Source from An article by Swami Videhatmananda which appeared in Prabuddha Bharata – May 2005
A free translation by Swami Satyamayananda, from ‘News and Reports’ (January 2005) of Vivek Jyoti, the Hindi journal of the Ramakrishna Order, published from Raipur, Chattisgarh.
Swami Vivekananda said: ‘The national ideals of India are RENUNCIATION and SERVICE. Intensify her in those channels, and the rest will take care of itself. The banner of the spiritual cannot be raised too high in this country. In it alone is salvation.’ A sannyasin who embodied these words of Swamiji’s recently entered into mahasamadhi. He was the last surviving person who had seen and talked to Swami Vivekananda. One is amazed to learn how he translated into action Swamiji’s message to him and transformed himself into a nationally renowned saint. He performed not ordinary miracles but the real miracle of bringing solace and succour to numerous poor and downtrodden people. Last year, on 14 July, the 129-year-old sannyasin passed away into eternal samadhi, after ‘witnessing three centuries’.
Swami Kalyandev was born Kaluram on 21 June 1876 in Kotana village in the district of Baghpat, Uttar Pradesh, at his maternal grandfather’s home. He was the third son of his pious parents, who hailed from the village of Mundbhar in Muzaffarnagar district. His father was Pherudatt and mother, Bhoi Devi. Kaluram spent his early years in Mundbhar.
In his childhood Kaluram got an opportunity to visit his paternal aunt’s home in Budhana. His uncle Bulla Bhagat was a zamindar there. There was no dearth of anything at home but Bulla Bhagat and his wife were distressed because they were childless. This was probably the reason the devout couple had the child Kaluram brought to fill the void. Religion is the backbone of rural India, and Bulla Bhagat’s home was no different; rather it was intensely religious. The couple immersed themselves in devotion to God and service of holy men. Kaluram’s uncle became so well known among the wandering sadhus that they always thronged his doors. Unfailingly, every morning and evening there used to be readings from the Ramayana, after which prasad used to be distributed joyously to all present.
Kaluram was happy growing in this ambience. He used to rise early and after ablutions sit beside his uncle to attentively listen to the Ramayana being sung. Thus from childhood the stories and teachings of the Ramayana entered deep into Kaluram’s heart and left a permanent impress. These ennobling ideas and images then became his ideal. Seeing so many sadhus every day and noticing their spirit of freedom, which impressed him, young Kaluram one day left his uncle’s home like the itinerant mendicants to strive for God-realization. He wore only a loincloth and a cotton chadar.
Empty-handed and barefoot, begging for food and asking the way, the lad reached Ayodhya, the place of his dreams and aspirations. Here he met Swami Ramdas, who tutored him in the alphabet. Kaluram was a bright student and soon he could read the Ramayana in Hindi. In Ayodhya he heard of a holy place of pilgrimage, Hardwar. His mind now became restless to visit it, and after spending some more days in Ayodhya, Kaluram left for Hardwar. In Hardwar, he was delighted to see the numerous temples and ashramas. He never settled in one ashama but kept moving on to different ones. Day and night he listened to the holy scriptures and devotional songs. It was during one of these days that he went to Khetri, where he met Swami Vivekananda and was instructed by him.
After returning from Khetri, there arose a strong desire in his mind to get formally initiated by a guru. In his search for an ideal guru, Kaluram reached Muni-ki-Reti in Rishikesh, the abode of ascetics, and met Swami Purnananda. The pure and simple Swami Purnananda agreed to Kaluram’s earnest prayers and accepted him as a disciple. Observing Kaluram’s devotion to service, his guru initiated him into sannyasa in 1900 and gave him the name Swami Kalyandev. At his guru’s behest Kalyandev stayed in the Himalayan regions and performed intense tapasya for a few years. But there was something that was tugging at his heart. He descended from the mountains and soon engaged himself in various kinds of altruistic works. Now his yearning soul was calmed down. In time, Kalyandev’s work grew into a seva-yajna, service as a religious sacrifice. And throughout the remainder of his long life of more than one hundred years, this seva-yajna grew in intensity.
Meeting Swami Vivekananda was the greatest turning point in Swami Kalyandev’s life. In November 1897, Swamiji had reached Dehra Dun. From there he proceeded to Delhi, Alwar and then to Jaipur, where he put up at Khetri House. On 9 December, Swamiji, accompanied by some of his gurubhais and disciples, left for Khetri in horse carriages and reached the place on the 12th. Swamiji being a state guest, arrangements were made by Maharaja Ajit Singh for his stay at Sukh Mahal. In this garden house Swamiji stayed for three weeks with his entourage.
Probably, Swami Kalyandev first heard of Swamiji when he was about twenty-one years old. He was still Kaluram then and was residing in Hardwar. Swamiji’s triumph at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893 and his subsequent successful preaching of Hinduism had generated awe, veneration and gratitude in India. When Kaluram heard that the world-renowned Swami Vivekananda was going to Khetri via Dehra Dun, Delhi, Alwar and Jaipur, he decided to meet him. Doggedly, he started for Jaipur on foot. On reaching there he heard that Swamiji had left for Khetri, and that on his return journey he would take a different route to Calcutta via Jodhpur and Ajmer. In those days, reaching Khetri was extremely difficult, but young Kaluram was no weakling and as was his habit, he again travelled on foot. He met Swamiji in one of the garden houses in Khetri.
A reporter of Amar Ujala, a popular Hindi daily, while interviewing Swami Kalyandev for the paper’s 14 October 2003 issue, enquired, ‘Where did you get the inspiration to go from village to village and do social service?’ The swami replied, ‘In 1893 I met Swami Vivekananda in Khetri. He said to me, “If you want to see God, go to the huts of the poor. And if you want to attain God, then serve the poor, the helpless, the downtrodden and the miserable.” To attain God through service of the poor is the mantra I received from Swamiji. I have never been able to forget it.’
According to another version, during Kaluram’s meeting with Swamiji he was told that ‘The vision of God can be had in the huts of the poor. The farmer and the labourer – these are God’s two children. When you wake up in the morning and come out of your house, you will hear two sounds: the bells ringing in the temples and the cries of the suffering, “Oh, Rama! I am dying!” Follow the second sound first and try to alleviate people’s suffering according to your capacity. You may go to the temple only then.’
Swamiji’s remarkable personality and his instructions left an indelible impression on young Kaluram. As we have already seen, it was after this meeting that Kaluram found his guru and had sannyasa. Then, for the rest of his life, he went from village to village on foot and served farmers and labourers, the poor and the downtrodden.
With unflagging effort stretching over a century, Swami Kalyandev established about three hundred institutions for spreading education and bringing humanitarian aid to villages, especially what was beneficial to people at grass-roots level. His work covered western Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, Delhi and other places. The institutions include technical and vocational schools, an ayurvedic medical college, middle schools, high schools, girls’ schools, junior high schools, primary schools, clinics and dispensaries, eye clinics, Sanskrit schools, workshops, students’ homes, dharmashalas, schools for the deaf and dumb, blind schools, yoga instruction centres, old age homes, asylums for old cows, orphanages, martyrs’ memorials, and other religious and spiritual centres. In all these institutions distinctions of caste or sex have never been a bar. Poor or rich, all receive equal treatment.
All of Swami Kalyandev’s endeavours show that he tried to raise social consciousness by bringing in modern ideas. He worked against untouchability, alcoholism, child marriage and such other social evils. But in spite of being the initiator of so many institutions, Swami Kalyandev himself never held an official post.
Swami Kalyandev also helped rebuild dilapidated and neglected religious and historical sites. For example, he renovated a monument in Shuktal, sixty kilometers north of Meerut, associated with the great sage Shuka, the son of Veda Vyasa and the narrator of the Bhagavata. There the swami also established the Shukadeva Ashrama and Seva Samiti. He also renovated parts of Hastinapur, the old capital of the Pandavas and Kauravas. Many places of pilgrimage in Haryana too have received his attention. In works of this kind, the swami displayed uncommon concern for the safety of pilgrims.
Even at 128 Swami Kalyandev kept himself engaged in the service of the poor, looking upon them as manifestations of Narayana. He was fearless; disease and sorrow meant nothing to him. He was simple and innocent. From early morning till late in the night people of all types used to flock to him and he would listen to each of them attentively and patiently and give proper advice. Thus he tried to remove their wants and help them out of their problems.
Swami Kalyandev met Mahatma Gandhiji in 1915. He was acquainted with luminaries like Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Dr Sampurnanand. In 1982 he received the Padma Sri award, and in 2000 the prestigious Padma Bhushan. He was also awarded an honorary D.Litt. by Meerut University. In 2002 Sri Atal Behari Vajpayee, the then prime minister of India, released in his presence the momentous volume The Seer of Three Centuries: Swami Kalyan Dev, compiled in his honour.
Swami Vivekananda had said: ‘You have heard that Christ said, “My words are spirit and they are life.” So are my words spirit and life; they will burn their way into your brain and you will never get away from them!’ We see the demonstration of this truth in the life of Swami Kalyandev. It was a great life of renunciation and service. It has set a towering example for us to emulate. ~
Notes and References
1. The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, 9 vols. (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1-8, 1989; 9, 1997), 5.228.
2. Although Swami Kalyandev said that he met Swamiji in 1893, the chronology of events suggests that the meeting took place in 1897.
3. It was Sri Suresh Kumar Srivastav of Gursarai, Jhansi, who first made this clipping available to the author.
4. Shuktirth Sandesh (Hindi), July-September 2004, 3. This source was made available to the author through the kindness of Dr Sudhir Kumar Bharadwaj of Muzaffarnagar.
5. Godhan (Delhi), January 2003.
6. CW, 9.407.