HIS LIFE AND TEACHINGS
THE FLAG HOISTED IN MALABAR
Early next year (1912) the Swami was invited to Ootacamund in the Nilgiris to preside over the' third anniversary of the Vivekananda Association, Kaity. He accepted the invitation and delivered a series of lectures and discourses between the 28th of April and the 1st of May. The subjects of his two lectures were 'Life of Swami Vivekananda as an ideal for Young India' and 'Reasons for the Study of Vedanta.' The third and the fourth days were devoted to answering questions put to him by the audience. "The Swamiji's answers to all of them were clear, definite and immensely instructive. In the end he explained the position of the Ramakrishna Mission in the field of philosophical cal work." (P. B. XVII 1912, p. 120.)
On the last day of his stay he paid a visit to the Gaekwar of Baroda who was then at his summer residence at Fernhill. The Gaekwar had wanted to see him a few years ago, somewhere in Central India. He could not meet him at that time. He thought he could visit him now if the Gaekwar was so inclined. He wrote to the Gaekwar, and receiving his reply went and saw him at the palace. The Gaekwar received him with sincere cordiality, talked with him for half an hour on various matters relating to the Ramakrishna Mission, and promised substantial help if the Mission would open a centre of work in his State.
There was something specially providential in this visit to Ooty, for in. the journey he casually met with a devotee of Ramakrishna (Mr. T. Kunhiraman Menon, Vakil, Parapanangadi), who introduced him to Malabar and Ottapalam. The story of that meeting ing which had far-reaching effects may best be told in his own words.
"It was in April 1912 that I met Srimat Swami Nirmalanandaji for the first time. It took place, one pleasant morning at the Mettupalayam Railway Station, and was quite casual. I was then keenly desirous of coming across a disciple of Sri Ramakrishna at some place or other. An extraordinarily powerful voice, the like of which I had not heard before, addressing the luggage clerk of the Station, attracted my attention; and, when I turned round and looked up I thought I saw a Malayali Sanyasin, between 45 and 50 years in age, retaining, yet, the exuberant energy of his manhood, soldierly in gait and scholarly in his English. Wondering who this personage might be, I accosted the younger of the two Malayali gentlemen who were accompanying him; and this younger fellow-passenger, who was no other than Bhakta Neelakandha (now Swami Purushothamanandaji) informed and corrected me, saying that it was the Swami Nirmalananda, a Bengali and a disciple of Bhagavan Sri Ramakrishna. Swamiji was going to Ooty to preside over the anniversary function of a Vivekananda Society that was working there at that time. I was going to Fernhill, a mile this side of Ooty to remain there with a friend for a few days to recoup my health.
"Reaching Fernhill, I lost no time in taking my dinner and then started off to the little cottage on the edge of a beautiful valley which had been arranged by the members of the Vivekananda Society for Swamiji's temporary stay. I saw him alone at the gate of the cottage with a woollen wrapper round his body and a tobacco pipe in his mouth. We greeted each other and I introduced myself to him.
"When I saw Swamiji quite close, I realised that the most remarkable feature of his physical person, next to his voice was his brilliant and penetrating eyes. It seemed as though they were looking into the very soul of the person before them and not at the outward human form. I also saw that the Swamiji was very muscular and strong in body. Thus his voice, eyes and body – all of which bespoke strength – gave me an impression of a mighty mind inside The teachings of Swami Vivekananda that strength was religion, strength was virtue, strength was life, etc., had a great appeal to me. I was myself a strong, young man with an athletic and healthy body at that time. I thought that Swamiji was a perfect embodiment of that gospel of strength preached by his illustrious brother. Was not the gospel of Ramakrishna also a gospel of strength, sakti in essence? Our Swamiji in his person was a constant reminder of this gospel.
"In the course of his first talks with me he said that he had not stopped anywhere in British Malabar, and that he had no friends or acquaintance there. At once I invited him to the place where I was then practising – Badagara in North Malabar. Swamiji readily accepted the invitation and said he would be glad to come to my place in September – October that year, either on his way to or back from Travancore. After a brief pause he added that he felt as if Sri Guru Maharaj told him that something of His work could be done through me, in my part of Malabar. While demurring to that statement that something could be done through me, I assured him that whatever services I was capable of rendering to His cause would be ungrudgingly placed at his disposal.
"When I was about to depart Swamiji told me that the meeting at which he was to preside was coming off the next day and that if I could go to his cottage in time, all of us could go together in the carriage that would be arranged tor him. I agreed and I arrived in time the next day. The carriage was ready, but there were six of us to be carried where there was room only for four. I offered lo walk, but Swamiji would not allow it. He dragged me in and made me sit on his lap, in spite of my protest. Thus huddled together, we travelled a distance of about three miles. Swamiji was quite merry and laughing all the while.
"The meeting was largely attended. Swamiji made an eloquent and inspiring speech on the 'Life of Swami Vivekananda as an Ideal for Young India.' He stayed two more days at Ooty and we left the hills by the same train on the third day. I had thought of making a longer stay but having met Swamiji I could not forego the pleasure of travelling with him down the hills. Before leaving Fernhill, my host and relation who was the Station Master there, had given me a good quantity of boiled milk, sweetened with sugar, and some fruits to be offered to Swamiji on the way. It was English cow's milk. At Mettupalayam which was very hot, Swamiji felt thirsty and wanted a cup of coffee. But there was hardly time. Thinking that was the moment when the English cow's milk would be relished best by Swamiji, I took the vessel containing the milk and said "why coffee, Swamiji here is plenty of excellent milk boiled and sweetened. My host told me it is nice English cow's milk specially got for thee." So saying, I was about to offer a cup when he gave me such a stare of displeasure and disapproval as I would not forget all my life The repetition and emphasis on the word 'English cow's milk' had evidently displeased him, I felt that like his world-renowed brother, the Swami Vivekananda, he was an out-and-out Indian patriot first, and next only a humanitarian. Without speaking a word, Swamiji softened down, and said; "You see, I do not drink milk by itself. When I feel awfuliy thirsty, a good cup of coffee relieves me.' At Podanur I got him the good coffee that he wanted. Then taking leave of him we (the two Travancore friends, Bhakta and Mr. M. R. Narayana Pillay and myself) made our salutations to him. He blessed us all and he asked me to write to him now and then.
"I went back to Badagara and told my friends that a real Swami, a disciple of Bhagavan Sri Ramakrishna, would come to Badagara in a few months. They seemed enthusiastic over the coming events. Most of the English educated gentry of the place, Mr. Karunakara Menon, Sub-Registrar, in particular, had come to know something of the greatness of Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda through some efforts made by me to scatter the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda literature among them. With their co-operation, it was easily decided that Swamiji's visit must be made a concern of the public of Badagara. A letter of invitation signed by a few of the leading gentlemen of Badagara representing the public was sent to him at Bangalore. He replied that he would be glad to visit Badagara on hia way back from Travancore and wrote to me that he would let me know the date and time of his arrival some days ahead, after reaching Travancore."
It was not enough to make the Swami's visit a local affair. There was in Malabar a lot of activity and propaganda and exploitation – all of a morbid type – in the name of religion. Various persons of various parts, men and women, had set themselves up in various parts of the District as teachers of religion, distributing their blessings in person, or by post, in return for the monies the seekers were able to pay. There was, besides, the activity of an imported body having psychoreligious claims, greedy for a following and adhered to mostly by English educated members, among whom were some good, intelligent and influential gentlemen. These teachers and societies could never quench the real thirst of the souls struggling for the life-giving waters of the spirit. The ancient religion of the Vedanta as realised and vitalised by Sri Ramakrishna and as restated by Swarm Vivekananda alone, could satisfy and was sure to appeal to the sincere seekers of truth, in this land of Sri Sankara, Here are worshippers of all forms of God: – Of Shiva, Vishnu, Shakti, Skanda, Ganesha and the supreme Brahman, of all forms of the personal as well as the Impersonal. Members of the same family, children of the same parents have different Ishtas. They view the differences as quite natural and inevitable and not only do they tolerate, but respect one another's faiths and Ishtas. The children of Kerala have gone further than that. They have gladly welcomed not only Buddhists and Jains, but also Jews, Christians and Muhammadans and helped them to build their respective churches and to propagate their faith. To them, therefore, the advent of an accredited messenger of Sri Ramakrishna was all the more welcome.
On the appointed day Swamiji came by train. He was alone. A large and distinguished gathering received him at the station, garlanded him and took him in procession to the accompaniment of music and devotional songs to the local Theosophical Hall where he was presented with an address. He gave a brief but inspiring reply. Never before had Badagara given such a grand and whole-hearted reception to any visitor. Not only some of the leading gentry of the neighbourhood but also men of culture and influence from Tellicherry, Quilandy, Calicut and other places had assembled to welcome Swamiji. He was glad at the sensation created, for as he said, it meant enthusiasm in Bhagavan's name. Swamiji had a fellow passenger in the same compartment. He was a leading citizen and an influential member of a religious body. His face reflected a strong dislike for the Swamiji's visit. Swamiji noted it. He enquired of the identity of the gentleman and when told who and what he was, he laughed outright and shook his head as if to say that he understood what the gentleman's fears might be.
The next day there was a conversazione when the assembly was larger than that of the previous evening. Many and various were the questions put. He was also asked about the Ramakrishna movement – its aims, objects, attitude towards other religions, methods of work and so on. Questions designed to elicit criticism on the suspicious and commercial methods of work of some other organisations were not omitted. Swamiji while he was guarded in his answers to the latter class of questions, was at his best in the exposition of the various subjects raised. The conversations lasted full four hours. The first interpreter, Mr. Kollangode Gopaian Nair, Pandit, got tired and Mr. Kunhiraman Menon had to take his place. Very little remained for the audience to know to be fully enlightened on the Ramakrishna Mission and on the fact that it was the foremost though youngest religious organisation in the land.
The remarks of two individuals of different types concerning the Swami whom they met for the first time and for a few moments at Badagara, are worth recording. ing. They show how the plain and ordinary looking Swami impressed some of the discerning men at first sight. And they also show that in Kerala there were some who could instantaneously see something of his greatness, cleverly and deliberately concealed as it was. One of them, Mr. K. P. Krishnan Vaidyar, – a leading Medical Practitioner saw Swamiji at the railway station just for five minutes. He then observed: "I am incompetent to judge of the spiritual work of the Swami. But he appears to be a man of extraordinary capabilities. If the Viceroy of India were to vacate his place and the Swami were asked to take it up, he would at once do so without any hesitation." The other, Mr. K. P. Kurup, a Rajayogi, observed. "This is a great Yogi, but a Gupta Yogi. There is every sign of the Raja Rishi about him."
The next morning he started for Tellicherry on the invitation of Mr. Kannan Nambyar, a leading member of the local bar. There also a conversation was held, the audience putting many intelligent questions. Swamiji's answers were received with great satisfaction. The next day a messenger came from Calicut with a letter from Dewan Bahadur V. Rajagopalan Tampan of Kollangode, later District Superintendent of Police, who was then at Calicut, requesting Swamiji to visit Calicut. It was his father who had given the first Bhiksha to the Swami Vivekananda when he met him as a Parivrajaka at Shoranur. Swamiji was kind enough to accept that invitation.
There was an incident on the day previous to the Swamiji's departure from Tellicherry. A Tiyya young man of a neighbouring village was on his death-bed with a fell disease. He sought Swamiji's blessings in his last moments. Swamiji was touched by the sincerity of the request and he at once went in the conveyance brought by the messenger. At the approach to the patient's house Swamiji warned Mr. Kunhiraman Menon not to accompany him to the house as the disease was virulent and infectious. Swamiji went alone and on his return said to Mr, Menon "Poor young man. He is dying. I have blessed him. He was insistent on my touching him. It was good that I stopped you. The disease is, indeed, very malignant. May God save his soul."
The next day the Swami went to Calicut. The Tampan's desire and request was that Swamiji might be pleased to visit his Palace at Kollangode where his aged mother was desirous of meeting a gurubhai of Swami Vivekananda. Swamiji graciously consented. One of Mr. Tampan's relations who was then living with him was so much attracted by the Swami's personality that he became the Swami's disciple after a few years. He (now Swami Srikandhananda) was the first monastic disciple of the Swami from British Malabar. In the afternoon, while Swamiji was at his tobacco pipe he suddenly said: I shall have to go on an outing just now. Somebody may come here to take me." A few minutes after, Mr. Rarichan Moopan, the aristocratic leader of the Tiyya community and a follower of Sri Narayana Guru, came and requested the Swami to visit their temple. He agreed and visited the temple. He made enquiries as to the method of worship carried on there and he observed many things of which he spoke very interestingly and instructively in later days. From Calicut he went to Kollancgode and stayed there two days as Mr. Tampan's family guest.
Swamiji had invited his Badagara friends to Bangalore. Mr. Menon with three other friends went to Bangalore during Christmas. A young devotee (Mr. Rajagopal Naidu) rcceived them at the railway station and took them to the Ashrama. The Swami received them with all love and he was all attention to every item of their comfort. The season was cold and the guests were short of warm clothing. Swamiji gave them each a woollen banyan which, Mr. Menon says "served us for years. The warmth and joy of Swamiji's hospitality were striking and uncommon." After a very happy stay of four days Mr. Menon's friends returned to Malabar and with his blessings he left for Benares where the Holy Mother, Sri Maharaj and party were sojourning at that time.