The Final Resting Place

Last week I visited a place in the heart of the concrete city of Mumbai which deals with the grave matter of death, but is a peaceful oasis in this city of life. This is the Dashnami Goswami Akhada, or the Banganga Goswami cemetery, as it is more popularly known. This is no ordinary cemetery where all and sundry are cremated (as is the case with all Hindu deaths), but this is a special area reserved for those who have taken the vows of Sanyas (renunciation) – Sanyasis as we know them. Of course, the more popular Sanyasis are those who are the pontiffs of the various mutts in India, but there are others who have lived the life of normal householders, but have taken the path of renunciation later in life.


One such person was my husband’s great-grandfather. Known in this life as Ramanathapuram Sheshadri Iyer, born in 1881, he renounced the world, taking on the name of Swami Satchitananda, and attained nirvana in 1964. Traditionally, Sanyasis are not cremated, but are buried, seated in the lotus posture. The place is marked by a block of stone with either a Shiva Lingam or by a brindavanam (a Tulsi plant). Again, since they have renounced the world and their families, the shrardham ceremonies are not performed for them as is usual for all ancestors of the family, but the anniversary of their Nirvana is celebrated as the ‘Aradhana’. This ceremony is performed by one of my father-in-law’s cousins every year, and this year, we were fortunate enough to be able to attend it, thanks to the swine flu holidays.

Here are a few photos of the interesting place as well as the ceremony.

Here is the Samadhi of our great-grandfather...

A closer view......


Here's a look at the various samadhis in the cemetery......









Almost all the samadhis have a Shiva lingam with a Nandi opposite......Here are some interesting ones.......





This is the main samadhi which occupies pride of place. I have no idea of the name, but this is a Jeeva Samadhi - which means that the person underwent samadhi alive. He is believed to be alive inside the chamber.....There are few Jeeva samadhis, but all of them are serene and peaceful places which bring calmness to the hearts of all.....


This is certainly one of the most interesting things we saw there.. While most of the samadhis had lingams and Nandi,here is a statue of a dog! And life-like, isn't it? Especially with that green marble in the eye??


The puja commences, with the usual invocation to Ganesha...


followed by Abhishekam to the lingam......


The Abhishekam is completed and the lingam is decorated with flowers....




The two youngest and most enthusiastic members of the family.... one is a great-grandson, the other is a great-great-grandson!



And finally, as if to offset the effect of death, a small shrine to Sai Baba outside the cemetery.




For more information on Goswamis and Sanyasis, see the following links:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goswami

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dashanami_Sampradaya



Comments

  1. Anu, that is such an interesting post. I never knew such a place existing.. plus I didnt even know that Sanyasis are buried in the seater position.

    I truly admire your great grandfather... WOW!

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  2. I too was not aware of this distinction!

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  3. Just off the cuff -- is the dog connected to the Yama and Pandavas myth?

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  4. That was entirely a different kind of experience was it not?.

    thanks for sharing

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  5. I was there just last evening.
    At first I thought they looked like tombstones for children who had died prematurely, but then, the Shivalingas (and Nandis) adorning the caps of these tombstones reminded me of the identical-looking samadhis of the Sanyasis of the Datta Akhara in Ujjain, pics of which I had seen on Baba Ram Puri's website, and also on Flickr. It made me realise that this was an ancient presence right in the middle of Malabar hill! Your webpage gave the final confirmation- these were part of the Dashanami Sampradaya. Some of the Samadhis seemed very old indeed.
    Also walked further along to see the Banganga Tank- simply amazing! At a spot on the Northern ghat, were a few old stone idols (disused and damaged) piled up along the side of a wall: very beautiful and intricate, especially the smaller ones- their style seemed much like the sculptures in Elephanta Island, but on a much smaller scale.
    Another very important spot is the Banganga Crematorium nearby, where many great (dead) spiritual personalities bid their final farewell at the sacred flames. To name a few: Nisargadatta Maharaj (The book containing his dialogues "I AM THAT" a Spiritual Classic), his brother Guru Ranjit Maharaj, and over all, their Guru Siddharameshwar Maharaj.
    And this was the place where the enigmatic Swami Vimalananda, (much akin to the equally enigmatic and mysterious Don Juan Matus of Carlos Castaneda) the central character of the AGHORA Trilogy, was cremated, by his disciple Robert Svoboda, back in 1982.

    An engrossing blog, yours, Anu- really, an eye-opener. Absolutely Love your writing and pics!

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    Replies
    1. Thank you so much, Georges! I have been to Banganga too, but havent yet written about it on the blog. am waiting for a longer and peaceful walk around the area before i do that! but thaks for the info. will remember that when i do go

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    2. Visited the Banganga area a few weeks ago. Got the chance to step into the Kashi Math, Kavle Math, Walkeshwar Temple and the Vyankatesh temple. Also saw the spring from which flowed the water replenishing the Tank.
      I also took a pic of the broken idols mentioned in the post above. The idols were uniformly defaced and disfigured. My feelings: they were subject of the tender attention of the Portugese soldiery who were most 'tolerant' of other faiths and expressed their feelings most demonstrably.
      Even otherwise the idols shared a lot of similarity with the images in the Gharapuri/Elephanta caves complex.
      Am unable to upload and post the images.

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  6. Thanks for this post. I have never known about the presence of so many samadhi's in this place, but i always felt a different vibration around the crematorium. I will visit this place soon.

    There is another jeevanta samadhi close to Banaganga. It is inside the Kashi Math Temple, of HH. Madhavendra Tirtha swamiji. Do visit the temple for its divine vibrations:)

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