Sri Sarada Devi Biography 16 MORE PILGRIMAGES

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Sri Sarada Devi Biography 16 MORE PILGRIMAGESBack


CHAPTER XVI

MORE PILGRIMAGES

THE Holy Mother undertook several pilgrimage since the one to Brindavan immediately after the Master’s passing (1886), described in chapter XL These stretch over a period of twenty-five years and chronologically relate to different parts of her life.

About the month of April, 1888, she went to Gaya with Swami ‘Advaitananda (Gopal Senior). Sri Ramakrishna had asked her after the demise of his mother to go to Gaya and make funeral offerings in her memory. She took this opportunity to fulfil the Master’s wish. On this occasion she also visited Bodh Gaya, the place of Buddha’s enlightenment situated a few miles from Gaya proper. There she saw the well-known Hindu monastery of Bodh Gaya, and the sight she witnessed there evoked a characteristic desire in her motherly heart. To put it in her own words: ” I went to see the monastery of Bodh Gaya. It was filled with various articles, and the monks did not suffer for want of funds. After seeing this I often wept before the Master and prayed, ‘ O Lord, my children (i.e. the monastic disciples of Sri Ramakrishna) have no place wherein to- lay their heads. They have very little to eat. They trudge from door to door for a morsel of food. May they have a place like this! ‘ Subsequently the Belur Math was established through the grace of the Master.”

Towards the end of the same year (November 1888), the Holy Mother visited the famous temple of Puri with a party including Yogin-Ma, and Swamis Brahmananda, Yogananda and Saradananda. They were accommodated at Puri in a house belonging to Balaram Bose’s family. Now, Balaram Bose’s brother, Harivallabh Bose, a famous advocate of those days, was a very influential man in those parts, and the priests of Puri held him in great respect. As the Holy Mother and party were his guests, Govinda Singari, one of the prominent priests of the place, wanted to show special honour to her by taking her to the temple of Jagannath in a palanquin. But she told him, “No, Govinda, you lead me to the temple, and I shall go after you just like a humble, destitute beggar woman to see Jagannath, the Lord of the Universe.”

As Sri Ramakrishna had not visited the temple of Jagannath in his lifetime, she took his photograph to the temple covered with her cloth and showed it to the image. She stayed for about four months at Puri, often visiting the temple at the time of the morning and evening services, and spending much time in meditation at the shrine of Lakshmi.

Recounting her experience of Jagannath, she said afterwards, ” I saw Jagannath seated like a Person of leonine bearing on his precious altar, and I was serving Him as an attendant.” Regarding the identity of Jagannath she had a dream in which she felt that the image was really the emblem of Siva seated on the altar made of a lakh of Salagrams (an emblem of Vishnu).1

The next time she went on pilgrimage was in 1894, when she visited Banaras and Brindavan for the second time, accompanied by her mother and brothers. Towards the end of November, 1904, she went again to Puri, accompanied by her mother, her mad sister-in-law Surabala, her niece Radhu, and her brother Kali and his family, besides Swami Premananda and several devotees of the Master During her stay at Puri she got a very painful boil on the leg. It was so painful that she would not allow anyone even to touch it. Swami Premananda, coming to know of it, made an arrangement with a doctor, who was a devotee of hers, to come with a knife and open the boil. The doctor approached her apparently to make prostration, but while doing so he quickly opened the boil. Although at the moment the intensity of pain caused annoyance in her mind towards the persons concerned in the plot, she was very grateful to them when she felt relief after the operation. Subsequently her health was good, and she could therefore visit all the holy spots at Puri, circumambulate the temple and bathe in the sea twice. She spent two months in joy and peace in the holy city, reputed for its salubrious climate.

On one occasion she also paid a visit to Vishnu-pur,2 situated about twenty-eight miles away from Kamarpukur. Vishnupur was once the capital of a flourishing kingdom, and the pious Vaishnava kings of the place had erected many beautiful temples, now mostly lying in ruins. Sri Ramakrishna looked upon this place as very sacred and asked the Holy Mother to visit it, saying, ” Vishnupur is concealed Brindavan ‘,You should go and visit the place some day.” Her visit to this place was in fulfilment of his command.

In December, 1910, the Holy Mother started for Kothar in the Balasore district of Orissa en route to Rameswaram, the famous place of pilgrimage in the South. She stayed for about two months at Kothar, the headquarters of Balaram Bose’s estate in Orissa. There one Devendra Nath Chatterji, postmaster of Kothar – who had once accepted Christianity, and now repenting of his action, wanted to come Backto Hinduism – got reconverted with the Holy Mother’s approval. After certain purificatory ceremonies, one of the Holy Mother’s monastic followers gave him the sacred thread and the Gayatri Mantra, and the next day he was initiated by the Mother herself.

Towards the close of February she started for Rameswaram with a party of eight, and reached Madras, halting on the way at Berhampore for a day. Swami Ramakrishnananda, a disciple of the Master and the founder of the first Ramakrishna Math in South India, accorded her a cordial reception. She stayed in Madras for about a month and gave initiation to several people. Though, for want of a common language, she could not speak freely with the large number of ladies who visited her, yet on account of sympathetic understanding they could make themselves understood to one another. After her return to Calcutta she said to a disciple by way of her reminiscences of Madras, ” Many people visited me there. The women of those parts are very educated. They asked me to deliver a lecture. I said to them, ‘I do not know how to deliver lectures. If Gourdasi had come, she would have been able to do so.’

Starting from Madras, with the party strengthened by the inclusion of Swami Ramakrishnananda in it, she halted at Madura for a day and reached Rameswaram by the next night. She spent three days in that great place of pilgrimage. By the order of the Raja of Ramnad, she was given facilities of worship which are never given to any pilgrim, however exalted his position in life may be. At Rameswaram, unlike in the temples of North India, no one except the officiating priests are allowed to enter the sanctum sanctorum or to touch and worship the image. But by the special order of the Raja of Ramnad, who was a great devotee of Swami Vivekananda, not only the Holy Mother but all the women of her party were allowed to go into the shrine and worship the Siva image for three days.

Recounting her experience of Rameswaram, the Holy Mother said afterwards : ” Sasi (Swami Rama-krishnananda) procured for me one hundred and eight bel leaves made of gold to worship Siva at Rameswaram. When informed of my coming, the Raja of Ramnad ordered his officer there to show me his buildings and treasures. He further gave the order that if I liked anything, it should be presented to me. But what did I want there ? Unable to come to any decision, I said, ‘ Sasi has arranged for everything I require.’ But unwilling to hurt the feelings of the officer, I added, ‘ If Radhu wants anything, let her ask for it.’ I said to Radhu, ‘ You may take whatever you need.’ Then as diamonds and other precious stones were shown, my heart began to tremble. Eagerly I prayed to the Master,’ O Lord, please see that Radhu does not crave for any of these things.’

Radhu at last said, ‘ What shall I take ? I do not care for any of these things. I have just lost my pencil. Please buy one for me.’ I heaved a sigh of relief. Coming out I bought her a pencil for half an anna from a shop in the street.”

After leaving Rameswaram the Holy Mother also visited Bangalore, where a branch of the Ramakrishna Math was already in existence. She was given a very cordial and respectful welcome by Swami Nir-malananda, the President of the local Ashrama. She was accommodated in the Ashram building itself, while a tent was put up in its compound for the rest of the party. One day she sanctified the hillock of rocks at the Backof the Ashram by performing Japa on it in the evening. Even without any public announcement large numbers of people came to see her there. Referring to this she said in later days, ” What a crowd I met in Bangalore ! People began to shower flowers as I got down from the train. Flowers lay high on the road. The message of the Master has spread everywhere; therefore so many people come.”

On her way Backto Calcutta she halted for a day at Rajahmundry for bath in the holy Godavari, and for a couple of days at Puri. She reached Calcutta on the 11th of April, 1911.

One more pilgrimage she undertook in her lifetime and that was in November, 1912, to Banaras for the third time. She was accompanied by a large party consisting of a few senior Swamis of the Ramakrishna Order, some relatives and several devotees. She was accommodated at Lakshmi Nivas, a newly built house belonging to a devotee, very close to the Ramakrishna Advaita Ashrama.

She stayed this time in the holy city for two months and a half. So she could, on this occasion, visit at leisure all the important temples and other places of interest in and about the city. After making her obeisance to Visvanath and Annapurna, the principal Deities in Banaras, she visited, on the third day of her arrival, the Ramakrishna Mission Sevashram, one of the premier philanthropic institutions under the Mission and an important centre of medical relief in the city. After seeing the different wards, she was highly satisfied and made kind enquiries about how it was started and by whom. Finally she expressed her appreciation of the work in these significant words: ” The Master is present here, and Mother Lakshmi (Goddess of Prosperity), too, is abiding here in all her glory.

. . . The place looks so nice that I should like to stay here permanently.” And as soon as she went back to her residence, she sent a sum of ten rupees as her donation for the institution.

As regards the shrines she visited, she said about the Siva images known as Vaidyanath and Tilbhan-deswar that they had sprung from the earth and not been made by the hands of men. About the image of Kedarnath she said, ” This Kedar and the Kedar in the Himalayas arc related to each other. If one visits this, one really visits the other. This Deity is a very living presence.”

One day she went to visit Sarnath, the ruined site of an important centre of Buddhist learning and religious activity in ancient days. On seeing there some Westerners looking at the relics of Buddhism in speechless wonder, she remarked, ” These are the people who built this place in a previous incarnation. They are amazed at their own doings.”

While returning from Sarnath, the Holy Mother narrowly escaped a very serious accident. On the return trip Swami Brahmananda had exchanged his carriage with that of the Holy Mother. As they proceeded, the horses of the carriage in which the Swami was seated ran amuck, thus upsetting the carriage and causing considerable injury to the Swami. Referring to this incident, the Mother said, ” I was to be involved in the accident, but Rakhal {Swami Brahmananda) diverted it and made himself the victim of it. Otherwise the consequences would have been disastrous.”

The Holy Mother visited two well-known monks in Banaras. One of them belonged to the sect of Nanak and lived on the banks of the Ganges. The other was the celebrated Chameli Puri, who was a junior contemporary of Tota Puri, the preceptor of Sri Ramakrishna, and belonged to the same monastery as he. When Golap-Ma inquired of this monk as to who had been supplying him with food, the monk replied with great force and earnestness, ” It is the Goddess Annapurna who feeds me. Who else would ? ” The Holy Mother was highly pleased with the answer. Returning home, she said to her disciples, ” The face of the old man is constantly in my mind. It is just like that of a child.” Next day she sent him some oranges, sweets and a blanket. When asked if she would visit other holy men in the city, she said, ” I have seen that holy man (Chameli Puri). What need have I to visit others? And what other holy man is here ? “

She returned to Calcutta on the 16th of January 1913.

1

It is to be noted that the Holy Mother’s intuition is in many respects in agreement with historical findings. At present the image is considered to be that of Vishnu or Krishna. Many historians are of opinion that this was originally a Buddhist temple, and when the temple fell into the hands of the followers of Sankaracharya, the image was converted into the emblem of Siva, and still later, when the Vaishnavas got control, they converted it into a Vishnu image.

2

This is a station on the Eastern Railway and pilgrims going to Jayrambati and Kamarpukur by the easiest route get down here, go to Kotalpur at a distance of about 20 miles in motor bus, and cover the remaining distance of 8 miles to Jayrambati on foot or by bullock cart.

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