The Ramakrishna Kathamrita describes a memorable boat ride on the Hoogly that was undertaken by Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa and Keshab Chandra Sen
By Joy (Sirshendu)
On 27th October 1882, the day of the Lakshmi Puja for Bengalis, there took place a very special boat trip on the River Hoogly in Kolkata. The delightful episode is described in Ramakrishna Kathamrita and is a very wonderful read.
On that day Sri Keshab Chandra Sen chartered a steamboat to take Sri Ramakrishna Paramhamsa on an evening trip down the river.
Sri Ramakrishna the great devotee of Kali used to reside at the beautiful temple at Dakshineshwar. This was the time when all his disciples including Narendra (later Swami Vivekananda) were young lads who hung around the temple delighting in Sri Ramakrishna’s company. He was not widely known at that time and in fact it was Sri Ramakrishna who had sought out Keshab Chandra Sen and met him a few years earlier.
Sen was one of the important names in the reform movements in that period and comes across as a very interesting, if somewhat a complex character. He came from a very orthodox Hindu background, his grandfather being one of the foremost in the pro-sati anti-Rammohun Roy movement. During his lifetime he seems to have been a bundle of well-meaning passion and brilliant oratory but his half-baked ideas shifted from doctrine to doctrine, until his association with Sri Ramakrishna came about. At the time of the boat ride he was associated with the Brahmo Samaj and had followers of his own.
Dakshineshwar today is well within the city of Kolkata but in those days it was considered to be ten miles outside the city and quite a long ride on a tonga. Sitting on the steps of the ghat behind the temple with the wide expanse of the river flowing in front and the Vivekananda bridge to the left presented a very beautiful picture.
The steamboat with Sen and his followers arrived at Dakshineshwar at around 4pm and Sri Ramakrishna was rowed over and he boarded the vessel. Ramakrishna went into a trance almost immediately and then followed an amazing conversation full of simplicity, wisdom and humour.
Many reformists/ evangelists tend to reject everything that they see as old and evil in their zeal to find the one formula for perfection. Having got hold of such an idea they then go about converting others to see things as they do. There were certainly a lot of social and religious evils rampant at that time and perhaps such drastic bulldozing of archaic beliefs was justified but after the demolition the ideas that remained on the table seemed too narrow for the vast field of human experience.
On the other hand Sri Ramakrishna came from an all-encompassing, all-embracing approach of joto-mot-toto-poth (there are as many beliefs as there are ways) meaning ultimately that any path followed with love, truth and sincerity is valid.
The boat travelled down river till the botanical gardens and then turned around and docked at Koilaghat close to where the Howrah Bridge would come up later. In the evening the passengers were served puffed rice (muri) with grated coconut. Having disembarked at Kolaghat, Sen had hired a tonga to take Sri Ramakrishna back to Dakshineshwar. The tonga ride through the European quarters of Kolkata with piano music floating in from colonial houses delighted the simple man.
There are tons and tons of books of wisdom and so many complex philosophies that are best well-left outside the off-stump. But this episode combining a delightful joy-ride, simple affection and sublime common sense is probably the best I have come across. That such an episode should have been actually recorded for us to read, enjoy and reflect a hundred years on is a divine miracle itself.
What's Your Reaction?
Joy (Sirshendu), an engineering grad, had his schooling in Shillong before moving to Bangalore. After a couple of decades of excitement and monotony alternately of the corporate world, he has now moved to an NGO that focuses on education-to-employment programs for the deserving and underprivileged college students. Joy is an avid traveller and is the co-author of the book -“Faith” in journeys: 20 places that tuned our beliefs.