Updated: Jan 15
He was the only heir of a well-known lineage of zamindars. He had earned many accomplishments to his name, the gold medalist of his university, post-graduate degrees in two subjects, entering into professional life as a munsif and very soon promoted to the position of Sub Judge. Recognised as a distinguished personality in the society, his work and family life were harmoniously balanced. He stood by his ideals but was never blinded by religious fanaticism or communalism. He was open minded, unbigoted, modest, dignified and there was not a single iota of conservatism in his thought and action. There would always be discussions and musical presentations at his home. He even employed experts to train his children in music and play musical instruments like the harmonium and piano. He was very well-known and held a high rank and position in the society but in front of Sri Sri Thakur, he behaved like a humble slave.
Ashwini Kumar Dasgupta, a devoted disciple of Sadguru Swami Nigamananda Paramahansa Dev, had completely surrendered himself at the lotus feet of his guru. In the year 1917, he was appointed as Munsif in a place called Fina which came under the Mayamansingh region of Bengal. Fina was a small village with an equally small population. A narrow distributary of the river Yamuna passed through one end of the village, irrigating the fields with the promise of bounty for the farmers. The river was always filled with water throughout the year and in the rainy season, the water overflowed its banks and even flooded the nearby settlements.
Jyotish Chandra Chakravorty, a renowned lawyer, resided in that village. He was the brother of Shanti Maa, one of Thakur’s initiated women disciples who had taken up ‘sanyas’. Their family had a close bonding with Ashwini Bhai’s family. Ashwini Bhai’s children used to address Jyotish Babu and his wife as ‘Kaka’ and ‘Khudi’. Jyotish Babu was an accomplished singer and also an expert in musical instruments. He revered Ashwini Bhai and imparted music lessons to his children. One day, he narrated the story of his only sister, Kusum Kumari, who was a child widow. She was an intellectual and deeply spiritual. After going through the books written by Sri Sri Nigamananda Dev, she was so impressed that she longed to meet the author. She had a daughter who she got married off at a young age. After attending to her responsibilities, she expressed her wish to become the disciple of Sri Nigamananda Dev, but her brother refused to give her the permission. That was a time when a lady speaking her wishes aloud and following her dreams against the wishes of her family was unheard of. So, one day, without telling anyone, she left home in the guise of a gentleman and took refuge at the feet of Sri Sri Thakur. Noticing her devotion, faith, keen interest, and above all, her unyielding determination, Sri Sri Thakur initiated her as a ‘sanyasin’ and her sanyas name was ‘Shantimayee’. On Thakur’s orders, she started residing in Kashi and built a home for widows, taking care of their needs.
Shantimayee, known as ‘Shanti Maa’ among the disciples of Gurudev was suffering from cancer. Due to her ill health, when she no longer could manage on her own, she left Kashi and came back to her brother. Whenever Ashwini Bhai’s family got together with Jyotish Babu, their discussions would trail off away from the mundane and centre around the spiritual realisation of Shantimayee Devi. So, when they heard about her, without wasting a moment, Ashwini Bhai and his family visited Jyotish Babu’s home to meet Shantimayee Devi. In that first meeting, the whole family was enamoured by her charm and behavior. She was tall, fair, divinely beautiful, and her face radiated with the brilliance of an austere sanyasin. From that day onwards, an unswerving relationship developed between them. That relationship acted as a bridge to unite Ashwini Bhai’s family with Sri Sri Thakur.
Ashwini Bhai was transferred from Fina to Kolkata’s Alipur court and he had to move to Kolkata with his family. When they were residing in Fina, they came to know that Shanti Maa’s health was failing. After several rounds of discussion with Jyotish Babu, Ashwini Bhai proposed to bring her to Kolkata for her treatment. So, after Ashwini Bhai’s family shifted, Jyotish Babu brought Shanti Maa and arrived at their home in Kolkata. They consulted the doctors and her treatment commenced. Having Shanti Maa so near and so close, the children formed a strong bonding with her. On the doctor’s advice, she was admitted to a hospital in Kolkata and was under the supervision and care of the doctors and nurses there.
During that time, Ashwini Bhai’s family lived in Bhavanipur. Since Shanti Maa did not consume the hospital food, Ashwini Bhai’s wife used to cook food for her. Every day, their son Gurubhushan and daughter Snehalata used to bring the home cooked food to the hospital.
Shanti Maa suffered from cancer. When it became critical, the doctors had to operate on her. A few days later, when she felt a little better, Ashwini Bhai brought her to his home. The whole family was overjoyed to have her. They cleaned the house and made the necessary arrangements at their home so that Shanti Maa would have a comfortable stay.
Slowly with time, Shanti Maa recuperated. The children became anxious that once she would get better, she might leave them and go away. One day Shanti Maa called the childrens’ mother and said, “Like a mother, you have gone through so much pain to take care of me and have saved me. I will never be able to repay you. But I will acquaint you with such a precious jewel that is unparalleled in the whole world. Everyone asked excitedly, “Where is that jewel?” Thereafter, Shanti Maa started telling them about Sri Sri Thakur’s life. His serene appearance, his bewitching yogic powers, the unfathomable stories of his life. She also told them how she faced all sorts of challenges and obstacles and took shelter at his lotus feet. She described the unearthly, tranquil beauty of the ashram. She also narrated about all the sanyasi and brahmacharis who resided there. She became so ecstatic that there was a heavenly charm on her face when she spoke about Bhairavi Maa. Ashwini Bhai, his wife and the children were speechless and looked at her in awe.
From that day onwards, the whole family gathered around the portrait of Sri Sri Thakur every evening for aarti, meditation and bhajan. Shanti Maa taught them the method of doing Puja, reciting Guru Vandana and stotra. Aarti of Sri Sri Thakur with camphor, ghee lamps and incense sticks followed by stotra vandana became an inclusion in their daily regime. As they read through the letters that were exchanged between Sri Sri Thakur and Shanti Maa, they got to know more and more about him.
Once Sri Sri Thakur visited Kolkata during the time when Shanti Maa was residing at Ashwini Bhai’s home. His devotees had rented a double storeyed house in Ranishankari Lane of Bhavanipur for his stay. Shanti Maa went there to look after the arrangements, to take care of Sri Sri Thakur’s needs and cook for him. Every day, Ashwini Bhai’s family would travel from their home in Chaulapati lane to Bhavanipur to meet Sri Sri Thakur. From the day their eyes beheld the elegance and divine features of Sri Sri Thakur, their heart melted. Listening to the advice he imparted to the devotees assembled, they developed a fondness for him. They used to stay there the whole day and sometimes even spent their nights, unaware of the time fleeting by.
...to be continued
Sadguru Sri Nigamananda Paramahansa Dev
Inspired by Krushnapriya Mohanty's essay, 'Sri Ashwini Kumar Dasgupta'