HIS LIFE AND TEACHINGS
LIFE AT BARANAGAR
The house which became the first monastery of the Sanyasin disciples of Sri Ramakrishna "was situated between Dakshineswar and the city of Calcutta. It was a dreary place. For years it had had no tenants. For years it had the appearance of being deserted. It was in fact in a ruined condition and sadly in need of repair. Besides being very old, it had the reputation of being haunted. It was two storeys in height but the lower storey was absolutely useless, being the resort of lizards and snakes. The gateway had long since tumbled down. The verandah which flanked the front part of the upper storey showed signs of decay. The main room at the back part where the monks lived was in a most dilapidated state. Indeed, none others would have lived there for fear of the building giving way. To the east of the building was another house which was used as a sort of chapel where the family God of the owners was worshipped by a resident priest. To the west was a garden overgrown with weeds and tall brush and undergrowth so that it resembled a jungle. The rooms of the ground floor were never occupied during the time the monks remained there except one in which lived the gardener of the landlord. They were exceedingly damp and dingy and filled with all sorts of rubbish which several generations of landlords had allowed to accumulate and made no effort to remove. The garden was peopled by tall Sovanjan and Mango trees and a Vilva tree giving a sombre aspect to the place. At the back part was a pond which had become overgrown with moss and was the breeding place of mosquitos. The whole place was weird.
"There were many thrilling tales current concerning dark deeds which, it is said had been perpetrated in this house and compound, but this was long ago, and besides, the Sanyasin disciples of Sri Ramakrishna had no fear of ghosts. The monks had chosen this dreary retreat not only because of its cheapness, but especially because it was adjacent to the Baranagore burning ghat where the body of the Master had.been consigned to the flames. They desired to be near the sacred river also as their Master always did and the Baranagore Monastery was but a few minutes walk from the Ganges. Here the monks were glad to live away from the turmoil of city life in the solitude where few cared to interrupt their days of meditation". It was to this dreary, desolate place that Tulasicharan came. At home there was bitter weeping. The inmates, males as well as females, went to the Math to persuade Tulasi to return home. They wept before him and prayed to him to come away from that haunted house. It was all in vain. Many a time did they go and try all possible means to bring him back. Every time they returned weeping. At last they implored him to visit them once a week. He refused to do that also. But such was their love for him that they used occasionally to go to Baranagore, about 3 miles from their house.
And they did not go empty handed. It was after the lapse of two years that one day he appeared before them in their house. By then, he had become a Sanyasin with gerua cloth and long hair and uncut beard. He spoke to them affectionately and advised them to lead noble lives, They gave up all hopes of his rejoining them, but requested him to give them 'darshan' once in a way. He consoled them saying that he would not only see them, but would mix with them as of old, although only as befitting a sanyasin. He only wanted that they should not interfere with his way of life. He told them that he was about to start on a long pilgrimage and on taking leave of them accepted two blankets from them. The offer of clothes and other things was gently declined.
The other members of the Monastery were not all strangers to them. Some of them had assembled in their house many a time and passing many happy hours there, had endeared themselves to them and had partaken of their hospitality. They were sorry at heart to see the hard life of these young men accustomed, till then, to comforts and luxuries. And what sort of a life they now led! Rice, with or without salt, and boiled Neem or Nimba leaves was the food upon which they subsisted. Sometimes they could not procure even these. Then they would shut the door and spend day and night in song and prayer. One piece of cloth and two pieces of loin-cloth were all that any could boast of in the way of clothing. But what did it matter? They were indifferent to everything except the thoughts of their Master and the realisation, by self effort, of what he had pointed out to them. Said the leader once: "we were carried on by a strong tide of religious practices and meditation. O! the days that we passed! Demons even would have run away at the sight of such austerities. What to speak of men!"
A few months passed in this way. During the latter part of December 1886, the members of the Baranagore Monastery went to Antpur at the invitation of Baburam's (Swami Premananda's) mother. Here Norendra gathered all the young disciples of the Master, and in the fervour of spiritual enthusiasm which was evoked there, the bond of fellowship among them was distinctly sealed. Before returning to the Monastery they all went on pilgrimage to the famous temple of Tarakeswar Siva where they offered worship to the Lord of Monks.
In spirit they were all monks of the highest order. But they had not taken formal sanyas. M. – says in the 2nd Volume of the Kathamritha (7th edition, page 268) that Sri Ramakrishna did not give formal sanyas to any one and that the devotees called themselves by their old names Dutt, Ghose, Ganguli, etc., and continued their studies living in their homes as before, for sometime after the passing away of the Master. "Sri Ramakrishna did not give formal Sanyas to any of his disciples. Formalism and calculation were not in his nature. He moved wholly by the impulsion of the Divine Mother's Will. * * * He gave the first initiation to his boys, thus laying the foundation of their spiritual life, but he left the second to be given by ' Noren ' who became the leader of the group after the Master was gone (Sri Ramakrishna and His Disciples by Sister Devamata, page 98). When the Sanyas was actually given and in what order to the various monks is not definitely known. In Swami Sishya Samvada (Part I, p. 99) of Saratchandra Chakravarty, a disciple of Swami Vivekananda, it is stated "We have heard that after the Mahasamadhi of Sri Ramakrishna, Swamiji (Vivekananda) collected all the passages in the Upanishads dealing with the rules for taking Sanyas and took Sanyas with his gurubhais according to Vedic rites before a picture of Sri Ramakrishna." The Bengali Book 'Kali-Tapaswi' (Life of Swami Abhedananda, published by the Ramakrishna Vedanta Society, Calcutta) gives the following version (pages 38 – 40): "Gradually Norendra brought to the Mutt (Baranagore) Sarat, Rakha), Baburam, Niranjan, Gangadhar, Subodh, Hari, Tulasi, Sarad and others * * * *. One day Noren wanted to take Sanyas with his gurubhais according to Vedic rites. Kali made arrangements for performing the Viraja Homa according to the Shastras, and placing the sandals of the Guru (Sri Ramakrishna) in front, officiated as the director, and Noren, Kali, Sasi, Sarat, Rakhal, Baburam, Niranjan, etc., performed the ceremony. Noren called himself Vividishananda and gave names to the others according to their characteristics. * * * Tarak did not join in the above homa. When Jogin and Latu returned from Brindavan, Kali made them perform the Homa and take Sanyas. A few days after, Hari and Tulasi took Sanyas in the above manner." Vaikuntanath Sanyal, a direct disciple of the Master has stated that Norendra took Sanyas himself and gave Sanyas to Brahmananda, Ramakrishnananda, Abhedananda, Adbhutananda, Nirmalananda, Turiyananda * * * and others by performing; jag-yajna (sacrificial fire) before the picture and relics of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. All these took sanyas on the same day."
In a conversation at Benares Swami Nirmalanandaji stated "One day Swamiji (Vivekananda) selected the Mantras necessary for taking Sanyas from Mahanirvana Tantra and gave Sanyas to all of us. Sarat, Sasi, Kali, Latu, Gopal senior, Maharaj and Baburam – all of us receivsd Sanyas from Swami Vivekananda. Later on Mahapurushji, Vijnananandaji, Niranjananandaji and Trigunateetaji took Sanyas themselves in the shrine of Sri Ramakrishna. Swamiji gave us the Sanyas names."
So, Noren who became Vividishananda himself gave Sanyas to his gurubhais and gave them appropriate names. To Tulasicharan Dutt, he gave the name Nirmalananda 'on account of the rare purity of his character,' so wrote Swami Ramakrishnanandaji.
Rare purity of character and the resultant strength and fearlessness were the outstanding characteristics of Swami Nirmalanandaji from his earliest to his last days.
It has been said "Baranagore is synonymous with spiritual Sadhana." "Indeed, those were memorable days at the Baranagore Mutt. In the reading of the story, one is brought back, as it were to the time of St. Francis of Assisi and his disciples. It was all burning ecstacy and tremendous asceticism. It was the rekindling and requickening of the great spiritual flame which burned at Dakshineswar as the effulgent enlightenment of many souls. Poverty and blessedness intermingled in a strange beauty and loveliness and it was true of the monks that they lived not by bread alone * * Indeed the very atmosphere of the monastery was vibrant with spiritual consciousness. It seemed, ss if even the trees, the grass, the birds and the lights of day and the shadows of night had taken up the threnody of their burning renunciation and Vairagya. The world had no meaning for the monks. They had brought the highest freedom of the highest spheres down to the earthly plane. They were aware only of God; and in those days there was lighted a certain fire which nothing has as yet extinguished ; nor can it ever be extinguished because it is the fire of the spirit; and it has swept with hurricane force across the land, spreading the gospel of Ramakrishna. And the monks were like so many leaping tongues of that Fire, and the most soaring flame was the soul of the chief disciple of the Master * * But in truth there was no distinction made as one being greater or lesser than another. They were all equally inhabitants of another world than this, – the world of the monastic consciousness. All laboured side by side in performing the duties of the monastery, and of all, in this respect, Swami Ramakrishnananda was the head and heart," and his right hand was Swami Nirmalananda. The Memoirs of Swami Shivanandaji by Mahendranath Dutt, brother of Swami Vivekananda, describes him thus (page 123 – 126):- "He was young, lean, strong in body, most sweet in speach and always cheerful. He was also an untiring worker. He was, as it were the right hand of Swami Ramakrishnananda. Whether in cleaning utensils or bringing water from the tank or in any other work, Swami Nirmaiananda was the first and foremost. For a long time he used to prepare roti at night. This preparing of roti was a delightful affair. Two or three (monks) would grind the flour and mix it with water. He would sit on a kerosine oil tin and prepare the roti one by one and serve it hot to others * * Swamis Ramakrishnanandaji and Nirmalanandaji were the strenuous workers in the Alambazar Mutt also. Everything was under their supervision. During all these years, Swami Nirmalanandaji's life, though hard and strenuous from one point of view, was happy from another point. This was, in a way, the highest period in his early life. He used to do Japa and Dhyana on the one hand, and on the other pursue his studies whenever he got leisure. He was also devoted to work. When necessary he used to sweep and cleanse the whole house and also go to the bazaar and purchase the necessary articles and bring them himself to the Mutt in a basket hanging from his shoulders. He used to cleanse the utensils also. Of course, others would help him. The picture of that wonderful period of Swami Nirmalanandaji's life is still before my eyes. There was a tank near the back-side of the house. Swami Nirmalanandaji used to carry one pot of water on his shoulders and another in his hand and walk down the stairs and then go up to the latrine on the terraced upstairs and cleanse that. (I make my pranam, I make my pranam, I make my pranams to him.) He used also to fill the big earthen pots with water. This continuous work produced a scar on his left shoulder. Along with all this he used to attend to the kitchen work. Further, he would tend the sick. There was not the least feeling of hardship or tiresomeness. He was always cheerful and smiling. In truth, Swami Nirmalananda gave his heart's blood for the work and progress of the Baranagore and Alambazar Mutts."
How the writer of the above memoir was impressed by the Swami at first sight is described by him in his book. "The Incidents in the Life of Swami Vivekananda." (Part I, pages 200 and 201.) "One hot day in 1887 the present writer went to Baranagore Mutt to see Norendranath. Norendranath had gone to the house of Nabhoy Chaitanya at Konnagar on the banks of the Ganges. The old Nabhoy used to go to Sri Ramakrishna and was doing Sadhana in a hut in Konnagar. So, Norendranath made frequent visits to that old Nabhoy. The present writer saw that a youth of about 20 or 22 years whose body though lean was strong on account of the practice of physical exercise, with shining eyes and piercing, clear and commanding tone and words, was then at the Mutt. Swamis Shivananda and Saradananda were also there at the time. When the youth was asked to go and bring Norendranath, he ran at once and went by boat to Konnagar. Both returned at nightfall. This. was the first meeting of the present writer with Swami Nirmalanandaji."
Again in Part II of the same work the author repeats his impressions and feelings and adds "when the Alambazar Math was started, Swami Nirmalanandaji was considered one of the leaders there. * * He did everything as the helpmate of Swami Ramakrishnanandaji. He himself used to cleanse the latrine and bring water from the tank, one big pot on his left shoulder and another in his right hand and fill the vessels that were placed in front of the latrine. He himself did the shopping. He used to do everything with all his heart and soul. And whenever he got a little respite from work, he would devote himself to his studies. Sadhana and Bhajana were also pursued with great zeal. He was always cheerful, humble and sweet in speech. His allsided power began to manifest itself during this period. He would serve and satisfy all. That has been his nature always. His love and kindness towards all was unlimited. To cite one instance: In 1899, on one of the hottest days in May or June all of us went to bathe in Lochanghose's ghat. Engrossed in conversation, it was late in the noon when we returned. The road was sandy and burning. All were bare-footed. The heat was intolerable. Everyone felt his feet burning. The feet of the present writer got swelled and blistered as we neared the east of the bazaar. Swami Nirmalanandaji was also bare-footed. But he took up the present writer on his shoulders and conveyed him to the Mutt, not minding the trouble and his own feet. There are very many such instances in his life. * * In learning and scholarship also his reputation was established. He had studied carefully the different Shastras in Sanskrit and was a specialist in Sanskrit grammer He could talk as freely in Sanskrit as in Bengali and Hindi. He used to teach Vedanta, Vyakarana and other Shastras to the new members in the Mutt. One particular characteristic of his was that the places and things he used were kept scrupulously neat and clean. He was an expert cook and used to cook many dishes much better than professional cooks." During the course of a recent interview, the revered writer spoke as follows. "I am very glad to know that you have preserved the remains of Swami Nirmalanandaji in a memorial temple. I am also very happy to hear that you are going to publish a life of that great soul. We are related in many ways although we do not belong to the same family. He was a noble soul and I am indebted to him in many ways. Please express my respectful pranams and also gratefulness in every line of the book. Baranagore and Alambazar Mutts were established by his sweat-nay-by the drops of his life-blood. Financially and physically he used to serve those institutions in an unimaginable way. Those old faces who have seen and known those facts – all have passed away. I am also dying. He did not want to enjoy anything for himself. He only wanted to serve others. I request you to quote whatever I have mentioned about him in my books " Swamijir Jeevanerghatanavali" and "Mahapurusher Anudhyanayana." Please express my respectful pranams in the book."
When SJ. Rajagopal Naidu, a devotee from Bangalore, visited the birth place of Swami Vivekananda in 1911 he met Sj. Mahendranath Uutt. He went on talking with the devotee for about an hour and all the while he talked about Swami Nirmalanandaji's greatness only. In the course of the conversation he said: "You are fortunate in having the great Swami in your midst. He is a moon amidst stars. He is such a tyagi that he would give away even his 'Koupina' if others are in need."
The Swami Vivekananda himself once pointed to him as an ideal Sanyasin. "Look at Tulasi," he said, "a sadhu should be like him. He has got a very fine head, and a very strong body. He works indefatigably days and nights, he can also immerse himself in meditation for long hours. He can sing well and play on musical instruments. He can expound Shastras, hold conversations, give lectures and cook well. You should be all-round like him."