ON THE WAY TO BARAMULLA
Persons The Swami Vivekananda; Gurubhais; and disciples.
A party of Europeans, amongst whom were, Dhira Mata, ‘the Steady Mother’; ‘One whose name was Jaya’; and Nivedita.
Place :- From Bareilly to Baramulla, Kashmir.
Time :- June 14th to 20th, 1898.
We entered the Punjaub next day, and great was the Swami’s excitement at the fact. It almost seemed as if he had been born there, so close and special was his love for this province. He talked of the girls at their spinning wheels, listening to the “Sohum! Sohum! – I am He! I am He!” Then, by a swift transition he turned to the far past, and unrolled for us the great historic panorama of the advance of the Greeks on the Indus, the rise of Chandragupta, and the development of the Buddhistic empire.
He was determined this summer to find his way to Attock, and see with his own eyes the spot at which Alexander was turned back. He described to us the Gandhara sculptures, which he must have seen in the Lahore Museum the year before, and lost himself in indignant repudiation of the absurd European claim that India had ever sat at the feet of Greece in things artistic.
Then there were flying glimpses of long expected cities, – Ludhiana, where certain trusty English disciples had lived as children; Lahore, where his Indian lectures had ended; and so on. We came, too, upon the dry gravel beds of many rivers and learnt that the space between one pair was called the Doab and the area containing them all, the Punjaub.
It was at twilight, crossing one of these stony tracts, that he told us of that great vision which came to him years ago, while he was still new to the ways of the life of a monk, giving back to him, as he always afterwards believed, the ancient mode of Sanskrit chanting.
“It was evening,” he said, “in that age when the Aryans had only reached the Indus. I saw an old man seated on the bank of the great river. Wave upon wave of darkness was rolling in upon him, and he was chanting from the Rik Veda1. Then I awoke, and went on chanting. They were the tones that we used long ago.”
Many months later, one of those who listened, heard the story of this vision once more from the Swami; and it seemed to her then, with her gathered insight into his method of thought, that it had been an experience of immense subjective importance. Perhaps it was a token to him of a transcendent continuity in the spiritual experience, forbidding it to be baffled even by the lapse of millenniums and the breaking of many life-threads. If so, one could not expect him to be explicit on the point. Those who were constantly preoccupied with imagination regarding their own past, always aroused his contempt. But on this second occasion of telling the story, he gave a glimpse of it, from a very different point of view.
“Sankaracharya,” he was saying, “had caught the rhythm of the Vedas, the national cadence. Indeed I always imagine”, he went on suddenly, with dreamy voice and far away look, “I always imagine that he had some vision such as mine when he was young, and recovered the ancient music that way. Anyway, his whole life’s work is nothing but that, the throbbing of the beauty of the Vedas and Upanishads.”
Speeches like this were of course purely speculative, and he himself could never bear to be reminded of the theories to which he thus in moments of emotion and impulse, gave chance birth. To others however they would often seem not valueless.
“Vivekananda is nothing” exclaimed one of his admirers in the distant West, “if not a breaker of bondage!” – and a trifling incident of this day’s journey recalls the words. At a station entering the Punjaub, he called to him a Mohammedan vendor of food, and bought from his hand, and ate.
From Rawalpindi to Murree, we went by tonga, and there we spent some days before setting out for Kashmir. Here the Swami came to the conclusion that any effort which he might make to induce the orthodox to accept a European as a fellow-disciple, or in the direction of woman’s education, had better be made in Bengal. The distrust of the foreigner was too strong in Punjaub, to admit of work succeeding there. He was much occupied by this question, from time to time, and would sometimes remark on the paradox presented by the Bengali combination of political antagonism to the English, and readiness to love and trust.
We had reached Murree on Wednesday afternoon, June the 15th. It was again Saturday, June the 18th, when we set out for Kashmir.
One of our party was ill, and that first day we went but a short distance, and stopped at Dulai, the first dak bungalow across the border. It was a curious moment, leaving British India behind, with the crossing of a dusty, sun baked bridge. We were soon to have a vivid realisation of just how much and just how little this demarcation meant.
We were now in the valley of the Jhelum. Our whole journey, from Kohala to Baramulla, was to run through a narrow, twisting, mountain-pass, the rapidly-rising ravine of this river. Here, at Dulai, the speed of the current was terrific, and huge water-smoothed pebbles formed a great shingle.
Most of the afternoon, we were compelled by a storm to spend indoors, and a new chapter was opened at Dulai, in our knowledge of Hinduism, for the Swami told us, gravely and frankly, of its modern abuses, and spoke of his own uncompromising hostility to those evil practices which pass under the name of Vamachara.
When we asked how Sri Ramakrishna, – who never could bear to condemn the hope of any man, – had looked at these things, he told us that ‘the old man’ had said “Well, well! but every house may have a scavengers’ entrance!”
And he pointed out that all sects of diabolism1, in any country, belonged to this class. It was a terrible but necessary revelation, that never required to be repeated, and it has been related here, in its true place, in order that none may be able to say that he deceived those who trusted him, as to the worst things that might be urged against any of his people or their creeds.
We took it in turns to drive with the Swami in his tonga, and this next day seemed full of reminiscence.
He talked of Brahmavidya, the vision of the One, the Alone-Real, and told how love was the only cure for evil. He had had a school-fellow, who grew up and became rich, but lost his health. It was an obscure disease, sapping his energy and vitality daily, yet altogether baffling the skill of the doctors. At last, because he knew that the Swami had always been religious, and men turn to religion when all else fails, he sent to beg him to come to him.
When the Master reached him, a curious thing happened. There came to his mind a text -“Him the Brahmin conquers, who thinks that he is separate from the Brahmin. Him the
Kshatriya, conquers, who thinks that he is separate from the Kshatriya. And him the Universe conquers who thinks that he is separate from the Universe.” And the sick man grasped this, and recovered. “And so,” said the Swami, “though I often say strange things and angry things, yet remember that in my heart I never seriously mean to preach anything but love! All these things will come right, only when we realise that we love each other.”
Was it then, or the day before, that, talking of the Great God, he told us how when he was a child, his mother would sigh over his naughtiness, and say “so many prayers and austerities, and instead of a good soul, Siva has sent me you!” till he was hypnotised into a belief that he was really one of Siva’s demons. He thought that for a punishment, he had been banished for a while from Siva’s heaven, and that his one effort in life must be to go Backthere. His first act of sacrilege, he told us once, had been committed at the age of five, when he embarked on a stormy argument with his mother, to the effect that when his right hand was soiled with eating, it would be cleaner to lift his tumbler of water with the left. For this or similar perversities, her most drastic remedy was to put him under the water-tap, and while cold water was pouring over his head, to say “Siva! Siva!”
This, he said, never failed of its effect. The prayer would remind him of his exile, and he would say to himself “No, no, not this time again!” and so return to quiet and obedience.
He had a surpassing love for Mahadev, and once he said of the Indian women of the future that if, amidst their new tasks they would only remember now and then to say “Siva! Siva!” it would be worship enough. The very air of the Himalayas was charged, for him, with the image of that “eternal meditation” that no thought of pleasure could break.
And he understood, he said, for the first time this summer, the meaning of the nature-story that made the Ganges fall on the head of the Great God, and wander in and out amongst His matted locks, before she found an outlet on the plains below. He had searched long, he said, for the words that the rivers and waterfalls uttered, amongst the mountains, before he had realised that it was the eternal cry “Bom! Bom! Hara! Hara!” “Yes!” he said of Siva one day, “He is the Great God, calm, beautiful, and silent! and I am His great worshipper.”
Again his subject was marriage, as the type of the soul’s relation to God. – “This is why,” he exclaimed, “though the love of a mother is in some ways greater, yet the whole world takes the love of man and woman as the type. No other has such tremendous idealising power. The beloved actually becomes what he is imagined to be. This love transforms its object.”
Then the talk strayed to national types, and he spoke of the joy with which the returning traveller greets once more the sight of the men and women of his own country. The whole of life has been a sub-conscious education to enable one to understand in these every faintest ripple of expression in face and form.
And again we passed a group of sannyasins going on foot, and he broke out into fierce invective against asceticism as “savagery.” It is a peculiarity of India that only the religious life is perfectly conscious and fully developed. In other lands, a man will undergo as many hardships, in order to win success in business, or enterprise, or even in sport, as these men were probably enduring. But the sight of wayfarers doing slow miles on foot in the name of their ideals, seemed to rouse in his mind a train of painful associations, and he grew impatient on behalf of humanity, at “the torture of religion.”
Then again the mood passed, as suddenly as it had arisen, and gave place to the equally strong statement of the conviction that were it not for this “savagery,” luxury would have robbed man of all his manliness.
We stopped that evening at Uri dak bungalow, and in the twilight, we all walked in the meadows and the bazar. How beautiful the place was! A little mud fortress – exactly of the European feudal pattern – overhung the footway as it swept into a great open theatre of field and hill. Along the road, above the river, lay the bazar, and we returned to the bungalow by a path across the fields, past cottages in whose gardens the roses were in bloom. As we came too, it would happen that here and there some child, more venturesome than others, would play with us.
The next day, driving through the most beautiful part of the Pass, and seeing cathedral rocks and an old ruined temple of the Sun, we reached Baramulla. The legend is that the Vale of Kashmir was once a lake, and that at this point the Divine Boar pierced the mountains with his tusks, and let the Jhelum go free. Another piece of geography in the form of myth. Or is it also prehistoric history?