11. PILGRIMAGES

In November 1888, Holy Mother went to Puri in a party including Yogin-Ma and Swamis Brahmananda, Yogananda and Saradananda. As a mark of honour and respect to her, Govinda Shringeri, the priest of Balaram Bose's family at Puri, wanted to take her to the Jagannath temple in a palanquin. But the proposal did not appeal to her at all. She preferred to go on foot as a humble devotee to see Jagannath, the Lord of the Universe. She stayed for more than two months in Puri visiting the temple often in the mornings and evenings and spending much time in meditation in the shrine of Lakshmi. As Sri Ramakrishna had not visited Puri during his lifetime, she once took a photograph of the Master to the temple and showed the image of Jagannath to it. The Master was such a living reality to her.

In March 1890, she went to Gaya with Swami Advaitananda, a disciple of the Master. She visited Bodh Gaya, the place where Buddha had enlightenment. At Bodh Gaya there was a Hindu monastery. Seeing the perfect living arrangements in the institution, she prayed to the Master that her children, i.e. the monastic disciples of Sri Rama-krishna, instead of wandering about from place to place as they were then doing, might find a permanent place of shelter and that they might not have to struggle so hard to meet their bare physical requirements. She used to say that through the grace of the Master the monastery at Belur was established soon afterward. In 1895 she visited Varanasi and Vrindavan for the second time, accompanied by her mother and brothers. And in 1904 she revisited Puri—this time with Swami Premananda, some devotees of the Master and some of her relations.

In the year 1910 she went on a pilgrimage to South India. On the way she stopped for two months at Kothar, in Orissa, at the home of Balaram Bose. At Kothar, Devendra Nath Chatter-jee, the local postmaster, who had accepted Christianity, came repentant to the Holy Mother. The Holy Mother always knew how to rise equal to the occasion. She advised him to get reconverted to Hinduism, which he did. Afterwards she directed one of her monastic followers to give him the sacred thread and the Gayatri Mantra, and she herself gave him spiritual initiation.

The following February in a party of eight she started for Madras. Swami Ramakrishnananda, the head of the Ramakrishna Math at Madras, made all arrangements for her continuing pilgrimage in the South. She stayed for a month in the city of Madras. Innumerable women devotees would flock to her every day, and though she could not talk to them in their own language, they felt the touch of her affection and the favour of her blessings nonetheless. From Madras she started for Madura, Swami Ramakrishnananda himself conducting the party. After visiting the Minakshi temple and other notable places, they visited Rameshwaram where they stayed for three days. By special order of the Raja of Ramnad she was given facilities for worship which no other pilgrim was privileged to have. The Raja of Ramnad did all in his power to show her the highest respect and honour.

From Rameshwaram the party went to Bangalore, where a branch of the Ramakrishna Math had already been established. Holy Mother's presence at Bangalore created a great stir, and even without any public announcement a large number of people would visit the Ashrama every day to have her darshan and blessings. The visitors showered so many flowers at her feet that they often lay in heaps. All these tributes she took as due to the influence of the Master, which had by that time spread far and wide and it made her very happy.

She returned to Calcutta in April 1911, halting for a day at Rajahmundry to have a bath in the Godavari and for two days at Puri again to have the darshan of Jagannath.

The last pilgrimage she undertook was in 1912, when she visited Varanasi for the third time in a large party consisting of some senior monks, devotees, and a few of her relations. On this occasion she stayed at Varanasi for about two and a half months and so could visit at leisure all the important temples and sacred places around the city. During her stay at Varanasi she met the well-known saint Chameli Puri. She was so much impressed by the spiritual power and withal the childlike appearance of this holy man that she remarked she felt no inclination to go to see any other saint. As a mark of reverence she sent him some fruits, sweets and a blanket.

One day she went to Sarnath, the place where Buddha preached his first sermon, and which is, as such, a sacred place of pilgrimage to the Buddhists. Here she saw many Westerners admiring with interest the ruins of the ancient city. She remarked that the very people who once built those buildings were now admiring them in great wonder.

The Ramakrishna Mission Home of Service at Varanasi had by that time developed into a well-established institution serving the sick and distressed. She visited it at the earnest prayers of the workers. As she went round the wards, she showed great appreciation and said, 'The living presence of the Master can be felt here.' The Mother returned to Calcutta in January 1913.