CHAPTER 10) THE FESTIVAL AT PANIHATI

1.    Narendra became a teacher

We have said before, how Narendranath took refuge in the Master and how the Master blessed the family to be ever above suffering from want of plain food and clothing. Narendra’s worldly circumstances changed gradually thenceforward; and although they were not affluent, the family never again had to experience the sort of dire poverty they had experienced before. A branch of the Metropolitan School was opened at Champatala in Calcutta shortly after the event; and he was appointed the Headmaster there through the kindness of Pandit Isvara Chandra Vidyasagar. He worked as a teacher there for about three or four months, probably from the month of May of the year 1885.

2.    The enmity of his kinsmen; the Master’s in flammatory affection of the throat. Narendra’s resignation from service

Although the worldly circumstances of Narendra improved a little, he was harassed a great deal now on account of the enmity of his kinsmen. They found an opportunity and occupied the best houses and the best places of his ancestral property by hook or by crook. He had therefore to leave his house for some time and live in his grandmother’s at Ramtanu Basu’s Lane. And, in order to come by his just right he instituted a case in the High Court and got everything settled. Nimai Charan Basu, an attorney and his father’s friend, helped him much in this case. Now that he had to spend much time in looking after the case and preparing for the impending B.L. Examination, he had to resign his post of teachership after three or four months only. There was also a graver reason for it—the Master was now attacked by an inflammatory affection of the throat and as it increased gradually Narendra felt the necessity of himself being present with him and making arrangements for the Master’s nursing, treatment, etc.

3.    The Master fell ill on account of taking too much ice

Seeing the Master suffer from the excessive heat in the year 1885, the devotees requested him to use ice. Observing that he felt relieved by taking ice, many of them, when coming to Dakshineswar, now began to bring it. He too liked to take it with sugared drinks, and made merry like a boy. But there started a pain in his throat when he had used it for a month or two. It was probably the month of April when he felt the pain for the first time.

4.    The disease increased when he talked much or was in Bhava samadhi

More than a month elapsed, and the pain did not abate; and scarcely had the month of May come when the disease developed new symptoms. It increased when he spoke much or went into ecstasy. It was at first diagnosed as the inflammation of the pharynx due to cold and an ordinary plaster was prescribed. But finding it inefficacious after a few days’ use, a devotee called in Dr. Rakhal of Bowbazar who was known to be an expert in such diseases. The doctor diagnosed the disease and prescribed an unguent and medicine for applying outside and inside the throat. He asked us to see as far as possible that the Master did not talk much for some days and did not often go into ecstasy.

5.    The story of the festival at Panihati

The thirteenth day of the bright fortnight of the month of Jyaishtha was drawing near. An annual fair of the Vaishnava community is held on this day in the village of Panihati on the Ganga, a few miles north of Calcutta. The story of the burning renunciation and detachment of Raghunath Das Goswami, one of the companions of the great lord Chaitanya, is well known throughout Bengal. Leaving behind a very beautiful wife and immense riches, Raghunath, the only son of his father, came to Santipur to take refuge at the feet of Sri Chaitanya, who sent him back to await at home the ripening of the too insipient dispassion for worldly life. In implicit obedience to this command of the great lord, Raghunath returned home and keeping hidden in his heart the strong desire for renouncing the world, began helping his father and uncle in managing the property and other worldly matters. Although he acted thus, he could not do without seeing the companions of Sri Chaitanya now and then. He used to visit them with the permission of his father, pass a few days in their holy company and return home. Days thus passed on. Raghunath spent his time in the world, biding his time for renouncing it. In course of time Sri Gauranga was initiated into Sannyasa and lived at Puri. Placed in charge of the preaching of the Vaishnava religion, Nityananda made the village of Khardaha, situated on the Ganga, the chief centre of his work and travelled far and wide to many places of Bengal singing and preaching the name of God and initiating many people into that faith.

Once when Nityananda with his friends and disciples of the inner circle was staying and preaching at the village of Panihati, Raghunath came to see him and was asked by him to feed him and the circle of devotees with flattened rice, curd, milk, sugar, plantain, etc., mixed into a paste and offered to the Deity. Raghunath gladly consented and gave a sumptuous feast to the hundreds of people who had come to see the revered Nityananda on the bank of the Ganga on that occasion. When Raghunath went to bow down to Nityananda and take leave of him at the end of the festival, the latter embraced him in a partial trance and said, “The time is now ripe; if you now renounce the world and go to the great lord at Puri, he will accept you and will place you under Sanatana Goswami for your training with a view to perfecting your spiritual life.” Raghunath leaped in joy at that command of Nityananda; he paid a short visit to his house and renounced the world for ever and went to Puri. Raghunath left the place, but in commemoration of this event the Vaishnava devotees hold an annual fair in the village of Panihati on the Ganga, in the name of Gauranga and Nityananda with a view to having similar grace of the divine Lord. This afterwards came to be known to the devotees as the “Festival of the flattened rice at Panihati”.

6.    The Master’s desire to go and witness that festival

The Master had, we have mentioned elsewhere, joined that festival many times before. But, owing to various reasons, he had not done so for a few years since his devotees, educated in the Western ways, came to him He expressed the desire of going and witnessing the festival this year together with his devotees and said to us, “A fair of bliss—a veritable mart of the name of Hari—assembles there on that day; you ‘Young Bengal’1 have never seen such a thing. Let us go and witness it.” Although a party of devotees like Ramchandra and others became very happy at the proposal, some of them thought of the pain in his throat and tried to dissuade him. In order to satisfy them he said, “I’ll take here a little food early and return after staying there an hour or two; that will not do much harm. The pain in the throat might increase if I have much of ecstasy, but I will be careful to keep it in check.” All objections were thrown to the winds at those words of his and the devotees began to arrange for his trip to Panihati.

7.    The preparations on the day of the festival before starting for Panihati

It was the thirteenth day of the bright fortnight, the day of the Panihati festival. About twenty-five devotees in two boats came to Dakshineswar at 9 a.m. Some came there on foot. A separate boat hired for the Master was seen tied at the Ghat. A few women devotees had come very early in the morning. They joined the Holy Mother in arranging a meal for the Master and the devotees. All took their food and were ready to start by 10 a.m.

8.    Why the Holy Mother did not accompany the party

When the Master had taken his meal, the Holy Mother sent word to him through a woman devotee asking him if she too might go. The Master said to the devotee, “You all are coming, I see; let her come if she likes.” When the words were thus reported to her, the Holy Mother said, “Many people are going with him and there will also be a very big crowd; it will be very difficult for me to get down from the boat and witness the festival; I’ll not go.” The Holy Mother gave up the idea of going, fed the two or three women devotees who had decided to go and asked them to go in the same boat with the Master.

9.    What they saw on reaching the place of the festival

Many people were seen to have assembled round the old pipal tree on the bank of the Ganga when the party reached Panihati at about 12 noon. The Vaishnava devotees were enjoying the bliss of Sankirtan in many places. But, although they did so, many of them did not seem to have actually lost themselves in the singing of the name of the divine Lord. It was everywhere a sort of lifeless affair. Both before and after arriving at Panihati, Narendranath, Balaram, Girishchandra, Ramchandra, Mahendranath and other principal devotees earnestly and repeatedly requested the Master not to mix with any Kirtan party and get inebriated. For, if he did so, his ecstasy would be inevitable and the pain in his throat would increase thereby.

10.    Mani Sen’s house

The Master got down from the boat and went direct to the house of Mani Sen. Happy at his coming, all the household of Mani Babu bowed to him and took him to the parlour and seated him there. It was a room well-furnished in the English fashion with tables, chairs, sofas, carpets, etc. After only ten or fifteen minutes’ rest there, he got up with all others to pay obeisance to the Lord, Sri Radhakanta, in the temple of that family.

11.    His temple

The temple was situated very near the parlour. We came direct through the side door to the music-hall adjoining the temple and were blessed to see the pair of images of Radha and Krishna. The images were beautiful. Gazing on the images for a while, the Master made salutations to them in a divine semi-conscious mood. Coming five or six steps down from the music-hall, one reaches the quadrangular temple courtyard with suites of rooms on all the four sides. The gate is so situated that one sees the images as soon as one enters the courtyard of the temple. When the Master was making salutations, a Kirtan party entered the courtyard through that gate and commenced singing. It appeared that each party that came to the fair, started singing Kirtan in the temple courtyard first and then went to the bank of the Ganga and enjoyed the chanting of the Lord’s name. A tall, fat, middle-aged man of fair complexion with the sacred thread, and a tuft of hair on his head, his body adorned with sandal-paste, marks of the sacred wheel, etc., came to the courtyard then, counting beads in a small bag. With an upper garment hanging from his shoulder and a white “Rally’s 49” cloth without coloured border, washed clean, put on in a very tidy manner and having a bunch of coins in a fold of that cloth at the waist, he seemed at the very first sight to be a tramp of a Goswami who had come out fully dressed in the fair to make a little money playing on the faith of others. In order to excite the Kirtan party and probably to show himself off to the new-comers as a great devotee, he came and immediately joined the party and began to roar, dance and gesticulate as if he were in trance.

12.    The Master danced during Bhavasamadhi

The Master stood on one side of the temple after making salutations. Smiling to see the Goswami feigning ecstasy and the orderly disposition of his dress and ornaments, he said to Narendra and other devotees beside him in a low voice, “Mark the hypocrisy.” There was seen a gentle smile on the lips of everyone at that merry remark of his. And all were free from anxiety to think that he had kept himself under control without experiencing any spiritual emotion. But the next moment, before the devotees had any idea of the how and when of the matter, the Master, in the twinkling of an eye, had come down in one bound to the middle of the Kirtan party and gone into ecstasy losing all consciousness. The devotees then hurried down from the music-hall and stood round him. He sometimes gained partial normal consciousness and danced with the stride of a lion; and sometimes lost outward awareness and stood still. Dancing under the influence of spiritual emotions, he was now proceeding, now receding with a rapid step to the timing of the music. He seemed like a fish swimming about in great delight in a sea of bliss. Each movement of his limbs clearly indicated it; but it is impossible to give expression to the wonderful manifestation of that fully natural and unrestrained power of bliss where beauty and tenderness had blended together in a sweet harmony. We have witnessed many beautiful dances full of gesture by both male and female dancers but never did we have a glimpse of that happy synthesis of power and beauty as we did in the unrestrained and yet perfectly balanced dance of the Master, when he lost himself in the divine moods of spiritual emotions. When his body, overflowing with the intense joy of divine feelings, swayed to and fro in quick steps, one seriously wondered whether it was made of any solid, physical substance at all. One felt as if waves, mountain high, rose in a sea of bliss and were going forward carrying everything before them and would merge that very moment, liquid in liquid, and vanish out of sight. No one had to explain how great a difference there existed between the genuine and the counterfeit. The Kirtan party did not turn their eyes to the Goswami any more but surrounded the Master and sang with zeal and happiness multiplied a hundredfold.

13.    On the way to Raghava Pandit’s house

About half an hour elapsed this way when, seeing the Master in a somewhat normal consciousness, the devotees tried to take him away from the midst of the Kirtan party. All should, it was decided, return to the boats after paying their obeisance to the pair of images and the Salagrama,1 which Pandit Raghava, a companion of the great lord Sri Chaitanya, had daily worshipped in his house, situated a little more than a mile from that place. The Master consented and started with the devotees from Mani Sen’s temple. But the Kirtan party did not desist from following him. They began coming behind, singing the name of God with great fervour. The Master went forward a few steps only, when he stood motionless in ecstasy. When he regained partial consciousness, the devotees requested him to walk on. He took three or four steps and was in ecstasy once more. As this happened over and over again, the devotees were compelled to proceed very slowly.

14.    The wonderful beauty of the Master in Bhavasamadhi

We do not remember to have ever seen the divine effulgent beauty which we saw that day in the person of the Master in ecstasy. It is not in human power to describe that wonderful beauty of his divine person. We never imagined before that such a change could come on a man’s body in the twinkling of an eye under the influence of spiritual emotions. His tall figure as seen by us daily, looked much taller and appeared to be as light as a body seen in a dream. Getting brighter, the slightly dark colour of his body turned into a fair complexion. Brightened by the divine mood and lit up by an incomparable smile playing on his slightly parted lips, his face beamed with glory, peace, bliss and compassion, and spread a wonderful light which illumined all sides. Bewitched, as it were, by the sight, the vast congregation forgot all other things and followed him almost unknowingly. The bright ochre colour of the silk he put on, became one with the lustre of his body and he was mistaken for a person surrounded by flames of fire.

15.    The zeal and joy of the Kirtan party on seeing the Master

As soon as the Master came out of Mani Babu’s temple and reached the public road, the Kirtan party saw his divinely bright beauty, charming dance and repeated deep ecstasy and with their zeal worked up to a pitch, began singing:

“Who takes the name of Hari on the bank of Ganga, the river divine?

It seems Nitai, the bestower of the divine love, has come.

Who takes the name of Hari, And sings victory to Radha?

It seems Nitai, the bestower of the divine love, has come.

Our Nitai, the giver of love, has come.

How can our hearts be soothed without him? Here comes our Nitai, the bestower of love.”

16.    All were attracted towards him

When they were singing the last line, they pointed their fingers at the Master and danced with great delight repeating it over and over again, “Here is our bestower of love.” That zeal of theirs attracted the attention of all who came to the festival and they began to pour in there. Those who came and saw the Master were at once charmed, and joined the Kirtan in great enthusiasm or, amazed at the rise of indescribable divine emotion in their hearts, remained rooted to the ground for some time and then followed the Master silently looking on him with unwinking eyes. The zeal of the people gradually seized all the people around and a few other Kirtan parties came and joined the one mentioned before. Thus a vast congregation of people surrounded the Master in ecstasy and proceeded with slow steps towards the cottage of Pandit Raghava.

17.    A plateful of Prasada

The women devotees had a few platefuls of sweets offered to Sri Gauranga and Nityananda under the Pipal tree on the Ganga and were bringing them for the Master. A little before they arrived at the house of Pandit Raghava, an ugly, ill-formed Vaishnava in the garb of a religious mendicant came— nobody knew whence—snatched a plateful of Prasada from the hands of a woman devotee and, as if swelling with love and spiritual emotions, put a little of it into the mouth of the Master with his own hand. The Master had then been standing still under the influence of the ecstatic mood. As soon as the man touched him, the whole of his body winced and this disturbed his ecstasy. He spat out the food and washed his mouth. It did not take anybody long to know that that Vaishnava was a hypocrite. Seeing that all were casting glances of annoyance and ridicule, the fellow slipped off. The Master then took Prasada from one of the devotees, ate a particle of it himself, and gave the rest to them

18.    The Master returned to the boat and bestowed his grace on Navachaitanya

It took a long time, about three hours, to walk a distance of one mile and reach Pandit Raghava’s house. The Master took half an hour to go to the temple and touch the Salagrama and pay his obeisance to the images and take rest. The vast crowd of people that came with him, dispersed in various directions. The devotees brought him to the boat when they saw that the crowd had thinned. But here also there came to pass a wonderful event. Knowing that the Master had come to the festival, Navachaitanya Mitra of Konnagar became eager to see him and was searching everywhere for him. Now that he saw the Master was in the boat and that the boat was about to start, he came running like one mad. He fell at his feet and wept on account of the intensity of the emotions of his heart, praying, “Please bestow grace on me.” The Master saw his eagerness and devotion and touched him in a divine mood. We do not know what extraordinary vision he had as the result of that touch, but his importunate weeping was turned into infinite delight in the twinkling of an eye. He danced unrestrainedly in the boat as if he had lost consciousness of the world. He sang the Master’s glory in various hymns and bowed down to him over and over again. When some time had elapsed this way, the Master passed his hand over Navachaitanya’s back and soothed him by giving him various instructions. Although Navachaitanya had seen the Master many times before, he could not receive his grace earlier. He was blessed to receive it that day. He then placed his son in charge of his worldly affairs, lived in a cottage in his own village on the Ganga like a Vanaprasthin and spent the rest of his life in spiritual practices and in singing hymns glorifying the name of the Master. The aged Navachaitanya used to have ecstasy during Sankirtan from now on and many loved and respected him on seeing his devotion and blissful figure. He was thus able by the grace of the Master to awaken the love of God in the hearts, of many people during the last part of his life.

19.    Arrival at Dakshineswar. The Master had a talk with a devotee who was going to take leave of him

When Navachaitanya bade good-bye, the Master said, that the boat might start. Scarcely had we gone a little distance when it was dusk and we came to the Kali temple at Dakshineswar at about 8-30 p.m The Master sat in his room, and the devotees bowed to him and took his leave to return to Calcutta. All were getting into the boat when one of them, a young man, remembered that he had forgotten his shoes and ran to the Master’s room to bring them. The Master asked him the reason of his coming back and said jokingly, “Fortunately you have remembered it before the starting of the boat; otherwise the whole of today’s joy would have been spoilt on account of this event.” The young man smiled at these words, bowed down to him and was ready to leave when the Master asked him, “How did you enjoy the day? A fair of Hari’s name assembled there; is that not so?” When the young man assented, the Master mentioned the names of those of his devotees who had trances at the place of festival and eulogized junior Naren, saying, “That black boy has been visiting this place for a short time and already he is having trance. The other day his trance would not come to an end—he was devoid of normal consciousness for more than an hour. He says, ’My mind merges in the formless aspect of God now-a-days.’ Junior Naren is a good boy; is that not so? Please go to his house some day and have a talk with him Will you?“ The young man assented to all his words and said, “But, Sir, I like no one as much as I do senior Naren; I, therefore, do not feel inclined to go to junior Naren’s house.” The Master scolded him for saying so, and said, “ You, brat, are so one-sided! It is the mean people that become one-sided. The divine Lord has a flower-basket containing various kinds of flowers—He has got various kinds of devotees. It is a sign of a low mind not to be able to mix with all and enjoy bliss; go you must on one occasion to junior Naren; what do you say? Will you?” Having no alternative left, he bowed his assent and bade good-bye to him This young man, it was afterwards known, went in a few days to have a conversation with junior Naren according to the Master’s advice and felt blessed in having the solution of what he said was a very complicated problem of his life. The boat reached Calcutta that night at about 10 p.m.

20.    While he was taking his meal at night, the Master spoke with a woman devotee about the Holy Mother

The women devotees stayed with the Holy Mother that night. Knowing that there would be great pomp at the Kali temple on the Snanayatra day, the anniversary of the installation of the Devi, they decided to return to Calcutta after witnessing that festival. While taking his meal at night, the Master said to one of them in the course of a talk about the Panihati festival, “So great was the crowd; besides, all were observing me on account of my ecstasy. She (the Holy Mother) did well in not accompanying us. Had people seen her with me, they would have said, ‘The hamsi and the hamsa1 have come.’ She is very intelligent.” In order to give another example of the extraordinary intelligence of the Holy Mother, he continued to say, “When the Marwari devotee2 wanted to make a gift of ten thousand rupees to me, I felt as if my head was sawn through; I said to Mother, ‘Hast Thou come to tempt me again even as late as now, Mother?’ In order to test her mind I had her called to me at that time and said to her, ‘Look here, he wants to give that sum. Since I cannot accept it, he wants to transfer it to your name. You may accept it. What do you say?’ As soon as she heard this, she said, ‘How can I accept it? The money can never be accepted; if I accept it, it will be the same thing as your accepting it. For, if I keep it with me, I cannot but spend it on your service and other necessities; so it comes to the same thing, namely, your acceptance. People love and respect you for your renunciation; the money, therefore, can by no means be accepted.’ I heaved a sigh of relief.”

21.    The Holy Mother’s talk with the said devotee

When the Master had taken his meal the women devotees went to the Holy Mother at the Nahavat and told her what the Master had said about her. She said, “I could understand from the very way in which he sent me word in the morning regarding my going to Panihati, that he did not heartily approve of it. He would have otherwise said, ‘Yes, certainly she may go.’ When he placed on me the responsibility of making the decision on the matter, and said, ‘Let her come, if she likes’. I decided it was advisable to give up the idea of going.”

22.    The Master’s mood was disturbed on account of the contact of many people on the Snanayatra day and he was annoyed

The Master had no sleep that night on account of the burning sensation in his body. It happened perhaps because people of various kinds of character had touched his divine person during the festival. For, when impure men of polluted minds touched his person and took the dust of his feet for the purpose of becoming free from diseases or with some other motive, he, it was observed, very often suffered from that burning sensation. The festival of Snanayatra took place on the day following the Panihati festival. We could not be present at Dakshineswar on that occasion. Many men and women, we were told by the women devotees, came to see the Master that day. One of them, called A.’s mother, pressed him to help settle her property and thereby damped his bliss. Seeing her sitting beside him at the time of his midday meal, he was annoyed and did not speak, nor could he take his food on that occasion as usual. Afterwards, when another woman devotee, an acquaintance of ours, went to pour water into his hand for a wash, he said to her privately, “People come here with a view to having divine love and devotion; she wants the settlement of her property to be made here! Look at that! The woman has brought mangoes and sweets with a selfish motive in her mind; I could not put even a bit of them into my mouth. Today is the day of Snanayatra. Ah, how much of ecstasy I used to have on this day in other years! The inebriation produced by that ecstasy used to continue for two or three days; I could have nothing at all today. High moods could not come on account of the atmosphere here, and the coming in contact with people of various states of mind.” As A.’s mother stayed that night at Dakshineswar, the Master’s annoyance did not abate even at night. He said to a woman devotee at the time of taking his night meal, “Too much crowding of women here is not good. Trailokya, the son of Mathur Babu, is here; how will he take it? It is one thing if one or two women come here now and then and stay here a day or so; but it is quite a different thing if a crowd is here. I cannot put up with such a rush of women.” Thinking that they were the cause of the Master’s annoyance, the women devotees became much dejected on that occasion and returned to Calcutta as soon as it was morning. There was great pomp on the occasion of Snanayatra in the Kali temple on account of worship, Yatra, etc., but the devotees could not feel any joy that day for the above reason. The reader will understand to a certain extent how keenly mindful the Master was of each daily affair and how he controlled and guided the devotees for their good, in spite of the fact that he constantly lived in high planes of consciousness.

Footnote

1. The two words were spoken in English.

1. The round stone-symbol of the Supreme.—Tr.

1.    The syllable “hamsa” in the word Paramahamsa means a swan and “parama” means supreme. So the literal meaning of Paramahamsa is ‘Swan Supreme’; it is applied to the monks of the Sankara order as they reject the world and worldly enjoyments as being unreal, and accept Brahman as the Real, even as the swan rejects water and accepts milk from a mixture of the two. And Sri Ramakrishna was a monk of the same order. The Master expressed it rather serio-comically.—Tr,

2.    His name was Lakshminarayan.