lived with God
both blades of a pair of scissors are needed to cut a piece
of cloth, so both self-effort and grace are needed to realize
God. The grace of God is always blowing, like wind over the
sea. A sailor who unfurls the boat’s sail catches the wind
and reaches the destination smoothly. Sri Ramakrishna’s grace
began to flow over Bhavanath Chattopadhyay’s life, but Bhavanath
suddenly pulled down his sail, putting his spiritual journey
in peril. His condition was like that of a man who puts his
left leg in one boat and his right in another. Bhavanath ascended
to a higher plane of consciousness by the grace of the Master,
but mysterious Mahamaya entangled him and brought him back
down to the world.
was born towards the end of 1863 in Atulkrishna Banerjee Lane,
Baranagore, a couple of miles away from Dakshineswar, to Ramdas
Chattopadhyay and Ichhamayi Devi. He had one sibling, a sister
named Kshirodbala. A good-looking boy with a fair complexion,
Bhavanath had a simple, mild and devout nature.
the fourth quarter of the nineteenth century, Western influences
brought about an upheaval in Indian society. Christian missionaries
were trying to use Western education to convert the younger
generation. In response, various indigenous religious and
social movements sprang up to face the Western challenge by
reforming India’s religions and its ancient customs. At that
time Shashipada Bandyopadhyay, a leader in the Brahmo Samaj,
organized some youths in southern Baranagore and inspired
them to carry out philanthropic activities. On 27 October
1872, Shashipada established the Students Club, which carried
out various social programmes: popular education, women’s
education, education for labourers, night school, Sunday school,
moral training, a public library and so on. In 1876 Shashipada
established the Atmonnati Vidhayini Sabha, an association
devoted to the self-improvement of its members. Bhavanath
was in charge of this association’s library. Narendranath
Datta (later Swami Vivekananda) would sometimes take part
in the discussions held by this association, along with his
classmates Satkari Lahiri and Dasharathi Sanyal, who also
lived in Baranagore. Thus Bhavanath became acquainted with
perhaps to Shashipada’s influence, Bhavanath joined the Brahmo
Samaj. Narendra was also a member, and Bhavanath and Narendra
eventually became close friends. Shashipada had met Sri Ramakrishna
at Shambhu Mallick’s house and was very devoted to him. Bhavanath
most probably heard about the Master either from Shashipada
or from the writings of Keshab Chandra Sen, the famous Brahmo
leader.(1) According to M’s account in the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna,
Bhavanath met Sri Ramakrishna either in late 1881 or early
1882. At any rate, M first saw Bhavanath and Narendra at Dakshineswar
on 6 March 1882.
5 August 1882, the Master visited Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar,
accompanied by M, Bhavanath and Hazra. On different occasions,
the Master made remarks about Bhavanath that bear witness
to his high spiritual state:
like Narendra, Bhavanath and Rakhal are my very intimate
disciples. They are not to be thought lightly of.(2)
like Rakhal, Narendra and Bhavanath may be called nityasiddha.
Their spiritual consciousness has been awake since their very
birth. They assume human bodies only to impart spiritual illumination
to others. (182)
Bhavanath, Rakhal and devotees like them belong to the group
of the nityasiddhas; they are eternally free. Religious
practice on their part is superfluous. (279)
11 March 1883 Bhavanath attended the Master’s birthday celebration
at Dakshineswar. The Master told the assembled devotees, ‘One
cannot be spiritual as long as one has shame, hatred, or fear.
Great will be the joy today. But those fools who will not
sing or dance, mad with God’s name, will never attain God.
How can one feel any shame or fear when the names of God are
sung? Now sing, all of you.’ (186)
and his friend Kalikrishna sang the following song:
blessed is this day of joy!
all of us unite, O Lord.
… … … … … … … … … … …
dwellest in each human heart;
name, resounding everywhere,
the four corners of the sky. (186-7)
the Master listened to the song with folded hands, his mind
soared to a far-off realm. When Kalikrishna bowed down to
the Master and was about to go, the Master asked where he
replied, ‘He is going away on a little business.’
is it about?’ the Master asked.
replied, ‘He is going to the Baranagore Workingmen’s Institute.’
his bad luck,’ said the Master. ‘A stream of bliss will flow
here today. He could have enjoyed it. But how unlucky!’ (187)
celebration continued throughout the day. When the devotees
were about to leave that evening, the Master told Bhavanath,
‘Don’t go away today. The very sight of you inspires me.’
In the Gospel, M comments, ‘Bhavanath had not yet entered
into worldly life. A youth of twenty, he had a fair complexion
and handsome features. He shed tears of joy on hearing the
name of God. The Master looked on him as the embodiment of
or longing, for God is the only thing necessary in spiritual
life. Just as one who is hungry will definitely search for
food, so one who has a genuine hunger for God cannot sit idle.
Observing Bhavanath’s yearning for God, the Master said to
Manilal, ‘Ah, what an exalted state he is in! He has hardly
begun to sing about God before his eyes fill with tears. The
very sight of Harish made him ecstatic. He said that Harish
was very lucky. He made the remark because Harish was spending
a few days here, now and then, away from his home.’
Master asked M, ‘Well, what is the cause of bhakti? Why should
the spiritual feeling of young boys like Bhavanath be awakened?’
M remained silent.
‘The fact is, all men may look alike from the outside, but
some of them have fillings of “condensed milk”. Cakes may
have fillings of condensed milk or powdered black gram, but
they all look alike from the outside. The desire to know God,
ecstatic love for Him, and such other spiritual qualities
are the “condensed milk”.’ (232)
Bhavanath’s gentle character, the Master said to M, ‘Have
you noticed Bhavanath’s devotion? Narendra and he seem like
a man and a woman. He is devoted to Narendra. … Bhavanath,
Baburam and a few others have a feminine nature; but Narendra,
Rakhal and Niranjan have a masculine nature. Bhavanath and
Narendra are a pair. Both of them belong to the realm of the
formless Reality.’ (238, 458-9, 535)
Saradananda wrote in Sri Ramakrishna and His Divine Play:
Chattopadhyay, a handsome and devout youth, stayed with
the Master in Dakshineswar for a while. During that time
he became acquainted with Narendra and a close friendship
developed between them. Bhavanath was very dear to the Master
because of his humility, modesty, simplicity, faith and
devotion. Observing his soft feminine nature and his affection
for Narendra, the Master sometimes teased him, saying, ‘Perhaps
you were Narendra’s life-companion in a previous incarnation.’(3)
7 April 1883 the Master visited Balaram’s house in Calcutta
with Narendra, Bhavanath, Rakhal, M and others. Balaram invited
some of the Master’s young devotees to lunch. The Master often
said to him, ‘Feed them now and then; that will confer on
you the merit of feeding holy men.’ (198)
the Master’s request, Narendra sang a few songs:
O bird that nestles
within my heart!
God’s everlasting praise.
… … … … … … … … … …
King of Kings, reveal Thyself to me!
crave Thy mercy.
on me Thy glance! (198)
was also a good singer, so the Master asked him to perform
as well. Bhavanath sang:
is another friend like Thee,
Essence of Mercy?
is another friend like Thee
stand by me through pain and pleasure?
among all my friends,
me comfort for my grief,
my spirit in its terror?
art the Helmsman
dost steer life’s craft
the world’s perilous sea;
grace it is alone, O Lord,
silences my raging passions’ storm.
pourest out the waters of peace
my burning, penitent soul;
Thine is the bosom that will shelter me
every other friend I own
me in my dying hour. (199)
was trying to renounce everything that might be detrimental
to his spiritual progress. Narendra said to the Master with
a smile, referring to Bhavanath, ‘He has given up fish and
betel-leaf.’ Master: ‘Why so? What is the matter with fish
and betel-leaf? They aren’t harmful. The renunciation of “woman
and gold” is the true renunciation.’ (200)
felt intense renunciation and began to spend nights at Dakshineswar
with the Master. His parents and relatives thought the Master
was mad. They warned Bhavanath not to frequent Dakshineswar,
but he did not listen to them. On 18 June 1883 Bhavanath and
other young devotees shared a carriage with the Master to
attend the festival at Panihati. On their way, the Master
was in a light mood and joked with the youngsters; but as
soon as he reached the festival grounds, he joined the kirtan
party and danced, totally forgetting the world.
followers of Sri Ramakrishna are eternally indebted to Bhavanath
because he was responsible for the shrine photograph of the
Master that devotees worship today worldwide. In October 1883,
Bhavanath brought a photographer from Baranagore, Abinash
Chandra Dahn, to Dakshineswar to take a picture of the Master.
The most authentic account of the circumstances surrounding
this photo came from Swami Nirvanananda, who published the
following brief report in Bengali in the Udbodhan [64.12]
Belur one day, Swami Akhandananda asked us in the course
of a conversation: ‘Well, do you know anything about the
photo of Sri Ramakrishna that is worshipped these days?’
On being told by us that we knew nothing that is really
important, he related the following:
Chatterjee, the Master’s devotee from Baranagore, wanted
to take a photograph of the Master. One day he requested
him very strongly to give his consent, and on the afternoon
of the next day brought a photographer along with him from
Baranagore. He could not make the Master agree. The Master
just went away near the Radhakanta temple.
the meantime Narendra arrived on the scene and heard everything.
He said, “Wait a bit. I shall put everything straight.”
Saying this, he went to the veranda to the north of the
Radhakanta temple where Sri Ramakrishna was sitting and
started a religious conversation with him. The Master went
into samadhi. Narendra went and called others and ordered
them to get ready quickly to take the picture.
the state of samadhi the Master’s body was bent on one side
and therefore the cameraman went to make him sit erect by
gently adjusting his chin. But as soon as he touched his
chin, the whole body of the Master came up like a piece
of paper - so light it was!
then told him: “Oh, what are you doing? Be quick. Get the
camera ready.” The cameraman took the exposure as hurriedly
as possible. The Master was completely unaware of this incident.
some days, when Bhavanath brought the printed copy of the
photo, the Master remarked, “This represents a high yogic
state. This form will be worshipped in every home as time
spiritual journey was proceeding smoothly, but suddenly his
parents took advantage of his soft nature and arranged his
marriage. Bhavanath consented to their wishes. Either at the
end of 1883 or at the early part of 1884, he married Kiranshashi,
an eleven-year-old daughter of Abhaycharan Bhattacharya of
Mallikpur, 24-Parganas.(5) After the wedding Bhavanath took
his wife to Dakshineswar for the Master’s blessing, so that
Kiranshashi would help him in his spiritual journey. The Master
blessed them both.(6)
this period Bhavanath became a teacher in Baranagore School,
but the job did not last long. Soon after they were married,
his wife became very ill, but by God’s grace her life was
saved. Although Bhavanath was involved in family life, he
did not have much attachment for worldly things. Since he
was then desperately looking for a job, he could not visit
the Master on a regular basis.
and Bhavanath were very close friends. Sometimes Narendra
would spend nights with his Baranagore friends singing devotional
songs and discussing spiritual subjects. On the night of 25
February 1884 Narendra was staying at the house of Satkari
Lahiri in Baranagore when he learned of his father’s death.
Immediately Narendra’s struggle began. His family was living
hand to mouth, so he began searching for a job. He could not
visit the Master as usual, and he started to question the
existence of God. News spread that Narendra had become an
atheist and was associating with bad people. One day Bhavanath
tearfully said to Sri Ramakrishna, ‘Sir, we never dreamed
that Narendra would sink so low!’ The Master cried out excitedly:
‘Silence, you scoundrel! Mother has told me that he could
never do such things. If you talk like this anymore, I won’t
allow you in my presence again!’(7)
early 1884 Sri Ramakrishna fell while in ecstasy near the
railing of the temple garden, dislocating his left arm. In
spite of his injury he was constantly either absorbed in samadhi
or engaged in instructing his devotees. On 9 March, Bhavanath
came to see the Master and told him about an exhibition that
was then being held near the Asiatic Museum. He said: ‘Many
maharajas have sent precious articles to the exhibition -
gold couches and the like. It is worth seeing.’ The Master
replied with a smile:
you gain much by visiting those things. You realize that
those articles of gold and the other things sent by maharajas
are mere trash. That is a great gain in itself. When I used
to go to Calcutta with Hriday, he would show me the Viceroy’s
palace and say ‘Look, Uncle! There is the Viceroy’s palace
with the big columns.’ The Mother revealed to me that they
were merely clay bricks laid one on top of another.
and His splendour. God alone is real; the splendour has
but a two-days existence. The magician and his magic. All
become speechless with wonder at the magic, but it is all
unreal. The magician alone is real. The rich man and his
garden. People see only the garden; they should look for
its rich owner.(8)
talking about the rules for householders and monks the Master
advised devotees to give up hypocrisy and be guileless. Then
he remarked: ‘How guileless Bhavanath is! After his marriage
ceremony he came to me and asked, “Why do I feel so much love
for my wife?” … This is due to the world-bewitching maya of
the Divine Mother of the Universe. A man feels about his wife
that he has no one else in the world so near and dear, that
she is his very own in life and death, here and hereafter.’
how much a man suffers for his wife! Still he believes that
there is no other relative so near. Look at the sad plight
of a husband. Perhaps he earns twenty rupees a month and
is the father of three children. He hasn’t the means to
feed them well. His roof leaks, but he hasn’t the wherewithal
to repair it. He cannot afford to buy books for his son.
He cannot invest his son with the sacred thread. He begs
for a few pennies from different friends.
But a wife endowed with spiritual wisdom
is a real partner in life. She greatly helps her husband
to follow the religious path. After the birth of one or
two children they live like brother and sister. Both of
them are devotees of God - His servant and His handmaid.
Their family is a spiritual family. They are always happy
with God and His devotees. They know that God alone is their
own, from everlasting to everlasting.’ (401-2)
another occasion (7 March 1885) the Master remarked: ‘Bhavanath
is married, but he spends the whole night in spiritual conversation
with his wife. The couple pass their time talking of God alone.
I said to him, “Have a little fun with your wife now and then.”
“What?” he retorted angrily. “Shall we too indulge in frivolity?”’
1884 the Master’s birthday celebration was postponed because
of his illness; it was finally held on 25 May. Seeing Bhavanath
dressed elegantly, Surendra remarked: ‘Are you going to England?’
Master (smiling): ‘God is our England. …’
Surendra: ‘On returning from the office, as I put
away my coat and trousers, I say to the Divine Mother, “O
Mother, how tightly You have bound me to the world!'
Master: ‘There are eight fetters with which man is
bound: shame, hatred, fear, pride of caste, hesitation,
the desire to conceal and so forth.’
the Master sang: ‘In the world’s busy market-place, O Shyama,
Thou art flying kites;/ High up they soar on the wind of hope,
held fast by maya’s string.’ The Master explained: ‘Maya’s
string means wife and children.’
three gunas - sattva, rajas and tamas - have men under their
control. … The three gunas are so many robbers. Tamas kills
and rajas binds. Sattva no doubt releases man from his bondage,
but it cannot take him to God. It shows him the way.’
‘These are wonderful words indeed.’
Master: ‘Yes, this is a lofty thought.’ (438)
a few people could support Sri Ramakrishna when he was in
samadhi. If the devotee touching him was not pure enough,
the Master would cry out in pain, embarrassing that person.
On this particular birthday celebration, M recorded: ‘The
musician sang a song about the monastic life of Chaitanya.
The Master stood up, as he heard about Chaitanya’s renunciation,
and went into samadhi. The devotees put garlands of flowers
around his neck. Bhavanath and Rakhal supported his body lest
he should fall on the ground.’ (440)
was probably during this period that Bhavanath asked the Master
to remove maya from him. The Master told him to come to Dakshineswar
on a Tuesday or a Saturday. When Bhavanath arrived, the Master
tried to give him a little prasad, but he could not lift his
hand. He tried several times and then said, ‘Mother is not
allowing me to do it.’ Swami Saradananda later explained this
mystery: ‘The Master had two moods - human and divine. When
he was in the human plane, he had infinite compassion for
the suffering humanity. He was eager to remove the sufferings
of those who came to him. But when he ascended to the divine
plane to remove their suffering, he would see the time had
not yet come and it was not the will of the Mother.’(9)
7 September 1884, the Master told a large group of devotees:
‘There are many opinions about God. Each opinion is a path.
There are innumerable opinions and innumerable paths leading
Bhavanath: ‘Then what should we do?’
‘You must stick to one path with all your strength. A man
can reach the roof of a house by stone stairs or a ladder
or a rope-ladder or a rope or even by a bamboo pole. But he
cannot reach the roof if he sets foot now on one and now on
another. He should firmly follow one path with all his strength.
you must regard other views as so many paths leading to God.
You should not feel that your path is the only right path
and that other paths are wrong. You mustn’t bear malice towards
14 September 1884 Bhavanath visited the Master at Dakshineswar.
Narendra, M and other devotees were present. A scholar from
Konnagar came to see the Master with some friends and he asked
many different questions. When he and his friends later saw
the Master in samadhi they were about to leave, but Bhavanath
asked them to stay. When they finally left, the devotees talked
about the scholar.
Bhavanath (smiling): ‘What kind of man is he?’
‘He is a tamasic devotee.’
‘He can certainly recite Sanskrit verses.’
‘Once I said to a man about a sadhu: “He is a rajasic sadhu.
Why should one give him food and other presents?” At this
another sadhu taught me a lesson by saying to me: “Don’t say
that. There are three classes of holy men: sattvic, rajasic,
and tamasic.” Since that day I have respected holy men of
all classes.’ …
‘The devotees from Konnagar did not understand your samadhi
and were about to leave the room.’
‘Who was it that asked them to remain?’
(smiling): ‘It was I.’
‘My child, you are equally good in bringing people here and
in driving them away.’ …
conversation turned to the glory of God’s name.
‘I feel such relief while chanting the name of Hari.’
‘He who relieves us of sin is Hari. He relieves us of our
three afflictions in the world. Chaitanya preached the glory
of Hari’s name; so it must be good. … (Smiling) Once some
peasants were invited to a feast. They were asked if they
would eat a preparation of hog plum. They answered: “You may
give it to us if the gentlemen have eaten it. If they enjoyed
it, then it must be good.”’(11)
M, The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, trans. Swami Nikhilananda
(Chennai: Sri Ramakrishna Math, 2002), 127.
Swami Saradananda, Sri Ramakrishna and His Divine Play,
trans. Swami Chetanananda (St Louis: Vedanta Society of St
Louis, 2003), V.8.2.6.
Swami Chetanananda, Ramakrishna as We Saw Him (St Louis:
Vedanta Society of St Louis, 1990), 468.
Vaikunthanath Sanyal, Sri Ramakrishna Lilamrita (Calcutta,
Divine Play, V.8.2.14.
Akshayachaitanya, Swami Saradanander Jivani, (Calcutta:
Model Publishing House, 1955), 348-9.