Swami Shankarananda Saraswati: My relationship with Sri Swamiji began in 1965 when I had my first darshan.
In 1965, Sri Swamiji had organized the third World Yoga Convention in Munger which was held in the hall of the Sivanandashram in Lal Darwaja. A friend told me, “There is a sannyasin in Munger who runs an ashram and they are going to hold a convention. If you would like to attend, you can come along.” I said, “Fine, I’ll come.” At that time the delegate fee was only fifteen rupees for seven days. I paid up and became a delegate. I would go every morning and return in the evening. On my first evening, I had Sri Swamiji’s darshan for the first time. It felt like ‘I was destined to come here and now I have arrived’. What happened in those seven days of the convention was lost to me because I only kept looking at Sri Swamiji, waiting for him to speak.
When the function ended, my children said that they would like to learn yoga and I told Sri Swamiji about this. In those days there were fifteen-day courses conducted by Sri Swamiji himself. In the morning, the whole family would come to attend the classes. During that period, certain problems arose in my office as well as some family-related issues which were causing quite a lot of concern and difficulty. I thought that I would ask Sri Swamiji about these matters. In those days Sri Swamiji would give darshan in the room beside the hall. We went in and I sat in the farthest corner. The satsang was in progress with about ten to fifteen people. During the satsang he said, “Premchaitanya, are you listening?” Sri Swamiji had already given me the name ‘Premchaitanya’ and then he carried on. Later he called out my name again and asked, “Are you listening?” When we came out, my wife and I looked at each other. She presumed that I had told Sri Swamiji all about our problems and I thought it was she who had done so. I received answers to all my questions in exactly the same sequence which were in my mind. That was the first meeting!
After that, I visited the ashram regularly and I would ask Sri Swamiji for sannyasa but he would keep putting it off. Once when I insisted, he said, “Your blanket is wet. Unless it dries, how can you use it?” I had three daughters and one son. So, I had to wait until I had fulfilled my responsibilities. In 1988 Sri Swamiji left Ganga Darshan. At that time, I was posted in a town far away from Munger and it was very difficult for me to take time off. Eventually in August or September of 1990 I had the opportunity to go to Deoghar. I did not know of Sri Swamiji’s whereabouts at the time. At the railway station in Jasidih, I saw Swami Gorakhnath. When I asked him what had brought him there, he told me he had come to meet Sri Swamiji in the Akhara. I asked, “Does Sri Swamiji live here?” He replied, “Yes.” Since I was accompanied by many other people, I could not change my plans and returned to Patna.
I made special plans and in November I went to Rikhia. When I reached the gate, it was open. The sannyasin at the gate was known to me and though he greeted me, he said that entry would not be possible. He asked me to come back the next morning at 8:30 a.m. and I returned to Deoghar. The next morning when I got there, the gate was open and Sri Swamiji was standing right there. He took me into his kutiya where the Samadhi Sthal now stands. Sri Swamiji sat on a raised cement platform, I sat across from him and Swami Niranjan was seated beside him. After enquiring after the health of my children, Sri Swamiji said, “I have left everything behind. I am no longer a guru. I have no disciples. I have no relationship with anyone anymore. I have come here to do my sadhana.” He said the same thing a few times in different ways. I was quite open and frank with Sri Swamiji and asked him, “Sri Swamiji, fine. You have decided you don’t want anything but what about us? Where should we go?” Immediately he pointed to Swami Niranjan, “He needs you and you need him.”
There is an incident I recall from about 1973. Sri Swamiji was returning from a trip abroad. I was in Patna those days. A friend of mine told me that Sri Swamiji was flying into Patna and asked if I would like to go and meet him. I said, “Sure.” The airport was about eight kilometres away and I went just as I was, in a T-shirt and dhoti with a shawl wrapped around me. After the plane landed and he came outside, I offered him my pranams. He asked me, “Are you coming with me?” There was no need for a reply. He said, “Sit.” I sat in the car and we drove out of the airport. I thought the organizers would have made arrangements for refreshments somewhere and that we would soon stop. However, the car drove out of Patna city and towards what I thought was Munger.
When we were near Bakhtiyarpur, about two hours out of Patna, he said, “Give me your hand.” I was sitting in front and Sri Swamiji was in the back. He took my hand in his hand and said, “From today, your name is Shankarananda.” At that very moment the car was at a railway crossing. I did not ask him anything and he did not say anything else either. We kept going and finally arrived at the Dhanbad ashram. After halting there for two hours, we left and it was already dark. We drove all night through miles of jungle in Jharkhand, arriving in Raipur the next day. He had still not said anything and I did not ask him anything either. In Raipur, after having breakfast we headed for Rajnandgaon. It was only when we got there that he said, “Rest for a while.” I was given a room while he attended to some office work and other matters.
The next morning, we set off and drove straight to Munger. I was standing around idly after finishing breakfast and Sri Swamiji asked me, “Are you not going?”
“Where?” I asked.
“Do I have to return? You have given me diksha now. You have given me a name. Where do I go now?”
“No, no. You have to go back. You have to go back. Catch this train.” And that was that.
I finally returned to Patna after an absence of five days. When I went to the office, no one asked me where I had been.
I used to hold a very important position at that time but to this day, I don’t understand what happened. My superior was quite close to me. She would first discuss things with me and only then pass an order. When she called me to her office to deal with some files, even she did not ask me where I had been. There were five or six clerks, three to four officers and the superior but none of them asked me, ‘Where have you been for these five days?’
It was nothing but the grace and mystery of Sri Swamiji’s leela!