The Mother Divine
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We are celebrating 125th birth anniversary of Sri Sri Sitaramdas Omkarnath (the Master) from 16th to 18th February at Mahamilan Math, Kolkata and on this occasion three publications are being released: Sitaram Mahasindhu Tirey Vol 3 by Kinkar Vitthal Ramanuj, an annual diary carrying thoughts and pictures of Sri Sri Sitaramdas Omkarnath and Reflections of an Eternal Being (Photographic Kaleidoscope of Sri Sri Sitaramdas Omkarnath).

The third of these, the photo book, inspires this Editorial.

This book is an extraordinary bouquet of rare photographs of Sri Sitaramdas Omkarnath.  A pictorial tribute. But then, one might like to ask, what is the use of a photograph? What can we do with a photograph of the Guru for instance?

Reminiscing is of course the first use of photo archive. Is there a deeper, more profound use of photographs? Well, a spiritual aspirant can attain one-pointedness of mind by associating the ideas of perfection, purity and infinity with a photograph.

I cannot describe in words how much I have benefited from the first ever photograph of Sri Sitaramdas Omkarnath that I had installed in my puja. Several other sadhaks that I have come across over the years, have spoken to me about how they converse with his picture, how they bow before it repeatedly, how they offer garlands of tears to the photograph and how recalling the image thrills them with hope and assurance, strength and stability.

Years ago, Sri Vitthal Ramanuj Maharaj, in one of his conversations with me, spoke to me about the form, or the person, of the Guru being one of the most effective objects of sadhana. He went on to explain how one can contemplate the form of one’s preceptor from toe to the head as one does anga nyas, invoking the deity in different parts of the body. The theme stuck in my mind but the particulars of this sadhana evaded me and I hungered for more guidance. A year later, when I read Swami Muktananda’s My Method of Meditation, the powerful seed that Vitthal Maharaj had sown sprouted. Through Jnanasindhu, a work of an avadhuta, Swami Muktananda clearly introduced me to the technique. He said, ‘Meditation on one’s Gurudeva is the best, the very best, indeed, the supreme way.’ This is amply borne out by the Guru Gita which says dhyna moolam guror murtih – ‘The root of meditation is the Guru’s form.’ But we cannot always have the darshan of the Guru. We cannot always go to him. What’s more, the Guru could leave the body. How then is a sadhaka to contemplate him? A photograph of the Guru can come in handy here and become one of the most powerful tools for meditation.

This is not true of Guru alone, it’s true of Ishta (favourite deity) too. Among the practicing Hindus, most (if not all) spiritual aspirants are of the bhakti ilk, and they grow up with a kind of living relationship with the form of the deity – God with form!
But where do we find this God form? Well, we find the most authentic and first-hand descriptions of Gods in the Scriptures.

Like a Shiva – with a crescent of moon and Ganga sporting in his matted locks, a snake round his neck, a tiger-skin wrapped around the waist, body smeared in ashes, trident in hand etc. Or Krishna playing a flute, sitting with the cows, stealing butter, or dancing on the hoods of a giant serpent. These descriptions find their expression in a photograph or a painting. Myriad God photos give us an opportunity to enjoy different leelas performed by Gods. 

There is no one Shiva, the pictures differ, nevertheless across time, the representation is identical. It’s the same with other God forms. One wonders, how these representations have been so accurately identical. Could it mean that the God seen by the devotees for centuries has been the same? Does it mean there are definite forms in which God will be seen? How come there are no new images admitted to the already existing visual vocabulary? Can it be said that since God appears to a devotee on the way he or she contemplates or worships Him, and the scriptures being identical, the forms are more or less defined? If one were to give a serious thought as to what would have happened if we had no God pictures, one is forced to conjecture that perhaps we would have next to no “notion” of God and a possibly no relationship with Him. This makes photograph really very important. In any case, it cannot be argued that we “use” existing idols, pictures, images, forms to relate to the Almighty. Their role can never be overrated.

A photograph is indeed a living medium, a speaking image and an effulgent source of conscious energy. It is a radiant channel capable of initiation, ignition and bhava permeation. One of our acharyas had said a very profound thing about the photograph of the Master in the passing, he said, ‘If you think he is present in the picture, he is indeed present!’

Coming back to the photograph of a Guru. Is it possible to know a mahapurusha like Sri Sitaramdas Omkarnath, Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Raman Maharshi etc. completely? Perhaps not.

Eternal beings like Sri Sitaramdas have lived among us, as does an iceberg, with only a small manifested aspect visible to the world and the rest remaining unseen. In the words of Sri Bhumananda, ‘Sri Sri Sitaramdas Omkarnath is someone “not exactly a man”, someone “outside the pale of humanity”, “Soul personified”, “the Over-soul incarnate” and someone “surpassingly human”. In him is a unique blend of humanity and divinity.’ 

Pictures can at best capture a mortal; for an Eternal Being in a great saint, every picture is just a frame from the never-ending kaleidoscope.

The photographs open ‘mini windows’ into the amazing life of Sri Sitaramdas, allowing the readers to peek into some of the countless dimensions of the life of this mahapurusha. Each photograph shimmers with a different shade of light and presents a different mood; compassion, service, absorption, love and many more. However, each is a roaring fire ready to embrace and set ablaze any twig that decides to approach it.

Many photographs in this collection arouse a tender feeling. The Master has a vulnerable and defenseless look about Him. We are taken back into our childhood when we felt powerful and protective in the presence of a grandparent. In some photographs, the expression in the Master’s eyes says something very different from his mood. For example, the Master may be seen in a playful mood but his eyes would be emitting great spiritual power. In any case, most of the photographs generate a sense of pure awe.

In some photographs the Master is performing padmasana and kriyas, in a seemingly innocuous manner. Taking a closer look, one is amazed to see that for no one can do padmasana as He depicts it. These are rare pictures of a soul-in-samadhi. By constantly seeing them, it seems we can “become” them.

These photographs are alive and potent, almost like living entities. The scripture says, ‘By even a moment of loving remembrance of the Guru, wisdom arises spontaneously.’ Browsing through a collection of Gurus photographs can thus prove to be a powerful transformative experience; akin to a pilgrimage.

For those who have never seen the Guru or Param Guru walking on this planet – his pictures are the greatest treasures; to others who have known him well, these help in re-living the divine company.  Sometimes He feels like a friend, sometimes like a father, sometimes like a mother and sometimes He is the most comforting presence, a person upon whose bosom you can lay your head and sleep like a baby. Very sight of him in meditation, can put us into meditative trance. A huge burden is lifted as we see his smiling face.

In the book mentioned, for instance, there are variety of images –the Master coming out of the Narmada carrying a pot of water over his shoulders, or swaying in the ecstasy of Naam; we can see the élan with which he is carrying his Aumkar danda (wooden staff) in some pictures, or playing with children, giving sermons, relaxing on an easy chair or looking at the sea – or just looking at us. These pictures, a generous spread of hundreds of them compiled in one volume, can surely take us nearer to the infinity. Each, a gateway to the realisation of the Eternal Principle.
To embark upon a pictorial world of the Guru is like setting out on a pilgrimage. A Guru is a jangam tirtha –a divine personage exuding holy vibrations. He is an immortal, a walking, talking tirtha kshetra –imbued with compassion in the greatest measure. He continues to bless, inspire and instruct his devotees in minute detail, even after departing from the earthly body. We just have to look at his photographs replete with an indescribable poignant beauty. Look and then look again, with renewed wonder.

Raj Supe (Kinkar Vishwashreyananda)