How Hathras figured in Swami Vivekananda's life

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Lucknow, Jul 7 (PTI) From witnessing the ignominy of the recent stampede that claimed 121 lives, Hathras is also known for giving Swami Vivekananda one of his first disciples -- Swami Sadananda, who transformed himself from a station-master to a monk.

Swami Sadananda is also credited with introducing the tradition of addressing the monks as 'maharaj'.

"These days, Hathras is in the news and is making headlines for negative reasons. But it is the same place where the seeds of divinity and spirituality germinated at its railway station when destiny virtually handed over to Swami Vivekananda one of his first disciples, whom the world today knows as Swami Sadananda," Swami Muktinathananda who heads the Ramakrishna Math in Lucknow told PTI.

In the book titled 'Monastic Disciples of Swami Vivekananda' written by Swami Abjajananda, the author says, "In the latter half of 1888, a wandering monk was travelling to Rishikesh from Vrindavan, when he got down from the train at the Hathras station. How, and with whose help he was to proceed further was uncertain. Despite this, the monk was absolutely calm, and there was no sign of anxiety on his face. On the contrary, his eyes radiated a strong air of detachment and self-confidence. However, his journey had tied him, and he was sitting on a bench on the platform." "The station master happened to see the monk. His bright eyes and his happy countenance attracted him, so he went to him and started a conversation. 'Well, Swamiji' he said, 'Why are you sitting here? Won't you go further?' 'Yes surely I will go,' answered the monk. Slightly encouraged, the station master came closer and asked, ‘Swamiji, would you like to have a smoke?' This time the monk answered in a detached way, 'Yes, if you offer me one'," the author says further in the book.

Unveiling the mystery in the subsequent paragraphs, the author says, "This wandering monk was none other than the famous Swami Vivekananda, and the station-master was Sharatchandra Gupta, who later became Swamiji's disciple and was given the name ‘Sadananda’. He was also known in the Ramakrishna Order as 'Gupta Maharaj'. This is how the first first meeting between the guru and disciple took place. It is believed that this station-master of Hathras had the honour of being the first disciple of Swami Vivekananda." However, the author in the footnote also mentions a different account of the first meeting between Swami Vivekananda and Sadananda.

The footnote reads, "In the reminiscences of Swamiji, entitled 'Swamiji Vivekananda As I Saw Him', Sister Christine gives a slightly different account of Sadananda's first meeting with Swamiji.” According to her, Sadananda saw Swami Vivekananda sitting in a railway compartment, and being captivated with his bright eyes, pleaded with him to get down. It seems that only a few nights before, he had dreamt of those very eyes.

Reminiscences of Swami Vivekananda, Advaita Ashrama, the publisher in a note also mentions that "the present volume is a translation of the original Bengali book, Swamijir Padaprante by the late Swami Abjajananda, which was published on the occasion of Swami Vivekananda's birth anniversary".

Throwing light on the pre-monk life of Swami Sadananda, the author said, "Sharatchandra Gupta was born in Kolkata on 6 January 1865. His father Jadunath Gupta, migrated some time in the year 1869 to Jaunpur, a place near Varanasi, along with his family, and had settled there. Being brought up in North India, Sharatchandra, though a Bengali by birth, was more familiar with the Hindi and Urdu languages." The author also says in the book that "in those days there was no fixed mode of addressing the Swamis. Swami Sadananda, following the customs prevalent in western part of India, started addressing the monks as 'Maharaj'. Slowly, this became the accepted mode of addressing them".

Mentioning another incident related to Sharatchandra in which he makes repeated requests to Swami Vivekananda to be his disciple, the author said, "Seeing his determination and sincerity, Swamiji said: 'Can you really follow me? Then take my begging-bowl and go and beg for our food from the porters of the station.' No sooner was the order given than Sharat went to beg from his own subordinates.” “Having collected some food he brought it to the Swami Vivekananda, who in turn blessed him heartily and accepted him as his disciple. Sharat resigned from his job, dyed a few clothes ochre, and made himself ready to accompany Swamiji as a monk. He was later formally initiated into the monastic vows and given the name Sadananda," the author wrote.

According to the official website of the Hathras district administration, "In the memory of Swami Vivekanand's first arrival at Hathras a 'shilalekh' was established at Hathras City Railway station, which reveals that Swami Vivekanand has given the name Sadananda to his first disciple, who was the station master of Hathras City Railway station." PTI NAV NB