61. Mother’s Preference for Renunciation: Instance of Banku
That was why the Mother would be very happy if she was able to cut asunder the bondage of the household of a son of hers. “It is a kite or two amongst a thousand that are cut free, and you, Mother, clap your hands in glee”, says the refrain of a familiar song. The following incident revealed to me what great attraction the Mother had for the world-renouncers. Banki (Bankim) was the son of a cousin sister of the Mother. He had a naturally sweet voice and was very fond of music from his boyhood. As he grew up, with great perseverance, he learned to sing the Ramayana, gradually built up a party of Ramayana singers under him, and taking it as his profession, earned a good income for himself, When this Banku of golden voice sang the name of Rama and his divine exploits, swaying a Chamara (bushy fan) and dancing in rhythm with tinkling anklets on his legs, there used to be none in his audience not thrilled and charmed. His fame as a good Ramayana singer spread far and wide. The birthplace ofBankuwas in the village of Pukurey, about a couple of miles to the south-west of Jay-rambati. From his early age he used to visit his maternal uncle’s place, Jayrambati. The Mother was a distant aunt of his. She was very fond of the orphan boy from his infancy and liked his sweet songs. Banku had given a musical performance of Ramayana at the Mother’s house too.
Banku, being a hot favourite of the young and old at Jayrambati, often visited the place. When his fame as a singer of the Ramayana had reached a great height, it happened one day that Banku suddenly left off everything and completely disappeared. Nobody could find any trace of him for many days. Then one fine morning the little village of Jayrambati was filled with great excitement and jubilation, and its residents from the children to the grownups of both the sexes were seen running to the abode of Satish Biswas. What was the attraction there? It was found that early that morning when Satish Biswas had gone out, he met Banku and was able to persuade him to accompany him to his house. Banku had now become a Sannyasin! The moment the Holy Mother heard of it, she too started for Satish Biswas’s place. The Mother was never seen going to any other house than those of her brothers, familiarly called as ‘Mamas’ or the maternal uncles. Seeing her breaking the rule that day, a certain son of hers became curious and followed her. This son had a great bond of friendship with Banku. And so there was an undercurrent of joy in his heart at the prospect of meeting him again after many days. The courtyard inside Satish Biswas’s house was now full of people, and amongst them was our revered Bhanu-Pisi (father’s sister) too. Satish was actually her brother’s son, and though she lived separately from him, she had her food at his place. Seeing the Mother approaching, she called out in great joy, “Satish, Oh Satish, what a blessed day it is for you! The Mother has herself come to your house! Come quickly and offer her a seat! Make Pranamto her and welcome her!”
Satish’s wife was applying the thin plaster of earth and cowdung with the help of a piece of wet cloth to the verandah after the morning sweeping. The raised verandah had already been treated with cow dung plaster. The way it is done by the seasoned hand of an expert housewife, with the semi-circular impressions one after another looking like the petals of a lotus, gives a unique beauty in the morning to the village mud houses and produces a feeling of purity and sanctity. It has to be seen to be appreciated. Biswas’s wife quickly washed her hands and brought and spread a beautiful carpet to seat the
Mother on this freshly cleaned verandah With folded hands, the couple welcomed the Mother with great joy, and after she was comfortably seated, made Pranams before her and received her blessings. The Mother was sitting facing the east on this raised verandah She was sitting at the edge of it with her legs hanging down Both her hands were resting on her lap. She was wearing a fine red-bordered white cloth with an end of it over her head like a partial veil. Her face was emanating joy, and the bunch of her slightly curly locks were hanging down in front on the right-side. The way the Mother was sitting suggested to the mind that it was the Goddess Lakshmi herself who was sitting at the threshold of the fortunate householders. The granary of paddy by the side added to the beauty of her presence.
In this connection another picture is coming to my mind’s eye which has for ever left an impression on me. The cold season had just started. The Mother had gone out early in the morning and was returning over the freshly fallen dew, which, mixed with particles of mud, was sticking to the soles of her feet. A little before this, the old maid servant, our ‘Aunt Sashi’ had well spread the paste of mud and cowdung as usual before the threshold of the Mother’s house. Coming to the door, the Mother stood with her two feet together to open the shutters of the door and enter the house. She pushed it and got into the house. The beautiful impressions of her dust-smeared feet on the freshly cleared ground presented a unique sight and bought to the mind the idea that the Goddess of Fortune, Sri Lakshmi Herself, had just entered the house.
In my boyhood days I had seen the designs or Alimpan made at the door of houses with a paste of rice flour on the days of the Lakshmi Puja. The drawing signified the sacred foot marks of the Devi indicative of her having entered the premises. The impression left by the Mother this day was just like that, but those were the imaginary pictures of the wishful thinking of the devotee’s heart while this one was a reality! That soul-bewitching foot-print kept my eyes captivated and produced in my heart a great joy. It was by seeing such footprints on the bank of the Yamuna that the Gopis had horripilation along with the earth! Oh earth, you are indeed fortunate! Soon the joy was transformed into sorrow with the thought that the impression would presently vanish from the sight of man! Could nothing be done to preserve it? No, I could not think of anything. So I took the dust of her feet from the ground to my head and chest, and thus found some joy and satisfaction. Then there flashed like lightning in my mind that the ever-playful Mother imprints her lotus feet permanently in the heart of her all-renouncing devotee.
“Hundreds of thousands of moons smile from the nails of her toes,” says a song, “and the beauty of her black complexion illumines the cavity of the heart!”
The Mother, as said earlier, was sitting at the threshold of Satish Biswas’s inner apartment. Banku approached her, made Pranam at her feet with great devotion and then stood before her with his head bent down. The Mother was very happy. Showering her affectionate blessings on him, she said again and with great joy, “Banku has become a Sadhu! He has done well! It is so grand. Banku has become a Sannyasin!” Banku was mute. He had long hair on his head, a loose frock on his shoulder reaching upto his ankles, wooden sandals on his feet, a brass Kamandalu (water pot of a Sannyasin) in one hand, and in the other a monk’s staff The small boys and girls were surrounding him and making noise. When the Mother came, these children were moved to a distance. Banku’s own aunt Bhavani Devi (our aunt Bhavi), who was a child widow without any offspring of her own, was shedding tears at seeing Banku, whom she loved like a son, in the Sannyasin’s dress. Many of the women of the locality had gathered there. They too were looking at him with tear-filled eyes, and from time to time were giving vent to the sorrow in their hearts. Many of the menfolk had also come and many were the remarks that were passed. None of them liked Banku’s taking to the Sannyasin’s garb, leaving such a fine profession as that of a Ramayana singer. The Mother was the only one who praised him She said, “He has done very well to have become a Sadhu. What is there in this cage of flesh and bones? Just look at me – I am suffering so much from rheumatism! What is there after all in this body? Why should one become enmeshed in this Maya? It will ultimately come to an end after a few days. Then when it is burnt, there will remain only a quantity of ashes. Banku has become a Sannyasin and taken to the path of God! He has done well, he has done well indeed!” The Mother was praising Banku in the exuberance of the joy of her heart, and showering her blessings on him profusely in the hearing of the others present. They all heard it gravely and quietly, but with reservations in their minds. After a little while the Mother asked Banku to follow her to her house and herself got up to return. She asked her companion, the disciple-son, “Come, bring Banku with you.” These two friends were very happy, having met after a long time. Hand in hand, they followed the Mother.
As soon as she reached home, the Mother cut some fruits with her own hands, arranged them on a plate, sent them to Banku through the son, and asked him to have mid-day Prasad also there.
When he was taking the Prasad at noon, the Mother let him know that he could stay at her place and have his food too there as long as he liked. Banku’s health had become bad. Under the Mother’s care, it started improving. He was spending his days in great joy and peace. Though maintaining Mauna (silence), he would sometimes speak a little with the Mother and have a word or two with his friend, avoiding public gaze. Banku spent his time quietly, steeped in his own thoughts, and would sing in his sweet melodious voice morning and evening, charming everybody. The songs were only those sung by the Bauls. His health had now become quite good, and people were thinking that Banku would be there for some time more. But early one morning, he left the place suddenly without letting anybody know about it.
When Banku was still staying here, a devotee, who was a singer, came to the Mother’s place. One evening he sang songs about the Master, every one of them depicting his glories. At the request of the singer and others, Banku also sang according to his own mood. The Mother was listening to the songs, sitting in the verandah before her room From her remarks it was evident that Banku’s songs had touched her heart. To the son sitting by her side, she said, “Banku indeed sings well – all his songs are about the Supreme Truth of the Atman.” The Mother’s heart would not be affected much by the beauty of the words of a song unaccompanied by genuine emotion She would be very happy, if there was intensity of feeling in the singer for the Truth permeating the song.