August 5, 2015
Udbodhan (Mayer Bati) and Balaram Mandir
Our morning on August 5th began with an overcast sky; almost as if it was going to rain. By 6:00 a.m. everyone had gathered at “Guchhi”, our designated breakfast area. Breakfast consisted of a variety of things, from several South Indian cuisines such as Idli and Dosa to the usual western options including milk, cereal and muffins.
At about 6:45 a.m. everyone met in the hotel lobby to start boarding the buses.
Getting ready for the Buses:
Challenging Day for Planning:
Today’s journey was a bit more challenging than that of the first two days. The places we were visiting today did not have parking places for buses and were located in the middle of the city where the narrow roads could not fit out big buses. However several factors set us up for success: 1) Deba Uncle’s familiarity with the streets of Kolkata and his excellent planning 2) the morning briefing with the drivers to plan the specific route of travel using maps 3) help of Club7 members and 4) the discipline of our group.
Our first two stops for the day were “Mayer Bati” (also known as “Mother’s House” or “Udbodhan”) and Balaram Mandir. Because Udbodhan is relatively small, we divided our pilgrims into two groups, each of which would visit Mayer Bati and Balaram Mandir at different times.
“Mayer Bati” or “Udbodhan”:
After Sri Ramakrishna passed away in 1886, Holy Mother lived in Kamarpukur and Jayarambati. However, whenever she visited Kolkata, Holy Mother would stay in the houses of devotees or rented houses. Seeing this, Swami Saradananda (Sarat Maharaj), who had a great respect and love for Holy Mother, wanted to have a permanent place for Holy Mother in Kolkata.
He incurred a loan and built a house at 1 Udbodhan Lane, Baghbazar, Kolakata. This house is now referred to as “Mayer Bati” or “Udbodhan”. On May 23, 1909, Holy Mother entered the house for the first time. The house itself was originally built before an open ground from which one was able to see the river Ganga from the terrace of the house. She lived there until 1920 with the exception of when she went to Jayaram Bati or went out for pilgrimage. Holy Mother lived with her relatives and women devotees on the first floor of the house, and her monastic attendants and other disciples lived on the ground floor. After Sri Ramakrishna passed away, Holy Mother was the great source of inspiration for all of the devotees of Sri Ramakrishna including Swami Vivekananda, Rakhal Maharaj, Swami Saradananda, Mahendranath Gupta (M.), Nag Mahashay, Girish Chandra Gosh, Sister Nivedita, and others. All of these devotees would visit Udbodhan often.
A couple of important things that are not to be missed in Udbodhan:
(1) Swami Saradananda’s room on the first floor: As we entered the house, we saw a small room on the left hand side, which belonged to Swami Saradananda.
In this room we see where he actually used to sit. In one picture we can see Swamiji writing on a small desk in this spot. Swami Saradananda considered himself the ‘gate keeper’ of Holy Mother’s house. He also took care of all the needs of Holy Mother. Swami Saradananda had many responsibilities both as the General Secretary of the Ramakrishna Order and in taking care of Holy Mother. It is amazing that, despite all the commotion of the household around him, Swami Saradananda, sitting on the first floor, wrote an inspiring book titled the “Sri Ramakrishna Lilaprasanga” (It English Translation is “Sri Ramakrishna, The Great master”). Of the commotion, he used to say to himself, “Do not listen to unnecessary things.” Swami Saradananda used the money he collected from the sale of the book to pay the loan he had incurred for Udbodhan.
(2) Holy Mother’s Shrine: When we climbed up the staircase of the house, we were able to see Holy Mother’s Shrine.
Initially, this room was a shrine to worship Sri Ramakrishna. Holy Mother made this room her living quarters because she did not want to live away from Sri Ramakrishna. Through the window of Holy Mother’s shrine, we see a beautifully adorned picture of Holy Mother on the bed that she had used. Below the picture lie Holy Mother’s footprints.
On the back wall, we saw Sri Ramakrishna’s picture adorned with a garland.
To the right of this picture was an altar on which there were two pictures of Sri Ramakrishna – one bigger picture place on the top part of the altar and a small picture on the bottom part of the altar – and pictures of Swami Vivekananda and Swami Saradananda. Holy Mother used to worship both of these pictures of Shri Ramakrishna. The top picture of Sri Ramakrishna remained in the shrine, while the one below it, she would carry with her for her worship whenever she travelled.
The shrine is only open at certain times for worship. If the shrine is open, devotees can offer their salutations to Holy Mother and Sri Ramakrishna and then sit down on the floor in front of the shrine to offer japa or to meditate remembering Holy Mother’s infinite love and her auspicious pure life.
(3) Memorial: Next to the Mother’s shrine, there was another room.
In this room we can see the bed that was used by Swami Saradananda and a number of items that Swami Saradananda and Holy Mother used.
Vidyapith Pilgrims arriving at Udbodhan:
The Vidyapiths pilgrims of Bus No. 1 arrived first in Udbodhan and then went to Balaram Mandir while the pilgrims of Buses 2 and 3 went to Balaram Mandir first and then came to Udbodhan. As each group entered Udbodhan, they offered their salutations to Swami Saradananda on the first floor. The group then went upstairs, offered their salutations to Holy Mother and Sri Ramakrishna, sat on the floor in front of the shrine and did japa. Many also saw the articles used by Swami Saradananda and Holy Mother. The environment was very serene and filled with Holy Mother’s love. We all felt as if we had come to our own mother’s house.
Before leaving Udbodhan, the first group asked the office if they could offer a bhajan to Holy Mother. Since all other devotees had left and no one was meditating, the group was able to offer a bhajan “Sarada Subhadayaini…..”
The place was filled with the devotional fervor of the singing. We could feel the words of the bhajan “Jago Maa” – that may the Universal Mother or the Kundalini (the Power of Brahman) residing in all be awakened.
As the pilgrims of Buses 2 and 3 were leaving Udbodhan, the Swami who was the head of Udbodhan came to them and asked if all would like to take their Prasad at the Udbodhan. Almost all devotees of Sri Ramakrishna and Holy Mother that visit would like to take Prasad at Udbodhan because they feel that Holy Mother herself is giving Prasad and blessing all. When we told the Swamiji that we did not plan to take Prasad here because we are almost 100 people and it would be an inconvenience, he quickly said that they could take care of 100 people without any problem. We thought for a while and said that because we would be taking Prasad in Jayaram Bati and had already made a plan to eat lunch at Hyatt, it would not be possible for us to enjoy Prasad at Udbodhan. While we felt bad letting this opportunity go, we were touched by the Swami’s love and his willingness to go out of his way to accommodate 100 people within an hour’s notice.
They gave all of us delicious Prasad of Sandesh, which we enjoyed outside Udbodhan.
Udbodhan Publications: Near “Mayer Bati”, there is a building called “Udbodhan Karyalaya.” This is the premier publishing house of Bengali books of the Ramakrishna Math & Ramakrishna Mission. Through its publications, Udbodhan Karyalaya has immensely contributed in bringing awareness of Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda, and Vedanta’s teachings overall both in India and abroad. The publishing house also publishes “Udbodhan Patrika,” a magazine in Bengali that actually was started by Swami Vivekananda in 1899.
The second group could also visit Udbodhan karyalaya’s bookstore since it was opened at that time. Devotees were excited to buy pictures of Holy Mother and her footprints and other related things at this publishing house.
Memories of Udbodhan:
During the visit of the Udbodhan, we remembered the several important things and incidents happened here in Udbodhan that made it a very special place of pilgrimage. Here are few of them:
- Giving Spiritual Guidance: During her stay in Udbodhan, Holy Mother blessed countless people and initiated many devotees here. She removed their sorrows by her loving glance, her holy presences and proper guidance. Many people who had made some mistakes in their lives and felt dejected and hopeless would visit Holy Mother. She encouraged them, gave them loving hugs, took them in the shrine to Sri Ramakrishna and asked them not to repeat their mistakes and pray sincerely to Sri Ramakrishna. Swami Nikhilanandaji writes, “(During 1909-1920) Men and women of every station and stage of life came to her. Among them there were high and low, students and lawyers, physicians and teachers, revolutionaries, spiritually evolved souls and people entangled in the world, and some eccentric as well….From the fullness of her heart Holy Mother bestowed her grace upon all.”
- Mother’s Helpers: Golap-Ma and Yogin-Ma helped Mother in Udbodhan. One can find their pictures on the wall.
- Everyone had to work: Udbodhan was a busy publishing center. The monks working there had to sell books, keep accounts, correct proofs, and look after the publications of books. Someone said that Sri Ramakrishna had discouraged such activities and emphasized meditation, prayer, and other spiritual practices. When the matter was referred to Holy Mother she said, “Never listen to such ideas. Sri Ramakrishna’s case was quite different. Mathur Babu always provided him with his milk and butter. If you do not work who will supply you with your morning cup of tea?”
- Mother being Kali: Sister Nivedita once said to Holy Mother, “Mother, you are our Kali.” Sister Christine, who was present, nodded her agreement. Holy Mother said with a laugh, “No, children, I cannot be Kali or any such thing; otherwise, I shall have to stick out my tongue!”
- Chandra’s fasting: There was a devotee named Chandra who ran errands for Holy Mother. He could not fast. The monastic disciples at Udbodhan pressed him to fast during Shivaratri – for the entire day and night. In the evening of his fast, Chandra went to Holy Mother and offered his salutation. Mother asked him why he looked so pale and hungry. He told that he agreed to fast, but it was hard for him. Holy Mother said that he should eat. But Chandra said that he would not derive the merit of fasting. Holy Mother caringly said that she would fast for him so that he could eat. Chandra respectfully agreed and ate happily. Holy Mother fasted for him.
- Chandra’s asking for Prasad: This same Chandra used to go to Holy Mother for Prasad. Once, one senior Swami told him that he should ask Holy Mother for liberation. The Swami trained him how to ask for liberation and sent him upstairs. Chandra went upstairs. Holy Mother was in the shrine engaged in her worship. Chandra saluted her. After a while Holy Mother looked at him and asked, “What do you want?” Chandra said, “Prasad!” The Mother said that it was under the couch and he helped himself.
- Mother’s Compassion: Padmabinode was a student in M’s school who had received Sri Ramakrishna’s blessings. Later he joined a theatre and got into a drinking habit. While intoxicated, he used to come to see Holy Mother at late night. No one would let him come inside the Udbodhan because Holy Mother was sleeping. One night, from the street, he sang loudly a song asking Mother to wake up and open the door. He had put his heart and soul into his singing. Holy Mother woke up, opened the window, and looked at him. Padmabinide was extremely happy. He rolled on the ground and saluted Holy Mother. Next day Holy Mother said, “Did you see his firm conviction?…I cannot contain myself when he calls on me in that way.” This song was “Jaago Maa”.
- Intense Desire to See Mother: Once a devotee named Sri Surendranath Roy walked three miles to come to Udbodhan to see Holy Mother. At that time, Holy Mother was tired and resting. Without asking anyone, he tried to go upstairs to see Holy Mother. Swami Saradananda stood blocking his way and said, “I can’t allow you to go upstairs now because Holy Mother just returned and is resting.” Surendra, in a fit of ill humor, pushed Swami Saradananda aside saying, “Is the Mother a monopoly of yours?” and went upstairs. Holy Mother woke up. Surendra saluted Mother, but felt bad for what he had done. He related the whole story to Mother. Holy Mother said that his son (meaning Swami Saradananda) will not be offended. Surendra was afraid to face Swami Saradananda while coming downstairs. He was surprised that Swami Saradananda embraced him and said, “Can one see the Mother unless one is so earnest?”
- Inspiring Book Written at Udbodhan: Swami Saradananda wrote the inspiring book “Sri Ramakrishna Lila Prasang” (in English, “Sri Ramakrishna: The Great Master.”) in Udbodhan.
- Mother’s Love for Swami Saradananda: After 1909, Holy Mother would not come to Kolkata if Swami Saradananda were not there. She said that he is her crest-jewel. Another time she said, “Is it easy to assume my responsibility? I have yet to find anyone except Sarat who can bare that burden.”
- Last Message of Holy Mother at udbodhan: A woman devotee who had known Sri Ramakrishna came to Udbodhan to see Holy Mother who was bed-ridden at the time. As no one was allowed to go inside the room, the woman stood outside. Holy Mother signed to her to come. She came in and saluted the Mother. She wept and said, “Mother, what will happen to us?” Holy Mother said in a feeble voice, “You have seen the Master. Nothing should frighten you.” Then she added, “Let me tell you something. My child, if you want peace then do not look into anybody’s faults. Look into your own faults. Learn to make the world your own. No one is a stranger, my child; the whole world is your own.”
Remembering Holy Mother’s love and compassion through her stories, remembering her last message, and feeling her divine power through the recollection of various incidents, we truly felt Mother’s presence in Udbodhan and we felt blessed by coming here.
Balaram Basu had imbibed a devotional nature from his father and grandfather who were great devotees. Balaram Basu became attracted to Sri Ramakrishna during their very first meeting. Sri Ramakrishna’s presence and his teachings about both the existence of God and how to realize God left deep impressions in Balaram’s mind. In a vision, Sri Ramakrishna had also seen Balaram as one of the close disciples of Sri Chaitanya.
Sri Ramakrishna visited Balaram’s house, Balaram Mandir, more than a hundred times. He wanted to see his disciples, especially his young disciples like Narendra, Rakhal, Bhavanath and others, who could not come to Dakshineswar often. At Balaram Mandir, Sri Ramakrishna talked to these young disciples about God, gave them spiritual instructions, sang God’s glories, danced on the name of God, and often lost himself in Samadhi. Sri Ramakrishna sometimes jokingly referred to the temple of Dakshineswar as “Mother Kali’s fort” and Balaram’s house as “His fort or parlour.” Sri Ramakrishna, who was very particular about who had cooked his food and who was serving his meal, often said, “Balaram’s food is very pure. The members of his family have for generations been devotees and have been hospitable to monks and poor people.” Sri Ramakrishna often stayed overnight in Balaram’s house. Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother, and several other disciples of Sri Ramarkishna had stayed in Balaram Mandir. Balaram Bose always stood beside the disciples of Sri Ramakrishna and served them wholeheartedly. Swami Vivekananda had lots of love and regard for Balaram Bose. He once said to Balarm Bose, “Our relationship with you is special. if you push us out of the door, we will not feel bad. On the contrary, remembering your love, we will enter your home through the back door.’
As we had mentioned earlier, pilgrims of bus number-1 went to Udbodhan first and then went to Balaram Mandir while the pilgrims of buses numbers 2 and 3 went to Balaram Mandir first and then went to Udbodhan.
Buses numbers 2 and 3 had problem where to park the buses on a narrow busy road to drop off the pilgrims. Bus drivers found a place closest to Balaram Mandir where the road has little more space on the side. They stopped the buses. Deba Uncle and Club7 members blocked the road and all the Vidyapith people got off the buses as fast as they could. Still, people in the vehicles started honking to complain that they were getting late for their work. But, it was not bad.
On the walk going from one place to another, we had to be extra cautious because there were small children in the group and we did not want to lose anyone. The Club7 team used flags and umbrellas to guide us and to keep us together in a line. On the way, we enjoyed seeing shops and daily activities of people. One group arrived at Balaram Mandir a bit early and had to wait to go inside the Shrine room. We gathered on the ground floor where a guide explained the importance of Balaram Mandir. Soon, a devotee in charge of the group allowed us to go to the shrine.
One Swami was sitting in the Shrine engaged in worship. There was serene atmosphere in the room. This was the room where Sri Ramakrishna met all his devotees, talked to them about God, sang and danced taking God’s name and lost himself in samadhi. The shrine room had many doors and windows and all felt the great refreshing touch of the morning breeze and heard the chirping of birds. All sat down quietly and did japa for about 15 – 20 minutes. The thought that Sri Ramakrishna and his direct disciples had once sat in this very room, uplifted our minds.
When the group from Bus 1 came, the worship was over. They also sat and did japa for 15 – 20 minutes.
They then asked the person in charge if they could offer few dhoons and bhajans to Sri Ramakrishna. Since there was no one else in the shrine room, they received the permission. All of them sang “Paramhansa Ramakrishna…,” “Jaya Jaya Ramakrishna…,” “Jaya Sri Sarade…,” and “Tumi Brahma Ramakrishna..” They knew that this would be a great memory for them. Whenever they will sing or listen to these dhoons-bhajans in the future, they will remember Balaram Mandir and the presence of Thakur, Maa, and Swamiji.
After doing japa in the shrine room, each group visited the other two shrines of the Balaram Mandir: one of Lord Jagannatha and the other of Holy Mother.
Lord Jagannath was the family deity of Balaram Bose.
Every year Balaram Bose used to celebrate “Ratha Yatra” in his home. The devotees used to decorate Lord Jagannath’s small wooden chariot with cloth, flowers, and flags. They would then place Lord Jagannath’s image and other images into the chariot and would pull the chariot singing the name of the Lord Jagannath and dancing in the lobby of the first floor. Sri Ramakrishna had attended these celebrations and had actually pulled the chariot himself, singing and dancing to the Lord’s name in divine ecstasy while singing. We all reverently saw the chariot and also Lord Jagannath’s image in the shrine.
Holy Mother’s shrine is in the room where Holy Mother stayed whenever she visited Kolkata from Jayaram Bati or Kamarpukur after Sri Ramakrishna passed away.
In the lobby, there were many important pictures. One which drew the attention of all was the picture of the first public reception of Swami Vivekananda in Kolkata after he came back from the Parliament of Religions in Chicago.
We all enjoyed seeing the museum and all of the pictures. They captured several inspiring moments from the times when Sri Ramakrishna stayed at Balaram Bose’s house.
We felt the presence of Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother, Lord Jagannath and the direct disciples of Sri Ramakrishna in Balaram Mandir.
We also learned about the following important events:
- After Sri Ramakrishna passed away, his relics were brought here from the Cossipore Garden House and were worshipped daily until they were taken to the Baranagar Monestery.
- On May 1, 1897, Swami Vivekananda held an important meeting here and founded “The Ramakrishna Mission.”
- On November 12, 1898, Swami Vivekananda held a meeting of the householder lady devotees and requested them to send their daughters to Sister Nivedita’s school. After Swamiji’s talk, Sister Nivedita presented her plan of the girls’ school she was planning to open.
On the next day, on November 13, 1898, Sister Nivedita started a girls’ school at Bosepara Lane, Baghbazar.
- Swami Premananda and Swami Brahmananda spent the last days of their lives in Balaram Mandir and left their bodies on July 30, 1918 and April 10, 1922 respectively.
As it said on one board, “Today Balaram Mandir stands as a silent witness to a number of important events in the history of the Ramakrishna Order and the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda movement.”
Considering ourselves blessed with this experience, we left Balaram Mandir thinking about the time Thakur, Maa, Swamiji, and their direct disciples spent here.
(The original report was written by Ekalavya Patel)