Narayan Naraayan Naraayan Naraayan!. To those who are regular with the daily satsang at the Art of Living International Ashram in Bangalore, it’s not just a chant of the name of the divine. It tells of a saint of unusual depth!
Maharaj ji, as Gurudev called him was a very gracious being, clad in an orange robe, with a clean shaven head and white vibhuti on his forehead, with all his teeth intact and a big smile on his face! I simply loved Pragyanand Maharaj from the first time I saw him in Ashram with Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar ji. His commitment to knowledge was an inspiration for everybody.
His devotion for the Lord showed in every word he spoke. I still remember, Sri Sri was in silence and Pragyanand Maharaj ji was talking in the Navratri Satsang to a crowd of about 10000+ people. Suddenly his voice started to break and tears started to roll down. I was wondering what happened, and then his intense devotion just caught on! I realized I also had tears in my eyes among so many others who felt the same!
It was very interesting to witness how Sri Sri interacted with him. Sri Sri would praise him so much and Pragyanand Maharaj ji would respond by praising him even more. It used to be like a game of who is more humble! Guudev would praise him, by acknowledging him to be a master in Vedic scriptures. Sometimes Gurudev would say something and then would ask “Haina maharaj ji (Isn’t it Maharaj ji) ?” as if asking for his confirmation.
Maharaj ji would fold his hands in front and bow down indicating, “Why are you doing this to me!” and the crowd would laugh! Gurudev deeply loved Maharaj ji and Maharaj ji would indicate in his talks (sometimes very clearly) that Gurudev is none other than the incarnation of Shri Krishna!
His commitment to dharma was also very inspiring. Many a times, he would be on a wheel chair but still come for the satsang and share some knowledge! In between his talks, he would always crack one or two jokes, that would make our sides split with laughter. This sense of humour and ability to take life lightly despite possessing enormous wisdom was intact till the last moment.
Once in a close group when the topic of “siddhis” was being discussed, Maharaj ji shared that in his younger days he used to go from one village to another as a wandering monk. He would stay in one village for a few days, give discourses on scriptures and then move on to another village. Once, he happened to come across a tiger. He said, “It came near me, and stared at me. So, I also stared back at him. And suddenly the feline ran away in the other direction.” It was only after the tiger had gone away that the villagers told him that it had picked away children from nearby villages and eaten them up. It was a Man eater !
He always equated Divine to a loving mother, who would never fail to respond to a sincere cry from the heart.
He would always begin his discourse by chanting “Narayan” four times. This gave him the sobriquet of Naraayan Swamiji ! His understanding of advaita was so deep that no matter what one asked, he would come back to the same thing – “There is only one… there is no two.” Very often Pragyanand Maharaj ji would speak the same thing again and again, sometimes sounding repetitive and boring. But the enthusiasm with which he would speak the knowledge would make the listeners believe that he had just discovered it and is saying it for the first time!
It was such a delight to be in his presence. We would feel so calm and rejuvenated in his presence.
Our beloved Swami Pragyanand ji (90 years) peacefully left his body on 12th Feb 2013 at 12:25 pm at Art of Living Ashram and returned to the source. The last rites were held in Allahabad during the Kumb Mela in presence of Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar ji. We will always remember him for his humility, his depth of wisdom, his devotion and innocence.
– Vishal Merani
(Vishal is an IITian and Yes Plus teacher residing at Bangalore Ashram)