THE HOUSE ON THE GANGES
Place A cottage at Belur, besides the Ganges.
Time :- March to May 11th.
Of the home by the Ganges, the Master had said to one “You will find that little house of Dhira Mata like heaven, for it is all love, from beginning to end.”
It was so indeed. Within, an unbroken harmony, and without, everything alike beautiful, – the green stretch of grass, the tall cocoanut palms, the little brown villages in the jungle, and the nilkantha1 that built her nest in a tree-top beside us, on purpose to bring us the blessings of Siva. In the morning the shadows lay behind the house: but in the afternoons we could sit in front, worshipping the Ganges herself, – great leonine2 mother! – and in sight of Dakshineswar.
There came one and another with traditions of the past; and we learnt of the Master’s eight year’s wanderings; of the name changed from village to village; of the Nirvikalpa Samadhi; and of that sacred sorrow, too deep for words, or for common sight, that one who loved had alone seen. And there, too, came the Master Himself, with his stories of Uma and Siva, of Radha and Krishna, and his fragments of song and poetry.
It seemed as if he knew that the first material of a new consciousness must be a succession of vivid, but isolated experiences, poured out without proper sequence, so as to provoke the mind of the learner to work for its own conception of order and relation. At any rate, whether he knew it or not, this was the canon of educational science that he unconsciously fulfilled.
For the most part, it was the Indian religions that he portrayed for us, to-day dealing with one, and to-morrow with another, his choice guided, seemingly, by the whim of the moment. But it was not religion only that he poured out upon us. Sometimes it would be history. Again, it would be folk-lore. On still another occasion, it would be the manifold anomalies and inconsistencies of race, caste, and custom. In fact India herself became, as heard in him, as the last and noblest of the Puranas3, uttering itself through his lips.
Another point in which he had caught a great psychological secret was that of never trying to soften for us that which would at first sight be difficult or repellent. In matters Indian he would rather put forward, in its extreme form, at the beginning of our experience, all that it might seem impossible for European minds to enjoy. Thus he would quote, for instance, some verse about Gouri and Sankar in a single form –
“On one side grows the hair in long black curls,
And on the other, corded like rope.
On one side are seen the beautiful garlands,
On the other, bone earrings and snake-like coils.
One side is white with ashes, like the snow mountains,
The other, golden as the light of dawn.
For He, the Lord, took a form,
And that was a divided form,
Half-woman and half-man.”
And carried by his burning enthusiasm it was possible to enter into these things, and dimly, even then, to apprehend their meaning.
Whatever might be the subject of the conversation, it ended always on the note of the Infinite. Indeed I do not know that our Master’s realisation of the Advaita Philosophy has been in anything more convincing than in this matter of his interpretation of the world. He might appear to take up any subject, literary, ethnological, or scientific, but he always made us feel it as an illustration of the Ultimate Vision. There was, for him, nothing secular. He had a loathing for bondage, and a horror of those who “cover chains with flowers,” but he never failed to make the true critic’s distinction between this and the highest forms of art.
One day we were receiving European guests, and he entered into a long talk about Persian poetry. Then suddenly, finding himself quoting the poem that says, “For one mole on the face of my Beloved, I would give all the wealth of Samarcand!” he turned and said energetically “I would not give a straw, you know, for the man who was incapable of appreciating a love song!” His talk, too teemed with epigrams. It was that same afternoon, in the course of a long political argument, that he said “In order to become a nation, it appears that we need a common hate as well as a common love.”
Several months later he remarked that before one who had a mission he never talked of any of the gods save Uma and Siva. For Siva and the Mother made the great workers. Yet I have sometimes wondered if he knew at this time how the end of every theme was bhakti. Much as he dreaded the luxury of spiritual emotion for those who might be enervated by it, he could not help giving glimpses of what it meant to be consumed with the intoxication of God. And so he would chant for us such poems as –
“They have made Radha queen, in the beautiful groves of Brindaban.
At her gate stands Krishna, on guard.
His flute is singing all the time:
‘Radha is about to distribute infinite wealth of love.
Though I am guard, all the world may enter.
Come all ye who thirst!
Say only ‘Glory unto Radha!’
Enter the region of love!'”
Or he would give us the great antiphonal Chorus of the Cowherds, written by his friend:*
Men. ‘Thou art the Soul of souls,
Thou yellow garbed,
With thy blue eyes.
Women. Thou dark One!
Thou Shepherd of Brindaban!
Kneeling at the feet of the Sheperdesses.
Men. My soul sing the praise of the glory of the Lord,
Who took the human form.
Women. Thy beauty for us, the Gopis.
Men. Thou Lord of Sacrifice.
Saviour of the weak.
Women. Who lovest Radha, and thy body floats on its own tears.’
One such day (May, 9) we can never forget. We had been sitting talking under the trees, when suddenly a storm came on. We moved to the terrace, overhanging the river, and then to the verandah. Not a moment too soon. Within ten minutes, the opposite bank of the Ganges was hidden from our view, and in the blackness before us we could hear the rain falling in torrents, and the thunder crashing, while every now and then there was a lurid flash of lightning.
And yet, amidst all the turmoil of the elements, we sat on, in our little verandah, absorbed in a drama far more intense. One form passed Backand forth across our tiny stage; one voice compassed all the players; and the play that was acted before us was the love of the soul for
God!……….Till we, too caught the kindling, and loved for the moment with a fire that the
rushing river could not put out nor the hurricane disturb. “Shall many, waters quench Love, or the floods overwhelm it?” And before Prometheus left us, we knelt before him together and he blest us all.
One day, early in the cottage-life, the Swami took the Dhira Mata, and her whose name was Jaya, to be received for the first time by Sarada Devi, who had come from her village home, to Calcutta, at his call. Thence they brought Backwith them for a few hours, a guest to whom the memory of that day makes one of life’s great festivals.
Never can she forget the fragrance of the Ganges, nor the long talk with the Master, nor the service Jaya had done that morning by winning the most orthodox of Hindu woman to eat with her foreign disciples; nor any one of the many happy ties that that day brought into existence and consecrated.
A week later the same guest was there again, coming late on Wednesday, and going away on Saturday evening.
At this time, the Swami kept the custom of coming to the cottage early, and spending the morning-hours there, and again returning in the late afternoon. On the second morning of this visit, however, – Friday, the Christian feast of the Annunciation, – he took us all three Backto the Math, and there, in the worship-room, was held a little service of initiation, where one was made a Brahmacharini. That was the happiest of mornings. After the service, we were taken upstairs. The Swami put on the ashes and bone-earrings and matted locks of a Siva-yogi, and sang and played to us – Indian music on Indian instruments, – for an hour.
And in the evening, in our boat on the Ganges, he opened his heart to us, and told us much of his questions and anxieties regarding the trust that he held from his own Master. Another week, and he was gone to Darjeeling, and till the day that the plague declaration brought him Backwe saw him again no more.
Then two of us met him in the house of our Holy Mother. The political sky was black. It seemed as if a storm were about to burst. The moon of those evenings had the brown haze about it that is said to betoken civil disturbance – and already plague, panic, and riot were doing their fell work. And the Master turned to the two and said, “There are some who scoff at the existence of Kali. Yet to-day She is out there amongst the people. They are frantic with fear, and the soldiery have been called to deal out death. Who can say that God does not manifest Himself as Evil as well as Good? But only the Hindu dares to worship Him in the evil.”
He had come back, and the old life was resumed once more, as far as could be, seeing that an epidemic was in prospect, and that measures were on hand to give the people confidence. As long as this possibility darkened the horizon, he would not leave Calcutta. But it passed away, and those happy days with it, and the time came that we should go.