1.7 GADADHAR’S BOYHOOD
Kshudiram’s death affected the life of the family in many ways. He had been Chandra’s companion in weal and woe for forty-four long years. It was therefore natural that now she found the world empty without him and felt his loss every moment. She had been accustomed for long to taking refuge at the lotus feet of Raghuvir, and now that the world had no more attraction for her, her whole mind was always drawn in that direction. But the world would not release her till the time was ripe. It gradually drew her back to the joys and sorrows of daily life through her concern for her seven-year-old son Gadadhar and her four-year-old daughter Sarvamangala. Thus the sorrow-stricken Chandra somehow passed her days in the service of Raghuvir and in bringing up her youngest son and daughter. After the father’s demise, the entire responsibility of maintaining the family fell on the shoulders of Ramkumar who had been devoted to his father. Now, as he could not afford to waste any time in grief, his whole mind and energy were employed in seeing that his bereaved mother and little brother and sister did not lack anything. The younger brother, Rameswar, now eighteen years old, was expected to help the family by earning money as soon as he had finished the study of Smriti and Jyotisha; and Ramkumar himself had to try to better the condition of the family by adding to his own income. His capable wife, finding that Chandradevi was no longer able to cope with all the work, took upon herself most of the cooking and other household duties.
It is common experience that nothing makes life so empty as the loss of a mother in one’s infancy, the death of a father in childhood, and the loss of a wife in youth. Being entirely dependent on the mother’s care and love, the infant does not miss its father even if he dies. But when it grows up and there is an awakening of its intelligence, it daily becomes aware of the father’s special affection. The child’s heart begins to be drawn towards the father as soon as it finds that he alone can satisfy certain desires which even its fond mother cannot. Its feeling of loss is therefore very acute, if the father dies at that time. Gadadhar too felt likewise when Kshudiram died. Many little things reminded him daily of his father, and a deep sorrow lingered in his heart. But being more thoughtful and considerate than other boys of his age, Gadadhar never openly gave way to his sorrow, out of regard for his mother’s feelings. To all appearances, the boy was as full of mirth and merriment as ever. Although he was seen sometimes wandering alone in the Bhutir Khal cremation-ground or in Manikraja’s mango grove and other solitary spots, nobody thought that there was any other reason for this than a boy’s natural restlessness. But actually, Gadadhar was becoming more thoughtful and fond of solitude. He also studied the ways of various persons and observed everyone very minutely.
Those who have suffered and feel the same loss equally come closer to one another. That is perhaps the reason why Gadadhar now felt especially drawn towards his mother. He stayed near her much longer than before, and took delight in helping her as far as he could, in the service of the gods and in her household duties. It did not take him long to notice that when he was with her, his mother almost forgot the loss she had suffered. The boy’s attitude towards his mother also showed some change. After his father’s death he never asked her for anything with the same insistence as before, for he realized that her sorrow would return and she would be most unhappy if she could not fulfil any of his desires. In short, the yearning to protect his mother in every way now arose in Gadadhar’s heart.
Gadadhar started going to school again and doing his regular lessons. But now he enjoyed, more than ever before, listening to the recital of stories from the Puranas and to Yatra songs, and making images of gods and goddesses. He perhaps also found that his absorption in these things helped him to forget the loss of his father. The boy found at this time a new interest suited to his temperament. The Lahas had set aside, for the convenience of pilgrims, a house situated at the south-east corner of the village, on the road to Puri. Religious men, unattached to worldly things, often took shelter at that house on their way to Puri to pay obeisance to Lord Jagannath, and also on their way back home. While staying there, they came to the village to collect alms from different houses. Gadadhar knew from the Puranas that monks, after acquiring detachment, renounce this transitory world and yearn for a vision of the divine Lord. The boy’s own feeling about the transitoriness of the world had been strengthened since his father’s demise. He had also heard that association with holy men leads to the blessedness of ultimate peace. And so he now began to visit that pilgrim-house, whenever he could, to become acquainted with the monks. He would then observe how those men sat round the Dhuni (sacred fire), and made it blaze up, morning and evening, before they became absorbed in the meditation of God; how they offered the simple food obtained as alms to their chosen Deities and then ate it with relish; how, with absolute dependence on God, they tried to bear even severe illness patiently; how they refrained from disturbing anybody even for expressing their urgent needs. But he also discovered how, sometimes, hypocrites dressed like monks assumed their manner of living only for their own selfish ends, and trampled upon the very essentials of right conduct. Gradually he began to mix intimately with genuine monks by helping them in little things like collecting wood or fetching drinking water. They, in turn, developed a liking for this good-looking lad on account of his sweet ways, and taught him how to pray to, and sing the praises of, the divine Lord. They also instructed him in other religious matters and felt happy in sharing with him the food they had collected as alms. Of course, Gadadhar could mix this way only with those monks who, for one reason or another, spent a considerable time at the pilgrim-house.
When the boy was eight years old, a few monks stayed at the pilgrim-house for many days to rest after the severe fatigue of a long journey or for some such reason. Gadadhar mixed with them in his usual way and soon became dear to them At first, no one knew about this; but when the boy’s relations with the monks became intimate and he began to spend much time with them, many came to know of it. On some days he ate so much with them that when he returned home, he had no appetite for any food. When Chandradevi asked him the reason, he told her everything. At first the mother was not perturbed. On the contrary, the fact that he had won the hearts of the mendicants appeared to her a blessing, and she began sending with the boy food-stuff and other articles necessary for them. But it so happened afterwards that the boy came home, sometimes with sacred ashes covering his body or with emblems marked on his forehead; at other times, wearing like monks a ‘Kaupina’ and a loincloth made by tearing his own wearing cloth. He would then say, “Look mother, how the holy men have adorned me!” This development made Chandra very uneasy, for she was afraid that one day the mendicants might tempt her son to go away with them. She expressed her fear to Gadadhar and began to weep. In spite of all his efforts to remove her fear, he could not pacify her. He then made a resolve not to go to the monks any more, and told her about it. This at last relieved her anxiety. And so, Gadadhar went to the monks to bid them farewell once for all. When they asked him the reason, he told them of his mother’s misgivings. On hearing this, they went with him to Chandradevi and assured her that the thought of taking away Gadadhar with them had never even crossed their minds; for, to take away a boy of that tender age, without the permission of his parents, they said, would be stealing, an offence unworthy of any religious man. At this, every shadow of her apprehension left Chandradevi, and she readily agreed to let the boy visit them as before.
Another event of this period caused Chandra a great deal of anxiety about Gadadhar. Although everyone thought it a sudden occurrence it was actually the result of the boy’s growing propensity for spiritual contemplation and deep thought. One day, on his way to the well-known temple of the goddess Visalakshi, at Anur, a village about two miles north of Kamarpukur, he suddenly lost all external consciousness. Prasannamayi, the pious sister of Dharmadas Laha, who was one of his companions, realized that it was the boy’s spiritual awareness that had brought about this unconsciousness.1 But when Chandradevi heard of it, she became anxious, thinking it was due to some physical malady. But on this occasion also, Gadadhar insisted that he was in that condition only because his mind had become merged in the goddess, as he was contemplating on Her.
More than two years went by, and gradually the ups and downs of life made the boy almost forget the loss of his father. We have already mentioned Kshudiram’s friend Dharmadas Laha. At this time Gadadhar became an intimate friend of Dharmadas’s son, Gayavishnu. The two boys were drawn to each other while at school and during walks. They began to address each other as ‘pal’ and would daily spend much time together. Gadadhar always took his friend along with him when he was invited and fed by the village women. He would not take any of the sweets and other delicacies prepared by his old nurse Dhani, till he had given a share to Gayavishnu. It is needless to say that Dharmadas and Gadadhar’s guardians were happy to see this friendship between the two boys.
When Ramkumar found that Gadadhar would soon complete his ninth year, he started making arrangements for his investiture with the sacred thread (Upanayana). Long before, Dhani who belonged to the blacksmith caste, had told the boy one day that she would consider herself blessed if at the time of his investiture, he would accept alms from her and call her ‘mother’. The boy was so touched by her sincere affection for him that he promised to fulfil her desire. Putting her trust in the boy’s promise, the poor woman started collecting and accumulating money and other things as best as she could, and eagerly awaited that happy event. At the proper time Gadadhar mentioned his promise to his eldest brother. But Ramkumar objected, because such a departure from the usual custom was against the family tradition. The boy, on his part, insisted on keeping his promise, and argued that if he yielded to the objection he would be guilty of breaking his promise, and that an untruthful person was not fit to put on the sacred thread. As the time for the investiture ceremony approached, everything was made ready. But it was feared that there would be a hitch in the completion of the ceremony because of Gadadhar’s insistence. When the news reached his ears, Dharmadas tried to reconcile the difference. He said to Ramkumar, “Although this has never so far happened in your family, it has been done in many good Brahmin families elsewhere. Therefore no blame attaches to those who permit it. You must also consider the question of satisfying Gadadhar’s conscience and his peace of mind.” At these words of their father’s friend, wise old Dharmadas, Ramkumar and others refrained from raising further objections. Gadadhar then, with a cheerful heart, put on the sacred thread in accordance with the scriptural injunctions and applied his mind to performing Sandhya, worship, etc., as befits a Brahmin. From now onwards, Dhani also considered her life to be blessed on account of her new relationship with the boy. A little after this, the boy entered upon his tenth year.
About this time the villagers were wonderstruck at an event which showed Gadadhar’s unique, heaven-born genius.2 A big meeting of scholars had been convened at the house of the Lahas during the performance of a Sraddha ceremony. At this meeting there arose a controversy regarding a complicated theological question and the scholars could not arrive at a correct solution of the disputed point. Gadadhar, who was present, solved the problem in such a way that, after hearing what he said, the scholars praised and blessed him heartily.
After he had put on the sacred thread, Gadadhar, with his innate spiritual tendency, was delighted to get an opportunity to do something after his own heart. The boy had heard how the living symbol of Raghuvir had shown itself to his father in a dream, and how it had first entered the house; also how, from the auspicious day of the god’s coming, their little bit of land had begun to yield an abundance of paddy, which removed all the wants of the family and enabled the kind-hearted Chandradevi to feed every day those who came to her door. Since then the boy had looked upon that family deity with great devotion and reverence. Now that he had the privilege of touching and worshipping that god, his heart was filled with a new fervour of devotion. Much time was now spent by him daily in worship and meditation, after concluding the customary daily prayers and other duties. He served Raghuvir with especial steadfastness and devotion, so that the god might show his pleasure, as he had done to his father, by blessing him with his visions, and giving him commands from time to time. The god Rameswar Siva and the goddess Sitala also received his service. It was not long before his intense devotion bore fruit. The pure heart of the boy became so absorbed in that worship, that he experienced the state of Bhava-samadhi or Savikalpa-samadhi.3 And after this experience, various spiritual visions came to him from time to time. He had this kind of Samadhi and vision on the Siva-ratri4 of that year.5
The boy fasted that day and worshipped with intense devotion the great God Siva, the origin of all the gods. His friend Gayavishnu and some other boys of his age were also fasting and had decided to keep a vigil that night seeing and listening to a drama depicting the glory of Siva; That drama was to be staged in the house of their neighbour Sitanath Pyne. After finishing the worship of the first quarter, Gadadhar was sitting merged in the contemplation of Siva, when his friends suddenly came and told him that he would have to act the part of Siva and speak a few words in the play at the house of the Pynes; for, they explained, the person who usually played that role had suddenly taken ill and was unable to appear. Gadadhar at first declined on the ground that it would interfere with his worship; but they brushed aside the objection arguing that, if he acted the part of Siva, he would have to think of Him all the time, which was as good as worship. Moreover, they said, his refusal would deprive very many people of entertainment: they also were fasting and had decided to keep vigil the whole night witnessing the drama. Won over by these arguments, Gadadhar agreed finally and appeared on the stage in the role of Siva. With his make-up of matted hair, Rudraksha beads and ashes, he became so merged in the thought of Siva, that he lost all external consciousness. As he did not come to his senses for a long time, the play had to be stopped for the night.
From now onwards, Gadadhar was in this kind of ecstasy from time to time. He would forget himself and his surroundings when meditating, or listening to songs, music, etc., in praise of gods and goddesses. Then his mind would remain indrawn for a time — short or long — during which it would not respond to any external stimulus. On occasions, when his absorption became very deep, he would appear like a lifeless statue.
When that state was over, he would say, if questioned, that he experienced a marvellous joy in having divine visions while meditating on some god or goddess or listening to songs glorifying them. All this caused much alarm to Chandra and other members of the family for a long time. But their fear passed away when they found that the boy’s health was not affected in any way, and that he was efficient in all kinds of work and was always happy. Gadadhar was now so often in this condition, that he gradually got accustomed to it and could almost control it as he wished. It helped him also to understand subtle matters and various truths about gods and goddesses. This made him very happy and he was never afraid of experiencing that state. His spiritual tendencies became especially strong and he began to join heartily in various religious functions of the village, whether in honour of Hari or Siva or Manasa or Dharma. His broad-mindedness not only kept him entirely free from any ill-feeling against devotees of different gods and goddesses, but he was quite friendly with them all. The established tradition of the village no doubt helped him in this matter. For, in contrast to other villages, people of all denominations in Kamarpukur — whether worshippers of Vishnu, or devotees of Siva, or votaries of Dharma — bore no ill-will towards one another, but lived in peace and amity.
Although, as we have seen, there was considerable progress so far as Gadadhar’s religious tendencies were concerned, he never developed a liking for book-learning. When he saw the longing of learned scholars for worldly enjoyment and wealth, he became averse to acquiring knowledge like them For, his keen insight made him first ascertain the motives underlying all actions and then judge their value by the standard of his father’s good qualities like detachment from the world, devotion to God, truthfulness, righteous conduct, etc. That comparison revealed, to his surprise, that the goal of most people was entirely different from that of his father. But he felt more sad than surprised to find that such people always suffered from delusion because they looked upon this transitory world as permanent. Is it then to be wondered at, that, as a result of this discovery, there arose in his mind a desire to conduct his own life differently? After hearing all this, the reader may perhaps ask: “Is it possible for a boy of eleven or twelve to have such profound insight and discrimination?” The answer is that Gadadhar was not an ordinary boy. He was born with extraordinary genius, memory and mental impressions. Therefore the possession of such powers was not surprising in his case, though he was so young. But this apart, we must, for the sake of truth, narrate all facts that our investigation has brought to light, irrespective of what others may think of them
Although Gadadhar’s dislike for the prevailing type of education gradually increased, he nevertheless continued going to school. He became proficient in reading books written in his mother tongue and in writing in that language. He now read the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and other religious books with such devotion and in such a sweet voice that people were charmed to listen. The simple-hearted, unlettered villagers showed great eagerness to hear him read those books, and Gadadhar was always happy to please them Sitanath Pyne, Madhu Jugi, and others invited him to their houses, and men and women, full of devotion, heard him read the life of Prahlada, the story of Dhruva, or other narratives from the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, and similar other texts.
Besides the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, etc., there still exist in Kamarpukur records containing the stories of gods and goddesses written in simple verse by the village poets well known in those parts. Stories such as the story of the appearance of the great god, Tarakesvar; or of the musical composition relating to Yogadya; or of Madanmohan of Vana-vishnupur describing those gods and goddesses revealing their true natures to holy men and devotees and performing supernatural deeds — reached Gadadhar’s ears from time to time. With the help of his extraordinary memory, the boy learnt by heart many of these stories on hearing them, and would sometimes himself copy any available manuscript or printed book containing them. We came to know this when we found, on investigation at the Kamarpukur house, the manuscript Ramakrishnayana, the musical compositions on Yogadya and Subahu, etc., copied by Gadadhar himself. It is also beyond doubt that many a time the boy read or recited these narratives to the simple-hearted men and women of the village, whenever they requested him to do so.
We have already spoken of Gadadhar’s indifference to arithmetic. But after he had been at school for some time, he made a little progress in that subject also. We are told that he committed to memory tables even up to that of land-measurement called Katha in the Book of Tables, and that he progressed from simple addition to simple multiplication and division. But when he reached his tenth year and began to experience ecstasy, his eldest brother Ramkumar left him free to go to school whenever he wanted and to learn whatever subjects he liked. For, he was afraid that Gadadhar had a tendency to some ailments. His teacher also did not press him when he found he was not making progress in the study of a particular subject. It is therefore needless to add that there was little general progress in Gadadhar’s studies at school.
Two years passed and Gadadhar reached his twelfth year. His second elder brother Rameswar and his younger sister Sarvamangala, were now twenty-two and nine years old respectively. Finding that Rameswar had reached the proper age, Ramkumar arranged his marriage with the sister of Ramsaday Bandyopadhyaya of the village of Gaurhati near Kamarpukur. It was also arranged that Ramsaday himself should marry Rameswar’s sister. As both the marriages were arranged in this manner, Ramkumar had no anxiety about the payment of dowry to the bride’s party. Another important event concerning Ramkumar’s family took place at this time. As his wife did not conceive, even though she was no longer young, everyone felt certain that she was barren. But now, when they found that she was really pregnant, the family felt happy and apprehensive at the same time, because some of them had heard Ramkumar say that she would die if ever she conceived.
A radical change came over Ramkumar’s affairs from the time his wife conceived. The sources of his income now failed. His health broke down and he was not able to keep up his former active habits. His wife’s behaviour also underwent a complete change. There was a rule in the family, from the time of his revered father, that no one (except boys not yet invested with the sacred thread, and those who were ill) should eat anything or even drink water before the worship of Raghuvir was finished. Now Ramkumar’s wife broke this rule and turned a deaf ear to the objections raised by other members of the family who were afraid that evil might befall them. She picked quarrels with everyone in the family over trifles, thereby creating ill-feeling, and persisted in her perverse conduct in spite of the protests of her husband and Chandradevi. But remembering that a change often comes over women during their pregnancy, they let her alone. Yet, instead of the usual peace in that pious household at Kamarpukur, there was now continual disharmony.
Ramkumar’s brother, Rameswar, was not good at earning money though he had sufficient learning. So, while the number of persons in the family increased, there was a decrease in its income, and its former comfortable existence came to an end. Ramkumar became anxious but could not find a remedy in spite of all his efforts. It seemed as if some unseen power obstructed all his plans and brought them to nothing. A succession of anxieties made his very life a burden. As days and months passed, and the time of his wife’s delivery approached, he became more and more dejected remembering his previous reading of her fate.
At last she gave birth to a very beautiful male child some time in the year 1849 and while looking at its face passed away in the lying-in room. A pall of grief again fell over the poor family.