Glimpses of Holy Lives
1908 or 1909, Mahendranath Datta, writes, he was staying at
Ramakrishna Mission Sevashrama, Vrindaban. The Sevashrama,
which was then located on the banks of the Yamuna, consisted
of a few small mud houses with tin roofing. Since it was a
sevashrama, not just a hospital, special attention was given
to making the patients feel at home. The idea was that more
than the medical treatment it was the caring attitude of the
nurses that restored patients to health. Here Mahendranath
would sit by the patients’ beds and engage them in light talk
in order to divert their minds away from their suffering.
of the patients at the Sevashrama were simple-hearted Vaishnava
sadhus and Mahendranath made acquaintance with a number of
them. None of them, however, attracted him as much as a thin,
dark-complexioned sadhu did. Every sentence that this sadhu
spoke was so sweet and full of humility. It was as if the
sadhu’s heart was brimming with love but he lacked the ability
to express it fully - as if a lamp was burning brightly inside
but did not show through adequately. Mahendranath would feel
happy whenever he talked to this sadhu. Within a few days
of his arrival a close bond was established between the sadhu
and the Sevashrama workers - so much so that they almost forgot
that he was a sadhu and began to treat him like a member of
their own family.
sadhu’s name was Kishandasji; he belonged to the Ramanuja
as a community are very fastidious in matters of food and
drink, and the Ramanuja sect was doubly so. When Kishandasji
returned to his ashrama after getting well he was obliged
to go through a ritual of ‘purification’ for having stayed
at the Sevashrama, where he could not have been strict about
what he ate and from whose hands! What was the penance? Poor
Kishandasji had to give a feast to the sadhus of his ashrama.
He had no choice but to accept the ruling handed down to him
before he could return to his community.
But Kishandasji felt deeply hurt. The feast he gave was not
an occasion for joy; it was a kind of punishment. If truth
be told, Kishandasji himself was a strict Vaishnava sadhu.
But he was a spiritually developed soul too. Probably he was
just ripe for a major transformation in his attitude. During
his month-long stay at the Sevashrama a palpable change had
come over him. He had appreciated and enjoyed the liberal
outlook of the people at the Sevashrama, and because of their
loving service his own squeamishness about food and drink
had dissolved. He now disliked fanaticism of any kind. In
other words, he had outgrown the stage where rules and regulations
was a staunch devotee of Rama, but he now developed an equal
devotion to Sri Ramakrishna also thanks to his stay in the
Sevashrama. He began to visit the place regularly and offer
flowers and garlands at the shrine. He had a secret desire
to offer some sweets too but did not have the money.
day somebody gave him five paise as alms. Kishandasji went
to the Sevashrama and, handing over the coin at the shrine,
said that he wished to offer some sweets to Sri Ramakrishna.
But five paise was a negligible amount of money. ‘You don’t
have to pay us for the offering,’ he was told. ‘Keep the money.
We will offer something to Thakur in your name.’ Kishandasji
was sad beyond words. With folded hands he uttered, ‘I am
such an unfortunate soul that Thakur will not accept my offering!’
Mahendranath and his colleagues came to their senses: ‘Are
we not all equal in God’s eyes? Does God distinguish between
rich and poor? Indeed, that person who has devotion for His
lotus feet is rich, and whoever lacks that is poor!’ Then
they said: ‘It is all right, Kishanji, your money is accepted.
Now let us know what you want to offer.’ Kishandasji expressed
his wish. ‘All right, it will be offered to Thakur tomorrow
evening, and you too will have your prasad here. Whatever
else needs to go with your offering will be provided from
the ashrama; you need have no compunctions about it.’
this incident Kishandasji grew even more close to the Sevashrama
and his visits increased in frequency.
pushpam, phalam, toyam …
the love of God will come, as a sure effect, the love of
every one in the universe. The nearer we approach God, the
more do we begin to see that all things are in Him. When
the soul succeeds in appropriating the bliss of this supreme
love, it also begins to see Him in everything. Our heart
will thus become an eternal fountain of love. And when we
reach even higher states of this love, all the little differences
between the things of the world are entirely lost; man is
seen no more as man, but only as God … Evam sarveshu
bhuteshu bhaktiravyabhicarini; Kartavya panditairjnatva
sarvabhutamayam harim. - ’Knowing that Hari, the Lord,
is in every being, the wise have thus to manifest unswerving
love towards all beings.’
life is an illustration of the above-quoted words of Swami
India experiences blazing summers with hot winds blowing across
the plains. Then places like Vrindaban become positively fiery.
In those days drinking water was a problem during the season,
especially along the Mathura-Vrindaban highway, since all
the wells were situated well off the road inside villages.
In order to relieve the thirst of pilgrims, well-to-do people
of the area used to provide drinking water for them. Usually
a young brahmin boy or a brahmin widow was entrusted with
the job of dispensing cool water from a barrel placed outside
the house by the roadside. This practice of providing cool
drinking water to weary pilgrims was known as piya.
summer Kishandasji desired to keep a piya himself and serve
the pilgrims. But where was he to get the money for a barrel?
He was too poor to serve others! Moreover, his residence -
if one could call it that - was quite a distance from the
highway. But love surmounts all obstacles. Kishandasji would
fetch water from a distant well in a jar and, sitting by the
road, would call the passers-by affectionately and offer them
cool, sweet water. Obviously, he had to make several trips
to the well each day in the burning sun! So great was Kishandasji’s
humility and sincerity, so deep his feeling for others, that
onlookers could feel that he was worshipping God Himself.
one afternoon Mahendranath and a few of his friends were out
for a walk. A little beyond the Govindji temple they spotted
Kishandasji, who was very happy to give them a drink of water
from his jar. Mahendranath felt blessed. After having his
drink he sprinkled a few drops of that water on his head,
as he would do with Ganga water!
may not be much of a story. Two short paragraphs is all it
takes to describe Kishandasji’s attitude of service. But as
Swami Vivekananda says: ‘If you cannot see God in the human
face, how can you see him in the clouds, or in images made
of dull, dead matter, or in mere fictitious stories of our
brain? I shall call you religious from the day you begin to
see God in men and women.’ It is significant that these words
occur in his second lecture on ‘Practical Vedanta’.