As It Has Been Growing

(a brief history of the Students’ Home, drafted by the Founder himself – Swami Nirvedananda)

Home in Embryo

A great change came over him and his immediate surroundings. His pupils and friends were stirred up by the message of a new life. The house in which he lived began to take the color and outline of a Ramakrishna Ashram. The portrait of Sri Krishna in the niche gave place to that of Sri Ramakrishna, and the evening rite which might very well be described as a howling ceremony, was substituted by the regular “Aratrika” in the Belur Math style. Of the few paying boarders who came to stay there, one purchased some books out of Ramakrishna Vivekananda literature, and Bramhachari Jnana Maharaj of the Belur Math presented a few more. This was how the present library of the Students’ Home was started. One day a religious festival was held, though on a very humble scale. Two Swamis of the Ramakrishna order attended the function and one of them, the Late Swami Purnananda enlivened it by an inspiring discourse.

Throughout this period Srimat Swami Premananda, of hollowed memory, continued to be the guiding spirit. With his unfathomable love, spotless purity and almost angelic appearance, the Swami dominated the hearts of the little group. Did he not look like an ocean of Divine love condensed into a human form? His attraction was irresistible. He pulled, he chastened, he gave a life to all who chanced to come within his orbit. Indeed, from the first day of the blessed contact it became almost impossible for the young tutor and his small band of pupils and friends to miss their Sunday pilgrimage to the Belur Math for having a refreshing bath in the flood light heavenly love and purity radiated by the Swami.

Thus days rolled into months till young tutor finished his post-graduate course of study that had been, during this period, his immediate personal concern. As soon as the examination was over, the embryonic Ashram, that had been craving for a little more space, was removed to a slightly bigger house at 121, Corporation Street (now Sir Surendranath Bannerjee Road). The house was rented at Rs. 27/- per month. It had five rooms, one of which was converted into what might be said to be an apology for a shrine. Yet, the fact that an entire room, though very small, could now be set apart for the Deity instead of a petty niche in the wall made the young hearts thrill with the joy of expansion.

Birth and Infancy

Shortly after moving to this house, learning that he had passed the M.A. examination, the young tutor shed the last vestige of personal concern that might savour of worldly life. Thus freed from all entanglement, he devoted himself entirely to serve the boys under his care. This was in September, 1916. It was then, really, that what, after all, had been till then nothing more than a private residence, definitely evolved into an Ashram. This, therefore, may very well be said to be the time when the Students’ Home was born.

The baby Ashram panted for expansion till, sometime in 1917, it was lodged more comfortably in a bigger and entire double-storied house at 119/1, Corporation Street. This was made possible by the generosity of the late Srijut Upendranath Sadhukhan and, later of Srijut Bepinbehari Sadhukhan, who let this house at a nominal rate of Rs. 27/- per month. The land lords were pleased to knock off Rs. 18/- from the usual monthly rent of Rs. 45/-, and this was the first public contribution towards the growth of the Ashram. The house had two rooms and a kitchen on the ground floor and three rooms upstairs. The biggest room on the first floor was turned into a chapel.

Soon after this a day was fixed for a special religious festival. Srimat Swami Shivananda, of hallowed memory, very kindly agreed to grace the function by his esteemed presence. At the expense of the late Srijut Upendranath Sadhukhan necessary preparations were made for receiving the august visitor. On the appointed day His Holiness arrived. Friends and pupils from far and near rushed in to join the festival. One batch from Entally and one from Howrah deserve mention. Special worship of Sri Guru Maharaj and Bhajan amidst unbounded enthusiasm was the features of the day. The presence of one of the apostles of Sri Ramakrishna in the humble precincts of the Ashram throughout the day was more than what anybody there, at the stage, could have dreamt of. The house seemed to burst with joy. Every heart pulsed with the fervour of a new life. Was it not the day the Ashram was sanctified, when the baby was baptised?

Even then the tutor did not know what he was after. It hardly struck him that the Ashram, had come to stay. He was to mould a life of renunciation and service in and through the Ashram, then known as Sri Ramakrishna Ashram, had come to stay. He was to mould a life of renunciation and service in and through the Ashrama, - this was about all he could perceive at the moment. His immediate occupation was to find the first four years of the college course. The income would usually range between Rs. 125/- and Rs. 200/-. A slump season of a couple of months would sometimes intervene immediately after university examinations and inflict some hardship upon the inmates. On one of these occasions the income fell abruptly to only Rs. 27/-. It being the summer holidays, none but the tutor and the first pupil had to face the ordeal, as the rest had been sent home. The ordeal, after all proved to be no more than a funny experience, a mere sport. It was realised how one could live cheerfully for a couple of months on two-pice worth of tiffin in the morning (chhattu and gurh) and a simple evening meal prepared with Ic-mic cooker.

The coaching class was an integral part of the Ashram, which throbbed with life as four different batches of pupils would come to take their lessons at different hours. But the secular merged in the spiritual. Not only the inmates, even the pupils who came from outside and paid their fees would be carried by the strong undercurrent of Ashram life. Some of them could not be distinguished from the inmates; and even to this day they choose to be counted as ex-students. They were attracted mainly by the air of purity and simplicity that pervaded the place. Indeed, it was more an Ashram than a hostel. Plain living and high thinking was the rule of life. Daily worship and Aratrika, scripture classes, socio-religious discourses, frequent and regular pilgrimages to the Belur Math, marked its general tenor. All these would combine to chasten the young minds and stamp them with the indelible impress of high ideals. One of the students of the coaching class, for instance, when afterwards in Glasgow, used to overcome momentary spells of weakness in the face of temptations by recalling the Ashram ideals.

Yet, at that time, the tutor had no idea of what was decreed to come and what he would be required to do. Evidently those who charged him to stick to the Ashram knew more. Immediately after his first visit Srimat Swami Shivananda (Mahapurusha Maharaj) exorted him to carry on the work which, he said, was after Swamiji’s (Srimat Swami Vivekananda’s) own heart. On hearing of this command, Srimat Swami Premananda, who had wanted the tutor to join the Belur Math, said to him from his sick-bed, “Accept Mahapurasha’s words as a divine oracle (Daiva vani)”. One day Srimat Swami Turiyananda assured the tutor saying, “Sri Ramakrishna himself will always be present in the Ashram and see the spiritual growth of the inmates.” On another occasion, Srimat Swami Saradnada told him that it was a very important work, as it promised, in the course of time, to be of immense benefit to many people. Srimat Swami Brahmananda, of hallowed memory, once said on the eve of his passing away, “It is a good work. But the house is very small. We must have a big house for our own. There should be such institutions in different districts and, you see, there should be a big one in Calcutta with a vocational college attached to it.” On several occasions the tutor wanted to sift himself from the ashram to the Belur Math. But each time Srimat Swami Shivananda Sent him back, urging him to sacrifice himself for the well-being of so many young men who were to come. All these prognostications were made by the illustrious group of Sri Ramakrishna’s apostles while the Ashram continued in the same small house on the Corporation Street between the years 1917 and 1923.

In 1917 Sri Sri Durga Puja, Lakshmi Puja and Kali Puja were celebrated. All these functions went off with great éclat, though undoubtedly the house was too small for such things. Every minute thing in connection with the festival was executed with meticulous precision. There were many people present, yet a solemn and imposing silence reigned over the whole house. Everybody was at his allotted duty with single=hearted devotion. The discipline, order, method and harmony made a remarkable impression on all who came to witness the functions. The room set apart as stores for the puja goods looked almost like a well-arranged laboratory. Before immersing the image of Sri Sri Durga in the holy Ganges, the young men, carrying it on their shoulders, proceeded to hold it before the gaze of Srimat Swami Brahmananda at the Balaram Mandir and of the Holy Mother in front of her residence at Baghbazar. Thence the image was taken by boat to the Belur Math. In all this, Brahmachari Jnana Maharaj was the sole guide. Since 1917 Sri Sri Kali Puja has been one of the annual religious festivals of this institution.

As It Has Been Growing

As It Has Been Growing: Part - 3 [Gathering Strength]
As It Has Been Growing: Part - 4 [A Step Forward]
As It Has Been Growing: Part - 5 [On the Way to Permanence]
As It Has Been Growing: Part - 6 [In Its Own Premises]
As It Has Been Growing: Part - 7 [Where It Stands]