Vivekananda’s Passing Away: A New Finding
from Bengali by Swami Chetanananda)
1902 was a memorable day. Swami Vivekananda, a great prophet
of modern India, passed away at about 9:00 pm while he was
in meditation. The flame of his life-lamp, which brightened
the spiritual world, suddenly blew out in the deep darkness
of night. The next morning this sad news spread throughout
Calcutta and all over India. Swamiji’s disciple Kanai Maharaj
(Swami Nirbhayananda) came to our house in Ahiritola and gave
us the news. I was then busy performing worship in a temple
nearby. I returned home before 9:00 am to find my mother crying
loudly. When I asked why she was grieving, she said, ‘My son,
a great calamity has taken place. Swamiji is no more. He has
passed away - and you never did take me to see him.’ I replied,
‘Mother, all monks in the monastery are called “Swami”. Which
swamiji are you talking about? Perhaps you have misunderstood
something.’ My mother answered: ‘Oh no, Kanai came early this
morning and said that the head Swamiji passed away last night
at nine o’clock. He asked all of you to go to Belur Math.’
I consoled my mother, saying, ‘It is not good to express grief
for the death of a monk.’
that time my friend Nibaran, a disciple of Holy Mother, arrived.
I decided not to go to work. Accompanied by Nibaran and my
younger brother Dulalshashi, I went to the Ahiritola ghat,
crossed the Ganges by boat, and then reached Belur Math at
10:00 am via Salikha (Salkia) and Ghusuri. It was raining
a little. I saw that Rakhal Maharaj (Swami Brahmananda) and
some monks were busy decorating a cot with flowers in the
western veranda of the Math building. When Rakhal Maharaj
saw me, he burst into tears. His voice was choked, so he pointed
to the steps and indicated that we should go upstairs.
I entered Swami Vivekananda’s room I saw that his divine body
had been laid on a carpet. His forehead was smeared with holy
ashes; a bouquet of flowers was placed near his head; and
his body was covered with a new ochre cloth. His right hand
was resting on the floor and a rosary had been placed around
his right thumb. His eyes were indrawn and half-closed like
Lord Shiva in meditation. The entire room was full of fragrance
from incense burning at both sides of his body. Sister Nivedita
was seated at the left side of Swamiji’s body, steadily fanning
his head with a palm-leaf fan. Tears were trickling down her
cheeks. Swamiji’s head was placed to the west and his feet
to the east, towards the Ganges. Grief-stricken, Brahmachari
Nandalal sat silently at his feet. We all three bowed down
to Swamiji, touching his feet, and then sat there. When I
touched his feet, they were as cold as ice.
then touched Swamiji’s rosary and repeated the mantra given
by my guru. Meanwhile, many distinguished people and devotees
from Calcutta and other places arrived to see Swamiji for
the last time. One after another they bowed down to him and
left; but the three in my party, Brahmachari Nandalal and
Sister Nivedita stayed. When I finished my japa, Nivedita
whispered to me: ‘Can you sing, my friend? Would you mind
singing the songs that our Thakur used to sing?’ I said that
I could not sing. Nivedita then requested, ‘On my behalf will
you please ask your friend to sing?’
my friend Nibaran sang a few songs melodiously: ‘Cherish my
precious Mother Shyama tenderly within, O mind’; ‘Why should
I go to Ganga or Gaya, to Kashi, Kanchi or Prabhas?’; ‘Is
Kali, my Mother, really black? The Naked One, of blackest
hue, lights the lotus of the heart’; ‘The black bee of my
mind is drawn in sheer delight to the blue lotus flower of
Mother Shyama’s feet’; ‘O my mind, chant the name of Kali.
If you say Kali, Kali, the fear of Kala [Death] will disappear.’
listened to these songs with all her attention. Pent-up emotions
overflowed from her heart and began to flow from her eyes
as tears. It was an unforgettable and sad scene; I shall never
forget it. Although the incident occurred forty-five years
ago, still its memory is written on my mind in golden letters.
On that day the expression on Nivedita’s face told me how
wounded was her lost and sad heart! It truly stirred my consciousness.
I realized that her reaction was not the result of mere emotional
weakness. Where is this great, learned, spiritual English
woman full of renunciation and forbearance, and where are
we who are proud of a little learning and devoid of renunciation!
about 1:00 pm Swami Saradananda came upstairs to Swamiji’s
room and said to Brahmachari Nandalal and the three in my
party: ‘Look, we are broken-hearted because of Swamiji’s passing
away. We have lost all our strength. Would you be able to
carry Swamiji’s body downstairs?’ Immediately Brahmachari
Nandalal and we three devotees slowly and carefully carried
Swamiji’s body down the steps to the lower veranda and placed
it on the cot decorated with flowers. As was the custom, some
pomegranates, apples, pears and grapes were offered to Swamiji.
Swami Advaitananda then said to the brahmachari, ‘O Nandalal,
Swamiji loved you immensely. You perform the last worship
to him.’ When Swami Brahmananda and the other monks approved
this proposal, Nandalal performed the ritual offerings of
garlands and flowers, and of fruits and sweets, then waving
an oil lamp and finally chanting a hymn.
was proposed that a final photograph of Swamiji be taken,
but Swami Brahmananda would not allow it, saying, ‘There are
many good photographs of Swamiji; this sad picture will break
the hearts of all.’ Afterwards, Swami Brahmananda, the other
monks and brahmacharins offered flowers at Swamiji’s feet.
Finally, Haramohan Mitra (a classmate of Swamiji’s) and other
devotees offered flowers. Later, Swamiji’s feet were painted
with red dye (alta) and footprints were made on small pieces
of cloth. Sister Nivedita also took a footprint on a new handkerchief.
I took a beautiful rose (not fully open), smeared it with
sandal paste, touched it to Swamiji’s feet and put it in my
front pocket as a memento.
the worship service was over, Swami Saradananda asked the
same four of us to carry the cot to the spot where Swamiji’s
body would be cremated. All the monks and devotees followed
the procession. There had been some rain before noon, so the
monastery ground was wet and slippery, and moreover it was
covered with spear grass. So we slowly and cautiously crossed
the vast area and placed the cot on the funeral pyre set with
sandalwood. At that time Swamiji’s aunt and his cousin, Habu
Datta, arrived by car from Simla (Calcutta), and began to
cry and lament loudly.
Saradananda then asked everyone, ‘Please take a bunch of pankati
[the dried stalk of the jute plant], ignite it, circle
Swamiji’s body seven times, place the blazing pankati
under the cot just below Swamiji’s feet, and bow down to him.’
According to his instructions, Swamiji’s body was consigned
to the sandalwood fire, and the grief-stricken monks and devotees
sat like statues around the blazing pyre. The funeral fire
gradually rose high, extending its many lolling tongues to
consume Swamiji’s body. Girish Chandra Ghosh, Upendranath
Mukhopadhyay of the Basumati, Jaladhar Sen, Mahendranath Gupta
(M), Akshay Kumar Sen and other devotees were seated on a
cement bench near the bel tree and watching this heart-rending
Girish Babu began to lament: ‘Naren, you were supposed to
live and spread the glory of the Master by telling people
my story of transformation. But this wish of mine has been
destroyed by a horrible Providence. I am an old fellow [he
was 19 years older than Swamiji], and I am left alive to see
this terrible scene of yours. You are the Master’s son and
you have gone to him. Look, you have departed prematurely,
leaving us in this pitiable condition. How unfortunate we
this, Nivedita could no longer suppress her grief. She got
up and began to circle the blazing funeral pyre. Seeing her
close to the pyre, Swami Brahmananda was concerned that her
skirt would catch fire. He conveyed this to Swami Nirbhayananda,
who then took Nivedita’s hand and led her away from the pyre.
He made her sit on the bank of the Ganges and tried to console
sacred fire and a favourable wind consumed the lower part
of Swamiji’s divine body to ashes within a short time; but
amazingly that fire did not touch his chest, face and the
hair of his head. His facial expression and the look of his
broad eyes were beautiful. It was suggested that someone shake
Swamiji’s body so that it would burn quickly. This greatly
upset Swami Nishchayananda, a disciple of Swamiji. He did
not want to see his guru’s body prodded with a pole. So he
immediately climbed up an old tree nearby, cut some branches
and set them on the funeral pyre.
Swami Brahmananda took me aside, gave me a ten-rupee note,
and said, ‘You and Nibaran take Girish Babu’s boat, cross
the Ganges and buy some sandesh [sweets] and other kinds of
food from Baranagore Bazar. From last night on, no monk put
anything in his mouth - not even a drop of water - and some
devotees are also fasting.’ When Bipin Saha of Baranagore
saw us going to carry out Swami Brahmananda’s order, he joined
us. He contributed five rupees and asked a confectioner in
Baranagore Bazar to prepare hot luchis [fried bread], kachuri
and sandesh. He then carried the food basket on his head and
returned to Belur Math with us. It was evening when we returned
to the monastery, and the funeral pyre had been extinguished.
Swamiji’s remains had been collected, and the monks and devotees
were bathing in the Ganges and making water offerings.
said to me, ‘You have touched the dead body. Now you bathe
and offer water to the departed soul.’ I replied: ‘A sadhu
is Narayana [God]. Have I become impure by touching that divine
body?’ Following Swami Brahmananda’s orders, I carried the
food to be offered to the Master without first changing my
clothes. Swami Premananda understood my attitude, and said,
‘You do not have to take a bath, but let me sprinkle Ganges
water on your head. Take the food to the shrine and then go
to the Ganges to offer water to Swamiji as is customary.’
were no worship services that day. Vespers were conducted
that evening and food was offered to the Master at that time.
Prasad [offered food], tea and water were then distributed
among the monks and devotees. Afterwards, the grief-stricken
devotees returned home.
fulfil Swamiji’s last wish, Kali Puja was held at Belur Math
on the first new-moon night (amavasya) after 4 July. No outsiders
were invited on that occasion, except for Bhupendranath Datta,
Swamiji’s younger brother. Makhan Maharaj asked me and Nibaran
to bring thirty pounds of dry bel wood for the homa fire.
The new moon fell on a Saturday. When Nibaran and I arrived
at Belur Math with the dry bel wood, Swami Brahmananda was
pleased. He recited two lines of a hymn to Shiva: ‘Chandrashekhara
chandrashekhara chandrashekhara pahi mam. Chandrashekhara
chandrashekhara chandrashekhara raksha mam.’ [O Chandrashekhara,
please nourish us. O Chandrashekhara, please protect us.]
Then the swami continued: ‘You have saved the situation by
bringing dry bel wood in this stormy and rainy weather. May
the Divine Mother bless you.’
10:00 pm Kali Puja began in the upper shrine room of the monastery.
Ishwar Chandra Chakrabarty, a Tantric adept and father of
Swami Ramakrishnananda, performed the worship. Monks and brahmacharins
bowed to the Master in the shrine and then meditated in Swamiji’s
room. Before that, when the evening food offering was over,
Swami Brahmananda told Swami Premananda, ‘Please give prasad
to Bhupen and these two devotees; but the rest of us will
fast.’ After having prasad, we three lay down in the large
room downstairs in the western part of the Math building.
That night, Swami Nityananda (an elderly disciple of Swamiji)
occasionally made loud and pathetic cries that reverberated
throughout the monastery.
3:00 am Swami Saradananda came to our room and woke us up.
He asked us to go to the room upstairs.
Swami Brahmananda asked me to purify myself by sipping some
water and to repeat my mantra. After a while Swami Brahmananda
asked everyone present to go to the western courtyard where
the homa fire was arranged. We joined the monks and sat around
that sacred fire, repeating our mantra. After the homa fire,
we all went to the spot where Swamiji’s body had been cremated,
circled it seven times, and bowed down. Everyone then sat
under the bel tree for a while and repeated his mantra. Finally,
all of us went to the Master’s shrine and bowed down to him,
and then took prasad downstairs.
more on this topic: Swami
Vivekananda suffered from 31 ailments