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Swami Ashokanandaji Maharaj
Shri Ramakrishna Mahasamelan Ashram

Nagadandi, Achchabal, Anantnag Tehsil, Kashmir
Manmohan Dhar, New Delhi

In the early thirties, Kashmir was visited by a large number of well educated young sanyasins, mostly belonging to the Shri Ramakrishna Mission, from various parts of India. Local intellectuals, interacting with them, were impressed by their deep knowledge of the Vedas, Vedanta and the Gita and their spirit of renunciation. Kashmiri intellectuals, elite and the laity, had already got glimpses of the vision that Swami Vivekananda had woven for the whole world and of the panaroma, depth and range of the spiritual, cultural and catholic heritage of India.

On the 11th of September 1893, Swami Vivekananda spoke as follows at the Parliament of World's religions in Chicago, USA-

The present convention, which is one of the most august assemblies ever held, is in itself a vindication, a declaration to the world of the wonderful doctrine preached in the Gita :

"Whosoever comes to ME, through whatsoever form, I reach him; all men are struggling through paths which in the end lead to ME"

"Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this earth. They have filled this earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilisations and sent whole nations to despair..."

(A retaste of the gruesome tragedy was experienced on the 11th September 2001 in New-York, after 108 years. If causes persist, effects persist too)

In his concluding speech on the 27th of September 1893 Swami Vivekananda thundered and declared as follows-

"...if anybody dreams of the exclusive survival of his own religion and the destruction of others, I pity him from the bottom of my heart, and point out to him that upon the banner of every religion will soon be written, in-spite of resistance : `Help and not Fight', `Assimilation and not Destruction', `Harmony and Peace and not Dissention'."

All this and other writings of Swami Vivekananda had made deep inroads in the mental make up of the intellectuals of Kashmir and they were, therefore, always on the look out for some-one amongst the visiting monks to the state, who would disseminate, at-least to some extent, the spiritual aura, effulgence and dynamism of Swami Vivekananda's personality.

With this rather detailed background, it would perhaps be pertinent to present a pen picture of a saint who appeared to be in the most ancient mould of sanyasins, who struck one as descending straight from the heights of Himalayas, naked save a loin cloth, lost in the awareness of the innermost self, exuding in his eyes ecstasy and bliss which was totally irresistible.

"few understand the power of thought. If a man goes into a cave. Shuts himself in, and thinks really one great thought, ...that thought will permeate the walls of that cave, vibrate through space, and at last permeate the whole human race. Such is the power of thought..."

The thoughtful silence of this young sanyasin was eloquent, speaking and hypnotic and his smile was soothing, full of love and compassion.

He was spotted, in Kathleshwar temple, at Zaindar Mohalla, Srinagar, Kashmir. The temple had broken dome and, therefore, was open to vagaries of weather. A makeshift tent was made of bushels of grass, inside the temple, where he was found resting his head on the `pranali' of, the `Shiva linga', lost in deep meditation.

When disturbed by cautious and respectful intrusion, he came down to the level of normal awareness, but still the hangover of divine intoxication was apparent in his blissful smile and his eyes, both giving impression of embers of spiritual fire burning within him. He commanded awe, affection and instant devotion. The word went round and men, women and children came to bask in his celestial presence.

Meanwhile, winter started setting in, but he did not light any log fires, as was wont with `Naga' sadhus, who used to visit Kashmir on their pilgrimage to the holy cave of Amarnath. He stayed on in Kashmir and started moving to the hills at short intervals, in sun-shine, rain and snow. For reasons best known to him his favourite haunt was Naran-Nag, beyond Wangat, which is situated on the road to Sonamarg. Near Wangat he made contact with a Muslim mystic by the name of Sobur Sheikh. Between them, they used to communicate by exchanging (naswar) snuff powder. Being a predominantly Muslim area, he picked up a smattering of the Kashmiri language, which he spoke with a sweet Bengali accent. As time went by, he made deep inroads into the hearts of the local Muslims.

Although, at first with respectful and awesome caution, yet drawn to him by Irresistible attraction, local people of all grades, of all communities of varying intellectual attainment, men, women and children gathered round him to sit in silence in his presence, to breathe and to feel the subtle waves of peace and spiritual elation, un-aided by words, speeches or discourses; yet at times words fell softly and sweetly from his mouth. They conveyed more than their meaning. A look, a touch, a smile was enough recompense after days of waiting or miles of trekking to sit in his soul-elevating presence. Such was the power of his love.

His movements were as unpredictable as of that wind, as he moved bare-footed, from high mountains to the far corners of the length and breadth of the valley, in sunshine, rain or snow. I have seen snow collecting on his bare shoulders. He wore no clothes, as stated earlier, but carried only two possessions : His `Kashkole' a handy container made from the hard cover of a pumpkin, used as a begging bowl, normally carried by `Naga' sadhus and a small bottle of snuff (naswar). One day when he left to go to the mountains he forgot to carry his `Kashkol'. After traversing a short distance he suddenly found that he had no `Kashkol' in his hand and retraced his steps to pick his major possession. Then, while crossing the nearby bridge on the river Jhelum, he could not reconcile with his attachment for his `Kashkol' and dropped it into the river, never to carry it again.

Writes Swami Vivekananda, in his small pamphlet `My Master'

" India, even an emperor on the throne wants to trace his descent from some beggar-sage in the forest, from a man who wore the bark of a tree, lived upon the fruits of the forest and communed with GOD. That is the type of descent we want, and so long as holiness is supremely venerated, India cannot die."

It was not surprising, therefore, that doors were flung wide open for him and with open hearts, he was sought for and received in every home. Considering what Swami Vivekananda has said, it appeared as if he had come to Kashmir straight from the Vedic Age.

Such was Swami Ashokanandaji Maharaj for about twelve or thirteen years. During these year of silent communication, he gave stray hints of his mission and his, childlike, unconditional and complete devotion to Shri Ramakrishna Parmahansa. These were the years during which he prepared the ground in Kashmir in which to plant the seed of the deepest, subtlest and pristine message of Shri Ramakrishna and the ideal of Divine Motherhood. Pictures of Shri Ramakrishna, Ma Sharada and Swami Vivekananda found their place, for daily worship, in the shrines in the homes of the devotees of Swami Ashokananda Ji. In small gatherings, particularly of youngsters, English version of the Gospel of Shri Ramakrishna was read. I, along with other young boys, to name a few : Manakakji Tarozdar, Trilokinathji Tarozdar and others, used to go into raptures of Divine fervour while reading the gospel. We would feel we were part of the crowd at Dakhineshwar and felt recreation of the same atmosphere in Swamijis presence, after a span of nearly 80 years.

Devotional and classical, vocal and instrumental music, was played in his presence. I still remember the classical songs sung by Babaji Rao, in ragas :

`Bihag', `Kidar', `Shankara', `Malhar', `Bhairao', `Kamod' etc. Shri. Jialal Kharoo's Dilruba and Sitar playing became a daily feature and so did of my uncle, Vidhlalji Dhar and of Swaroop Nath ji Tarozdar's, with tabla accompaniment by Harinath ji Tarozdar's. Professor Kanjilal of Sri Pratap college, used to play Sitar in masterly depth and range. One got surcharged with divine fervour and lost in its ecstacy. One lost the count of people who got the privilege of sitting in his silent, smiling and spiritual presence. No discussions appeared appropriate. All that one needed was to be in tune, mind, heart and soul.

Looking back, I now feel, that Divine Shakhti, in her own mysterious way was working on Her own plans. Shri Harinath Tarozdar, an unflinching devotee of Swamiji, traveled all over the valley, to locate a place where a thatched mud hut could be built for a brief sojourn and rest for Swamiji Maharaj. In the lap of the mountains, amidst dense forests, with a small perennial fresh water spring tucked in, in an obscure corner; a place was found at Nagadandi, near Achchabal Mogul gardens and acquired a most beautiful mud hut with thatched roof and an `L' shaped narrow verandah on the east and south side, was built.

Swami Ashokanandaji Maharaj
Photographed by Manmohan Dhar in Calcutta in 1965

Vivekanand Kendra, Nagadandi, Achchabal, Anantnag, Kashmir, India

I have seen about a 12 ft. long snake, with skin of a beautiful pattern resting full length on the eastern side of the verandah. Seeing me it crawled into the gap in the mud plaster of the 2 ft. high railing. I never saw it again and took no notice of it. Swamiji Maharaj used to sit in the south-west corner of the same verandah. Right in front of him, on the front wall, was a foot long and beautiful likeness of Jesus Christ on the cross, in three dimensions. Devotees, of all communities, rich and poor, used to sit in front of Swamiji, on the south side verandah. It was not unusual to see Swamiji, playing sitar, sitting in the south-west corner of the verandah. His sitar playing, in classical ragas, transported the spiritual ambience of the forest surroundings to a higher plane of awareness of peace and fullness.

Discharge from the perennial spring, miraculously increased. On the down stream side two ponds, on two different levels, were built by devotees, with three picturesque water falls, delivering water from the upper pond to the lower one. Flowers were planted. A small temple was built, with likeness of Shri Ramakrishna, Sharda ma and Swami Vivekananda placed on the shrine. Swamiji Maharaj used to sit, in the open air, reclining on a stone sleeper which was supported on a pine tree. Visitors to Swamiji, in the salubrious and forest surroundings, presented a setting straight from the Vedic age. Evening and morning worship was conducted in the temple. Gradually, the whole set up assumed the semblance of an ashram and Swamiji Maharaj gave in the name of.

Shri Ramakrishna Mahasamelan Ashram

All this was not planned, but happened by Divine Dispensation, a mystery that can only be explained by the following expressions of Swami Vivekananda Ji Maharaj :

Describing Kashmir, Swamiji wrote to Srimati Indumati Mitra sometime in September 1897 :

"This Kashmir is a veritable heaven on Earth. No where else in the World is such a country as this. Mountains and rivers, trees and plants, men and women, beasts and birds-all vie with one another for excellence. I feel a pang at heart not to have visited it so long..."

On the 1st October, 1897 he wrote to Sister Nivedita :

"I shall not try to describe Kashmir to you. Suffice it to say, I never felt sorry to leave any country except this paradise on Earth; and I am trying my best, if I can, to influence the Raja in starting a centre here. So much to do here and the material so hopeful..."

And again on 3rd November, 1897 Swamiji wrote to Sister Nivedita :

`I have been here (Jammu) for fifteen days to get some land in Kashmir from the Maharaja. I intend to go to Kashmir next summer I am here and start some work here'.

But why was Swami Vivekanandaji Maharaj so keen to set up an ashram in Kashmir? Answer to this question is not within the capacity of a normal intellect to find. Could it be because Shri Ramakrishna said his next incarnation would be in the North-West.

Over the centuries Kashmir has been the cradle of cultures. Buddhism came here and the World got `Mahayan' Buddhism. Kashmir Shaivism is the pinnacle of Indian philosophy discounting the belief that this world is false. Shankracharya came to Kashmir with the glow and fire of `Aham Brahma', but latter he wrote `Saundarya Lahiri' in praise of the Goddess Tripurasundari, and in one of the Shankracharya Ashrams the image of Goddess Shardha is being worshiped. This Murti was brought from Sharda peeth, in Kashmir, now in Pakistan. According to extensive research carried out by German and other authors, from the Christendom itself, Jesus Christ is believed to have been in Kashmir before and after crucifixion. There is a mosque right in the heart of Srinagar, the summer capital of J & K state, where Jesus is supposed to have been buried. Sufism and Kashmiriat are an amalgam of Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam. Over the millenniums Kashmir is and has been special on many counts apart from its geography and unparalleled natural beauty.

Swamiji's remarks, therefore, have indeed a Divine import and cannot be considered as random or casual.

Swami Vivekananda could not visit Kashmir again and thus his wish to set up an Ashram in Kashmir, where `he had "found", so much to do and the material so hopeful'; remained an unfulfilled dream. He had the vision of Maha Kali at Khir Bhavani, where he was inspired to write his famous poem, `Kali the Mother'

It was at Achchabal that he `suddenly decided to go to Amarnath' writes sister Nivedita. As he entered the cave, reports Sister Nivedita, it seemed to him as if he saw Shiva made visible before him. He said afterwards to sister Nivedita that in the brief moments he had received from Shiva the gift of Amar-not to die until he himself had willed it. His dream, however, though unfulfilled during his lifetime, was already registered in the cosmic time to be made a reality, under a divine dictate, by a source intimately, divinely and equally connected with Shri Ramakrishna.

In the divine scheme Kashmir, it appears, has had a role to play. And to appreciate the sudden appearance of Swami Ashokananda ji in Kashmir, in the above context, the following spiritual link and mystery appears relevant and self-explanatory.

Swami Ashokananda ji was the disciple of Swami Satchitananda ji Maharaj from East Bengal, who was initiated and given sanyas by Holy Mother, Ma Sharda. Their commitment to Shri Ramakrishna ideology was total. They operated outside Shri Ramakrishna Mission organisation, as do many others. The emphasis, however, has been on man building and the propagation of Divine Motherhood. Cosmic forces got to work to fulfill the celestial dream of Swami Vivekanandaji.

He, Swami Ashokananda ji, was also from East Bengal, and was born in a Mukherji family, on Friday, the 10th of February, 1911. His premonistic name was Deenabandhu Mukherji. His school mate was Shri Chandi Prashad Mukherji, an eminent Chartered Accountant and for several years President of the Institution of Chartered Accountants, India.

Mr. C. P. Mukherjee, particularly referred to his childhood and stated that right from his birth Deenabandhu gave the impression of being an outsider, very intelligent but lost in a world of his own. Naturally, his brother was totally disgusted with him and did not spare the rod and at the age of 8 (eight years) he sought shelter in the ashram of Swami Satchitananda ji Maharaj, who, as mentioned earlier, was an initiated disciple of the Holy Mother, Sharda Ma, spiritual consort of Shri Ramakrishna. He had to undergo severe regimen of spiritual discipline, which he did with utmost dedication and total surrender to Lord Shri Ramakrishna and ma Sharda. During, his stay at the Ashram, he was given sanyas and the monastic name of Swami Ashokananda.

His Guru Maharaj held him in very high regard and made no secret of the heights of spiritual excellence he had achieved. Swamiji Maharaj knew of absolutely no compromises in the spiritual path. One had to be perfect in his resolve, in his pursuit and in sadhana. One had to, he would say, combine the qualities of a prince and a sadhak of total surrender to his Ishta. He was at the ashram, from what we have been able to gather from stray hints thrown by him, during conversations; for about eight or ten years, with his Guru Maharaj. Later, he was sent by Guru Maharaj to Uttar Kashi for further sadhna. During his travels in the Himalayas, his body, mind, heart and Atma were tuned to a very high degree of spiritual fervour and he was allotted a hut near Gita Ashram, next to Swami Shivananda ji Maharaj, who later on founded the `Divine Life Society'. Ashokanandaji settled to a strict regimen of meditation and established continued presence of Shri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother and Ma Kali in him. He had visions and many experiences of conversation with Shri Thakur (Shri Ramakrishna). Some of these, recounted by him to me, are of deep spiritual and Universal import.

His Guru Maharaj, however, had plans for him. When he attained the age of twenty two or twenty three, he was ordered by his Guru Maharaj to go to Kashmir, shed his clothes, live there braving sunshine, rain and snow, without any external aid, or use of any of his Yogic powers to face the vagaries of weather and establish the presence of Shri Ramakrishna, Sharda Ma and Swami Vivekananda and their pristine message, in Kashmir more by example than discourse. His primary emphasis was on `Divine Motherhood'.This we came to know, gradually, in the fifties.

He landed in Kashmir in 1933 or 1934. He was spotted in Kathleshwar Mandir in early 1933 or 1934 and straight away found his way into the hearts of young and old, men and women and was, looked after well, as it were, like a child. His mere presence was peace, joy and unalloyed love. Words would limit the impact of his almost divine presence. The impact of beauty is instant, as that of the smile of a child, of a beautiful face. How much more then of a person whose presence reflects God within. Are words necessary? Isn't feeling enough. Such was Swamiji Maharaj, when he descended on Kashmir, as if from above.

He did not lay his hands on books yet the depth of his knowledge of Vedas, shastaras etc., about which he spoke rarely, was uncanny. His whole personality was, as it were, wrapped in mystery.

His love had and, I am fully aware now, a perennial quality. His life, his sojourn in Kashmir, where he attained Mahasamadhi on the 19th of December 1971; and even the establishment of an ashram at Nagadandi, is a mystery. During the turmoil of the last thirteen years the ashram has been visited and revered by Muslims, in large numbers. There is ample evidence at Nagadandi that there are no dividing lines between various religions and that all hands stretch themselves in prayer to the One And Only Almighty, in Divine and sincere human love and aspiration.

The following dream of Swami Vivekananda, who was an integral part of the combined personalities of Shri Ramakrishna and Ma Sharda, that vibrated through every nerve and heart beat of our Swami Ashokananda ji Maharaj and in whose name he established the Ashram.

Shri Ramakrishna Mahasamelan Ashram was being divinely ordained to be fulfilled. Is Nagadandi Ashram going to grow mysteriously enough, in Kashmir, where the prophetic words and the following dream of Swami Vivekananda are going to blossom into reality?

"We want to lead mankind to the place where there is neither the Vedas, nor the Bible, nor the Koran, yet this has to be done by harmonising the Vedas, the Bible and the Koran".

Mankind ought to be taught that religions are but the varied expressions of The Religion, which is Oneness, so that each may choose the path that suits him best.

Kashmir's geography, its place in the cultural mosaic of India, the relevance of the Indian values in the survival of the human race, the emergence of religious fanaticism, in pushing the world civilisations to rid the world, by their joint will, of the conflict slammed on humanity in the name of God and the clarion call of Swami Vivekananda on the 27th September, 1893 at the parliament of religions held in Chicago USA, all these lead us to see a Divine Hand in the shape of things to come.

Jai Shri thakur, jai ma sharda
jai swami Vivekanandaji maharaj
jai guru ! 11th May, 2002

This article is an excerpt from the book, "Swami Ashokanandaji Maharaj : His Divine Message", by Shri Manmohan Dhar.

The author is a techno-expert of international repute, previous Editor of the Vitasta and a founder member of Kashmir Sabha, Kolkata.

Mailing Address : C-56, Kailash Apartments, Lala Lajpat Rai Marg, New Delhi-110 048, India

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