[Published in Vicharasetu – September 1990. The author Ma Gurupriya was then ‘Ratnadeepa’]
Soon after the morning programme at the outer shrine, I entered the pooja-room inside, with the basket of flowers. This is the room where Mataji used to do pooja. A very quiet and serene place – blissful too. In this room, at one corner stands Krishna, the Gopala Choodaamani, an idol made of clay. Blue in color, with both hands placed at the hips, eyes twinkling and lips wearing a sweet enquiring smile – a ‘nayana-manohara moorti’ indeed! And how happy one feels looking at him – will he start talking, one may wonder!
I have a habit of talking to the Lord in my mind; and in doing so I feel Him so close to my heart! Holding the basket in hand, I asked: “ O my ‘pet’ (this is the nick-name by which I call my Lord! Actually I call Him ‘poshaa’ which, in Bengali, means ‘the pet’), which flower do you want me to offer today and where? Shall I place it at your feet?”
My heart felt that he did not want it at his feet, but right on his head, close to the peacock-feather; he wanted me to decorate him. I chose two hibiscus petals – light pink with dark red tinge at the centre – and placed them symmetrically on his head. He was not satisfied and wanted me to place more. One after another I placed six petals beautifully, but the ‘little one’ was pointing at the basket insisting on a bunch of tulasi too. I did so and exclaimed, “Oh! You look beautiful”, only to find that with swollen lips he was asking for something more – not petals, but a whole flower, to be put over the tulasi bunch.
I searched and could find none. So I said: “ Stop now. Let me offer flowers to others. Don’t you know I have enough work waiting for me? How long can I play with you?” I diverted my attention to other pictures and idols. And lo, while offering flowers to Guruvayurappan, suddenly I found a small white flower in the basket. Immediately I knew that my ‘tender one’ was weeping for this all along! I placed the flower beautifully on the tulasi bunch and smiled. “Oh naughty one! You know how to get your wish fulfilled. Yes, now you look extremely beautiful.” He kept his hands firmly on the hips and replied: “ Did I not tell you?”
“Let me call your Sankarnarayandada (dada means elder brother)”, I murmured, “and show him how you have decorated yourself with the flowers he chose so lovingly from the garden. He will feel happy; wouldn’t he?”
I went out to call Sankarnarayan – one of our inmates, a young man, humble, devoted and pious. I called Tulasidas also – a young boy, a local resident. Tulasidas has been coming to the Ashram for the last one year, everyday. He comes punctually at 6:30 AM and leaves by 7:30 AM to go for his work, to a tyre-moulding shop. Sundays and holidays he spends in the Ashram. A very pleasing boy. Seeing his readiness to serve, Swamiji lovingly calls him ‘Hanumaan’. He is an unquestioning bhakta. We feel happy and delighted to see his sincerity and urge to learn.
Both Sankarnarayan and Tulasi felt immensely delighted seeing this Krishna. I narrated to them how it happened – my conversation with my ‘beloved child’ and his loving insistence. Sankarnarayan gazed in awe – “This is bhakti, isn’t it?” Tulasidas, who could not follow fully what I had been talking (he does not know English well enough), wanted Sankarnarayan to translate in Malayalam. His eyes too became shining, the smile radiated purity, as he listened to the narration. I wondered whether it touched their minds and hearts!
In Tune with Nature
I was telling them how, when I roamed about in the garden, this Krishna would some times draw my attention to a particular flower and beg and plead to have it. Some days I give; some other days I scold him saying: “ Don’t you see how nice the flower is in its mother’s lap? Why do you want to snatch it?”
Immediately I would remember the song by Kazi Nazrul Islam – the famous Bengali poet. Looking at the red hibiscus offered at Kali’s feet, the poet sings: “By what great saadhana, O flower, you have attained the Mother’s lotus feet? …” Yes, it is true. When the flower basket comes close to the flowering plants, the flowers start whispering: “Take me, take me and offer at the Lord’s lotus-feet!” As if they are born for that purpose.
I called Aroopji (now Swami Nirviseshananda Tirtha – ed.) and Swamiji and narrated everything all over again. Swamiji said: “This is real bhakti. It should be like this.” Then he turned to Aroopji and asked: “Don’t you have any such feelings?” He said, “Yes”. I joined in affirmation. Both of us have similar feelings and emotions in this respect. Swamiji said: “You should write all these.” Then he continued: “ … For you, it is in placing flowers, but for me it is in all work that I take up, right from constructing buildings or furniture.”
I nodded enthusiastically and said: “Long back, I had read in one of the conversations of The Mother of Sri Aurobindo Ashram that even furniture have feelings; if they are not looked after properly, they sigh. That had inspired us to look after them, the so-called insentient beings, also. And later we found that they too call out for love and care.”
Swamiji had moved to his table in the front verandah. He wanted to reply a few letters. I asked: “Swamiji, do you know when we praise a flower, its beauty, the flower becomes extremely happy? It can be seen!”
- “ No, I never knew about it”
- “Yes, ” Aroopji said, “ they feel happy and proud and stretch out their petals in response."
- “ Is it! You should show it to me one day. All of us will come.”
I have always loved Nature, and this love had grown quietly through numerous songs of Rabindranath Tagore – especially the songs on Pooja and Prakriti. This dormant love blossomed forth while I was in Kharagpur. Life in Kharagpur IIT campus brought me closer to Nature – very close and intimate. The open fields and the distant horizon, the sky, the clouds and the seasons, the rains and norwesters, the huge shady trees and the fragrant flowers, the butterflies, birds, squirrels and other animals – everything brought the unseen Creator close to my heart, purifying me, sublimating me with the touch of His vastness and beauty.
On one hand, He was this vastness, this infinitude, and on the other He was a ‘dear little child’ playing and talking to me.
My Pet from the Himalayas
Before we went to Amarnath in 1982, I had a desire to bring a Sivalinga from there. But when we reached Amarnath, I was so full with my experience and so miserable with cold that I forgot everything else.
While coming down, Aroopji asked me – “What about your Sivalinga?” Then he took out from his pocket an oval stone he had picked up from Amarganga – the ice-cold stream flowing down from the cave. He told me that initially he had taken another stone, but immediately his attention was drawn to this one; peeping out from water it was whispering: “Take me, take me please!” The stone that was greenish white at Amarnath turned almost black at the valley.
We brought it home and somehow managed to keep it erect by giving a support. This was our Sivalinga. Soon we found, it had all the lakshanas (features) of a Narayana-sila.
I would give it abhisheka with water and put candana-tilakam. Those days we were in Kolkata and I was teaching in a college. I had little time in the morning and had not grown so much love for spending more time doing pooja. Now with the arrival of the Sivalinga, slowly I started growing interest. On a small stool in one corner of the room, I placed Baba’s and Swamiji’s photos – and also the Sivalinga. I started liking spending some time there regularly. Till then I was not regular in my devotional practices.
Belur Math and Copper Vessels
It was then that once, when we visited Belur Math, as we entered the big prayer hall and walked up to the idol of Sri Ramakrishna Dev, I was wonder-struck seeing something near his feet. It was a big copper vessel. The vessel was cleaned so well that it was shining with a pink lustre. And at the centre of it, there was a big red hibiscus. It was such a pure sight! Purity was radiating from the bowl as well as the flower. Not only purity, it was bliss too. I bought a copper bowl – a smaller one – from Dakshineshwar and came home.
Next day I cleaned that vessel, made it shine spotlessly and placed it on the pooja aasana. We had no hibiscus; not even other flowers to place there.
Seeing my interest my mother gave me a copper-pot which she had brought from Vrindavan and a brass plate which my grandmother had brought from Varanasi long ago. All these I started cleaning and shining everyday before offering abhisheka to the Sivalinga. This became an important part of my spiritual practice, and gradually I started growing a deep fondness for it.
While cleaning the vessels I used to murmur in my mind what Sri Ramakrishna had said: “Just as copper and brass vessels become stained if not cleaned well everyday, the mind too has to be cleaned everyday to keep it pure.” I would not allow even a small stain on my vessels, and while doing so would think – the mind also has to be cleaned so well. I used to remember the words of Sarada Ma also; she used to pray to god: “ Even moon has a little stain on it. Let not my mind have even that.”
Harmony through Flowers
On Sundays, a lady used to bring marigold garlands to sell. Those days I was able to place flowers on the copper plate. I had seen in Sri Aurobindo Ashram (Pondicherry) how beautifully the shrine used to be decorated with flowers. The ladies who did this were able to bring out beautiful designs effortlessly with whatever flowers were available. I wondered, where from have they learnt this art, not knowing that it comes from the heart. It comes as an offering. I too wanted to make designs with flowers surrounding the Sivalinga, but found myself a complete failure. However, I kept on trying.
Very soon, we moved to Kharagpur. And Lord, seeing my desire to offer Him flowers, gifted me a garden. My joy knew no bounds when first time I plucked a hibiscus and placed it on the shining copper plate at the feet of the Sivalinga. Aroopji and myself both gazed with awe – at the purity. The same touch of purity we used to feel looking at dew drops on white flowers, dew drops on soft grass blades.
This was the time the Sivalinga started becoming a small Krishna and both of us started calling it ‘Poshaa’ (The Bengali word for ‘pet’). I used to wrap white Mandaara petals round his waist as if to make him wear a dhoti. I would tell him: “ Put on a dhoti; should you remain naked?” Gopala would dance and clap in joy.
I had not left my job in Calcutta till then and I used to come to Kharagpur only during weekends and vacations. Once Aroopji wrote to me: “Both of us feel lonely and miserable – myself and your little child. He would not accept Mandaara-dhoti from me – keeps on falling flat on the floor; spreading his legs he cries and calls: “Come Mother, come!”
That weekend when I came and wrapped a petal around his waist he did not fall but looked so happy and bright!
Very soon I left my job and came away to Kharagpur. Swamiji had told me to leave the job and not to get employed again. He advised me to utilize the time for saadhana, especially in reading Sreemad Bhaagavatam. My saadhana of cleaning and shining pooja vessels continued. By that time I had acquired a small brass lamp which I used to clean spotlessly everyday and light. The unwavering flame always reminded me of ‘aspiration’ – mind’s aspiration for God.
Slowly I discovered that my flower offering was also coming from my heart effortlessly. Beautiful designs were made from whatever flowers had been collected. The designs would get formed spontaneously and be completed perfectly with the last flower in the basket. As the flowers used to get arranged by my hand, the mind also would get arranged and become peaceful. I could feel a harmony, a purity. There used to be a cool soothing feeling on the eyelids.
He Grows in My Mind
The Sivalinga was playing the role of Siva as well as Krishna. To us, it had become a living entity. Whenever we would go to Jamshedpur to my in-laws during pooja vacation, he would come with us. He would cry bitterly if there was any thought at all of leaving him behind. And wherever he went he was liked by everybody; may be because of our love for ‘him’ – ‘he’ who was growing in our minds like a child soaking the heart and mind with vaatsalya (tenderness and affection).
In moments of despair, despondency and disinterestedness, he used to embrace me putting his hands round my neck trying to console me. Sometimes I would stare and stare at the ‘stone’ and wonder: “Who are you really? How are you able to generate this blissful bhaava in my heart?”
Once I thought I would make a silver snake for him to put on his head. Aroopji did not like the idea. A few days later we happened to visit Jamshedpur. My sister-in-law expressed that for long she had a wish to offer a silver snake to our ‘pet’; she asked for our permission now. That very evening, our ‘pet’ stood proudly decorated with the new ornamental hood projecting over his head. With a victorious smile he asked: “Am I not looking nice?” “Beautiful!” I laughed at his cunningness and told him: “ So, you really wanted to have a silver snake and also knew very well how to get it!”
Now I understand the role played by this ‘pet’ of mine in making me regular in devotional practices, apart from generating very subtle and sublime emotions in the heart which had drawn me closer to the Indweller. If I was lazy someday and was late in giving him bath, he would start weeping. That would make me think: “I am lazy today, but still I myself have taken bath; how can I then justify my not giving bath to him!” If I were busy I would say to myself: “Inspite of my busy schedule I have not forgone my bath or food; how can I then skip his?” These emotions helped me get out of tamas.
At the same time, I felt so very near to this ‘dear one’ and developed such freedom that on the extremely busy days I would somehow give him a bath, put a tilak on his forehead, offer flowers and say: “Be satisfied with this. Don’t you see how much work I have?” Or I would say: “No tilak for you today. It serves you right for making me get up late!”
The Significant Transition
We joined the Ashram in May 1987. The main reasons for our coming away was (i) the persistent feeling of purposelessness in pursuing the professional and household life, (ii) the indispensable urge to pursue spirituality exclusively, and (iii) to be in close association of the Guru and to serve him. Especially, serving Swamiji, Mataji and the Ashram became an urgent need too.
As soon as we came, our hands were full with responsibilities. For, that was the time Mataji’s health started deteriorating and she was unable to look after the Ashram affairs. Right from early hours of morning we remained busy till late night except for a short rest in the afternoon. I used to get tired, and however much I wished, could not get up sufficiently early to give abhisheka to the ‘little one’ and offer him flowers. Somehow I would take bath and rush to the Ashram where all the domestic chores would be waiting for me.
It was no doubt painful initially not being able to look after my dear ‘pet’! But within a few days he himself consoled me and made me understand that one phase of my saadhana was over.
One day while I was cleaning the shrine, suddenly my eyes were attracted to the Krishna idol there. With a charming smile he was saying: “Am I different?” It resonated in my heart. I understood and told my Gopala: “Oh! You are satisfied being worshipped here! So, no need now for me to do pooja for you separately; is it not so?”
This is how a saadhaka lives and outlives the devotional practices. At one time these are necessary, but with the dawn of understanding, they become redundant too. My ‘pet’ revealed to me the truth of our relationship. He did not bind me to his material form, but at the same time he has not left me. He lives and moves with me always, my closest companion; he remains in my heart. Even now, some of the days he nods his head violently and pesters me to give him ‘abhisheka’. Those days I do. Some days, he would draw my attention to some flower that whispers: “I have blossomed today for your pet. Please take me to his feet.” Happily I bring that flower to him.
God and Guru Became One
Of all the work I did, I liked my service to Swamiji – cooking his food and serving, washing his utensils, making his bed, looking after his clothes and dyeing them in ochre whenever necessary, finding his misplaced spectacles and pens a hundred times a day. I would stand and wait eagerly, ready to be of any service whatsoever. We would be waiting till Swamiji retired for rest, thinking – if he needs something!
While in Kharagpur, we were in close association with Swami Nihsreyasananda Puri Maharaj of Kailash Ashram (Rishikesh), and his disciples. Swamiji was brought from Uttarkasi to Kharagpur by his disciples to enable them to look after his deteriorating health. Seeing the untiring, devoted service of a couple Pannadada and Shukladidi and also of a Brahmacharin disciple Kasidada to their Guru, I often felt: “Will I ever have an opportunity to serve my Guru like this?” Immediately after coming to the Ashram when I got the opportunity I thought it to be a rare fortune. Even now, every moment I feel I am blessed.
This was a revelation. Service to Swamiji which gave pleasure was till then a service to a person whom I loved and adored. Slowly and unknowingly the mind started taking a turn until one day I had a realisation.
It was just before the Delhi Jnaana Yajna. Swamiji was to leave for Delhi within two or three days. I had just recovered from fever and was very weak. I wanted to dye a few sets of clothes before he left. I had very little strength in me to proceed with the dyeing, but still I started. I was getting tired and was taking rest in between when suddenly this realisation dawned:
“Why am I dyeing his clothes? I want him to look bright and beautiful wearing newly dyed clothes, while he speaks from the platform. Previously I was making my idol wear a mandaara-dhoti, plucking a flower and decorating with my hand. Now these hands are dyeing dhotis for a living Lord to wear. Is it not exactly the same? I used to offer flowers, and now am I not offering flowers in the form of service to a living Lord?”
God and Guru became one. I remained overwhelmed with this realization.
I tried to become more and more perfect in my service. It was not easy. To serve an Idol, to offer flowers at its feet is easy; because the idol will neither praise nor criticize. But the living Lord, the Guru, will definitely try to correct the disciple, make comments, give his views and also admonish whenever necessary. The ego, the likes and dislikes, and the surrender are put to test only then.