August 5, 2015
Lunch and Swami Vivekananda’s Ancestral house
Skill of Driving, Rain and Lunch:
After visiting Sister Nivedita’s School we all walked to our buses. A memorable highlight especially for the US born and raised youngsters took place as we were all seated on the bus, famished and ready to head back to the hotel for lunch. Our bus was situated on a road too narrow for the bus to take a k-turn. To circumvent that, our bus driver drove in reverse to a four-way crossing to take the turn. We always complain about how the roads in India are in complete mayhem, but that mayhem has been so well integrated into Indian society that driving a bus in reverse would be a normal thing to do.
On the way back to the hotel, it started to rain. It seemed almost like a miracle because ever since the beginning of the pilgrimage, the weather had been consistently on our side. We had heard that there had been torrential down pour throughout West Bengal before we had come. The flooded rice fields and the endless potholes on the roads clearly showed that. However, on any trip we had taken, the weather would be perfect, and when it did rain, we were inside the air-conditioned buses. It rained while we were in the buses going to the hotel Hyatt. Miracle or a coincidence, the rain stopped when we were getting off the buses at the hotel. It rained again during the lunch time.
We arrived at the hotel at around 12:30 and gathered for lunch at the “Guchhi” at about 1:00 P.M.
The menu once again contained many different cuisines. For starters, there was always a different type of soup. The main course would roughly be based around a Punjabi cuisine and there was dessert to sum it up. As people were finishing their lunch, Uncle decided to push the schedule back half an hour. This being so, we would depart to see Swamiji’s ancestral home at 2:30 rather than 2:00. During this small break, many decided to rest in their respective rooms.
Swami Vivekananda’s Ancestral House:
Before 2:30 p.m. everyone gathered in the lobby. As all the schedules were tight, everyone was happy that they had half an hour to relax. We were excited that we were going to see the house in which Swami Vivekananda was born and had grown up. The students and teachers, having read Swamiji’s childhood stories, could not wait to see the actual rooms and the inside of the home.
We were happy to learn that unlike the morning, during the remainder of our day, we would be visiting all the places together. Buses #1, #2, and #3 began to follow each other to Swamiji’s Ancestral Home. However, it was difficult for the buses to stay right behind one another because of the heavy traffic, flooded streets, and traffic lights. We soon witnessed how the roads in Kolkata become flooded during the rainy season. But the people of Kolakata knew how to continue with their routine work even in the face of many difficulties brought by nature.
There was water everywhere and many times the water pumps on the streets were over flowing. Because of the blockage of some flooded streets and the resulting detours created by the police, Bus #1 took a wrong turn and went onto a different road. Buses #2 and #3 followed each other and arrived at the Swamiji’s house quickly.
Even then, there was one more challenge to overcome. Our bus drivers realized that the roads were flooded and if we got off on the road, we would have to walk in 3’’- 4’’ high water. So, even in the midst of heavy traffic, the skillful drivers managed to park the buses on the pavement in front of Swamiji’s house! We were marveled by their skill.
We got off on the dry pavement and walked inside the gate of Swamiji’s house.
After removing our shoes, we went inside the house.
The Club7 organizers had already bought our tickets to see the house. The house was open until 5:00 p.m. We were worried about Bus #1 making it on time. In the meantime, the people of Buses #2 and #3 started watching the video prepared by the Ramakrishna Mission Swami Vivekananda’s Ancestral House and Cultural Centre. After the video they started exploring Swamiji’s huge house. Bus #1 soon arrived, relieved and happy to know that they would be able to visit the house.
In Swami Vivekananda’s ancestral house we could see many things. From photographs we learned about how this house looked before and after restoration.
House before restoration:
House after restoration:
The Ramakrishna Mission’s restoration efforts tried to preserve the original architectural design of the house as closely as possible. Several things had to happen for us to see the house in the existing condition.
Brief History of the struggle in acquiring Swami Vivekananda’s Ancestral House:
Swami Vivekananda’s father Shri Viswanath Datta was an attorney-at-law of the High Court of Kolkata. He derived a large income from his law practice and could afford to have a huge mansion in the middle of the city of Kolkata. However, in 1884 when Narendra (Swami Vivekananda) was 21 years old, his father passed away, the family had to go through great financial difficulties and struggled to even provide enough food for family’s survival. At that time, distant family members started occupying the house, claiming ownership. Narendranath had to fight in court to keep the family in the house. He had to represent himself as a lawyer of his own case.
After Swami Vivekananda passed away in 1902, the house was occupied by several people. The monks and the devotees of the Ramakrishna Mission wanted to acquire this house as a memorial for Swami Vivekananda. But, nothing happened until 1963, the year of Swami Vivekananda’s Birth Centenary. The Government of West Bengal asked the Ramakrishna Mission to send a proposal to make this house as a memorial. Ramakrishna Mission did so and the Government of West Bengal soon accepted the proposal and issued notification to acquire the property under the law of Acquisition Act in 1963 and again in 1973/1974. At that time there were 54 families and small business centers in the house as its occupants. They challenged the acquisition in the court. The legal battle went on for thirty years.
In 1993, the Ramakrishna Mission decided to directly negotiate with the tenants. By then, 143 families and small trade centers were occupying the property and the adjoining plot. The Ramakrishna Mission provided alternate accommodations to all these families. After this, with the consent of the Honorable Court, the state government acquired the whole building and the adjoining plot of land which was then to be handed over to the Ramakrishna Mission. On May 26, 1999 the state government gave this house and its adjacent land to the Mission.
After acquiring the house, the Ramakrishna Mission was faced with the most challenging task of restoring the completely dilapidated house without changing any of its original architectural features. With the technical assistance of the ASI (Archaeological Survey of India) and other experts, the building was restored using construction materials and methods dating back to the 18th century in order to maintain the building’s architecture integrity.
When the necessary ground work was done, then on March 10, 2001 Swami Gahananandaji Maharaj laid the foundation stone of the proposed Ramakrishna Mission Swami Vivekananda Memorial and Cultural Center. On September 26, 2004. Swami Ranganathanandaji, the 13th President of Ramakrishna Math and Mission, declared the renovated and restored Ancestral House of Swami Vivekananda open. Since then, many devotees, monks, and dignitaries have visited this place. On January 1, 2008 Swami Atmasthanandaji, the current President of Ramakrishna Math and Mission unveiled the 12.5 feet bronze statue of Swami Vivekananda which currently stands in front of the building.
Main Events That Happened in this House:
- Swami Vivekananda was born on January 12, 1863.
- Bhuvaneswari Devi accepted her son Narendra as a boon from Lord Vireswara Shiva.
- Narendra was a naughty boy. He needed two nurses to keep him under control.
- Narendra would calm down only when two people would hold him, while another would pour cold water on his head saying “Shiva” “Shiva.”
- Bhuvaneswari Devi read the Ramayana and Mahabharata to Billey (young Narendra).
- Narendranath had two brothers and four sisters, two of whom died at an early age.
- Narendra’s boyhood pets were a family cow, a monkey, a goat, a peacock, and several pigeons and guinea-pigs.
- Narendra loved to give away anything around him to a monk or a poor person. When he was locked-up for this in a room upstairs, he threw his mother’s saris from a window to a poor person.
- With his friends Narendra used to play a game “King and the Court,” in the courtyard of this house. In this game he would act as the monarch and made his friends play the parts of ministers and other officials.
- Narendra would play a meditation game with his friends in a room in which they all sat cross-legged, closing their eyes and thinking of God. He used to get so absorbed in meditation, like Shiva, that once he did not even notice a snake passing by him.
- Narendra’s father, Viswanath Datta, was an attorney-at-law at the High Court of Kolkata. He had an office in the house. For the entertainment of his clients, he had kept several hookahs, each one marked to be used by a particular caste person. Narendra was curious to see what would happenen if one caste person smoked from the hookah belonging to the other caste. So, he tried them all and found no difference.
- Narendra’s Grandfather, Shri Durgacharan, shortly after the birth of his son, Viswanath, renounced the world and became a monk. He visited the house once and stayed in one of the rooms of the house.
- We can see Narendra’s study room where he had once had a vision of Lord Buddha.
- While living in this house, Narendra met Sri Ramakrishna and during their six years of meetings, his spiritual life was molded.
- Narendra and his family went through hard times when his father passed away.
There are many things to see in the house. While going through the house, one interesting thing happened. As we started seeing things of Swami Vivekananda’s house, few students said, “Oh! We know these things. We know these rooms!” Then they remembered that they had seen a power point presentation of Swami Vivekananda’s house in Deba Uncle’s class in Vivekananda Vidyapith and during his presentation at summer camp. They were very happy to recognize the rooms and things and to be able to actually see them in front of them. As we were not allowed to take photos inside the building, we are presenting the following photos from the above mentioned presentation.
Photos of varandas (lobbies):
The clock which was frozen at Swami Vivekananda’s birth-time:
The room in which Billey or Narendra (Swami Vivekananda) was born. His photo locates the exact place of his birth.
Lord Vireswara Shiva’s replica by whose grace Narendranath was born to Bhuvaneswari Devi. That is why his childhood’s name was Billey derived from “Bireswara”.
Narendranath’s mother Shrimati Bhuvaneswari Devi’s room:
Shrimati Bhuvaneswari Devi used to read Ramayana and Mahabharat to little Billey. Here is the rplica of the Ramayana book:
Billey used to meditate with his friends in this room. One day a snake came and all friends ran away. But Billey was deeply absorbed in meditation and he was not aware of the snake. The snake went away without harming him.
The following is the room in which Narendranath’s father Sri Viswanath Datta was receiving his clients and guests:
Viswanath Datta kept hookahs to entertain his clients. There were several hookahs. Each hookah was marked to be used by a particular caste person. One day Viswanath caught Narendra trying to smoke from all hookahs. Upon asking, Narendra said that he was trying to see if there was any difference between these hookahs. This was the foundation of Narendranath’s future realization that there is same soul in every person.
Narendranath’s room in which he had a vision of Lord Buddha. We can see the musical instruments he used to play.
The following are photos of the couryard of the house in which Narendra used to play game of “King and the Court.” Narendra was acting as the king and he would ask his friends to be his ministers.
Narendranath’s Grandfather Shri Durgacharan Datta had renounced the world and had become a Sanyasi. He visited this house after his sanyas and and had stayed in this room.
Narendranath’s Grandmother’s room:
His Grandmother’s “Ganga Bhakti Tarangini” replica:
Billey’s famous window from inside the house from which he was throwing his mother’s saris to the poor people:
The same window from outside:
We were so fortunate to see the house in which a great personality was born and raised.
The following group photos taken at the front of Swami Vivekananda’s ancestral house had become our life-long memory.
The eminent British historian A L Basham has stated this about the contribution of Swami Vivekananda, “in centuries to come, he (Swami Vivekananda) will be remembered as one of the main molders of the modern world…”
We found a plaque which states Swami Vivekananda’s most important message.
Swami Vivekananda was a great saint, a teacher, a philosopher, a poet, a superb orator, a patriot, a reformer, a lover of humanity –especially of poor and neglected people, a visionary, a guide, a superb organizer, and much more. He was the first one who had expounded Vedanta (the essence of Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita) in a rational and appealing way to the West and then to the whole world. . He had brought many people who were turned off by the superficial and harmful religious practices to the path of spirituality and made their life blessed. We mentally bow down to Swami Vivekananda and say, ‘please accept our thousands of salutations.’
(The original report was written by Ekalavya Patel.)