HIS LIFE AND TEACHINGS
THE FIRST ASHRAMA IN KERALA
In the meantime, the Bhaktas and the public of Haripad were all astir. After the Swami's visit they did not allow grass to grow under their feet. The foundation stone for the Ashrama had been laid by the Swami during his third visit to the place on the llth of September 1912. Brahmachari Venkatasubramanya Iyer (Now Swami Chitsukhananda) had given apiece of land for the building. Mr. Subbaraya Iyer (Vakil and Vice President of the Ramakrishna Association) had donated Rupees thousand – the amount which he had presented to Swamiji on his first visit but which Swamiji had asked him to be reserved fur use in Haripad. With contributions from devotees and through the untiring efforts of the late Mr. Padmanabhan Tampi (Swami Parananda), the President of the Association, the construction of the building went on vigorously. Just then Mr. Tampi, who was also the 1st Class Magistrate of the place, received an order transferring him to a distant station. The leader's absence would have much hampered the work. The devotees were greatly disheartened. Swamiji was then on the spot. They informed him of it. That night Swamiji had a dream in which the Swami Vivekananda appeared to him and asked him not to be worried over the matter. He said: "it is Sri Gurumaharaj's work and it will go on without any hitch or hindrance." The next morning the Swami encouraged them by narrating his dream. Within a few hours of it Mr. Tampi got another order cancelling his transfer. Then with redoubled energy they worked and the Ashrama was ready for opening on the 4th of May 1913, the day they had originally fixed up. The Swami with Swami Vishuddhananda arrived on the 27th of April to direct and supervise the arrangements. Many Bhaktas came from distant parts of Travancore and Malabar. On the appointed day proceedings commenced at 6 A.M. with recitation of Sri Rudram, Chandi, and Gita. All Vedic rites were duly performed. And all other usual items such as Bhajana, procession, etc., were also gone through. All considered it a special occasion, for it was the first Ashrama in Kerala, the first to be opened by the Swami.
After the solemn ceremonies, the Swami must have felt himself on his own ground. Within the Ashrama premises, in the house of Sri Gurumaharaj, he would not allow any social tyranny, he would have his own way, the way of love and same-sightedness. Till that day the untouchability and unapproachability of Kerala, denounced by Swami Vivekananda as befitting only lunatics, was nowhere more vigorously kept than in the house of God and before Him. The Swami today permitted all Hindus without any distinction of caste or class to enter the Ashrama and worship Bhagavan. Deep-rooted, age-long prejudice raised its ugly hood and protested that in that case many of the Bhaktas would withdraw themselves and their support. Thundering came the Swami's instantaneous reply: "Every one of you may desert me. But I cannot lower my ideal. If you make me starve, I know that Sri Gurumaharaj will come and feed me." All bowed down. But after the Swami's departure, the inmates of the Ashrama were made the victims of tyranny with a vengeance. Even barbers and washermen boycotted the inmates. The Brahmacharins were often stoned by their own castemen. But they stood firm and helped themselves. Prejudice and superstition did not, however, die out. It lingered on and exhibited itself in another form at the next celebration. There was a very big gathering to take prasad. Here again for the first time on a public occasion in Kerala the distinction of high caste and low caste was obliterated and all castes sat together. The first batch was served. When they rose, those engaged to remove the leaves refused to do the work on the ground that the low castes had polluted everything. The Swami who was all alert and observing everything, saw the situation and rose equal to it. "They are all the devotees of Bhagavan. I am their servant. I have no caste. But you should all maintain yours." So saying, he began to remove the leaves himself. None, assembled there had ever thought of that. No sooner had the Swami touched one or two leaves than there was a rush by all to do the work themselves, in a few minutes the place was clean for the next batch to sit. Haripad was one of the citadels of Brahmin orthodoxy. The Swami stormed it without firing a shot.
But the Swami's love for and sympathy with the lower classes was not the sentimentalism or the so-called reformers. He did not pander to their vanity, nor did he tolerate their weakness. Once a carpenter, representing his class asked Swamiji why they, the descendants of Viswakarma, were now treated as low class people. The Swami replied: "One of the monkeys asked such a question. 'We are the descendants of the Great Hanuman, the hero of many exploits, the servant of Rama, the terror of Rakshasas. He is worshipped by men. But we are slighted, and ill-treated by them. Why is it so?' They were told: "Be Hanumans yourselves and you too will be worshipped. Mere vaunting of the greatness of one's anscestors will not make you great. Acquire that quality which made Viswakarma great. Then you will rise in the estimation of all."
After the feeding of the Daridra Narayanas at noon on the day of installation, Swamiji held a brilliant conversazione. In the evening there was a public meeting which was very largely attended. There were many speakers, Mr. Tampi (the President of the Association,) Mr. Kunhiraman Menon from Parapanangadi, Mr. M. R, Narayana Pillai, Munsiff, Dr. Tampi, Mr. C K. Krishna Pillai and others. It was the Swami who dragged Mr. Menon to the platform to make his maiden speach. It had a telling effect on the audience. It may be noted here that it was the practice with Swamiji to invite Bhaktas from distant parts to participate in such functions thus giving them opportunities to make new and renew old acquaintances and to form a sort of brotherhood among the devotees of Bhagavan. In making Mr. Menon to speak on the occasion the Swami was following another practice of his bringing out the latent possibilities of devotees.
THE SECOND ASHRAMA.
From Haripad the Swami and party proceeded to Thiruvella, touching Mannar, Mavelikara and other places. The construction of the Ramakrishna Mandiram having been completed, the Swami performed the installation ceremony on the 9th of May 1913.
On being asked as to how the Puja was to be conducted Swamiji said: "There is no need of any formalism or ritualism. Conduct yourself as you would in the presence of Bhagavan. Feel his presence and serve him as you would serve a person in the usual ways."
A devotee of the orthodox type asked him about the Manasa Puja. He replied: "Say with all your heart "O! Lord, all the flowers that bloom in the world are for you, graciously accept them. The fruits in the whole creation are Thine, deign to accept them. The daintiest dishes anywhere on earth are for you. Pray accept them." That is Manasa Puja. Along with that you should do some Manushapuja. How many are ill-clad! Feed them, clothe them to the best of your means. Without this Manushapuja, mere Manasapuja is of no effect.
On his way back, he visited Tellicherry, Calicut, and Parapanangady (where Mr. Kunhiraman Menon was then practising); some new devotees and friends were introduced to him. It was at this time that the great devotee, Sri P. Parukutty Amma (the mother of Swarni Tapasyanandaji) first saw him at Calicut.