The year was 1893, the place Madras. Swami Vivekanda was about to set sail for his historic journey to America. In those days, Swamiji had taken the mostic vow of Agyatvaas – during which, he, for a few years, had severed all contact with his family, friends and brother disciples (of his guru Sri Ramakrish), and used to travel incognito as a wandering monk all over India.
As Swamiji travelled from place to place, people would often be highly impressed with his regal bearing, knowledge and charisma. They would invite him to their homes, to be their honoured guest.
During one such visit, Swami Vivekanda was residing as the guest of Manmatha Babu, the Accountant General of Madras.
One day, as Sister Nivedita recounts in her book ‘The Master as I Saw Him’, certain souls who had committed suicide came to him. Now for a realized yogi like Swami Vivekanda, who had attained to Nirvikalpa Samadhi (complete union with God), this was nothing unusual. As Sister Nivedita writes, Swamiji “now and again, met and held converse with the spirits of the dead.”
But this time, these souls gave him the news that his mother had passed away. This perturbed Swamiji greatly because on account of his Agyatvas, he had not been maintaining any contact with his family members in Calcutta and thus had no way of knowing of their well-being. And in a few days, he was to set sail for America, to attend the Parliament of Religions in Chicago.
Swamiji then revealed to his host his fears ‘learnt from a dream’. The latter immediately sent a wire to Calcutta to ascertain about the health of Swamiji’s mother. As they waited for the reply, Manmatha Babu suggested that Swamiji speak to a man who lived some way off from Madras, who was reputed to have acquired mystic powers over spirits. With their help, this man could tell fortunes and read the past and the future of a man’s life.
Swamiji, his host and two others then met this ‘ghost tamer’ meditating near a crematorium. At first he took no notice of his visitors, but as Swamiji’s question was interpreted to him, he sat still in perfect concentration.
Later, Swami Vivekanda himself recounted this experience thus: “He began to give out my me, my genealogy, the history of my long line of forefathers, and said that Shri Ramakrish (who had by then passed away) was keeping close to me all through my wanderings — intimating also to me good news about my mother. He foretold that I would have to go very soon to far-off lands for preaching religion.”
“Getting good news thus about my mother, we all travelled back to town, and after arrival, received by wire from Calcutta the assurance of mother’s doing well.”
Sister Nivedita now continues her account: “Having ascertained by enquiry that his mother was well, Swamiji remonstrated with these souls for their untruthfulness, but was answered that they were now in such unrest and distress that the telling of truth or falsehood was indifferent to them.”
These unhappy, restless souls then begged him to set them at peace, and he went out to the seashore at night, to pray and perform a shraddh ceremony for them.
“But when he came to that part of the ceremony where offerings are to be made to the spirits of the dead, Swamiji, being a penniless monk, found he had nothing to offer. For a moment, he knew not what to do. Then he remembered an old book that said, in the absence of all other means of sacrifice, sand might be used. So, taking up great handfuls of sand, he stood there on the shore casting it into the sea, and with his whole mind sending benediction to the dead.
“And those souls had rest. They troubled him no more,” concludes Sister Nivedita.
But the story did not end there. Four years after this incident, upon returning from his historic voyage to America Swami Vivekanda was speaking at Kumbakom, situated about 275 kms from Madras. And there among the crowd that had come to greet him, he saw the ‘ghost tamer’. Later, Swamiji met him and learnt his me was Govinda Chetti.
Said Swamiji:“I know you have psychic power. It has given you money and honour. But from the spiritual point of view, are you not where you started? Has your mind progressed towards God?”
And the ‘ghost tamer’ admitted that it had not. The Swamiji embraced him, and they parted.
It later transpired that Chettis’s psychic powers disappeared from that day. Instead, he became a seeker after God and soon renounced the world to follow in Swamiji’s footsteps...