XIII

THE COMING OF THE DEVOTEES

Sri Ramakrishna was now burning with a tremendous desire to meet his devotees—the favoured children of the Divine Mother—to whom he might pass his realizations for the good of humanity and the world. About this he would say later: 'There was no limit to the yearning I had then. During the day-time I managed somehow to control it. The secular talk of the worldly-minded was galling to me, and I would look forward wistfully to the day when my beloved companions would come. I hoped to find solace in conversing with them and unburdening my mind by telling them of my realizations. Every little incident would remind me of them, and thoughts of them, wholly engrossed my mind. When during the evening service the temple rang with the sound of bells and conch-shells, I would climb to the roof of the building in the garden, and writhing in anguish of heart, cry at the top of my voice, "Come, my boys! Oh! where are you? I cannot bear to live without you!" A mother never longs so intensely for the sight of her child, nor a friend for his companion, nor a lover for his sweetheart, as I did for them! Oh! It was indescribable. Shortly after this yearning, the devotees began to come in.'

The first two persons who responded to the call of Sri Ramakrishna were Ramachandra Dutta and Manomohan Mitra, who were cousins and lived in Calcutta. The former was a medical practitioner and a lecturer in the Calcutta Medical College. He came across a copy of a newspaper conducted by Keshab Chandra Sen wherein he read about Sri Ramakrishna. One afternoon in 1879 Ramchandra accompanied by Manomohan visited Dakshineswar and met the Master. They were charmed at his kindness, for such cordiality and sympathy at first sight they had never experienced before. Sri Ramakrishna's love seemed so new and so genuine to them, because it was selfless. From this time on, their lives took a different turn. Not being content with going to see the Master themselves, Manomohan and Ram induced their relatives and friends also to go to Dakshineswar to be blessed by coming in contact with the Master. By this time other devotees were visiting Sri Ramakrishna, and every Sunday his small room was crowded. These devotees became acquainted with one another, and those who were practising religious exercises under the guidance of the Master formed themselves into a sort of spiritual brotherhood. Now and then Sri Ramakrishna would accept invitations from Calcutta to visit devotees, and these meetings gradually took the shape of little festivals.

Ramchandra had a friend named Surendra Nath Mitra who lived close to him. He held an important position in an English firm. At first a Bohemian, he became a changed man through the influence of Sri Ramakrishna's love. His purse was always open for the Master's comfort. After the passing of the Master he became the mainstay of the Baranagore monastery from its very start.

Balaram Bose, another householder disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, was a rich zamindar of Orissa. From his first meeting with Sri Ramakrishna at Dakshineswar in 1882, he became exceedingly devoted to him and supplied all his personal necessities up to the last. It was in his Calcutta house at Baghbazar that Sri Ramakrishna very often met his devotees and spent the time in devotional songs and inspiring spiritual discourses.

It was in March 1882, that Mahendra Nath Gupta, better known as Master Mahashay, or 'M.', the immortal writer of the Kathamrita (in Bengali, since translated as The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, a book recording the conversations of Sri Ramakrishna), first met the Master at Dakshineswar. He was then the Headmaster of Vidyasagar's Metropolitan Institution (Shyambazar Branch) and was all along an educationist. He ranked very high among the Master's intimate followers. Through his personal touch hundreds of eager aspirants, young and old, received great spiritual impetus, while his Kathamrita, as a faithful record of the highest spiritual experiences of man in the simplest language, has no equal in the whole range of scriptural literature.

Another distinguished devotee of Sri Ramakrishna was Durga Charan Nag, better known as Nag Mahashay, who came of poor parents in the village named Deobhog in the district of Dacca. From his boyhood his one absorbing thought was how to escape worldly bonds. He was told that without realization of God there was no salvation. He spent night after night in prayer and meditation, but with no success. At last, while practising as a physician in Calcutta, he came under the holy influence of Sri Ramakrishna and by his life of absolute non-attachment, humility, self-effacement, and purity of character, subsequently rose to be one of the foremost householder devotees of the Master.

The name of Girish Chandra Ghosh is a household word in Bengal as the greatest dramatist in the Bengali language and the father of the Bengali stage. He was a victim of the first impact of the materialism of the age on Indian society and led a reckless life before he came in contact with Sri Ramakrishna in 1884. From that time he was a thoroughly changed man and had unbounded faith in Sri Ramakrishna. The Master used to extol his intelligence very highly. His unique devotion and self-surrender marked him out as one of the greatest of the householder devotees of Sri Ramakrishna.

Purna Chandra Ghosh of North Calcutta was a devotee whom the Master gave a very high place among his closest followers. He was only a boy of thirteen when he first met Sri Ramakrishna, who remarked on seeing him that Purna completed the list of his inner circle of devotees.

Hundreds of such sincere devotees clustered round Sri Ramakrishna, whose pregnant utterances and magnetic personality completely changed the course of their lives and made them blessed.