of Sri Sri Ma
Nirvanananda (Sujji Maharaj), a disciple of Swami Brahmananda,
was one of the Vice-Presidents of the Ramakrishna Order. Originally
published in Sri Sri Mayer pada prante (Vol. Ill),
in Bengali, these reminiscences are translated by Mrs. Maloti
joined the Kashi Sevashram as a brahmachari in 1912. At that
time Maharaj (Swami Brahmananda), Mahapurush Maharaj (Swami
Shivananda), Hari Maharaj (Swami Turiyananda), Master Mahashay
(M.) were all present there. Mother, too, was in Kashi then,
at 'Lakshminivas'. One day she was brought to the Sevashram
in a palanquin. She was escorted by Swami Shantananda and
Charu Babu (later Swami Shubhananda). Mother sat on a chair.
A devotee asked her: 'Mother, what do you think of this place?'
Mother replied: 'I found Thakur himself present everywhere.
By serving the patients, deeming them to be riving images
of Narayana, the boys are serving Thakur himself.' This comment
of Mother inspired us to put in further effort. The number
of monks and brahmacharis at the Sevashram was small then,
and I was entrusted with the responsibility of attending to
the indoor patients. Serving patients as images of Narayana
is in reality very hard indeed. I was there for about two
years and tried my utmost to take care of the patients deeming
them to be living images of Narayana. Being inspired by Mother's
words, encouraged by Maharaj and motivated by Hari Maharaj,
I was able to carry out my work.
many occasions I had the good fortune to witness Maharaj offering
pranams to Mother - at Kashi, at Bagh Bazar and at
Belur Math. I used to observe that in the presence of Mother,
Maharaj was never himself; he would be overcome with emotional
fervour. His legs tottering, he could not stand steadily.
His whole body used to tremble. Somehow he would manage to
offer pranams and then he would hurry away. Often,
at Kashi and at Mother's residence (at Udbodhan), he could
not even climb upstairs. He would stand downstairs and raising
his folded hands to his head, convey his pranams to
her. I have seen Baburam Maharaj (Swami Premananda), Mahapurush
Maharaj and others too, offering pranams to Mother.
They too used to be almost in a similar state but not quite
to that extent.
my initiation into brahmacharya (1914) I went to Udbodhan
to seek Mother's blessings. In those days there was only a
narrow veranda leading from the staircase to Mother's room,
not such a wide veranda as we have now. The courtyard downstairs
was large. After I had offered my pranams to Mother
she asked me to sing some bhajans. Spreading a shataranchee
(cotton carpet) in the courtyard I sat down and sang a few
bhajans. Pleased, Mother sent me some prasad. When
I went to take leave before returning to the Math she placed
her hand on my head and blessed me affectionately.
was March or April of the year 1915. I was then engaged in
attending on Maharaj at Belur Math. I used to notice monks
and brahmacharis of my age set out for tapasya with
the permission of Maharaj. They would go off to the Himalayas
or go elsewhere and spend a year or so there in spiritual
practices. One day I too approached Maharaj and asked permission
to go for tapasya. At once he said: 'What else are
you doing here? Your serving here is much more effective than
tapasya. You don't need to go anywhere else.' In spite
of these words when I kept pressing him for permission he
suggested that I obtain permission from Mahapurush Maharaj.
As soon as Mahapurush Maharaj heard my prayer he exclaimed:
'Are you crazy? Where else will you go for tapasya?
Be assured that everything can be gained by just serving Maharaj.'
Still I persisted with my request. At last he said: 'Well,
go to Baburam Maharaj. You may go only if he gives permission/
When I went to Baburam Maharaj his response was the same but
more vehement. He cried out: 'Have you really gone mad, Sujji?
Don't you see that Thakur dwells within Maharaj? Will you
be in such close proximity to the spiritual son of Bhagawan
Sri Ramakrishna anywhere else?' Finally he gave in to my pleadings
and said: 'Okay, Mother is now at Udbodhan. If she allows
you, then you may go. But at first go to Kalighat and worship
Kali there. Then go to Mother for her blessings. Know that
she who is in Kalighat and the one who is at Bagh Bazar (Udbodhan),
are one and the same.'
visited the temple at Kalighat I reached Udbodhan. I was the
last in the queue of devotees desiring darshan of Mother.
From afar I observed Mother sitting with her face veiled and
blessing everyone who offered pranams to her. Finally
all the devotees departed and it was my turn. When I stood
up after prostrating at her feet I found that Mother had uncovered
her face completely. All smiles, she said: 'Take this sweet,
son, eat it.' She herself gave me the prasad. I gave
her an account of activities at the Math. Lastly I placed
my appeal before her. After giving me a patient hearing Mother
said: 'Thakur did not like the practice of going out and indulging
in harsh disciplines, my child. Besides, where will you go
for tapasya leaving the Math and Rakhal? You are serving
Rakhal, isn't that sufficient?' But I went on insisting childishly
on having her permission and blessings for tapasya.
Finding me adamant Mother yielded: 'Well, you may go for tapasya,
but go to Kashi. However, you have to give me word that you
will not undertake austerities intentionally and needlessly.
If on the way help comes unasked, you will accept it. Even
during tapasya at Kashi if anybody offers you anything,
you will accept it. You will stay at the Sevashram and if
the urge is very strong you may beg your food outside. This
will serve both purposes - Kashivas (dwelling in Kashi,
a centre for pilgrimage) and tapasya.' I gave her word
that I would abide by her instructions. However, I sought
her permission for travelling to Kashi on foot. I did obtain
her consent but I was aware that the proposal was not to her
liking. After offering my pranams to Mother and receiving
her blessings I returned happily to the Math and reported
everything to Maharaj, Mahapurush Maharaj and Baburam Maharaj.
few months later, having bathed in the Ganga before daybreak
I set out for Kashi with only a little cloth-bag. I had a
staff in one hand and a kamandal (water pot used for
religious purpose) in the other. Being then a brahmachari
I was clad in white cloth. I tore the cloth into two pieces,
wearing one half around my waist and wrapping the other half
round my shoulders. I was on my way to Kashi, alone, along
the Grand Trunk Road. It was the month of Bhadra (August-September),
the weather, therefore was sultry. As I trudged on I realized
that my walking down to Kashi was against Mother's will. On
the way I was rather unwell and grew weak. For two days I
had almost nothing to eat. At times I felt a little aggrieved
that I was in such a predicament in spite of her blessings.
On the third morning I lay exhausted under a large mango tree
on the wayside. Silently I complained to Mother about such
an outcome of her blessings. A little later a car halted under
the tree. A family alighted from the car intending to have
their food under the shade of the tree. I lay down as before,
not interested in them or their activities. Suddenly I heard
a familiar voice: 'Isn't it Sujji Maharaj? What brings you
here?' On looking up I saw a well-known face, that of a devotee
who was a frequent visitor at the Math. When he heard that
my destination was Kashi he said: 'Come with us in our car.
We are going to Madhupur. We'll take you along as far as we
can/ I thanked him and said: 'But I have resolved to walk
all the way.' At that he had food served to me first - some
parathas, fruits and sweets from what they had brought
and filled my kamandal with water. I ate what he offered
but despite their entreaties I neither boarded their car nor
accepted their money. When they also had eaten, they departed
and I resumed my journey. It seemed to me that I was walking
endlessly. Due to walking barefoot, blisters had developed
in my feet, and the whole body was aching. I walked mostly
at night, because walking during the day was painful. Three
more days passed during which I had only a few guavas to eat.
It struck me then that those people had wanted to take me
along some distance in their car but I had not agreed. Mother
had said: 'Don't undertake austerities intentionally and needlessly/
By turning down the devotee's request I had disobeyed Mother,
so my suffering may be due to that. When I asked for alms
people mocked me. Being clad in white was perhaps another
reason for alms not coming my way. However, I used to walk
about 20 miles each day. Travelling in this manner in the
evening of the seventh day, I reached a village on the border
of Bengal and Bihar, in the district of Hazaribagh.
name of the village was Birpur [sic]. After much searching
I succeeded in finding a temple of Shiva where I took shelter
for the night. The place was swarming with mosquitoes. I realized
that it would be impossible to spend the night there. As I
sat there warding off the mosquitoes, once again the potency
of Mother's blessings was revealed to me. At about 9 o'clock
the priest, a young man, arrived. He took a close look at
me and put some questions to me. Then he sat down to worship
and when that was over, said to me in Hindi: 'Come home with
me. Bears and other animals come here at night/ I was about
to say 'No' but Mother's words came back to me: 'don't undertake
austerities intentionally.' So I accompanied him without further
delay. I found a quite well-to-do family. His widowed mother
was very pleased to see me. She took me to their shrine to
perform my japa etc. I was startled when I noticed
a picture of Sri Ramakrishna amidst those gods and goddesses.
I stood there overwhelmed, and tears filled my eyes. How did
he come to be there, an obscure village on the border of Bihar
and Bengal? I can hardly describe the joy and the faith that
surged in my heart. The old lady detained me for three nights
with her loving care. She herself prepared khichuri,
malpua and so many other things for me to eat. She
applied some ointment to the blisters under my feet and smeared
a paste of turmeric and lime on my sprained foot to reduce
the pain. After three days I felt that I was quite well and
could resume walking. The old lady, however, objected. She
said: 'No, my child, you are still weak. You can't walk alone
such a long distance to Kashi and do penance there. Here is
your ticket, you will travel by train.' Remembering Mother's
words this time too I did not refuse. They helped me board
a train at a nearby station.
old lady and her son recounted to me the story behind the
picture of Thakur in their shrine. Once the son had made a
trip to Kashi. Seeing the picture of Thakur on a calendar
hanging in a shop selling homeopathic medicine he had asked
for it and brought it home. I think it must have been M. (Mahesh)
Bhatta-charya's shop. He had learned at the shop itself that
the picture was of Sri Ramakrishna - 'Ramkishan, perhaps some
Bengali avatar.' Both mother and son stated: 'However,
after bringing this picture home everything has taken a turn
for the better.' When I asked the son why he had asked for
the picture, he answered: 'There seemed to be some magic in
Ramakrishna's eyes. His eyes drew me irresistibly, so I asked
for the picture. Then I had it framed.'
reached Kashi by train. The old lady and her son had wanted
me to spend a few more days with them. I somehow succeeded
in leaving on the fourth day, much to their disappointment.
Till I reached Kashi everything went smoothly. I realized
then that after leaving the Math, Mother had been constantly
had stated: 'Stay at the Sevashram and if the urge is very
strong you may beg your food outside/ But my impetus for tapasya
being excessively strong I decided that the period of my tapasya
I would spend outdoors. If I put up at Sevashram the sense
of security would affect my tapasya. So I resolved
to stay outside and also to beg my food. I found a suitable
place in an old garden house near the Ganga and I earnestly
devoted my time to meditation, japa and tapasya,
while depending on alms for food. The place was not a healthy
one. It was infested with insects and mosquitoes which hardly
let me be in peace. I understood why Mother had advised me
to stay at the Sevashram and to live on alms 'if the urge
was very strong'. The alms in North India, consisting of dal
(lentil soup) and chapattis did not suit my constitution.
Soon I started to feel quite worn out. I felt my enthusiasm
was fast declining. To revive my fervour I visited revered
Latu Maharaj (Swami Adbhutananda) who used to dwell on a ghat
on the banks of the river. Seeing me he asked very tenderly:
'Sujji, what has come over you? Why do you look so weak? I
fear that begging does not suit you. Well, take these two
rupees. Master Mashay (M.) sends the money to me every month
to have milk. Take these two rupees and have a little milk
everyday.' As he himself used to practise severe austerities,
it hurt me to accept the money. However, Mother's words: 'don't
undertake austerities intentionally' recurred to me. So I
was compelled to accept it. This expression of his love brought
tears to my eyes.
health did not improve, rather it declined further. I contracted
dysentery which aggravated due to my living on begged food.
One day my condition was so bad that I just lay down in that
garden house alone. I had nothing to eat and there were frequent
evacuations. Suddenly I heard the sound of some people nearby.
The owner of the house - a lady - entered my room. She had
come to see the house after several years. At the sight of
me, in that state, everything was clear to her. She may have
heard about me from the caretaker of the house. Immediately
she gave orders for a good room to be fixed up for me and
added that rice, vegetables, milk, etc. - everything essential
for my diet, should be provided to me. This time too I was
about to refuse but remembering Mother's instructions, I accepted
all. It seemed to me that Mother herself had come in the form
of that lady and made arrangements for my food and rest.
a few days I recovered. By then I had realized that instead
of doing tapasya I was accepting service from others.
Calling Mother's instructions to mind, I now took shelter
at the Sevashram. After 6 or 7 months had passed in this manner,
packing up my scanty belongings, I returned to the Math where
Maharaj had been awaiting me with the anxiety of a father.
I fell at his feet. That was the end of my desire to leave
the Math and engage in tapasya.
my return I was again entrusted with taking care of Maharaj.
Mahapurush Maharaj and Baburam Maharaj also had been looking
forward to my return. Their love cannot be expressed in words.
Mother was in her country home at that time. I wrote to her
giving all the news concerning me. Learning that my desire
for tapasya had been fulfilled and that I had returned
safely to the Math, Mother was happy and wrote to me conveying
her blessings. She said: 'Now that you have gone through a
great deal of tapasya, devote yourself heart and soul
to serving Rakhal. Through serving Rakhal alone you will attain
all. There is no tapasya greater than that, keep this
in mind.' When Mother returned to Udbodhan I went there to
pay homage at her sacred feet. Mother poured out her blessings
on me. That year during Durga Puja Mother visited the Math
and passed the Puja days there. The weather was inclement
throughout the Puja but in the presence of the living Durga,
everything went off smoothly. Once I had a desire for darshan
of Mother Kali at Kalighat. When I told this to Baburam Maharaj
he advised: 'First meet Mother at Udbodhan, she is Mother
Kali incarnate. Only then visit Kalighat.' I went to Mother's
house at Bagh Bazar. After offering pranams at Mother's
feet I repeated Baburam Maharaj's words to her. She smiled
faintly. That which I perceived in that smile, hovers before
my eyes till this day. The ethereal beauty of the smile is
beyond my power to describe. Then Mother said: 'My child,
Baburam has spoken truly indeed.'