Babaji Maharaj – A Tribute by Manoj Das
It was the 8th of November 1998. The 125th Birth Anniversary of Sri Aurobindo was being celebrated at Bhuvaneswar under the auspices of the Government of Orissa. Since the auditorium including the spacious balcony overlooking the stage was completely packed with an audience that comprised not only of the elite of the city and the local devotees but also of those who had travelled from distant places for the occasion, many had to keep standing along the walls or sit down between the rows of chairs. They included top bureaucrats, intellectuals and politicians. The ministers themselves, by lending their hands, initiated the process of removing from the stage all the tables and chairs meant for them, as well as all the other stuff barring the marvellously decorated portraits of the Master and the Mother and the podium for this speaker, so that the floor could accommodate at least a small part of the overflowing audience. Loudspeakers had been arranged for those still streaming in to hear the proceedings from the passages and the lounge outside the auditorium.
But all these swift rearrangements were being carried out in complete silence, without the slightest murmur from any quarter, for the people had come to pay their homage to Sri Aurobindo. They would not allow any inconvenience to affect their mood.
After a brief spell of appropriate music with meditation and the formal introduction of behalf of the State Government, this author spoke on the significance of the celebration for about an hour, but just as he was preparing to sit down, Niranjan Pattanayak, a Cabinet Minister and the chief organiser of the event, quickly handed over to him a slip of paper. He had just received the news that Shri Ramakrushna Das, our beloved Babaji Maharaj, had passed away a little while ago.
The audience waited in an uneasy silence, anxiety writ large on its face because of Niranjan Babu’s unusually hesitant gesture and my grim face. Only some of them knew that Babaji Maharaj was in a critical condition and he could leave us any moment. My announcement of the news seemed to spread yet another layer of silence on the gathering, this time with an almost palpable serenity. We meditated for some time. I am sure a profound sense of gratefulness for the departed soul filled the hearts of most of us.
During that vibrant silence this author was suffused with yet another emotion—a feeling of fulfilment which, he felt, the dear departed must have carried with him. A significant part of Babaji Maharaj’s life was dedicated to arousing the people of Orissa to the Vision of Sri Aurobindo and the Love of the Mother. His was an incredible feat. Having spent his youth in Ayodhya, he hardly remembered his mother-tongue when he joined Sri Aurobindo Ashram in 1945. But not only did he revive his knowledge of Oriya, but also learnt English with a vengeance to understand the works of Sri Aurobindo, no doubt with the unfailing help of his deep faith in the Supreme Guide and intuitive access to the truth that had been revealed to him. He produced booklets in Oriya explaining different aspects of the Yoga of Sri Aurobindo, as well as the basic issues of spirituality that moved the minds and hearts of his readers belonging to all strata of society. It was his dream to flood his home state with the effulgence of the Master’s and the Mother’s message and his leaving his body at the very moment when the Government, on behalf of the people, was acknowledging the greatness of the Master, appeared symbolic of the accomplishment of his dream. I do not know of a second person who, living hundreds of miles away from Orissa and rarely visiting the state, had won so much love and reverence of the people of the state and exercised such a lasting influence on their lives.
He was extraordinary in several ways. Born on the 14th of August 1908, in a village named Rairpur in what is now Jagatsinghpur district of Orissa, circumstances obliged him to take up a job in the Settlement Department of the Government at the age of sixteen. But inwardly he remained engrossed in the spiritual lore right from the time he had been able to read. One day he bade goodbye to his milieu and, in search of a guide for his Sadhana, reached the holy city of Ayodhya and was accepted as a disciple by a renowned Guru. Probably it was at this time that his original name, Krushnachandra Routray, changed into Ramakrushna Das, as demanded by tradition, indicating the end of one’s old conventional identity and the beginning of a new life.
Before long, even though he never wished to be a Guru, seekers, attracted by his most amiable personality and transparent faith, were drawn to him. Among them were princes, judges and educationists of eminence. While he became a great support in their search for light, his own quest never stopped even with what we believe to be realisations of lofty planes of mystic reality. It is this blessed and rare quality of Ramakrushna Das—who could have easily presided over an ever-growing circle of disciples—that introduced him to the world of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, either through some of their works or through some authentic articles on them. It did not take his mature psyche long to recognise in them the ultimate he sought. Without the slightest hesitation he broke away from his hermitage and came over to Pondicherry and joined the Ashram on the 2nd of February 1945.
We can imagine the difficulty for one steeped in the traditional ideas of asceticism-oriented spirituality and occupying a position of mentor for numerous others, to join as one among so many sadhaks of Sri Aurobindo Ashram conforming to a radically different life-style, accepting the Mother as the supreme Guide and offering one’s services in any field chosen by Her. For the greater part of his life in the Ashram, Babaji or Babaji Maharaj as he came to be lovingly called, worked in the Ashram Dining establishment, washing dishes. He rarely absented himself from the regular programme of physical education as a member of his group. But, with a keen sense of discipline and an exemplary hold over time, he devoted himself to study, writing, answering questions from visitors whose number kept growing, and replying to a bulging volume of letters.
As time passed, his old admirers traced him to his new abode. Among them were the Raja and Rani of the principality of Ambawa. While Babaji Maharaj was at Ayodhya, they had offered him a precious gift of a large tract of land adjacent to the most celebrated spot in that city of unique antiquity, Ram Janmabhoomi or the sacred Birthplace of Lord Rama. Now the royal couple was keen to effectuate its resolve. Babaji advised them to offer the land to the Mother, which they happily did and the Mother graciously accepted it. (By the way, it was a conscientious gesture of the Government of India to exclude this property from its acquisition when the tumultuous developments around the Rama Janmabhoomi obliged it to take custody of the surrounding area.)
A smooth transition from the old to the new order of Yoga and from the undeclared position of a Guru to the position of a child of the Mother were no doubt remarkable achievements of this progressive sage, but no less remarkable were his humility, his austere way of living devoid of the slightest concern for personal comfort, his unfailing patience in satisfying the queries of visitors as well as his untiring guidance to hundreds of Study Circles formed in Orissa, inspired by him and executed by his worthy lieutenant, Prapatti (Prof. K. C. Pati in his pre-Ashram life).
I joined the Ashram early in 1963 and had the privilege of enjoying his never-failing company for long stretches of time, as those were days when visitors were rare. The education he imparted to me, never through preaching but through his conduct or only when I sought his advice on any issue, is among the most valuable I had ever received. If I were asked about the most memorable quality of this sage, I should say that he had the innate capacity to be spontaneously happy at someone else’s happiness. Indeed, it speaks of one’s nobility or humanity when one suffers at someone’s suffering, but to be able to be quietly happy when someone else was happy, of course for a worthy person, appeared to me a divine quality in this remarkable Yogi…
[the above text was originally published at https://overmanfoundation.wordpress.com/]