HIS LIFE AND TEACHINGS
It was now nearly 6 years since the Swami had come to Bangalore. Under him the Ashrama had grown considerably in its usefulness to the public. The visit of the Most Holy Mother had invested it with a special sanctit; its attractiveness had been enhanced with the additions and extension to the buildings, the compound and the garden; its activities had extended far beyond the limits of the city and the State and had reached up to the southernmost point of India. The State and its people were glad and rightly proud of such a spiritual centre in their midst. H. H. the Yuvaraja of Mysore with the Dewan attended the Fifty-second Birthday Anniveisary of Swami Vivekananda celebrated at the Ashrama. He was so highly gratified at its conduct and activities that he associated himself with the public in offering thanks and grateful appreciation for the Swami's noble work. He was also pleased to promise an annual contribution of a hundred rupees for the upkeep of the Ashrama.
After that year's celebration of the Birthday of Sri Ramakrishna in March, Swamiji proceeded to Travancore. On his way, he broke journey at Ottapalam – Blessed Ottapalam! Thy name is ever associated with the sweet name Nirmalananda! Of his first visit, his host, Mr. V. K. Narayanan Nair, a vakil of the local bar, writes as follows:
"Blessed indeed is the day on which I bowed my head at his sacred feet. It was in the year l9l4 that in response to an invitation from me the Swamiji blessed Ottapalam with his holy presence. We had started a Vedanta Society here, and under the auspices of that Society we had, the previous year, celebrated the Birthday Anniversary of Bhagavan Sri Ramakrishna. The Swami Sharvananda from Madras was kind enough to preside on the occasion. His address was very much appreciated by the public. I was, however, longing to meet a direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna. The opportunity was not long in presenting itself. I was informed by my friend, Mr. Kunhiraman Menon, that Swamiji would be passing Ottapalam on his way to Travancore in connection with some work there. Our little place with its quiet atmosphere and attractive natural scenery might serve as a good halting place for the Swamiji. So, I made bold to request the Swamiji to break his journey here and to take rest for a day or two. I introduced myself as a humble devotee of Sri Ramakrishna and wrote to say that myself and the people of the place would feel happy if the Swamiji would alight at Ottapalam and stay here for a couple of days. Though I had been forestalled in my invitation, as my good fortune would have it, the Swamiji accepted my invitation and consented to be my guest. "A teacher, a father, a protector, a friend, what indeed is not the Swamiji to us is the feeling the Swamiji has inspired in the hearts of myself and all the people ui Kerala who have had the good fortune to come in direct contact with him. But when I first rested my eyes on him, he looked to be quite an ordinary Sanyasin. He talked, laughed and behaved just like other men. 'Religion is not abnormality, I heard the Swamiji once remarked to a certain gentleman. In fact there was nothing abnormal about the Swami, and but for that majestic voice that carried conviction with it and those sparkling eyes that seemed to penetrate into the innermost recesses of your souls, there was nothing about the Swami to mark him out from the ordinary run of sadhns. A peculiar light ever shone in those vigilent eyes, the scrutiny of which nothing could possibly escape. They were indeed the eyes of a spiritual detective. No wonder, therefore, that hyprocrites trembled before him. On the very day of the Swamiji's arrival at Ottapalam, we had an instance of how his piercing eyes could at unce see through the mask of hypocricy. A young man had come to pay his respects to the Swamiji. He could discourse on religious subjects with fluency which compelled admiration. The public were quite enamoured of his speeches and thought that there was a brilliant spiritual future in store for him. That was the first time, however, that the Swami had set his eyes on him, And yet immediately the man took his departure, the Swami said, 'that young man did not impress me at all', and reminded us of the saying of Gurumaharaj, 'beware of him whose words flow like water.' Sufficient to say that the subsequent conduct of the man justified the Swamiji's observation and the public had occasion to see the real nature of the man revealed in all its sordidness.
"The Swamiji appeared to be a born leader. He looked imperious and carried himself like one in authority. But there was not the slightest vestige of false pride in him. When the Swamiji's arrival was announced, by me, many people asked me who he was. I told them that he was a disciple of Sri Ramakrishna. A leading Vakil of the place came to see the Swamiji and greeted him thus:– 'I hear, Swami, that you are a Sabrahmachari of Vivekananda.' At once; came the reply, 'Sir, I am a devoted servant of his – a servant of his servants.' The Vakil turned to me in blank astonishment, and of course, I had to explain to him what the Swamiji meant. Such was the Swami's humility and devotion to Sri Ramakrishna and Vivekananda.
"A bolder Sanyasin than the Swami I have never been able to meet. He did what he thought was right, and never paused to consider what people would say or think about it. The true mettle of the monk exhibited itself in the supreme indifference with which he regarded what worldlings said or wouldsay about him. Never would he pander to the whims or crotchets of others so that lie might have a larger following. A Brahmin teacher of the local High School who had a high opinion of his own spiritual attainments and who thought it an honour to entertain Sanyasins came and invited the Swami for bhiksha. He began by saying that Swami Sharvananda was his guest when he visited Ottapalam. There was a merry twinkle in the eyes of the Swamiji, but he simply said: "I am at the disposal of so and so, I can think of other invitations only if he is tired of me.' I understood the hint and the gentleman went away disappointed. The next day, however, he came again. The conversation turned upon orthodoxy and the gentleman said something, I forget what, insinuating that it was not proper on the Swami's part to have declined the invitation of a man belonging to a caste superior to the Swami's host in myself. The Swami thought that it was a good opportunity to give the gentleman a piece uf his mind. He said he cared a rotten reed for caste, he cared for sincerity only. He asked why the Lord Krishna preferred to be a guest of Vidura, a Sudra, when so many Kshatriya Chieftains had invited him. In winding up the topic the Swami remarked that according to the ancient Shastras, a Brahmin could not stoop to cook his own meal, it had to be done for him by others. The Kshatriyas of old entertained Sudras as cooks and the remnant of the old custom is still seen in some old kshatriya families still retaining a barber as head-cook.
"The Swami was nothing if he was not bold and fearless, as bold in words as in action. If religious cranks came to him he snubbed them without remorse. A so-called spiritual enthusiast came to see him. I then happened to be engaged in some work. The man knew only Malayalam, but some how signified his desire to have a talk with the Swami. I was sent for to act as interpreter. There stood the young man before the Swami, his eyes rollerd up, his lips moving, presumably the outward manifestation of the process of uttering some Mantram. The Swami looked amused at first. After a while, when he had given the Swami a detailed account of how he was spending his life, how he could go without meals for days together, how he had conquered sleep and felt no need for it, he wanted Swami's advice as to how he should proceed further with his Sadhanas. 'My advice to you, young man' said the Swami, 'is to go home, apply some nice cooling oil to your head, have a good bath in cold water, eat nutritious food and sleep well at night. That is the Sadhana you now require.' The man was evidently disappointed and after he had taken his departure, the Swami observed with pain in his voice: 'I am really sorry for that young man. He is heading for the lunatic asylum and if he does not do as I suggested, he would ere long be the inmate of a Mental Hospital.' Would you believe It, reader! That young man is now a roaring lunatic.
"Yet another enthusiast came. His crotchet was Pranayama. He requested the Swami to give him instructions as regards breathing exercise. The Swami said gravely: 'My friend, religion does not consist in inflating the lungs with air. If that were so, footballs would be the greatest Yogis in the world,' This is only one instance of the summary way in which Swamiji dismissed persons who sought instructions with ulterior motives or went in quest of shortcuts to heaven without performing the difficult task of character moulding."
Such were some ot the incidents which enlivened the days of the Swami's stay at Ottapalam. And such days were many. Every year, on his way to and from Travancore, Swamiji used to halt at Ottapaiam and be Mr. V. K's guest. From the very first he felt that there were some pure souls in it. The quiet atmosphere and the charming scenery with the winding Bharata river close by and the hills overlooking it, must have appealed to him as reminders of his favourite forest retreats of old. He liked the place, he loved hia host and the inmates of the family very dearly. Every time he used to stay with them for three days, if not more. Theirs was one of the houses where he loved to stay, and during his many happy sojourns there from 1914 to 1926, till the opening of the Ashrama, it made itself holy and rendered meritorious service as a meeting places for the Swami's disciples, devotees and friends. The local Vedanta Society had its meetings, classes and other services conducted in the spacious hall on the upper story of the 'Kamalalaya Press' building. During his annual visits, the Swamiji used to be invited to this place also. The society used to celebrate the birthday anniversary of Bhagavan Sri Ramakrishna, during the Swamiji's visit to this place. The visit to Ottapalam in South Malabar was one of the most momentous incidents in the field of the Swami's activities in the south. Synchronising with Start 90