BY ROBIN GHOSH
(ECONOMIST, PRESIDENT OF SANTINIKETAN SOCIETY FOR YOUTH EMPOWERMENT) VISAKHAPATNAM, 1 MARCH 2023:
Upon landing in Vizag Airport after a gap of 10 years, what struck me was the air.
It was serene, sweet and quite blissful. Contrary to the air we breathe in Kolkata it was sublime and cool.
The city looked clean, no big cacophony and extremely orderly. Everybody followed the traffic rule. No honking. Vizag appeared to be in equilibrium and in balance.
My first visit was to the Ramkrishna Ashram at Vizag.
My association with the Ramakrishna Mission started when I was in School. I had my education at Delhi and my school was a furlong away from the Mission.
Whenever we felt very hungry, a few of my classmates – would visit the Mission. Swami Ranganathan ji was the Head of the Mission. He would welcome us at the Ashram with a broad smile and say “Come my dear – wait, the Prasad will come. I know you are hungry”.
Within minutes, the Prasad would arrive and me and my classmates were all delighted to have it.
We never knew much about Ranganathan Ji very much. That he was a great Swami, a man of great learning we did not know.
Only when we participated in the elocution contest, which the Mission used to hold for school students in Delhi, we understood the magnificence of his learning.
Before the elocution, Swamiji would introduce Swami Vivekananda to us. He spoke in simple language and communicated the essence of Swami Vivekananda’s teaching and philosophy. We discovered Swami Ranganathan Ji’s vast knowledge and intellect.
I remember the contest in which I represented my school. And many times our school would win prizes and receive accolades.
Before participation in those contests we were trained by our teachers on correct pronunciation and accent required to deliver Swamiji’s message.
I still remember the lines:
“Arise! Awake!’ Great Lord! He is at our back! I cannot write any more— onward! I only tell you this, that whoever reads this letter will imbibe my spirit! Have faith! Onward! Great Lord! … I feel as if somebody is moving my hand to write this way. Onward! Great Lord! Everyone will be swept away! Take care, he is coming! Whoever will be ready to serve him—no, not him but his children—the poor and the downtrodden, the sinful and afflicted, those who will be ready to serve these, in them he will manifest himself!……….”
The Ramkrishna Mission at Vizag has a touch of Holy Mother Sarada Devi. In the month of February 1911, she was passing through Visakhapatnam on board a southbound train to Chennai.
Enchanted by the beauty of the place, she said “See, see it looks like a picture”.
In 1924, Swami Shivananda Ji Maharaj enroute to Chennai stayed for a few days at Visakhapatnam on the request of the local devotees.
Swami Shivananda Ji Maharaj revisited in 1926 and enchanted the local people with his discourse on Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda.
In the month of October, 1940, the building of the Ashram was opened. Beginning with a student’s home the Ashram Complex now comprises Universal Temple, Auditorium, Monks Quarter and the Library.
I sat in the Prayer Room for a while and immersed myself thinking about the philosophy of Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda.
I was amazed at the depth and vision of Swami Vivekananda: extraordinarily modern, equitable and globally relevant.
I picked up a leaflet which was available near the feet of the altar describing various activities of the Ashram. It was amazing in the sense that it covered various services from running school to hospital to training for spiritual mastery.
As I left the Ashram, I remember listening to a lecture given by one of the Swamijis from Ramakrishna Math and Mission years back. Essentially what Swamiji had spoken: : ‘Be spiritual; realize that you are divine and you will attain the highest perfection by knowing that you are spiritually immortal, possessing infinite knowledge and bliss.’ The goal is achievable and open to everyone. There is no other way to be blessed than consciously choosing and struggling to actualize our real nature.’