By Swami Nirvikalpananda
Swami Nirvikalpananda is the Secretary of the Ramakrishna Mission Ashrama in Dehra Dun, India.
This article was originally published in the January, 2008 issue of Prabuddha Bharata.
In this article, I would like to relate two touching incidents that I witnessed while I was serving at Jayrambati some years ago, and an anecdote that is told at the Jayrambati ashrama.
There was an old man named Habu Munda who belonged to the Santal tribe and lived near the village of Jayrambati. He was around eighty years old, very lean and thin, and seemed to be a beggar in appearance. He would come to the Matri Mandir (Sri Sarada Devi’s temple) every day, but would never enter inside the temple. Standing below the stairs, he would talk to Mother pleadingly—sometimes crying, sometimes getting angry—and act like a mad man. Without entering the temple he would touch the last step of the staircase with his forehead and leave the place. What surprised everybody was that not even heavy rains or winter cold could deter him from coming to the temple after evening arati to make his prayers! Also, if any devotee, seeing his sad, beggarly appearance, would try to give him some money, he would not accept it, and would show them the temple’s donation box.
One day Swami Dhireshananda came to Jayrambati and saw Habu acting abnormally outside the temple. The swami came to Rammay Maharaj (Swami Gaurishwarananda, the then-president of Jayrambati ashrama), complained about him, and asked Maharaj to take some action immediately. Habu was called and asked why he behaved in this way and what he wanted. Thereupon the old man related his story in his mixed Santal-Bengali tongue.
It so happened that when Habu was a child he had come to Holy Mother, Sri Sarada Devi, at Jayrambati along with his father at the time when Mother’s new house had just been completed. There is a custom in the Santal community that when a guest comes to one’s house for the first time, the host should call the guest near and ask about his or her home, well-being, requirements, and so on. So Habu too expected Mother to call him to her side, but Mother, being too busy with the house-opening ceremony, failed to give any special attention to him, which hurt him. But he happened to meet Sharat Maharaj (Swami Saradananda), who asked him to go once more to Mother. This time too when he went to her, she didn’t pay him any attention, which pained him immensely.
He returned with deep sorrow to Sharat Maharaj, and said emphatically that henceforth he wouldn’t go to Mother unless she herself called him. Then Sharat Maharaj told him with affection that if he prayed to Mother wholeheartedly she would definitely bestow her grace on him. The child believed this completely and started praying to Mother. Later on he came to know that Mother had left the world. Thenceforth he started coming to the temple and praying to Mother from outside to call him near her. Hearing this tale of unheard prayer, Swami Dhireshananda, though a staunch Vedantin, couldn’t restrain his tears. Sometimes when Rammay Maharaj saw Habu, he would tease him, saying, “Why are you wasting your time? Mother won’t call you!” At this, Habu would affirm with conviction, “No, Mother will, Sharat Maharaj has told me!”
After some days, Habu’s grandson came to the ashrama with the news that his grandfather was bedridden and wanted to see Rammay Maharaj. But since Maharaj was not well enough to travel, he asked us to go to see him. So some of us sadhus went to see the old man. As soon as he saw us he said with brightened eyes, in broken Bengali, “Mother came! She gave darshan and called me to herself!” and repeated these words several times with unbounded joy, his face beaming with bliss. Mother had finally heard the prayers of her son and had given him her blessed darshan. How long could she restrain herself from answering the cries of her child? She had come to take him in her arms.
After hearing this from us, Rammay Maharaj understood that this was the final moment, and had someone bring him charanamrita (holy water) from Mother’s temple before he breathed his last. In Habu Munda we see a wonderful example of faithful prayer and devotion. And we also witness the compassionate grace of the Holy Mother, who is also the Divine Mother of the universe.
The following anecdote is related to Sri Ramakrishna’s temple at Garbeta. A man who served as a porter in the nearby railway station used to come to this temple. Every morning at early dawn he would come to the ashrama and sweep the entire area from the gate to the temple, meticulously removing all garbage and dried leaves; thus the temple authorities were relieved of this morning work. Prabhu Maharaj (Swami Vireswarananda, the tenth president of the Ramakrishna Order) once came to Garbeta and saw the wonderful service rendered by this man. He was highly impressed, and asked who this employee was. The monk in charge informed Prabhu Maharaj that he was not an employee but offered this service out of his own shraddha—deep faith—without being asked to do so.
After seeing the poor condition of the villagers in that area, Prabhu Maharaj asked Sri Shiv Shankar Chakravarty, the then director of Ramakrishna Mission Lokashiksha Parishad, to start a project of service to the poor (Pallimangal) in Garbeta, which was launched later on. This man, being a porter, usually carried the luggage of those ashrama guests and visitors who came by train to Garbeta. Once it so happened that when he came to the ashrama, Holy Mother’s janma tithi or birthday celebration was going on, and a swami was speaking about Holy Mother to the devotees. In the course of his talk, the swami related the local legend behind the temple.
Once, when Holy Mother was returning to Jayrambati after a pilgrimage to Puri, along with Master Mahashay (“M”, the author of the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna) and others, the train stopped at the Garbeta station for a long time. Mother asked the reason for this long delay and was told that the engine of the train was being filled with water and coal. Hearing this, she became excited like a child and came out of the train to see it herself. As soon as she stepped on the platform, she saw Sri Ramakrishna standing there smiling at her and then moving out of the station to some distance; then he disappeared. She told the devotees present that a temple should be built for Sri Ramakrishna in that place.
In 1915 a Ramakrishna Math was started at Garbeta, and later a Ramakrishna temple was also built. In the course of the lecture, the devotee porter heard that Holy Mother had initiated a Bihari porter at the Vishnupur railway station and had given him darshan as Mother Janaki (Sita). Being also a Bihari, he related this incident to himself. He was a man of simple faith, and believed without doubt that Holy Mother was Mother Janaki herself, and that she would one day give darshan to him too, as she had done long before to someone who was, perhaps, some distant relative of his.
This inspired him to come to the ashrama before going to his regular work every day and to do some selfless service in his own way. This he did without fail as long as he lived in Garbeta, and before leaving the place, he came to the temple with some offerings for the Holy Mother. What happened to him afterwards we don’t know, but he was a great lesson to all of us in simple faith and devotion.
This is the story of another son of Holy Mother. His name was Shantiram Das. He belonged to Haldi, a village near Jayrambati. His birth itself was a blessing of the Mother. Shanti’s father, Yogesh Das, was an ardent devotee of Holy Mother and regularly served Mother as a palanquin bearer. Occasionally, he would sweep and clean the compound of Mother’s new house. He had five daughters and greatly yearned for a son. So one day he came to Mother and expressed his sorrow, saying, “Mother, I have five daughters who work with their mother. If I had a son, I could have brought him here along with me and engaged him in your service. It is my humble prayer to you, Mother, that if another child is to be born to me, it should be a son. Without that I shall have no peace.”
Mother thought for a while and said, “All right, I shall pray to Thakur.” As it happened, a male child was born to him the next year. Yogesh’s joy knew no bounds; he came running to the Mother and exclaimed, “Mother, by your grace I have got a son.” Mother smilingly asked, “So now are you at peace?” He replied, “Yes Mother, my heart is full of peace.” Then Mother said, “Then let the boy be named Shanti (peace).” During the boy’s annaprashan ceremony, when the child is fed with cooked cereals for the first time, Mother gave him a pair of gold-plated bangles, which he preserved throughout his life.
His family believed that after Shanti received these bangles from Mother, whom they looked upon as Goddess Lakshmi herself, their financial condition improved greatly. As the boy Shanti grew older, he started coming to Mother’s house along with his father. Yogesh had his son on one shoulder and his youngest daughter on the other, the latter being only one and a half years older than Shanti. So whatever fruit Mother had she would divide exactly into two for the children, lest they should fight.
When Shanti saw his father cleaning the compound with a broom, he too started doing the same—with difficulty, as the broom was very big for him. Seeing him struggle with the big broom, Mother procured a smaller one and gave it to him, saying, “This is the broom for you; you can serve with this one.” Thereafter, he unfailingly continued his devotional service to Mother with great zeal and enthusiasm.
A few years passed in this way, during which Shanti enjoyed Mother’s unbounded love and affection. Eventually, Holy Mother became seriously ill, and it was decided that she would move to her Calcutta residence. As Mother was about to leave, Shanti asked her with tearful eyes, “Now for whom shall I work, Mother, whom shall I serve?” Mother replied with affection, “My child, you shall continue your service to me, thinking that I am always present here and am always watching you. Where shall I go?” Shanti’s simple heart couldn’t doubt Mother’s words; he continued his service to Mother daily with the same enthusiasm as before, feeling her eternal presence even after she left the mortal world.
In 1923, the Matri Mandir was established on the birthplace of Holy Mother, and the things in Jayrambati changed, but there was no change in Shanti’s attitude and sincerity. In fact, his faith and devotion increased with time, and whether it was winter, summer, or the rainy season, Shanti was seen every morning with a broom in hand, serving with a blissful heart. He never accepted any money for his service, as it was all for his own Mother. On festival days he accepted a dhoti and chadar—gifts that were distributed to all. He had a job as the chowkidar (watchman) of the Haldi village and thus earned his living, but he spent most of his spare time at the ashrama.
When he became old and weak, the ashrama authorities asked him not to exert himself in hard work, but nobody could persuade him to stop his service to Mother. If somebody asked him to stop his work he would answer promptly, “Who are you to ask me to stop? It is Mother who appointed me to this service. I am her servant. She didn’t teach me any shastra or sadhan-bhajan; she only gave me a broom. Hence this is my sadhana, my worship to her.” His service continued until he became bedridden.
On his last day, lying in bed, suddenly his face became bright and blissful. And he breathed his last with a smile on his face and Mother’s name on his lips. Shanti’s last rites were performed with due respect at the ghat on the bank of the Amodar river at Jayrambati. He was honoured as a great devotee of Mother. The bangles which Mother had given to him are preserved by his family. Also, many of his relatives serve at the ashrama. Countless are the living examples of Mother’s grace and infinite love. She used to say repeatedly, “I am the Mother of all.” How many of us have the kind of unbounded faith in her words that Shanti had?