The Mother Divine
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Life Of Nag Mahashaya
(Sri Durga Charan Nag)
One of The Main Householder Disciples of Sri Ramakrishna
"He is verily a blazing fire!"
-- Sri Ramakrishna about Nagmahashaya during their second meeting.

"'I have traveled many places in the world, but nowhere have I come across such a great soul as Nag Mahashay"
-- Swami Vivekananda.

"Five minutes in the company of such godly men can change a whole life."
-- Swami Vivekananda.

"Mahamaya fell into a great difficulty in trying to ensnare two persons. Naren (Vivekananda) and Nagmahashaya. As She tried to capture Naren, he became bigger and bigger and at last so big that all Her fetters fell short and She had to give up Her task as hopeless. And when She attempted Her trick on Nagmahashaya, he began to make himself smaller and smaller and at last reduced himself to such a degree of smallness that he easily escaped through the meshes of Her snares."
-- Girish Chandra Ghosh.

The biography below is written by Sarat Chandra Chakravarti, a devotee and disciple of Swami Vivekananda, who moved with the saint most intimately in the latter part of his life.


Let us introduce the life of this great saint, with the ever-memorable words of Swami Vivekananda: "I have traveled far in different parts of the globe, but nowhere could I meet a great soul like Nagmahashaya."

There is a small village, Deobhog by name, at a mile's distance from the port of Narayangunj in Eastern Bengal, (now Bangladesh), where Saint Durgacharan Nag, commonly known as Nagmahashaya, was born on the 6th day of Bhadra, 1253 B.S., corresponding to the 21st August, 1846 A.D. It was the first lunar day of the light fortnight. The moon was in the Leo of the Zodiac. His father's name was Dindayal, and his mother Tripurasundari. Their ancestral home was at Tilerdi. Deobhog had been their subsequent settlement for two or three generation. Dindayal had two sisters. Bhagavati, the elder, became a widow at the age of nine and remained with her brother till her death; but nothing of any importance has been known in respect of the younger sister Bharati. It is said that she seldom visited her brother's home and pre-deceased her elder sister.

Besides Durgacharan, two daughters and a son were born to Dindayal. But of these, Saradamani, (who was born next to Durgacharan) alone survived while the others succumbed to ailments in their childhood. And the mother Tripurasundari passed away soon after she gave birth to her youngest son.

Thus Nagmahashaya and his younger sister Saradamani lost their mother at the early age of eight and four years respectively. Dindayal never thought of taking a second wife and so the task of bringing up the boy and the girl devolved upon their good sister Bhagavati, who eagerly filled the vacant seat of their mother, though of the two children the boy was particularly dear to her. Remembering the tender affection and care of Bhagavati, Nagmahashaya used to say, "This aunt of mine must have been my mother in my prior lives."

Dindayal was a pious, orthodox Hindu. He was employed on a very low salary in the firm of Messrs. Rajkumar and Hari Charan Pal Choudhuri of Kumartuli in Calcutta. Dindayal had only a tilled hut at Kumartuli to live in.

The Pals looked upon Dindayal more as one of their family than as an ordinary servant. They had great faith in the pious, truthful and contented nature of Dindayal. He was never asked to submit any account. Once there was a discrepancy of a few thousand rupees in the account. The proprietors had such confidence in Dindayal that they never suspected him in this connection. So they ordered the whole amount to be written off. About a year after this incident, the cause of the discrepancy was found out, and that served only to strengthen their faith in Dindayal all the more. Since then the Pals used to take special care to see that Dindayal earned more. Another noteworthy incident of these times may be cited here.

The Pals were exporters of salt, and occasionally they had to dispatch the commodity by boats to Narayangunj. The route lay through a dense forest and was haunted by pirates; so a brave and faithful officer was always deputed to accompany every consignment.

Once Dindayal was going on such an errand. On entering the Sunderbuns, it became quite dark before the boat could reach a place of safety. So Dindayal was afraid to proceed further; and seeing a big dilapidated house close by and two cottages of peasants in its neighborhood, he ordered the boat to be anchored.

All the boatmen, having finished their supper, went to sleep. But Dindayal alone keeping a stout stick by his side, remained awake, and 'smoked' away the whole night. Gradually the night wore away into morning and about five o'clock Dindayal went down from the boat and walked a few paces towards the dilapidated house to ease himself. Being restless by nature, in one place he began to scratch the earth with his fingers; and lo! he felt something like a coin underneath. His curiosity was heightened and he removed a lump of mud from the place and found to his astonishment a pot full of gold coins! He took out a few and found them on examination to be coins of ancient times. He put them back beneath the earth, got up in all haste and ordered the boat to set sail immediately. He did not allow them even breathing space; for he said later on, "Avarice crept on me slowly and I wished to become rich. Suddenly the thought occurred that it might belong to some Brahmin in which case I should have to suffer eternal hell! So, quick as thought I left the place and ran away from the temptation."

Of Nagmahashaya's boyhood, very little is known. Tradition has it that he was sweet-tongued, well-behaved and modest. He was of a strong and health frame and looked exceedingly beautiful with his long hair flowing gracefully from the head. Of jewels and other adornments, he had none at all save two silver bangles. But though unadorned he looked more beautiful than the rest of the boys on account of his natural beauty. Whenever the ladies of the neighborhood saw him they would always take him up on their laps and dandle him. But there was one peculiar trait in him that he would not eat anything that was offered by strangers.

In the evening the serene child would look towards the starry firmament and remain long alone gazing at those twinkling lights overhead, "Dear mamma," the boy would fondly say to his aunt, "why not let us go to those realms; I don't feel well here." When the moon was up, he clasped his tiny hands and danced in great joy. When the trees rustled to and fro, he thought that they were calling him, and he used to say, "Mamma, let me play with them" and imitate their motions, as if they were his playmates. And all around would be bathed in sweet delight!

His aunt used to tell him various charming stories from the Puranas. She lulled the boy to sleep by narrating the stories of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Not a day would pass without his hearing a tale; even when the aunt felt tired he worried the life out of her till she yielded to his request to narrate a story.

Very often he dreamt of these very stories. Sometimes looking at the figures of gods and goddesses in his dream, he woke up out of fear, but even then, afraid of disturbing his aunt who was taking her rest after strenuous toil, he sat up quietly by her side. In the morning when Nagmahashaya related his dreams to her she would be filled with awe and wonderment.

Like Prahlada of Pauranic fame, Nagmahashaya was not of a playful nature from his childhood. But to satisfy his friends he used to play at games. But never would he tell a lie even in play, or in fun. His love of truth was so great that if any of his friends uttered a lie he would no longer look upon him as a friend. If there arose any dispute among his playmates, he used to take upon himself the task of an umpire and decided the matter judiciously that all were satisfied and looked upon him as their leader. From his very infancy he was able to attract all persons young and old, by his amiable disposition.

After his mother's death Nagmahashaya was for a few years under the loving care of his aunt. As he grew up his thirst for knowledge increased. In those days there were not so many schools as there are at present in Bengal. There was only one vernacular school in Narayangunj. Nagmahashaya began his education there. But he could not advance further than the third standard, that being the highest class in the school. So he became very sad; and when his father came home next during the Durga Puja time, he expressed an earnest desire to continue his studies at Calcutta. But owing to the straitened circumstances of the family, he was not allowed to do so. This had a depressing influence upon him. He banished all hopes of prosecuting his studies at Calcutta, and searched for a school in his own district. Somehow he came to know that there were several schools in Dacca. But Dacca being at a distance of ten miles from Narayangunj, to attend any school there, he would have to walk to and fro twenty miles daily. So the aunt was against the proposal. His other friends also advised him not to go there. But he was inexorable. Next morning, without informing anybody, he set out for Dacca, having provided for himself with only a handful of puffed-rice for the day's repast. The whole day was spent in searching for schools. He came home in the evening, after finding a Bengali school of his choice. It was quite dark when he reached home. In the meantime the aunt had been searching for him from place to place in the neighboring villages; she was overwhelmed with joy when she saw him return. First, she served him a meal with great affection and care and then asked him the cause of his disappearance during the day. Nagmahashaya disclosed everything to her and said "I have made up my mind to go to Dacca for my study from tomorrow onwards. You will have to cook me meals by eight o'clock in the morning." Seeing his eagerness the aunt said, "God bless you, there shall be no difficulty."

The next morning Nagmahashaya started for Dacca and got himself admitted into the Normal School. Here he studied for fifteen months. During the whole period he was absent only for two days. Rain, sunshine and cold passed over his head equally, from day to day, and nothing could thwart his indomitable perseverance. But owing to the great exertion and continuous strain, his health broke down. Referring to these days, he used to say, "I never felt the least tired when I used to go to Dacca, for I had a short-cut through the forest. On any day if I happened to feel hungry on my way back, I used to buy a pice worth of puffed-rice which was quite enough for munching on the way."

One of the teachers of the school had almost a paternal love for Nagmahashaya. Seeing him come daily on foot from such a distance, he said one day, "Boy, you need not take so much trouble to come here all the way to read. Stay with me and I shall somehow manage to bear your expenses." But the noble boy answered, "No sir, I do not feel any difficulty in coming here." Astonished at this, the teacher remarked, "I know not what this boy will be in the future!" Had the teacher been living to see the after-life of Nagmahashaya, he would have witnessed that his prediction was fulfilled amply.

Nagmahashaya read in the Normal School at Dacca only for a short period. But within that time he perfectly mastered the Bengali language. His handwriting was beautiful and his compositions were simple, thoughtful and attractive, showing intelligence far above his age.

All his writings during this period were full of religious fervor. Later, when Nagmahashaya came down to Calcutta to study medical science, these essays were published in a pamphlet form with the heading, "Advice to Boys."

He kept it a secret for a long time. Even his most intimate friend, Suresh Chandra Datta, did not know anything of it before it was actually published. Only when it was printed, a copy was presented to him.

All the books were distributed amongst the boys of his village. Even today, a few copies of it may be found at Deobhog.


Nagmahashaya was now grown up. With a view to strengthen the bond of family life, the aunt of the motherless boy settled his marriage. And he was married to Srimati Prasanna Kumari, an eleven-year-old daughter of Sri Jagannath Das, a well-to-do man of Raisdia in Vikrampur.

Five months after his marriage, he came down to Calcutta and stayed with his father. He began his studies in the Campbell Medical School; but his zeal for learning did not meet with any measure of success. For, even here, he could not prosecute his studies for more than a year and a half, though no one knows exactly why he had to leave the School.

After this Nagmahashaya studied Homoeopathy under Doctor Behari Lal Bhaduri, the renowned physician. Dr. Bhaduri was well pleased with the amiable disposition of the boy and taught him with great care. Daily, morning and evening, he got his lessons from Dr. Bhaduri and would revise them at home.

Nearly two years passed thus. Nagmahashaya had to remain in Calcutta for the most part of the time, acquiring experience in his calling; and so his wife remained in her father's house. Consequently he had hardly any opportunity of cultivating his acquaintance with her, and even when there was an opportunity he felt shy to go near her. If she happened to be in his native village at the time when he went there, he would climb up a tree and remain there throughout the night lest he should be tempted by her presence.

His aunt could not easily understand this kind of behavior; but like all worldly-minded people she was under the impression that time would mend matters. But unfortunately she was doomed to disappointment. The poor girl died suddenly of dysentery. This touched him deeply but he felt much relieved. He thought that Providence freed him from worldly bondage, and therefore he was happy. His father however felt that he should be married again and left instructions with his son-in-law for the selection of a suitable bride for his son.

Nagmahashaya again took to the study of Homoeopathy. He bought a small box of Homoeopathic medicines and began to treat the poor people of the neighboring localities and distributed medicines among them free of cost. Dr. Bhaduri remarked on more than one occasion that he had very good results in many difficult cases by the use of medicines prescribed by Nagmahashaya. He was a prodigy in prescribing medicines. On a certain occasion his mother-in-law came to Calcutta; she saw the wonderful results of his treatment and said, "My son-in-law is verily Mahadeva (God). Whatever medicine he gives, it is always effective." Gradually the good name of Nagmahashaya came to be known all around. While yet a student, the young physician became the refuge of the poor. Patients began to pour in large numbers into his house. He could now earn money if he so desired, but he did not do so, as his ideal was not to get practice but only to serve the sick and the poor. He would never miss an opportunity to serve others. He never hesitated to do even menial work in the service of others. His father's friends sometimes took advantage of this and made him do their marketing; he carried even their bags of rice and bundles of fuel.

He was ever ready to serve the distressed. There was a rich man at Hatkhola named Premchand Munshi. Although he was rich, he never engaged any servant at home. He had a distant cousin of his for all kinds of household work. Besides this, he was so mean-minded as to depend even for trifles on the generosity of Nagmahashaya. Suddenly his distant cousin died. The people in the neighborhood hated him so much that they would not even help him in cremating the dead body of his cousin. The millionaire of aristocratic birth begged for help from door to door but still none came to his rescue. Driven to despair, Munshi took refuge in the Nag family. The father and the son helped him out of that critical situation.

After a year's apprenticeship under Dr. Bhaduri, Nagmahashaya came to be acquainted with Suresh Babu. Suresh came from the well-known Datta family of Hatkhola. Before coming in contact with Sri Ramakrishna, he had a leaning towards Brahmoism. While Suresh was a worshipper of God without form and had no reverence for gods and goddesses, Nagmahashaya was a thoroughly orthodox Hindu, and had great reverence for all deities. Now and then there were hot discussions between them. Nagmahashaya used to argue thus: "The gods and goddesses of the Hindus as well as Brahman are all true but to attain Brahman is so difficult that I doubt whether one or two in a million attain it. Hence arises the necessity for a belief in the various gods and goddesses of Hinduism." He would further remark, "Well, sir, do you go so far as to say that the Vedas, the Puranas, the Tantras and the Mantras are all false? The realization of Brahman is the final goal indeed, but unless and until one goes through all these, one cannot attain Him. Unless Mahamaya wills, unless She makes way, none has the power to realize Him." Suresh would vehemently reply, "Keep aside, sir, your Shastras, etc. I have no faith in them", but Nagmahashaya’s prostrations before the images of gods and goddesses and his unshakable respect for holy men made him think within himself that a man of such great faith must surely attain Brahman very soon.

Suresh used to go to Nagmahashaya's place in the evening, and there almost everyday they would have heated discussions, but neither was able to win the other over to his religious belief. It is strange how these two persons of opposed natures felt attracted to each other, but ever since their first acquaintance, they became life-long friends, and whenever they met each other, they used to have conversations on religious subjects only.

Suresh would often take Nagmahashaya to the Navavidhan Samaj founded by Keshab Chandra Sen. Though Nagmahashaya highly appreciated the preaching of Keshab, he did not like the manners of the Samaj. Nagmahashaya read with great zeal the ChaitanyaCharit, Rupsanatan and the Lives of Mohammedan Saints, all published by the Brahmo Samaj; with great feeling he would sing the song, "Make me mad, in Thy love, O Mother," of the Navavidhan Samaj, although he had not the gift of a musical voice.

From the very beginning of their acquaintance, Suresh found in Nagmahashaya a man of spotless character. From his boyhood he was religious and he observed to the last day of his life all the social customs and usages prevailing among his people. It is said that in his boyhood he was particularly impressed by the translation of the Persian book named Haten Tai, yet his faith and devotion to the Lord never waned. Once a few friends of Nagmahashaya, having studied some atheistic literature, began to preach atheism and sometimes argued with Nagmahashaya. Nagmahashaya, even though vanquished in arguments, would firmly assert, "I have not the least shadow of a doubt about the existence of God." Later in his life he often said, "What is the use of reasoning about an entity which you know already to exist? God is self-effulgent like the sun."

From about this time Nagmahashaya began to lose all interest in medical science, and instead commenced a study of religious books; but on account of his father's importunities he could not sever his connection with Dr. Bhaduri all at once. Nagmahashaya did not know Sanskrit; consequently he carefully read the Bengali translations of the Puranas, the Tantras, and the like; if he chanced to meet a Pandit, he would eagerly entreat him to explain the true meaning of the Shastras. He used to take his daily bath in the Ganges and regularly observed the rites of Ekadashi (the eleventh lunar day, a fasting day). Every day at nightfall he used to go to the neighboring cremation ground (Kashi Mitra's Burning Ghat) for a walk; he would sit there alone, wrapt in deep thought till late in the night. At dead of night the dying fires in the pyres with burnt corpses glowed, while the Ganga flowed on nearby mingling her murmuring sound with the rustling music of a solitary peepul tree, humming a melodious but pathetic song of life and death! No language could express it, but it irresistibly touched the human soul. Nagmahashaya would there for hours and think, "Vanity, vanity, all is vanity; God alone is the Truth. Unless He is realized, life is verily a burden. How shall I realize Him? Who would show me the way?"

Sometimes Fakirs, Sannyasins, and Sadhakas came to that burning ghat; with a longing heart Nagmahashaya would ask them those questions but no one could give him any clear answer. He found that most of them were in quest of Siddhi (psychic powers); their aim was not the attainment of pure love for God. Once he met a Tantric Sadhaka, who, when he was questioned about Vamachara Sadhana, began to narrate some horribly uncouth practices. On hearing him Nagmahashaya said, "You will have yet to gather more experience, you have not understood the Tantras in the least." His experience of these types of men instead of creating faith in religion sometimes raised doubts in his mind. Only an old Brahmin, who practiced Sadhana in that cremation ground and was an initiated Tantric Sannyasin evoked his respect; he had no sectarian views; he was liberal and had great insight, although as an initiate he took Karana regularly. He explained to Nagmahashaya the profound significance of Tantric practices and mysteries of Shat-Chakra (six lotuses) very clearly and elaborately.

Nagmahashaya expressed his desire to practice Sadhana according to the principles of the Tantras whereupon the Brahmin blessed him and gave him hopes, saying that the Mother would soon fulfill his desire. Nagmahashaya used to say to him, "That Brahmin had advanced much on the way to realization; he was quite conscious to the last moment and breathed his last on the bank of the Ganges."

As directed by this old Brahmin, Nagmahashaya would now and then do Japam and meditate in the stillness of the night in the cremation ground. One day while he was meditating, he saw the vision of a white effulgence; thenceforth he regularly went there and practiced Japam and meditation.

In course of time Dindayal came to know of it and it created some anxiety in his mind. He at once wrote to his son-in-law to select a bride for Nagmahashaya. He thought that his son was quite young, and that it was because there was nothing in life to bind him down to worldly life, that he roamed with mendicants and Sannyasins, and that when he was married all those foolish ideas would disappear. The son-in-law lost no time in selecting a bride, Sreemati Sarat Kumari, the first daughter of Ramdayal Bhunia of Deobhog, and informed Dindayal about it. Dindayal brought this proposal of marriage before his son but Nagmahashaya refused to marry again. Dindayal tried his utmost but could not persuade his son to marry. Since then, there were often exchangers of hot words between the father and the son. The father fasted in anger; the son also went without food. Thus they passed some time miserably. Once Dindayal said, "For you, I have been made a liar at this old age because I have given my word for your marriage to the bride's party." Nagmahashaya replied, "Once you got me married, but that girl died; again you are going to place somebody's daughter in the jaws of death!" Dindayal replied, "Aye, fate is determined by the divine dispenser! If you disobey me, your father, you will not succeed in any sphere of life. I will curse you so that you shall not progress even in your religious life."

He was indeed between two fires. On the one hand there would be the curse of his father, on the other the realization of Truth would be barred to him. He thought within himself, "I know, family life is the root of all misery and bondage, but my father directs me that way. Alas! O God! What am I to do?" Being much mortified, Nagmahashaya once said to his father, "We see that all the sorrows and sufferings of men result from marriage. Therefore please have mercy on me, father, and give up your resolution; I beseech you, kindly do not put me into bondage again. So long as you are alive I shall serve you heart and soul. I shall serve you a hundred times more devotedly than your would-be daughter-in-law. Please save me."

The sorrowful looks of his son and his importunities deeply impressed the old man. He thought that if his son for whose happiness he was proposing the marriage, be not happy by this alliance, it would be futile indeed; and so he consented to drop the proposal. But it at once struck him that if Durgacharan did not marry, his lineage would be at an end; the Sraddha ceremony of his forefathers would be stopped. At this Dindayal was overwhelmed with grief, but there was no remedy for it. Reasonings, reproaches and rebukes were of no avail. The old man was much afflicted and wept secretly. Nagmahashaya was not at home at the time. On his return, he entered the room and found his father weeping; it touched him to the quick. Nagmahashaya argued within himself, "There is none to call my own in this world except my father, and alas! I have become the cause of so much sorrow to him. Away with religion; from this day forward I shall obey my father at all cost. If my father gets consolation by getting me married, I must do that." Arriving at this conclusion, the son lost no time to report to his father that he would marry. The old man could not catch his words at once and remained dumbfounded. He only stared at his son, with tears still in his eyes. Nagmahashaya repeated, "Please fix the date for the marriage and drop a letter to inform our people in the village."

Coming to himself, Dindayal replied with great joy, "My boy, you have saved my honor and thus my Dharma also. Do what you like after you have married. I shall not say anything. I whole-heartedly bless you, my dear boy. May God fulfill your desire!" Next, Dindayal hastened to Messrs. Pal's place to tell them this good news. They were very glad to hear it and promised to bear a portion of the marriage expenses.

All were merry; but he who was going to be married was in the throes of a great agony. He left the house as soon as he gave his consent for marriage. All day long he roamed about in the streets and passed the whole night sitting on the banks of the Ganges, weeping bitterly; there was none to share his feeling. To whom would he disclose his mental suffering? He went without any food. Dindayal could not know anything of it; for he was busy fixing the marriage date, writing letters to his village and buying the necessaries.

Gradually everything was bought with the exception of the bridegroom's suit. Dindayal asked his son to buy it from the market after his own choice, but he refused to do so; consequently, Dindayal himself had to get it from the market.

The day for them to start for their native village approached. Dindayal was busy packing things. As usual, even on that day, Nagmahashaya went out for a walk on the bank of the Ganges at night-fall. Before returning home he bowed to Mother Ganges and said, "O Mother! I have heard that Thou art the purifier of all sins; therefore, if I be defiled by the dirt and dust of the world in becoming a householder, wash them off, O Mother; and both in weal and in woe give me refuge at Thy hallowed feet!" Thereafter he returned to his house, and the father and the son set out for their native village.