It was on Saturday the 19th September 1914, the day of the New Moon, that I had the good fortune to see Sri Sarada Devi for the first time. On the preceding afternoon Swami Nirmalananda came to the room of the Belur Math where my brother Damodaran and myself were put up and said: 'Tomorrow is the auspicious day for paying your respects to the Holy Mother. Bathe early in the morning and do not take any breakfast. Provide yourself with some flowers and go to the Mother with Brahmachari Govindaji. After taking your noon meals there you can go to Dakshineswar, worship and return to the Math by dusk'.
Accordingly on Saturday morning, we plucked some flowers, offered salutations to Sri Ramakrishna and Swamiji in the shrines consecrated to them, prostrated before Swami Premanandaji and went to the Udbodhan Office with Govindaji. Before entering that abode of the Mother, Govindaji bowed with his head touching the wall downstairs even while we were on the road. We admired the graceful act of devotion and did likewise. We entered the house, prostrated before Swami Saradananda who was seated in the eastern room on the left side, talked with him for some time and then went to the room of the Manager of the Udbodhan Office. He told us, 'Sit here, please. After her puja is over you can see the Mother'. And so we did.
I have to admit unreservedly that 1 am not much of a writer. Nevertheless as an ardent admirer of a noble and pure soul, I have immense pleasure in jotting down a few of my reminiscences of Srimat Swami Ramakrishnanandaji Maharaj. It is only a sincere attempt to bear testimony to the Swami's greatness.
If my memory serves me right, it was in November 1899, that I had the singular good fortune of meeting Srimat Swami Ramakrishnanandaji Maharaj and gaining his acquaintance at Castle Kernan, Madras (now known as Vivekanandar Illam or Vivekananda House). The Swami gave me 'Coconut Laddu Prasadam' and during the course of the conversation he said, 'In your study-room you should have a picture of Bhagavan Sri Ramakrishna Deva. It will be a source of inspiration and blessing to you.' Accordingly in almost all the rooms in my abode I am having His portraits and am reverently worshipping Him. Sri Ramakrishna is everything to me.
Another day when I saw the Swami, he gave me the 'Mahaprasadam of Puri Jagannath' (offered rice dried in the sun) and said, 'From very ancient times, Puri is considered a very sacred place. It is Jnana Bhoomi (place of wisdom). In that sacred shrine there is no difference between man and man. People of all castes, high and low, eat there sitting side by side. Bhagavan Sri Ramakrishna used to give this "prasadam" along with sweets to Swami Vivekananda and say, "May this Prasad give you Bhakti!" Sri Ramakrishna used to say that this Prasad should be considered as "Parabrahman".'
Swami Ramakrishnanandaji gave me some more of the Prasadam to be taken home. For fourteen years I was keeping it as a coveted treasure and distributing it to all good friends who had faith in Sri Ramakrishna, I used to explain to them in my own humble way its greatness.
In 1914, I had the good fortune to go on a pilgrimage to Puri. I worshipped in the temple and received the 'Mahaprasadam' personally which I am having even today. Thus I could give practical expression to my sincerity and regard for the revered Swami's words. One evening when I went to meet the Swami, I saw another devotee there along with him. The Swami told me that that devotee had been an attendant of Bhagavan Sri Ramakrishna. A freedom-loving, pious soul he was and so would never stay with others; but that he was staying with the Swami was simply because of his regard and affection for him.
Now I have pleasure in recording another conversation that took place between us when I went to pay my respects to the Swami in the company of Dr. K. Raman Thampi and Mr. K. Janardanan Pillai of Trivandrum.
The Swami: 'I would very much like to go through the book Imitation of Christ. If any of you is having it, will you kindly spare it for me?' We were all surprised to hear about it at that psychological time, since it accidentally happened that each of us had purchased the very same book the previous day for six annas each.
I thought that after reading a few pages more of the book, I would hand it over to the Swami. But Dr. Thampi forestalled me and said that he would gladly give his book to the Swami the very next day itself. The Swami was pleased. But I was feeling my discomfiture very keenly and regretted in my heart of hearts that I had not the mind to offer the book to the Swami at once. I also felt how good a soul Dr. Thampi was. In order to atone for my folly 1 thought that I should present the Swami with some useful thing for Bhagavan's Puja.
Just after our examination, we three went to pay our salutations to the Swami before we started home. The Swami took us to the shrine room and showed us Bhagavan's pictures. He also told us how Puja (worship) ought to be conducted. Presently he took me aside and said, 'Madhuram, do you see that bit of sandalwood and the stone which we use for preparing the sandal-paste? I have heard that high quality sandalwood can be had in Travancore. Will you please send me a really good sandalwood log?' Extremely elated at the prospect of making such a present, an event for which I had been eagerly longing, I praised the sacred name of Sri Ramakrishna and promised to do it as early as possible. In my heart I felt that the Swami had done me a signal honour in having asked me to send him such a necessary item for his daily worship. On my arrival at my native place Mavelikara (in Kerala State) I procured a very good piece of sandalwood and sent it to him by post with my humble regards. Further I made it my religious duty for three successive years to send the same kind of offering to the Swami through my friend the late Mr. M. K. Narayana Pillai (Barrister) during the summer recess. Thus I was enabled to carry out the behest of the beloved Swami.
In 1900, one year after my wedding, we three again went to Madras for offering our respects to the Swami. Below I am recording an interesting conversation we had then.
The Swami: Are you married?
I replied in the affirmative and my friends in the negative. Then the Swami began to expatiate on the virtues of Brahmacharya (celibacy) and I was feeling a bit dejected that an irresistible and relentless fate had hung a massive grinding stone around my neck! The great Swami, the very embodiment of kindness, turned to me saying, 'You too are lucky', and resumed his praise of celibacy. Then I thought, 'There are two classes of people in this world, Brahmacharins and Grihasthas (celebates and householders). Of these, the Swami said at first that the Brahmacharins are lucky. Just after that he says that I, a householder, too am lucky.' So I concluded that all are lucky. At once the Swami began to say, 'It was by Divine Will that you got married. That was why I said, you too were lucky.' It, at once, brought to my recollection the meaning of the observation, contained in the article by Mr. B. Rajam Iyer in the Prabuddha Bharata, 'Oh Lord, not an atom moves without Thy bidding.' So I felt consoled that everything happens according to the Divine Will. The Lord is the operator and we are the machines. The Swami's face beamed with a smile and he observed that I was more fortunate than my friends. Hearing that, I revolved in my mind, 'the Swami is a great soul and I know his words will never fail. But I cannot understand the reason why he said so.'
At once the Swami resumed the conversation, 'They (brahmacharins) have to bear their burdens alone. You are lucky in sharing your life's responsibilities, its thousand and one trials and tribulations, with a partner. That was why I said, you were more lucky.' He further referred to the fable of the bull and the buffalo both yoked to a cart, the bull pulling it to the right and the buffalo to the left and the hapless cart falling into a deep pit. So he wanted me to tell my wife about the greatness of Bhagavan Sri Ramakrishna and his edifying life and teachings. He also instructed me that both of us should try to faithfully adhere to those high ideals and lead a simple and unostentatious life which would finally take us to the destined goal! Ever since that memorable conversation, I used to narrate it to all those good householders who had faith in and devotion for Bhagavan Sri Ramakrishna.
But one amazing thing happened soon after. I saw my wife only once after that, and the inevitable happened five months later. By divine dispensation my wife and I got separated from each other by divorce. So powerfully had the apostle of the Prophet of Dakshineswar blessed me live months back (in February 1900).
By the Swami's extreme grace, I had the privilege of going to Calcutta and getting the Darshan of the Holy Mother in 1914. She, with infinite tenderness and affection, blessed me with her Charanamritam (water touched by Her holy feet) and initiated me as a humble devotee of Bhagavan Sri Ramakrishna.
I used to listen with rapt attention to the learned discourses of Srimat Sasi Maharaj (Swami Ramakrishnananda) on Bhagavatam at Chintadripet on Sundays from 6 to 8 p.m. This encouraged me in renouncing gold (Kanchana Tyaga). Usually the Swami used to arrive at the place when it was about 10 minutes to 6 p.m. and the discourse generally lasted for two hours. So we used to go there at least a quarter of an hour earlier after our bath and ablutions.
I was in the habit of wearing my wooden sandals always even in the presence of the Swami. While I was paying my respects, I did not prostrate before him but bowed my head with folded arms. But he, with his characteristic gentleness and nobility, always conversed with us and enlightened us on many points.
The Swami, on account of poor health, was not able to conduct regular discourses for some time. But he always took delight in inviting doubts from the congregation and clearing them with ease and lucidity. So, through my friend Dr. Raman Thampi, I requested the Swami to speak about the early days of Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda and other great souls. For two successive Sundays, we had interesting and illuminating talks from the Swami on those subjects. It should be remembered that at that time there were no published books or tracts on those subjects. … From this, we could more or less gauge the Swami's humility and his profound faith in Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda and others.
Even though I had not the good fortune to prostrate before such a holy personage then, I am now doing it daily with the earnest prayer that I may kindly be pardoned for not doing so earlier. In such a manner, I am rectifying my past mistake.
(Courtesy: The Vedanta Kesari, Aug.1978, Sri Ramakrishna Math, Chennai)