The 19th century Bengal Renaissance had been the force behind the influx of Western rationality and thought in India. Fed up with the superstition accumulated over the ages, educated Indians decided to do away completely with religion. It is now fashionable to speak of secular education where the word secular is interpreted to mean devoid of any particular religious beliefs whatsoever. But this apparently neutral stand has often sucked out the life-giving components from culture and education. In the attempt to remove the weeds from a plant, the very plant has been cut down, as it were
The Hathras town in western Uttar Pradesh is in the news presently for an alleged ghastly rape and murder of a young Dalit girl.
However, it is also a town which has four railway stations with the word Hathras in it. (City, Junction, Kila, Road).
But Hathras is remembered for another reason.
More than 130 years back, a wandering, impecunious monk was sitting on a bench at Hathras Junction station. He had travelled partly on foot, partly by train, and the rest by bullock cart, as providence would provide.
Suddenly, the assistant station master spotted this monk “with striking features, a sharp nose and wide eyes” sitting on the bench.
He went up to the monk and struck up a conversation. Impressed by his knowledge ,the ASM requested the monk to be his guest that night and took him to his quarters behind the station.
After spending a day or two, the monk bid goodbye but the ASM told him to wait. He rushed to the station, submitted his resignation and left with the monk as his disciple and became the monk’s first disciple.
The monk was none other than Narendranath Dutta who later became Swami Vivekananda. And the ASM was Sharat Chandra Gupta, a Bengali gentleman, who, after getting his ascetic vows, was called Swami Sadananda of the Ramakrishna Mission.
It’s a fascinating story of a monk and his disciple. “The Life of Swami Vivekananda, by his Eastern and Western Disciples”, Advaita Ashrama (1989 edition), pages 220-224 captures the wonderful story.
Before accepting him as his disciple, Vivekananda gave his begging bowl to Sharat and asked him to beg food from the porters and khalasis of the station. This was his way of measuring his disciple’s earnestness.
“Without waiting for a moment, Sharat went to the station and begged for food from those very people who were his subordinates till just the previous day. He came back to Swamiji with the alms collected and partook of them along with his Guru.”
That proved that his ego was after his renunciation. Incidentally, he was a good friend of Dr Boshi Sen who later became a world renowned plant/agricultural scientist and lived in Almora. Sharat Chandra Gupta or Swami Sadananda, the erstwhile ASM of Hathras Junction, though a Bengali, belonged to Jaunpur. He died in 1911.