I was going to meet this lady, my husband’s friend for the first time in my life. Though originally from Kotagiri, Tamil Nadu, she came from Muscat, which was her home now. This was her first visit to Kolkata to participate in the inauguration ceremony of a hospital. She wanted to visit Dakshineshwara Temple and Belur Math and I volunteered my company gladly.
I knew she would have large eyes, typical of South Indian beauties, but that her face would beam with such light and energy I couldn’t have imagined.
“Hi! So you are my guide today?” Prabha asked with a warm smile as we introduced ourselves.
The car sped its way towards the temple while I discussed the day’s plan with our driver in Bengali, a language completely Greek to my guest. Even the Hindi that she knew was in bits and pieces. Within twenty minutes we reached Dakshineshwar and with the help of special permission, we drove through the army quarters that saved us from walking too much.
“Do you come here frequently?”, she asked.
“Not exactly. I am not a religious person, more spiritual you can say”, I replied trying to give an explanation as to why I am not a regular visitor to a pilgrimage so close to my house when people from all over the world flock here for blessings.
“Well, even I want to visit these places in search of spirituality” Prabha replied descending down the car. Her crisp white salwar kameez, a pair of pearl drop in her ears and a small diamond bindi was simply perfect for a temple visit.
“Aunty, do you want to worship Goddess Kali or just go around the temple?” Sonjoy, the boy who came with us to help asked. He was in his twenties and Prabha found it funny that he was addressing us as “Aunty”. I told her that it is usual in Kolkata to address people older to you as “Aunty” and “Uncle”. It’s a way of respect and no way suggests that you are old enough to be called so.
The process of worshipping God, once upon a time, meant sitting or standing in front of the deity with your hands clasped in prayer and meditating for a while. But, with time and situations where the number of devotees is in thousands per day, the methods of worship have changed drastically. Now, you are allotted a meagre ten seconds to convey your wishes to God, after you have stood in the queue for nearly fifteen to thirty minutes depending on the rush. And if you try to steal few more minutes, you would be shooed out by the pujaris as if you are a trespasser.
But to my utter surprise, my Muscat resident friend knew the ways of the temple. She adamantly stood with her eyes closed ignoring the chants of ‘Move ahead’ and ‘keep moving’ that the pujaris uttered making faces at her.
“What to do? We have to accommodate everybody. Can’t you see there are so many people waiting behind you? They all have come from near and far for a glimpse of Maa”, the assistant pujari scowled at me before pushing us ahead like a cattle herd.
“You can sit in the next building and pray to God Kali from there if you want”, Sonjoy told us.
“No. I am, in fact, interested in meditating inside the room where Ramakrishna Paramhansa lived and meditated while at the temple complex” Prabha replied.
At the end of the courtyard, a board outside the door of the room of Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa read, “Please switch off mobile and do not talk inside the room”. Two beds lay side by side with pictures of Shri Ramakrishna on them. The lower one was his day bed, while he slept at the higher one. We found an empty place amidst devotees and sat on the ground. My companion fell into deep Zen within few seconds, but I struggled. I have been trying to meditate since long but I think I am yet to learn the art.
I finally opened my eyes and started observing the room. The establishment is more than one hundred and fifty years old. The ceiling had metal beams. A fan circulated air mixed with the smell of agar-Battis, flowers and peda. Three wooden frames of Sarada Ma, his wife, Swami Vivekananda his ardent disciple and Rani Rashmoni, the founder of the temple hung above his bed. On the wall, there was a large wooden panel that housed numerous picture frames. All around the walls near the ceiling, pictures of eminent people of the society of his time hung. They all must have been his devotees. But I was surprised to find the picture of Madonna with a child amongst the frames of Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Sister Nivedita. Also, on the panel, there was a picture of an angel. This looked a little strange to me. Seldom have I seen one religion in harmony with another.
“He was no God from gospels. He was a man of flesh and blood. But it is said…………………” Someone was reading a book of the gospel about Paramhansa and Vivekananda just outside the window of the room. The lady behind us was crying. Many others were sobbing. Some came with flowers and fruits which the priests divided and placed in front of the two photographs of Ramakrishna. I was not able to meditate but I felt it was possible to spend an entire day watching the spiritual activities around me.
From there we went to the Panchavati garden where Ramakrishna used to pray under a tree. We spotted the tree from far as it looked the greenest as well as the cleanest. We sat on a round pedestal under the tree for some time discussing how amazing it would have been for Shri Ramakrishna to meditate amidst such greenery and in front of the river.
Sonjoy had arranged for a boat ride across the Ganges to Belur Math. The idea delighted both of us and we happily hopped in. Hunger had set in and we took the opportunity to satisfy it with fruits, popcorn and coconut water.
It was a low tide and teenage kids were seen collecting coins that people throw from the bridge right in the middle of the river. Though it was hot the breeze felt cool.
“Take away your sunglasses. You have beautiful eyes”, I told Prabha while taking a selfie. She then moved to the other side to take pictures of old temples at the bank that weren’t so famous but were beautiful.
Belur Math looked magnificent from the river. It was decorated with flowers. The boat rower told us that it was Ramakrishna’s birthday today.
“What a wonderful coincidence that we are here today!”, Prabha exclaimed.
“When he was born his parents had dreamt that he is an incarnation of God. Hence, they named his Gadadhar”, she added. I was surprised to find that she knew more than me about the saints of my birthplace.
The place was buzzing with devotees. Devotional songs blared from the loudspeakers. We looked at each other. Both of us hated crowded places. And to connect with God you need a peaceful environment. Prabh denied entering the main shrine where people went pushing each other to get a glimpse of their Guru’s statue on the day of his birth. She found an empty chair under a shade and sat there. Being in the complex was good enough she said. I too found an empty space at the temple staircase and settled there watching Prabha as she lulled into sleep within minutes. She was tired, I could make out. Requesting Sonjoy to keep an eye on her, I looked around for a better place. It was a big complex and housed many small temples. I soon found a temple where the sun wasn’t so merciful, climbed stairs and sat on the edge of it with a broad pillar to support my tired back.
Not bad, I thought. People moved around in groups, rejoicing. For many it was a dual occasion, to worship and have a family outing. The Ganges flowed silently, witnessing all. The cold marble under me felt soothing. I closed my eyes to unwind. A devotional song calling Krishna melted in my ears. I recalled in my childhood Krishna was my favourite God. Smart, intelligent, humorous, romantic and lovable. “You don’t talk to me nowadays”, I felt Lord Krishna asking me. I grinned at my stupid thought. A sudden urge to open my eyes disturbed me. What if Sudha is looking for me? I flipped open my eyes in an instant and looked towards Prabha. She was sitting exactly the way I had left her. Her head hung in front. Her feet arched to balance her at the chair, sunglass tucked in her hands clasped in front on her lap. I relaxed back again at the pillar.
Forget what’s happening around you, why you are here and what might happen. Just close your eyes and loosen up, I told myself. I felt nice. Behind the closed eyes the devotional song pleased my senses. A soft smile of happiness stretched across my face. And then suddenly, without any plan, I told God, “I want to be a person who emits love. One who can unconditionally love every human being. Without judging I should be able to understand everybody’s pure thought behind their actions. Compassion should flow in my heart for all. And these all must happen effortlessly. No effort. I must be very happy extending love and must be able to thoroughly enjoy it.” I smiled as I said. I felt relieved as if I have been finally able to share things I wanted to. But was also amazed as to where were these thoughts stored inside me? But why can’t I meditate? I asked.
After pondering over this query, I thought that, you do meditate when you read and write. That’s also a form of meditation. Meditation is all about experiencing pleasure by losing yourself to one certain thing. And experiencing pleasure is the best way of connecting to my inner self.
Yes, I realized all this delightedly. I do get completely lost while I am reading a good book, or when I am writing. Satisfied, I thanked God. I chuckled to myself as I said “Love You God”.
“Prabha aunty is looking for you”, Sonjoy’s voice broke my reverie. But I was anyway planning to open my eyes. I had never meditated longer. I came here to guide Prabha, but was it her instead who guided me here? I wondered.