Kalipada Ghosh

(by R. Jayasekar)

Source: Nirvana, July 2007. Published by Ramakrishna Mission, Singapore

"Can you give me some wine," asked the man shamelessly to the Paramahamsa in the temple of Dakshineswar. It was surely a most insulting request to make to a holy man in a holy place. But strangely the Paramahamsa was not angered or displeased. His Mother Kali had sent one more player to the game. He glanced at the tall, well-built person of brown complexion, with large eyes and confident look and smiled. Here was one given to enjoy the pleasures of the world to the fullest. He replied: "Yes, I can give you some wine. But the wine I have is so intoxicating that you may not be able to bear it." "Grand. Is it real British wine? Let me have some to wet my throat." "No, it is not British wine. It is completely home made. If a person tastes this wine even once, all other drinks will be tasteless for ever. But not everyone can stand it. Are you ready for such a wine?" The man hesitated for a while, then replied, "Give me that wine which will make me intoxicated the whole of my life." The Paramahamsa touched him and the man started to weep and kept on weeping in spite of attempts by others to calm him. Thus began an extraordinary relationship between Kalipada Ghosh, worldly, passionate and given to enjoyment and Sri Ramakrishna, godly, austere, and prone to ecstasy at the merest hint of divine inspiration.

He tormented his wife

Among the first words the Master said to him was, "Here is a man who has come here after tormenting his wife for twelve years." Kalipada was startled. How did the Master know about him? He remained silent. Mere curiosity had made him accompany his friend Girish Chandra Ghosh to the temple, one afternoon late in 1884. He had begun to notice the change taking place in his friend since his encounter with a so called Paramahamsa of Dakshineswar. His normally cynical and critical friend, mutually sharing a similar zest for the Ďgood things of lifeí, had shown an uncharacteristic eagerness to visit this holy man, and had pulled him along. Sri Ramakrishna, on the other hand, recognised with an insight born of his realisation, that the man before him was that wayward person about whom a woman had approached him for consolation some years earlier. Krishnapriyangini, the wife of Kalipada Ghosh, had one day arrived at the Dakshineswar Temple to offer prayers to Mother Kali to mend the ways of her husband. Given to bad company, drinking and other unsavoury activities, Kalipada neglected his wife and family. All her attempts to change him and make him face his responsibilities had been in vain. In desperation she had resorted to divine help. Hearing of the presence of a holy man, she went to see him after offering her prayers at the temple. She unburdened her heart to him and asked, "Can you give me a charm to rectify his ways?"

Loath to use occult power and at the same time sympathetic to her predicament, the Master said, "There is a woman who dwells in the Nahabat over there. Her power is greater than mine. Go to her and tell everything without reserve. She will give you some remedy." The Holy Mother had just completed her worship when Krishnapriyangini entered and gave her tale of woe as well as the Masterís advice to her. Surprised at first, she understood the Masterís playful attempt, and sent back the lady to him telling her that the Master knew more. Like this poor Krishnapriyangini went from one to the other three times. Finally taking pity on her, the Holy Mother took one of the bilva leaves used for her worship, wrote the Masterís name on it and gave it to her saying, "Take this with you my child. It will fulfil your desire. Continue chanting the Lordís name." As she took leave of the Master he too reassured her Krishnapriyangini saying, "Donít worry. Your husband belongs to this place." And with faith in their words the poor lady had silently undergone her vigil these many years waiting patiently for the blessed day when her husbandís redemption would dawn. Saying nothing to the remark made by the Master at their first meeting, Kalipada joined the devotees who sat listening to his words of wisdom. In the course of his talk, the Master casually mentioned that Rakhalís (the future Swami Brahmananda) father, a wealthy man of the world, believed that he had won three law suits because his son was protected by Ramakrishna. After the talk, Kalipada took his leave without even saluting the Master.

When he reached home surprising news awaited him. That day he was to have presented himself at court to face three law suits, but had not done so being sure of defeat. But here was news that he had won all his cases. Was it pure coincidence or did the grace of the Saint have anything to do with it? Why did he mention those cases in his talk? Kalipada felt a strange attraction for this holy man. He regretted his rude behaviour at leave taking.

Successful man of the world

Kalipada Ghosh was born in 1849 in Calcutta to a pious family devoted to Mother Kali. His father was a trader in jute, but the business was not affluent. As a boy Kalipada was full of energy with many interests, ranging from music and singing to drama and even cooking. He was a stubborn boy but was willing to submit himself to those he adored, a trait he carried into manhood. Due to the familyís poverty, his father was forced to take him out of school while in the eighth grade and find him a job as a shop assistant in the British paper firm of Messrs. John Dickinson and Company. Being uneducated his career prospects thus appeared unimpressive. But his innate intelligence, diligence and dedication soon captured the attention of his superiors and with time Kalipada rose to a high position in the Company. His importance can be gauged from the fact that the watermark of the papers printed by the Company carried his bust as an imprint.

The successful Kalipada soon made the acquaintance of Girish Chandra Ghosh and the two became quite close to each other. They had a similarity of tastes and temperaments. Kalipada began living a life devoted to satisfying his baser instincts such as drinking and debauchery, to the neglect of his wife and family. The constant endeavours of his pious wife to correct him occasionally brought about a change of heart and he resorted to religious rituals to soothe his guilty conscience. But to no avail. The pull of the senses soon overpowered his resolutions and he fell back into his old habits. Thus did his dark impulses plunge him inevitably along a path of social and spiritual ruin. But strangely his very friendship with his equally bohemian friend Girish became the instrument of his redemption. It was Girish who had first come under the spell of the Master. And it was Girish who had persuaded and taken Kalipada to the Master. So what was once looked upon by some as bad company became ultimately the cause of his salvation. Strange are the ways of providence.

Dakshineswar pulls

Since his visit Kalipada could not forget the benign countenance of Sri Ramakrishna. His heart was restless for another sight of the sage. He felt drawn by some inexplicable power back to Dakshineswar. And so one afternoon soon after the first visit we find him again arriving alone by boat at Dakshineswar. Sri Ramakrishna welcomed him as one of his own and expressed a wish to go to Calcutta. Offering to take the Master in his own boat, they boarded the boat together with the Masterís boy attendant Latu (Swami Adbhutananda) and set off for Calcutta. On the way the next scene of the Masterís Lila took place. During their journey Kalipada poured out his heart to the Master. He revealed that he was, contrary to his outer behaviour, a devotee of the Divine Mother, that he had been seeking a true teacher to whom he could surrender to but had found none until now. Then to the surprise of the Master and Latu, Kalipada, then and there in the boat knelt down and holding the Masterís feet with both hands said, "You are my Guru. Please save this sinnerís life." Averse to being called a Guru by one and all, the Master replied, "Oh no! Chant the name of the Lord. You will get liberation." But Kalipada did not relent. Clasping the Masterís feet more firmly he lamented, "Sir, I am a wicked man and a drunkard. My activities leave no time to chant the Lordís name. Kindly save this ruffian who is undisciplined and unrighteous." Going into ecstasy the Master asked him to stretch out his tongue and then wrote something on it with his finger. "Henceforth this tongue will chant the name of the Lord by itself." A sense of peace and joy never experienced before engulfed Kalipada. Reaching Calcutta the Master blessed him further by visiting his house. The Lord, the scriptures say, is an ocean of mercy who looks not at the past life of those who surrender to Him but into their heart to see the sincerity of their motive and the intensity of their desire to change for the better and bestows His grace accordingly.

The Touch of the Philosopherís Stone

It is said in mythology that the touch of the Philosopherís Stone transforms base metal into pure gold. So too did the pure touch and influence of the Master. Kalipada from this meeting with the Master began to lead a more disciplined life. But well-entrenched habits die hard. On many occasions he would give in to his desires and fall back on his old ways, to his subsequent remorse and disgust at his weakness. But as often as he fell he would pick himself up and continue his march towards perfection. Many of his colleagues thought that the change that had come upon him was too good to be true. But Kalipada persevered and the Master in turn had faith in his disciple. Like Girish the Master allowed him many liberties denied to others. For the Master was no ordinary teacher giving the same lesson to all students. Far from moral admonishments, the Master, knowing the sincerity of his heart, coaxed him through encouragement to bring out his dormant positive qualities. This love of the Master which overlooked his weaknesses acted as a natural corrective whenever Kalipadaís will wavered in the face of temptation. So liberal was the Master that Kalipada himself smilingly remarked, "Ours is a grand teacher! We are not asked to practise meditation and other disciplines." But he now felt that his mind was naturally drawn to the Master. What then is meditation if not the constant dwelling on a holy idea? His devotion and renunciation blossomed under these circumstances until the time came one day (18 October 1885) when the Master himself spoke of him to his devotees as follows, "Kalipada has given up drinking altogether." Much later in life, Kalipada would publicly say, "Though I indulged in revelry like Jagai and Madhai, the Master blessed me as his own", in reference to the two ruffians who became devotees of Sri Chaitanya.

Prelude to Self-Revelation

Towards the end of September 1885 Sri Ramakrishna was moved to Shyampukur in Calcutta so that he could get better treatment for his severe throat disease. However, the first residence rented for the Master was not to his liking and he left to stay at Balaramís house. Kalipada then found a more suitable place for the Masterís stay. He took great pains to ensure that the house was as comfortable as possible by procuring the necessary household articles and even went to the extent of hanging up pictures of gods and goddesses on the walls. Here the young future monastic disciples of the Master set themselves up as his gate keepers restricting access to the Master by the public, believing that the Masterís illness was aggravated by too much talking and by the touch of impure people. Kalipada on the other hand believed that the Masterís illness was a pretext to serve some higher purpose. One day an uncommon sight met them. Here was Kalipada come to see the Master accompanied by a young European gentleman with a feminine look. The boys hesitated to stop them, for was not Kalipada a beloved disciple of the Master? Going up to Ramakrishnaís room the visitor revealed 'himself' to the Master as the actress Binodini. Binodini had mentally surrendered herself to the Master when he went to see Girishís play Chaitanyalila in September 1884. The Master laughed at the enterprising trick of Kalipada and heartily blessed Binodini for her devotion to him.

It was again Kalipada who made the arrangements for the worship of the Divine Mother in the Masterís room in Shyampukur on Kali Puja day on 6 November 1885. The Master himself had given instructions for the worship. After offering the articles for worship to the Divine Mother, the Master sat still without continuing the worship. It then struck Ramchandra Dutta and Girish that the Master was giving them the opportunity to worship Him as the Divine Mother. Girish immediately offered a garland at the Masterís feet saying 'Victory to Sri Ramakrishna'. The Master went into Samadhi and his hands assumed the divine postures of bestowing fearlessness and boons. All the devotees present including Kalipada offered flowers at his feet. This act was the first of many small incidents that led to its culmination on 1 January 1886 when the Master fully revealed himself as a divine incarnation. On 11 December 1885 the Master was moved to Cossipore Garden house as the air in the outskirts of the city was better. Here, even before the eventful Kalpataru Day of 1 January 1886, the Masterís grace towards Kalipada overflowed. It was the morning of 23 December 1885. Touching Kalipadaís chest he said, "May your inner spirit be awakened." Then stroking his chin affectionately the Master continued, "Whoever has sincerely called on God or performed his daily religious devotions will certainly come here."

Faith Undying

The Master left his mortal form in the early hours of 16 August 1886. Kalipada was shattered with grief. He had all along believed that the Masterís disease was a divine pretext. This was the moment for his faith to waver. He shut himself up in his room and meditated on the Master. After a few days he emerged tranquil and ready to face the world, his faith intact and strong. Swami Prabhananda surmises in his 'First Meetings' that he must have had some spiritual experience that had cleared his doubts. His devotion now found expression in the numerous songs he composed on Sri Ramakrishna. He continued the public celebration of the Masterís birthday (which he had helped to organise even during the Masterís lifetime) even when he was posted outside Calcutta by his employers, for example celebrating it on a grand scale in Bombay and Trivandrum. He helped the fledgling monastery at Baranagore continuing his support even after he was posted to Bombay. During their itinerant days the sannyasin disciples of the Master found a ready and joyful host in Kalipada whenever they happened to be in Bombay. On account of his generosity and courage Narendra had aptly called him 'Dana Kali', a name having the dual meaning generous as also demon-like in courage. Fully convinced that the Master was the door to liberation, he lent his assistance to Ramchandra Dutta to spread the Masterís name and took upon himself the management of Ramchandraís Yogodyan Ashram in Kankurgacchi (where part of the Masterís cremated remains were kept) upon the latterís demise. So convinced was he that the Master was behind every one of his successes that he displayed the Masterís photograph not only in his home but in all the offices of the firm he was employed in. So spiritual did he become that others marvelled at his transformation. His spiritual growth can be gauged from the following incident. One day a rogue struck him. But the stout Kalipada, who could have easily beaten him up did not retaliate, even when his friends urged him to take revenge. "Was it the ruffian who struck me? Being a servant of Ramakrishna who can beat me? It is Ramakrishna himself who hit me."

Lead me by the hand

It was the night of 28 June 1905. Kalipada lay ill at his home in Calcutta. Swami Premananda had come from Belur Math to be at the side of this householder disciple whom the Master had called 'his own'. Suddenly the Swami saw Kalipadaís face light up. He stretched out his hand as if to someone in front of him and breathed his last. Hearing of this incident Swami Adbhutananda remarked, "Sri Ramakrishna came for him at the moment of his death. Baburam (Swami Premananda) clearly perceived it. All the promises of the Master are being fulfilled." Many years earlier, in the very presence of Latu, Kalipada had requested the Master thus, "When I leave the world I shall see terrible darkness all around and be filled with terror. You must lead me by the hand holding a lantern in the other. I shall always be with you then." "All right, your wish will be fulfilled," the Master had replied. Kalipadaís life is one more testimony to the truth that an incarnation is the physical manifestation of Divine Grace. By a touch or a word, the incarnation imparts spirituality and transforms the character of even those considered hopeless by society. Kalipadaís life story gives the assurance that there is hope for all that no one need to despair because of his past. With faith and perseverance all can surely succeed in the spiritual quest.

1. 'First Meetings with Sri Ramakrishna' by Swami Prabhananda
2. 'They Lived With God' by Swami Chetanananda