(Reminiscences: Meeting Swami Brahmananda)
Now it so happened that at this time Swami Brahmananda, formerly Rakhal Maharaj, was in Calcutta. My grandfather who, as a physician, had treated Sri Ramakrishna during his last illness of cancer had, in the course of his visits, come to know the illustrious disciple quite well. But he never once surmised that I was well posted on the Swami, still less that I had been praying nightly to Sri Ramakrishna for strength, purity and Bhakti. I had kept this a jealously guarded secret in my new milieu at 34, Theatre Road. So he thought he would take me by surprise when he suggested I accompany him to Swami Brahmananda, ‘a mighty saint.’
I caught my breath, ‘Swami Brahmananda?’
‘Who else?’ he returned. ‘Since you are gifted with a mulish obstinacy, I am forced to implore him to give you his protective blessing against the deep danger you have decided to run, like a fool. Swamiji,’ he went on persuasively, ‘has great powers, real divine powers, as everybody knows, But you, too, must help me by praying earnestly that he may fend off the disaster.’
I was overjoyed as I had read all that there was to be read about Swami Brahmananda whom Sri Ramakrishna used to style his manasa putra, or spiritual son. But my joy gave place to a palpitation of awe as we entered the house of the late Balaram Bose (another direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna) where Swami Brahmananda was staying at the time.
As we mounted the steps, the fragrant scent of incense filled me with an exaltation which I attributed to the presence of one of the greatest yogis of modern India, a yogi whom Sri Ramakrishna used to describe by the term nityasiddha (born emancipated). I recalled his apt simile of the legendary eagle that laid its egg in the sky. Out of this egg the tiny chick is hatched while still falling down from on high, and conscious from birth that the blue is its home, it soars back before it can crash down onto the earth. I recalled, thrilled, how ‘Sri Ma’ had described the deep human-divine intimacy which existed between his mighty Master and this ideal disciple. He was at the time the president of the Ramakrishna Mission and was worshipped by thousands of devotees as a shining example of how a yogi should comport himself in life, dominating it like a king, yet not bound by his kingdom. Such was the man I was now going to meet! ‘Thrice-blessed am I,’ sang my young blood. It was with difficulty that I could inhibit my tears.
As we entered the living room of Swami Brahmananda, which was on the first floor, the great yogi, in an ochre-colored robe, turned and greeted us with a simple smile.
‘O Pratap Babu!’ he exclaimed. ‘This is, indeed, delightful!’
The two old friends talked on for a while in great joy, after which I was brought forward and duly presented. I was aquiver with ecstasy. But then, alas, began my trial, for my grandfather, having once started to complain of me, went on volubly, blaming me for everything with every conceivable epithet. I will recount it briefly. The scene is graven in my memory!
After having given Swamiji all the enlightenment he needed about my character and antecedents, my grandfather may have felt that he had overdone it in his zeal.
‘He is not a bad boy, though,’ he extenuated. ‘And I will say this for him, he is rather good in his studies—has passed this year with first-class honours in mathematics. But I am worried, Swamiji. You see, his father has left him a fairly large fortune. And then as he has already attained majority, there is no holding him. Besides, he is, as you can see for yourself, a handsome boy. But the trouble is, Swamiji, he is too downright by nature. . . and temperamental. . . and impulsive. . . and modern—that is the worst of it—modern. So he refuses to marry. . . God knows why. . . though several beautiful brides are in the offing—one with a considerable dowry into the bargain. But alas,’ he shook his head dolefully, ‘he is obstinate as a mule and simply refuses to marry!’
An amused smile edged the great saint’s lips.
‘I quite understand, Pratap Babu,’ he said, ‘But what is it that you would have me do about it? Surely you don’t expect me to coax him into marrying, I being what I happen to be—a monk, untied to the world. But then,’ he added, mollifyingly, ‘why not leave it to him?’
‘I would, willingly, Swamiji,’ explained my grandfather. ‘Only the trouble is—he insists on proceeding at once to England. And I am—well, afraid for him, don’t you see! He is a rather impetuous fellow and has plenty of money, and you know—perhaps you don’t but I know—how quickly things come to a head there: he will march straight into the snare and come back with a—er minx—all painted and rouged! And that will be the end of everything—sheer ruin, I predict. So I told him: “Since you are so pigheaded, at least come with me to a great saint: let us at least have his blessings by way of protection and so make the best of a bad bargain.” And, oh yes, I forgot to tell you,’ he added ruefully, ‘he happens to be a musician—simply sings and sings away—and you know how dangerous that is—when young girls are about—.’
But he was cut short by Swamiji who addressed me eagerly.
‘You sing, my boy? Why, that is very nice! Won’t you sing something to us? A song about the Mother, I mean. Do you know any?’
I was overjoyed and complied readily. I chose a song, a famous kali kirtan, of the great devotee Kamalakanta—‘Majlo Amar Man Bhramara’—a song Sri Ramakrishna used to love, which I had set to music in the Raga Bhairavi. I give below my translation:
My soul’s honeybee of love
The Mother’s lotus feet invite:
And intoxicate, I fly to lose
My world and all in Her delight!
Earth’s lesser loves have lost their savor:
Pledged am I to Her alone
And, thrilling in Her marvel Grace,
All other graces will disown.
Dark the twin blooms and dark’s my soul:
The pilgrim has attained the Goal!
Lo, barriers are overpassed,
Desire’s snares have alien grown:
For, basking in Her marvel Grace,
All other graces I disown.
Kamalakanta’s dream’s fulfilled
At last—when She to him’s revealed!
Beyond Time’s pleasures and pains he harks
To Her blissful Timeless monotone:
So, thrilling in Her marvel Grace
All other graces he will disown.
As I sang, his face became transfigured, almost self-luminous. Then he lost outward consciousness altogether and passed into samadhi. I went on singing, my eyes fastened on his trance-still face, till I could see no more, through my unshed tears. When I paused at the end of my song, peace had descended into me—a deep peace which seemed to fill the very interstices of my being. I felt, with a vividness I do not know how to describe, that he had blessed me while I was singing.
My grandfather, too, was moved, for once. Perhaps he had felt, for the first time in his life, that music might, on occasion, avert danger instead of inviting it.
Anyhow, the expression on his face had changed and he looked approvingly at me as our eyes met. And all the time the great yogi sat, a statuesque figure, hardly breathing, a beatific smile on his face. Holiness was there and purity and, for me, romance! A stray line I had read somewhere recurred to me: ‘Eternity in an hour!’ And it gave me not a mere feeling, far less a sentimental emotion, but a strange experience as of a glimpse—just a glimpse—but of what I could not define. Only one thing I knew, though I can neither prove it nor wish to, namely, that I had received from him something which had purified me in an unaccountable way, and that it was something that belonged to me though it seemed to flow into me from him. But much as I would like to paint it more graphically, I can say no more because such an experience can never be convincing to one who had never felt the ecstasy of an authentic saint’s blessing.
We waited in silence till he came back to normal consciousness. Then he looked intently at me in silence. I lowered my eyes, soothed and, withal, a trifle embarrassed under his steadfast scrutiny.
Suddenly he turned toward my grandfather and said with a beautiful smile: ‘Pratap Babu! Have no misgivings: he will come to no harm abroad.’
My grandfather stared at him uncomprehendingly. Swamiji smiled again. ‘Do you know what I saw while he was singing? I saw an aura of protection around him…Thakur’s [Sri Ramakrishna’s] aura, which is an armour, I tell you, and I know what I am speaking about. So let him go where he will—he will come back unscathed. He may, indeed, stumble sometimes—but I can assure you he will not fall.’
Then, turning his face toward me: ‘Come my boy—come nearer.’
I could hold myself in no more and rested my brow on his feet as tears of joy and gratitude found an outlet at last.
He stroked my head gently; the touch of his palm soothed my entire being as a cool current of deep peace coursed down my body from the crown of my head till it touched the base of my spine. When I lifted my eyes to his he was still gazing at me tenderly.
‘Won’t you—won’t you give me some—some advice?’ I faltered, wistfully.
He held my eyes for a few seconds; a gentle smile trembled on his lips.
‘Only one thing,’ he said, his voice hardly above a whisper. ‘Remember—always.’
He nodded. ‘Yes, that is what Thakur used to tell us so often: smaran manana—to remember constantly—that is the essence of yoga. And, remember his Grace, Thakur’s—and keep reminding yourself: “I have received His Grace: I must be worthy of it.” And then—all will be well.’
These were the only words of advice he gave me and they were etched forever on the tablet of my heart.
I have often wondered whether it was because I was destined to receive this great inspiration I so sorely needed that my sailing for England was delayed over and over again. (Once I had actually come to Bombay but the P. & O. authorities told me that not a single berth was available for months.)
I wondered in India and wondered more in England every time I was accosted by a temptation and I told myself every time:
‘Remember Rakhal Maharaj! Repeat on your rosary: “I have received Thakur’s Grace and must be worthy of it.”’
This invaluable admonition never once failed to give me the needed strength to quell the temptation, but the modus operandi of Divine Grace cannot be described in human terms because it operates from a plane beyond the vital-mental.
- 📗Pilgrims of the Stars—Autobiography of Two Yogis, by Dilip Kumar Roy and Indira Devi
- Vedanta Kesari Oct 2006