An epitome of love, Damodarananda

Swami Damodarananda with   children

By Vijay Badhwar

Some comment on his skin being as fresh as that of a child, some talk about the glow on his face; Swami Sridharananda at the Vedanta Centre says that you have to poke him as in a beehive to enjoy the sweetness of honey pouring out. I see the simplicity of love in him ”“ no twists, no turns; a whole-hearted love pours out when someone touches his feet and there is ringing of bells in the laughter he bursts out in after every short sentence he speaks.

That’s Swami Damodarananda.

And, it’s with a heavy heart we learn that he’s called it a day of his Australian fellowship to return home at the age of 94, to be at Belur Math where he had made a new beginning for his life as a teenager.

It was many years ago, he recalls with a memory that’s now fading, that he had run away from home to join the Ramana Ashram in Tiruvannamalai. “Inspired by a booklet about Ramana Maharishi going around among students I wondered that there were Brahamapurushas like him. What was I doing there; I should be with him at his feet. Aroused by Shukata Samskaras, immediately I took a train, not even knowing where exactly I was heading.

“A family in the train advised me where to get down from the train. Otherwise I had no idea that I had to change trains on the way to reach Tiruvannamalai. Hungary and exhausted, I reached the Ashram and sat for a darshan of the Maharishi.

“Maharishi’s prolonged gaze, looking straight at me, sent me an inner message what life had in store for me. I stayed for several weeks at the Ashram helping in the kitchen and stealing every opportunity to listen to Ramana Maharishi, even daring to ask him ”˜the shortest path to salvation’.

“In my spare time I read lot of scriptures, among that about Swami Ramakrishna, Ma Sarada and Vivekananda. I had found my path in life and felt very happy about it. But it did not last long as my family had found out where I was and they forced me to return home.

“But the home coming did not last long. There was a Ramakrishna Math close to my house and I started visiting that often.

“One day I was reading the works of Swami Vivekananda when a particular passage struck me. Swamiji had written, “You have devoted innumerable lives to family and material concerns. Can you not offer one life to God.

“Immediately, a voice rose inside me: yes, I can do that. I decided to join the order and was initiated several years later by Swami Virajananda,” Swami Damodarananda said.

During this time he travelled a lot ”“ in the Himalayas, to all the holy places like Badrinath, Kedarnath, Mt Kailash, a journey on foot in those days. “I joined a group of shepherds and went with them through the high passes.”

“One day they asked me to turn around for some time as they killed a goat. It shocked me but realised that it was their way of life. I had my ”˜sampa’ tied in a piece of cloth, a part of my survival kit,” he said laughingly.

Immediately afterwards at the Ramakrishna Mission the foreign postings started ”“ 1954-60 in Rangoon, 1961-76 in Singapore and immediately afterwards to Nadi, Fiji, where he stayed until 2000. During those 24 years Swami Damodarananda visited Australia and New Zealand often, a guest of Mr and Mrs Ramakrishna in Sydney, and crystallised the Mission’s activities in Sydney, Perth and Brisbane.

Devotees recall Swami Damodarananda carrying a pile of books with him wherever he travelled and distributing them among curious spiritual seekers, encouraging them to study the scriptures and inculcate the message of Sri Ramakrishna in their lives. This period marked the beginning of Ramakrishna Mission in Australia.

Swamiji briefly returned to India in 2000, only to be sent to Thailand in 2004. From Bangkok he also co-ordinated Mission’s activities in Hong Kong and also reached as far as Perth where he stayed from 2007-09. He has been in Sydney since spreading his love among keen devotees.

Now at 94, he’s still keen to be among his family of followers in Sydney. “But it would be better if I returned due to my health,” he thinks aloud.

“Has ever a stray thought come in his mind that he could have chosen another path in life,” I dare to ask.

“What path,” comes a brief but stern retort.

What was the ”˜shortest path to God’ for people in family lives, I redirect the question he had once asked Ramana Maharishi?

“Sarveshu Kaleshu man anusmara yudhya cha ”“ he quotes from Bhagwad Gita and explains: engage in the war of life valiantly doing your required duties. But offer it all to God.” ”˜Kaam karte raho, naam japte raho’, is his simple message.

Swami Damodarananda will visit all the centres in Australia before he leaves the shores in November, and complete a full circle returning to Belur Math where he had made a beginning some 70 years ago.

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