Monday, 9 July 2018

The last moments of Swami Vivekananda

While others recently offered shradhanjali by means of memories, write-ups, tweets, fb posts etc. timed to the death anniversary of Swami Vivekananda, here please find a detailed account of his last moments, his passing away and his cremation. We should remember him every day of the year. Not just on 'certain' days. 

The write up is courtesy Payal Lahoty and Dr. Harsh Chaturvedi, who teaches at IIT Guwahati. You can connect with him on Twitter via his handle @hchaturv

Timeline of  Last Days of Immortal Swami Vivekananda's  mortal body

Saratchandra Chakravarty visited Swami Vivekananda on March 16th, rubbed his feet as Swamiji read the hymn composed by him on Sri Ramakrishna. Swami Vivekananda appreciated the hymn, Saratchandra felt like crying seeing his deteriorating health. Swami Vivekananda understood his feelings and consoled him saying “Why worry, this body was born to die if I have been able to inject some of my ideas in disciples like you in my life , then my life is a fulfilled one.” At the end Saratchandra saw Swamiji humming “Now in the evening of life ...O Mother take the child back to home…”

The week before 4th July 1902, Swamiji had asked Shuddhananda to bring the Bengali almanac. Sri Ramakrishna had also consulted it before his Mahasamadhi. Though nobody could have guessed it then, that it would be his last week.
Swamiji knew his body was dying, He told Sister Nivedita ‘Let me die fighting. These two years of physical suffering have taken away 20 years of my life” Sister Nivedita visited Swami Vivekananda on 02.07.1902 which was Ekadashi. He was fasting but insisted on serving food to her. At the end of the meals Swami Vivekananda poured water over her hands and dried them with a towel. Her Master thus bade her farewell, but she did not know about it then.

On July 4, 1902, Vivekananda passed away following a third heart attack, completing 39 years, five months and 24 days, well short of 40 years as he himself prophesied, not to cross 40 years. Swami Vivekananda woke up very early morning and went to temple. It seemed a normal day. Swamiji took breakfast,  laughed and joked with others with other Sannyasis. He went on a morning walk with Swami Premananda, and had told him - "You should not imitate me, remember Thakur ( Sri Ramakrishna) said not to imitate anyone."

Around 8 am, Swamiji asked Swami Premananda to close the door and prepare the worship room for him, where he started meditating. Meditation continued till 11:00 am. He started singing devotion songs— Ma ki amar kalo, About 11:30 am,  Swamiji took lunch with others. That day's menu was— rice, hilsa fish curry, vegetable fry and ambal. He said, "The observation of ekadashi has whetted my appetite. With difficulty I resisted the temptations to eat up the utensils." Around 12:30 pm, Swamiji rested for 15-20 minutes. Then he told Swami Premananda, "Let's go to the study room. being Sannyasis, we should not sleep during the day."

From 1 pm—4 pm, Swamiji taught Brahmachari-s in the library room. The subject of the days teachings was the Sanskrit grammar of Panini. During the course he instructed his disciple Swami Shuddhananda, to fetch the Shukla Yajurveda. Swamiji then asked him to read the fortieth verse of the eighteenth chapter of the Madhyandina recension of the Vajasaneyi Samhita beginning with the words ‘Sushumna surya rashmi’, along with the commentary of Mahidhara.

Swamiji then remarked, ‘This interpretation of the passage does not appeal to my mind. Whatever may be the commentator’s interpretation of the word Sushumna, the seed or the basis of what the Tantras, in the later ages, speak of as the Sushumna nerve-channel in the body, is contained here, in this Vedic Mantra. You, my disciples, should try to discover the true import of these Mantras and make original reflections and commentaries of the Shastras.’ Mahidhara had interpreted the word as another name of Chandra, the Moon God, but Swamiji had felt that the word actually refers to the canal through which the Kundalini moves.
4 pm: Drank a cup of warm milk and went for evening walk with Swami Premananda. Swamiji and Swami Premananda walked almost 2 miles. Vivekananda had a lengthy conversation with Premananda that evening. They visited the Belur Bazar where he mentioned to him about opening of a Vedic College in the monastery. When asked by his gurubhai what good study of Vedas would do he replied “It will kill superstitions.”

5 pm: Swamiji and Swami Premananda came back to Belur Math. They sat on a bench near a mango tree in the garden of Belur Math. Swamiji said, "I have not felt so well for may days." He talked to Ishwar Chandra Chakraborty (the father of Swami Ramakrishnananda) for some time.

6:30 pm:  He drank a cup of tea with a few monks. 7 pm: The bell announced the evening worship time. Swamiji went to the worship room and attended the daily event. He asked  for a prayer bead, and went to his own room, asking not to be disturbed. 7:45 pm: Swamiji told Brajendra that he was feeling warm and asked to open the windows. He lay down on his bed on the floor. 9:00 pm: Swamiji was lying on his back, then he turned on his right side. Brajendra noticed drops of sweats on Swamij's forehead. 9:02 pm—9:10 pm: He breathed deeply. His hands trembled. 9:30 pm: Everyone of the Math rushed to Swamiji's room. They were unable to decide that if it was a Samadhi.

Swami Bodhananda tried to feel Swamij's pulse and then shouted, "Go immediately and bring Doctor Majumdar." Considering it a Samadhi, Swami Premananda and Swami Nischayananda started chanting the name of Ramakrishna to bring back Swamiji's consciousness. 10:30 pm:  Doctor Mahendranath Majumdar, Swami Brahmananda and Swami Saradananda came to Belur Math. Doctor Majumdar started examining Swamiji's body and found his heart was not pumping. He tried inducing artificial respiration but was unsuccessful. 12:00 midnight: Doctor Majumdar announced Swamiji's death.He said the probable cause was death was a heart attack.

Following is the account of his cremation on 5th Jul 1902 at Belur Math by Chandrasekhar Chattopadhyay (translated from Bengali by Swami Chetatmananda)

“I went to the Ahiritola ghat, crossed the Ganges by boat, and then reached Belur Math at 10:00 am via Salikha (Salkia) and Ghusuri. It was raining a little. I saw that Rakhal Maharaj (Swami Brahmananda) and some monks were busy decorating a cot with flowers in the western veranda of the Math building. When Rakhal Maharaj saw me, he burst into tears. His voice was choked, so he pointed to the steps and indicated that we should go upstairs.

 When I entered Swami Vivekananda’s room I saw that his divine body had been laid on a carpet. His forehead was smeared with holy ashes; a bouquet of flowers was placed near his head; and his body was covered with a new ochre cloth. His right hand was resting on the floor and a rosary had been placed around his right thumb. His eyes were indrawn and half-closed like Lord Shiva in meditation. The entire room was full of fragrance from incense burning at both sides of his body. Sister Nivedita was seated at the left side of Swamiji’s body, steadily fanning his head with a palm-leaf fan. Tears were trickling down her cheeks.

Swamiji’s head was placed to the west and his feet to the east, towards the Ganges. Grief-stricken, Brahmachari Nandalal sat silently at his feet. We all three bowed down to Swamiji, touching his feet, and then sat there. Meanwhile, many distinguished people and devotees from Calcutta and other places arrived to see Swamiji for the last time. One after another they bowed down to him and left; but the three in my party, Brahmachari Nandalal and Sister Nivedita stayed. When I finished my japa, Nivedita whispered to me: ‘Can you sing, my friend? Would you mind singing the songs that our Thakur used to sing?’ I said that I could not sing. Nivedita requested again, ‘On my behalf will you please ask your friend to sing?’
Then my friend Nibaran sang a few songs melodiously: ‘Cherish my precious Mother Shyama tenderly within, O mind’; Nivedita listened to these songs with all her attention. Pent-up emotions overflowed from her heart and began to flow from her eyes as tears. It was an unforgettable and sad scene. 

At about 1:00 pm Swami Saradananda came upstairs to Swamiji’s room and said to Brahmachari Nandalal and the three in my party: ‘Look, we are broken-hearted because of Swamiji’s passing away. We have lost all our strength. Would you be able to carry Swamiji’s body downstairs?’ Immediately Brahmachari Nandalal and we three devotees slowly and carefully carried Swamiji’s body down the steps to the lower veranda and placed it on the cot decorated with flowers. As was the custom, some pomegranates, apples, pears and grapes were offered to Swamiji.

Swami Advaitananda then said to the brahmachari, ‘O Nandalal, Swamiji loved you immensely. You perform the last worship to him.’ When Swami Brahmananda and the other monks approved this proposal, Nandalal performed the ritual offerings of garlands and flowers, and of fruits and sweets, then waving an oil lamp and finally chanting a hymn.

Later, Swamiji’s feet were painted with red dye (alta) and footprints were made on small pieces of cloth. Sister Nivedita also took a footprint on a new handkerchief.  When the worship service was over, Swami Saradananda asked the same four of us to carry the cot to the spot where Swamiji’s body would be cremated. All the monks and devotees followed the procession. Swami Saradananda then asked everyone, ‘Please take a bunch of pankati [the dried stalk of the jute plant], ignite it, circle Swamiji’s body seven times, place the blazing pankati under the cot just below Swamiji’s feet, and bow down to him.’ According to his instructions, Swamiji’s body was consigned to the sandalwood fire, and the grief-stricken monks and devotees sat like statues around the blazing pyre. The funeral fire gradually rose high, extending its many lolling tongues to consume Swamiji’s body. Girish Chandra Ghosh and other devotees were seated on a cement bench near the bel tree and watching this heart-rending scene.

Swamiji's body was wrapped in a saffron cloth. Sister Nivedita wished to take a small portion of that cloth so that she could send it as a memento to Josephine MacLeod. But, she was unsure whether the act would be proper or not and decided not to take it. Around 6 pm in the evening, the burning flame was about to go out. Suddenly Nivedita felt somebody had pulled her sleeve. She turned around and found a small piece of saffron cloth which had somehow come out of the pyre during cremation. Nivedita lifted and took the cloth considering it as a message from the Swamiji himself. In her letter to Josephine MacLeod on 14 September 1902, Sister Nivedita wrote:

“...But your real message came at the burning pyre itself... At 6 o'clock... as if I were twitched by the sleeve, I looked down, and there, safe out of all that burning and blackness, there blew to my feet the very two or three inches I had desired out of the border of the cloth. I took it as a Letter from Him to you, from beyond the grave.”

Swami Vivekananda temple was later constructed at the site of his cremation.
To fulfil Swamiji’s last wish, Kali Puja was held at Belur Math on the first new-moon night (amavasya) after 4 July. No outsiders were invited on that occasion, except for Bhupendranath Datta, Swamiji’s younger brother.

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