August 4, 2015
Ramakrishna Mission Saradapitha:
After a reinvigorating lunch and a refreshing afternoon at Hyatt, we got back on our buses around 2:00 p.m and headed to the Ramakrishna Mission Saradapitha, near Belur Math.
We were fortunate enough to be invited by Revered Swami Divyananda, Secretary of Ramakrishna Mission Saradapitha to visit this auspicious place. The drive was about an hour and a half. During the ride, we sang various dhoons and bhajans and a few of us caught up on sleep. Throughout the journey, our Club7 guides pointed out various important places in Kolkata and talked about their history.
We reached Saradapitha around 3:30 pm. We were surprised to see Rev. Swami Divyananda personally waiting for us. He asked the three buses to park across the gate of the Saradapitha. At first we were confused as to why he made this request, but when we stepped down we realized the streets behind us were completely flooded! Upon inquiry we found that due to the high tide in the Ganga, the water came on the street all the way to the Saradapitha.
We all entered the temple and took a seat on the floor. As we do at Vidyapith, we sat in a quiet and orderly fashion. The boys and Uncles sat on the left hand side facing the altar and girls and Aunties sat on the right hand side facing the altar. The temple environment was very serene. We all sat quietly and did some japa.
After japa, we sang pranam mantras, offering salutations to Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi and Swami Vivekananda. We also sang “Tvameva Mata ca Pita tvameva…” Later on, we realized that Rev. Swami Divyanandaji had also sat down with us in the back of the prayer room.
After our prayer at the temple, we walked to the Ramakrishna Mission Saradapitha office building. When we approached the building, we were reminded that the area was flooded not too long ago. There was a large amount of water in front of the steps leading to the building. Rev. Swami Divyanandaji suggested that we enter the office by walking on the curb, which was about six inches high and 3 inches wide. Revered Swamiji made sure that all are okay. We all applied our balancing skills and entered the office building while holding a railing.
Inside the building, we found a large room and a large lobby. There were tables in the middle of the room and chairs around them. On the table they had arranged a variety of snacks, plastic plates, and a huge coffee pot with cups on the side. It was clear that Revered Swami Divyanandaji had made all of this ready for us.
He asked us to take our seats and asked a few people to help with serving the snacks. We filled the room and a few of us went into the lobby. A couple of Vidyapith people started serving the coffee and snacks. Rev. Swami Divyanandaji was lovingly and joyfully watching us serve and enjoying the snacks and coffee. We requested him to sit with us and he joyfully agreed, “Yes, I will join you.” He was very non-assuming. He sat and asked, “Let me taste the coffee to see how it was made.” He took some coffee and started sharing his thoughts with us.
Rev. Swami Divyanandaji:
Rev. Swami Divyanandaji has done work with prisoners in jails and has helped many of them change their lives. He gave examples of how many innocent people were convicted and how he helped them educate themselves while fighting for their innocence and release. Several of these innocent prisoners were lawfully released and then went on to acquire academic degrees and settle with good jobs. These touching stories drew the attention of all of us, young and old. Everyone started looking at him with great reverence.
After these stories, Rev. Swami Divyanandaji advised us to turn all of our negatives into positives. He told us how to do this with a few clever acronyms. The following are a few examples:
- “If someone tells you NO, do not get upset. Think that NO means a New O It is an opportunity to think about your next step or next goal.”
- “Do not worry about failure. Do you know what FAIL means? It means that was the ‘First Attempt In Learning!’”
- “Watch your WATCH. Watch your Words, Actions, Thoughts, Character and Habit!”
- “Do you know what STRUGGLE means? STRUGGLE means ‘Surrender To Ramakrishna and U (You) Get Genuine Love Easily’.”
- “Whenever you see PEPSI, think of this: ‘Play well, Eat well, Pray well, Study well, and Integrate Well’.”
- “If you had worked hard for something and you cannot achieve it, don’t think it is the END of everything. Think that END means ‘Efforts Never Dies’.”
With his deep and commanding voice, his sense of humor, and his cool way of presenting inspiring thoughts, Revered Swami Divyananda touched the hearts of us all. After the conversations, one person immediately asked, “Swamiji, will you please visit our Vivekananda Vidyapith when you come to the USA?” Swamiji without any hesitation responded, “Sure! When I will visit USA next, I will come to Vivekananda Vidyapith.” Rev. Swamiji, then asked us to visit Saradapitha’s educational institutions and the bookstore. He informed us that the bookstore in Saradapitha has the largest collection of Ramakrishna literature around here.
Educational Institutions and Bookstore of Saradapitha:
As we walked to the educational institutions, Rev. Swami Divyanandaji gave us literature depicting the various educational activities at Saradapitha. We learned that RKM (Ramakrishna Mission) Saradapitha runs the following educational institutions: (
1) RKM Shilpa-vidyalaya (a vocational training center for the under privileged)
(2) RKM Shilpayatana (the Industrial Training Center),
(3) RKM Shilpa-mandir (Community Training and Computer Centers)
(4) RKM Jana-siksha-mandira (a center for school drop-outs and those students who had little formal opportunities for education)
(5) RKM Samaj-sevak-sikshan-mandira (the Residential Training Center for Rural Youth)
(6) RKM Sikshana-mandira (the Residential Teachers Training College) and
(7) RKM Vidya-mandira (the Residential College providing undergraduate and Graduate degrees).
We learned that several senior Swamis of Ramakrishna Math and Mission are and have been associated with this college and the other Saradapith Institutions. Some of these Swamis include Rev. Swamis Adiswarananda, Tathagatananda, Swahananda, Sarvadevananda, Girishananda, Divyananda, Vimuktananda, and Tejasananda.
The weather was very hot and humid as we walked to the educational institutions. Luckily, the Club7 members brought packages of water bottles inside the gate of the Saradapitha. Everyone grabbed a water bottle to quench his/her thirst. Then, with the help of Dr. Suvendu Majumdar, we visited several of the educational institutions described above. Many of Vivekananda Vidyapith’s devotees were associated with Rev. Adiswarananda for many years and they were thrilled to see the RKM Vidya-mandira and Swamiji’s association with it.
After visiting the institutions, we went into the bookstore. We had half an hour to buy books, pictures and other things from the store. Most of the pilgrims bought books and pictures of Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother Sarada Devi, Swami Vivekananda, and their disciples. Because our group was so large, several additional Saradapitha volunteers came to the bookstore to help us checkout. After our trip to the bookstore, we all put our things in the buses and headed towards the Belur Math Museum. To our surprise, we found that all of the water from the Saradapitha campus and the street outside was gone! It was dry again and we had no difficulty in walking.
Sri Ramakrishna Museum:
We gathered at the entrance of the Belur Math Museum. The Club7 organizers had bought tickets for all of us. With the company of Dr. Suvendu Majumdar and the Club7 managers, we went inside the museum. We were all surprised to see a variety artifacts; each was meticulously collected, carefully protected, and thoughtfully presented. The following are a few of the items we saw at the museum:
- Beautiful replicas of Jayrambati and Kamarpukur.
- Replicas of Thakur’s and Holy Mother’s homes with several artifacts they had actually used.
- Jugis’ Shiva Temple where Sri Chandramani Devi had a vision that a light from Shiva entered into her. This is the story behind Sri Ramakrishna’s birth.
- A beautiful painting of a flock of white cranes contrasting with the dark clouds in the background. This gave us a glimpse of the scene Sri Ramakrishna was captured by and impacted by as a child. That was his first Samadhi experience.
- The Pynes’ Shiva Temple where Gadadhar acted as Shiva and went into Samadhi.
- A life-size statue of Sri Ramakrishna, with his green jacket and original slippers.
- Many articles of clothing used by Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Moher Sri Sarada Devi, Swami Vivekananda and other disciples.
- A sample of Sri Ramakrishna’s handwriting.
- Holy Mother’s foot-prints and an impression of Holy Mother’s thump on a postal money-order.
- Several items used by Holy Mother.
- A life size image of Holy Mother. Her smile and loving eyes in the picture seemed to shower pure love for all of us.
- A replica of Sri Ramakrishna’s room in Dakshineswar as it was while he was living there. Narendra’s original tanpura reminded us that he used to sing on this tanpura in that room and Sri Ramakrishna used to go into Samadhi. It gave also gave us a glimpse of the Dakshineswar temple. Everyone, especially the students, were recognizing and pointing to the things they had seen at Dakshineswar in the morning and were extremely happy.
- We saw Shyampukur Bati, Cossipore Garden House, Udbodhan where Holy Mother stayed, and Balaram Mandir –all of which we were going to see in coming days.
- The replica of the Art Institute of Chicago, a huge picture of the Pariament of Religions, and a life size image of Swami Vivekananda wearing a rob and a turban took us to September 11, 1893, reminding us his famous lecture and universal message of love, peace, and harmony of religions.
- A replica of the Vivekananda cottage at Thousand Island Park, New York State which looked just like the original. Many of us had been there. We felt as if we were in the USA.
- The experience of seeing robes and shoes of Swami Vivekananda was thrilling.
- There were pictures of direct disciples and things they had used. There were also pictures of householder disciples of Sri Ramakrishna and the western disciples of Swami Vivekananda. We even saw things used by Sister Nivedita.
Several students said that after seeing all these they felt that what they had learned about Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi, Swami Vivekananda and other disciples were true and real, not mythology or stories.
The following is a link to the Museum Video Link. The video has been prepared by the Belur Math:
As people finished seeing things in the museum, they came out and sat on the front steps of the museum. Soon all 91 Vidyapith people in their Vidyapith’s uniform were sitting on the steps. It was a spectacular view.
The Sun was setting, Ganga was flowing on one side, and people were gathering inside the main temple for the evening arati. We quickly went to our buses to remove our shoes and freshened up, and followed Dr. Suvendu Majumdar to the main temple of the Belur Math.
We were so blessed that Rev. Swami Girishanandaji had made an arrangement for all the Vivekananda Vidyapith people to sit immediately behind the Ramakrishna Mission and Math Swamis and Brahmacharis. We all sat as we sit in the Vidyapith prayer hall, gents on the left side and ladies on the right side. Everyone sat in the prayer posture (crossed-legs) and started doing japa as we were waiting for the arati to start.
A few of us were observing how systematically all the preparation for the arati was done. Two young brahmacharis came and swiftly rolled down the carpets for the Sadhus and Brahmacharies. Slowly, the Sadhus and Brahmacharis started coming and taking their places. The tanpuras, mridangam, and other musical instruments came. Outside, in all directions a conch was blown to convey to all that the ararti is about to begin. The big prayer hall was packed with devotees. There were devotees sitting outside the doors. All eyes were focused on Sri Ramakrishna who was decorated with beautiful clothes and garlands. There was a serene environment.
One Swami played a tune to begin the arati. Inside, near the altar, a Swami stood with a big decorative lit arati to offer to Sri Ramakrishna. With melodious voice, a Swami started “Khandan Bhava Bandhan…” accompanied with the mridangam playing chautaal while a gong gave the main beats of the taal.
Everyone joined in singing the arati. The voices of hundreds of people, lead by the melodious voices of the Swamis and Brahmacharis singing the glories of Sri Ramakrishna, easily captured the minds and hearts of all. Swami Vivekananda’s every word of the Khandan Ararti had deep meaning and the music was appropriate for the words. The Vivekananda Vidyapith devotees did not need any papers as they knew all the words; they only had to carefully stay with the slow pace. The slow pace singing helped the mind dwell on each word and meditate on Sri Ramakrishna. After the slow paced singing, everyone sang the whole Khandan Bhava Bandhana… in a fast pace. This was followed by the Sri Ramakrishna hymn, “Om Hri Ritam…” again composed by Swami Vivekananda. The meaning of the hymn is: “O Sri Ramakrishna! The friend of people who are poor in virtues! For various reasons I surrender to you. Your name is auspicious and gives peace. You are the only goal of my life.” It was followed by a hymn to Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi, namely “Sarva mangal Mangalye…” The hymn was sung with great devotion using all the serenity and melody of the Bihaga Raga. Any heart would have melted upon hearing the singing of the hymn. One could feel the presence of Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother, and Swami Vivekananda, as the writer and composer, in the hall. The arati was concluded with “Jai Mahamayiki Jai” and “Jai Bhagavan Sri Rmakrishna Devaki Jai.”
The following is the arati link where we can listen to the whole arati prepared by the Belur Math Swamis and Brahmacharis.
Khandana – http://www.belurmath.org/arati/khandana.mp3
Om Hrim Ritam – http://www.belurmath.org/arati/om.mp3
Sarva Mangala – http://www.belurmath.org/arati/sarva.mp3
Everyone remained seated in silence as the Swamis and Brahacharies saluted and left. Then, the Vidyapith people were asked to go to the front to salute Sri Ramakrishna and then proceed outside through the door on the right side. As we were coming out from the door, Rev. Tapas Maharaj was waiting for us to take us to Rev. Swami Girishanandaji. We all came down the steps in a line and took the prasad of “Patasa” given by two Swamis and then went to the office of Rev. Swami Girishanandaji. He was very pleased to see us all again. We narrated to him what we had done between previous morning and today’s arati. Then, he wished us well for the rest of our pilgrimage and blessed us all.
Even though it was a long day, everyone’s mind and heart was filled with the joy of being able to do all of the things we had planned. All the activities were spiritually uplifting. With high spirits, we went to our air-conditioned buses to go back to our hotel. In the buses, people reminisced all the events of the day, sang a few dhoons and bhajans, and caught up with some rest.
At the Hyatt, a delicious dinner was waiting for us. Everyone enjoyed the dinner and soon went to bed to get ready for the next day. Everyone was thankful that by the grace of God, we had successfully completed two days of our pilgrimage with great weather and had been able to go through all the activities as planned without any problems.
(The original report was written by Abhishek and Avni Senjalia)