DEPARTURE

August 8th 1988 was a normal day at Ganga Darshan. All the sannyasins and inmates of the ashram were busy with, their daily duties, opening their departments, sorting through piles of mail, reading proofs, typing manuscripts, packing parcels, teaching classes, attending to the needs of visitors. Nobody was aware that in Sri Niwas, the apartment of Gurudev at the top of the Ganga Darshan complex, destiny was about to completely change the order of their lives.

There was some commotion in Gurudev's apartment, a wave of tension in the air, as he hurriedly packed his two dhotis into a small jhola, and called two or three of his younger disciples to issue some last minute instructions. Anybody would have thought that perhaps he was going out for the day as he often did to inaugurate some seminar or program nearby.

A short time later, the clack, clack of Gurudev's kharau could be heard moving fast out of the front door of the main building and down the wide road lined with palm trees, leading to the gate. Nobody was around to notice except for a few sannyasins who happened to be working in the garden at that time. At the sound of the kharau, they were on their feet and rushed to pranam Gurudev.

As the disciples hurriedly bent forward to touch his feet, there was the usual smile of encouragement on Gurudev's lips, but his gaze was far off in the future, where the glimpse of same new destiny was about to unfold. Quickly, with folded hands, he dismissed the disciples and proceeded further towards the gate. At that time, unknown to anyone in the ashram, the small metal door at the side of the main gate, slowly swung open and Gurudev stepped outside, never to look back. Days slipped by, then months. Although the sannyasins were totally occupied with their duties, still they began to ponder, 'Where is Gurudev? Why has he not come back?' They all knew there were no scheduled programs for him in that month or in the months that followed. Generally he didn't travel during September. So where could he be? It was all the more baffling as Gurudev had never stepped out before without at least informing someone. The idea that he had renounced his lifetime's work, as well as his disciples, had not yet occurred to them.

Of course, the writing on the wall had been clear for many years. Had Gurudev not recalled Swami Niranjan from America in 1983 and announced that he would succeed him and take over all his responsibilities. After this, Gurudev had travelled abroad for several years as a 'royal mendicant', returning to Munger only intermittently. Then he had renounced even this and had taken up a semi-reclusive life in the ashram, meeting people only once in fifteen days, once in a month, once in three months. Again and again in Satsangs he had expressed his wish to renounce the institution and live alone. But still, the sannyasins were not ready to accept all this. Nobody ever suspected that one day Gurudev would actually leave and never come back. It was unimaginable.

So, it came as a hard blow to all the disciples and inmates of the ashram when Swami Niranjan finally announced two months later on 8.10.88, that Sri Swamiji had left the Munger Ashram as a parivrajaka for a pilgrimage of the Siddhateerthaa in India. He had carried only a single jhola and Rs.108/- which was the amount given to him by his guru, Swami Sivananda, when he left Rishikesh. He firmly declined any further assistance. Swami Niranjan also related that, when asked if he would return to Ganga Darshan, Sri Swamiji had clearly stated, 'I have no further obligation or attachment with the gurudom of Bihar School of Yoga. The first phase of my mission culminated with the foundation of Ganga Darshan, and the next phase of my mission has begun with my parivrajaka life. Now, wherever I shall visit, it will be in the capacity of a sadhaka and not as a guru.'

It took several months for the sannyasins to recover from the impact of this message. Most of them felt as if the sun had gone out of their world. The one who had given so much meaning, purpose and inspiration to their lives was with them no longer. Everyone became very pensive, and disappointment mingled with sadness weighed heavily on the minds of all. Nobody smiled. Every sannyasin was engaged in the same thought, 'Why has Gurudev left us?'

Then, in order to lighten their mood, Swami Niranjan used to sit outside on the maidan in the evening, discussing the events of the day, telling stories or playing games with all the sannyasins. On one such evening some sannyasins asked Swami Niranjan, 'Although we have lived in the ashram for several years, still we know very little about Gurudev's early life. Please tell us something about his childhood and how he found his guru.' Swami Niranjan looked a bit reticent then he said, 'Yes, the life of Swami Satyananda is an inspiration to us all and it will give me great joy to relate it to you. But first let us all go inside the Jyoti Mandir.'