The next morning, we booked a Zoom car (not recommended, as parking is a huge problem anywhere in the city) and went on first to Belurmath, situated on the banks of Hooghly where Shri Ramkrishna Paramhansa had stayed most of his life. It is now the headquarters of the Ramakrishna mission and has a huge campus, even an independent university. It’s a serene place, and is frequently visited by the local people, as was evident by the crowd that morning. Having spent some quality time there, we next went to visit the Victoria memorial, known for its magnificient beauty. We took a small detour to get here, so that we wouldn’t miss the famous Howrah bridge.
4 pm: Belur MathAfter satiating the bibliophile in me, it was time for some spiritual pursuit. I took a taxi ride to the peaceful Belur Math. The Temple, located on the banks of the Hooghly River, was founded by Swami Vivekananda and is now the headquarters of the Ramakrishna Math religious organization. The temple incorporates architecture and designs from Hinduism, Islam and Christianity. Housed inside the Math is the Ramkrishna Sarada Mandir, where regular prayers take place. This is the place where Swami Vivekananda resided and died in 1902. A monument commemorated in his memory stands within the Math premises right beside River Hooghly. I chose to walk around the gardens for a while before entering the temple. Photography is strictly prohibited at Belur Math. So make sure you don’t snap any photos as there are plenty of security guards around.After visiting Belur Math, I walked down to the river pier and stepped into a local crude motor ferry boat to reach the Dakshineswar Kali Temple.
We then went to Vivekananda Showroom which displayed Swamiji's life in seven parts. Next time I am there, I will take my notebook. Mobiles had to be switched so could not take notes and I could not remember so much stuff either. I am perfectly okay to spend another ten bucks for the ticket to be here for my notes.Lunch/ PrasadFor those who are keen to have Prasad (Lunch) there in Belur Math, need to pick coupons between 8:30 AM to 11:00 AM and lunch is served at 12:00 PM.We were no where in that area at that time so we munched spicy puffed rice (For INR 20, the quantity is too much to be consumed by one person), some fries made of sago grains which is again too much to eat though we just bought one packet for ten bucks, some liquor tea and had some chopped guava stirred with spices that was selling at INR 120 for a kilo.Belur MuseumOne of my favorite spots here is the Museum. As my mother was visiting the place after over five decades, as soon as the main gate opened exactly at 3:30 PM, we first headed towards the Museum. The tickets are still INR 5 per personThe miniature of every place Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother Sarada and Swami Vivekananda visited or stayed, the articles they used (Even Tooth powder container and safety pin), the letters they wrote, the clothes they wore, the furniture they had seriously can give anyone goosebumps just thinking that we are roughly two centuries apart and able to see them so close.It almost feels like they are around.The Main TempleWe then head to the main temple, meditate for some time, do Japa - then walk to cover each memorial where earthly remains were consigned.Celebrations AheadThere were temporary pandals being setup for forthcoming celebrations of Holy Mother Sarada's birth anniversary. The program schedule was in display outside the main gate.The gardens with flowers of different colors is truly a photographer's delight. The crowd crazily posed to click dozen selfies and group pictures completely ignoring the "Photography Prohibited" board.The temporary blindness was from both parties and amusing - the ones who clicked were blind to read board and the authorities who were supposed to ensure adherence to rules, were blind to see the crowd clicking.I did not click a single photograph - Yes, I am the only devotee that follows rules. God does not let me break rules in his place to minimize wrong doings in my account. My phone died long before I entered Belur Math. So did photography.The MemorialsThe last time I visited Belur Math a couple of years back, I missed seeing the memorials where the earthly remains were consigned of Swami Vivekananda, Sarada Devi and the first president of Belur Math, Swami Brahmananda. Now matured with age and information from different sources, visiting these memorials was in my priority listThe DispensaryThere is a charitable dispensary of the Math that treats patients for fever, cough and cold, stomach ache etc. I observed this only that day, not during my last visits, as I was wandering around munching fries and puffed rice - waiting for the main gate to open.The Highlight Of The DayI was supposed to visit Belur Math on my birthday 18th December. It was raining that day and hence we visited yesterday little knowing that we will be fortunate to be blessed by Swamiji.We did not even have to wait in the Queue. Immediately after seeing the memorials, we were supposed to go out of the small gate to the store Pallimangal to purchase some incense sticks, when we saw a line thinning as people headed towards a building and it immediately struck me that Guru Darshan was in progress.We literally threw our slippers and got in just in time to offer Pranam to Srimat Swami Smaranananda ji Maharaj, the current president of the order.All that loitering for three hours, waiting for the Main Gate to open at 3.30 PM was worth it.After Darshan, as I stood outside the room watching Swamiji at a distance, I observed a man in late eighties, fingers in gloves trembling, sitting still, patiently letting each one of us offer our Pranam, selflessly on a cold winter evening - just for us, our well being, our solace, to put our minds to rest.My eyes glistened and just then a person called out to collect the Program Schedule for 28th December. I picked one printed copy and walked out of the building, feeling blessed.Pallimangal, Integrated Rural DevelopmentA friend had mentioned about this store recently and I wanted to check this out. I was pleasantly surprised at the range of product they have and reasonably priced. I picked two boxes of Sandal Incense sticks (50 in each box) for just INR 34/-You have many grocery items like Phenyl, ghee, soap, honey and other items bags, purses, mats, etc. This is very different from the Book Store within the premises that has books and photographs. This one is an outlet for the produce made by a rural population.This place takes care of both senses and soul. The view of the Ganges, the visuals of the garden, the collection of books, the lively crowd, the peace in the atmosphere, the synergy in the prayers makes this much more than just a spiritual center.As we left the premises of Belur Math, as the dusk dawned and the large screens installed there showed the proceedings taking place in the main building, the crowd seemed relaxed, settled, sitting on the grounds, the clicking subsided and I wondered, what next?It is the peaceful moment and the mood that sets in with it that finally caught up with the crowd as the natural light faded and the environment was artificially lit. It is the connect to the tranquility that made most of the crowd let go of the noise they brought with them and finally receive what this place is supposed to offer the seeker - A slice of divinity!!Originally published here
Winter mornings are the best thing of Kolkata. It is the most preferred season for many reasons – travel to the city of joy, short weekend trips from here, fairs, food and celebrations. My recent Instagram stories are all around #KolkataWinter #Besttimetotravel #CityofJoyThe Christmas experience in Park Street, various craft and hand loom exhibitions/ fairs in different parts of the city or sweets with liquid date Jaggery are all specialties of Kolkata winter.Most of us who stay in Kolkata know Nicco Park, Science City, Alipore Zoo, Museum, Eco Park are all crowded during Christmas holidays.So, my family planned a quiet visit to Belur Math.A Toto to Barrackpore Chiriamore INR 10 per personA Bus to Bally Khal INR 12 per personA Bus to Belur Math INR 7 per person