1.3 THE PIOUS FAMILY AT KAMARPUKUR
It is difficult to imagine the thoughts that arose in the minds of Kshudiram and his wife the day they came to Kamarpukur with the ten-year-old Ramkumar and Katyayani, their daughter of four, and settled in the cottage given to them. The world, filled with jealousy and hatred, must have seemed to them a hideous place of the dead, shrouded in dismal-darkness. Thoughts of affection, love, kindness and justice no doubt occasionally shed there a dim light, raising in quivering hearts some hope of happiness, but it is blasted the next moment, leaving behind deep depression. It is natural that many such thoughts should have arisen in their minds when they compared their previous condition with the present one. Only when misery and calamity come, do men realize the transitoriness and worthlessness of this world. It is therefore not at all surprising that Kshudiram now felt detached from the world and that his profoundly religious mind was full of devotion to God and reliance on Him. For he could not forget how unexpected and unasked for was the shelter given to them. Is it then strange that, being indifferent to worldly prospects, he once more devoted his time to the service and worship of the divine Lord and surrendered himself completely to Raghuvir? From now on he was living, no doubt, in the world, but, like the Vanaprasthins of ancient times, he was not of it.
An incident which happened at this time still further intensified Kshudiram’s faith in God. One day he went to another village on business. On his way back he became tired and rested under a tree. The vast, lonely field and a soft, pure breeze brought repose to his troubled mind and tired body. He felt a strong desire to lie down, and no sooner had he done so than he was overcome with sleep. He then had a dream in which he saw standing before him his chosen Ideal, Bhagavan Sri Ramachandra, in the guise-of a divine Boy, His body green like the tender blades of Durva grass. Pointing to a particular spot, the Boy said, “I have been staying here for a long time without food and without anyone to take care of me. Take me to your house: I have a very strong desire that you should serve me.” Kshudiram was overcome with emotion and said, paying homage to the Lord again and again: “O Lord, I am without devotion and am very poor. Service befitting you is not possible in my hut, and I shall lose all grace should there be any flaw in it. So why do you make such a difficult request of me?” At this the Boy Ramachandra comforted him and said graciously, “Do not be afraid. I will not take offence at any shortcoming. Take me with you.” Unable to control his feelings at the Lord’s unexpected grace, Kshudiram burst into tears. Just then his dream came to an end. When he awoke, Kshudiram wondered at the strangeness of his dream and thought, “Ah! If only such good fortune would be mine!” Then suddenly his eyes fell upon the paddy field close by and at once he recognized it as the very place he had seen in the dream. Out of curiosity he approached the spot, where he saw a beautiful Salagrama stone and a snake with expanded hood guarding it. Eager to possess the stone he hastened towards it. On reaching it he found that the snake had disappeared and that the Salagrama was lying at the entrance to its hole. Seeing that the dream had come true, his heart leaped in joy, and he felt no fear of the snake, convinced that he had received God’s command. Crying out, “Glory to Raghuvir!”,
Kshudiram took the stone in his hands. He carefully examined the marks on it and, with his knowledge of the Sastras, found it to be a Raghuvir Sila (Salagrama). Beside himself with joy and wonder, he returned home, performed the purificatory ceremony of the Salagrama according to the Sastras, and installing it as the family deity, began to worship it daily. Even before he came upon the Salagrama in this strange manner, Kshudiram had been worshipping Sri Ramachandra, his chosen Deity, every day. He also worshipped daily the goddess Sitala, invoking her in a consecrated pot filled with water.
His difficulties continued, but Kshudiram cheerfully bore all kinds of misfortune, strictly observing as ever the religious injunctions. On some days, when there was nothing in the house to eat, his devoted wife, Chandradevi, would grow anxious and tell him about it. But, unperturbed, Kshudiram would comfort her and say, “Never mind. If Raghuvir chooses to fast, why shouldn’t we?” At this the simple-hearted Chandra also, like her husband, would resign herself to Raghuvir and go on with her household duties. And somehow food sufficient for the day would come.
But Kshudiram did not suffer long from this uncertainty about food. For the one Bigha and ten Chataks of land at Lakshmijala given to him by his friend Sukhlal Goswami, now, by the grace of Raghuvir, began to produce so much paddy that there was not only enough for the little family’s annual needs, but also something left over to feed guests and strangers. Kshudiram hired men to plough the field, and when the rice seedlings were ready, he would transplant a few himself, taking the name of Raghuvir, and then let the men finish the work.
Two or three years went by in this manner. Kshudiram depended entirely on Raghuvir and what chance brought him, and he did not lack plain food and clothing. Therefore the hard trials of these two or three years, instead of discouraging him, filled his heart with a sense of reliance on God and a continuous flow of peace and contentment such as few experience. Henceforth it was natural for him to be always indrawn, and in consequence he had from time to time various divine visions. Every morning and evening, during his prayers, he would repeat the meditation Mantra describing the Gayatri with such deep devotion and concentration of mind that his chest became flushed and from his closed eyes flowed tears of love. Early in the morning he would go, basket in hand, to pick flowers for the worship, and at such times the goddess Sitala, who received his daily adoration, would appear before him as an eight-year-old girl dressed in red and wearing many ornaments. She would accompany him smiling and help him pluck flowers by bending the branches in blossom. These visions filled his heart with joy. His staunch faith and deep devotion were reflected in his countenance and kept him always on a high spiritual plane. Seeing his calm and peaceful face, the villagers instinctively recognized his spirituality and began to venerate him with the love and devotion due to a Rishi. Whenever they saw him coming, they stopped all idle talk, stood up and greeted him respectfully. They hesitated to enter the tank when they saw him bathing, and waited in reverence till he had finished. With complete faith in him, they came for his blessings in weal and woe.
Chandradevi’s loving and guileless nature captivated her neighbours and made them look upon her as their mother. From no one else did they receive such heart-felt sympathy in their joys and sorrows. The poor knew that whenever they went to Chandradevi they would receive not only food but also such a genuine welcome and affection as would fill their hearts with inexpressible joy. To holy men living on alms her door was always open. There was nothing that the children could not coax out of Chandradevi. Thus everyone, young and old, was welcome at any time to Kshudiram’s cottage, which, in spite of poverty and suffering, always radiated a wonderful peace and joy.
As already mentioned, Kshudiram had a sister named Ramsila, and had two younger brothers, Nidhiram and Kanairam, the latter being also called Ramkanai. At the time he lost all his property on account of the dispute with the landlord of Derepur, his sister was thirty-five and his brothers thirty and twenty-five respectively. By then all the three had married and set up their own homes. Ramsila was married to Bhagavat Bandyopadhyaya who lived at Silimpur, a village about twelve miles west of Kamarpukur. She had a son, Ramchand, and a daughter Hemangini. At the time of Kshudiram’s misfortune, Hemangini was sixteen and Ramchand, who had begun to practise as a Muktear (pleader), was about twenty-one. Born in the home of her maternal uncles at Derepur, Hemangini was a greater favourite with them than her brother. Kshudiram brought her up like his own daughter, and when she reached the proper age, he himself gave her away in marriage to Krishnachandra Mukhopadhyaya of Sihar, a village five miles north-west of Kamarpukur. In course of time she became the mother of four sons: Raghava, Ramaratan, Hriday Ram and Rajaram.
We could not find out whether Nidhiram had any children, but Kanairam had two sons, Ramtarak (otherwise known as Haladhari) and Kalidas. Kanairam was of a devotional and contemplative nature. Once he went to a drama (Yatra) which portrayed the banishment of Sri Ramachandra to the forest. The performance became so realistic to him that he took Kaikeyi’s secret plotting and scheming to be real and was on the point of striking the actor who played the part. On the loss of the ancestral property, Nidhiram and Kanairam, it appears, settled in the villages of their fathers-in-law.
We have already said that Ramachandra Bandyopadhyaya, Ramsila’s son, was a pleader. His practice in the town, of Medinipur brought him a good income. Considering the straitened circumstances of his maternal uncles, he now sent fifteen rupees a month to help Kshudiram and ten rupees each to Nidhiram and Kanairam. If Kshudiram did not hear from his nephew for some time, he would become anxious and hasten to Medinipur to see him. We were told of a strange incident which occurred when Kshudiram was once going to Medinipur, and we relate it here as an example of his deep devotion to God.
Medinipur is situated about forty miles south-west of Kamarpukur. Having had no news of Ramachandra and his family for a long time, Kshudiram set out one day to see him. It was probably during the month of Magh or Phalgun, when the Vilva trees shed their leaves, making the worship of Siva1 difficult until new leaves appear. Kshudiram had been experiencing this difficulty for some time.
He started very early and walked steadily on, till he reached a certain village about ten o’clock in the morning. Finding that the Vilva trees there were already in leaf, his heart leaped in joy and all thought of proceeding to Medinipur left his mind. He bought a new basket and a piece of cloth and washed them thoroughly in a pond close by. Then he filled the basket with new Vilva leaves, covered it with wet cloth and returned home, reaching there about three in the afternoon. Immediately on his arrival he bathed and then for a long time joyfully worshipped with the leaves the great God Siva and Sitala, the divine Mother. Not until he had finished the worship did he sit down for his meal. Chandradevi thought this to be the right moment to ask him why he had not gone to Medinipur. When he told her everything, she was amazed to learn that he had come back all that distance solely on account of his eagerness to worship Siva with the leaves. Kshudiram started again for Medinipur very early the next morning.
Thus Kshudiram spent six years at Kamarpukur. His son Ramkumar was now sixteen years old, and his daughter, Katyayani, eleven. His daughter being of the right age, he gave her in marriage to Kenaram Bandyopadhyaya, who lived at Anur, a village two miles north-west of Kamarpukur, while Ramkumar was married to Kenaram’s sister. Ramkumar had by then finished his study of Vyakarana (Grammar) and Sahitya (Literature) in a Sanskrit school near the village and was now studying Smriti (the Laws governing the Hindu society and religion).
Another three or four years passed. By the grace of Sri Raghuvir, Kshudiram was now considerably more prosperous than before, and free from anxiety, he could give all his time to God. During this period Ramkumar finished his study of Smriti, and applied his mind to the best of his ability to the improvement of the family’s economic condition. It was about this time, that Sukhlal Goswami, Kshudiram’s great friend, passed away. His death caused Kshudiram deep sorrow.
After finishing his studies, Ramkumar, now a young man, took upon himself the responsibility of maintaining the family. Kshudiram was thus free to apply himself to other things. He now had a great yearning to go on a pilgrimage, and before long, probably in A.D. 1824 he started on foot for Setubandha-Rameswar. His visits to the places of pilgrimage in South India took him a year, after which he returned home. With him he brought a Banalinga (a symbol of Siva) from Setubandha, which he began to worship daily. This Banalinga, named Rameswar, can be seen even today near the Salagrama stone of Raghuvir and the water-jar symbolizing the goddess Sitala. A long time after the birth of her second child, Chandradevi gave birth to another son in A.D. 1826. In memory of his recent pilgrimage, Kshudiram named this son Rameswar.
The next eight years showed little change in the tenor of life of that poor family at Kamarpukur. Ramkumar now earned money by advising people on religious matters on the authority of Smriti and by performing various religious ceremonies. In consequence, the family did not feel the same want as before. He became expert in the performance of those rites and is said to have obtained a supernatural power to make them effective. Study of the scriptures had given him faith in the worship of Sakti, the primordial Power personified, in whose Mantra he was initiated by a qualified teacher. He had a wonderful vision one day while worshipping this Goddess who had become his chosen Deity. He felt as if She was marking with Her own finger on the tip of his tongue, some Mantra letters which made him perfect in astrology. Henceforward whatever he asserted would come true. Simply by looking at a patient, he could know whether he would be cured or not. He acquired some fame in those parts for predicting future events. It is said that on seeing a person suffering from a severe disease he would start performing propitiatory rites for his recovery and would say emphatically, “As soon as the grains I am now sprinkling over the place of worship begin to sprout, this person will recover”; and, as a matter of fact, what he said actually came true. His nephew, Sivaram Chattopadhyaya, told us the following story as an illustration of this power.
Being in Calcutta on business, Ramkumar was bathing in the Ganga one morning, when a rich man and his family also came for a bath. The man’s wife was seated in a palanquin which was taken to the river so that she could take her bath inside it. Coming, as he did, from a village, Ramkumar had never seen a woman bathing in this way protected from public gaze. Looking at the palanquin with wonder, he happened to catch a sight of the woman’s face for a moment. He instantly knew through his supernatural power that she would die the next day, and was so overcome by the thought that he could not help muttering sadly to himself: “Alas, the body which today is being bathed with such formality will tomorrow be immersed as a corpse in the Ganga and disposed of in the sight of all!” The rich man overheard this and, in order to test the truth of his words, pressed Ramkumar to come to his house. His real intention was to teach him a good lesson in case his prediction proved false. The young woman was in perfect health and there was no indication whatever at that time of such a mishap. But since what Ramkumar had predicted actually came to pass, the man finally could not but let him go in peace.
Once, looking into his wife’s future, Ramkumar made a sad prediction which later came true. She is said to have had auspicious marks. From the very day he married her and brought her home, the wheel of fortune took a happy turn. She was then seven years old and it was probably in A.D. 1820. It was from this time that the improvement in his father’s circumstances began, for just then the monthly help from his nephew, Ramachandra of Medinipur, bagan to come in. Naturally, any one who on entering the home of a Hindu family brings such good luck is looked upon with love and respect. Moreover, since Ramkumar’s child-wife was then the only daughter-in-law of the family, it is not surprising that everyone made much of her. We were told that, in spite of her good qualities, too much of indulgence and attention made her touchy and obstinate. But although these defects were noticed by all, no one ventured either to mention them or to correct her; for, everyone overlooked her little defects, remembering that she had brought prosperity to the family since the day of her coming. But when she was grown up, Ramkumar, one day, looked at her and predicted that although she had auspicious marks she would die if she should ever conceive. When he found, however, that this did not happen for several years, he thought that she was barren and felt relieved. But at the age of thirty-five she did conceive, and the following year, A.D. 1849, she passed away after giving birth to a very beautiful male child. The boy was named Akshay. Chronologically, this incident comes much later, but we have narrated it here for the sake of convenience.
A peculiar characteristic of a divine and subtle kind was shared by every one of Kshudiram’s pious household. It is probably because this characteristic was manifest to a marked degree in Kshudiram and his wife that it was inherited by their children. Since we have already mentioned several instances of it relating to Kshudiram, it will not be out of place if we relate a similar event regarding Chandramani. This will show how Chandramani also, like her husband, saw divine visions from time to time. The event took place shortly before Ramkumar was married. The fifteen-year-old boy was then studying in a Sanskrit school and at the same time trying to help the family by performing worship in various houses.
Once in the month of Asvin Ramkumar had gone to a house at Bhursubo to perform the evening worship of the goddess Lakshmi. When her son did not return home, though it was past midnight, Chandra became very restless, and coming out of the house waited for him anxiously. While looking in the direction from which he was to come, she saw a lone figure approaching by the field-path leading from Bhursubo to Kamarpukur. Thinking that it was her son, she went a few steps forward in great joy to meet him. When the person drew nearer, she found that it was not Ramkumar, but a very beautiful girl, bedecked with various ornaments. As Chandra was full of fear that something had happened to her son, the sight of a respectable girl walking thus at dead of night did not strike her as something strange. She just went up to her and called out: “Where do you come from, my child?” The girl answered, “From Bhursubo.” Chandra then asked her anxiously, “Did you meet my son,
Ramkumar? Is he coming back?” It did not cross her mind even for a moment how an absolute stranger like this girl could possibly know her son. The girl replied comforting her: “I come from the very house where your son went to perform the worship. Do not worry; he will return soon.” Hearing this, Chandra felt relieved and became more observant. Noticing at last the girl’s remarkable beauty and her dress and ornaments of a novel kind, and hearing her sweet voice, she said, “You are so young! Where are you going at this time of the night wearing such fine ornaments and dress? And what is this strange ornament on your ears?” With a smile the girl said: “It is called Kundala,” and added, “I have yet to go a long distance.” Thinking that she was in trouble Chandra said affectionately, “Come, my child, rest for the night at our house. Tomorrow you may go at your leisure.” “No, mother,” replied the girl, “I must go just now. I will come to your house some other time.” Taking leave of her she went in the direction of the larger paddy stacks of the Lahas near by. Surprised to see her going towards the house of the Lahas instead of following the regular path, Chandra thought that she had missed the way. She went after her, but could not find her, though she searched in all directions. Then, recalling what the girl had said, it suddenly dawned upon her that she might have seen the goddess Lakshmi! She hastened to her husband and, in great excitement, told him everything from beginning to end, in great detail. After hearing the whole account, Kshudiram assured her that there was no doubt that the divine goddess Lakshmi had graciously revealed Herself to her. Soon after this Ramkumar returned home and, hearing what had happened, was filled with wonder.
Time passed on and it was now A.D. 1835. Feeling once again a strong urge to go on a pilgrimage, Kshudiram decided to go to Gaya to perform rites for the satisfaction of the spirits of his forefathers. He was now sixty, still that did not prevent him from proceeding on foot to the holy abode of Vishnu. Hriday, the son of Kshudiram’s niece Hemangini, told us of a strange event which made him undertake this journey to Gaya.
Once, on receiving the news that his daughter Katyayani was seriously ill, Kshudiram went to Anur to see her. She was then about twenty-five years old. Watching her gestures and manner of talk, he felt convinced that she was possessed by a spirit. Then, concentrating his mind on God he thus addressed it, “God or demigod; Whatever you be, why do you harass my daughter? Leave her at once and go your way.” At this, the spirit got frightened and said in a pleading voice through Katyayani: “I will leave your daughter’s body immediately if you promise to offer a worship for me at Gaya and thus bring to an end my present miserable condition. I make a solemn promise that the moment you leave your home to do this, she will be free from all troubles.”
Moved by the suffering of the spirit, Kshudiram at once said: “I will go to Gaya, the abode of Vishnu, as soon as I can, and do as you wish. But it will make me very happy if I get some proof that you have actually obtained deliverance after the worship has been offered.” The spirit replied: “I assure you that as proof of my deliverance I will break down the largest branch of yonder Nim tree, while going away.” According to Hriday it was this incident that made Kshudiram go to Gaya. As some time afterwards, the branch of the Nim tree suddenly broke, there was no longer any doubt that the spirit had obtained deliverance. The affliction also left. Katyayani. We cannot vouch for the truth of Hriday’s story; but there is no doubt that it was about this time that Kshudiram went to Gaya.
Some time during the winter of 1835, Kshudiram visited Varanasi2 (Banaras) and Gaya. It was the beginning of Chaitra (middle of March) when he reached Gaya after paying obeisance to Visvanatha (the Lord of the universe) at Varanasi. He came to Gaya at this time of the year probably because he knew that the spirits of his ancestors would have immense satisfaction if worship was offered at that holy place during spring, in the month of Chaitra. He lived there for about a month, performed all the ceremonies according to the scriptures and at last offered worship at the lotus feet of Gadadhar (Vishnu). Because of his great faith Kshudiram experienced unspeakable peace and satisfaction on thus performing the prescribed obsequial rites in honour of his ancestors. Having fulfilled to the best of his capacity his obligation to his forefathers, he was now free from all anxiety. When the thought came to him that the divine Lord had made it possible for an unworthy person like him to accomplish all this, his grateful heart overflowed with a feeling of humility and love such as he had never experienced before. Peace and joy were with him all that day and at night also. Scarcely had he fallen asleep when he had a dream He saw himself in the holy temple, in the act of offering worship to his forefathers, at the divine feet of Gadadhar. He even saw his ancestors in luminous celestial bodies, joyfully accepting the Pindas and blessing him He could not control his emotion at seeing them after what seemed a very long time. With tears in his eyes, and a heart overflowing, with devotion, he bowed down to them and touched their feet. The very next moment he found that the temple was filled with a divine light as never seen by him before. His forefathers were standing in the temple on both sides in a reverential attitude with their hands folded, worshipping a wonderful divine Being seated happily on a beautiful throne. He had a luminous body, green like the colour of new Durva grass. Looking at Kshudiram with benign, affectionate eyes, He beckoned him Hardly concious of what he was doing Kshudiram drew near and full of devotion prostrated himself at His feet in worship, and uttered hymns in praise. Pleased by his worship that divine Being addressed him thus, in a sweet voice, “Kshudiram, your extraordinary devotion has made me very happy; I bless you and I will be born as your son and will receive your loving care.” On hearing these words — strange even for a dream — Kshudiram’s joy knew no bounds. But the very next moment the thought struck him how being so poor, he could possibly feed and give proper shelter to such an exalted Being. This made him exceedingly sad and in a voice choked with tears, he said, “No, no, Lord, I am not worthy of such good fortune. Is it not enough that Thou hast blessed me by graciously revealing Thyself and wishing to be born as my son? If Thou wert really to be born as my son, what service can a poor man like me render?” Hearing these words full of pathos, that celestial Being seemed to become even more gracious than before, and said, “Do not fear, Kshudiram, I will relish whatever you give me to eat. Let my desire be fulfilled.” Kshudiram had not the heart to say “No.” Conflicting emotions like joy and sorrow assailed him with so much force that he could hardly contain himself, and lost consciousness. This broke his dream.
For quite a while after waking up, Kshudiram did not know where he was. The reality of the dream overwhelmed him Gradually regaining consciousness of the outside world, he rose from his bed and recalling the details of the strange dream, viewed it from different angles. His believing heart was at last convinced that since a divine dream must come true, some great soul would soon be born in his house. He was destined, even at that advanced age, to see again the face of a new child. He then decided not to speak of that remarkable dream to anyone till it had actually come to pass. A few days later he bade farewell to Gaya, the abode of Vishnu, and returned to Kamarpukur. It was then the month of April, A.D. 1835.