HIS LIFE AND TEACHINGS
Now came to him another call, that of his motherland. Through the exertions of Swami Ramakrishnanandaji, a religious centre had been opened at Bangalore about the year 1904. An Ashrama had been built and opened there in 1909 (20 – 1 – 1909) by Swami Brahmanandaji. The charge of the centre had passed several hands in such quick succession that it became apparent that no permanent good could come out of it unless it was placed in very strong and capable hands. The President Maharaj had returned to Madras after opening the above Ashrama. In consultation with Swami Ramakrishnanandaji, he wrote to the Swami to come to the South and take charge of the Bangalore Ashrama. The letter reached him at Chamba. It may be interesting to state that while the Swami was at Chamba, be was seen by a fortune teller who predicted that the Swami would soon leave the place and go to the south. Although he knew nothing of South India, he described the place to which the Swami was destined to go. Swamiji was surprised to find that his description was accurate. On receipt of the letter the Swami came to Calcutta and went to pay his respects to the Holy Mother. With her blessings he came to Madras, and from there Sri Maharaj sent him to Bangalore along with Swami Ramakrishnanandaji. He took charge from Brahmachari Narayana Rao in April 1909 and set himself to work. His first lecture was in Hindi. It was much appreciated.
He began to hold classes for religious instructions in the Ashrama and in many parts of Bangalore, in the City, C. V. S. School, Cantonment, Ulsoor Vivekananda Ashrama and other piaces. At the Math he began to hold regular classes on Rajayoga on every Sunday. He had also to attend to the work in the kitchen. Linguistic, financial and other difficulties stood in the way of the Swanii's getting a cook or assistant for long. He did all the work himself. Later on Swami Visuddhananda was sent to assist him. The Swami soon came to be widely known as a great scholar and a powerful speaker. Having an assistant in the Ashrama he was now free to accept invitations to visit distant places. In the month of May he was invited to preside over the Annual gathering of Sadhus (Sixth convention of the Sadhu Sangha Maha Sabha) at Kurukkudurai, He accepted the invitation and delivered his inaugural address in English on 'The general aspects of Hinduism'. The next morning, he addressed the large assemblage on 'Who is a Sadhu'. It was very interesting, as it pointed out the real characteristic of a Sadhu as distinguished from quacks and charlatans that pass for such. In the evening, he discoursed, in a very impressive manner, on Karma and Upasana. The next day, he delivered a lecture on the symbolism of the caste marks adopted by the different Hindu sects and explained the origin and significance of Tirunamam. In the evening the Swami lectured in English on the human soul. On the 4th day, the 2nd of June, he left for Madras and was given a hearty send off by the elite of the place
He resumed his work in Bangalore on the 6th of June. His work here covered a period of over a quarter of a century and left a deep and lasting impression on the land and its people. Bangaiore was the centre from which he radiated his wonderful influence in all directions. He took no credit, he claimed no originality for his work. He held himself as an instrument in the hands of Sri Guru Maharaj and the Swami Vivekananda. He spread their ideas, he followed their line of work and in his own person he demonstrated the truth and practicableness of their teachings. In all fields of activity he was a master. In religion as well as in secular work, he was a teacher, an example beyond compare. To begin with religion, his religious classes became a great attraction. He supplied as much food for the head and the heart as the students could digest. Almost all the high officials partook of it. Swami Srivasananda (then Mr. M. A. Narayana Iyengar, who retired from service as Deputy Commissioner), Messrs. N. Venkatesa Iyengar (Head of the Metereological Department), C. S. Balasundaram Iyer (Member of Council), Rao Sahib H. Chenniah (Judge), K. H. Ramaiya, (Registrar, Co-operative Societies,) B. Puttiah (Superintendent, Government Press), V. R. Kausik (Assistant Chief Electrical Engineer), V. Gopalaswami Iyengar (Registrar of University), M. Rajagopal Naidu (of the Survey Department), K. Narayanaswami Iyengar (Superintendent of Comptroller's Office), Devarao Shivaram (Managing Director of Maharaja's Mills), Rao Bahudur H. C. Javariah (Director ,of Horticulture), Appadurai Mudaliar (Director of Industries), K. Sankaranarayana Rao (High Court Judge), S. Venkatapathiah (Advocate), M. Ramachandra Rao Scindia (Merchant and Mill Owner), S. K. Narasimhiah (Merchant), S. N. Appanna Iyengar (Survey Superintendent), M. K. Govinda Pillay (Superintendent, Government Engineering School, Bangalore), and Murugesam Pillay were some of these. These and others who came out of curiosity not only remained his students but also became his devoted friends. The members of their families also became Swamiji's devotees. He was. considered their family friend, guide and teacher. Family ceremonies used to be celebrated in the Ashrama itself. Many . of them invariably went to the Ashrama for celebrating special occasions such as Birthday, Annaprasana, etc., in their families. Each devotee felt that the Swami's love for him was unequalled or unsurpassed. The devotees sought his advice and instruction on all family matters, they laid their troubles before him unreservedly. To them he was their best, noblest friend, who loved them without the slightest tinge of self. Not only on these, but on all devotees and, wherever he went, he exercised the same magnetic influence. Men, women and children, high and low of all castes, of diverse temparaments, felt the same attraction towards him. Many a devotee on being approached for information touching Swamiji's life said: "Oh, what do I know about him. He loved me, he gave me everything for nothing in return." Others said: " He simply conquered us by his love. We became his children." Whether in South India or in North India, this was the feeling about him.
Of the several devotees in Bangalore Mr. Narayana Iyengar (Swami Srivasananda) was, from the very first, the most devoted. He supported the Ashrama and lavishly spent for its upkeep and development. Mr. K. Narayanaswamy Iyengar became the Swami's personal Secretary and remained so to the very last. Mr. Rajagopal Naidu was a boy when the Swami went there. The Swaini loved him very much, and he became practically an inmate of the Ashrama. Mr. Chenniah was deeply devoted to the Swami and remained steadfast throughout. These were some of the upper middle or high class devotees.
The lower middle class also came under his influence. The relationship to the Swami was as fast and near, if not nearer. Financially not so well off as the upper class gentlemen, these laboured for Swamiji and the cause indefatigably. They did not spare themselves. Mr. Venkataramanappa, Mr. Nanjappa, Mr. Pappanna, Mr, Siddappa and others spent Rs. three hundred for making a Ratham to instal the image of Bhagavan to be taken in procession during the Birthday and other festivals.
There was a third group which was the Swami's special object of love. It consisted of the socially lowest class – the Panchamas. On all festive occasions the Swami invited them personally, visiting them in their dwellings in dirty quarters! If any one of them was unable to turn up, the Swami would reserve and keep apart prasad for him and visit him again. One of them, P. Adimujam, would simply shed tears at the mere mention of Swamiji's name. Another, Madhuram Pillay, used to live in the Ashrama and serve the Swami in a number of ways. So did others whose names are too many to mention. His love could overlook faults, condone all mistakes, pardon all offences. But insincerity, hypocricy, he could not tolerate. Neither could he shut his eyes to the householders' spirit of domination over Sanyasins and Ashrama matters. Leave him free in his own sphere and he is your friend and Saviour. Try to interfere in his affairs or dominate over him, you are at once pushed out, however big or serviceable you are. That was the ideal of freedom logically worked out. 'Be free yourselves and give freedom to others, A place for every one, and every one in his place.'
If living the life is the best form of preaching and propagating ideas, the Swami was the best preacher and propagandist. His every little act, his every movement, his very being was profound preaching – but to those only who had the capacity to read that language and understand them. Such were of course, not many in number. The ordinary man wants articulate words, explanation of sacred texts, discussion and arguments. These also he gave in plenty.
He conducted regular classes bearing on all the different Yogas, – Jnana, Karma, Bhakti and Rajayogas. He delivered eloquent and impressive lectures, he held conversations and he had the Ramakrishna literature translated and published in the local Vernacular, Kannada. For the illiterate masses who want more concrete things, there were regular worship and Bhajana and processions. The Birthday anniversaries of Sri Ramakrishna and the Swami Vivekananda were celebrated on a very grand scale. Several Bhajana parties from different quarters of the city came to the celebration in large numbers and thousands of people were fed. One or more of the Bhajana parties went to the Ashrama every week and conducted Bhajana. All the important Hindu religious festivals such as Navaratri, Shivaratri and the various Jayantis were all duly celebrated. All these went on on a progressive scale and thousands felt themselves blessed.
South India as a whole has long been in the grip of ritualism and taught the people not to give it undue importance. Don't-touchism had an even harder shell. None but a person of the Swami's spiritual power could have it broken to pieces in South India and that was a unique achievement. What a grand sight it was to see the highest and the lowest castes freely and publicly intermingling and interdining in the Ashrama on the days of the celebrations! Besides being a religious teacher of the highest order, he was also a radical social reformer without assuming the reformer's role.
Coming to matters which are generally considered secular he directed his energies firstly to the Ashrama itself. He wanted to make it self-supporting, strong and useful, beautiful and graceful. It had no independent means. Mr. M. A. Narayana Iyengar and, after him, other devotees contributed money for its upkeep. But contributions fell short of the actual needs. Swamiji had sometimes to cook his own meals and wash his own dishes. He did not consider it a bother and below his dignity, but such work took away much of his usefulness in other more important and vital matters. To be able to exert his influence far and wide, it was necessary that he should be relieved of such minor work. Funds should be collected. He took up the Sanyasin's begging bowl and collected about six or seven thousand rupees. Mr. Narayana lyengar contributed about ten thousands, Mr. G. Venkataramaniah gave rupees three thousand and twenty-five acres of land. With the interest on these amounts deposited in bank as a Permanent Fund and contributions and subscriptions from devotees, the Ashrama was at last able to meet all its ordinary expenses.
Along with the collection work, Swamiji turned his attention to the Ashrama site and compound which was then three and a half acres in extent. It was a part a jungle overgrown with wild, thorny plants and trees. Swamiji had it cleared and with his own hands made a very beautiful garden with various flower plants and trees. Gentlemen from the city and other parts used come to the Ashrama specially for enjoying the sight of the beautiful garden. Rao Bahudur Javariah, Director of Horticulture, loved it very much and on several occasions had flower plants taken from the Ashrama to Lalbagh Flower Show. Mr. K. V. Anantaran** (Member of Council) and others used to visit the garden very often. Europeans too admired it. Swamiji was nature a lover of art and beauty. He had not simply seen but studied the garden at Dakshineswar. He had examined and studied many gardens in America and other places also. In fact, he had almost mastered horticulture. And he had a pair of strong and skillful hands and a variety of useful and necessary implements. Additions were then made to the Ashrama building and new buildings also were put up. With these and the superb gardens the Ashrama looked beautiful and lovely. Even the compound was too small for it. About 20 acres more of adjacent land were purchased, cleared and cultivated. Two wells were sunk, one for the Ashrama and the other for the use of the poor villagers closeby. An interesting incident in connection with the sinking of the well must be mentioned. Mr. Rajagopal Naidu was in need some money. He could make it easily by selling bricks if he could get the necessary materials. Swamiji advised him to dig a well and use the earth for making bricks, fuel for which was given by Swamiji gratis. On one auspicious day Mr. Naidu went to the spot and was preparing to make puja and find out the exact spot which promised water. The Swami went there casually. Being told of the nature of the proceedings he pointed out a spot and asked Mr. Rajagopal Naidu to dig there. Water was struck at a depth of about 25 feet. It was deepened further so that at all seasons of the year it has water to a depth of 35 feet. Over 500 people use it daily.
Besides extending and beautifying the Ashrama building and compound, the Swami had the Ashrama amply furnished with various utensils and furniture. Special mention has to be made of what was added at a later date (1930) – Coir mattress worth rupees one thousand five hundred, sent to the Ashrama by Seth Khatawoo Khimjee of Alleppey, a great devotee of the Swami.
Over and above all these was the most important addition of a Library of about four thousand volumes bearing on religious and other subjects in Sanskrit, English, Hindi, Bengali and the South Indian languages. In short, what was a shrine in a jungle was transformed into an ideal Ashrama satisfying all modern needs and all temperaments.