Born at Dakshineswar, entered government service before passing Entrance examination. A novelist of fair repute, closely associated with the monthly journal Uttara, and one of the founders of the Prabasi Banga Sahitya Sammelan. Having retired early from service, spent last years at Varanasi and Purnea. First visited the Master in the company of Haridas Chatterjee, a neighbour, and Narendranath, that being the latter’s second visit to the Master (1880/81). Attracted to the Master, visited him frequently thereafter. Pulled up by him for swimming in the Ganga instead of attending his office. A few years after the Master’s passing he appeared to Kedar in a vision at the Yogodyan, Kankurgachhi (Udbodhan, 40, pp. 292-98). Several articles by him were published in the Udbodhan (38.2; 9; 44.6; 50.1; 58.7).
Ramakrishna as We Saw Him – Kedarnath Bandyopadhyay
Kedarnath Bandyopadhyay (1863–1949) wrote his reminiscences of Ramakrishna more than sixty years after he met the Master. In some places Kedar has used direct quotes, and in others he has expressed the Master’s ideas in his own words.
My family home was in Dakshineswar, very near the Ganges. On the way to bathe, or just passing by in the evening, my friends used to come to our festival hall and play indoor games or sit around and chat. It was a Sunday or a holiday in 1881 or perhaps 1882 that my neighbour, Haridas Chatterjee, who was studying for his B.A. degree, stopped in to see me and said: “One of my fellow students in Calcutta has come [to Dakshineswar], and I would like to introduce him to you. Come with me.”
I went with him, and on the way I asked: “Is there some special reason for this invitation? If there is, please tell me before I meet your friend.”
Smiling, Haridas replied: “Nothing special. Just as you are the best talker and conversationalist in our group here, full of knowledge, humour, and wit, so is he in our circle at college. Everybody seeks his company. Seldom will you find such a charismatic and fascinating speaker.”
I was a little uneasy when I heard this, as though I were going to appear for an examination. But there was no time to think before we had arrived at the place where I was to meet Haridas’s friend. As soon as his friend saw me, he put a handful of puffed rice into his mouth and said, “Welcome, my mighty friend!” And pushing the tray of puffed rice towards me, he said, “Please take some.”
Haridas introduced us: “This is my college friend, Narendra Nath Datta of Calcutta, and his knowledge is so vast that I can’t think of anything in this world that he does not know.”
Narendra interrupted: “What about mathematics? Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar is still alive. Have you not read in his primary book, ‘Always speak the truth’?”
Then Haridas introduced me, saying, “This is my village friend Kedarnath Bandyopadhyay.”
Narendra was not only very handsome, but he was also a fine speaker. Everyone was overwhelmed by his charming personality. His satirical remarks were most amusing, and at the same time his ideas were deep, meaningful, and inspiring. People were astounded to see such vast knowledge in one so young. That was my first meeting with Narendra, and in all my life, before or since, I have never seen such a man.
In the afternoon we all went at Narendra’s request to visit the Kali temple built by Rani Rasmani. He said: “Let us go and see that unlettered brahmin, who was previously a worshipper of Mother Kali and is now a perfected soul. It is very common in our country for people to pay money to see magic, but here, I understand, no charge is made. I have been there once before and, although this man has nothing to say to me that I want to hear, I would like to see him again.” As far as I can remember, Narendra spoke in this way.
He asked me if I knew Sri Ramakrishna. In reply, I asked, “Is he the yogi of Dakshineswar about whom Keshab Chandra Sen has written in his Sunday Mirror?”
“Yes, yes. He is that great soul. Then you know him?”
“No,” I replied. “My elder brother who lives in Meerut wanted me to see this holy man and write about him, but, I am sorry to say, I forgot all about it.”
“All right. Then let us go,” said Narendra.
When we reached the temple garden, we sat on the embankment and Narendra started to sing. Presently a man came and said, “Sri Ramakrishna is calling you.” Narendra got up and said, “Come, let us go,” and we followed him.
Sri Ramakrishna’s room was in the northwest corner of the temple courtyard. We entered and saluted him with folded hands. He was seated on a cot wearing a cloth with a narrow border. He was smiling. Some other visitors were seated on the floor. When he saw Narendra, he said: “Why do you not come? Don’t you know I have been waiting for you? The last time you came you left quickly to go for a walk around the temple.” Then he asked Narendra to sing a song.
What an unusual young man Narendra was! As soon as he was asked, he started to sing without any hesitation or fear. While he was singing, Sri Ramakrishna suddenly stood up and went into samadhi. He was about to fall when two or three of the devotees caught him and put him on the cot again. Narendra was watching all this intently. This was the first time in my life that I had witnessed samadhi.
A devotee said: “The Master loves to hear a person sing, but he seldom enjoys the whole song. He goes into samadhi.”
What I saw that day was unique. It would be inaccurate to say that I only saw — I actually received something. When I looked at Narendra, he smiled and said, “Well, now you can write four pages to your brother about the Master.”
Sri Ramakrishna said to Narendra, “Come to see me now and then.”
Narendra: “I am now going to college and I have to study.”
Master: “That is all right. Enjoy this spiritual life also. What is the harm in hearing spiritual talks?”
Narendra: “Sir, I understand that you have had no education and that whatever you say you must have heard from someone else. I know all that stuff.”
I was startled by Narendra’s words, but the Master smiled at him and said: “That is fine. Then I will not have to talk much. If you come once in a while it will not do you any harm. Besides, I like to see you. All right, you may go now, but please come again.”
Narendra: “I shall try.”
As we took leave of Sri Ramakrishna, I felt uncomfortable. When we had left his room, Narendra said to me, “Do you think I was rude to him?”
“You know it very well,” I replied. “Next time I shall come alone.” After saying this, Narendra left.
Afterwards, on my way home, I forgot all about Sri Ramakrishna, for my mind was occupied with thoughts of Narendra. Although he was my peer, he was truly exceptional. He was fearless and wise. He was born to be a leader — a commander-in-chief, not a soldier. And I could see that Sri Ramakrishna wanted him for some special purpose. It was a glorious day in my life when I saw them together on that occasion.
That was my first meeting with Sri Ramakrishna. Since we had many family deities at home I often went to pick flowers from the temple garden to offer them. I may have seen the Master many times after that, but there is nothing of any special interest to recall about those occasions. He lived like an ordinary man, wearing neither an ochre cloth [the garb of a monk] nor any religious marks. His attire was simply a white cloth with a narrow red border.
Who can describe Sri Ramakrishna? Sometimes I went to the Kali temple to hear him, and on these occasions there were always two or three carriages outside and throngs of devotees from Calcutta in his room. I would sit down near the door and listen while the devotees “swallowed,” as it were, his inspired talks, leaving a little share for me. Since they were all householders (I too had married), most of his advice was directed towards them.
Here are some examples of what the Master would say to us: Never forget that the goal of human life is to realize God. Remember this first and then do your household duties. Why are you so afraid of hearing about bhakti? Bhakti is love for God. One can attain God by love. Love conquers all. People shed a jugful of tears for wife and children, but who weeps for God? Weep, weep, weep for Him.
Once somebody said, “God is formless; nobody can see Him.”
The Master replied: “God is with form and also formless. Look around. He is in everything and every being. You know how difficult it is to meet a rich man. You will have to get past the gatekeepers and secretaries, and finally you will have to spend a handsome sum for a presentation gift. In addition, you may have to wait from morning to evening. And you want to see God without doing anything? Is this possible? Think about the trouble you must undergo to see a rich man, and you want to see the Lord of the Universe without any effort? In the beginning work hard. Have faith in Him. Have longing for God.”
I used to see a number of young boys with the Master. They were junior to me but very bright and jolly. I did not know all of them. Gradually their number increased to seventeen or eighteen. They did not all come at the same time, nor did they come with the older people. The Master’s conversation with these boys was fascinating. He spoke to them in a lighter, more humorous vein, cutting jokes with them and testing them by asking some of them to go home and to marry. He reminded them that anybody who relieves a poor man by marrying his daughter attains some virtue. Sometimes he would ask them to stay away for some days, saying, “Be careful, lest I get a scolding from your parents because you come here.”
Among this group of youngsters, two were known to me. One was Jogin Roychoudhury [Swami Yogananda], who came from a rich family in Dakshineswar. Polite, calm, and sparing of words, he was one year senior to me in Baranagore High School.
The second boy, who was my classmate at Dakshineswar School, was Brahmapada, from Ariadaha. Both Jogin and Brahmapada wanted to become intimate disciples of Sri Ramakrishna. It is possible that the Master asked Brahmapada to get permission from his parents and that they refused to give it. At any rate, one day I heard that Brahmapada had committed suicide and that there was great turmoil in the village. The Master was deeply shocked and expressed great sympathy.
Immediately after this Yogin’s parents planned to trap him in the life of a householder, and they found a beautiful young girl in Ariadaha for him to marry.
vehemently protested and fervently begged his parents not to force him into marriage, but it was of no avail. But even great wealth and a young wife could not divert his mind from God. Jogin left home.
All of Sri Ramakrishna’s conversations centred around two sayings: “Brahman is real and the world is unreal,” and “First realize God, and then do whatever you like.” I heard these words again and again from the Master. He spoke in such a simple way that everybody could understand.
Rasik was a sweeper of the Kali temple, and he lived in Dakshineswar. One day I heard the Master talking with him in the latter’s courtyard. They were talking very intimately, as though they were close friends. The Master smiled at him and said, “Don’t drink too much.”
Rasik was drunk and rolling on the ground. “Master,” he replied, “I can’t afford to drink. Luckily, Natabar Panja’s mother died and so I got some extra money for doing some cleaning. But whose mother is going to die every day?”
I heard that the Master met Keshab Chandra Sen at the garden house of Belgharia, where they had an interesting talk. Keshab Babu was a wonderful orator, commanding great respect from all, and the young students flocked to him. Although Keshab Babu’s followers considered the Master to be mentally unbalanced, Keshab Babu listened to him with great attention. I myself saw Keshab Babu sitting cross-legged on the floor of the Master’s room, listening attentively to his words, and never, at least in my presence, uttering a single word himself.
Many young students would come from Calcutta to ask Sri Ramakrishna difficult questions about religion and philosophy — about Dualism, Qualified Monism, and Monism. Some of them came to test his knowledge. The Master would laugh and say: “Well, such subtle divisions of philosophy can be understood by practising more and more spiritual disciplines. Have you practised anything?” At this, they all kept quiet. The younger generation was then hungry for religion, and they thronged to Keshab Babu to hear about the different religions of the world. But their hunger only increased more and more. At last they came to Sri Ramakrishna to find the essence, because the Master was the custodian of religion.
One day I started for my office and crossed the Ganges by boat. Due to some family trouble, my mind was very disturbed. It occurred to me that it would be better to go to the Master than to the office, so I took another boat and landed at the temple ghat of Rani Rasmani.
The Master was standing on the western veranda of his room, looking at the Ganges. As I walked up to him, he said: “What! You ran away from your office? That is not good. Live in this world like a crocodile. It lives under water, but sometimes it raises its snout above water, takes a deep breath, and again dives below the surface. People are submerged in their worldly life, and they come here only when they are suffocating at home. Does anybody tread the path of religion without first undergoing sorrow and sufferings? Misery has great value. It helps a person find the path to God.”
He continued: “I know you are married. Do you have a mother?”
“Yes, my mother is still alive,” I replied.
He was silent for some time, and then he said: “All right, stay at home now. A little misery is good. It helps one to make progress in spiritual life. If there were no misery, would anyone chant the Lord’s name?”
He went on talking in this way, but it seemed to me that he was tired. Indeed, the cancer in his throat was developing day by day.
I said to him: “Sir, please rest a little. You have just finished your lunch and I am disturbing you.”
“It is true,” he said, “the pain is there. But if you wish to know anything, you may ask.”
Smiling, I replied, “We want to know so many things, but how can we understand?”
The Master said: “Know God. Make some effort and you will find Him. He is ever present. Develop a deep longing for God.”
I then implored him, “Sir, please bless me.”
In reply he said: “Longing does not come through blessings. It depends upon self-effort. Increase your love for God.” He was ready to answer my questions, but I could not think of any. After returning with him inside his room, I left for home.
The Master came to awaken God-consciousness in us. We are fortunate to have had him in our midst. The more I think of him, the more my heart yearns for him, and tears flow from my eyes.
After the Master’s passing away, one day, quite unconsciously I said, “If only the Master were alive today.” Then and there I actually experienced his presence. I have no words to describe his grace.
[From: Udbodhan (Udbodhan Office: Calcutta, 1947), vol. 50, nos. 1-2]