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Swami Prabhananda (Ketaki Maharaj)

Swami Prabhananda (Ketaki Maharaj)

A Story of Self-Sacrifice

Of the group of people who have been inspired by the ideal of Shri Ramakrishna to leave home and join the Mission, Swami Prabhananda (Ketaki Maharaj) is a fully-realized representative. The poignant story of his sacrifice in the service of humanity remains a glorious event of the last century, which will motivate not only the present but also the future generations to a life of service. January 2000 marked his birth centenary.

Swami Prabhananda, born in January 1900, was the first child of a well-to-do joint family of Paharpur village in District Sylhet (presently in Bangladesh). When calculating the moment of his birth, the astrologer predicted that the child would receive honours worthy of a king. In the horoscope, the name decided upon was Ketaki, and there is great similarity between the name and his life. As a flower, Ketaki does not belong to the first order and thus tends to escape our notice, yet its soft and sweet fragrance easily enchants everyone.

Nurtured in boundless love and care, his mind and body were seized with an impetuosity unbefitting his age as soon as he moved from childhood to the threshold of adolescence. He would suddenly do or want to do things that his elders could not approve of, resulting in many awkward situations, one of which occurred when he was ten or twelve years old. 

At the height of the rainy season, boat races had begun on the river near the village. Numerous boats of variegated colours had come from far away. There was virtually a fair of small boats on the river and music recitals were underway inside them. This was their happiest annual festival, a wonderful scene in all. Ketaki's father, Kalikrishna Roy Chowdhury (Kali Roy, in short) was the chief organiser of this festival. One after another, the racing boats had begun to move towards the appointed starting line after offering their salutations at the landing stage of the house. The boatmen were singing in chorus, raising their colourful sculls, and on the prow little boys were dancing to the rhythm. Ketaki found their dancing great fun. Hanging on to his father, he clamoured insistently to dance on the prow during the race. What a dangerous wish! Since he could not swim, slipping and losing his foothold would mean inevitable death. Father agreed, however, despite everyone's opposition; perhaps he desired some kind of a trial. Ketaki's dream was thus fulfilled and he returned like a triumphant hero after the race. There were so many other incidents of this kind. 

For instance, he suddenly got the idea that the village schools were no good, and he had to study in a town school. Everyone at home was opposed to the idea but that only intensified his zeal to achieve his goal. He simply waited for an opportunity. Rains had just begun in the village, and all around the canals and fens were brimming over with fresh water. At some places a bit of green grass peeped out of the water, indicating a village pathway. Suddenly one day, at the crack of dawn, Ketaki disappeared. Wading through three miles of a flooded road, and then swimming to the steamer jetty, he reached the sub-divisional town Sunamganj. There, with the help of a relative, he got admitted to a school. After all, failing to achieve a goal was simply not in his nature.

Ketaki was a very bright student. After completing his school education with laurels, he went on to Dhaka in order to stay at his maternal uncle's house and study in a college. His younger brother Pramod had also come with the same motive. Both of them knew the Sanskrit saying: studying is an austere endeavour for the student. They also knew that they had to do well in college-father's dream had to be fulfilled. At their maternal uncle's place, there were other students too and all of them lived in the outhouse, where chatting was pursued more enthusiastically than studies. That is why Ketaki rented and shifted to a room elsewhere with his younger brother. The Ramakrishna Mission Ashram was nearby and the two brothers went there every evening. At that time the Head of the Dhaka Mission was Sukul Maharaj, who took a fancy to the two brothers. Along with studies went on the arduous endeavour of shaping mind and body at the ashram, and it was there itself that both the brothers were formally initiated to the ideal of service.

There was a major change after Ketaki passed the B.A. examination in 1921. All around, political agitation against British rule had begun to take shape, giving rise to secret organizations and revolutionary activities in which both the brothers got involved. Secret meetings were sometimes held in their room. There they spent their time usually spinning the charkha and singing in order to hoodwink the police and outsiders. Their singing disturbed the peace of an Anglo-Indian neighbour. Moreover, hearing of their spinning activities, the gentleman quickly came to the conclusion that the two were involved in the Non-Cooperation movement of Mahatma Gandhi. He immediately sent orders to stop the singing and the spinning, but that produced the opposite effect and the singing grew louder. Desperate, the furious sahib landed there in person. Both the brothers were busy spinning. Pointing his pistol at them, he ordered, "Stop the charkha at once, or else...." In a moment, Ketaki bared his chest and said, "Shoot if you dare, but we won't stop the charkha." The sahib was totally nonplussed; he realized that they could not be intimidated into submission. As a last measure he threatened to report them to the police before he left. As a precautionary measure, the brothers gave up the room, and carried on hoodwinking the police for some time, but ultimately, they could find no peace of mind. After all, how could the mind that had been inspired by the ideal of service rest content? They returned to the Mission and stayed there with the Swamiji's permission. After some time, they were both ritually initiated into the ascetic life.

This news reached their home from Dhaka. Kali Roy threw a fit on losing two sons at one stroke. The man was made of fiery mettle-- a mighty personality, an extremist in both giving and taking. When he was in the mood to give, he could unstintingly, but if he needed to take, he had no qualms about grabbing more than his share. Neither adjustment nor compromise was in his blood. How dare one play false with Kali Roy, a man who could break a wild horse, whose cruelty in torching the houses of insubordinate tenants knew no limits, and whose heart did not tremble at murders, if required. He arrived at the Dhaka Mission with a police posse, brought back his two sons as captives to their village home and posted vigilant guards all around. 

But he realized his mistake soon enough. A person's body could be fettered, but what about his mind? He tried to make his sons understand- serving the poor and the distressed was an admirable idea but was there any need to leave home and become an ascetic for that? Why not serve the ranks of the poor in the village? That would be true welfare and service of humanity. Overnight, a temple was built in the garden for the worship of Shri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda. A school for children and older boys, a loom to teach weaving, and free medical care for the poor were also set up. The results exceeded all expectation, for the two brothers put their heart and soul in serving the poor. This went on for quite some time, apparently without any cause for worry. But the father's heart was not free from anxiety. He thought it would not be advisable to wait any longer and once the brothers were married off, there would not be any fear of losing them.

Secretly learning of this plan, Ketaki grew restless. Then one day he made his way to the steamer jetty on the pretext of buying yarn for the loom. He knew that his life would turn topsy-turvy if he could not catch the steamer. In the end, when he reached the jetty, breathless, the first whistle signalling the steamer's departure had been sounded. The news of Ketaki's departure made his father cry out from the bottom of his heart like a helpless child. Would all his efforts for so long be rendered futile? He yelled out an order to his nephew Suresh to set off at once on horseback-- Ketaki had to be brought back by hook or crook. But by the time Suresh reached the jetty, the final whistle for the steamer's departure had been sounded. Running towards the jetty, he saw Ketaki briskly approaching the ladder of the ferry. Suresh stood in his way, pleaded and implored, touched his feet, wept and even clutched on to his clothes, but at the last moment, leaving his shawl behind in Suresh's hands, Ketaki scrambled on to the steamer on that harsh winter night, and merged with the milling passengers. Suresh just stood on the jetty, spell-bound.

When he came to his senses, the well-lit boat had already reached mid-river. Wrapping Ketaki's discarded shawl around himself, he said, with tears in his eyes, "God, you are ever so gracious. I don't have the slightest regret for failing to hold him back; rather, I'm happy. I'll be spared of the taint of ruining an extraordinary person's life." In fact, Suresh was deeply influenced by the beliefs and ideals of Ketaki Maharaj, and would have also become a monk had he managed to escape. Ketaki returned to the Dhaka Mission and from there proceeded to Belur, where he was initiated to the ascetic life by Swami Sivananda Maharaj. As is customary, he gave up his old name and took the new name of Swami Prabhananda.

Meanwhile, his ascetic younger brother, Pramod, was also trying to run away, but come what may, Kali Roy was not prepared to lose another son. The guards became stricter and it was impossible to break free. Pramod could not take the oppressive weight of loneliness and fell severely ill. News of his health, hanging between life and death, brought Ketaki Maharaj home. The two brothers were together once again but for the last time. Three days later, Pramod passed away. Kali Roy, however, was not to be put down and gave orders that Ketaki must stay at home. Thus began a mental tussle between father and son. The father may have given him birth but how could he command the life of an ascetic? Ketaki made it clear that he would follow in Pramod's footsteps if he was forcibly confined. At the same time, his father would not budge from his decision. In this moment of crisis, his mother took a dramatically defiant stance, for she also had a claim on her offspring. Being a mother, she could not confine her child and thus drive him to death, no matter how unbearable the pain of his absence would be. In the end, Prabhananda returned to Belur Math with his mother's consent and blessings. Of course, she had to pay the price for her consent in tears throughout the rest of her life.

The monk was now released from all fetters, his face aglow with the joy of freedom, he waited only to dedicate himself to the service of humanity. At that time Belur Math had been receiving requests from various areas in the Khasi-Jayantia hills in Meghalaya to set up schools and social service centres. We need to understand why so many earnest appeals were being made to the Mission. For many years Christian missionaries, under the aegis of the British administration, had dominated all aspects of the lives of the Khasis. The main job of these missionary educational institutions was to convert the hill people to Christianity. Their tireless efforts had brought most people of the hill districts into the ambit of a community governed by the Church. The more they were drawn to Western education, culture, conventions and religion, the more were they estranged from their own.

Aided by the British government, Christian missionaries had established the Christian religion and community on a solid foundation and the repercussions of this have continued to hamper the unity, peace and progress of the nation even after independence. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, the Kolkata Brahmo Samaj had tried very hard to stop conversions, but they had to return unsuccessful because of the resistance from the missionaries. The Khasis believed that since the Ramakrishna Mission was an institution for the service of humanity, it would not impose the Hindu religion or culture on them. But where Christianity was already entrenched, the language alien, the people unknown, the surroundings dangerous and the climate inclement, one can easily guess how difficult it was for other people and religious institutions to operate. Taking all things into consideration, the Mission authorities decided to send Ketaki Maharaj to the Khasi hills. The distinctive traits of his character- indomitable courage, strong self-confidence, tremendous mental strength and the ability to give himself away unstintingly- had impressed everyone at Belur Math in a very short span of time. He accepted this decision of the authorities with pleasure.

Touching the feet of the statue of Shri Shri Ramakrishna Dev, the divine incarnation of our age, and cherishing the blessings of his Gurudev, Ketaki stepped into the unknown. At the end of a long journey, he reached the tiny "Shella" village in a remote corner of the Khasi hills on a winter evening in 1923. He took shelter in the house of Mathuracharan Dey, a large-hearted Bengali government pharmacist. Mathuracharan promised full cooperation when he learnt the purpose of Ketaki's visit, warning him at the same time of the hardship in his chosen work. From even before the birth of Shri Ramakrishna Dev (1836), the Catholic clergymen had exercised despotic control over every sphere of the lives of these simple hill tribes. Would it be possible to breach this fortified wall? But the pharmacist had no idea of a distinctive trait of Ketaki Maharaj's character-- the greater the obstacle, the stronger was his resolution.

Surrounded by strangers in an unknown, inaccessible terrain girded with hills, ordinary people would have longed for a secure shelter, but for one whose mind was dedicated to the service of humanity, such an opportunity was only a cause for delight. He desired an environment and situation where there would be no barriers between the serving and the served; rather, they should come together like a family. Within a few days Ketaki left the Mathuracharan's house and built his own dwelling on a hill- side, a dwelling woven and thatched with leaves. There he lived as a mendicant, depending on food given as alms for his daily survival. Often, he had to go without food. His real aim was to get to know the hill people closely; without their trust and love it would be difficult to work among them. Their bitter prior experience had made these simple hill people distrustful of people from the plains. Ketaki began moving around from one living quarter to another with an ever-smiling face. At that time this was the only way he could make himself known and understood. 

Gradually some people started coming to the monk's hut out of curiosity. None of them found any cause for distrust; nor did they suspect any evil intention. They wanted to know and communicate but language was an insurmountable barrier. The Khasi language was very difficult and took a long time to master. It did not have its own alphabet and there were hardly any books. The only ones available were the teachings of Christ, his life and prayer-books, all written in the Roman script. Ketaki astonished the Khasis by mastering the language in only three months. He used to go out every morning in the bitter cold, visiting all the living quarters. As soon as the Khasi head of the family opened the door in the morning, he would meet the smiling young monk who would convey his morning greetings: "kublai kublai" ("good morning"). Soon he won over the hearts of many.

Initially, he visited every household and told the members of his goals. Subsequently, he organized small meetings and tried to make them understand- "Our customs and way of life may be different, but we're all Indians and therefore one and the same. Your language and culture are a matter of pride to you. Nevertheless, if we come into contact, we'll get to know each other well, sharing whatever is the best in each of us. Moreover, it'll be of no use to remain isolated from the people in the plains who've been enlivened by the new current of ideas". He explained to them the significance of a life of service to humanity associated with Shri Ramakrishna-Vivekananda. On comparison, the respective ideals of the Christian Church and the Ramakrishna Mission became increasingly clear to the Khasis: the former was motivated by self-interest, the latter by selflessness. Very soon, the Mission's principle of service earned the trust of the inhabitants of Shella.

Now came the time for work. The very first venture was against illiteracy, and Ketaki established the first primary school in Shella in 1924. When the news of his exceptional success spread everywhere, many nearby villages invited him to set up institutions for education and social service. The Durbar of Shella Confederacy gladly came forward, promising financial help. In due course, an ashram and a charitable clinic were established. This was the first institution of the Ramakrishna Mission in the entire Khasi-Jayantia hills belt, a new chapter added to the annals of the Mission. The scope of work expanded at a rapid pace. With the assistance of King Usiyem, the then internationally-renowned monarch of Cherrapunjee, Ketaki made this town his centre of operations, setting up high school, a students' hostel, a charitable clinic and an ashram. It is from this school that Mr Gilbert Swell matriculated in the First Division, before rising to the rank of Deputy Speaker of the Lok Sabha.

One point is worth noting in all this. In order to win over the Khasis, Ketaki began working in social service and education, building the ashram and the temple much later. By contrast, the Christian missionaries had first built the church and only then engaged in other activities. This demonstrates Ketaki's profound foresight, which is equally evident in his educational methods and ideals even at the outset of the twentieth century. These primary schools were to serve as the first step to the first stage of education. After completing primary education, students would go on to specific middle schools and from there to high schools. From a particular stage, education would be residential. That way it would be easy to inculcate from childhood, love for character-building, discipline and noble ideals in boys and girls; this would be indispensable to their becoming responsible citizens in later life. This is the model followed by many educational institutions even today. As an organizer also, he gave ample proof of his mental strength and intelligence. Whenever a school or a hospital was established after painstaking labour and effort, he used to hand over its administration to committees constituted from among the local people, keeping himself in the background. This created, on the one hand the disposition to work in unison; on the other hand, it fostered a deep love for the institution, which was indispensable for keeping it alive. For the hill people, all this was novel and inspiring- experiences that they had never had under the Church's regime.

News of the arrival and activities of the new monk reached the ears of the Catholic missionaries. It was not difficult for them to understand that this monk's influence would strike at the firm foundation they had built so many years. What right did the Hindu monk have, they thought, to enter this hill kingdom fortified by British rule? Why should they tolerate his rapidly increasing popularity? An urgent message reached the British district magistrate-- the man was engaged in ousting British rule in the garb of a monk. The charge was serious and the magistrate himself, after arriving in Shella, summoned the accused. But he was charmed by Swami Prabhananda's noble intentions, strong self-confidence, personality, and talk radiant with intelligence. The work and functioning style of the institutions established by Swamiji pleased him so much that before leaving Shella he promised help along with every good wish. 

Meanwhile, the angry clergymen vowed to drive the monk away, and one day the opportunity came their way. Ketaki was trudging back to the ashram across the hills in enveloping darkness, tired after the day-long social service. As he turned a corner, some miscreants obstructed his way, growling, "Foolish monk, these hills are under Christian control; you either have to leave or take your final farewell in this gorge. Ready?" Their proposal was not acceptable to Ketaki and this meant imminent death. He replied firmly, "I'll not be thrown into this gorge alone, I'll take all of you with me." With this, he raised his stick and confronted them. How can those who are afraid to die, match one who has no fear of death? In this way he came face-to-face with death many times, but never admitted defeat.

As the scope of his activities expanded, Ketaki began to acutely feel the lack of committed workers. How many people can submit themselves to so much suffering, and give up so much? Many of the people from the plains who had come there to work inspired by him, fell ill because of the inclement climate and pressure of work, and had to go back. Moreover, he removed many workers when he found them lacking in the strength and firmness of character necessary for working in rapport with the simple hill people. Eventually, he formed a team of workers from among the discerning Khasis and continued his activities. This solved all problems of empathy, language and environment and both the pace and extent of their work increased. 

In 1929, he established his headquarters in Shillong, the then capital of Assam. Initially he set up in rented premises an ashram and a hostel for a few boys from Shella, to enable them to study in the higher classes. Later, the present beautiful ashram and temple were constructed on land that he bought. At that time, he also made the arrangements for a few Khasi boys and girls to stay in the Calcutta Ramakrishna Mission Students Home, Nivedita Girls School (Bagbazaar, Kolkata) and the 'Ananda Ashram' in Dhaka, so that they got an opportunity for higher studies and closer acquaintance with Indian culture and civilization. In 1929 he took a team of Khasi women and men from Shella to Belur Math, the main centre of the Mission. There, many of them were so overwhelmed by the ideals of the Mission, that they underwent religious initiation. According to some reports, P.A. Sangma, Honourable Former Speaker of the Lok Sabha, had begun his primary education in the school established by Swami Prabhananda.

Another matter caught Ketaki's attention after he arrived in Shella. On the occasion of the autumnal Durga Puja, hundreds of Khasi women and men from the Khasi-Jayantia hills visited Sylhet town (now in Bangladesh) every year. Unable to find accommodation in Hindu hotels, many of them stayed in Muslim hotels and therefore attended the Puja of the Hindus without observing the ritualistic etiquette. Some fell prey to the lust of the plains people and returned home in agonizing humiliation. Learning of these facts, Ketaki was anguished with shame and indignation. In order to save the Khasis from this humiliating situation he started Durga Puja in 1931 within the compound of the Shella ashram. This was the first of its kind outside Shillong, in the Khasi hills, and this is its sixty-ninth year. The Khasi people are closely involved with this Puja, and every year the festival days bring them immense happiness.

Ketaki managed to surge ahead, overcoming many obstacles, often risking his life. Day in and day out, he had to trudge across mountains, 25-30 miles, with his luggage on his back. So, often he had to go hungry. Night after night, he spent writing books in the Khasi language. In this way, unknown to himself, he spent ten long years (1924-1934) in his carnival of labour. His arduous endeavours still offer immense possibilities for the Khasi hills.

All these years he was ceaselessly engaged in nothing but the service of humanity, seriously neglecting his own well-being. Since work was his religion, where would he find the time to look after himself? His well-wishers had often requested him, "Maharaj, you need to take rest." He would smile and reply, "When the time comes, God himself will grant me the opportunity for rest." Listening to his devotee's words, God probably smiled gently to himself. After all, He knew well enough how to give rest to his devotees who were totally obsessed with work. A time came when Ketaki began to feel exhausted by incessant labour in the hilly climate. His legs, it seemed, were becoming increasingly weak, unable to drag his body around. He consulted doctors and they thought that it was a passing ailment, but his condition continued to deteriorate rapidly. In the end, Dr. Bidhan Chandra Roy examined him, and was of the view that an unknown virus had spread through the soles of his feet. Gradually it would affect his brain and all his muscles would atrophy, resulting in death. Dr. Roy did not know any cure for this disease.

Ketaki Maharaj accepted his death sentence calmly but his well- wishers were dismayed, for they had not desired this kind of rest. He reassured everyone, "God has made me immobile and I won't be able to walk any more, but I still have my hands and mouth. Now I'll only write and give instructions as required." He started writing a book in the Khasi language, Kaktien u Rama Krishna, so that it could be published in 1936 on the occasion of the saint's birth centenary. Happily, his wish was fulfilled, for the book was published from Shillong on the very first day of the centenary celebrations. This book remains an invaluable treasure in the Khasi language. Gradually, Ketaki Maharaj became completely paralysed. He had not yet lost his power of speech, and hence gave work instructions from his bed. Soon he started losing even the control over his speech and realized that he did not have much more time left. The workers of his ashram were totally preoccupied with him. Fearing that this would hamper the Mission's work, he gave orders that arrangements should be made for him elsewhere. He tried to convince his fellow-workers that they should not waste valuable time worrying about his inevitable death. The dream and ideal which had brought them to this region was about to bear fruit, and in that alone lay the true fulfilment of life. This was virtually an echo of Rabindranath's philosophy of life:

"... Death, I don't believe

Your derisive nothingness. 
Mine is not mere being alive 
Whose journey ends on emptying out all wealth;
My true identity
Is beyond all fleshly measure."

                                                                                                                'Kankal' [The Skeleton'], Purabi

Death had indeed conceded defeat to Ketaki's creative energy. Today, the Ramakrishna Mission has grown into a vast organization with branches spread over the Khasi-Jayantia hills. The mission of service that he had begun in 1924 with a few devoted workers has taken the shape of an extensive ritual of activity. Several monks, initiates and workers work day and night at the ashrams in Shillong, Cherrapunjee and Shella, for the comprehensive uplift of the hill people's lives.

It is worth mentioning here that until then Belur Math had not offered any help apart from moral support. But Ketaki learnt before his death that the Math authorities had taken full responsibility for administering the Mission established in the Khasi hills. 

Swami Lokeshwarananda's essay in Prabuddha Bharat (Enlightened India) on the life of Swami Prabhananda received unstinted praise everywhere. He firmly believed that without exceptional abilities no man could have worked successfully in the adverse and dangerous environment of the Khasi hills. Reminiscing about the past, he wrote that he first got to know Swami Prabhananda when he was a student residing in the hostel of City College, Kolkata, in 1930-32. That is where they met several times, since Ketaki Maharaj visited that hostel in search of workers and financial help whenever he was in Kolkata. The saffron-clad young monk's radiant personality and compelling conversation cast a profound spell upon the young student, Kanai. With his entire being he used to feel that Ketaki Maharaj was a role model for an aspiring monk.

The former Governor of Assam, Jayramdas Daulatram, as well as distinguished people like Shri Prakash, Dr Kailashnath Katju (the former Governor of West Bengal) and many others, who had visited Shella- Cherrapunjee in the 'forties and fifties, were all overwhelmed by the saga of Swami Prabhananda's supreme sacrifice in the service of humanity. They had all paid their respects to the memory of Maharaj with bowed heads. Although as many as seventy-five years had passed since his arrival in the Khasi hills, people still talk of him as a legend. His portrait is still worshipped in many households and continues to inspire the hill people to a life of service. His story will remain engraved forever on every rock of the Khasi hills. 

Inspecting the first school established at Shella in 1924, Jayramdas Daulatram had said--

"This institution shines like a star, as a star sheds light, this institution sheds the light of knowledge all around the area."

It is not difficult to grasp the deeper significance of Daulatram's remark and its hint towards the future, if we judge it in the context of the first establishment of a branch of the Ramakrishna Mission in the Khasi hills; a flag-bearer of Hindu religion and culture, challenging the age-old dominance of the British missionaries.

If we consider the matter in a sympathetic frame of mind, we will notice several similarities between the lives of the worker-hero Swami Vivekananda and Swami Prabhananda. Some of these similarities are intrinsically of character; others determined by destiny. It seems that some qualities/traits of his father had a particular influence on Ketaki's character. The service and sacrifice of Ketaki Maharaj not only inspired people in the wider world, but also provided new direction within his family after they broke free of settled and archaic beliefs and practices. In all, three brothers of that family dedicated their lives to serving the Mission. Had Ketaki Maharaj consented, even Suresh Ranjan would have undoubtedly joined the Mission. Such a family does not have many parallels.

By this time, the virus had spread all over Ketaki's body, from foot to head, and none of the limbs and organs were functioning properly. At last, towards the end of 1936, he bid farewell forever to his consecrated arena of work, the Khasi hills. For his medical treatment he first went to Belur Math and then to the Ramakrishna Mission of Sonargaon (now in Bangladesh). On receiving this news, his mother arrived there. She met her son after fifteen long years, but she had never imagined that they would meet under these conditions. She flung herself on to her son in tears of joy at having got back her lost treasure. After Ayurvedic treatment did not yield any results, she took the patient away to their village home. His birth place was blessed by the presence of its noble son. Visitors swarmed, innumerable and never- ending. Although unable to speak, he denied none his pleasing smile; it was as if his smile was an integral part of his body, ever visible on his lips, in happiness or sorrow. A social service organization and the "Pramod Memorial Library" were set up according to the ideals of Ketaki Maharaj (Pramod was his younger brother with whom he had been initiated into the ascetic life at the Dhaka Mission in 1921). There was a huge response to the call for social service in all the neighbouring villages. Even when he was ill and an invalid, he was able to inspire people to beneficial work and to renunciation. One shining example of this is the entry of Shri Naresh into the ascetic order (he was a first cousin, the Late Swami Gahanananda, a former President of the Mission). Shri Naresh was given the responsibility of nursing the ill Swami Prabhananda for quite some time. As a result, a close relationship grew up between them which inspired the former to join the Mission.

Ketaki's condition continued to worsen and the Shillong Mission was informed. From the distant Khasi hills came countless women and men to see one of their very own. Many wept inconsolably like children, causing the master of their hearts to weep as well. It seemed as if he had been waiting to meet for the last time before his death, all those in whose service he had drained out his entire life. Gradually, the final moment for bidding farewell approached. His mother had gone to the garden that early morning in winter to pick flowers for the daily Puja, when she heard the sound of wailing from the inner quarters and ran to her son's bedside. But by then it was all over and despite being next to him day and night, she could not be present at his moment of departure. Ketaki left his earthly abode in 1938 when he was only thirty-eight.

The family cremation ground was in front of the house. Shri Naresh lit the pyre after touching the corpse's mouth with ritual fire. By noon the mortal remains of Swami Prabhananda had merged in the soil laden with the memory of his forefathers.

Evening had fallen and the cremation ground was suffused with entrancing moonlight. On one side fluttered a saffron flag, majestic token of renunciation. The blue Khasi hills stretched along the northern horizon, as though rapt in sleepless vigil over the dear one in his last slumber. Relatives and friends stood in the courtyard of the house, weeping. All eyes were fixed on the cremation ground. Perhaps they were thinking of the family's favourite child Ketaki or of the prophecy at the moment of his birth. Suddenly, startling everybody, the trunk of a white elephant dipped on to the pyre, as if in an attempt to lift something. The very next moment it tucked in its trunk and slowly vanished into the sky (a miraculous event narrated by his family members).

Citing here two poems in the Khasi language along with their English translations, in order to show how much the people of the Khasi hills loved and respected him.

(Original Khasi poem)                                                                                                                            

Ah! Ketoki! Ketoki! Ketoki!
Me long Syntiew lewbih 
Nyngkong Nyngshap
Wan bet wan buh 
U hynrad, u Nongthaw, 
Ha Xjat ium shnong Shella. 
Iohi, Me Phush Me Phler 
Ngi Kheif ngi ity unad ngi sher 
Ai nguh aiti ia Me; 
Ha duwan kyntang jong u nongthaw,
Ngi ia name.

                                                               By Sri Debes Mohan Roy


(English Translation)                                                                                                                                      

Oh! Ketoki! Ketoki! Ketoki!
Thou art a scented flower 
Seeds sown by Almighty, our creator
At the foothills of Shella 
We see you in the early morn
We praise and bless your beauty
We place you in the Sacred Altar
And then begin our worship 
We all worship the creator

                                                                      By Sri Debes Mohan Roy

(Original Khasi poem)                                                                                                                                            

Probhananda oa dap da jingiwbih 
Ngin kaweh ka lama jingkhyaman ia phi 
Ngin kintiew burom da jingiaroh 
Ko lurmangkara ba tynghain ha ngi 
Khirk, khirk phi phymai ha sahit bneng 
Ha dohund jong ngi de tyngshain 
Ai bor iangi ban gin nang shlur:

Ku Khlur ba lan lunti jingshai 
Phin nangtyngshain man la kapor 
Ai ban gin bud dienjal jongphi 
Ko khun ba phylla u Ramakrishna.

                                                                         By Smt Skuntala Dykhar


(English Translation)                                                                                                                                                


Probhananda filled with fragrance 
We will wave the flag of your remembrance 
We will hold you high with praise

Oh! Star that shines so high
Brightly shining in the sky 
Do shine in our hearts too 
So that courage may dwell in us

Oh! Star that leads the way
Keep shining everyday
Help us to follow your footsteps
Oh! wonderful son of Ramakrishna.

                                                                       By Smt Skuntala Dykhar

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