DEPARTURE OF SWAMI VIVEKANANDA (Samya Mukherjee)
“Swami Vivekananda’s eyes filled with tears. He said he wanted to return to his country to die, to be with his Gurubhais” - written by Shankar (a renowned Bengali writer). The fateful evening of July 4, 1902 – Vivekananda passed away following a third heart attack, completing 39 years, 5 months and 24 days, through ‘Mahasamadhi’. His last day was like any other normal days, so, it was very hard for his fellow disciples to predict that it would be the last day of their beloved ‘master’. Swamiji’s last words were that He would live with his devotees even after his death through the messages He had preached during his lifetime.
Last few days before Swamiji’s departure: Except for a few biographical accounts of Swami Vivekananda’s close followers, much is not known about the last days of his life or why he died at such an early age. It is known that in the last few weeks, preceding his death, he encouraged his followers and members of the math to practise meditation and lead a disciplined life. He also participated in meetings and discussions. From the available accounts, it is known that Swami Vivekananda was leading an active life, as the head of the Ramakrishna Math, until his last days. It is said that on the last day of his death, Swamiji taught yoga and other subjects to his brother-disciples. Later Swamiji held a meeting with his colleagues about the planning of establishing a Vedic college at the Ramakrishna Math, then he went to his room to do the meditation asking others not to disturb him and a few hours later passed into a higher realm (‘Mahasamadhi’).
Swamiji’s close associates claimed that he had a premonition about his impending death. According to Sister Nivedita’s account, Swamiji said to have commented that he would not be alive to see his 40th birthday. Other accounts suggest that a few days before Swamiji’s death, he studied the almanac (panchang) to determine the time and date for his death. Three days before Swamiji’s death, he showed to one of his associates Swami Premananda Maharaj, a spot on the monastery grounds where he wished his body to be cremated.
Swami Vivekananda was suffering due to several health problems. It is common knowledge that from a very early age, Swami Vivekananda suffered from many chronic ailments including insomnia, malaria, migraine, diabetes as well as certain complications of heart, liver and kidney. Before demise, Swami Vivekananda cut short his visit to Cairo, Egypt due to his health problems and finally returned to India, where Swamiji wished to die.
Last day of Swami Vivekananda’s life : On the last day of Swami Vivekananda’s life, he woke up early in the morning and went to the shrine for meditation. Unlike other days, Swamiji took more time to complete his meditation. After finishing his meditation at 11:00 AM, he went out and asked his disciples to arrange a puja for mother Kali. In the afternoon, Swamiji enjoyed a hearty lunch with his disciples. After lunch he took a three hour class on ‘Sanskrit Vyakaran’ (by Panini). Perhaps he knew that it was his last day with his disciples. Swamiji made the class very interesting and educative, as though he wanted to give out everything he knew in one day.
In the evening, Swami Vivekananda returned to his room, being very much tired and mentally exhausted. Swamiji meditated for an hour or so. After his meditation, he suffered strange suffocation, as though his breath were getting heavier. Swamiji asked his attendant to open all the doors and windows. Then Swami Vivekananda lied down on his bed, with rosary in his hand, chanting the name of his Guru. As his attendant was messaging his feet, he went into a deep sleep at 9:10 pm. In the mean time, blood trickled down rushing from his nostrils and mouth. His body had become still and cold. Swamiji went into deep sleep only to wake up in some other world. According to Yoga scriptures - an enlightened yogi passes out through the opening on the top of the head, causing blood to flow in the nostrils and the mouth and the same thing happened in case of Swami Vivekananda’s death as reported by his disciples.
At 7 O’clock in the evening the bell rang for the worship in the chapel. Swami Vivekananda went to his room and told the disciple who attended him that none was to come to him until called for. He spent an hour in meditation, then called his disciple and asked him to open all the windows and fans over his head. Swamiji lay down quietly on his bed and the attendant thought that he was either sleeping or meditating. At the end of an hour, Swamiji’s hands trembled a little and he breathed once very deeply. There was a silence for a minute or two and again he breathed in the same manner. His eyes become fixed at the centre of his eyebrows, his face assumed a divine expression and eternal silence fell. The great ecstasy took place at ten minutes past nine. Swami Vivekananda passed away at the age of thirty-nine years only, thus fulfilling his own prophecy “I shall not live to be 40 years old”. Swamiji’s brother-disciples thought that he might have fallen into ‘samadhi’ and chanted the Master’s name to bring back his consciousness but he remained on his back being motionless. Physicians were sent for and the body was thoroughly examined. Finally at midnight, however, Swami Vivekananda was declared dead.
Swami Vivekananda had developed diabetes at a very early age. He had suffered from hypoglycaemia (a pre-diabetic condition) as early as 1893, when he was in the United States to address the World Parliament of Religions. Swamiji’s condition slowly worsened. He also did not care much of his own physical health. There was also no proper treatment during those days. During Swamiji’s last days physician forbade him from drinking water, in hope that it will improve his condition (diabetics are often very thirsty). Swamiji used to joke that he would not reach at his 40th birthday. The actual cause of Swami Vivekananda’s death, according to the medical science was apoplexy or sudden failure of the heart. But the monks were convinced that that their leader had voluntarily cast off his body in Samadhi, as predicted by Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa. Swami Vivekananda’s passing away seems to have put even the physicians into quandary. They could not come to any consensus as to the real cause of Swamiji’s death. One doctor said that the death could have been due to certain heart-failure and other said that it was due to apoplexy. But none of the doctors who came later and heard of the symptoms, could agree with either of the decisions.
About Swami Vivekananda’s death: Swami Vivekananda died peacefully while doing meditation. On the day of his death, Swami Vivekananda performed meditation for three hours in the morning and again in the evening, during which he passed away. One version suggests that Swamiji died due to the rupture of blood vessels in his brain but according to another version like a liberated yogi, Swamiji left the body through the mystic opening (‘Brahmarandhra’) in the crown of his head by rupturing it.
The death was sudden. There was no indication of any suffering. None of Swami Vivekananda’s followers and associates at the Belurmath foresaw his death. To them Swamiji’s death was a great shock. Upon knowing that Swami Vivekananda died, many fell into inconsolable grief. For example, Sarat maharaj (one associate of Swami Vivekananda) narrated the incident which took place during the cremation of Swami Vivekananda – “At this, Nivedita could no longer suppress her grief. She got up and began to circle the blazing funeral pyre. Seeing Nivedita close to the pyre, Swami Brahmananda was concerned that her skirt would catch fire. He conveyed this to Swami Nirbhayananda, who then took Sister Nivedita’s hand and led her away from the pyre. Swami Nirbhayananda, then made her sit on the bank of the river Ganges and tried to console her”.
Swami Vivekananda was very passionate about serving others and was frequently moved to tears by seeing the plight of the poor and downtrodden. Swamiji lived a hectic life in poverty conditions as he visited several places within and outside India and accepted food and hospitality from the diverse groups of people irrespective of their social or economic conditions. The life of austerity and difficult living conditions must have contributed to Swamiji’s several illness and early demise. Again, as the head of the monastery, Swami Vivekananda suffered from several financial difficulties. The poor living conditions and lack of proper medical facilities at the Math might have also contributed to the deterioration of his health.
Swami Chetananandaji Maharaj (one of the disciples of Swami Vivekananda) wrote, “It was proposed that a final photograph of Swami Vivekananda be taken, but Swami Brahmananda would not allow it, saying, ‘There are many good photographs of Swamiji ; this sad picture will break the hearts of all’. Afterwards, Swami Brahmananda alongwith the other monks and brahmacharis offered flowers at Swamiji’s feet. Finally Haramohan Mitra (a classmate of Swami Vivekananda) and other devotees offered flowers. Later Swami Vivekananda’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 – “I took a beautiful rose (not fully open), smeared it with sandal paste, touched it to Swamiji’s feet and put it in my front pocket as a memento”.
Swami Brahmananda (Rakhal) cried like a child over Swami Vivekananda’s body. When Saradananda Maharaj (Sarat Chandra Chakravarty) lifted him up, Brahmanandaji said, “It is as if the whole Himalayan mountains have disappeared from before my eyes!”
Many people have wondered – what caused an evolved soul like Swami Vivekananda to die at such a young age? Aren’t yogis able to extend their own life-span and live for many long periods of time? – Actually behind the passing of every realized soul such as Swami Vivekananda, there is an immense reality hidden, which we ordinarily do not grasp. Luckily for us, Swami Vivekananda himself revealed the truth in great detail.
Philosophical analysis on Swami Vivekananda’s death: Spiritually enlightened souls like Swami Vivekananda descend to earth for a specific purpose (like Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita) and once the purpose is achieved, they depart from this world regardless of age. The age is no criterion at all. It is not as if they cannot prolong their life, if they wish to. But generally they have no intention to do so because ultimately the body is impermanent. Swami Vivekananda himself said, “The body itself is the disease”. When the ultimate goal of the human life is to go beyond the complexity of mind and body and realize God (or the Self), what is the need to continue lingering in the body, once the goal has been attained and the purpose is served.
In respect of Swami Vivekananda, there are several interlinked godly reasons for his ‘Mahasamadhi’ (passing away) on July 4, 1902 –
1) First and foremost, the purpose for which Swami Vivekananda came to this world was fulfilled as Swamiji himself said that his mission was accomplished.
2) Swamiji had always said that he would not live to be 40. He gave up his body when he was 39 years 5 months and 24 days, thus fulfilling his prophecy.
3) Swami Vivekananda had been granted the boon to die at will, anytime he chooses (‘icchyamrittyu’) by Lord Shiva when he had visited Amarnath cave. Despite that Swamiji chose to leave his body at an early age, thereby abiding by ‘truth’ and living up to his word.
4) Immediately after Swamiji’s passing away, he appeared in a vision to his brother-disciple Swami Ramakrishnananda (Sashi Maharaj) in Madras and told him in a victorious voice, “Sashi! Sashi! I have spat out the body” – this is a full proof of giving up the body voluntarily.
5) Only a few days before Swamiji’s passing away, he had asked for the almanc (panchang) and it seems that he had selected a suitable date for his grand-departure. Moreover Swamiji also told his brother-disciple Swami Premananda (Baburam) to cremate him at a particular spot at Belurmath, after giving up his body.
6) Just a few years before passing away, Swami Vivekananda declared to Western disciple Madam Emma Calve (a French female opera singer), that he would give up his body on July 4th , without specifying the exact year.
7) On some day in the year 1896, Swami Vivekananda had confided to his brother disciple Swami Abhedananda that at the most, he would live for five or six years more. When Swami Abhedananda protested, Swami Vivekananda replied categorically, “You do not understand, my soul is getting bigger and bigger every day, so much, so that the body can hardly contain it. Any day it may burst this cage of flesh and bone”.
8) Swami Vivekananda had given indications to some of his disciples that he would give up his body at a very early age. When asked for the reason of Swamiji’s early exit from this world, he had said, “My work is done.....I have to go to make room. The shade of a big tree will not allow smaller plants to grow under it”, implying thereby that his brother-disciples also have a role to play in spreading the message of Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa. In Swami Vivekananda’s towering presence, they would take a backseat and out of respect for him, not expressing themselves freely and fully. So, Swami Vivekananda wanted to pass on the reins to them and quietly leave his body.
9) But can we forget the mother of all reasons, the precursor to all the above-mentioned incidents. Well the answer has come from the lips of none other than Swami Vivekananda’s spiritual teacher Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansadeva himself, way before the event could occur – It was only the third meeting between the young boy Narendranath Dutta (future Swami Vivekananda) and Sri Ramakrishna. The mysterious touch of the Master totally overwhelmed ‘Naren’ and he lost all outward consciousness. In this state Sri Ramakrishna asked Naren about his antecedents, his mission in this world and the duration of Naren’s mortal life among other things.
Naren dived deep into himself and gave fitting answers to all the questions which were in complete agreement with Sri Ramakrishna’s inferences about his beloved disciple. Sri Ramakrishna affirmed that Naren was a sage who attained perfection, a Nitya-siddha (eternally perfect); he was also a Dhyana-siddha (a past master in meditation) and that the day he knows who he is i.e. his real nature and recognises his true self, he will give up his body by an act of will through Yoga. Another day, Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansa had examined Naren’s body thoroughly and remarked : “Your physical signs are good. The only defect is that you breathe rather heavily while asleep. Such a man, the Yogi is short-lived”. So, now it is anybody’s guess – surely Swami Vivekananda recognised his real nature on July 4, 1902 and at that very moment gave up his body of his own volition.
Interestingly, Swami Vivekananda in his ‘Mahasamadhi’, has not left any loose ends. If all the points elucidated above are closely examined, it can be concluded that Swami Vivekananda had met all the conditions, honoured all the prophecies and fulfilled all his promises. Thus it can be seen that all the reasons cited for his early death, satisfy themselves, both individually and collectively. They are neatly inter-woven, one into the other. The incidents are highly amazing.
Immortal Swami Vivekananda : Inspite of leaving his body on 4th July 1902, Swami Vivekananda is immortal to whole world through his ideology and works in his short life-span of only 39 years. Swami Vivekananda can never be dead. Swamiji has only left his mortal coil but he still lives.
“It may be that I shall find it good to get outside my body, to cast it off like a worn-out garment but I shall not cease to work. I shall inspire men everywhere, until the world shall know that it is one with God” – this is the only assurance and promise given to all by Swami Vivekananda in his own stirring words, years before his passing away.
Swami Vivekananda did not die as other mortals do. As a person transcends to a higher level of consciousness, the body fails to fulfil the person. Such saints like Swami Vivekananda voluntarily attain a state called ‘Mahasamadhi’ and leave the body at their will. They usually leave through the cranium. ‘Mahasamadhi’ (the great and final Samadhi) is the act of consciously and intentionally leaving one’s body. A realized yogi (male) or yogini (female), who has attained the state of ‘Nirvikalpa Samadhi’ will at an appropriate time, consciously exit from their body – this is known as ‘mahasamadhi’. This is not the same as the physical death that occurs for an unenlightened person. Swami Vivekananda had become capable and experienced mahasamdhi at a very young age (younger than at what he died). His guru Sri Ramakrishna Paramhansadeva also knew that Swami Vivekananda has taken birth for a purpose and that should be completed before he transcends to the higher level of a spiritual state.