HIS LIFE AND TEACHINGS
LIFE AT OTTAPALAM
One of the first striking acts there was a Kumari Puja (worship of girls) in which he actually worshipped twenty girls with all Upacharas, gave them money and made sashtanga pranamas before them. Thereafter 9 of them were his constant companions and he was a mother, father, teacher, friend and guide to them to the end of his days. (Those fortunate children are Bhuvaneshwari, Sarala, Sushila, Sarojini, Parvati, Savitri, Meenakshi, Padmini and Dakshhyani. Rukmini and Sarada of Adur also used to frequent and stay with them.)
He wanted to give them sound education and efficient training. Looking around he saw that lots of children in Palaparam were roaming about unlettered, their parents being too poor and ignorant to give them even the knowledge of the three R's. He then established two schools in the Ashrama compound, one for girls named, Sarada Vidyalaya, and the other for boys named, Niranjan Vidyalaya. Teachers were employed for both. Pupils joined in large numbers and from all classes and communities, from the highest Nambudiri Brahmin to the lowest Pariah. Most of them could not afford to buy books or slates and many were ill-clad. The Swami was moved to pity. He went to hia devotees at Bombay and soon returned with about a thousand rupees worth of things for the use of the pupils, – books, slates, paper, pencils, note-boooks, picture books, etc, and cloths of various sorts – and distributed them to one and all according to their needs. Some of them were also fed in the Ashrama itself. On most of the days there used to be feasts on some account or other and all the boys and girls took prasad there, seated together in the meditation hall without any distinction of caste or class. The parents of the children also attended them. Both the schools had gymnasiums, where the Swami himself taught them various exercises, They were also taught Keertan: Japa, Bhajana and Meditation. Pupils with home near the Ashrama spent most of their times in the Ashrama itself. Thus they had an all-round education and almost all the benefits of gurukulavasa, The Swami declined to apply to the educational authorities for recognition of or grant in aid to the institution. In this also he was setting an example to the people.
To popularise the life and teachings of Sri Ramakrishna and to make it entertaining even to illiterate men, women and children, Swamiji conceived the idea of making them the subject of katha prasangas (kalak-shepas). To this end he had portions of the life written in the Malayalam and got it performed twice in the Ashrama,
Not content with setting up means for the uplift of the people in general, his divine love flowed to make individual lives fuller and happier. In that poor village the Nambudiri Brahmins – their women in particular – were the worst sufferers. The community had been groaning under a senseless, heartless social tyranny. The women, specially with their old ghosha system still adhered to, were 'confined, cabined, cribbed' and kept in ignorance. His heart wept for these unfortunates whom no one on earth thought of or cared for, who had not the narrowest means of escape or uplift. Without uttering a single word about them, without even once referring to their plight, the Swami worked for them slowly. Gradually he made breaches in the walls of their ancient customs and superstitions and let the light of the Lord fall upon them. He gave them nourishing food, both material and mental, and had new habitation built for them. They grew naturally, the growth was from within, it was healthy, peaceful and vigorous. They raised their heads, became men and women, the children of Sri Ramakrishna. With their eyes opened and hearts enlarged they began to think of the wide world and the holy Tirthas and they longed, once in their life, to get out of the confines of their little homes and village and to visit one or more of the great Tirthas. He encouraged them, gave them money, and sent them to Rameswaram and Kanyakumari. He himself took many of them to Kanyakumari a few months before his passing away. Some of them he sent to Trivandrum for medical treatment for a long period, in all this he exercised his natural care and thoughtfulness and made detailed arrangement for their safety, comfort and convenience throughout the journey.
From the day of his Kumari puja, even the dullest and the purblind could see that his life was one continuous worship of the Virat, that it was not the life on the surface that he led, but that he lived and moved and had his whole being in the Self, in the Mother. Once while the children were all engrossed in all sorts of plays, running, jumping and wrestling in the Ashrama and in his presence, he went near them, took up a girl and placing her on a high stool, asked the other children to see the Mother, in her and worship her. He also asked the adults present there to do so. Some of them thought that it was one of the Swami's many jokes and kept laughing. The Swami was serious. He worshipped her and prostrated himself before her. Instantly all the others followed. What to the others was mere imagination was to him a stern reality.
Among the group which had come to the Ashrama for cooly work, one day the Swami noticed a young girl. 'She is a very pious soul,' he said at once and asked her to be made a permanent servant-maid of the Ashrama. Unasked he gave her initiation. She was one of those whom he took to the Cape at his own expense. He made no distinction between the high and the low, the educated and the uneducated. The spirit of the words of the Gita that were often on his lips "Pandithah Samadarsinah" – the wise are same-sighted was always in his heart, was at all times illustrated in all his actions.