An Overview of Ramakrishna Movement in Punjab and Haryana
(Continued from the previous issue. . .)
From Jammu, Swamiji and his entourage reached Sialkot on the morning of Sunday, October 31, 1898. He was warmly received and accommodated in the residence of Lala Mulchand, a pleader. That evening Swamiji spoke in English and after the lecture he gave its summary in Hindi for those who did not understand English. (That was quite novel of Swamiji!)11
Swamiji’s Sialkot lecture was titled ‘Bhakti’. Here is an excerpt from it:
‘Some persons worship God for the sake of obtaining wealth, others because they want to have a son, and they think themselves Bhagavatas (devotees). This is no Bhakti, and they are not true Bhagavatas. When a sadhu comes who professes that he can make gold, they run to him, and they still consider themselves Bhagavatas. It is not Bhakti if we worship God with the desire for a son; it is not Bhakti if we worship with the desire to be rich; it is not Bhakti even if we have a desire for heaven; it is not Bhakti if a man worships with the desire of being saved from the tortures of hell. Bhakti is not the outcome of fear or greediness. He is the true Bhagavata who says, ‘O God, I do not want a beautiful wife, I do not want knowledge or salvation. Let me be born and die hundreds of times. What I want is that I should be ever engaged in Thy service.’ It is at this stage—and when a man sees God in everything, and everything in God—that he attains perfect Bhakti. It is then that he sees Vishnu incarnated in everything from the microbe to Brahma, and it is then that he sees God manifesting Himself in everything, it is then that he feels that there is nothing without God, and it is then and then alone that thinking himself to be the most insignificant of all beings he worships God with the true spirit of a Bhakta. He then leaves Tirthas and external forms of worship far behind him, he sees every man to be the most perfect temple.’12
During Swamiji’s Sialkot visit many women also used to come to see Swamiji; among them were two sannyasinis. On seeing them, Swamiji expressed his wish that a school for girls be started (women’s education was almost absent in those days!); it was gladly taken up and a committee was formed for this purpose. He said that the girls should be trained by women teachers only. Though short, the Sialkot visit of Swamiji was significant.
Lahore was the last and the most magnificent sojourn of Swamiji’s visit to Punjab. Lahore finds mention in some Greek books and has been ruled by a number of dynasties including Greeks and Mughals. While there are many ways in which the term ‘Lahore’ can be derived, according to Hindu tradition, ‘Lahore’ is derived from Lavapuri or the city of Lava, founded by Lava, one of the twin sons of Sita and Rama. The city is dotted with many historical monuments particularly that of Mughal period. It was an active centre of freedom movement of both India and Pakistan.
Swamiji arrived in Lahore on 5 November 1897. He was welcomed at the station by the residents of Lahore and taken to the palace of Raja Dhyan Singh. Here he conversed with visitors, and after his meals he went to stay at the house of Shri Nagendranath Gupta, editor of the Tribune. The Arya Samajists also gave him a welcome. Lala Hamsaraj, President of the Dayananda Anglo-Vedic College (DAV College), often had talks with Swamiji. Daily, in the morning for two hours and in the afternoon for an hour and a half, about 200 Bengali and Punjabi residents of Lahore would gather at the palace of Raja Dhyan Singh to meet Swamiji and discuss religious matters.
Swamiji gave three lectures in Lahore. J. J. Goodwin, the trusted stenographer and English disciple of Swami, described these lectures thus13 :
‘On Friday evening [on November 5] he [Swamiji] lectured in the large courtyard of the old palace on ‘The Problem Before Us’ [now titled ‘the Common Bases of Hinduism’]. The numbers present were large and the space available was altogether too small to accommodate all who came to hear, and the necessity for disappointing many, at one time threatened to prevent the holding of the meeting at all. After at least two thousand had been refused admission, there still remained fully four thousand who listened to an excellent discourse.
On the following Tuesday [on November 9], another large crowd gathered in the pandal of Prof. Bose’ Bengal Circus to hear the Swami’s lecture on Bhakti in Hindi.
The third lecture on the following Friday [November 12] evening was a triumphant success. The arrangements, this time entirely made by students of the four Lahore Colleges, were exceedingly good, and the audience, without being inconveniently large was in every sense representative. The subject for the evening was Vedanta, and the Swami for over two hours gave, even for him, a masterly exposition of the monistic philosophy and religion of India. The manner in which, at the outset, he traced the psychological and cosmological ideas on which religion in India is founded, was marvellously clear, and his insistence that Advaita is alone able to meet the attacks not only of science but also of Buddhism and agnosticism against religious and transcendental ideas, was conveyed in definite language and was full of convincing power. . . The lecture created great enthusiasm . . .’
Here is an excerpt from this lecture of Swamiji:
‘The time has come when this Advaita is to be worked out practically. Let us bring it down from heaven unto the earth; this is the present dispensation . . . Ay, you may be astonished to hear that as practical Vedantists the Americans are better than we are. I used to stand on the seashore at New York and look at the emigrants coming from different countries—crushed, downtrodden, hopeless, unable to look a man in the face, with a little bundle of clothes as all their possession, and these all in rags; if they saw a policeman they were afraid and tried to get to the other side of the foot-path. And, mark you, in six months those very men were walking erect, well clothed, looking everybody in the face; and what made this wonderful difference? Say, this man comes from Armenia or somewhere else where he was crushed down beyond all recognition, where everybody told him he was a born slave and born to remain in a low state all his life, and where at the least move on his part he was trodden upon. There everything told him, as it were, ‘Slave! you are a slave, remain so. Hopeless you were born, hopeless you must remain.’ Even the very air murmured round him, as it were, ‘There is no hope for you; hopeless and a slave you must remain’, while the strong man crushed the life out of him. And when he landed in the streets of New York, he found a gentleman, well-dressed, shaking him by the hand; it made no difference that the one was in rags and the other well-clad. He went a step further and saw a restaurant, that there were gentlemen dining at a table, and he was asked to take a seat at the corner of the same table. He went about and found a new life, that there was a place where he was a man among men. Perhaps he went to Washington, shook hands with the President of the United States, and perhaps there he saw men coming from distant villages, peasants, and ill-clad, all shaking hands with the President. Then the veil of Maya slipped away from him. He is Brahman, he who has been hypnotised into slavery and weakness is once more awake, and he rises up and finds himself a man in a world of men.
Ay, in this country of ours, the very birthplace of the Vedanta, our masses have been hypnotised for ages into that state. . . We are to blame. Stand up, be bold, and take the blame on your own shoulders. Do not go about throwing mud at others; for all the faults you suffer from, you are the sole and only cause.
Young men of Lahore . . . Have Vairagya. Your ancestors gave up the world for doing great things. At the present time there are men who give up the world to help their own salvation. Throw away everything, even your own salvation, and go and help others. Ay you are always talking bold words, but here is practical Vedanta before you. Give up this little life of yours. What matters it if you die of starvation — you and I and thousands like us—so long as this nation lives? . . . What matters it if this little life goes? Everyone has to die, the saint or the sinner, the rich or the poor. The body never remains for anyone. Arise and awake and be perfectly sincere. Our insincerity in India is awful; what we want is character, that steadiness and character that make a man cling on to a thing like grim death.’14
Incidentally, this was the last lecture Goodwin recorded through his stenographic skills. Goodwin, who had given all his life in the service of Swamiji by way of noting down Swamiji’s lectures, editing them and making them available for publication, passed away soon after at Ooty in Tamil Nadu, where he had gone to recoup his health.
An open-air party was given in honour of Swamiji in the evening of 14 November, Sunday, on the lawns of the Lahore Town Hall. It was attended by many prominent people. Another day Swamiji was invited by the Sikhs of the Shuddhi Sabha (a reform movement preceding Singh Sabha Movement among Sikhs) and Swamiji appreciated their work. At Lahore Swamiji tried hard to bring reconciliation between Arya Samajists, who stood for a reinterpreted Hinduism and the Sanatanis, who represented orthodox Hinduism. How much success attended his efforts is difficult to assess but surely Swamiji’s message impressed everyone who heard it.
Of Swamiji’s Lahore visit, S. Puran Singh, an eminent Punjabi poet and writer, who was an eyewitness to these lectures, wrote in The Story of Swami Rama, ‘One of the causes, which led him (Swami Rama) to seek the role of a monk, in my opinion, was his meeting with Swami Vivekananda at Lahore.’
‘Swami Vivekananda at Lahore was quite an inspiration to the people of the Punjab; his divine eloquence, his burning renunciation, his strength, his power of personality, his gigantic intellect, all made a deep impression on the people. Perhaps his lecture on “Vedanta” at Lahore was one of the most brilliant pieces of oratory. It was in those days that Swami Vivekananda was made the admiring witness of the Amrita ceremony of Guru Gobind Singh. In his address, Swami Vivekananda spoke of the “Punjab of the lion-hearted Guru Gobind Singh”. The Swami was a great admirer of Guru Gobind Singh, his marvelous courage and strength of character.’
Puran Singh further writes:
‘The Swami was put up at Dhyan Singh’s Haveli, and I distinctly remember to this moment the huge number of turbanned masses of Lahore that had assembled in the large hall to listen to the Swami. I was then a little boy reading in the college for the intermediate examination of the Punjab University. The scene has been impressed indelibly on my memory. The hall was filled and there was an overflow of people in the courtyard. People eager to see the Swami pressed each other shoulder to shoulder, to pass into the hall. The Swami seeing these earnest unmanageable crowds announced that he would lecture in the open air. The enclosure, the courtyard of the Haveli, is a large one, and there is a temple-like structure with a raised platform in the centre. The Swami ascended the platform and there he stood—superb, a giant in his superb physique, robed in orange like a Rishi of old, with his large fiery eyes magnetizing the very air. He had a dopatta [a long piece of cloth generally worn round the neck and shoulders] swung round him and he had a large orange turban in the fashion of a Punjabi. This lion of Vedanta roared and thundered for hours, keeping the Punjabis spellbound and lifting them up to the delectable heights of his mental eminence.
Lahore was struck by one who owed his inspiration to no less a personage than Paramahansa Ramakrishna. One could see the flame of inspiration burning before him in this great person.
I did not know Swami Rama then, but it was he who arranged all those lectures, and he was of the opinion that Swami Vivekananda was at his best while speaking on Vedanta, for that was his subject. This visit of Swami Vivekananda, no doubt, strengthened the silent ambitions of the young Swami Rama for leading the life of a monk and to go round the world, preaching Vedanta like Vivekananda. Swami Vivekananda had already defined Vedanta from a practical point of view, and just as modern educated India, by the contact of the West, has discovered the greatness of Bhagavad-Gita in its gospel of duty, so did Swami Vivekananda interpret Shankaracharya’s Advaita Vedanta philosophy in terms of Bhakti, Karma, and even patriotism and humanity.’15
Swami Ram Tirth (known as Tirth Ram before he took to monastic vows), whom Puran Singh refers to, is also known as Swami Ram (1873-1906). He travelled to the United States in 1902 and lectured on ‘Practical Vedanta’. He was a professor in Lahore College and underwent a complete transformation after meeting Swamiji. Swamiji’s Life describes it thus (slightly paraphrased, pp. 291-293):
It was at Lahore that the Swami met Mr. Tirtha Ram Goswami, then a professor of mathematics at one of the Lahore colleges. Sometime later, he took sannyasa and the name Swami Ram Tirtha. He preached Vedanta in India and America and became widely known. It was under his guidance that the college students of Lahore had arranged Swamiji’s lectures. He invited Swamiji and his disciples including Goodwin, to dine at his residence. After the dinner, Swamiji sang a song [composed by Gosvami Tulasidas] which begins: Jahan Ram Wahan Kam Nahin, Jahan Kam Tahan Nahin Ram. Translated the song runs, “Where God-consciousness is, there no desire is: where desire is, there no God-consciousness is.” Tirtha Ram wrote: “His melodious voice made the meaning of the song thrill through the hearts of those present.” He placed his library at Swamiji’s disposal, but of the numerous volumes in it, the latter chose only Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman—whom he used to call ‘the Sannyasin of America’.
One evening Swamiji, accompanied by his brother-monks, Tirtha Ram, and a number of young men, was walking along the road. The party broke into several groups. “In the last group” Tirtha Ram later wrote in a letter, “in answer to a question, I was explaining: ‘An ideal Mahatma is one who has lost all sense of separate personality and lives as the Self of all. When the air in any region absorbs enough of the solar heat, it becomes rarefied and rises higher. The air from different regions then rushes in to occupy this vacuum, thus setting the whole atmosphere in motion. So does a Mahatma marvelously infuse life and spirit into a nation through self-reform.’ Swamiji’s group happening to be silent at the time, he overheard this part of our conversation and stopped suddenly and emphatically remarked, “Such was my guru, Paramahamsa Ramakrishna.”
As a token of his earnest love and admiration for Swamiji, Tirth Ram presented Swamiji a gold watch before he left. Swamiji took it very kindly, but put it back in Tirth Ram’s pocket, saying, ‘Very well, friend, I shall wear it here in this pocket’.
Another eye-witness account by Dr. Prabhu Dutta Shastri, who had heard Swamiji both in Chicago and Lahore, is contextually important here. He wrote in an article titled ‘Swami Vivekananda in Chicago and Lahore’, in Prabuddha Bharata, 1943 September:
‘I should refer to his [Swamiji’s] visit to Lahore in October 1897 [actually 1898], after his return from America. That was also a unique occasion—for me more memorable than even the address at Chicago, since it was then that I actually saw the Swami and listened in pin-drop silence to his address, which left an abiding mark on my memory and hypnotized me. The spot at which he spoke in the big compound of Raja Dhyan Singh’s Haveli is visited by many admirers of the Swami who happen to visit Lahore. I have a clear picture in my mind of the vast audience that gave him a most enthusiastic ovation— people occupying every inch of ground in the spacious compound, the platform, the opposite stairs, parapets, and even clinging to the large branches of the big tree that stood there. By that one speech alone, Vivekananda had conquered the Punjab, as he had previously conquered America by his one speech alone at Chicago.’
An incident of intimate nature that took place in Lahore reveals the human side of Swamiji very well. A boyhood friend of Swamiji was Moti Bose who had now become the owner of Professor Bose’s Circus. When he heard that Swamiji was in Lahore, Moti Bose went to see him. But he was apprehensive as to how he should address Swamiji; Naren, his playmate, was now a highly revered teacher. Feeling a little embarrassed, he approached Swamiji with a question, ‘How shall I address you now, as Naren or Swamiji?’ Immediately Swamiji responded, ‘Have you gone mad, Moti? Do not you know that I am the same Naren and you are the same Moti!’ Thus the old comrades met with each other. Swamiji’s simplicity and unassuming personality found its expression everywhere, in all situations.
Another incident which speaks volumes of Swamiji’s understanding, generosity and greatness took place while Swamiji was in Lahore. One day he was praising a certain person at length. On hearing it all, one of those with him said, ‘But Swamiji, that gentleman has no respect for you!’ Swamiji at once replied, ‘Is it necessary to respect me in order to become a good man?’ The questioner was taken aback at these words. This is an instance of unconditional love for all, a trait natural to Swamiji.
After ten days of speaking, discussions and meeting visitors, Swamiji left Lahore and came to Dehradun (now in Uttarakhand). Thus came to a close Swami Vivekananda’s historic visit to the Undivided Punjab, sowing seeds of the future Ramakrishna Movement and inspiring people with his marvelous personality and messages.
As we conclude this discussion, let us look at Swamiji’s impression of Punjab. Of Swamiji’s love of Punjab, Sister Nivedita, his gifted and inspired Irish disciple, wrote in her immortal work, The Master As I Saw Him.Obviously she had accompanied Swamiji to Lahore in 1898 and keenly observed his thoughts and emotions as they travelled in Punjab:
‘It was as we passed into the Punjab, however, that we caught our deepest glimpse of the Master’s [Swami Vivekananda’s] love of his own land [India]. Anyone who had seen him here, would have supposed him to have been born in the province [Punjab], so intensely had he identified himself with it. It would seem that he had been deeply bound to the people there by many ties of love and reverence; had received much and given much; for there were some amongst them who urged that they found in him a rare mixture of ‘Guru Nanak and Guru Govind,’ their first teacher and their last. Even the most suspicious amongst them trusted him. And if they refused to credit his judgment, or endorse his outflowing sympathy, in regard to those Europeans whom he had made his own, he, it may have been, loved the wayward hearts all the more for their inflexible condemnation and incorruptible sternness. His American disciples were already familiar with his picture—that called to his own face a dreamy delight—of the Punjabi maiden at her spinning wheel, listening to its ‘Shivoham! Shivoham! I am He! I am He!’ Yet at the same time, I must not forget to tell that it was here, on entering the Punjab, even as, near the end of his life, he is said to have done again at Benares, that he called to him a Mussalman vendor of sweetmeats, and bought and ate from his hand Mohammedan food [indicating that Swamiji accepted people of all religions and traditions, in contrast with orthodox sections of Hindu society who adhered to strict rules regarding food and social mixing].
As we went through some village, he would point out to us those strings of marigolds above the door that distinguished the Hindu homes. Again, he would show us the pure golden tint of skin, so different from the pink and white of the European ideal that constitutes the ‘fairness’ admired by the Indian races. Or as we drove beside him in a tonga, he would forget all, in that tale of which he never wearied, of Shiva, the Great God, silent, remote upon the mountains, asking nothing of men but solitude, and ‘lost in one eternal meditation’. 16
In these poetic words of Sister Nivedita Swami Vivekananda’s admiration and deep identity with Punjab and Punjabi traditions is indeed aptly summarized!
Visits of the Direct Disciples of Sri Ramakrishna:
Besides Swami Vivekananda, a number of direct disciples of Sri Ramakrishna visited the Undivided Punjab during their days of travel and wanderings. They visited various pilgrim centres now located in the states of Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Punjab Province of Pakistan—and nearby regions. Not many details are available of these visits but here is some information, as far as we could gather (from God Lived with Them, Swami Chetanananda, Advaita Ashrama, Kolkata):
Swami Adbhutananda, or Latu Maharaj, accompanied Swami Vivekananda during his travel to Punjab, Rajasthan and other places in north India in 1897. Swami Adbhutananda also visited the Golden Temple at Amritsar and later observed, ‘the top of the Amritsar temple, like that of Vishwanath at Banaras, was covered with gold and that formerly people had wealth and they knew how to spend it well too.’17
Swami Brahmananda, the ‘spiritual son of Sri Ramakrishna’ and later the first President of the Ramakrishna Order, and Swami Turiyananda, known for his austere life-style and spiritual insights, came to visit holy places in Punjab, Sindh, Pathankot, Multan, Gujaranwala and other places in 1891 during their days of wandering. In Multan (now in Pakistan), both of them visited Sadhu Bela, an acclaimed Hindu temple in Sindh. It is located on an island in the river Sindhu. At the insistence of the abbot of Sadhu Bela and impressed with the natural beauty of the place, they spent some months in meditation and hard austerities in Sadhu Bela.18
Five years after he returned from America, Swami Turiyananda came again to Kurukshetra (in Haryana) to witness the Mela (religious fair) held there to mark the Surya Grahana (solar eclipse). He was joined by Swami Atulananda, a western monk initiated by Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi.
Swami Shivananda, or Mahapurush Maharaj, the second President of the Ramakrishna Order, visited Kurukshetra (now in Haryana) and Jwalamukhi temple (now Himachal Pradesh) in 1892.
Swami Saradananda, or Sharat Maharaj, the first General Secretary of Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission, came to Rawalpindi in the Undivided Punjab in October 1898. He came by train to Rawalpindi, and then took a tonga to Srinagar. He was called by Swami Vivekananda who fell sick in Srinagar and wanted Swami Saradananda to take his western disciples around some places in north India.
Swami Abhedananda, or Kali Maharaj, visited, along with other places in north India, Lahore and Rawalpindi in 1922.
Swami Vijnanananda, or Vijnan Maharaj, later the fourth President of the Ramakrishna Order, visited Lahore and Peshawar in 1931.
Thus, including Swami Vivekananda, seven disciples of Sri Ramakrishna have blessed the historic land of Punjab. In the Ramakrishna tradition, these direct disciples are held in great respect as, besides being disciples of Sri Ramakrishna, they are believed to have experienced God, a fact richly expressed in their noble lives and teachings.
We may also mention here that Swami Ambikananda, a disciple of Swami Brahmananda, spent a number of years in austerity in Kapurthala in the 1950s as also Swami Saradeshananda, a disciple of Holy Mother Sarada Devi, who performed austerities in Punjab. During his extended stay in Punjab, Swami Saradeshananda, or Gopesh Maharaj, developed interest in the Sikh spiritual tradition and learnt to read Punjabi as well. Later he used to often chant Sukhmani Saheb (‘The Treasure of Peace’), a composition of the fifth Sikh Guru, Guru Arjan (1563-1606), which forms a part of the Guru Granth Saheb (it is in 24 Ashtapadis or sections, discussing the nature of meditation, Japa, holy association, characteristics of a man of realization, grace of God, and so on). Gopesh Maharaj kept a copy of Sukhmani Saheb along with Durga Saptashati and Stotra book which he used during his daily devotions.
(To be continued. . .)
11) Sialkot was part of the Undivided Punjab. Its earliest mention is Madra kingdom ruled by King Shalya in the Mahabharata. It has been ruled by Greeks, Huns, Mughals and others.
12) The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda. [hereafter CW] 3: 363.
13) Life of Swami Vivekananda by His Eastern and Western Disciples. [hereafter Life], 288.
14) CW. 3:428-31.
15) Quoted in the article ‘Swami Vivekananda in Punjab’, by Jasbir Kaur Ahuja, Prabuddha Bharata, 1997.
16) The Complete Works of Sister Nivedita. 1: 71-72
17) Swami Adbhutananda As We Saw Him. Ramakrishna Math, Chennai, p. 283.
18) Swami Brahmananda Charit. (Hindi) Swami Prabhananda. Nagpur: Ramakrishna Math, p. 102.
Source : Vedanta Kesari, February, 2019