, we all gathered again in the hall to take a leave of the Swamis. To our surprise, we found that they had gift ready for each individual of Vivekananda Vidyapith. Uncle had requested Swaami Nityamuktananda (Ganesh Maharaj), Spiritual Head of Ramakrishna Math, Yogodyan, to bless us all. He was kind enough to come to the hall. He gave gifts to the remaining people and blessed us all. Their love for all of us and joy of giving the gifts were visible on their faces.
Going to Hyatt:
As we came to the end of a spiritual day, we headed back to the Hyatt. The bus ride was short. Given the long day, we thought that most of the people will not come for dinner, but almost all came and enjoyed the dinner and each other’s company. We were physically tired, but mentally elated remembering so many uplifting moments of the day and the love of all Ramakrishna Mission Swamis.
After dinner, we all quickly went to our rooms for a good night’s sleep as we had to get up early the next day for breakfast and our trip to Dakshineshwar.
(The original report was prepared by Priya Parikh and Bindi Parikh.)