HIS LIFE AND TEACHINGS
SOMBRE SHADOWS: BEREAVEMENTS
By this time the Holy Mother had fallen ill and was confined to bed. Her condition grew worae. Fearing the worst, Swamiji started for Calcutta. The Mother was in her last stages. The Light was gradually flickering; at last it went out. How Swamiji grieved! How dearly, devoutly, he had loved Her. When she travelled in a conveyance, he walked by its side, stick in hand; he, the President, of the Bangalore Ashrama, carried Her puja materials cm his head; he, the apostle of strength, sobbed and wept like a child when she was leaving Bangalore to Madras. He might have felt the need for some solace. He visited holy Benares, the favourite city of his boyhood. Then the remaining object of his great love and adoration, the Swami Brahmananda, was away at Bhuvaneshwar. Swamiji decided to visit him. He went there, made his pranamas to Maharaj and drew consolation from him. Some days later he came to Bangalore. On 22nd September 1920 he wrote to Bhaktan:
"I returned here only 3 days ago. I was laid up with fever and influenza at Bhuvaneswar. I am better now, but very weak. The President Maharaj said that the lady Bhaktas should wait till December next. He will then come over to Madras and then they can come to see him. He is not in good health. If he comes to Madras in winter, it will be every way convenient for all of them to come to Madras and see him."
That the President Maharaj was coming so near as Madras was an opportunity too good to be lost by the people of Kerala. The Swami pointed it out to the Bhaktas. In a letter to Mr. M. K. Narayana Pillay, dated Bangalore, 29th October 1920 the Swami wrote:
"The Madras Students' Home building is nearing its completion. Our friends over there are very keen to have the new home opened by our President Maharaj. The opening ceremony will most probably take place in the beginning of the next year. So, they propose to bring him over there either in December or January next. The President Maharaj told me that he would come over to Bangalore to spend the summer after the opening ceremony was over. I suggested to Mr. Tampi and others that if we could, in the meanwhile, finish the building of our Trivandrum Mutt, we would have it blessed and opened by him. It is a rare opportunity that we can hardly afford to lose. So discuss the matter, please, with all our interested friends at your earliest convenience. I got a letter from Mr. Tampi some time ago. He writes to say that he is very busy making arrangements in connection with the Governor's visit. I think it is all over now and you can conveniently arrange a day in the near future to meet all together and discuss the question. The President Maharaj is ageing and is in consequence growing less and less strong. If we lose this opportunity, I dare say, there would be very little probability of his visiting this side again. I shall be very anxiously looking forward to the result of your discussion in the matter * * *".
The result of the discussion was to seize the opportunity and to request the President Maharaj to open the Ashrama and bless it. Construction work was therefore pushed on vigorously.
The President came to Madras with Swami Shivanandaji, and others. Two Brahmachanns from Haripad had proceeded to Madras to pay their respects to him. A few days afterwards Swamiji also went there to pay them his respects. On the day of Swamiji's coming, Maharaj asked the two Brahmacharins to wait outside to receive their Guru. He had arranged for a car being sent to the Railway Station to convey Swamiji. Not being satisfied with all these, Maharaj himself issued forth some time before Swamiji's arrival and remained pacing up and down the garden to be the first to greet his beloved and devoted Tulasi. What infinite love! Swamiji approached him with offerings of fruits, etc. and fell down at his feet and was received most affectionately.
Maharaj opened the Madras Students' Home and reached Bangalore where he had decided to spend the summer. The Swami was glad beyond measure. He was given another opportunity to serve him. As before, he was engrossed in service; for the time being, he had no other aim in life than to see that Maharaj was happy. His routine of work in those days has been described by an eye-witness. Early morning the Swami would open Sri Maharaji's room, make pranamas, take the dust of his feet and enquire as to whether he had slept well and how his health was. Then he would ask,' Maharaj, what will you take today?' Maharaj would reply 'Whatever you give me, I shall gladly take.' Then the Swami would rejoin 'I wish to offer what you like best, Maharaj and take yuur prasad.' Maharaj would smile benignly on him. After attending on Maharaj in the morning, the Swami would himself go to the market, purchase the best available things and carry them to the Ashrama himself, and cook the daintiest dishes for Maharaj and all the other members of the party. He would himself annoint Maharaj with oil and wash him and then; after serving Maharaj with food, he would take his Prasad. Swamiji's face would be suffused with great tenderness and humility when he approached and talked, with Sri Maharaj. 'He belongs to the type of the old Rishis', he once said of Maharaj 'and you should approach him with deep devotion and humility. Maharaji's love and regard for Swamiji was such that he often advised devotees to go and hear what Swami Nirmalanandaji was saying. That will do you good', he would say. He was also so considerate as not to go by the front door while Swamiji was discussing there, lest he should be disturbed, but went out another way to take his usual walk.
One day Maharaj told him 'Brother, I hear that you go to the market and carry things to the Ashrama yourself in the sun. And you attend not only on me but on every one of the party. Why should you take all this unnecessary trouble on yourself?' Swamiji replied 'What Maharaj, is it a trouble? It is my good fortune that I am privileged to serve you to this little extent. Pray don't be worried over it. Let me be happy and make the best use of this opportunity.' Maharaj would then look on him with infinite tenderness and love. Days passed in this way. Maharaj consented to go to Trivandrum and open the Ashrama. The news was communicated to the devotees in Malabar. Mr. K. Sankara Menon (Swami Amalananda) wrote lo the Swami inviting the party to Ottapalam. Accepting the invitation the Swami wrote to him:–
Dated 25th July 1921.
My dear Sankara Menon,
Many many thanks for your very kind letter cf the 18th instant, and also for your kind invitation. We shall very likely start from here for Travancore by the first week of September next. We shall certainly be very happy to halt at Ottapalam on our way for a couple of days and enjoy your kind hospitality. The date of our starting; is not definitely settled. I shall be very glad to intimate to you in time as to when and by what train the President Maharaj and party would arrive at Ottapalam * * ".
Again in reply to Mr. Sankara Menon, he wrote to him as follows:–
7th Sept. 1921.
My dear Sankara Menon,
Many thanks for your kind letter of the 3rd instant. The President Maharaj x x x will stay here till the end of this month and then he will go over to Madras to spend the Navaratri days. If by that time the disturbance in Malabar (the Mopla rebellion) is quieted down, he will go to Travancore via Ottapalam; but if the present state of affairs continues for another month, he will have to take the other route via Madura, and then on his way back he will take the Shoranur line and halt at Ottapalam x x ."
The Swami wrote to his friends and devotees in Travancore regarding the arrangemenrs to be made there. Every effort was made to make the journey and stay of Maharaj quite comfortable and the function an unprecedented success. But Maharaji's indisposition caused the programme to be altered. On the 28th of September, the Swami wrote to Mr. Sankara Menon, "The President Maharaj being indisposed and also on account of the Mopla disturbance, he has, for the present, postponed his trip to Ottapalam. He will go over that side after the Navaratri festival is over. I shall timely inform you as to the dale of his departure later on '
Before Maharaj left for Madras for Navaratri the Swami had written to Mr. Kunhiraman Menon to look up the arrangements made at Ottapalam and go to Bangalore so that he might give further instructions in person as to what remained to be done. Mr. Menon went there. Maharaj was glad to meet him and asked him "Kunhiraman, when we go to Malabar, will you arrange a nice bungalow for us?" 'Yes, Maharaj' he replied, "everything has been made ready. Only thou hast to-come there." 'Very well,' said Maharaj and then, pointing to a side room (Swami Baradananda was there) and with a playful smile he said, "Go and tell him that you will give him nice things to eat." Was it mere fun and playfulness or was it not also a novel method of teaching 'beware of attachment to nice thing's, however innocent they look! Pleasures are snares, beware and discriminate!'
Mr. Menon received instructions from Swamiji and took leave of Swamiji and Maharaj from both of whom he had the assurance that Ottapalam would be visited. The final words of Mahapurushji, however, were: "If it be the will of God, we shall come."
That very day, the Swami requested Sri Maharaj to give Sanyas to Brahmachari Santa Chaitanya. That was done the next morning and Santa was given the name Sukhananda. Brahmachari Veeresh (Swami Shambhavananda) was also given Brahmacharya initiation that day.
The party left for Madras. After the Navaratri puja which was performed there in a grand scale and in the Bengali fashion, something or other made Maharaj change his mind. He decided to proceed to Calcutta forthwith and the trip to Kerala stood cancelled.
Swamiji was never so disappointed in all his life. All the high hopes of himself and the hundreds of devotees and all the careful and elaborate arrangements made in Kerala were dashed ro pieces at a stroke. Soon after he came to Kerala, news reached him at Trivandrum that Sri Maharaj was indisposed. He came to Ottapalam. On the l0th April, 1922 he received a wire from Bangalore intimating that Maharaji's condition was declared hopeless. Immediately he started for Calcutta. At the Railway Station another wire: 'Saradananda wires, Maharaj entered Mahasamadhi, 9 Monday night' was handed over to him. He read the heart-rending news. Calm and grave, he said "now let us get back" and returned. He reached the house of his host (Mr. V. K. Narayanan Nair), threw himself into his easy chair, uttered the Mother's name and burst into tears. Very soon he composed himself. He gave up the idea of proceeding to Calcutta and decided to return to Trivandrum. The disciples of Maharaj were instructed what they should do in connection with the Mahasamadhi and Swamiji left Ottapalam the next day. He stayed two weeks in Trivandrum where after offering special puja and feeding a large number of the poor he went back to Bangalore.