Swami Niranjanananda was one of those few disciples whom Sri Ramakrishna termed as Nityasiddhas or Ishwarakotis —that is, souls who are perfect from their very birth and are not caught by Maya at any time. With particular reference to Niranjanananda, the Master once said that he was born with the characteristics of Rama inherent in him.
The early name of Swami Niranjanananda was Nityaniranjan Ghosh, and he was usually called by the shortened form Niranjan. He came from Rajarhat-Vishnupur, a village in 24 Parganas, but lived in Calcutta with his uncle Kalikrishna Mitra. In his boyhood, he became associated with a group of spiritualists in Calcutta. He was very often selected as a medium, and a very successful medium he always proved himself to be. At this time he developed some psychic powers—powers of curing people in a miraculous way and so on. It is said that a very rich man, suffering from insomnia for eighteen long years, sought the help of Niranjan for recovery. Niranjan said afterwards,
‘I do not know whether that man got any real help from me. But finding the man suffering so much in life in spite of all his riches and wealth, I was seized with a feeling of the emptiness of all worldly things.’
Hearing about the great spiritual power of Sri Ramakrishna, one afternoon, Niranjan came to Dakshineswar to see him. Some say that Niranjan came there first with his spiritualist friends. It is said that they tried to make Sri Ramakrishna a medium. At first, the Master agreed and sat like an innocent child to be a medium. But soon he disliked the idea and left the seat.
With Sri Ramakrishna
Niranjan was about eighteen years old when he met the Master for the first time. He had a very majestic appearance—being a tall figure with broad shoulders and a strong physique. Though a boy, fearlessness beamed through his eyes.
Sri Ramakrishna was surrounded by a circle of devotees when Niranjan came to him. In the evening when all the devotees dispersed, the Master turned to Niranjan and inquired all about him. Coming to know about his interest in spiritualism, he told young Niranjan,
‘My boy, if you think of ghosts and spooks, ghosts and spooks you will become. And if you think of God, divine will be your life. Which do you prefer?’
‘Of course, the latter’ replied Niranjan. Thereupon Sri Ramakrishna advised Niranjan to sever all connections with the spiritualists, to which Niranjan agreed.
At the very first meeting, the Master talked with Niranjan as if he had known him for a long time. Sri Ramakrishna, seeing that it was getting dark, pressed Niranjan to pass the night at Dakshineswar. But Niranjan could not do so lest his uncle should be anxious for him. He, however, promised to come again.
This meeting, though short, so much impressed Niranjan that all the time on his way home he kept thinking about Sri Ramakrishna. At home also Sri Ramakrishna occupied all his thoughts. So within two or three days he again came to him. As soon as the Master saw the boy near the door, he ran to him and warmly embraced him. Then with deep feelings he began to say, ‘My boy, days are passing, when will you realise God? And if you do not realise God, the whole life will be meaningless. I am extremely anxious as to when you will wholeheartedly devote yourself to God.’ Niranjan was mute with wonder, and thought, ‘Strange indeed! How could he be so anxious because I have not realised God! Who could this man be?’ Anyway, these words, uttered with deep feeling, greatly touched the heart of the boy. He spent the night at Dakshineswar. The next day and the day following that were also spent there in ecstatic joy. It was on the fourth day that he returned to Calcutta. His uncle was in great anxiety for him. When Niranjan returned home, he was scolded for his absence and put under surveillance so that he might not go anywhere. Afterwards, however, Niranjan was permitted to go to Dakshineswar whenever he liked.
Niranjan was very frank and open-minded. The Master liked this trait in him because frankness and open-mindedness, in his opinion, were rare virtues— the effect of much Tapasya in one’s previous life and they indicated the possibility of realizing God. Niranjan had a great abhorrence for married life. When his relatives pressed him for marriage, he was alarmed at the very idea. He thought he was being dragged towards his ruin. He was an extremely pure soul. The Master used to say that Niranjan was without any ‘Anjan’—that is, without any blemish in his character.
Niranjan was of violent temper, though he had a very tender heart. When provoked, he would lose all sense of proportion. One day he was going to Dakshineswar in a country-boat. Some fellow passengers began to speak ill of Sri Ramakrishna in the hearing of Niranjan. Niranjan at first protested. But finding that it was of no avail, he began to rock the boat, threatening to drown the passengers for their misconduct. The robust appearance and the furious mood of Niranjan struck terror into the hearts of the calumniators, who immediately apologized for their improper behaviour. When Sri Ramakrishna heard of this incident, he severely took Niranjan to task for his violent temper.
‘Anger is a deadly sin, why should you be subject to it? Foolish people in their pitiable ignorance say many things. One should completely ignore them as beneath notice’, said Sri Ramakrishna. The reader may contrast this with a similar incident in Swami Yogananda’s life, and find for himself how the Master’s teaching varied according to the character of the disciple.
At one time Niranjan was compelled to accept a situation in an office. When the news reached Sri Ramakrishna, he was greatly aggrieved and remarked, ‘I should not have been more pained, had I heard of his death.’ Afterwards, when he learnt that Niranjan had accepted the situation to maintain his aged mother, Sri Ramakrishna breathed a sigh of relief and said, ‘Ah, then it is all right. It will not contaminate your mind. But if you had done so for your own sake, I could not have touched you. Really it was unthinkable that you could stoop to such humiliation.’ Hearing these words, when one of the audience asked the Master if he was decrying service and if so, how could one maintain oneself and one’s family, the Master remarked, ‘Let others do whatever they like. I say these with reference to those young aspirants who form a class by themselves.’
Niranjan could not be long in the service. When Sri Ramakrishna was ill at Cossipore, Niranjan was one of those young disciples who stayed with him and day and night attended to his needs, with the hope that they would be able to cure him through their devoted service.
After Sri Ramakrishna’s Mahasamadhi
After the demise of the Master, all the devotees agreed to inter the ashes somewhere on the Ganga. But later on, Ramchandra Datta and others wanted to take the ashes to Kankurgachhi, in the eastern part of Calcutta. Niranjan is remembered for his bold advocacy of the original plan. By his intervention, the greater portion of the ashes was retained by the world-renouncing young men.
After the passing of Sri Ramakrishna, Niranjan joined the monastery at Baranagore and gave up himself heart and soul to the realisation of Truth. Now and then, spurred by the spirit of freedom, which does not allow a monk to confine himself to one place, Niranjan also would go hither and thither; but the monastery at Baranagore and afterwards at Alambazar, when it was removed there, was, as it were, the headquarters for him as also for all his gurubhais.
He was the peer of Shashi (Swami Ramakrishnananda) in extraordinary steadfastness to the worship of the relic of the Master enshrined in the monastery. His faith in Sri Ramakrishna was so very living that it made him strong enough not to care at all for the praise or the blame of the whole world.
When Swami Vivekananda, after his triumphant success in the West, was returning to India, Swami Niranjanananda hastened to Colombo to receive him there. Afterwards, Niranjanananda accompanied Swami Vivekananda to some places in his tour through Northern India. For some time he stayed alone in Varanasi performing Tapasya and living by begging from door to door.
Devotion to Holy Mother
Swami Niranjanananda had a very loving heart though his appearance would inspire awe. His last meeting with the Holy Mother was very touching. ‘It disclosed’, a devotee records, ‘his loving, impulsive nature. He made no mention of the approaching end but was like a tearful child clinging to its mother. He insisted that the Holy Mother do everything for him, even feed him, and he wanted only what she had made ready for his meal. When the time came for him to leave her, reluctantly he threw himself at her feet weeping tears of tender sadness; then silently he went away, knowing that he would never see her again.’
Indeed his devotion to the Holy Mother was unsurpassable. Swami Vivekananda used to say, ‘Niranjan has got so much devotion to the Holy Mother that I can forgive his thousand and one faults only because of that.’
Girish Chandra Ghosh also bore testimony to Niranjan’s devotion to the Holy Mother. In those early days, the divinity of the Holy Mother was not so widely acknowledged; and Girish confessed that he too was a disbeliever. But soon his eyes were opened by Niranjan who first took him to the Holy Mother and then to her village home at Jayrambati, where Girish stayed with Niranjan under the affectionate care of the Holy Mother for some months, deriving thereby immense spiritual benefit. In fact, it was partly through Niranjan’s active preaching that many devotees came to recognize the spiritual greatness of the Holy Mother.
Love for Truth
There was a strange mixture of tenderness and sternness in him. His love for truth was uncompromising and counted no cost. Once a gentleman of Calcutta built a Shiva temple in the city of Varanasi. When Swami Vivekananda heard of this, he remarked, ‘If he does something for relieving the sufferings of the poor, he will acquire the merit of building a thousand such temples.’ When this remark of the great Swami reached the ears of the gentleman, he came forward with a big offer of pecuniary help to the Ramakrishna Mission Home of Service at Varanasi—then in a nucleus state. But afterwards, as the first impulse of enthusiasm cooled down, he wanted to curtail the sum which he had originally offered. This breach of promise so much offended Swami Niranjanananda’s sense of regard for truth that he rejected the offer altogether, though that meant great difficulty for the institution.
It is very hard to estimate a spiritual personality by external events. The height of spiritual eminence of a person can be perceived, and that also only to some extent, by the inspiration he radiates. Swami Niranjanananda left the stamp of his life on many persons. Some even renounced everything for the sake of God and joined the Ramakrishna Order because of his influence. He left one sannyasin disciple. Above all, to know Swami Niranjanananda we must turn to what the Master said about him: that Swami Niranjanananda was one of his ‘Antarangas’, that is, belonged to the inner circle of his devotees.
During the last few years of his life, he suffered greatly from dysentery, and passed away on 9 May 1904, from an attack of cholera at Hardwar where he had gone for Tapasya.