When the Swami arrived at Calcutta from Mayavati, on January 24, 1901, it was a great rejoicing to his Gurubhais and disciples there, who were anxious to have him again in their midst for a long period. Before leaving for Mayavati, the Swami had remained at the Belur monastery for eighteen days. This gave him, however, the opportunity to see the remarkable progress made in all directions during his absence in the West. Classes of various kinds were held, physical exercises were introduced, and there were appointed hours for meditation and spiritual exercise. New Brahmacharins had joined the Order, and his own disciples and Gurubhais were strenuously occupied in studying, teaching, training and serving.
Once more with his followers and workers, the Swami’s mind was full of plans, but he had been in the monastery barely seven weeks, when such pressing invitations came from Dacca and East Bengal that they could not be declined. In addition, there was the great desire of his own mother to go on a pilgrimage to the holy places in East Bengal and Assam. Still another reason for going was his declining health. Only those immediately about him knew how rapidly his health was going down. He himself saw that in his present condition, work of any kind requiring great concentration of mind and energy of will was impossible for him. The time he remained in Calcutta, therefore, he spent either at the monastery or at Balaram Babu’s house in Baghbazar in the metropolis, his sole occupation being the private training and teaching of those about him, light reading or replying to correspondents from various quarters of the world.
It was on March 18, that the Swami left Calcutta in company with a large party of his Sannyasin disciples. He arrived at Dacca on the next day. As soon as the steamer from Goalando reached Narayangunj, some resident gentlemen of Dacca, who had come as representatives of the reception committee, welcomed him cordially. When the train reached Dacca, Babu Ishwar Chandra Ghosh, the renowned pleader, and Babu Gagan Chandra Ghosh received him in the name of the people of the city. The railway station was filled with people who greeted him with enthusiastic shouts of “Victory to Ramakrishna Deva!” Many students of the various educational institutions of the city were present. The procession led through the main thoroughfares until it finally reached the mansion of the late Babu Mohini Mohan Das, zemindar, which was arranged for the Swami’s use during his sojourn in Dacca. Here scores of citizens had gathered to get a sight of the Swami.
As the Budhashtami festival, an auspicious day for the Hindus, was near at hand, the Swami went by boat to Langalbandh with his disciples and his mother’s party of women pilgrims, to bathe there in the Brahmaputra river. Tradition has sanctified Langalbandh, as Pauranic legends connect it with Shri Parashurarna. The festival draws large crowds, and from the passenger-boats go forth continuously joyous shouts of praise in honour of the Lord.
Both before and after his pilgrimage, his dwelling-place at Dacca was besieged by numerous visitors. To these he gave instructions at all hours of the day, particularly for two or three hours in the afternoon. More than a hundred persons attended these informal meetings daily. All were impressed by his gracious manner and charming personality, and found his teachings full of a living faith and devotion, and infused with intense vitality and power.
At the earnest request of the people of Dacca, the Swami lectured for an hour at the Jagannath College before two thousand people, taking for his subject, “What Have I Learnt?” The next day he again lectured for about two hours in the open rnaidan, adjoining the Pogose School to an audience of three thousand on “The Religion We Are Bom In”. Both the addresses were received with tremendous applause, and as a result hundreds were led to make a diligent study of his message and his plans for the amelioration of India.
A touching incident happened while the Swami was at Dacca. One day a young prostitute bedecked with jewellery came in a phaeton with her mother to see him. Jatin Babu, the host, and the disciples hesitated to admit them at first; word of their coming was brought to the Swami, and he at once accorded them an interview. After they had saluted him and sat down, the daughter told the Swami that she was suffering from asthma and begged him for some medicine to cure her. The Swami expressed his sympathy and replied, “See here, mother! I too am suffering from asthma and have not been able to cure myself. I wish I could do something for you.” These words spoken with childlike simplicity and loving kindness touched the women as well as the audience.
From Dacca he next proceeded to the famous places of pilgrimage, Chandranath and Kamakhya, sojourning for some days at Goalpara and at the beautiful station of Gauhati in Assam. At Gauhati he delivered three lectures.
Both at Dacca and later at Kamakhya, the Swami’s health went from bad to worse. He decided to go to the delightful hill-station of Shillong, where the air being much drier, it was thought his health might improve. Shillong was then the seat of the Assam Government, and the late Sir H. E. A. Cotton, a champion of the cause of India, was the Chief Commissioner. He had heard much of Swami Vivekananda and was anxious to meet him. At his request, the Swami delivered a lecture before the resident English officials and a large gathering of Indians. Later, Sir Henry Cotton visited the Swami, exchanged greetings and spent some time in an interesting discussion about India and the solution of her national problems. Seeing that the Swami was ill, he instructed the Civil Surgeon to render him every possible medical aid. Throughout the Swami’s long stay, the Chief Commissioner made daily inquiries about his health. The Swami spoke of him as a man who understood India's needs and aspirations and worked nobly for her cause and deserved the love of the Indian people.
The Swami's health was failing rapidly. Besides diabetes from which he had been suffering, he had had at Dacca another very severe attack of asthma. His disciples were very anxious when it was discovered that the climate of Shillong had done him no good. During the asthmatic attack, the Swami said half-dreamily, as if to himself, “What does it matter! I have given them enough for fifteen hundred years!” He felt that he could die in peace now that he had given his message to the world, and that if the Western nations accepted his spiritual ideals and India adopted his plans for her regeneration, there was work ahead of both sufficient for fifteen hundred years.
The Swami returned to the monastery at Calcutta in the second week of May. Of his experience in East Bengal and Assam he spoke much. In religious matters he remarked the people of those parts were very conservative, and even fanatical in some respects. Though his disciples observed the strictest orthodoxy there, he himself when plied with too many questions by a Don't-touchist told him, “Man, I am a Fakir! What is caste or custom to me! Does not the Shastra enjoin, ‘A Sannyasin may live on Madhukari received even from the hands of a person of a Mlechchha family’?”
Speaking of fanaticism he related the story of a sentimental youth of Dacca, who showed the Swami a photograph asking him if the original was an Avatara. “My boy, how can I know?” answered the Swami. But the boy repeated his question three or four times. “At last,” narrated the Swami, “seeing that he desired an affirmative answer, I said, ‘My boy, take my advice; develop your muscles and your brain by eating good food and by healthy exercise, and then you will be able to think for yourself. Without nourishing food your brain seems to be a little weak.’ Perhaps the boy did not like to be told the plain truth. But what else could I do? Unless I warn such people, they may become unbalanced.”
“You may think of your Guru as an Avatara,” continued the Swami, “or whatever you like. But Incarnations of God are few and far between. There have arisen in Dacca itself three or four Avataras, I heard! Indeed, there is a craze for them nowadays, it seems!”
Speaking of the physical aspects of the two halves of the province and of the people, he remarked that the Brahmaputra valley was beyond compare in beauty and that the beauty of the Shillong hills was charming. The people were much hardier and more active in type than those on the Calcutta side. What they did, they did in a dogged fashion. Though they took more of flesh and fish, and for that reason were stronger and more Rajasic than the West Bengal type, they used altogether too much oil and ghee in their cooking, a thing which the Swami did not approve of, because it tended to obesity. He also observed that it was most desirable that the East and the West Bengal should be thoroughly harmonised.1
One of the lay disciples questioned the Swami whether he had visited the home of Nag Mahashaya. The Swami replied most enthusiastically, “Yes, indeed! He was such a great saint! Is it likely that, being so near his birth-place, which is only seven or eight miles from Dacca, I would have failed to visit the house in which he had lived? How charming is his house, just like a peace retreat, a veritable place of pilgrimage! His worthy wife fed me with many excellent dishes cooked by her own hands. She was very motherly and insisted that I must eat to my heart's content. While there I had a swim in the tank, after which I had such a sound sleep that it was half-past-two in the afternoon before I awoke. Such sound sleep I have rarely experienced in my life. On getting up I had a sumptuous feast. Nag Mahashaya's wife gave me a cloth also, which I tied round my head as a turban and started for Dacca. I found that Nag Mahashaya’s photo was being worshipped. The place of his Samadhi, the spot where his ashes are kept, ought to be preserved in a better way than they are now. East Bengal will do well to study and appreciate that great soul, who has sanctified the whole province by his birth, and by living that wonderful life there.”
After his return from the tour in East Bengal and Assam, which was the last public tour undertaken by the Swami, he was much worse in health. The monks were much concerned. They now urged him to have complete rest; they begged him to give up all thought of appearing before the public until he should be perfectly well. So the Swami, to please his Gurubhais and disciples, gave up his plans and lived at the monastery for seven months in comparative retirement. Those about him did all they could to nurse him back to health, to obtain for him the best medical treatment available, and to divert his mind to lighter subjects. But they found that the latter was an exceedingly difficult task, for his mind instinctively merged in the deepest concentration. Casual teaching he was always engaged in, even at this period. He also kept himself in touch with the general movement of his work in various parts of the world and was happy at the thought that everywhere, whether in America, or England or India itself, his ideas were gaining firmer ground. Oftentimes he would sing and teach his disciples to sing; or he would engage in conversation, now on gay and now on serious subjects. But on the latter occasions, his Gurubhais would immediately divert his mind to lighter matters, to relax its tension.
People flocked to the Belur monastery in these days from all parts of India to receive the Swami’s blessings and instructions. His eyes watched all the manifold works of the Math to their minutest details, and even the servants he treated as his own kin. They vied with one another in rendering him even the slightest service. And whenever he went to Calcutta by boat, the rowers were as much interested in his personality as his own disciples. Sometimes he would go about in the monastery, with only a Kaupina on. Or in the long robe of the wandering monk he would stroll, immersed in thought, along the village-paths that led from the monastery gates to the high road. Or again, he would seat himself to meditate wherever he happened to be, by the Ganga, or under the spreading branches of some inviting tree in the monastery compound. Or it might be that he would spend the day in Calcutta, or with books in his own room at the Math. And often he would return to those fiery moods of old and make the monastery throb with his spiritual consciousness.
His more intimate discourses with his Gurubhais and disciples were of a most diverse and complex character. They included such topics as renunciation, Brahmacharya and the making of Real Men for the regeneration of the motherland, the music and literature of India, points of contact and contrast between European and Asian Art, Gurukula system, Nirvikalpa Samadhi, presence of Divinity even in the lowest, eradication of Don't-touchism and God’s mercy. These themes and others similar to these formed generally the topics which were both an instruction and a delight to his listeners. In fact, his discourses included the whole range of Hindu religion, philosophy, sociology, science and numerous other branches of knowledge, on which he dwelt in a masterly way throwing new light on them.
Often the Swami would be lost in song or meditation, dwelling in regions beyond this world. And yet on many days he himself would supervise the cooking arrangements and prepare delicacies for the inmates of the monastery. Now he would be visited by deeper moods brought on by thoughts of India and her problems, and in these moods he would make some casual remark that vibrated with great power. His remarks on even trifling matters would make the monks ponder over them. At all times he was an amazing personality, of which each new manifestation was, to those who loved him, both human and divine. Now he would explain an idea, making opposite sides equally convincing; again he would be the monk, the patriot, the scholar or the saint. And all marvelled at the tremendous insight, partly inherent, partly acquired through the intensest study and observation, which he manifested in spite of his illness. Though his body was giving way to illness, his mind was luminous, and the brother-disciples stood in awe of him in spite of the fact that they still regarded him as their “Naren”. Disease might have ruined the body, but it could never touch the mind or the soul. As is the case with diabetes, he had periods of relief from pain and the sense of great exhaustion,and there were times when he felt as well as ever. At such moments particularly, his Gurubhais and friends implored him to rest. But he heeded their words only temporarily. It would have been much easier to move a mountain than to keep in check that mind which had taught the world. Besides, it was evident that his interest in life was waning. And his words, spoken in former times, came often to the minds of the disciples, “For one thing we may be grateful; this life is not eternal!” Through the very power of his thought he was loosening himself from the trammels of the body, and the time when he would give it up altogether was drawing very close.
He would sit in the upper verandah of the monastery, gazing intently at the turrets of the temple of the Mother, which loomed high above the trees of that grove of many memories at Dakshineswar. Lost in contemplation, his face would be ineffably sad or luminous with ecstasy. To the outside world, he was the famous Vivekananda, the preacher, the teacher and the patriot; to his brother-monks he was the monk, the saint, the leader, the friend, the master, the beloved one, the son of Shri Ramakrishna and the Mother — their all-in-all.
Sometimes after a walk on the lawn of the monastery he would sit under the Vilva tree by which now stands his memorial temple, to rest or to meditate, and on many occasions he would lose consciousness of the outer world. Another favourite seat was under the big mango tree in the courtyard between Shri Ramakrishna’s chapel and the monastery building. Here he would be found mostly in the morning hours seated on a canvas cot, attending to his correspondence, writing articles or books, reading, or engaged in conversation.
The Swami’s room was on the second storey in the southeast corner of the monastery building. It was a large room with four windows and three doors, at one and the same time his study and living quarters. In the corner to the right of the entrance-door stood a mirror some five feet high, and a little further on, a rack with his Gerua clothes. In the middle of the room was an iron bedstead fitted with a spring mattress, given to him by one of his Western disciples. But the Swami hardly used it preferring a simple bed on the floor. A couch, a knee-hole writing-table with letters and manuscripts, pen, ink, paper, a blotting-pad, a call-bell, some flowers in a metal vase, a photograph of the Master, a deer-skin Asana, and a small table with a set of porcelain tea-cups, saucers and plates completed the furnishings of the room. Most of these things were the gifts and presents from his Western disciples, and are now treasured at the Math with great care. But the most important object in the whole room was a picture of Shri Ramakrishna at which the Swami would gaze in love and reverence. In this room he wrote, he gave instructions to his brother-monks and disciples, he received his friends, he sometimes had his meals, he slept, he meditated and communed with God. And here, also, he passed from his mortal form in the final meditation of his life. Now the room is regarded as most sacred; everything in it is kept in the very same order as it was on the last day of his life. The calendar on the wall reads “July 4, 1902”. The writing-table appears as though he had just risen from it to go perhaps to the chapel near by. On the rack still hang his Gerua robes. Only on the walls and upon the couch and the beds the pictures of the Swami have been placed, and a life-size oil-painting of Shri Ramakrishna has also been added in a prominent place on the wall. The room is used for meditation. He who enters it bows down in reverence. And thousands upon thousands have come to visit it, for it speaks of the tenderness, greatness and power of him whose spirit has set their souls aflame.
The Swami loved the monastery and its surroundings. He loved his room. He was always glad to come back to it either from the West, or after his travels in India, or even after a short absence in Calcutta. In a letter dated December 19, 1900, he wrote to an American disciple:
“Verily, I am a bird of passage! Gay and busy Paris, grim old Constantinople, sparkling little Athens and Pyramidal Cairo are left behind, and here I am now, writing in my room in the Math on the Ganga. It is so quiet and still! The broad river is dancing in the bright sunshine, only now and then an occasional cargo boat breaking the silence with the splashing ot the oars. It is the cold season here. . . . Everything is green and gold . . . and the air is cold and crisp and delightful.”
Ay, the Swami loved the monastery and its silence and peace. He loved his brother-monks, his disciples and the many friends and visitors who came to see the Math and to listen to his words. But sometimes he was in a strange mood, demanding solitude, when none dared to approach him, and he would remain alone for hours.
He was always frank and free, ruling not so much by authority as by the vigorous power of his personality and love. He would sing Kirtanas with his brother-monks, or pace the monastery grounds lost in contemplation. On festival days he would join as the Leader in their spiritual exercises, play on musical instruments with them, and sing with them in spiritual joy in his sweet and thrilling voice for hours. He was the Leader in all things, the life-centre of the monastery.
And he would often joke and make fun with his Gurubhais and tease them and make them laugh. At other times he would instruct them or help them in their difficulties, always manifesting the greatest tenderness. Though he might reprimand them, to others he always spoke of them with the greatest regard, for they were the sons of the Master and he was privileged to be the servant of them all. He was the irresistible magnet and they were as so many iron filings drawn towards him, often without understanding why, but always loving him.
He would rouse the monks from sleep in the early hours of the mornings. He himself was always an early riser. He would order them to see that the regulations were strictly observed and followed. Any infringement of the monastery rules would make him indignant. He would make them practise austerities, but he would see that they did not go too far. His love would not allow them to suffer. It was all excitement, activity, spiritual fervour and great training at the monastery.
The garden, the cooking, the care of the cows which the monastery kept, in fact, the very simplest things interested him. And to this day the monks recall how like a boy he would dispute with Swami Brahmananda with regard to the boundaries that separated the pasture-field for the cows from the latter’s vegetable and flower gardens, and the alleged trespassing from one side or the other! Sometimes he would experiment on bread-making, trying all sorts of yeast, undaunted by repeated failures. He attributed the unhealthy climate of the Math to the want of pure water for drinking and cooking purposes, the river water being too dirty, especially during the rains. In order to have a supply of pure water all the year round, he attempted with tire help of his fellow-monks to sink an artesian well, for which he had bought the necessary appliances. At other times, dressed in his Gerua Alkhalla and Sadhu’s cap and carrying a thick stick, he would call a number of his Gurubhais and disciples to go out for a walk with him, and would be as gay as ever at such times.
After coming back from East Bengal the Swami gave up all public work and devoted himself to a number of pets collected from various sources, including Bagha the Math dog, a she-goat which he playfully called “Hansi” or “Swan”, several cows, sheep, ducks, geese, an antelope, a stork, and a kid which he named “Matru” and on the neck of which he placed a string of tiny jingling bells. Wherever he went, the kid accompanied him. And those who came to the Math in great reverence to see the man who had captured the Parliament of Religions and vindicated spirituality to the East and the West, were overcome with a wonderful love for his sweet human personality when they found him playing and running hither and thither to amuse his favourite kid. When it died, he grieved like a child, and told his disciple Sharat Chandra, “How strange! Whomsoever I love dies early!” He himself would see that the animals were properly fed and their places kept clean and dry, and in this Swami Sadananda was his chief helper. These animals loved the Swami exceedingly, and he would talk to them as though they were actually human. And once he said playfully that Matru was really a relation of his in a former existence; the kid had access to his room and used to sleep on a couch there as though it had every right to do so. Sometimes the Swami would go to “Hansi” and beg her for milk for his tea, as though she could refuse or give as she chose. In a letter to an American lady disciple, dated September 7, 1901, he writes referring to his pets:
“The rains have come down now in right earnest and it is a deluge, pouring, pouring, pouring, night and day. The river is rising, flooding the banks ; the ponds and tanks have overflowed. I have just now returned from lending a hand in cutting a deep drain to take off the water from the Math grounds. The rain-water stands at places several feet deep. My huge stork is full of glee and so are the ducks and geese. My tame antelope fled from the Math and gave us some days of anxiety in finding him out. One of my ducks unfortunately died yesterday. She had been gasping for breath more than a week. One of my waggish old monks says, ‘Sir, it is no use living in the Kali Yuga when ducks catch cold from damp and rain and frogs sneeze.' One of the geese was losing her feathers. Knowing no other method of treatment, I left her some minutes in a tub of water mixed with a mild carbolic, so that it might cither kill or heal; and she is all right now.”
In one sense Bagha was the master of the group of animals at the Math; he felt that the monastery was his by right. Once he was taken across the Ganga for some gross misconduct, and left there. But he jumped on the ferry-boat that evening, glaring and growling so savagely at the boatman and the passengers when they tried to dislodge him, that they did not dare dispute his right to remain, and the next morning the Swami, going to his bath-room at about four o'clock as usual, stumbled upon him as he lay at his door. The Swami patted him on the back and assured him of protection. Later he told the monks that whatever Bagha might do, he should never be sent away again. The animal seemed to know that it was to the Swami he must go for forgiveness, and that if he permitted him to stay, he would not be sent away whatever others might say or do.
There are many strange stories current in the Math about Bagha. For instance: As soon as the gongs and conch-shells proclaimed the beginning or the end of an eclipse, he in common with hundreds of devout men and women would take a dip in the Ganga of his own accord! Long after the Swami’s passing away when Bagha died, the body was thrown in a remote part of the Math grounds on the bank of the Ganga, and was carried away by the high tide, only to be washed back there. Whereupon a Brahmacharin asked permission of the elders, which was granted, to inter the body in the Math grounds, and a pile of bricks still marks the spot.
Here in the monastery the Swami was free from the monotony of society, and its tiresome conventionalities. He was free to walk about barefooted or with plain slippers on, Hookah or staff in hand. Here he was free of the coat, vest, trousers and particularly the collar (which had always fretted him) of his Western experience. With a Kaupina or piece of Gerua cloth he could live in a world of his own, in monastic silence and seclusion, his own element.
When the monks sat down to meals, the beloved Leader often joined them, bringing and sharing with them some of the dainties which his rich disciples had sent for him. And there was light-hearted talk at these meals and the Swami was always in the lead. Truly, they were all happy sons of the Master. The austerities they practised, the religious study and meditation in which they passed their days, their conversations, their purity of character — all these were imbued with the Spirit of the Great Illumination of the Man of Dakshineswar, in which their Leader had shared, and the nature of which was Absolute Freedom and Immortal Bliss.
As the days passed and that final event of his life, the Mahasamadhi, drew nearer, the Swami revealed himself more and more as the monk.
His illness was on the increase, and was causing great anxiety. He suffered much from general dropsy. His feet especially were swollen, making it difficult for him to walk. Those who served him say that his body became so sensitive that anything but the slightest touch caused him acute pain. Sleep almost deserted him in the last year of his life. But he was always resigned to the will of the Lord, and in spite of his illness was ever cheerful and ready to receive friends and visitors and talk with them with his characteristic fire and eloquence, though sometimes in a somewhat subdued tone. His disciple Sharat Chandra who came to see him at this time enquired about his health. The Swami softly replied, “Why ask any more about health, my boy? Every day the body is getting more and more out of order. Born in Bengal, never has this body been free from disease. This province is not at all good for the physique. As soon as you begin to work hard, the body, unable to bear the strain, breaks down. The few days more that it lasts, I shall continue to work for you all, and die in harness.”
When urged to take rest for some months he said, “My son, there is no rest for me. That which Shri Ramakrishna called ‘Kali’, took possession of my body and soul three or four days before his passing away. That makes me work and work, and never lets me keep still or look to my personal comfort.” On request he told of that great event of his life in these words:
“Three or four days before the Master’s passing, he called me to his side when alone, and making me sit before him gazed intently into my eyes and entered into Samadhi. I then actually perceived a powerful current of subtle force like electricity entering into me from his body. After a time I too lost all outward consciousness and was merged in Samadhi. How long I was in that state I cannot say. When I came down to the sense-plane, I found the Master crying. On being asked he said with great tenderness, ‘O my Naren! I have now become a Fakir by giving away my all and everything to you! By the force of this Shakti, you will do many great things in this world, and only after that will you go back!’ It seems to me that it is that Power which makes me work and work, whirling me, as it were, into its vortex. This body is not made for sitting idle.”2
Throughout July and August of the year 1901 the Swami took as much rest as he could, and as its result, in September he was somewhat better.
After the establishment of the permanent home of the Order at Belur, the bigoted and orthodox people of the neighbouring villages who were ignorant of their Shastras (scriptures), used to pass biting criticisms about the Swami and the monks for their novel ideas, their liberal ways of living and modes of work, and especially for their non-observance of the restrictions of caste, custom and food. They even invented lies about them and cast malicious aspersions and doubts as to their purity of character. These calumnies were made by them particularly on the boats plying between Calcutta and Bally, when they found passengers going to or coming from the Math. When the Swami heard about them, he merely observed, “You know the old proverb, ‘The elephant goes through the Bazar and hundreds of dogs follow barking after him.” The Sadhu is never affected if the world abuses him.” Or: “It is a law of nature that whensoever new ideas are preached in any country, the adherents of the old rise against them. Every founder of religion has had to pass this test. Without persecution higher ideas cannot enter the core of society.” Hence he regarded opposition and adverse criticism as actual helps to the spreading of his ideas, and he neither defended himself nor allowed any one of his followers or friends to do so. He exhorted them: “Go on doing your work disinterestedly and without attachment; it will surely some time bear fruit.” Or “The doer of good never meets with disaster,” he would say. This criticism of his work gradually died out even before the passing of the Swami, the performance of the Durga Puja in the Math in strict orthodox style contributing a good deal towards that end.
It must be remembered that if the Swami preached liberal ideas in social matters, he was at the same time most orthodox in religious matters. In the latter part of the year 1901, he observed all the religious festivals. Several months before the Durga Puja in 1901 which occurred that year in October, he had secured from his disciple Sharat Chandra a copy of Raghunandan’s ‘Twenty-eight Tattvas’ otherwise called ‘Raghunandan’s Smriti’, which he consulted in order to perform the Durga Puja that year in strict conformity with its injunctions. He did not mention his desire to any one at the Math until ten or twelve days before the festival. About this time one of his Gurubhais dreamt that the ten-armed Mother was coming across the Ganga towards the Math from the direction of Dakshineswar. On the following day the Swami spoke of his intention, whereupon the Gurubhai told him of his dream. This settled the question, and the Swami with Swami Premananda went to Calcutta to ask the permission of the Holy Mother about certain observances in connection with the Puja. The Holy Mother approved and the Swami at once gave orders for an image to be made, and then returned to the Math. The news spread rapidly all over the city and the householder disciples gladly joined with the Sannyasins in making the celebration a success.
On the northern part of the lawn where Shri Ramakrishna’s birthday festival is held, a temporary shed was constructed for the installation and worship of the Mother.
Under the able management of Swami Brahmananda, the Math was furnished with all sorts of Puja requisites and abundant foodstuffs for feasts. The garden-house of Babu Nilambar Mukherjee near by was rented for a month for the accommodation of the Holy Mother who came to live there with several women-devotees the day previous to the Puja, so that she could be present throughout the entire festival.
Iswar Chandra Bhattacharya, father of Swami Ramakrishnananda, a devout Brahmana, well versed in the Tantras and Mantras, became the Tantradharaka, that is, director of the worship of the Goddess in strict accordance with Shastric injunctions.
To feed the poor sumptuously was the chief function in connection with this Puja, and hundreds came throughout the three days of the ceremony and were lavishly served with Prasada. Special invitations were sent to some of the Brahmanas and Pandits of Belur and Dakshineswar to join in the Puja. After this celebration, the orthodox members of the community lost their animosity and were convinced that the monks were truly Hindu Sannyasins.
On the night of the Saptami, the first day of the Puja proper, the Swami had an attack of fever, which prevented him from joining in it the next morning. But on the second day he rose from his bed and slowly came down to attend the Sandhipuja, the most important and solemn function of the whole Puja, and made three offerings of flowers etc. at the feet of the Mother. On the third day, the Navami, he was well, and at night sang a few of those songs to the Mother which Shri Ramakrishna used to sing on such occasions.
On the Vijaya Dashami day, the image was consigned to the Ganga at nightfall, and the Holy Mother who was highly pleased at the way in which the Puja was celebrated, returned to her residence at Baghbazar after blessing the Sannyasins.
The Durga Puja in the image is the national festival of Bengal corresponding to the Christmas of Christian lands. It is the one annual event to which every Hindu looks forward with great joy, as the Mother is believed then to come down from Her icy abode in Mount Kailasa with Her consort Shiva and Her household of Immortals, to live three days with Her mortal children and bestow Her blessings on them. The balmy autumn air, the green fields and meadows with the paddies waving their laden heads, the shining rivers and the bedewed trees — all these seem to all Hindus to herald the coming of the Mother amongst them. Presents are exchanged among friends and relations, boys and girls are given new clothes. Food and clothes are distributed to the poor and to the servants of households, and hundreds of invitations are issued to friends and acquaintances to join in the Puja. The houses in which the Puja is celebrated are decorated; and for many days previous, songs to the Mother are sung in joyous anticipation of Her coming, or in sending out a welcome to Her. And Her beautifully decorated image, represented with one foot on the lion and the other on the shoulder of the demon Mahishasura, in a death struggle with Her, and surrounded by Her celestial sons and daughters — Kartika, the warrior-god, Ganesha, the giver of success, Lakshmi, the goddess of fortune and Saraswati, the goddess of learning — is an actual living Presence to Her devout worshippers. One has to live in a Hindu household where the Puja is celebrated, in order to understand how great is the Hindu’s faith in Her as the destroyer of distress and difficulty. And the Vijaya Dashami day in Bengal is the day of universal rejoicing, of exchange of greetings and salutations, of goodwill and fellow-feeling, when the high and the low, forgetting their differences of social position and caste, and even enemies forgetting their animosities, clasp each other in warm embrace.
That same year the Swami also performed the Lakshmi Puja and the Kali Puja in images, both being celebrated in the monastery in strict accordance with Shastric rites. After the Kali Puja his mother sent him word that when he was a child he was once seriously ill, and that on that occasion she had taken a vow to offer special worship to Mother Kali and literally make him roll on the ground before Her, in case he should recover. She had forgotten all about it all these years, but his recurring illness now recalled to her mind this long-forgotten vow. Though the Swami was ill at that time, he went to the Kalighat temple in order to please his mother. He bathed in the Ganga and in obedience to her wishes came all the way to the temple in his wet clothes and rolled thrice on the ground before the Mother. After offering worship, he walked round the temple seven times; and then, in the open compound on the western side of the Natmandira, he himself performed Homa before the Mother. Returning from Kalgihat, the Swami spoke of the liberal spirit of the temple-priests. Though they knew that he had crossed the seas — an act most unorthodox in their eyes — they raised no objection. “On the other hand,” he said, “they welcomed me warmly into the temple and helped me to worship the Mother in any way I liked.”
The Swami by worshipping images has shown that even this form of worship of the Divine is not wrong. An out and out Advaitin, he, like the great Shankaracharya, had great devotion for these personal aspects of Godhead. As the sun in the evening sky, touched by clouds of various shapes, displays an infinite variety of fascinating colours, so the illumined soul of Vivekananda, like that of his Master, swayed by different religious feelings, revealed to others a wonderful variety of forms of God-vision. But in that variety they saw the play of the One Infinite only — a state of realisation beyond all intellectual understanding.