II

PARENTAGE

Towards the middle of the eighteenth century there lived in the village of Derepore in the District of Hooghly, Bengal, a Brahmin family of which Manik Ram Chattopadhyaya was the head. He was a pious and kind-hearted man. With fifty acres of land at his disposal, he was able to meet the needs of his family as also to lend a helping hand to the poor and distressed of the village in times of calamity. In about 1775 he was blessed with a son who was named Khudiram. Two other sons and a daughter were also subsequently born to him. After the death of Manik Ram, the entire charge of the family devolved on his eldest son, Khudiram, who, trained in the family traditions of an orthodox house, was eminently fitted to attend to the manifold religious and secular duties of the household. Both Khudiram and his wife, Srimati Chandramani, were exceptionally devoted to their tutelary deity Sri Ramachandra, and soon earned the love, respect, and admiration of the villagers for their charity, truthfulness, and kindness.

In 1814 an incident of the great importance occurred in the life of Khudiram. He was called upon by the local zamindar to give false evidence in support of a case which the latter had brought against one of his tenants. But so fearless was Khudiram's integrity that he was prepared to stake his all rather than deviate an inch from the path of truth and rectitude. His stout refusal to comply with the request of the landlord entailed on him in its turn a heavy persecution which ultimately led him to leave his ancestral house for good. Penniless and homeless, Khudiram bade adieu to Derepore and made his new home in a neighbouring village named Kamarpukur, where, through the benevolence of one of his friends, he got half an acre of very fertile land, which supplied the simple needs of the family.

The village of Kamarpukur is situated in the western extremity of the District of Hooghly, on the road leading to the holy place of Puri or Jagannath. The village was highly prosperous and noted for its manifold arts and crafts. The flourishing condition of the place is even now testified to by the debris of its old buildings and the ruins of great walls and temples as also by the existence of some large tanks. Khudiram began his life anew in the midst of the quiet and peaceful surroundings of this village, and soon attracted the notice and gained the respect of his neighbours.

One day, while returning from a neighbouring village, Khudiram strangely came into possession of the emblem of his tutelary deity Raghuvir in a paddy field. He took it home and began to worship it as his own Ishta. Both Khudiram and Chandra made a profound impression upon the villagers by their exemplary life and unswerving spirit of devotion to their beloved deity as also by their overflowing kindness to all who came to their door for help and succour. Thus though the home of Khudiram never smiled in affluence, it was a source of great solace to many an aching heart.

After six years' residence in Kamarpukur, Khudiram got his son and daughter married. Ram-kumar, which was the name of the son, in the meanwhile had become quite proficient in Hindu lore, and was able to relieve, to a certain extent, his father's family burden by earning something. So Khudiram had now more time at his disposal to devote himself to religious practices. In the year 1824 he went on foot on a pilgrimage to Rameshwaram in South India, which lasted about a year. Twelve months later, in 1826, his wife Chandra gave birth to her second son, who was named Rameshwar. About eleven years later, in 1835, Khudiram went on another pilgrimage—this time to Gaya. Here, after the performance of the sacred rites, he had a strange vision at night. He dreamt that he was in the temple of Vishnu, where his forefathers were feasting on the sacred offerings he had made. Suddenly a flood of celestial light filled the holy precincts of the shrine, and the spirits of the departed fell on their kness to pay homage to a Divine Presence seated on a throne. The effulgent One beckoned to Khudiram, who, coming near, prostrated himself before Him and heard the luminous Person saying, 'I am well pleased at your sincere devotion. I shall be born in your cottage and accept you as my father.' Khudiram awoke with his heart thrilled with joy. He understood that a Divine Being would bless his house very soon.

About the same time Chandra Devi was also having strange visions at Kamarpukur. One night she dreamt that a luminous person exactly like her husband was lying by her side. Another day, while standing with Dhani (a village blacksmith woman) before the Shiva temple adjacent to her house, Chandra saw a bright beam of divine effulgence dart from the image of Lord Shiva and enter her. Chandra was overpowered, and fell unconscious on the ground. Dhani nursed her back to consciousness, but from that time Chandra began to feel as if she were quick with child. On Khudiram's return to Kamarpukur, Chandra narrated this event to her husband with her characteristic candour and simplicity. But Khudiram, who had already had the strange vision at Gaya, was now completely convinced that they were soon to be blessed with a divine child. He advised her not to speak of her visions to any one. Chandra was greatly consoled, and passed her days in complete resignation to the will of Raghuvir.