Ramakrishna: His life and sayings
The second Saint was Pawâri Bâba of Ghazipur. Little Is known of him, but his recent death has created a painful
sensation all over India. He had lived for about thirty years at Ghazipur, and was venerated as a Saint by the whole native community. The last nine years, however, he had almost entirely withdrawn from the world 1, living by himself in a compound surrounded by high walls and protected by a formidable gate. Inside there was a small flower-garden, a well, a small temple, and his own dwelling-house, which consisted of one room. He never allowed the gate to be opened, and no one ever saw him except his younger brother. Once every week or ten days, however, he would come up to the gate and converse for a few moments from within with any one who happened to be there. His younger brother always remained within calling-distance. But though his saintly brother had told him that he could not any longer bear the misery which the Kâlî-yuga, i.e. the present age, had brought upon India, he little suspected what his brother meant. The venerable man, after taking his usual bath and performing his devotions, seems to have covered his whole body with clarified butter, to have sprinkled himself all over with incense, then to have set fire to the four corners of his lonely house, and when the flames had taken hold of it on all sides, to have deliberately thrown himself into the fire, thus performing his last sacrifice. Before anybody could rescue him, the old man was burnt to ashes, and what remained of him was consigned with due ceremony to the sacred waters of the Ganges. All this happened only a few months ago. It is always difficult to get an exact account of anything that
happens in India. The conflagration of the house in which the old Saint had lived for many years cannot be doubted, nor the discovery of his burnt body. But some of his friends, unwilling to admit his self-immolation, ascribe the fire to an accident, while others consider his voluntary sacrifice as the proper ending to his saintly life.
His name Pawâri, sometimes spelt Pahâri, is explained as a contraction of Pavanâhâri, he who lives on air.
His teaching was probably much the same as that of Râmakrishna, but I have not been able to get a more accurate account of it. His position, however, as a Sage and a Saint seems to have been generally recognised, and Keshub Chunder Sen is a sufficient authority for the fact that he well deserved a place by the side of such men as Dayânanda Sarasvatî and Râmakrishna. The people of India evidently distinguish clearly between these professed ascetics and saints on one side, and mere reformers such as Rammohun Roy and Keshub Chunder Sen on the other. They evidently want to see a complete surrender of the world and its pleasures, riches, and honours before they quite believe in the truth and the sincerity of any teachers and reformers. Having undergone severe tortures and penances is likewise an essential condition of Sainthood, and for the crowd at large even the power of working miracles is by no means out of fashion yet as a test of being an inspired sage.
The best-known name by which some of these sages are called is Paramahamsa, a name that hardly lends itself to translation in English. Scholars who like to cavil and raise a smile
at every custom or tradition of the Hindus, translate it literally by Great Goose, but it would be more faithful to render that ancient title by High-soaring Eagle. Besides, hamsa, though it is the same word as goose, is not the same bird. But though these Paramahamsas form an elite by themselves, we know how many men there have been and are even now in India who, by the asceticism and saintliness of their lives, deserve a place very near to the Paramahamsas in our estimation. We know how Udayashankar, the Prime Minister of Bhavnagar, tried hard to revive, in his own case, the strict rules of life prescribed for the ancient Samnyâsins. The life of Keshub Chunder Sen also, though he was a married man and travelled much and moved in the world, was a life of extreme self-denial, as much as that of any Paramahamsa.
14:1 Interpreter, June, 1898. Indian Social Reformer, June 19, 1898.
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