One year after joining the Ramakrishna Order at Belur Math I was posted at our
Hyderabad centre in March 1977. Since then
till April 1996 I was very fortunate to be under the loving care of Rev.
Ranganathanandaji Mj. Especially from 1987 onwards I had a rare privilege of
accompanying him wherever he traveled, first as a sevak and later as his
His magnetic personality attracted people from different strata of society, giving them inspiration, joy and encouragement. Wherever he went the place would become a center of festivity. In one of his lectures, “Ecstasy in Daily Life” he quotes this stanza: “Nitya utsavam bhavatyesham nityasri nityamangalam yesyam hridistho bhagavan mangalaayatano harih …”
“In those whose heart the infinite Lord, Hari who is the ocean of auspicious, is established, for such people everyday is a festival, every day is a good fortune, and every day is full of welfare.”
As he himself established Sri Ramakrishna and Swamiji in his heart for him every day was a joyous and auspicious day—a veritable festival. He never liked people replying, “Somehow going on”, when they were asked, “How are you doing?” The reply should be always positive.
Wherever he went he spread the messages of Sri Ramakrishna, Vivekananda and Vedanta and he stressed these messages are purifying, strengthening and universal. I believe he himself was the embodiment of purity, strength and universality. So from these points I would like to narrate some of his memoirs.
Purity may manifest itself in various forms like compassion, simplicity, humility, and openness etc.
Everybody can feel for others but only a few can really mitigate their sufferings. Rev. Maharaj used to help many needy people and also institutions doing good work. The number of such people and institutions are innumerable. Many people appealed to him for help. His responses to their request were quite quick. An example comes to my mind:
I have quite often heard from him about the service in leprosy colony in
Delhi started by women devotees. Someone told
him the plight of the women in that colony, especially a mother giving birth in
the gutter. He felt so sorry for that and immediately motivated some ladies and
organized a group. They were able to provide the needed service in the colony
which is still running to-day. Thus he could motivate people and organize such
service institutions or groups wherever he went apart from the Mission itself doing such works.
I remember another example of his concern for women Rev. Maharaj had shown. After
earthquake the Mission
decided to build houses for the affected people. Rev. Maharaj was keenly
interested in the work. When the building plan was made Rev. Maharaj came to
know that the house to be built had no toilet. Rev. Maharaj felt very sorry for
that and dictated me to write to the Swami concerned to supply a toilet in each
house and added, “if you do not build a toilet for them, I will weep.
Think of the plight of mothers and sisters when they are suffering from stomach
troubles where they will go or at night or on rainy/stormy days how they can go
out to answer the call of nature”. I was very much touched by Rev. Maharaj’s
concern for women.
Rev. Maharaj’s concern for servants’ welfare too is worthy to be mentioned. It was 1950s in
Delhi, I believe, Rev. Maharaj decided to supply fans
for servant quarters. But some feudalistic people in the ashrama thought why we
should give fans to servants. But Rev. Maharaj was quite firm in his decision
as he really felt the suffering of others. Wherever he went he treated his
servants quite well.
Many students and poor people were helped financially by Rev. Maharaj directly or indirectly. But the following case is worth mentioning:
While Rev. Maharaj was in
New Delhi he organised a charity concert by
Smt. M. S. Subbulakshmi in New Delhi
in which Prime Minister J. Nehru was the guest of honour. The money collected
was utilised for the construction of the Ashrama auditorium. Since then Rev. Maharaj
was quite close to Smt. M. S. Subbulakshmi. Whenever she visited Hyderabad centre she used
to sing in the temple or in Rev. Maharaj’s room for half an hour. She did
several charity concerts for our Missions and also had given the royalties of
her chanting and Bhajan to the Mission.
She never charged for her singing and helped many institutions to raise funds
through her concert. So when he heard that she was in financial difficulty he
felt very sorry for her. He said, “It’s very bad. She has done a lot of service
to the society.” He immediately arranged to create a fund under the name “Holy
Mother’s Blessing Fund” in Belur Math Head Quarters and from that fund some
amount used to be sent to her monthly. After a few years she informed Rev.
Maharaj that her financial condition had improved and thanked Rev. Maharaj and
also requested him to stop sending the money.
Swami Vivekananda said, “As I grow older, I find that I look more and more for greatness in little things. I want to know what a great man eats and wears, and how he speaks to his servants”. Simplicity is the sign of greatness. Rev. Maharaj ate what he could digest that too minimum necessity, yet he was always full of energy; He was quite happy with old, sometimes worn-out clothes and always treated servants with respect and care.
During meal time at Hyderabad Math he used to tell many stories—including his memoirs of Mysore, Bangalore, Burma, Karachi and New Delhi centres, etc. On such occasions we could catch a glimpse of his childlike simple and innocent nature in spite of his towering intelligence and high position. After he was proposed to be a Vice-President of the Order we inmates of the Hyderabad Math were very eager to know who would be one of the vice-presidents though we expected Rev. Maharaj to become one. After his return from Belur Math in the dining hall one of the inmates asked him who was selected to be a vice President. Then Rev. Maharaj remained silent for a while and hesitatingly said, “I feel a bit shy to tell”. Such was his lovable nature.
His life style too was very simple. His requirements were very little—nothing more than daily necessities. He never wasted things. He used to use his things till they became not fit to use. Sometimes we saw him wearing torn undershirts without allowing us to throw them away. His shoulder bag was used till the leather was worn out and its belt gave way, though many times some people wanted to purchase a new one for him. He did not have attachment to material goods, never bothered whether things are of good quality or expensive. Many a time he received nice shawls but he would give them to someone immediately, though he was using an old shawl with a small hole or two in it. One such example was when he received a shawl on the occasion of Indira Gandhi Award for National Integration. He immediately gave it to the monk in-charge of Narainpur where the Award money too was donated.
Many people think that they have their own missions in life. Rev. Maharaj was known as the foremost orator in
India and mingled with powerful and
famous people. Any other person would have been easily carried away by this
kind of name and fame, but he ever remained as a humble servant of Sri
Ramakrishna and Swamiji. Rev. Maharaj used to tell, “We do not have any
mission. Sri Ramakrishna and Swamiji had the mission. We are but their
instruments”. He also used to tell jokingly, “Do you know everybody has two
corpuscles but I have three corpuscles? If you cut my arm you will find in
blood; red, white and Swami Vivekananda corpuscles”. His life was really
centred in Sri Ramakrishna and Swamiji—Ramakrishna-Vivekananda gataprana.
He never liked secrecy. Rev. Maharaj used to quote Buddha’s saying “Tathagata does not have secrecy. Secrecy belongs to only three people -- Brahmin, thief and prostitute.” He stressed that sadhus should be open to all, no secrecy should be there. And he used to narrate how people fall down from high ideals because of secrecy. His life was impeccable, always open. When he was in
his door was always open. Everybody could approach him. That is why everybody
could find a friend in him.
Swami Vivekananda tells strength is the message of the Upanishads. Strength comes from the understanding and realization that I am Atman, not this body or mind. To him that was the core idea of practical Vedanta. Rev. Ranganathanandaji fully understood this great message and preached this message of strength in the most practical way giving us an example for applying it in day to day life. After hearing him or reading his books many lives have been changed.
I had heard from several people saying how their attitude towards life
completely transformed for the better, after attending Rev. Maharaj’s talks.
They were told by their friends to attend Rev. Maharaj’s Gita talks but at
first they were not willing to do so. Most of them thought religious talks were
boring or not applicable to them. Later somehow they were persuaded by their
friends and willy-nilly attended his talk. For most of them attending his talk
once was enough to open their eyes to understand how to live a real meaningful
life and face the challenge of life positively. Similar reactions happened in
many other places all over the world.
I want to mention two such examples. Rev. Maharaj used to talk about one such case that happened in
There was a medical doctor whose wife used to attend Rev. Maharaj’s Sunday
lecture but the doctor never attended. One evening somehow the wife persuaded
him to attend the talk. So he came with her. After the lecture both of them met
Rev. Maharaj. The doctor told him, “Maharaj, I did not know the Gita had such
wonderful ideas which are relevant to our present life. From now on I shall
surely attend your talk whether my wife may attend or not.” When Rev. Maharaj
went to Karachi
to take charge of the centre there, he met this doctor again. Then he told Rev.
Maharaj, “Maharaj, do you know how much suffering we had to undergo while
evacuating from Burma.
Many times negative thoughts came across my mind but your Gita lectures
sustained me to go through that ordeal. I was really saved by your inspiring
and encouraging message.”
Another example is that of one housewife or maid servant in rural
Bengal. When Rev. Maharaj went to give
initiation in Kalyani and Krishnnagar in Bengal
he spoke on Swamiji in Bengali. After returning to Hyderabad Rev. Maharaj
received a postcard, in which this woman wrote that she was most ordinary woman
doing household work and before she never felt confidence in herself. But after
listening to Rev. Maharaj’s talk she felt strength coming in her mind. She came
to believe that she could do something. She could be someone. Rev. Maharaj was
very happy to receive this postcard.
We read in the Chandogya Upanishad:
Yadeva vidyayaa karoti sraddhayopanisadaa tadeva veeryavattaram bhavati iti:
“Only that which is done with knowledge, faith and concentration, that alone becomes more powerful.”
Whatever Rev. Maharaj did he kept this thought in his mind and practiced it. So his whole being was a powerful dynamo. He could transmit this powerful energy to others or help others kindle Atmashraddha—conviction in oneself.
Swami Vivekananda in one of his letters to Shasi Maharaj wrote, “…Everything must be sacrificed, if necessary, for that one sentiment, universality. Whether I live or die, whether I go back to
India or not,
remember this specially, that universality--perfect acceptance, not tolerance
only--we preach and perform.”
Swami Ranganathanandaji’s speech had universal appeal. Deeply based on Sri Ramakrishna, Swamiji and Vedanta he could speak on any topic. As the title of one of his books suggests he always stressed on “Eternal Values” which are acceptable to all people irrespective of religion, race or caste. So he had friends all over the world. I can narrate a few examples:
A Kolkata Ladies Group once organised a dialog between H. H. Dalai Lama and Rev. Maharaj. H.H. Dalai Lama was quite impressed by Rev. Maharaj. So when he founded a Peace Foundation after receiving a Nobel Peace Prize, he requested Rev. Maharaj to be one of the patrons of the Foundation.
sometimes we saw Christian nuns attending his Gita talks. The archbishop of Hyderabad at that time
knew that Rev. Maharaj’s talks would benefit nuns so they were allowed to
attend his talks. Once three nuns came to see Rev. Maharaj. They had read his
booklet, “Role and Responsibility of Teachers in Building up Modern India” and
were very much impressed, so they wanted to thank him and came to seek his
One wing commander of Indian Air Force came to meet Rev. Maharaj one day. He was a Christian and had some mystical experience. After studying Indianised Christianity under Father Bede Griffith he wanted to study Vedanta. Then Rev. Ranganathanandaji appeared in his dream. So he came to see him. He became very close to Rev. Maharaj and used to address him as my Father.
Among his admirers there were quite a few Muslims. One such was Justice B. of Supreme Court. Once Rev. Maharaj was invited to speak to Supreme Court judges at a parlour meeting. Rev. Maharaj started his talk jokingly whether all the bench were present; then he asked whether Superior Court people also present, hinting the wives of judges. As usual they were very much impressed Rev. Maharaj’s speech. Justice B. was very pleased with Rev. Maharaj’s presentation and became an ardent admirer of Rev. Maharaj.
When he was in
even communists once requested Rev. Maharaj to speak at their place.
He could attract people from various strata of society. He could speak to the professors of University with ease and at the same time he could speak to students or workers or even auto-rickshaw drivers. Whosoever once heard him, they were captured by the charm, power and beauty of his speech. Not only his speech but his life too was very inspiring. He was a friend of all. One of the favorite Sanskrit words of Swamiji was “ajatashatru”; the literal meaning is one who does not have enemy. But he used to explain, “Friend is ordinary because he may have enemies, but this word ajatashatru means one is so great that his enemy is not yet born. None will become his enemy”. I believe his character was such, every body loved him and none became his enemy.
I shall end this memoir with my own experience.
While I was a pujari at Hyderabad Centre a group of Bengali devotees visited our Sri Ramakrishna temple. As Rev. Maharaj was very much particular about maintaining silence in the temple, I followed the instruction. Upon entering in the temple they started talking loudly. I was in the Thakur’s bedroom. They continued in this manner for some time so I came out and requested them to maintain silence. But they replied that nobody was there except them, so what harm was there in their talking in the temple. Hearing this answer I told them rather harshly to keep quiet as sometimes others might be meditating behind the shrine. Then they became quiet.
I had completely forgotten the matter but after a month or two suddenly Rev. Ranganathanandaji called me and told me that some devotees complained to the President of the Order that they were scolded by a brahmacharin while visiting our
temple. He questioned me whether it was true or not. I explained him in detail,
all that had happened. After hearing everything Rev. Maharaj searched a file
and took out a paper in which the following poem was written:
By David Bates
Speak gently; it is better far
To rule by love than fear
Speak gently; let no harsh words mar
The good we might do here.
Speak gently to the little child
Its love be sure to gain,
Teach it in accents soft and mild
It may not long remain,
Speak gently to the aged one,
Grieve not the careworn hear;
The sands of life are nearly run,
Let such in peace depart.
Speak gently, kindly to the poor;
Let no harsh tone be heard.
They have enough they must endure
Without an unkind word.
Speak gently to the erring; know
They must have toiled in vain;
Perchance unkindness made them so,
Oh, win them back again
He asked me to read it. After my reading the poem he narrated how he was reprimanded by his purvashrama mother for using foul language when he was young. She told Rev. Maharaj, “My boy, your tongue is the abode of Mother Saraswati so we should never soil it by using foul language”. From then on Rev. Maharaj stopped using foul language and advised me to do the same, especially stressing the sentiment written in the above poem.
Through his life he taught us a great lesson to be a real sannyasi. He was a true sannyasi, free from attachment, ever content, always helpful to others and very dignified-Yati Raja. I always remain grateful to him for showering me with abundant love and care and giving me opportunity to render a bit of service to him.