"After our youngest son had seen Star Wars for the twelfth or thirteenth time, I said, "Why do you go so often?" He said, "For the same reason you have been reading the Old Testament all of your life." He was in a new world of myth." Bill Moyers, interview with Joseph Campbell













PRABUDDHA BHARATAPrabuddha Bharata | February 2005  





                Glimpses of Holy Lives

           Sadhu Mathuradas

     Many Indians think that the age of the saints is long over, that their country no longer produces saints. However, the belief is largely unfounded. How does a man find a saint if he is not looking for one? One cannot walk into a saint, surely! If only people were genuinely interested in spiritual life and deserved holy company, there is no doubt that they would, sooner or later, find themselves living with saints. As a matter of fact, there have been many who took the trouble to find what they were looking for. Mahendranath Datta, Swami Vivekananda's younger brother, was one such - and he came across not one but several saints, all of whom had attained to a state so high that to them the injunctions and prohibitions of society were meaningless. These exalted souls, embodiments of religion and spirituality, are the 'salt of the earth'. Whether we realize it or not, they are the conscience of our society. In order to make it known that such spiritual giants still lived and walked the length and breadth of India, Mahendranath recorded his experiences in a small Bengali book, Sadhu-chatushtay. What follows is a retelling of his account.

               ~ ~ ~

     Kankhal, March 1924. As Mahendranath sat on a wooden bench in the courtyard of Ramakrishna Mission Sevashrama enjoying his early morning smoke, an old sadhu arrived and sat down beside him. Even for a sadhu, he was quite unkempt: his shock of grey hair was untidy and a sparse beard grew on his cheeks. Except for a narrow kaupina he wore nothing. Mahendranath looked at the sadhu questioningly and was rewarded with a toothless grin. The sadhu looked quite strong for his age; he seemed to be a Punjabi.

     Not showing any further interest, Mahendranath turned his attention to his hookah. He had only taken a few puffs when, without warning, the sadhu tried to grab the pipe from his hand. Startled, Mahendranath withdrew his hand just in time, and then, without showing surprise - or any courtesy to the sadhu - continued with his smoking. And the sadhu sat there looking like a small boy in a sulk.

     After some time, Swami Kalyananandaji, the head of the Sevashrama, entered the courtyard accompanied by Swami Nischayanandaji. Both of them were disciples of Swami Vivekananda. The sadhu walked up to them and, at the end of a fairly long conversation on nothing in particular, left the place.

     When the sadhu had gone away, some workers of the Sevashrama, who had been watching all this from a distance, approached Mahendranath and asked, 'Mathuradasji just wanted a smoke, but why did you refuse him?' They sounded as though he had made a very grave error. But Mahendranath saw things differently: how could he, a Bengali who ate fish and meat, have let a sadhu smoke from a pipe he was using?

     Be that as it may, Mahendranath came to know the identity of the sadhu. Mathuradasji was a highly revered monk in Hardwar and commanded great respect from Sevashrama workers. Countless sadhus lived in temples and monasteries that dotted the holy city of Hardwar, and all of them came to the Sevashrama for medical treatment. None of them, however, enjoyed the honour that was accorded to Mathuradasji.

     Three or four days later the sadhu again came to the Sevashrama. This time there were other people sitting in the courtyard smoking. But the sadhu made straight for Mahendranath. Something in Mahendranath's hookah seemed to have cast a spell on him. But Mahendranath's manner was still cold and distant. After waiting for a while, the sadhu made a long pipe from the stem of a banana leaf and, sticking it into the hookah bowl without asking, began to smoke, looking at the pipe intently all the while. This time also not a word passed between the two.

     Mahendranath watched the sadhu's behaviour minutely. He had seen too many sadhus to be easily taken in. Most of them were common gossips, unashamedly money-minded, and not a few were embroiled in ashrama politics and other such controversies; some were even litigious! Mahendranath would have nothing to do with their ilk. He preferred to be alone rather than in such 'holy' company.


     Who Is a Paramahamsa?


     Mathuradasji, however, was different. He was entirely artless, unworldly. There was absolutely no attempt at impressing others. The more Mahendranath observed him, the more Mathuradasji's childlike simplicity stood out. Everything about him was so natural and yet he seemed strangely untouched by the world. When he was not talking, the sadhu sat silently, his serene gaze fixed on something deep within himself. At such times he looked detached from his surroundings. Then he would exchange a few words with others and go away just as he had come. He walked with a spring in his step, like a cheerful boy.

     'Where does this sadhu live?' Mahendranath enquired of some young men at the Sevashrama. 'Near Satikund,' they replied. 'There is an abandoned hut at the edge of the lake.' 'Where is Satikund?' 'You have to cross the small canal behind the ashrama and go beyond the large patch of jungle on the other side. It is quite a distance from here. The place is as inaccessible as it is inhospitable, the whole area overgrown with thick forest and tangled vegetation. Even the lake is rimmed with thorny bushes and dries up in summer.' 'So he lives in that hut?' 'Yes, Mathuradasji sleeps there at night. He doesn't need a bed; the bare floor is good enough for him. Why, the hut doesn't even have doors or windows.' 'Then what does he do in winter, how does he keep himself warm? Winters are so cold here.' 'Summer or winter, Mathuradasji doesn't seem to feel the difference. We have never seen him use a shred of cloth other than his kaupina, let alone a blanket! He just lies down on the floor and goes to sleep. It doesn't bother him whether it is burning hot or freezing cold.' 'And where does he eat?' 'Mathuradasji doesn't go about with a begging bowl, nor does he eat at almshouses or ashramas. He accepts only what is offered with love and affection.' Mahendranath was impressed.

     A few days had passed. Mathuradasji returned to the Sevashrama once again at mid-morning and found Mahendranath sitting on the bench dragging on his hookah! This was their third meeting. Without a hint of inhibition, Mathuradasji sat next to Mahendranath and reached for the pipe. Mahendranath did not resist this time, but wiped the pipe clean before Mathuradasji put it to his mouth. The ice was broken. 'Well, well,' said Mahendranath, 'have your smoke, sir. I am an aghori, and so are you. Go ahead, enjoy yourself.' (Aghoris are a Shaiva sect to whom nothing is horrible. Mahendranath used the term because he ate fish and meat, and Mathuradasji was above the notions of cleanliness and uncleanliness.) Others joined in: 'So Mathuradasji got his hookah at last! Carry on, have a nice time.' But Mathuradasji was in no mood for talk. He busied himself with the pipe, jiggling his knees as he sat on the bench. After several long puffs, his mouth split in a broad smile and he looked as happy as a boy who had won a bet. When he had satisfied himself thoroughly, Mathuradasji rose to his feet and walked away.

     (To be continued)

International Yoga Day 21 June 2015
International Yoga Day 21 June 2015









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