XI

PILGRIMAGE

About four years before the incidents narrated towards the close of the last chapter—in 1868— Mathur and his wife arranged for a pilgrimage to Northern India and wanted Sri Ramakrishna to accompany them. At their earnest request the Master consented to be one of the party. They started on 27 January, and halted for a few days at Deoghar to visit the shrine of Vaidyanath. Here an interesting thing happened. One day while passing through a neighbouring village Sri Ramakrishna was greatly distressed to see the wretched condition of its people. Moved with sympathy for them, he said to Mathur, 'You are the steward of the Mother. Feed these poor people and give every one a piece of cloth.' Mathur at first hesitated saying, 'This pilgrimage will cost a lot of money, and these people are very numerous. We may be short of funds on the journey if we try to feed and clothe them. So what do you say to this, father?' But Sri Ramakrishna was inexorable. He shed tears at the sight of such abject misery and said in anguish: 'Fie upon you! I am not going to Varanasi. I prefer to remain with these helpless people.' Like a petulant child he left Mathur's company and sat with the poor villagers. At the sight of his compassion, Mathur was much moved; and he ordered bales of cloth from Calcutta to distribute among them, and fed them as well. Sri Ramakrishna then cheerfully started for Varanasi.

As he approached Varanasi by boat across the Ganga, the City of Shiva appeared to him to be made of gold—'a condensed mass of spirituality.' It seemed as if the precious thoughts of countless monks and devotees had accumulated there, making the place an abode of the gods. Sri Ramakrishna used to visit the shrine of Vishwa-natha, the presiding Deity of the place, almost daily. He would fall into a trance even on the way, as well as in the presence of the Deity. He also went to visit the noted monks of Varanasi. One day he paid a visit to the famous Trailanga Swami, who was then under a vow of silence. The Swami beckoned him to take seat and held out his snuff-box to him as a mark of welcome. Sri Ramakrishna asked him some questions, which the Swami replied by gestures. Trailanga Swami was then constructing a bathing ghat. At the instance of Sri Ramakrishna, one of his attendants dug a few spadefuls of earth for the work, which pleased the Swami greatly. The Master invited him one day to the home of Mathur and entertained him with great respect.

After about a week's stay at Varanasi the party moved on to Allahabad, where all bathed in the sacred confluence of the Ganga and the Yamuna. After three days the party returned to Varanasi. At the end of a fortnight the Master and his party went to Vrindaban. During his stay there Sri Ramakrishna was always in high spirits. This sacred place, rich in the countless sweet memories of Sri Krishna, constantly filled his heart with unspeakable emotion. Even the slightest suggestion was enough to plunge him into an ecstasy of delight. It was with great difficulty that he could manage to keep his feelings under control. Sometimes they would break all barriers and throw him into deep and prolonged trances. At Vrindaban he visited Ganga Mata, a Vaishnava woman devotee, noted for her great spiritual realizations. About sixty years old, she had spent the greater part of her life at this holy place. At the very first sight she understood the greatness of Sri Ramakrishna and considered herself blessed to have met him. Sri Ramakrishna also was charmed with her piety and devotion. He stayed at Vrindaban for about a fortnight. He visited Mathura also. As in Vrindaban so also in Mathura, Sri Ramakrishna was in an ineffable spiritual mood—his mind constantly soaring high—especially at the sight of the spots associated with the memory of Sri Krishna.

The Master returned with the party to Varanasi, where they stayed till May. On his return journey Mathur had a mind to visit Gaya. But as Sri Ramakrishna declined to go there, he had to give up the project. The Master thought that if he once visited that sacred place, his mind would leave the physical plane for ever. He knew of his father's vision at Gaya before his birth, and was convinced that his mind would become permanently absorbed in God there. He considered himself an instrument in the hand of the Mother, and bowed to Her decree that his body should remain in the world to carry out Her divine purpose. Accordingly the party returned to Calcutta direct.

It was now sixteen years since Mathur had first met Sri Ramakrishna. A wonderful change had been wrought in his mind during this period. In the month of July, 1871, Mathur was suddenly taken ill with typhoid fever. From the beginning Sri Ramakrishna knew that this was to be the end for Mathur. The fateful day arrived. Mathur was carried to Kalighat. That day the Master fell into a deep trance, which lasted two or three hours. After 5 p.m. Sri Ramakrishna regained outward consciousness and calling Hriday to him said that Mathur's soul had gone to the Divine Mother. Late at night the news reached Dakshineswar that Mathur had died exactly at five o'clock. With the death of Mathur there passed away a figure closely associated with Sri Ramakrishna during the most eventful epoch of his life.