August 9, 2015
(I am very happy to publish today the last post of the series of posts titled “Belur Math Pilgrimage – 2015”. It is a coincidence that exactly one year ago we completed our last trip of the pilgrimage on this day. All of the 91 people felt that this pilgrimage was a life-long inspiring memory.)
Going to Belur Math:
Around 2:30 p.m. all of the pilgrims gathered, wearing the Vidyapith uniform, at the Hyatt entrance.
We were ready to once again get into the three buses for our last trip of this pilgrimage – going to the Belur Math. We were all both happy and thankful that everything in our trip had gone according to plan and had worked out successfully.
As the last part of the pilgrimage, all wanted to go to the Belur Math, attend the evening arati, and salute Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi and Swami Vivekananda. We wanted to take their leave and also to take leave from Revered Manager Maharaj Swami Girishanandaji,Tapas Maharaj and Bhandari Maharaj. We also wanted to visit Nilambar Mukherjee’s Garden House, which we could not do it in the earlier visit.
Before we boarded the buses, each group took a picture in front of the Hyatt entrance to keep as a memory.
The groups in each bus loudly uttered “The Five Jai” – “Jai Shri Guru Maharajjiki Jai,” “Jai Mahamayiki Jai,” “Jai Swamiji Maharajjiki Jai”, “Jai Gangamayiki Jai, and “Jai Sab Santanaki Jai.” Once again, we were blessed with good weather. There was no rain. By this point, the buildings and the roads were more familiar than before as we had traveled this route quite a few times. During the ride, people were singing, chatting or trying to catch up the sleep.
Since this was our last visit during our trip, our buses were allowed by the Belur Math to park inside the campus, closer to the main building. Revered Tapas Maharaj had arranged a guide for our final visit. After getting off the buses, we all went to the Nilambar Mukherjee’s house. The road leading to the house was very pleasant. The various kinds of green trees were eye-catching.
The Ganga was filled with water up to both the sides of its banks. The waves were gently splashing. We could see a few boats traveling on the river. It was a serene atmosphere.
Holy Mother in Nilambar Mukherjee’s house:
This place is very special and holy because Holy Mother stayed here. There is a shrine room of Holy Mother on the second floor.
When entering, one can feel the serenity and divinity in the environment. Our group went to the shrine room upstairs in batches. Each pilgrim quietly offered salutations and did japa.
Those people who were not in the shrine room, sat outside in the open area of the house and enjoyed the view of the Ganga.
After we all had offered our salutations, we remembered that the following important events of Holy Mother’s life which took place here. (Swami Chetanananda’s book “Sri Sarada Devi and Her Divine Play” describes all these events in great detail)
Holy Mother’s First Stay (May 1888 – October 1888):
After Sri Ramakrishna passed away in August 1886, Holy Mother lived in Kamarpukur and Jayarambati. Upon the request of devotees, Holy Mother came to Kolkata in May 1888.
She stayed in Balaram Babu’s house for a few days. After this, devotees rented Nilambar Mukherjee’s Gardan House for six months for Holy Mother’s stay. Holy Mother moved into the Garden House with two women devotees, Yogin-ma and Golap- ma. Swamis Yogananda and Adbhutananda were taking care of Holy Mother’s needs. During her stay in the Garden House, Holy Mother’s mind remained in God-consciousness and went into Samadhi quiet often.
- Experiencing Nirvikalpa Samadhi:
Yogin-ma recalled, “One evening Holy Mother, Golap-ma, and I were meditating on the roof. When my meditation was over, I noticed that Mother was still absorbed in meditation – motionless in Samadhi. After a long time, she regained some consciousness and said, ‘Oh Yogin! Where are my hands? Where are my feet? I pressed her limbs and said: ‘Here are your hands and feet.’ It took Holy Mother a long time to regain consciousness of her body.”
- Hymn on Holy Mother (Prakrutim Paramam…):
A direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna named Kali (Swami Abhedananda) had composed a hymn on Holy Mother in Sanskrit. One day, he approached Holy Mother and expressed his desire to recite the hymn to her. Holy Mother was startled and asked, “What kind of hymn? Whose hymn is it?” Swami Abhedananda humbly replied, “Mother, I composed a hymn on you.” Amazed, Holy Mother asked, “My son, what is the need for composing a hymn on me?” Upon repeated requests, Holy Mother listened to the hymn “Prakritim Paramam…” Swami Abhedananda said that when he recited the line “Ramakrishna gata pranam” (meaning whose soul is absorbed in Sri Ramakrishna), the Mother’s whole body became motionless as one seats in meditation. When he recited the lines, “Tan nama shravana priyam” (meaning who loves to hear Sri Ramakrishna’s name), tears of joy and love started rolling out from her eyes. When Swami Abhedananda recited the lines “Tad bhava ranjitakara” (meaning whose mind being absorbed in Sri Ramakrishna became one with Him), he saw that Holy Mother was completely absorbed in meditation and has become one with Sri Ramakrishna. Afterwards, Holy Mother blessed Swami Abhedananda saying, “May Saraswati (the goddess of knowledge) sit on your tongue.”
Devotees love this hymn and we see that all over the world, wherever there is worship of Holy Mother, they sing this hymn.
- The First Chapter of the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna:
On July 11, 1888 M. (Mahendranath Gupta) read a chapter of the Kathamrita (the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna in Bengali) to Holy Mother. M. had not told anyone about this chapter. He wanted to read it to Holy Mother first. After listening to the chapter, Holy Mother praised M. and encouraged him to write more.
Holy Mother’s Second Stay (July 1893 – October 1893):
Five years after Holy Mother’s first stay, devotees again rented the same garden house of Nilambar Mukherjee for Holy Mother’s stay. Holy Mother stayed there with Yogin-ma and Golap-ma. This time, Swami Trigunatitananda took care of Holy Mother’s needs. Holy Mother spent most of her time in worship, japa, and meditation. Swami Trigunatitananda used to pick flowers for Holy Mother’s morning worship. During her stay at this time, two important events took place in the life of Holy Mother.
- Panchtapa Austerity:
For various other reasons, including doing some austerity, Holy Mother practiced the “Panchatapa” on the flat roof of this house.
“Pancha” means five and “Tapa” means austerity. On the flat roof of the house, four fires were set in a square not too far and not too near to Holy Mother. Holy Mother set in the middle of these fires from dawn to dusk under the blazing sun (the fifth fire) doing japa and meditation. This was not easy an easy practice for most people. This austerity is intended to keep the mind calm under the pressing circumstances. Holy Mother had kept her calm demeanor during the adverse family and social circumstances in Kamarpukur and Jayrambati for years. This austerity showed externally how Holy Mother kept her calmness within during all kinds of favorable and unfavorable circumstances. She later on said, “My child, I went through it for the sake of all of you. Can you practice austerities? This is why I had to do it.” Mother Sita had gone through the “fire test” when people questioned her purity. Sri Ramakrishna used to say, “Sa, Sa, Sa,” which had the same pronunciation in Bengali . These “sa’s” refer to the phrase “Sahan Karo” (in Gujarati), or “Shajhya” in Bengali. The phrase suggests that in this world the greatest austerity is to “endure, endure, and endure.” If we want to remain grounded in our true identity, Our Soul, or Our Atman, and live in the constantly changing world with a steady intellect, we have to learn “endurance.”
- Holy Mother’s vision:
It was a moonlit night. Holy Mother was seated on the steps leading to Ganga. The soothing light of the full moon illumined everything around her including the river Ganga. The reflection of the full moon was dancing with the waves of the water. Suddenly, she saw Sri Ramakrishna come from behind and proceed swiftly towards Ganga. As soon as he touched the water, his body dissolved in it. Holy Mother sat in amazement. Then, from nowhere, Narendra appeared. He went to Ganga and while loudly chanting “Victory unto Ramakrishna!” started to sprinkle the Ganga water on innumerable men and women. Immediately, these people were liberated. This vision went so deep into Holy Mother’s mind that she could not bathe in Ganga for several days. This vision has significance. Sri Ramakrishna loved the Ganga and his life was pure like the Ganga. Narendra (Swami Vivekananda) elaborated on Sri Ramakrishna’s teachings and spread them everywhere. This helped (and is still helping) people attain the Knowledge of Ultimate Reality (Brahman) and destroy their ignorance and bondage.
We were fortunate enough to see the steps leading to Ganga from Nilambar Mukherjee’s house. Seeing the same house, the same roof, and the same steps, we felt the presence of Holy Mother and deep within we experienced a feeling of blessedness. Several youngsters later mentioned that by visiting these places, Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi and Swami Vivekananda became real to them. They were no longer legends and stories of imagination.
OTHER STAYS AND EVENTS AT THE GARDEN HOUSE
Holy Mother also stayed at this house for one day in April of 1898, one day in November of 1898, and five days in October of 1901.
- Monastery at Nilambar Mukherjee’s Garden House:
In February 1898, the monastery was moved from Alambazar to Nilambar Mukherjee’s Garden House. It was then that the Belur Math land came into the possession of the Ramakrishna Math. There was a dilapidated building that existed on the northern side of the land, which was renovated under the supervision of Swami Vijnanananda.
Swami Vivekananda had stayed at the Garden House during this time. In the morning he used to take bath in Ganga, salute Sri Ramakrishna’s “padukas” (slippers) and then meditate.
- Composition of “Khandan Bhava Bandhan…”:
The Nilambar Mukherjee’s Garden House was also the place where, in February 1898, Swami Vivekananda composed the famous Arati “Khandan Bhava Bandhan…” This aarti is sung all over the world in the shrines where Sri Ramakrishna is being worshiped. In November of 1898, Swami Vivekananda composed “Om Hrim Ritam..” here – a hymn on Sri Ramakrishna which Usually follows by the Arati “Khandan…”
The following are links to the lyrics and meaning of the Arati and hymn:
Furthermore, Swamiji also composed the following hymn on Sri Ramakrishna in this location:
आचण्डालाप्रतिहतरयो यस्य प्रेमप्रवाहो
लोकातीतोऽप्यहह न जहौ लोककल्याणमार्गम्।
The Garden House was truly a blessed place to have been the setting of such influential moments.
Swamiji’s Mango Tree:
Afterward visiting the Garden House, we were guided to the Belur Math office buildings.
During our previous visit, we had seen the Old Math and Swami Vivekananda’s room. This time, we learned more about the big mango tree in the courtyard. One of the favorite seats of Swami Vivekananda was under this mango tree.
In the morning, he would usually be found seated on a canvas cot under this mango tree. This is where he would attend to his correspondences, write articles, read, or engage in conversation. Devotees called it “Swamiji’s mango tree.” There are few striking incidences took place under this tree. Here are two such incidents.
- Gayatri Avahan Mantra:
It was evening. Swami Vivekananda had just taken a bath in the Ganga and was returning to this place. On the way back, he chanted, “Gayatri Avahana Mantra” (Ayahi Varade Devi….)*. Swami Vivekananda’s soul-touching chanting made the surrounding people spellbound. He then came to the mango tree and stood under it as if he were in Samadhi. Then, he started pacing back and forth. With this divine inebriation, his steps faltered. All of those around him were deeply touched by his divine state and felt uplifted.
Many of us had attended Swami Adiswaranandaji’s talks at Ramakrishna Vivekananda Center, New York, USA. They remembered that Swami Adiswarananda used to recite this Gayatri Avahan Mantra before his talks.
- Where will you go to seek God?
One day, Swamiji was sitting on the cot under this tree facing west. His eyes were luminous and he was filled with spiritual consciousness. Pointing to the Brahmacharis and Sanyasins, he said, “Where will you go to seek God? He is immanent in all beings. Here, here is the visible God!” All around him stopped and became motionless. At the time, Swami Premananda was coming from Ganga after his bath to go to the shrine for worship. He heard these words and became overpowered by spiritual consciousness. He just stood there in front of Swamiji being unconscious to the outer world. After a while Swami Vivekananda came back to a normal state, so did Swami Premananda. Swami Vivekananda then asked Swami Premananda to go for his worship.
Thinking that we would not be at the hotel until late at night and to express their love for us, the Swamis of the Belur Math and Bhandari Maharaj arranged a special snack for all of us. We were guided to a dining area behind the offices. There, we found a small snack including tea, biscuits, dhokla, and chevda. Bhandari Maharaj made sure that all the items were delicious. We were overwhelmed with the Swamis’ love and enjoyed the treat.
Right next door to the room where we were eating was the Leggett House, which was nothing short of grand, with large pillars and doors.
The evening was descending. Just a few steps away from our location were the bank of the Ganga, where we could see countless Swamis walking around.
We still had some time before the Aarti began so few of us decided to visit the bookstore to buy books and other things. Others few walked on the grounds of the Belur Math. As we gathered again, we found that the time before evening aarti was very special at the Belur Math. Evening was entering. The rays of the sunset were falling on the Ganga, creating a colorful sight. Hundreds of birds were chirping. Many Swamis in ochre clothes were quietly walking around absorbed in the thoughts of God. Devotees were offering their salutations in the temples. Because the environment in the Belur Math campus was so serene and because it was the weekend, hundreds of families from the neighboring areas were either sitting or walking around enjoying the beauty of the place on the bank of the Ganga. We too enjoyed this serene environment.
As the arati time was nearing, we all went into the main Prayer Hall. We were again fortunate to have a reserved area just behind the Swamis and Brahmacharis of the Belur Math. We sat quietly and meditated in silence before the arati. One Swami blew a conch on all sides of the Prayer Hall. The long, continuous sound of the conch reminded all to think of God. The tanpuras and other instruments were fine tuned. The Prayer Hall was fully packed with several hundreds of people. The atmosphere in the temple was absolutely captivating. The Swami who was doing arati inside the shrine room stood up with a special lamp to offer arati and began to ring bell. With melodious voices, the leading Swamis started to sing arati “Khandan Bhava Bandhan…” Hundreds of people joined in the singing. The mridangam and other percussions lifted up the singing into another level. It was such a spiritually uplifting experience. Most of the Vidyapith people knew the arati by heart. They enjoyed singing with all. The arati was followed by the “Om Hri Ritam..” hymn and the “Sarva mangala mangalye…”hymn. The singing was tuneful, melodious and filled with devotion. Finally, all joined in two Jai’s: “Jai Mahamayiki Jai,” and “Jai Bhagavan Sri Ramakrishna Devaki Jai.”
The following are links to the Belur Math Evening Arati:
All of the Swamis and Brahmacharis offered their salutations. We were allowed to offer our salutations before other people. All of us offered our salutations and went out through the doors on the Ganga side. A Swami was giving “batasa” (“Patasa” in Gujarati) as Prasad. We took Prasad with great respect and went to the Belur Math offices to salute Swami Giritshanandaji and say “Good Bye.”
When we arrived, Revered Swami Girishanandaji came out from his office and blessed us all. He was very happy to see us. We all saluted him and took his leave. He said, “Come again.” We also saluted Revered Tapas Maharaj and took his leave. We then started walking towards our buses. Our minds were thankful to God for making our pilgrimage successful against all the odds of the weather and other unpleasant surprises.
A Surprise Meeting with Swami Tyagananda:
Yet, as we were walking towards our buses, we had another pleasant surprise. We ran into Swami Tyagananda, spiritual head of the Boston Vedanta Society, USA. We all knew him very well because he had visited Vivekananda Vidyapith. A few devotees had also visited him at The Boston Vedanta Society. What a coincidence! Among many unfamiliar faces, seeing a familiar face of someone whom we love and respect filled our hearts with great joy. We also saw joy on his face. He greeted and blessed us and joked about how we are so close in distance to each other in America yet our paths crossed in Belur Math.
After a brief conversation, we made our way back to the buses for our last ride together, a bittersweet moment as we concluded the final excursion of this enlightening trip. We all sat in the bus and recited our five Jai’s. To maintain the mindsets created by the beautiful aarti, we sang in the bus until our tired voices finally could not sing anymore. In one of the buses, the air-condition broke down. It was very hot and humid evening. People in that bus opened all the windows, but it was very uncomfortable. All realized that it was a blessing that this did not happened during all our previous travels on this trip. But even in such a circumstance, the pilgrims in that bus happily sang dhoons, bhajans and enjoyed the trip.
A Special Dinner:
We arrived at the hotel for our last dinner in the Hyatt Hotel. We had yet another pleasant surprise waiting for us. The dinner consisted of many delicious and popular Kolkata dishes including Kati Rolls, Pani Puri, Chaat, and much more. All of us enjoyed to our hearts’ content.
Thank You and Good Bye:
During the dinner, Krishnan Uncle took the microphone to give a more than well-deserved thank you to Uncle, Aunty, our doctors, and Deba Uncle for making our trip as exciting, educational, and smooth as it was.
As dinner ended, we took a photo of all the students and alumni of Vidyapith.
After that, a bittersweet series of goodbyes were said as we started to leave to our rooms for packing and to rest before our flights the next day.
Many of us had flights at different times, but the Club7 members took care of the airport transportation for all of our pilgrims with love and great care.
Our trip had ended, with new knowledge in our minds, with a refreshed love for India, with Thakur, Sri Ma, Swamiji in our hearts, and with invaluable spiritual progress for our souls.
(The original report was written by Kanchan Railker and Apurva Shah. Thanks to Ronak Parikh for editing this post and Deba Saha for providing some important information and photos.)