S. Kaul Safapuri
two kilometres away from the historical and
picturesque town of Achhabal, on the right side of
the road to Uma Devi (Brari-Aangan), there is
the Ramakrishna Mahasammelan Ashram, which was
founded by late Swami Ashokananda, more than forty
It is a fairly big Ashram
now, a compact complex of some buildings and a
small temple, dedicated to Ramakrishna Paramahamsa,
at the foot of the wooded Achhabal hills. The
Samadhi of Swami Ashokananda is within the
precincts of the Ashram.
I am one of those persons
who have seen this Ashram, which was the abode of
Swamiji for nearly thirty years, grow from a tiny
two-kanal hermitage, with a solitary hut within,
into a sprawling five-acre Ashram, inclusive of a
well maintained small apple orchard.
I vividly recall the warm
summer day back in 1940, or perhaps 1941, when two
tonga ]oads of people travelled from Anantnag to
Achhabal. I was one of the party, a young school
boy. I was staying with an uncle at Anantnag. One
day my parents came there and the entire household
was thrilled when my father, late Shri Shambunath
Kaul, who was a devout disciple of Swamiji,
disclosed that Swamiji was somewhere at Achhabal.
Swamiji, it may be
recalled had been staying for many years in a
small room at the shrine of Nandi Bhairav at
Sumbal ( Sonawari ) but had moved out from there
and his whereabouts were not known to many people.
Naturally when the disclosure came, it thrilled
all; because all of us. our family and relatives,
were deeply attached to Swamiji.
At Achhabal we got into a
three-storey building across the road, opposite to
the Mughal garden and climbed up to the third
storey. This storey had a narrow but long wooden
balcony on the side facing the road and there we
found Swami ji sitting on a bed and talking to
some people. The house was the residence of one
Shri Amarnath, a police official posted at
Achhabal and a devotee of Swamiji. It was a great
reunion which gave tremendous joy to everyone.
A little later we again
got into the tongas and took the road to what
turned out to be a pretty small retreat on the
fringes of a wooded slopečNagadandi.
I recollect there was a
tall poplar tree by the side ofthe road where the
tongas halted, I caughtsight of a Sanyasi,with a
thick beard ar.d matted hair, perhaps collecting
cowdung. Later I learnt that he was Shri Damoder
Ji, who was helping in setting up the small
Ashram. Perhaps he is now at Wanpuh near Anantnag.
We climbed up the little
distance to the Ashram. All that wefound was a
newly built small hut on the banks of a small pond
fed by a tiny natural fresh-water spring just
inside the forest. An ideal site for a secluded
Ashram and we were told that Swamiji himself had
chosen the site. The hut consisted of two small
rooms. The interior one which was smaller and
hardly enough for one person to stretch himself,
was to be Swamiji's sanctum for many years. There
was also a tiny shed next to the hut which was to
serve as the kitchen. This shed was improved later
to provide more space.
Swamiji had not moved in
yet as the Ashram was being given finishing
touches. Those doing so were to be the first
resident disciples at the Ashram. They were Shri
Shambunath, later to be known as Shakti Chaitanya
and Shri Trilokinath who now lives in Srinagar.
While at the Ashram,
Swamiji himself took us round and showed us a dry
spring a little distance inside the forest. On a
subsequent visit I found water gushing out of this
After spending sometime
at the Ashram we again took to the road in the two
tongas along with Swamiji and proceeded to Uma
Devi. Some kind of a festival was going on at the
shrine and weall had our mid-day, meals there. I
do not recollect clearly whether on our return
Swamiji got down at Nagadandi or came back to
For me it was the
beginning of a long association with Nagadandi I
was deeply attached to Swamiji and the
placefascinated me and therefore I paid frequent
visits during my school and college days. I would
spend weeks in the Ashram helping in vegetable
cultivation, watering and such other chores. Iwas
an ignorant young man and did not have an inkling
of Swamiji's towering spiritual height. I would
simply treathim as a friend.
One early winter day I
went to the Ashram and spent the night there. Next
morning when we woke up we found there had been a
heavy snowfall during the night. I was stranded as
no transport was available. I got bored and told
Swamiji that we would roll some snow and make a
snowman. He could feel my boredom and readily
agreed. We got so engrossed in the job that we had
to seek thehelp of Shaktiji and Trilokiji also and
a whole day was spent in the pastime.
On another occasion when
I spent many days at the Ashram, I would bicycle
down to Achhabal every day to collect the mail.
One day I asked Swamiji whether he knew cycling.
He replied in the negative and I promptly offered
to teach him. It gave me the joy of a proud
teacher when he agreed. There was a small open
space surrounded by forests, on a higher elevation
opposite the Ashram. I toiled up the slope with
the bicycle with Swamiji close on my heels. There
I tried to teach him the art of riding the
machine. The seat of the bicycle was very hard and
he asked me to get a sheet of cloth to cover it. I
raced down to the Ashram and returnedwith a sheet
a few minutes later. And imagine my shock when I
found Swamiji riding the bicycle with theease of
an expert over the undulating ground.
A few years later, Brig.
Omkar Singh became the next-door neighbour of
Nagadandi when he bought a plot of land to lay an
orchard. He built a house there and would live
there during the summer months. He would visit the
Ashram almost daily in the evening. This would be
followed by long walks in which I would always
The next resident
disciple at the Ashram was Shri Jia Lall who came
to be known as Maharaj Ji. He is possibly in Jammu
now. After 1947, he was joined by Shri Makhanlal
Chaku and Shri Kanaiyah Lall Kaul, who got the
names of Sambit and Shanti respectively.
I often visited Nagadandi
as long as Swamiji was there. My association with
the Ashram will always be one of the most
cherished memories with me. When I think of
Nagadandi, my mind is flooded with recollections
which might flnd expression some day.
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