5.12a THE MASTER’S STAY AT SHYAMPUKUR
The house now hired for the Master extended lengthwise from east to west and was situated on the north side of the Shyampukur street. As soon as one entered the house one saw, on one’s left and right, a pavement and a narrow open verandah to sit in. Going a few steps forward, one found on one’s right a flight of steps leading to the first floor, and in front the courtyard with two or three small rooms on its eastern side. Going upstairs by the staircase, one saw on one’s right a long room extending north and south, meant for visitors to sit in and, on the left, the corridor leading to the rooms extending east and west. This corridor led first of all to the door of the hall called the parlour. This was the room where the Master lived. To its north and south there were two verandahs, the northern one being broader and, to its west, were two small rooms, in one of which some of the devotees slept at night, while the other was given to the Holy Mother to live in at night. Besides, there was a narrow verandah to the west of the room intended for all to sit in; the steps leading to the roof were situated to the east of the corridor to the Master’s room and there was a covered terrace about four cubits long and equally broad near the door leading to the roof. The Holy Mother spent the whole day on that terrace and cooked there the necessary diet for the Master. The Master came from Balaram’s to this house some time in the second half of Bhadra, the beginning of the month of September, A.D. 1885, and spent there a little more than three months, and moved to the garden house at Kasipur a day or two before the month of Agrahayan came to an end.
In accordance with their previous decision, the devotees called in Dr. Mahendralal Sarkar for the treatment of the Master, a few days after he had come to the Shyampukur house. During the lifetime of Mathur Babu, the doctor had come a few times to Dakshineswar for the treatment of Mathur’s family and was not altogether unknown to the Master. But that was long ago; it was, therefore, possible for the famous doctor to have forgotten it and so the devotees called him without telling him the name of the patient whom he was going to visit. But he recognized the Master as soon as he saw him and, examining him and diagnosing the disease with great care, prescribed medicine and diet. Afterwards he spent a little time in religious conversation with him and in talks about the Kali temple at Dakshineswar, before he bade good-bye to him that day. On that occasion the doctor, so far as we remember, asked the devotees to inform him every morning about the Master’s physical condition. He accepted his usual fee at the time of his leaving when the devotees offered it to him But coming on the morrow to visit the Master, he came to know in the course of conversation that the devotees had brought him to Calcutta and were meeting all expenses; he was pleased to see their devotion to their Guru and declined to accept his fee anymore. He said, “I’ll treat him without taking any fee and help you in your good action according to my capacity.”
The devotees could not be free from anxiety in spite of having the assistance of a highly experienced physician. They were convinced in a few days that persons should be appointed to serve the Master day and night whenever necessary, and to prepare his diet carefully. Knowing that neither of those two wants could be removed merely by spending money, the devotees decided to bring the Holy Mother from Dakshineswar to remove the second want and take the help of the boy-devotees to remove the first. But great obstacles lay ahead. For, they were at a loss to understand how the Holy Mother could live there alone, as there was no inner apartment for the ladies in the house. Again, the guardians of the boy-devotees would be highly displeased if they were to come there daily and pass nights without sleep.
Many of the devotees were in great doubt about the Holy Mother’s coming there; they were rather justified in their doubt, for did they not know of her exceptional shyness and modesty? Although she was staying in the Nahavat in the north of the garden at Dakshineswar and had engaged herself daily in the service of the Master, no one else, except two or three boy-devotees whom the Master himself introduced to her, ever saw her holy feet or heard her voice during that long period. Although she lived the whole day in that small room and prepared varieties of food twice daily for the Master and the devotees, no one could know that anyone was engaged in doing those duties there. She left her bed every day a little after three in the morning, long before anyone else rose from sleep, and having performed the personal duties of the morning including ablutions in the Ganga; she entered that room and never came out during the whole day. Calmly and silently she finished all her work with wonderful quickness and engaged herself in worship, Japa and meditation. On one occasion during a dark night, while she was going down the steps of the Ghat under the Vakul tree in front of the Nahavat, she almost trod on a crocodile which was lying on a step but at the sound of her footsteps jumped into the water. She never again went to the Ghat without taking a light with her.
Not one of the devotees could imagine how the Holy Mother, who had been living in that small Nahavat room for so long a time, remaining unseen by anyone could give up all bashfulness, live the whole day in the midst of menfolk in that house. Finding no alternative, they were compelled to talk to the Master on that matter. The Master reminded them of her nature as described above and said, “Will she be able to stay here? However, ask her and see whether, knowing all the circumstances, she likes to come here; if she does, let her come.” A messenger was sent to the Holy Mother at Dakshineswar.
No one, the Master said, could attain peace or reach his desired goal, if he could not adjust himself to changed circumstances, to the changes of time, place and person; or who failed to act up to the principle, as the Master himself put it: “As the man so the treatment, as the time so the movement, as the place so the action.” Although she always kept herself surrounded by the impregnable screen of bashfulness and modesty, the supremely revered Holy Mother had that instruction from the Master and learnt to regulate her life accordingly. The reader will be able to understand clearly, from the description of her first visit1 to Dakshineswar and from the event mentioned below, how easily and naturally she could, whenever necessity arose, free herself from all habits and past impressions and behave correctly without the least fear or hesitancy.
In those days the Holy Mother had many a time to come on foot for want of money and cheap conveyance, from Jayramvati and Kamarpukur to Dakshineswar. The wayfarers who undertook journeys that way had to proceed to Jahanabad (Arambag) and by crossing the ten-mile-long field of Telo-Bhelo come to Tarakeswar and thence, traversing similarly the field of Kaikola reach Vaidyavati, where they crossed the Ganga. At that time there were ambuscades of dacoits in those two vast fields. It is said even now, that many wayfarers lose their lives at their hands in the morning, at midday, and at dusk. Even today one meets with a very terrible image of Kali having a mouth with large projecting teeth, in the middle of the field about two miles from the two small villages of Telo and Bhelo, situated almost side by side. She is known amongst the local people as the “Kali of the dacoits” of Telo-Bhelo. The dacoits, it is said, worshipped Her and proceeded to kill human beings and commit other cruel deeds! The travellers did not venture in those days to cross the two fields except in groups, thus protecting themselves from the hands of the dacoits.
Once the Holy Mother was coming on foot from Kamarpukur to Dakshineswar with the daughter and the younger son of Rameswar, the Master’s eldest brother, and some other men and women. They reached Arambag and, thinking that there was yet sufficient time to cross the field of Telo-Bhelo before dusk, her companions expressed their unwillingness to stay and spend the night there. Although very tired on account of the journey, she did not tell anybody of it and proceeded with them. But scarcely had they walked four miles before she felt herself unable to keep pace with her companions and was lagging behind. They waited a little for her, asked her to walk faster when she came up to them, and moved on again. When they came to the middle of the field, they found that she again lagged far behind the others. They waited there once more for her and said when she came up, “The field cannot be crossed even within a quarter of the night at this pace and all will have to fall into the hands of dacoits.” Feeling that she had become the cause of inconvenience and apprehension to so many people, the Holy Mother forbade them to wait for her on the way saying, “Go direct all of you to the next stage at Tarakeswar and rest there; I’ll try to meet you as soon as possible.” Seeing that it was sundown and relying on those words of hers, her companions walked away faster and were soon out of sight.
The Holy Mother then began to walk as quickly as she could. But, on account of extreme physical exhaustion, her pace slackened and hardly had she reached the middle of the dreary tract when darkness fell on earth. Extremely anxious, she was thinking of what she should do, when she saw a tall, jet-black man with a staff on his shoulder coming forward with a rapid step towards her. It appeared that another person, seemingly a companion of his, was coming a little behind him. Seeing that fleeing or crying was in vain, the Holy Mother stood still and was awaiting their coming with an apprehensive heart.
The man came up to her in a few moments and asked her in a harsh tone, “Who are you standing here at such a time?” With a view to pleasing him, the Holy Mother called him father and surrendered herself to him saying, “Father, my companions have left me behind and it seems I have lost my way too. Will you kindly accompany me to the place where they are? Your son-in-law lives at Rani Rasmani’s Kali temple at Dakshineswar. I am on my way there. He will be very pleased if you will kindly take me up to that place.” Scarcely had those words been spoken when the other person came up, who, the Holy Mother saw, was not a man, but a woman, the wife of the man. She became highly reassured to see that woman and, catching hold of her hand and addressing her as mother, said, “Mother, I am your daughter Sarada, left behind by my companions; I was in great danger. You and father have fortunately happened to come! I don’t know what I would otherwise have done.”
The hearts of the Bagdi2 robber and his wife melted on account of the absolute reliance, the sweet words and the unhesitating, simple-hearted behaviour of the Holy Mother. They forgot the social barrier and the caste they belonged to, and actually looking upon her as their daughter solaced and comforted her. Afterwards, considering her physical fatigue, they took her to a small shop in the neighbouring village of Telo-Bhelo and arranged about her stay there for the night instead of allowing her to proceed on her way. The woman spread her own cloth etc., and prepared a bed for the Holy Mother and the man brought puffed rice and sweetened parched rice and gave them to her to eat. Thus with the care and love of parents they asked her to sleep, themselves guarding her for the whole night. They woke her in the morning and reached Tarakeswar with her in about an hour after sunrise and, taking shelter in a shop, asked her to rest. Then the woman addressed her husband and said, “My daughter had nothing to eat last night. Go and offer worship to Father Tarakeswar Siva, and bring fish and vegetables from the market; she must be fed well today.”
When the man went to do all those things, the companions of the Holy Mother came there in search of her and felt joy to find that she had reached the place safely. The Holy Mother then introduced to them her father and mother who had given her shelter at night saying, “I cannot say what I would have done last night if they had not come and saved me.” Afterwards, finishing worship and cooking and taking food, they rested a little at that place. When they were all ready to start for Vaidyavati, the Holy Mother expressed her infinite gratefulness to the man and the woman and begged for their permission to take leave of them The Holy Mother says, “We became so much attached to one another in that one night that I was highly moved and shed incessant tears at the time of taking leave of them. At last I requested them to come to see me at Dakshineswar at their convenience and only when they promised to do so could I come away from them with great difficulty. When we left, they came with us a great distance and the woman wept bitterly, plucked some peas from the neighbouring field, and tied them at the end of my cloth, saying plaintively, ‘Sarada, my child, please take these with the parched rice you will eat at night.’ They kept the promise they made to me. They came to Dakshineswar a few times with some sweets. He (the Master) also heard everything from me and pleased them by receiving them lovingly and behaving towards them like a son-in-law on those occasions. Although he is simple-hearted and has a good character now, it seems to me that my ‘dacoit father’ must have committed dacoity several times before.”
As soon as she heard that the Master’s disease might increase if he was not provided with diet prepared in strict accordance with the injunctions of the doctor, the Holy Mother came to the Shyampukur house without the least hesitation and gladly took charge of preparing the diet without at all minding her own inconvenience in staying there. One is surprised to think how she underwent all kinds of physical inconvenience and did her duty staying in a house of one apartment only, for three months among unknown men. Although there was only one place for all to take bath in etc., no one knew when she finished all these things in the morning and went up to the terrace near the steps leading to the roof of the second floor before 3 a.m. She spent the whole day there, prepared diet etc., for the Master at proper time and then sent word downstairs through Swami Adbhutananda or the old Swami Advaitananda. At that time people were asked to move away and she brought the diet downstairs and fed the Master, or we ourselves brought it down, according to convenience. At midday she took her food and rested there. At 11 p.m, when all were asleep, she came down from that place and slept till two in the morning in the room on the first floor allotted to her. Fortifying her heart with the hope of freeing the Master from the disease, she spent day after day in that way. She stayed there so silently and unobservedly that even many of those who visited the house every day could not know that she lived there and took upon herself the hardest and most important work in the service of the Master.
When the problem of preparing the diet was thus solved, the devotees applied their minds to the removal of the other want, namely, that of rendering personal service to the Master at night. Narendra himself took charge of it and began staying there at night and encouraging by his own example Gopal (junior), Kali, Sasi and a few other smart young men, attracted them to that work. All of them were firmly determined to live the life of the highest ideal, namely, to live for the realization of God, and inspired by the blazing renunciation of the Master and his holy words and company, and out of their love and regard for him, they resolved to dedicate themselves to his service. Their guardians did not object to their coming to the Shyampukur house and serving the Master till they understood their ultimate purpose. But, as the Master’s illness increased, they altogether stopped going to college and studying and even going to their own houses to take food. The guardians then became suspicious, and their suspicion yielded place to alarm and they started adopting various means, proper and improper, to dissuade the young men from their devoted service. The boy-devotees, it is superfluous to say, could not have remained firm and unmoved but for Narendranath’s example, inspiration and encouragement. Although only four or five persons dedicated their lives and commenced the vow of service at Shyampukur house, the number of those who undertook the vow multiplied almost four times by the time of its completion in the Kasipur garden.