2.5 ASSUMPTION OF THE OFFICE OF THE PRIEST
The pleasant looks of the Master, his tender nature, devoutness and youth attracted the notice of Mathur Babu, the son-in-law of Rani Rasmani, a few weeks after the consecration of the temple. It is seen that the attraction of love is suddenly felt in the human heart, at first sight, for those with whom an intimate relationship is to be established for life. The scriptures say that this arises from the impressions of the relationship we had had in previous lives. When we see later the relationship of profound love between the Master and Mathur, we are led to conclude that there arose an indefinable attraction in the mind of Mathur at that time.
The Master lived at Dakshineswar for a month after the temple was consecrated, in a state of inability to ascertain what he should do. In the meantime Mathur resolved to appoint him to dress up the goddess, and discussed the matter with Ramkumar. Ramkumar told him the whole story about the mental condition of his brother, and discouraged Mathur in his effort to carry out his plan. But Mathur was not a man to be easily deterred. Although his offer was thus discouraged, he was seeking an opportunity to carry out his resolve.
Another person intimately connected with the Master’s life came to Dakshineswar at that time. Hridayram Mukhopadhyaya, the son of Hemangini Devi, the Master’s cousin, came to Burdwan at that time in search of employment. He was then sixteen. He was staying with his acquaintances, his fellow-villagers there, but could find no way to the accomplishment of his purpose. When he came to know that his maternal uncles were living in the new temple of Rani Rasmani and were held in great respect, he thought that there was every chance of his purpose being fulfilled if he could go there. So Hriday came to Dakshineswar temple without delay and began to spend his time joyfully there in the company of Sri Ramakrishna, his uncle, of nearly his own age, who was familiar with him from his childhood.
Hriday was tall, handsome and of a manly build. His physique was firm and strong, and his mind extremely active and free from fear. He could undergo hard labour and adapt himself easily to circumstances. When in adverse circumstances, he could surmount them by inventing extraordinary means. Moreover, he truly and tenderly loved his youngest uncle and spared no pains to make him happy even by undergoing endless bodily troubles.
Always active, Hriday had not a bit of contemplativeness in him. Therefore, Hriday’s mind, like those of all worldly people, could never be free from selfish urges. The more we discuss his relationship with the Master since the earliest days, the more shall we see that the little contemplativeness and selfless effort seen in his life, were all due to the constant company of the Master, who was an epitome of contemplativeness and whom he tried to imitate sometimes in this respect. The help of a man of action, courageous, reverential, and averse to free thinking, was very necessary for the success of the contemplative life of one who was indifferent to eating, drinking, and all other bodily efforts, and was ever thoughtful and altogether devoid of selfishness. Was this the reason why the divine Mother bound up a person like Hriday in a profound relationship with the Master at the time of his Sadhana? Who will answer? But it is true that, but for Hriday, it would have been impossible for him to keep body and soul together during that period. Therefore his name remains eternally connected with the life of Sri Ramakrishna; and he deserves our heart-felt devotion, reverence and obeisance for ever.
The Master was twenty years and a few months old when Hriday came to Dakshineswar. We can easily infer that his life now became easy to some extent when he got a companion in Hriday. Whatever he did from now on, bathing, walking, lying, sitting, etc., he did with his help. The doings of Sri Ramakrishna, who was always of the nature of a boy, appeared purposeless to the eyes of ordinary people; but Hriday, far from protesting against them, approved them heartily and sympathized with them; this endeared him much to the Master.
Hriday himself said to us: “Many a time I felt an indescribable attraction towards the Master since then and always remained with him like his shadow. Even a minute’s separation from him was painful to me. I bathed with him, walked with him, sat with him and lay down with him. We had to part for some time only at the time of taking our midday meals, for the Master took from the temple stores uncooked provisions which he cooked with his own hands. He took his food under the Panchavati and I had Prasada in the temple. But I made all preparations for his cooking before I parted. His principle regarding food was so strict then that he felt no peace of mind although he took food cooked by himself. He cooked his midday meal of rice etc., himself, but like us, he took the Luchi offered at night to the Mother of the universe. I noticed on many occasions that his eyes became filled with tears when he took Luchi and heard him say sorrowfully to the divine Mother, ‘Mother! Thou hast made me take food from a Kaivarta.’”
The Master himself also sometimes spoke to us about the events of that time: “I felt extremely afflicted to think that I should have to take food from a Kaivarta. Even many of the poor indigent people did not come to the Kali temple of Rasmani to take their food, for that reason. As many people could not be procured to take the cooked food offered to the deity, cows were fed with it and the rest had to be thrown into the river.” But we heard both from him and Hriday that he had not to take food cooked by himself for long. Our impression is that he did so till he took charge as a priest of the Kali temple, which he did in two or three months after the consecration of the temple.
Hriday knew that the Master loved him dearly. There was one thing only regarding him which Hriday could by no means understand. It was this: when he went to assist his elder uncle Ramkumar or for a little rest after his midday meal or to witness the evening service in the temple, the Master eluded him and disappeared for sometime, he did not know where. He could not find him out in spite of a great deal of searching. Asked about it on his return after about a couple of hours, he did not give a clear reply but said, “I was just near about this place.” At such times on some days, when Hriday went in search of him and found him returning from the direction of the Panchavati, he thought that he had gone there perhaps to answer calls of nature and did not ask him anything.
This is what Hriday said. Once at that time the Master had a mind to make an image of Siva and worship Him in it. We have already said that sometimes he did this in his childhood at Kamarpukur. As soon as there arose that desire in his mind he took some earth from the bed of the river, made with his own hands an image of Siva, together with the bull, the tabor and trident, and began to worship Him in the image. Mathur happened to come there in the course of a stroll, and eager to learn which god the Master was worshipping intently, approached and saw that image. Though not big, the image was beautiful. Mathur was delighted to see it. No sooner had he seen it than he felt that images so expressive of divine nature were not available in the market. He then asked Hriday out of curiosity, “Where have you got this image from? Who has made it?” He was astonished to know from Hriday that the Master knew how to make images of deities and to set broken parts of images. He requested that the image might be given him after the worship. Hriday agreed and, with the permission of the Master, took the image when the worship was over and gave it to Mathur. When Mathur got the image, he looked at it very minutely and, being charmed with it, sent it on to the Rani to have a look at it. The Rani too highly praised the maker and expressed surprise like Mathur when she knew that the Master had made it.1 A short time previously Mathur had a desire to appoint the Master to do the temple duties. That desire became stronger now when he became acquainted with this new accomplishment of the Master. The Master had already heard from his brother of that intention of Mathur, but did not give ear to it as there was firmly fixed in his mind from childhood the idea that he “would not serve anyone but God”.
We heard the Master express on many occasions that opinion about taking service. The Master did not hold in high regard anybody who served another without being hard pressed by need. Once, when he knew that one2 of his boy devotees took service, he felt much pained; and was heard to say, “I feel more pained to hear that he has taken service than if I had heard of his death.” When the Master met him later and knew that he had taken service for the maintenance of his helpless old mother, he said, passing his hand affectionately over his head and body, “There is no harm in that; you are not to blame when you have taken service for that purpose; but had you done so prompted by selfishness and needlessly, not for the sake of your mother, I could not have touched you any more. So I say, my Niranjan has not the slightest ‘anjan’ (stain) in him; why should he be so low?”
All the new-comers were surprised to hear those words of the Master to Nitya-niranjan, for that was his full name, and one was cheeky enough to say, “Sir, you condemn service; but how can we maintain our families without taking to it?” The Master replied, “Let him take service who likes it; I don’t forbid all to do that. I say this only to them (pointing to Niranjan and the other boy devotees).
Their case is different.” The Master was fashioning the lives of his boy devotees in a different manner; and he, it goes without saying, gave such advice, because taking service was not consistent with the requisite spiritual attitude.
When the Master knew of the intention of Mathur Babu from his brother, he tried to remain as far as possible out of his sight and avoid him, for just as he was no respecter of persons in his observance of truth and religion with his body, mind, and speech, so he always felt unwilling to pain anyone by displaying his disregard, if there were no strong reason for it. Again, it was in the Master’s nature to esteem the merits of a person of good qualities and honour a respectable man in a simple natural way, without any expectation of favours. If Mathur requested him persistently to accept the office of the priest in the temple, before he had himself arrived at a conclusion about it, he would have to refuse it and thus pain him. We clearly see that this apprehension was at the root of this action of the Master. Besides, he was then a young man of no importance and Mathur, the Rani’s right-hand man, was a very important person. Under the circumstances it would not look well and would be regarded as boyish wantonness on his part to refuse Mathur’s offer. But the more the time passed, the more pleasant did it seem to him to live at the Dakshineswar Kali temple. This mood of his was not concealed from himself, possessed as he was of inward insight. From a series of events that took place during this time, it is clear to us that he had no objection now to live at Dakshineswar, if he were allowed to live there without accepting the responsibility of any weighty duty and that his mind was not anxious now to return to his birth-place, Kamarpukur.
What the Master apprehended came to pass one day. Mathur Babu came to the temple to pay his obeisance, saw the Master at a distance and sent for him. The Master was walking with Hriday and, seeing Mathur at a distance, was moving away from there, when Mathur’s servant came and said to him, “Babu wants you.” Hriday saw the Master reluctant to go to Mathur and asked him the reason. He said, “As soon as I go there, he will ask me to remain here and take service.” Hriday said, “What is the harm in that? It is only good to be appointed to work under a great man in such a place. Why are you then reluctant?” The Master replied, “I have no mind to be tied down to service for life. Besides, if I agree to perform the worship here, I must be responsible for the ornaments on the person of the goddess; that is a difficult task; it will not be possible for me; but if you take that responsibility and stay here, I have no objection to perform the worship.”
It was really in search of employment that Hriday had come there. Therefore he gladly agreed to what the Master said. The Master then went to Mathur and, requested by him to take service in the temple, expressed his conditional assent. Mathur agreed. He appointed the Master to dress the image in the Kali temple from that day and asked Hriday to assist him and Ramkumar. Ramkumar became free from anxiety to a great extent to see his brother agreeing to do that duty at the request of Mathur.
All the events mentioned before came to pass within three months after the temple was consecrated. It was the end of A.D. 1855. The ceremonies in connection with “The Eighth Lunar Day”, the birthday of Sri Krishna, had been properly performed without let or hindrance in the temple the day before. That was the day of the Nanda festival. The special midday-worship of, and the offering of food etc. to, Radha-Govinda were over. The priest, Kshetranath took Radharani to another room and put Her to bed there. He came back and, while taking Govinda, fell down, when one leg of the image broke. There arose a great commotion in the temple over that event. Opinions of various Pandits were taken, before the broken leg of the image was set and the worship of the image was continued3 according to the Master’s advice. Having seen the Master sometimes enter into ecstasy, Mathur became eager to seek his advice regarding the substitution of the broken image. Hriday stated that the Master was in an ecstatic mood before advising Mathur and said at the end of the ecstasy that substitution was not necessary. It was not unknown to Mathur that the Master could beautifully set broken parts of images. He, therefore, had to set the leg of the image now at Mathur’s request. He did it so well that even now it cannot be known that the image ever got broken, even if one examines it very minutely.
After the image was broken, many people said many things about the fruitless worship of an image destitute of a limb; but Rani Rasmani and Mathur Babu had firm faith in the reasonable advice of the Master and did not give ear to those talks. Anyhow, the priest Kshetranath was dismissed from service for carelessness and the Master was placed in charge of the worship of Radha-Govinda since then. Hriday assisted Ramkumar in dressing the image of the Mother Kali at the time of Her worship.
Hriday mentioned to us another fact about the broken image on another occasion. There is the Ghat belonging to Ratan Roy; the well-known landlord of Naral, near Kutighat at Baranagar, a few miles north of Calcutta. There is a temple near that Ghat. The images of the ten Mahavidyas are installed there. Formerly there had been good arrangement for worship, offerings, etc., in that temple, but at the time we are speaking of, it was in a decaying condition. Some time after, when Mathur had come to have much devotion to, and reverence for, the Master, they both once went to see the temple. Finding the temple in straitened circumstances, the Master asked Mathur to make an arrangement for a monthly supply of two maunds of rice and a sum of two rupees, to which he readily agreed. One day, while returning after paying one of his occasional visits to the temple, the Master saw Jayanarayan Bandyopadhyaya, the well-known landlord of the place, standing with many people in the Ghat consecrated by himself. As he was known to Jayanarayan, he went to meet him. Jayanarayan saluted and welcomed him respectfully and introduced him to his companions. In the course of the conversation he raised the topic of the Kali temple of Rani-Rasmani and asked the Master, “Sir, is Govinda of that temple broken?” The Master said to him, “Ah, what a fine understanding! Can One, who is an indivisible whole, be broken?” Finding the possibility of various vain topics being raised on the question put by Jayanarayan the Master then changed the course of the talk. Introducing another topic, he advised him to give up unessential parts of everything and accept the essentials only. The intelligent Jayanarayan also took the hint from the Master and refrained from putting such vain questions.
We have heard from Hriday that the worship by the Master was an act worth witnessing. Whosoever saw it became charmed. Oh, the songs sung by the Master in his sweet voice with his heart swelling with emotions! Whoever heard those songs could never forget them. There was in them nothing of the artificiality of the so-called masters of high class music. Their only merits were the complete identification of himself with the emotion of the songs, an accurate expression of the same in a sweet voice touching the heart, and the correctness of time and cadence. Whoever heard his songs became convinced that emotion was the very life of music. Again, it was very clear to any one who heard the songs sung by the Master and compared them with those sung by others, that the emotion conveyed by songs was thwarted in the case of others, because time and cadence were not accurate. Whenever Rani Rasmani came to Dakshineswar, she sent for him and listened to his songs. She was particularly fond of the following song:
“What is Thy consideration, O Mother, that Thou standest with Thy foot on Hara’s bosom? Thou hast reached out Thy tongue of Thine own accord, as if Thou wert a very simple girl. I have understood it, O Saviour; is it Thy hereditary trait? Did Thy mother stand on Thy father’s bosom like this?”
There was another reason why the Master’s songs were so sweet. He became so much absorbed in the emotion of the song at the time of singing it that he forgot altogether that he was singing it to please anyone. We have not seen in our life anyone else singing a song and becoming so absorbed in the emotion as to lose himself completely like the Master. Even devotional singers expect a little at least of praise from their hearers. But it was in the case of the Master alone we saw that whenever anyone praised his songs, he actually felt that the praise was due to the emotion of the song and not at all to himself.
Hriday used to say that while singing, the Master let fall copious tears. He became so much absorbed in worship that he could not know at all if anyone came or spoke near him The Master said that at the time of performing Anganyasa, Karanyasa,4 etc., he actually saw the letters of the Mantras in bright colours set in his body. He actually saw the Coiled Power going up in the form of a snake through the Sushumna to the Sahasrara.5 He felt that the parts of his body left behind by that power, at once became still and insensitive and dead to all appearance. Again, when according to the prescribed method of worship, he uttered the Mantra “Rang”,6 sprinkled water all round himself and imagined a wall of fire existing around the place of worship, he actually saw an impassable wall of fire with hundreds of tongues spread out, protecting the place of worship from all obstacles. Hriday said that other Brahmins, seeing his mind quite absorbed and body shining all over with a resplendent lustre, said to one another, “It is as if Vishnu Himself has assumed a human body and has sat down to worship.”
Ramkumar, the devotee of the goddess, became, to a great extent, free from anxiety about the maintenance of his relatives after he came to Dakshineswar. But he felt from time to time perturbed over another matter, for he noticed in his young brother a fondness for solitude and a queer mood of indifference to worldly affairs. He found in him a complete lack of interest in everything. Ramkumar at first thought that the boy was perhaps anxious to return to his mother at Kamarpukur and was always thinking of her. He saw the boy sitting quiet under the Panchavati or taking strolls on the bank of the Ganga away from the temple at all times, morning and evening. Or he saw him spending long hours in the jungle that existed all round the Panchavati in those days and then coming out of it. Time passed but the boy expressed no desire to return home. Ramkumar sometimes asked him about it and knew that he felt no such desire. He thereupon gave up the idea of sending him home. He thought, “I am advanced in age and am daily becoming infirm. Who knows when my lease of life will come to an end?” Under the circumstances time should not, he thought, be wasted any more. Before he passed away, it was his absolute duty to bring up the boy so that he might be able to stand on his own legs, earn a decent living and manage his worldly affairs. Therefore, Ramkumar was much pleased, when Mathur consulted him about appointing the boy to do the duties of the temple. He became free from anxiety to a great extent when, after a lapse of time, at the request of Mathur the boy accepted at first the duty of dressing up the image and afterwards that of officiating as priest, and performed those duties with ability. He now began teaching him the complete reading of the Chandi and the mode of worship of the Mother. He thought that this would make his brother an adept in conducting worship, and there would be no difficulty in the worship and service of the divine Mother if he could not on any occasion perform them. The Master soon learnt them and, knowing that it is not proper to worship the goddess without being initiated in her Mantra, he resolved to be initiated in it.
A proficient Sadhaka of Sakti named Kenaram Bhattacharya used, then, to live at Baithakkhana bazaar in Calcutta. He used to frequent the temple of Rani Rasmani at Dakshineswar, and it seems, he was acquainted with Mathur and all other members of the Rani’s family. We were told by Hriday that those who knew him paid him great respect as a devout Sadhaka. He had been acquainted with the Master’s brother Ramkumar for some time past. The Master resolved to be initiated by him. We are told that as soon as he was initiated, the Master entered into ecstasy. Kenaram became charmed to see his uncommon devotion and blessed him heartily so that he might realize his chosen Ideal.
Ramkumar himself generally performed the service of Radha-Govinda at that time and employed the Master to worship the Mother Kali, either because he became unable to do so at times or because he wanted to let the Master get accustomed to the conduct of the worship. Mathur came to know of it in a short time and, with the permission of the Rani, requested Ramkumar permanently to perform the worship in the Vishnu temple thenceforward. So, the Master was now appointed to the office of the priest, and Hriday to dress the image, in the Kali temple. The reason why the arrangement of the worship was changed seems to be that Mathur thought that Ramkumar had become old and infirm and it was beyond his power to carry on the more difficult duties of the Kali temple. Ramkumar was glad to see that arrangement made and standing beside his brother in the Kali temple taught him how to perform properly that worship and service. He thus became free from anxiety. Shortly afterwards, he spoke to Mathur and had Hriday appointed to worship Radha-Govinda. He was now preparing to go home on leave for some time. But Ramkumar was never to go home again. He went on some business to a place called Syamnagar Mulajor, to the north of Calcutta, for a few days and suddenly died there. Ramkumar lived and worshipped the divine Mother for one year only after the temple of Rani Rasmani was consecrated; so, probably he passed away in the middle of A.D. 1856.