A unique pilgrimage
By Ranga Hari
While going through some twelve thousand or more letters written by Shri Guruji, so as to select a few important ones for the Shri Guruji Samagra, three letters attracted my special attention.
All the three letters were connected with his private pooja articles. After undergoing surgery for cancer in 1970, Shri Guruji, who was the personification of equipoise, sensing his impending death, wrote a letter on September 27, 1971, to Swami Amurthananda ji, his colleague at the Saragachhi Ashram, in which he said: "on coming November 11, I will reach Mumbai from Khedeghat. So, if you make it convenient to reach there that day, I will be very happy. I would like to have your guidance on where I should arrange to install the sacred objects in my possession..."
After one-and-a-half years, on April 3, 1973, Shri Guruji wrote to his cousin brother, Vasudeva Ramachandra Golwalkar: "When we met last time, you had volunteered to accept my pooja articles with pleasure and dedication. However, in view of the opinion, 'why so much hurry', expressed by my Gurubhai, Amurthananda ji, I continued to retain them in Nagpur. But now I feel that there should be no more delay. I will send them to you at the earliest through a reliable person. You have to install them on an oval-shaped plank. Every day, after taking bath, you have to place a Bilwa Patra on it; burn an incense stick before it. At twilight, after washing your hands and feet, simply burn an incense stick before them. You need to do only this much."
Exactly after one month, on May 3, Shri Guruji wrote to his Gurubhai: "I have sent my pooja articles, enclosed in a sandalwood case, to Shri. Vasudeva Golwalkar as directed by your Holiness. It was carried by revered Dr. Seetharam of Jeshpur to Pune on April 20. My brother, who acknowledged its receipt, has also assured that he would carry out my instructions. I am writing this letter only to inform that an important work has been accomplished."
These three interrelated letters piqued my curiosity. "What are those pooja articles?" "Those sacred articles?" I was eager to see them. "Will Shri Vasudeva Golwalkar show them to me?" At my instance, the son of Shri Guruji's niece, who is a pracharak in Nagpur, telephoned Shri Vasudeva Golwalkar. I had to attend a pre-arranged programme at Pune on Sunday February 13, 2005.
So, I reached Pune on February 11. Keeping in mind the instructions and the spirit of Shri Guruji's letter; the next day—that was Saturday, February 12—along with a senior Swayamsevak, who was also a common acquaintance, we reached the destination. 81-year old Shri Vasudeva Golwalkar was totally informal and took us inside. His daughter-in-law, Smt. Neha, served us water.
As if prodded by the impatience that was brimming in my heart, Shri Vasudeva Golwalkar straight away went into his pooja room and returned with a case covered with a cloth, and a bundle. All the three of us sat on the floor. Shri Guruji's heir unwrapped the ochre covering. The plastic cover placed atop the case contained a neatly folded woollen blanket used by Swami Akhandanandaji. I touched and saluted the blanket with reverence. The ochre silken dhoti used by the Swamiji was also kept along with the blanket. I touched and saluted that too with reverence. The case, exactly twelve inches square and four inches thick, was extremely smooth. The emblem of the Shri Ramakrishna Ashram, with a swan encircled by a serpent and the maxim, tanno hamsah prachodayat, given beneath it, was imprinted on the case.
Shri Vasudeva Rao himself opened the case. On the left side there were three covered chambers of equal size, having a width of three inches. In the remaining main portion, a life-size photograph of Srimad Akhandananda Swamiji, autographed by the Swamiji himself, was kept on the top. I touched and saluted the photograph reverentially.
Then, there were two square towel of 18 inches size one was of dark ochre colour and the other towels of light ochre colour. In between these two, there were two white towels of square type each 15 inches of size. On both towels, foot impressions in vermilion of both legs could be seen. That is, a pair of foot impressions of both legs. They were the imprints of the Holy Feet of Swami Akhandanandaji. I touched and saluted both the towels with great respect.
Shri Vasudeva Rao placed with utmost care and reverence each of the articles on the piece of white cloth spread on the floor. When he kept aside the white towels containing the foot-prints of the Swamiji, I could notice the sapatas. These were neither sandals nor foot-wear but a socks-like material made with the hide of black buck, used while walking indoors to protect the feet from cold. Both of them remained there in a mute state. Very next to them was a spoon, a bit smaller than a tea-spoon, with the word Brazilian engraved on it. This spoon was used by the Guru while his disciple, was serving him. As if a companion to the spoon, there was also kept a wooden clip, used while drying clothes.
I could notice some papers inside the transparent plastic cover kept at the bottom of the case. The custodian of the most invaluable treasure allowed us to peruse the contents of those letters one by one. So as to avoid even the slightest harm or damage to those decades-old papers, I was extra-cautious in handling them. The first was a post card with a value of three fourths of an Anna (equivalent to present day four paise). It was written by Swami Akhandanandaji to Ananda Chaitanya (Amitabh in brackets), who later on became Amurthananda, from Saragachhi of Nagpur Ramakrishna Ashram on January 22, 1933. I could not read that letter written in Bengali (I secured a photostat copy thereof and I was hopeful, once read, that would prove to be of historical importance). In addition to this post card, there were two other letters. One, the original letter written by Shri Guruji on April 3, 1973, which has already been mentioned. The second letter was written by Shri Abaji Thatte, Shri Guruji's personal secretary, while sending the pooja articles on April 20, 1973. There was yet another small piece of paper which I thought would be of rarest importance and greatness. It was the Gayatri Mantra written on Swami Vivekananda by Swami Akhandanandaji, in Shri Guruji's handwriting.
om veereshwaraya vidmahevivekanandaya dhimahitanno veerah prachodayatom veereshwaraya Vivekanandaya namah om
Holding that paper in hand, with my eyes shut, I repeated that mantra thrice. I secured the photostat copy of that paper also. Below the materials referred above, at the bottom of the main chamber, was placed dry Bilwa and Tulasi leaves secured from Belur Shi Ramakrishna Ashram, which were perfectly intact. I touched and saluted these with utmost devotion.
Next, my eyes moved to the other chambers. Shri Vasudeva Rao first opened the lower-most chamber in which was kept a gold coin presented to Swamiji by one of his devotees as an offering. When I rubbed it clean of its vermilion coating, I could see on one side of the 50 paise-size coin the English letter T embossed inside a small circle and the word Tola embossed below it. In the outer circle, the words "Guaranteed Fine Gold" were embossed in a circular form. On the other side of the coin, the image of an elephant was embossed inside the central circle and in the outer circle the name 'Kirtilal Jeshinglal SW Bombay' was imprinted.
While opening the next chamber, I could notice a marked change in the facial _expression of Shri Vasudeva Rao. My ears could sense the change in the tone of his voice also. He took out a small packet from that chamber, on which the following words were written in Marathi: "Holy hair of Sri Ramakrishna handed over to Amitabh Maharaj by Swami Akhandanandaji, and handed over by the Maharaj to Shri Guruji." That small plastic packet contained a few hairs, both black and grey, of Shri Ramakrishna. I was seeing the deathless relics of an incarnation who attained Brahmapada 119 year ago; not in a dream - but in a thoroughly awakened state. I kept the sacred relic over my head for a moment and saluted it with utmost reverence. The next packet contained Swami Akhandanandaji's sacred hair. There were both black and grey in more numbers. I saluted this sacred relic also with devotion. I was really transported to a new extra-terrestrial world. The next packet contained the ashes and a small piece of bone of Swami Akhandanandaji, who attained samadhi on February 7, 1937. I kept that also on top on my head for a moment and saluted it with reverence.
With this, the curiosity generated in my mind by those three letters was satiated. But, still yet another truth remained. A family secret, a family truth that found _expression in no letter. Shri Vasudeva Golwalkar continued: "This won't suffice. You have to offer worship to Shri Guruji's, ie our family deity, personally." I had never expected this. Every pore of my body was brimming with joy. "Which is your family deity?" I asked with hesitation. "Ambabai of Kolhapur Mahalakshmi," he said.
Now, even before I could stand up to offer my worship, he narrated a story: "I am 18 years younger to Shri Guruji. I got married here (Pune) on January, 1951. My father's elder brother, Tauji, and Thayiji (Shri. Guruji's parents) came here weeks before. Guruji also had come adjusting his town programme. Knowing that the householder tradition of the Golwalkar family will continue through me, immediately after the marriage ceremony, Tauji and Thayiji called both myself and my spouse and instructed that: 'Now onwards it is your duty to protect the family tradition. We are now handing over to you the family deities we have been worshipping all these years without break.' Both of us together accepted the image of the goddess. And ever since we have been offering worship to the deity without break." I was overwhelmed by a rush of emotions. I got up, with words literally failing me. Seated on the oval-shaped plank I offered the flowers I had brought at the lotus feet of the resplendent deity and prostrated before it. When we came out of the pooja room, Smt Neha Golwalkar, along with Kausthubh Golwalkar and Apurva Golwalkar of the budding generation, were waiting to touch my feet as a mark of respect in keeping with the tradition of the family.
Yes, for me it was a pilgrimage; a strange pilgrimage. A pilgrimage that took me before the deity quite unexpectedly. It was a pilgrimage into the past—i.e; to 1886—on the wheel of time that moved in the reverse direction. The pilgrimage that took me to the Sargachhi of 1936-37. A pilgrimage that took me before the pyre that burnt on the banks of the Ganga, flowing by the side of the Belur Math, on February 7, 1937. The pilgrimage commenced when that case left Hedgewar Bhavan and which took me to the holy presence of the presiding deity of the Golwalkar family, where the case reached. The pilgrimage to the ecstatic moment of the consummation of my intense longing!