Sri Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa laid and lived by the fundamentals of “joto mot, toto poth”,— “As many views, so many paths”. This “universal religion” concept relies on service to humanity and practising spirituality at its core. Christmas celebration in Ramakrishna Mission initiated under the tutelage of Swami Vivekananda—the great spiritual leader & the most revered disciple of Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa. Writer Somashis Gupta narrates his valuable insight from Mr Shanky Thomas Gomes on the roots of Christmas celebration in Ramakrishna Mission all across India and abroad
It was sometimes in 2015 when life was free without masks and sanitisers, somewhere in Park Street at a pub that I met Mr Shanky Thomas Gomes for the first time. After a few drinks, I too was musically and decided to sing Silent Night in the karaoke. It was Christmas after all; anything is possible, isn’t it?
Mr Gomes is one of the few saxophone players still alive from the musical era of the 60s and the 70s. Frankly, I am unsure whether it was me singing or his saxophone, which made the crowd cheer. Perhaps it was none; just that alcohol served to the crowd proved to be genuine. Anyway, that is a story for another day. After our grand performance, Mr Gomes invited me to his house in Bow Barracks.
His one-room house reminds one of the past glories of the colonial era. A Robbins and Myers four-bladed fan hanging from 20 feet high ceilings, a George Graham wall clock, an almost destroyed Eddie Bauer sofa set, a torn Persian carpet. All these made me feel I was in a time warp. As he told me, I even saw a handwritten Bible probably inherited from his forefathers, who were Romans. But what surprised me the most was just beside the statue of Jesus, there was a picture of Ramakrishna Paramhansa, Swami Vivekananda and Sarada Devi.
I found myself asking .. “You have? I mean …”
He smiled and in his fluent Sanskrit said “Ong Sthapakaya Cha Dharmasya, Sarva Dharma-Svarupne; Avatara-Varsthaya, Ramakrishnaya Te Namah.” Looking at my thoroughly confused look, he continued, “Do you know Ramkrishna Mission is a unique symbol of harmony and believes in all religion to be true?”
“Yes, I know, but I have never seen a Christian speaking about ideals of Thakur” I tried to manage my stupidity.
“It is not only me,” He said “there are many more Christians and Muslims who regularly visit Ramkrishna Mission. Do you know Christmas is celebrated in Belur, and almost all the branches of the Math and Mission?”
“Yes, I know it is a custom in my family to offer cake to Thakur on Christmas day, and later it is given to us as proshad. In fact, my father’s birthday is also on the 25 th of December.”
“Oh! That’s great to know,” Mr Gomes said while fetching me a cake and a glass of Big Banyan Merlot.
“In fact, the festivities of Belur is just like any popular Church of the city, complete with Christmas carols, candle lighting, prayers and The offering of cakes, etc.” He continued, “On this day, the temple is decorated beautifully and the photos of baby Jesus and that of Lord Jesus is placed in an altar and worshipped.”
“I was not aware of this,” I said “A monk performs a special Christmas Eve aarti with candles and offers Cakes, biscuits, etc., to Christ. This tradition started way back in 1886.”
“1886? The same year Karl Benz came up with the first-ever automobile with burning motors?” I tried showing off.
“I don’t know about that, but what I do know is about four months after the death of Ramakrishna this year, Vivekananda, along with eight of his disciples gathered at a village called Antpur in Hooghly.”
“Okay,” I said; stories of Vivekananda always intrigues me. “So after sunset, they lighted a fire which is called Dhuni by you all and sat around it to meditate. After a long time, Vivekananda opened his eyes and spoke about the extraordinary life of sacrifice of Jesus Christ.”
“Yes, Swamiji had vast knowledge of all religion, but how is that related with the Christmas celebrations in Belur?” I asked.
“Well, what is interesting is It was only the next day they realised that the previous night was Christmas Eve.”
This left me flabbergasted; I tried grasping the information when I heard Mr Gomes saying “….and slowly Christmas Eve has become one of the important celebrations of the Ramakrishna Order. Today monks and devotees spread across 205 centres in 22 countries of the Ramakrishna Math celebrates this occasion with due solemnity.”
I finished my wine, thanked him and bid goodbye.
While returning, I kept thinking Christmas is not just about parting in Park Street with fine dine and wine, it is about sacrifice, it is about tolerance is about humanism and respect for all religions.
Since that day, Christmas has changed for me forever.
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A devoted foodie with keen interest in wild life, music, cinema and travel Somashis has evolved over time . Being an enthusiastic reader he has recently started making occasional contribution to write-ups.