IX

KSHIR BHOWANI

Everything in our life up to the time of the pilgrimage to Amarnath had been associated with the thought of Siva. Each step had seemed to draw us closer to the great snow-mountains that were at once His image and His home. The young moon resting at night-fall above the glacier-cleft and the tossing pines, had suggested irresistibly the brow of the Great God. Above all, that world of meditation on whose outskirts we dwelt, had Him as its heart and centre, rapt and silent, "above all qualities and beyond the reach of thought."

Undoubtedly this Hindu idea of Siva is the highest conception of God as approached by the spiritual intuition of man. He is the Divine accessible within, and purified of all externals.

It may possibly be, that in the pursuit of uttermost knowledge, this personification of the unmanifesting, is necessarily succeeded by the opposite conception of God - as the power behind all manifestation. It is clear at least that he who has sounded the depths of both these, will be capable of understanding the significance, of every possible human symbol of the divine, since all must be included in one or other of the two. If the Supreme is thought of by man at all, it must be either as Infinite Being or as Infinite Power. Whether there is any such law of nature behind the fact or not, must remain a speculation.

In some imperceptible way, at all events, the Swami's attention appeared to shift, during the month of August, from Siva to the Mother. He was always singing the songs of Ram Prasad, as if he would saturate his own mind with the conception of himself as a child. He told some of us once, that wherever he turned he was conscious of the presence of the Mother, as if She were a person in the room. It was always his habit to speak simply and naturally of "Mother," and some of the older members of the party caught this, so that such phrases as "Well, well! Mother knows best!" were a constant mode of thought and speech amongst us, when, for instance, some cherished intention had to be abandoned.

Gradually, however, his absorption became more intense. He complained bitterly of the malady of thought, which would consume a man, leaving him no time for sleep or rest, and would often become as insistent as a human voice. He had constantly striven to make clear to us the ideal of rising beyond the pairs of opposites, beyond pain and pleasure, good and evil alike, - that conception which forms the Hindu solution of the problem of sin, - but now he seemed to fasten his whole attention on the dark, the painful, and the inscrutable, in the world, with the determination to reach by this particular road the One Behind Phenomena. Baffled as he found himself in the object of his visit to Kashmir,* "the worship of the Terrible" now became his whole cry. Illness or pain would always draw forth the reminder that "She is the organ. She is the pain. And She is the Giver of pain, Kali! Kali! Kali!"

His brain was teeming with thoughts, he said one day, and his fingers would not rest till they were written down. It was that same evening that we came back to our houseboat from some expedition, and found waiting for us, where he had called and left them, his manuscript lines on “Kali the Mother.” Writing in a fever of inspiration, he had fallen on the floor, when he had finished - as we learnt afterwards, - exhausted with his own intensity.

KALI THE MOTHER

The stars are blotted out The clouds are covering clouds,

It is darkness vibrant, sonant.

In the roaring, whirling wind,

Are the souls of a million lunatics,

Just loosed from the prison house,

Wrenching trees by the roots Sweeping all from the path.

The sea has joined the fray And swirls up mountain waves,

To reach the pitchy sky.

The flash of lurid light Reveals on every side A thousand, thousand shades Of death, begrimed and black.

Scattering plagues and sorrows,

Dancing mad with joy,

Come, Mother, come!

For Terror is Thy name.

Death is in Thy breath.

And every shaking step

* He had come, at the express invitation of the Maharajah, to choose a piece of land, for the establishment of a math and Sanskrit college. But his choice was twice vetoed, on the list of agenda for Council by Sir Adalbert Talbot, then acting as Resident. Thus it could not even be discussed.

Destroys a world for e'er.

Thou "Time” the All-Destroyer! Come, O Mother, come! Who dares misery love, Dance in destruction's dance, And hug the form of death, -To him the Mother comes.

About this time, he had taken his boat away from our vicinity, and only a young Brahmo doctor, who was also living in Kashmir that summer, - and whose kindness and devotion to him were beyond all praise, - was allowed to know where he was, and to enquire about his daily needs.

The next evening the doctor went, as usual, but finding him lost in thought, retired without speaking, and the following day, September the thirtieth, he had gone, leaving word that he was not to be followed, to Kshir Bhowani, the coloured springs. He was away, from that day till October the sixth.

----------

In the afternoon of that day we saw him coming back to us, up the river. He stood in front of the dunga, grasping with one hand the bamboo roof-pole, and with the other holding yellow flowers. He entered our houseboat, - a transfigured presence, and silently passed from one to another blessing us, and putting the marigolds on our heads. "I offered them to Mother," he said at last, as he ended by handing the garland to one of us. Then he sat down. "No more 'Hari Om!' It is all 'Mother,' now!" he said, with a smile. We all sat silent. Had we tried to speak, we should have failed, so tense was the spot, with something that stilled thought. He opened his lips again. “All my patriotism is gone. Everything is gone. Now it's only 'Mother, Mother!'”

"I have been very wrong," he said simply, after another pause. "Mother said to me 'What, even if unbelievers should enter My temples, and defile My images! What is that to you? Do you protect ME? Or do I protect you?' So there is no more patriotism. I am only a little child!"

Then he spoke on indifferent matters, about the departure for Calcutta, which he desired to make at once, with a word or two as to the experience of physical ill into which his perplexities of mind had translated themselves, throughout the past week. "I may not tell you more now: it is not in order," he said gently, adding, before he left us, - "But spiritually, spiritually, I was not bound down!"

We saw very little of the Swami, during the next few days. Before breakfast the next morning, indeed, two of us were with him on the river-bank for a moment, when, seeing the barber, he said "All this must go!" and left us, to come out again half-an-hour later, without a hair. Somehow, in ways and words that could scarcely be recounted, came to us now and then a detail of that austerity, by which, in the past week, such illumination had come. We could picture the fasting; the offering of milk and rice and almonds daily, in the spring; and the morning worship of a Brahmin pundit's little daughter, as Uma Kumari - the Divine Virgin; - the whole meanwhile, in such a passion of self-renunciation, that not one wave of reaction could be found in his consciousness for any injury, however great.

A man came one day to ask a question, and the Swami, in monastic dress and with shaven head, happened to enter. "Ought one to seek an opportunity of death, in defence of right, or ought one to take the lesson of the Gita,* and learn never to react?" was the problem put to him. "I am for no reaction," said the Swami, speaking slowly, and with a long pause. Then he added "- for Sannyasins. Self-defence for the householder!"

The mood seemed to grow upon him, and deepen. He spoke of this time once, as 'a crisis in his life.' Again, he called himself a child, seated on the lap of the Mother, and being caressed. And the thought came to us, unspoken, that these Her kisses might make themselves known to mind and nerves as anguish, yet be welcomed with rapture of recognition. Did he not say "There could be bliss in torture."

As soon as it could be arranged, we left for Baramulla, which we reached on Tuesday evening, October the eleventh. It had been settled that he would go on to Lahore the following afternoon, while we waited some days longer. On the way down the river, we saw very little of him. He was almost entirely silent, and took long walks by the riverside alone, rarely even entering our houseboat for a moment.

His health had been completely broken, by the labours of his return to India; and the physical ebb of the great experience through which he had just passed - for even suffering becomes impossible, when a given point of weariness is reached; and similarly, the body refuses to harbour a certain intensity of the spiritual life for an indefinite period! - was leaving him, doubtless, more exhausted than he himself suspected. All this contributed, one imagines, to a feeling that none of us knew for how long a time we might now be parting, and it was this

* It is perhaps worth-while to say that for my own part I could never understand how this enquirer gathered this particular lesson from the Gita!

thought, perhaps, that brought him to say goodbye on Wednesday morning, as we finished breakfast, and made him stay to talk.

Hour after hour went by, that morning, and it is easier to tell of the general impression created, than to build it up again detail by detail. We who listened, seemed to be carried into an innermost sanctuary. Sometimes he would sing and translate some snatch or other of devotional poetry, always to the Mother. And it was always Kali, with Her foot on the heart of Her worshipper, Who grew clearer to our minds; though he dwelt much, and over and over again, on the thought of the Mother, seated in the market-place of this world, playing amongst the players; flying Her own kite, and in a hundred thousand cutting the strings of only one or two.

"Scattering plagues and sorrows," he quoted from his own verses,

"Dancing mad with joy,

Come, Oh Mother, come!

For Terror is Thy name!

Death - is in Thy breath.

And every shaking step Destroys a world for e'er"

"It all came true, every word of it," he interrupted himself to say.

"Who dares misery love.

Dance in Destruction's dance,

And hug the form of death, -

To him the Mother does indeed come. I have proved it.

For I have hugged the form of Death!"

He spoke of the future. There was nothing to be desired, but the life of the wanderer, in silence and nudity, on the banks of the Ganges. He would have nothing. “Swamiji” was dead and gone. Who was he, that he should feel responsible for teaching the world? It was all fuss and vanity. The Mother had no need of him, but only he of Her. Even work, when one had seen this, was nothing but illusion.

There was no way but love. If people sinned against us, we must love them till it was impossible for them to resist it. That was all. Yet, as I write the words, I know well that I can give no idea of the vastness of which all this was utterance, - as if no blow, to any in the world, could pass and leave our Master's heart untouched; as if no pain, even to that of death, could elicit anything but love and blessing.

He told us the story of Vasishtha and Viswamitra; of Vasishtha's hundred descendants slain; and the king left alone, landless and crownless, to live out his life. Then he pictured the hut standing in the moonlight, amongst the trees, and Vasishtha and his wife within. He is pouring intently over some precious page, written by his great rival, when she draws near and hangs over him for a moment, saying, "Look, how bright is the moon tonight!" and he, without looking up, - "But ten thousand times brighter, my love, is the intellect of Viswamitra!"

All forgotten! The deaths of his hundred children, his own wrongs, and his sufferings, and his heart lost in admiration of the genius of his foe! Such, said the Swami, should be our love also, like that of Vasishtha for Viswamitra, without the slightest tinge of personal memory.

At this moment, a peasant brought sprays of pear-blossom, and laid them down on the table at which we sat. And one of us lifted them, saying, "Swami! these were made for worship, for they will bear no fruits!" But he looked at her, smiling, and she could not break the spell, to offer them.

And so he went. We all, servants and boat-people, friends and disciples, parents and children, accompanied him to the tonga on the roadside, to say goodbye. One sturdy little figure, the four-year-old daughter of his chief boatman, whose devotion to him we had long noted, trotted determinedly at his side, with a tray of fruit for his journey on her black head, and stood, smiling fare-well, as he drove away.

And we, not less deeply touched than this little child, but infinitely less unselfish, in our grown-up complexity of thought and emotion, knew not when we should look upon his face again, yet failed not to realise that we had that day lived through hours, within whose radiance all our future would be passed.