Friday, 26 February 2016

The Saint of Dumurdaha 

To us in India one eternal enigma is India herself, this young old country which is as old as the hills and fresh as the morning dew. There she is permanent and immutable, in the midst of life’s unceasing flux. Storms have blown over her, the most violent of them, causing no more than transient ripples, leaving the depths unshaken. A few marks of distinction belong easily to her, the most striking of which probably is the undying vitality of her ageless culture. She has been the cradle of civilization, its nest and nurse. On her soil has been witnessed the most exquisite efflorescence of civilization. There never has been a day, nor ever will be, when imponderables, assimilated and actualized, have ceased or will cease to be the daily concern of her men and women. What is most curious perhaps is the fact that has succeeded somehow in maintaining her link with the immemorial past. While cultures come and go, India’s culture abides; while civilizations flourish and fall, India’s civilization endures. Greece is there, but where is the Greece of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle? Rome is, but not the Rome is old. The glory that was Greece is gone, never to return. Not a scrap of ancient Rome survives. But the India of the present does conserve the unbroken traditions of her storied past. There may have been ebbs and flows, but the same old stream remains. Her past, present and future – the future too one can foresee without being a prophet – are bound each to each by natural piety. She was not born for death, immortal India. 

What is the secret of this immortality? How has it been able to resist the rages of the ages? That fact is that her civilization descends from her Sages or Rishis. By them has it been moulded and by them, in periods of stagnation, revitalized and replenished. Precisely when we seem to sink, they come down to lift us up. Nor is it sages alone that stalk the land in an emergency. When the crisis looks most threatening, the lord himself condescends to be born and brings us into our own. No wonder, therefore, that the line of our masters seems literally unending. 

Such a master is our revered saint of Dumurdaha. Or is he the saint of onkarashwar? But it is idle to quarrel about the way you would designate him. A master is not to be pinned down to a label or a locality. Sri Sri Sitaramdas Onkar Nath is the name we know him by; the small village of Dumurdaha in the district of Hooghly is his ancestral home and the holy city of Onkareshwar is the place he sanctifies while he is in silence and seclusion as he has been for a year and a half now. 

The following pages attempt to recount the story of the Master’s life through a few significant vignettes. It may look like a romance or a fairy story, but it is all fact, literal fact, drawn from actual life. 

1 It is somewhere about 1898. A room in the first floor of a middle-class gentleman’s house in Dumurdaha on the Ganges. The house of Braja Nath, they call it after the family Deity. Night. 

A little boy of six lies with his father, mother and sister. Says the boy, pointing to the southern window, 
“Look there Papa, look at Siva.” 
“Pray, where? Where is Siva, my son?” 
“There-there-standing at the foot.” 
“There he is.” 
“How does he look, your Siva?” 
“White-complexioned, wearing tiger-skin, matted hair on head, three-eyed, with a trisul (trident) in the left hand and a damaru (tabor, small drum shaped like an hour glass) in the right hand.” (The boy describes what he sees) 
“where, pray?” 
Siva vanishes. 

1918, January, 12 mid-night, chinsura. 
A resident-pupil at Viswa Nath chatuspathi (a school of oriental learning, founded by the Late Bhudev Chandra mukhopadhyaya), chinsutra, he shares with two fellows a room on the first floor of Bhudev babu’s house. 
All else are asleep. He sits in Baddha Padmasana, changes the attitude, sits normal and meditates with eyes closed and mind fixed on the heart. Whom should he see now but Siva, five faced, trident in one hand and tabor in another. 
He challenges the visitor, “Who are you?” “I am your Guru. Once I called, in your childhood; you couldn’t quite recognize me. Here I am again.” “If you are my guru, pray, show me my Ishta (God in the form dear to me).” Siva utters his Ishta-mantra and goes on repeating it, with each of His five mouths. From Siva’s shoulder, a female form appears. “Who is there, about your shoulder?” – he asks Siva who does not answer. The female replies. “I am your mother”. Says She, descending from Siva’s shoulder. She takes his astral body in her arms and whispers his Ishta Mantra into his ears, she keeps doing this. Siva too goes on chanting it with His five mouths, dancing and playing all the while on the tabor. Gradually the Mantra fades- ‘Ram, Ram’ remains. That fades- leaving ‘Om-Om’. Which also passes,- to be followed by the hiss of a Serpent (a form of Nad or transcendent Sound). The roar rises from within. The eyes open, to be glued to the central point between the eye-brows. Round circular Jyoti (transcendent light) manifests itself. When his sense of the world returns, it is 4 A.M, as the jute mill whistle tells. The same year : Saraswati puja day. He has a vision of his previous incarnation : a great saint devoted to the Mother and revered by all the world. He can scarcely believe it and speaks at night to his spiritual preceptor who believes every word of it. The same year : the night of Dole purnima. Realization of who he is and why he has come down dawns on him. The words well up from within : “Yada Yada hi dharmasya”…………………………….. –‘whenever Dharma declines and Adharma prevails, I am sure to incarnate myself.’ It is at Dumurdaha that the Realization occurs. He stars at once for Digsui, another village in Hooghly, to meet his guru. His guru- What brings you here? He - Please come with me. He grants a vision to his own guru who is literally over-powered. The guru remains in a trance for three days. He can only find words to caution his wife against treating his disciple in the usual way. “Do not ask him to do anything. Do not give him any portion of the food which is touched by us.” 

Knowing at last a little of the true nature of his disciple’s Self, the be-mused guru, while in this state of trance, composes a Sanskrit quatrain and presents it to his disciple. The quatrain states : “Who are you, my Guru or Sishya? I for one can never tell. All that I know from natural impulse is that I am yours and you are mine. If you are my Guru, I submit myself as your disciple, I commit myself to your care and seek refuge; out of the bounty of your Grace, do please save (enlighten) me. If on the other hand I am your Guru, pray tell me Who you are, of what stuff your Being is made.” 

They call him queer, odd, mad, for many, he is stark staring mad. But he does not care for what the world thinks. A young man of twenty-six, he moves about, singing songs unbidden, lost in his own ineffable delight. Of shame or scorn he has no sense. Of music he is innocent. But the songs burst from him. Whatever he sees blossoms at once into blazing light. To people around he sends his warm invitation, “Is there any that would see God? If so, come.” It is a call to all. A very, very few respond, the few that are sane enough to take the supposed lunatic seriously. And these fortunate few do have the beatific vision. And how does he vouchsafe his vision? He catches the candidate gently by the wrist, both standing; and he says, “There-behold.” And they do see. 

The phase passes. 
He chooses to divest himself of all he has come by or into. He assumes the role of an ordinary man and the uneasy world sighs relief. He starts de novo. From the summit he comes down to the base and undertakes to get to top again. He embarks on the career of a pilgrim to Eternity. He will live the humdrum life of an ordinary house-holder and achieve his consummation so that he may leave an example and a legacy behind to inspire us who are so frail and degenerate. He will give us a short-cut, the shortest conceivable, to Consummation. But he must go it himself and show it in practice before he does it in theory. Hence his coming back to this zero point. What a life has this been to him! Poverty of the most grinding kind; disease of the most lingering and painful short; hunger and starvation for three or more days at a stretch, for the adults as well as the tiny tots of the family; bereavement after bereavement, a whole series of them- they come thick on him. But he goes on his course undismayed. He does not lose his grand composure or his abounding and ineffable delight. Look at one or two characteristic pictures drawn from his life at this stage. Here is a typical incident. There he sits, a rough little napkin on (he has nothing else to were), sweetly smiling while his mother reproaches him in none too soft words. Nor is she much to blame. He has given away the only piece of cloth he has had for months- and now he has but a napkin for were! Once cannot tell how long it may be before another rag to cover with may be available. For three or four days they have been going without a meal, the adult members as well as the children, these latter subsisting on half a pice each, one slightly older on one pice daily, the adults keeping a fast joyfully. They welcome hunger as an aspect of God. They enjoy this continuous fast : they make a ceremony of it. Fast, to them, is a feast for the spirit. On occasions, however, a stock of food comes unexpected from somewhere. One dressed like a sadhu appears- does he drop from the moon!- and leaves a quantity of rice on the floor and vanishes. Somebody comes to pay his respects and offers an eight-anna bit at the feet of the Master’s sister who is beside herself with joy at this favour from God – that is how the family would look at it. For precisely an eight-anna bit is the need of the hour. The cattle of Braja Nath – they own nothing, the family Deity Braja Nath is the Lord and Owner, they are His servants – have been put to the pound and an eight-anna bit is the fee or fine for their release. Thus does the idyll of family life go on. 

Yet another picture : the master in the role of a professor in his own Seminary of Learning where pupils flock for study and find board and lodge as well as instruction, all free, to be sure. The number varies from sixteen to twenty-two. How he manages cannot be imagined. His means is slender, his family numerous and he draws no allowance from any quarter. He holds no appointment. Nor does he receive gifts. Yet it goes on somehow, Every phase of the Master’s life is a miracle that would take your breath away. 

He teaches literature, poetics, philosophy, history, all of the authentic Indian School. And his pupils still remember what an experience it has been for them to sit at his feet and hear him discourse on diverse subjects. They recall how inspiring and illuminating his expositions used to be, how original and profound, how absorbing and entrancing. He goes to the core of his subject and takes his pupils with him so that the teacher and the taught sit for hours equally immersed. To read with him is to be absorbed in the Infinite. 

But it cannot long continue. A day dawns when he can neither teach nor worshp nor do any of the allocated duties of a Brahmin. Samadhi sucks him in whenever he is out to read a line or utter a Mantra. Work or karma drops from him. He cannot perform any of the mandatory duties, for, as soon as he starts, he is stilled and frozen, locked in Samadhi. 

Life has the sense to leave one who is above it. Life withdraws and from a respectable distance leaves the Master’s feet and devoutly does him obeisance. 1936-37. His name changes. From Probodh Chandra Chattopadhyaya – that was the Master’s original name – he becomes Sitaramdas Onkar Nath. Sitaram has been the name given him by his guru Srimad Dasarathi Deva Jogeshwara and Onkar Nath is the Name that descends from above and solicits the favour of his acceptance. The last day of the Bengali year 1343, April 13, 1937. He assumes Manu or total silence in his Ashram at Puri, vowing to shed the body in Nirvikalpa Samadhi (Indeterminate Ecstasy) unless God appears in visible form and commissions him to undertake His own work on His behalf. He comes, the Lord Jagannath His resplendent form encircled in aureole and says, “Go and give the Name to the World.” To that task therefore he dedicates himself. His own untiring mission since then has been to give the Name; to preach in and scatter it broadcast, to fill the world with it and bliss. 

Now after twenty years he waits, as he says, for yet another interview with God. Ostensibly with that end in view, he has been in total silence and seclusion in his little Ashram at Onkareshwar which is on the Narmada in Madhya Pradesh. But for what should he desire this another meeting with God? The obvious fact about him, as he himself admits, is that he cannot descend to a longing for a meeting. Ceaselessly in tune with the Infinite, he feels no ache in the heart to meet God, One has to long for a meeting before it can come about and this longing he cannot arouse in himself. Yet he waits ostensibly for the purpose. The mystery of it seems altogether baffling. 

One little episode may not be amiss in this connection. It is at Nagpur, in early January 1956, a few weeks before his retirement to Onkareswara for Mauna. A big merchant of Nagpur visits him with his wife, his humble prayer being that the master may kindly instruct her as to the best way of life for her. The Master teaches her a good, but he studiously avoids the point which he is never tired of re-iterating to ladies – namely the duty of implicit obedience and devotion which the wife owes to the husband. And the fun of the situation is that the gentleman has taken his wife to the Mater with the precise hope that he would enjoin on her a strict obedience to her husband. The poor man throws many a hint but the master chooses to advise beside that point. The disappointed husband keeps glum for sometime. Meanwhile the Master has been talking to Judge of the local High Court and in course of his discourse he chances to observe that God does exist. In fact and can be seen face to face. Than the annoyed husband puts in a little sharply, “But, Sir, have you seen Ram-ji?” “I? Not I,” replies the master, “How can I? When I go to see Ram, I become transformed into Ram.” That is not the way that the Master ordinarily speaks, but it is perplexing from more than one point of view. As we know, he has seen God at least thrice. Why then this this “Not I?” Does he refer to his present position? If so, why should he wait for a meeting, when he knows that he cannot drag himself down to the requisite level? Mystery : Thy name is the Master. 

The saint of Dumurdaha
by Kinkar Bhumanandaji

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