Ramakrishna Das (14 August 1908—8 November 1998)—better known as Babaji Maharaj—was born in the village of Rairpur situated in the district of Jagatsinghpur in Orissa.
Even from his early years he had a strong inclination towards spiritual life. He started reading spiritual books and great epics like the Mahabharata and the Ramayana at the age of nine and was deeply touched by the life of Raghu Behera who had realized the Divine through the process of nama-japa (repeating the Name of the Divine with faith and aspiration). Quite early in life he had decided to dedicate his life in the pursuit of a divine life. At the age of sixteen he joined the State Services in the settlement office at Cuttack. As he was being pressurized to get married by his parents, he got himself shifted to Ranchi in Bihar. Finally he quit his job and went to Ayodhya in 1928 in search of a spiritual guide. Shri Mouni Baba Ramasarandas Maharaj, a disciple of the great Yogi Shri Raghunathdas-ji, accepted Ramakrishna as his disciple. His days in Ayodhya were spent in intense sadhana. Gradually he came in contact with the works of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. Their writings brought about a complete change in him and he became conscious of the aim of his life. He joined the Sri Aurobindo Ashram on 2 February 1945 as a permanent inmate. He played a very significant role in spreading the message and teachings of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother all over Orissa.
Two articles on Ramakrishna Das alias Babaji Maharaj, authored by Padma Shri Manoj Das and Gunananda Das, have been published in the online forum of Overman Foundation.
With warm regards,
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…
‘Tapobhumi’—the land of austerity—is the epithet ascribed to India which has been hallowed by severe austerities practised by the saints and the sages born in it through all ages. Conspicuous in this holy land is the region called Utkala (i.e. Orissa), whose heart bears Nilachala, the seat of Lord Jagannath. An Oriya poet has aptly sung:
bhārata sarase utkala kamala/tamadhye keshara tuhi nilāchala,
which, rendered into English, reads thus:
In the lake of India
Shines the lotus of Utkala;
Thou art its core,
In this holy land whenever there is the decline of righteousness and the prevalence of wickedness God sends his Vibhutis, or the saints, or incarnates himself to restore righteousness to its right position by destroying the wicked.
In the early period of the twentieth century in Utkala, when it was under the sway of wicked forces and its people lost their virtue, followed evil ways and forgot their own religious duties, was born an exceptional child by the name of Krishnachandra Routray on the 14th August, 1908.
His father was Markandeya Routray and his mother was Jhumki Devi. The name of the village where the child was born is Rairpur. It is under the Balikuda Police Station in the Jagatsinghpur Subdivision of Cuttack District. That child later came to be known as Ramakrishna Das, who resided in Sri Aurobindo Ashram, in Pondicherry. In Orissa he was most popularly known as Babaji Maharaj.
While yet a child of five or six years, he often used to fall asleep in the arms of his mother. He would then go out of his body and rise up into the sky and a short while later enter into the body again. On re-entering the body he let out a cry of fear. He narrated the incidents to his mother and wanted to know their cause. But his mother was quite ignorant of these things and she only told him that they were caused by witches.
Young Ramakrishna’s education started at the age of five in a village school called Chatashali. At school he was marked as a good pupil. In addition to the text-books, he devoted himself to the study of the Bhagavatam and the eighteen Puranas which gave him an inclination towards the spiritual life. One of his favourite books was the Dardhyatabhakti. This work in Oriya contains the biographies of a number of saints. One day he came across the life of the saint Raghu Behera. He was only eight at that time. The saint’s life influenced him very much. The story describes how the Lord granted a vision of Himself to Raghu Behera. Ramakrishna was so inspired by this fact that he made up his mind at that very moment to renounce the world and take to the life of a Sannayasin. But this decision would take material shape only later. He carried on his studies till the age of eleven. At the age of nine or ten he had been initiated by his family preceptor with the sacred word ‘Ramakrishna’. He was thus accustomed to the repetition of the Mantra since then.
After completing his studies, Ramakrishna served as a teacher for a few months in a primary school near his village. His elder brother, Sri Baidyanath Routray, was then serving as a gumasta (agent) in the court of Alupada. From him he learnt the art of petition-writing. He then moved to Cuttack and worked there as a moharir (petition-writer). Not many months had passed when he was promoted to the post of a munsarir (secretary). Later, he left Cuttack for Ranchi and served there also as a munsarir. This was the last government service in his life.
Ramakrishna’s spiritual life began at Ranchi. He resigned his government service and went straight to Ayodhya. On arriving there, he heard from a priest about the greatness of Mouni Baba and immediately proceeded to see him at his Ashram. He approached the Baba with joined palms and prayed to him to accept him as his disciple. The Baba granted his prayer and gave him the divine name ‘Rama’ as his Mantra. Ramakrishna formerly used to repeat the name ‘Ramakrishna’. He now repeated only ‘Rama’.
In his family he was called Krishnachandra. When he was admitted into the order of Sannyasins, his preceptor gave him the new name ‘Ramakrishna’ by which he was known thenceforth.
Ramakrishna rose early every morning and went to the river Sarayu to perform his ablutions. He had his bath twice daily—in the morning and in the afternoon. One afternoon, while he was having his bath in the river, he saw Lord Ramachandra in the form of a small child floating on its waters. Ramakrishna had the vision of Lord Rama thrice in three different forms at Ayodhya.
Ramakrishna’s master had a number of disciples. Ramakrishna was one of the few who were engaged in his personal service. He belonged to the closest circle of the master. He was a Sannyasin of the Vaishnava sect.
The various sects of Hinduism such as Vaishnava, Ganapatya, Shaiva, Shakta etc. are often at variance with each other. But in the life of Ramakrishna we see a harmonious blending of all these. While repeating the joint name of ‘Ramakrishna’, he offered his devotion to Shiva too.
The boy Ramakrishna had some white marks (like leucoderma) on his leg. The part of the skin which carried those marks became insensitive. His brother advised him to consult a doctor and to take the prescribed medicine. His father being a religious person advised him to worship Lord Shiva. On his father’s advice Ramakrishna went to a temple about five miles from his village to worship the Lord. He remained at the temple for twenty-one days, praying for his recovery, determined not to budge from the place until his prayer was granted. As a result of this he was completely cured of his illness.
While at Ayodhya, Ramakrishna came across an article on the Mother and Sri Aurobindo published in the Hindi monthly Kalyan. This prompted him to get further information regarding the Mother and Sri Aurobindo and their ideal, and he wrote a letter to an inmate of Sri Aurobindo Ashram to that effect. The inmate sent him some Hindi translations of the works of Sri Aurobindo by mail. He was filled with delight as he went through these books. The ideal of Sri Aurobindo appealed to him so much that he dropped his idea of leaving for the Himalayas.
In the wake of reading the writings of Sri Aurobindo, there also arose a dilemma in his mind. He had been initiated into the Vaishnava cult and was a votary of Sri Rama. To abandon one faith for the sake of another would be a sin he thought. He then remained silent for a time. Now a couplet of Tulsidas flashed into his mind. The couplet said that however dear a person may be, if he stands in the way of God-realisation, he should be eschewed like an enemy. Prahlad forsook his father, Vibhisana his brother, the Gopis of Vrindaban deserted their husbands for the sake of the Lord. Yet these persons are worshipped in the world as noble souls!
Thereafter he understood that the world was ever subject to change. God too takes different incarnations in different ages. Then why should it be a sin to change one’s faith? Following this trend of thought, he wrote to the secretary of Sri Aurobindo Ashram giving expression to his feeling. The secretary handed over the letter to the Mother. The Mother told the secretary to send him her blessings. Accordingly, a blessing-packet containing rose-petals in an envelope was sent. On opening the letter, no sooner had Ramakrishna touched the blessing-packet, he was immersed in a divine bliss. He remained in this condition of bliss for a number of days and, at the same time, carried on his work in the Ashram at Ayodhya as usual. During this time he was not aware of hunger or thirst. He thought of how when a simple touch of the rose-petals could give him such extraordinary delight, what a delight it would be to see the Mother in person!
In those days it was a rule that prior permission of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo had to be obtained in order to see them or to stay in their Ashram. Accordingly, he sent a telegram to the secretary of Sri Aurobindo Ashram seeking permission to join the Ashram. “You may come” was the reply he received from the secretary through a telegram. Immediately he sat down to meditate and tried to repeat the word ‘Ram’. But instead of ‘Ram’, the words ‘Sri Aurobindo’ came up spontaneously to his lips. He now found himself at the threshold of a golden opportunity. He began the preparation for this journey—to Pondicherry, his next abode.
Men generally hanker after name and fame. But the one who kicks them aside, is pursued by them like one’s shadow. Ramakrishna’s life is evidence of this. Had he remained in Ayodhya, he would have been the mahanta (abbot) of the Ashram in which he was living. But throwing away his prospects he came to Sri Aurobindo Ashram in the year 1945 and settled there for ever.
With the Mother’s permission he took up work in the common dining hall of the Ashram: it was to clean the utensils after meals. He did this work as his sadhana.
Praise and honour, to which he was indifferent, poured in at his feet. He was loving and kind to all. Thanks to his tireless efforts, the message of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo—the creators of the Supramental Future—has reached every corner of Orissa.
(translated by Gourmohan Mohanta)