Picking up the thread on Swami Prabhudatt Brahmachari ji…
The great sage (Maharajshri) Swami Akhandananda Saraswati has written in his book “Paavan Prasang”, that he considers Swami Prabhudatt Brahmachari to be the one who was instrumental in making him into a public narrator of spiritual Katha. And those in the ‘path’ know that it is to Maharajshri that we owe, in a very large part, the traditions of Bhagavata Katha in the form that we see now, all over India. Brahmachari ji used to hold year-long naama-samkeertan festival in his ashram in Prayag (Jhusi). He invited Maharajshree to give discourses on Srimad Bhagavatam. It is here that Maharajshree met the great sage Udiya Baba too. (One gets an idea of the great confluence of sages in Brahmachariji’s Jhusi Ashram.)
Maharajshree narrates an incident about Prabhudatt Brahmachari that happened in Ayodhya. After the stay at Jhusi Ashram, Udiya Baba and many of his followers left for Ayodhya, walking. Maharajshree and Brahmachari ji too went with him. In Ayodhya, they found another great scholar-sage, Shri Anjaninandan Sharan, coming to offer traditional welcome to Udiya Baba. (A word about Anjaninandan Sharan ji. He was a high-court lawyer, who later renounced worldly life and retired to Ayodhya, where he compiled the magnum-opus book “Manasi Piyush”. It is a masterly “commentary of commentaries” on Ramacharita Maanas, and has since been brought out as a massive seven-volume set by Gita Press, Gorakhpur. ) Seeing Anjaninandan ji coming, Brahmachariji offered his respects to him by falling on the ground and prostrating to him. Seeing Brahmachariji in front of him, Shri Anjaninandan Sharan too fell on the ground, in prostration to Brahmachariji. Seeing these two sages prostrating, their followers on both sides, threw themselves forthwith on the ground, in prostration. It was an amazing sight. All were on the ground. Only Udiya Baba was standing, and was laughing in merriment.
Just imagine the depth of Bhaava of Brahmachariji, as indeed of Anjaninandanji!
In another context, Swami Venkatesananda, disciple of Swami Sivananda, writes – “….Prabhudatta Brahmachari, who had quite a number of ashrams in North India. He wanted to do some writing, and felt that he needed complete isolation, undisturbed seclusion; so, he bought himself a houseboat, and anchored it in the middle of the river Ganges. He went on doing his work undisturbed. In the meantime, the ashrams were being run by somebody else.
One day, one of his lieutenants went to see him, and said, “You know, So-and-so who is running the ashram in such and such a place is stealing, cheating, doing this and that!” This holy man heard all that, smiled, and didn’t respond. The man asked him, “What are you going to do about it?” He said, “Nothing. God has not appointed me a magistrate. That is not my job, that is his job.”
Based on the above, one would well think that Brahmachariji would be the last person to include political activism in his ‘job profile’ – and one would think wrong! Even as a youth, he participated in freedom struggle, and was imprisoned several times by the British (once, along with Nehru). Indeed, he was one of those who felt the need to be engaged with political apparatus for causes that he felt right.
In the first elections of free India, he contested as an independent candidate against the great leader, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru! And his election symbol? A boat.
Nehru was aiming to bring sweeping legislative changes in Hindu code, and Brahmachariji took it upon himself to stand against it. And in this stand, he was offered support by Swami Karpatri Maharaj’s party (Akhil Bharatiya Ram Rajya Parishad) and other Hindu political groups. But all said and done, it was never a real contest, with Nehru having a superstar status in the political stage, and Brahmachariji being a Sadhu who knew little of realpolitik. You can’t observe Mouna and do a political campaign, can you! Brahmachari had as much chance as Nehru would have had, had Nehru challenged Brahmachari to a debate on Brahma Sutra or Upanishads!
But the contest was not without its moments!
Here are some excerpts from an article, ‘Cymbals and Symbols’ – a report that was published in ‘Time’ magazine (issue of Jan 28th, 1952).
“By plane, ship, train, automobile and bullock cart, India’s Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had been campaigning all over the country, stirring up votes for India’s four-month-long first general election. He had traveled 23,000 miles, made as many as ten speeches a day, addressed 5 million people. In fact, he had been just about everywhere but in his own constituency in Allahabad. There was no need to canvass Allahabad, he said rather airily.
Last week he got distressing news. His only opponent in Allahabad, 52-year-old Prabhudatt Brahmachari, who wears a luxuriant grey beard, orange-and red-rimmed spectacles, a saffron robe and a long white loincloth, had been quietly building up the vote. Quietly was the word for it: he had done it without uttering a single sound, except an occasional loud laugh.
One Plank. Back in 1921, Brahmachari, like Nehru, came under the spell of Mahatma Gandhi, but Brahmachari became a Sadhu, or holy man. He took vows of silence and celibacy, was jailed several times by the British (once along with Nehru), set up a camp on the banks of River Ganges to study the Hindu epics, and wrote the first 60 volumes of a 180-volume biography of Hindu god Krishna! One day last October he cried out : “Hey nath Narayan!” (meaning, “Oh, Lord God,” the holy man’s only departure from silence). And an attendant brought him his Shaeffer fountain pen and paper. He wrote: “If today I participate in an election, it’s because my inner voice bids me to do so.”
“Nehru, he said, is a ‘black Englishman [who] studied in the West…’
“Holy Man Brahmachari toured Nehru’s constituency in a 1931 Dodge sedan accompanied by a troupe of Hindu singers. To the chanting of Hindu psalms, he danced on the platform, rhythmically tapping a pair of small brass cymbals. A disciple read from a pamphlet he had written…”
“Hearing that Brahmachari’s pamphlet had sold 76,000 copies, Nehru came rushing back to Allahabad last week…”
The article adds – “This week, as Allahabad voters went to the polls, Nehru seemed to have his constituency under control again. The whole country was pretty much his, too.”
In that election, Nehru got 233571 votes, while Prabhudatt Brahmachari got 56718 votes ( click here for election results site )
Here is a picture of Brahmachari, that was carried in the Time article referred above.
He lost the election all right, but never lost his sense of political purpose.
One of the most important causes that seized his heart was the protection of cows.
(Indeed, the deep regard for cows in Indian consciousness can be understood from the fact that the election symbol of the mighty Congress party was a pair of bullocks carrying a yoke. In 1967, the Congress party had a split. While the original party continued with the old symbol, the new faction led by Indira Gandhi chose the symbol of a cow with suckling calf).
Brahmachari was one of the leaders of the movement against Cow-slaughter in India. This became a life-long battle for him with the powers that be. He toured the length and breadth of the country for his campaign. In 1966, he formed SGMS (Sarvadaliya Gorakshana Maha-abhyaan Samiti ) which included people from all sides, even some Congressmen. He announced that a huge Satyagraha would be held on 7th November 1966, followed by a hunger strike. It is estimated that lakhs of people came to Delhi for this Satyagraha. Sadly, the situation turned out of control, there were reports of vandalism, police resorted to firing, resulting in six or seven sadhu-s dying, and many were imprisoned. The Home Minister, Gulzari Lal Nanda, had to resign his post.
In 1967 he went on an indefinite fast on the issue of Cow-slaughter. He broke the fast after 80 days after Government intervened and gave some assurances.
It is said that Prabhudatt Brahmachari had four deep desires
- To build a temple of Hanuman in Delhi, with a 40 foot tall Hanuman idol
- To build a temple of Vishnu (60 foot tall idol) in Indraprastha (Delhi – perhaps the Purna kila region)
- To put an end to cow slaughter
- Release of Ramjanbhoomi
Of these, there is but one that he could see happen.
The Hanuman in Delhi… The Kotwal of the Capital….
All said and being done, one may agree or not with his political positions. But one cannot deny that he was a great ascetic who sought to bring his voice to bear on the political landscape. And he did that using Gandhian method of non-violent Satyagraha.
Signing off this post with a poster of Paul McCartney (of the Beatles) – lending his golden voice to the cause of the Moo! (There is this video too of his too, titled “If slaughterhouses had glass” …Click here to see on youtube… )
** To be continued **