5.1b THE BRAHMO FESTIVAL IN MANIMOHAN MALLICK’S HOUSE
It was, we clearly remember, the season of Hemanta.1 Delighted with her bath in the rains and putting on the toilette of autumn, Nature, which had been previously scorched by the summer heat, just started feeling the first touch of the cold season and drew her flowing garments a little closer to her tender, cool body. The Hemanta was almost over. We are describing the event of a day of this period. The date of the event we are going to describe here has fortunately been ascertained in the following way. An esteemed friend of ours, a great devotee2 of the Master, was present at the scene of the occurrence on that occasion and marked the day, as was his habit, on the margin of the almanac with a few words mentioning the fact. We have come to know from this that the event took place on Monday, November 26, 1883.
We were then studying in the St. Xavier’s college, Calcutta, and had had the privilege of meeting the Master only twice or thrice. As the college was closed on that day, we3 settled that we should go to the Master in the evening. When we were going by boat to Dakshineswar, we remember, we were told that, like us, another passenger was going to the Master. Talking with him, we came to know that his name was Vaikunthanath Sannyal and that he also had met the Master only recently. We remember also that when a passenger in the boat heard the name of the Master from us and used words of ridicule regarding him, Vaikunthanath’s scornful retort silenced the man. It was about two or half past two in the afternoon when we reached our destination.
As soon as we entered the Master’s room and bowed down at his feet, he said, “Ah, you have come today! We could not have met you, had you come a little later. I am going to Calcutta today; a carriage has been sent for. There is a festival there, a festival of the Brahmos. It is, however, good that we have met. Please sit down. What a disappointment it would have been had you had to return without meeting me!”
We sat on a mat spread on the floor of the room and asked the Master afterwards, “Shall we be admitted where you are going?” The Master said, “Why not? You can freely go there if you like. It is the house of Mani Mallick of Sinduriapati.” Seeing a young man, not very slender, fair and wearing a red cloth, entering the room, the Master said, “Hallo! Please tell them the number of Mani Mallick’s house.” The young man humbly said, “81, Chitpore Road, Sinduriapati.” Seeing the gentle behaviour and the calm nature of the young man, we thought he might be the son of a Brahmin officer of the temple. But when, a couple of months afterwards, we saw him coming out of the university examination hall, we talked with him and found that our impression was totally wrong. We then came to know that his name was Baburam and his home was in the village of Antpur, near Tarakeswar. He was living in a rented house at Combuliatola, Calcutta, and went and stayed with the Master now and then. It is needless to say that he is now well known as Swami Premananda of the Sri Ramakrishna Order.
The carriage arrived in a short time. Asking Baburam to take his towel, clothes, the small bag of spices, etc., and bowing down to the Mother, the Master entered the carriage. Baburam took those things and sat on the other side of the carriage. That day another person also went with the Master to Calcutta. On inquiry we found that his name was Pratapchandra Hazra.
Fortunately a passenger boat was available as soon as the Master had left. We took the boat and alighted at Barabazar in Calcutta. Thinking that the festival would take place at sunset, we waited in the house of a friend. Vaikunthanath, our new acquaintance, went somewhere else on business assuring us that he would meet us at the proper time at the place of the festival.
We found out Mani Babu’s house and it was about four when we reached there. When we inquired about the Master, a man showed us the way to the parlour upstairs. Reaching there, we found that the room was beautifully decorated with leaves and flowers for the festival and a few devotees were talking with one another. On inquiry, we were told that the midday prayer, music, etc., were finished and prayer, Kirtan, etc., would take place again in the evening. The Master had been taken into the inner apartment at the request of the lady devotees.
When we came to know that it would be some time before the prayer would begin, we went out. Afterwards, at dusk we came back to the place. Scarcely had we reached the road in front of the house when sweet music and the loud sounds of Mridanga greeted our ears. Knowing that the Kirtan had begun, we hastened to the parlour. But what we saw there beggars description. There were crowds of people inside and outside the hall. So many people stood before every door and on the western roof that it was absolutely impossible to push through the crowd into the room All were craning their necks and looking into the hall with calm eyes full of devotion. They were not at all conscious as to who was or was not beside them. Knowing that it was impossible to enter the room through the front door, we went round, crossed the western roof and were near a northern door of the parlour. As the crowd here was somewhat thin, we thrust our heads somehow into the room and saw:
A wonderful scene! High waves of heavenly bliss were surging there in strong currents. All were lost altogether in the surge of the Kirtan, and laughed, wept and danced, and unable to control themselves, many were falling now and then violently on the ground. Swirled by emotion they behaved like a troop of lunatics. The Master was dancing in the centre of that God-intoxicated assemblage, now going forward with rapid steps, now going backward in a similar way to the cadence of the music. Wherever he was thus going forward in any direction, the people there, as if enchanted, made room for his free movement. An extraordinary divine light was playing on his smiling face all the while. A wonderful blending of extraordinary tenderness, sweetness and leonine strength was visible in every limb of the Master’s body, That superb dance! In it there was no ostentation, no jumping or hopping; no unnatural gestures of the limbs, no acrobatics; nor was there to be noticed any absence of control. There were in it, the natural posture and the movement of each limb as a gushing overflow of grace, bliss and sweetness surging from within, the like of which may be noticed in a large fish, long confined in a mud puddle, when it is suddenly let loose in a vast sheet of water — swimming in all directions, now slowly, now rapidly, and expressing its joy in diverse ways. It appeared as if the dance was the dynamic bodily expression of the surge of Bliss, the Reality of Brahman, he was experiencing within. Thus dancing, sometimes he lost his normal consciousness, sometimes his cloth would slip, which others would fasten firmly round his waist. Again, sometimes seeing someone losing normal consciousness on account of the infusion of spiritual emotions, he touched his breast and brought him back to consciousness. It seemed that descending on him, a divine bright stream of Bliss was spreading on all sides and enabling true devotees to see God face to face. It enabled those of lukewarm disposition to intensify their fervour, idle minds to go forward with enthusiasm to the realm of spirituality, and those extremely attached to the world to become fully free from that attachment for the time being. The surge of his divine emotion caught others and overpowered them And, illumined by his purity, their minds ascended to an unknown high spiritual level. That Vijaykrishna Goswami, the Acharya of the General Brahmo Samaj, went now and then into a trance and lost consciousness needs no mention; many other Brahmo devotees also were in the same condition. Besides, the sweet-voiced Chiranjiv Sarma, as he was singing to the accompaniment of a one-stringed musical instrument the song, “Dance, O children of the Blissful Mother, round and round”, became absorbed in the idea and lost himself in the Self. When a period of more than two hours was thus spent in enjoying the bliss of Kirtan, the song, “Who has brought down to the world the name of Hari, so sweet?4” was sung and the waves of emotions, produced by that extraordinary Kirtan gradually subsided, and then salutations were made to all the teachers of devotion and religious communities.
When all sat down at the end of the Kirtan, the Master, we remember, requested Acharya Nagendra Nath Chattopadhyaya to sing, “Drink the wine of the name of Hari, the essence of all beings, O my mind, and be inebriated”, and he complied at once. Filled with fervour, he sang it sweetly, repeating it twice or thrice, which again gladdened the hearts of all.
Afterwards the Master began giving various instructions to all present in the course of the exposition of the theme that the Jiva would surely attain supreme Peace, if he could but withdraw his mind from sights, tastes and other worldly objects and offer it to the Lord. The women devotees also, who were sitting in the eastern part of the parlour behind the screen, put various questions to him on spiritual matters and enjoyed the illuminating replies. Thus, while the Master was engaged in solving the problems, he burst into singing a few songs in praise of the divine Mother composed by Ramprasad, Kamalakanta and other devout Sadhakas, to create a deep impression about that subject on the minds of all present. Of all the songs he sang, we distinctly remember the following five:
(a) The black bee of my mind is fully engrossed in sucking the honey of the blue-lotus of Shyama’s feet.
(b) The kite of my mind was flying high in the sky of Shyama’s feet.
(c) All this is the play of the mad woman. (The Mother of the universe).
(d) What is the fault of the poor mind; why do you falsely hold him guilty?
(e) I grieve, O Mother, only because theft was committed in my house while I was wide awake, and Thou Mother, wert keeping watch over me.
While the Master was thus singing the Mother’s name, Vijay went to another room with a few devotees and engaged himself in reading out and explaining to them the Ramayana by Tulsidas. Seeing that the time for the evening prayer was nearing he came back to the parlour to bow down to the Master before he began the prayer. As soon as he saw Vijay, the Master said jokingly, “Vijay feels great delight in Sankirtan nowadays. But I am seized with fear when he dances, for, the whole roof may crash. (All laughed.) Yes, such an event actually took place in our part of the country. People build second storeys of houses there with wood and mud only. A Goswami went to the house of one of his disciples and began singing Kirtan on the first floor. A soon as the atmosphere was created and the Kirtan became quite enjoyable, dancing began. Now, the Goswami was a little fat like you (looking towards Vijay). After he had danced for some time the roof gave way, and the Goswami descended plump to the ground floor! That is why I am afraid that your dancing might produce such an effect.” (All laughed.) Seeing that Vijay had put ochre cloth, the Master now said, “He has nowadays become a great lover of the ochre colour also. People dye in ochre their lower and upper garments only, but Vijay has coloured his cloth, wrapper, shirt, including even the pair of his canvas shoes. That is good; a state comes when one wishes to do so; one does not then like to put on any dress that is not ochre-coloured. Ochre is indeed the mark of renunciation; it, therefore, reminds the aspirant that he has undertaken the vow of renouncing everything for the realization of God.” Vijay now bowed down to the Master and the Master blessed him with a gracious mind, saying, “Peace, perfect peace be on you.”
When the Master was singing the Mother’s name, another event happened, which clearly proved how keen his power of observing outward things was, even though he always remained in a state of inwardness. When he was singing, he happened to look at Baburam’s face and knew that he was feeling very hungry and thirsty. As he knew that he would not take anything before he himself had partaken of it, he had some sweets and a glass of water brought, saying that he wanted to take them. He himself took a particle of the sweets and gave the greater part to Baburam and the rest to the devotees present who took it as Prasada.
Some time after, Vijay bowed down to the Master and came downstairs for the evening prayer, when the Master was taken to the inner apartment for his evening meal. By then it was past nine. In the meantime we came downstairs to join Vijay’s prayer. We saw that the Brahmo devotees had assembled in the courtyard for prayer and Acharya Vijay was seated at the altar in the verandah to the north. The entire congregation, following the Acharya, was singing in chorus the Vedic passage, “Brahman is Truth, Knowledge, Infinity” in remembrance of the glory of Brahman, preliminary to starting the prayer. The prayer now commenced and went on for some time when the Master came to the place and taking his seat along with others, joined the prayer. He sat quiet for about ten or fifteen minutes when he bowed down on the ground. Seeing that it was past ten then, he asked that a carriage should be sent for, as he would return to Dakshineswar. He then put on his shirt, stockings, and cap covering the ears, lest he should catch cold, walked out of the place of the meeting with a slow step accompanied by Baburam and others and got into the carriage. Acharya Vijay was addressing the circle of the Brahmos from the altar at this time and giving the usual instruction to them, when we also left, the meeting and started home.
On that occasion, we learnt how the Master enjoyed bliss in the company of the Brahmo devotees. We do not know whether Mani Babu was a fully initiated Brahmo. But we know perfectly well that all his family, men as well as women, were then followers of the Brahmo religion and offered daily prayers etc., according to the prescribed order of that Samaj. There was a lady of this family who could not concentrate her mind during her prayers — knowing which, the Master asked her affectionately, “Please tell me, whom you happen to remember at that time.” Coming to know that the lady was bringing up her brother’s child and her mind always remembered him during the prayer, the Master advised her to serve that child as the very form of the boy Krishna. Putting this instruction into practice, the lady attained Bhavasamadhi in a short time. We have mentioned this elsewhere.5 We saw the Master on another occasion, enjoying divine bliss in the company of a few Brahmo devotees in another place. This will form the subject matter of the next Section.