Girish Chandra Ghosh

The highlights of his life

(This life-story has been excerpted from the book ‘They Lived With God’ by Swami Chetanananda, published by the Vedanta Society of St. Lois. To read the entire studied life, and lives of 27 other intimate disciples, please read this book. )

  1. Born pious parents in Calcutta on February 28, 1844
  1. In 1874, when Girish was just thirty, his young wife died, leaving him with one son and one daughter. Shortly thereafter he lost his job.
  2. In 1891 when he first to Jayrambati he found to his surprise and delight that the woman who had saved his life from cholera with the holy Prasad was none other than Holy Mother herself.
  3. On September 21, 1884 Sri Ramakrishna came to see his play “The life of Chaitanya at the Star Theatre.
  4. On December 14, 1884, gave up his ‘power of attorney’ so to Sri Ramakrishna.
  5. In 1875, after his second marriage, he fell ill with a virulent type of Cholera. In a vision a resplendent female form, wearing a red-bordered cloth, gave him Prasad because of which he was cured. (Later he recognized her as Holy Mother)
  6. On July 15, 1911, he gave his last performance at the Minerva Theatre in Calcutta (having been asked by Sri Ramakrishna to continue acting and writing dramas, and he did so until the end of his life). He was the creator of the Modern Bengali Theatre.
  7. He breathed his last on February 8, 1912.

His relationship with Thakur and Ma

1.Extract from: Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna

Master: Ah! You have written nice plays.
Girish: But, sir, how little I assimilate! I just write.
Master: ‘No, you assimilate a great deal. The other day I said to you that no one could sketch a divine character unless he had love of God in his heart’
Girish: I often ask myself, “Why bother about the theatre anymore?”‘
Master: “No, no! Let things be as they are. People will learn much from your plays”.

2.Extract from: Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna

Conversation between Thakur and Girish on December 14, 1884:

Master: ‘Have faith in the Divine Mother and you will attain everything’.
Girish: ‘But I am a sinner’.
Master: ‘The wretch who constantly harps on sin becomes a sinner’.
Girish: ‘Sir, the very ground where I used to sit would become unholy’.
Master: ‘How can you say that? Suppose a light is brought into a room that has been dark a thousand years; does it illumine the room little by little, or all in a flash?’
A little later Girish asked, ‘tell me what I should do’
Master: ‘Give God your power of attorney. Let him do what ever he likes’.

3.Extract from: They Lived With God; Swami Chetanananda

One day a devotee complained to Sri Ramakrishna about Girish’s habit of drinking and begged him to ask Girish to give it up. But Sri Ramakrishna sternly replied: ‘Why do you trouble your head about him? He who has taken charge of him will look after him. Girish is a devotee of the heroic type. I tell you, drinking will not affect him’.

4. Extract from: Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna

Girish was convinced that Sri Ramakrishna was an incarnation of God, and he spread this idea among the devotees. Once Sri Ramakrishna asked Girish: ‘Hello! What were you saying about me? I eat, drink, and make merry’.
Girish: ‘What should we have been saying about you? Are you a holy man?’
Master: ‘No, nothing of the sort. Truly I do not feel that I am holy man’.
Girish: ‘I am not your equal even in joking’

5. Extract from: They Lived With God; Swami Chetanananda

One day Girish surrendered himself completely to the Master. He asked him for their instruction as to what he should do from then on. ‘Do just what you are doing now’ said Sri Ramakrishna. Hold on to God with one hand and to the world with other. Think of God at least in the morning and evening’. This sounded simple to Girish; but then he recalled that his life was so irregular that it would be hard for him to remember God at those stated hours, so he kept quiet. Sri Ramakrishna read his mind and said, Well, if you cannot do that, then remember God before you eat and before you sleep’. But now Girish was reluctant to promise anything to Sri Ramakrishna. He knew that with his instinctive resistance to self-discipline and rules, he might not be able to keep even this simple observance. Then Sri Ramakrishna went ecstatic mood and said to him: ‘So you are unwilling to agree even to this. All right. Give me your power of attorney. Henceforth I will take full responsibility for you. You won’t have to do anything at all.’

Girish was relieved. This sounded to his liking, for he understood that Sri Ramakrishna had relieved him of all responsibility for his own spiritual well-being and made him free. But, in fact, he had made himself Sri Ramakrishna’s slave. Complete self-surrender is more binding than the observance strict disciplines. One day, soon after this, Girish remarked in Sri Ramakrishna’s presence ‘I shall do this’. ‘No, no’ corrected Sri Ramakrishna. ‘You can’t talk like that anymore. Say, “I shall do this if God wills”‘. Girish began to understand the mystery of the power of attorney. As time passed he came to realize that he could not perform any action of his own free will. He had to consciously surrender to the Divine Will, and gradually he found that he was forced to think of the master every moment. In the later part of his life he would say: ‘Look at me. I am not even free to breathe’.

6. Extract from: They Lived With God; Swami Chetanananda

Sri Ramakrishna once made a remark about Girish to another devotee, ‘You may wash a thousand times a cup that has held a solution of garlic; but is it ever possible to get rid of the smell altogether?’ Girish heard about it and he was hut. He went to Sri Ramakrishna and asked ‘will this smell of garlic go?’

‘Yes, it will’
‘So you say it will’
‘All smell disappears when a blazing fire is lighted. If you heat a cup smelling of garlic, you get rid of the smell; it becomes a new cup.’

7. Extract from: They Lived With God; Swami Chetanananda

One day, when Sri Ramakrishna was visiting the theatre, Girish, under the influence of liquor, voiced his desire: ‘I have not been able to serve in this life. But if you are born again as my son I can do so. Please promise that you will be my son’. ‘What are you saying?’ said Sri Ramakrishna. ‘Why should I be born as your son? I shall be your guru, your Chosen Deity’. Then Girish became angry and abused the master in coarse language. The devotees who were present were very much shocked and upset and asked the master not to see Girish again. Sri Ramakrishna quietly returned to Dakshineshwar. He prayed: ‘O Mother, Girish is an actor. How can he understand your glory? Mother, please forgive him’.

The next day Ram Chandra Datta visited Dakshineshwar. He heard the story of Girish behaviour the previous evening and told the master: ‘Sir, the serpent Kalia told Krishna, “Lord, you have given me only poison; where shall I get nectar to offer you?” It is the same with Girish. Where will he get nectar? Girish has worshipped you with whatever you have given him. Sri Ramakrishna smiled and said to the other devotees present: ‘Listen to what he is saying. Get a carriage. I shall go to Girish’s house right now’.

Meanwhile Girish was very repentant. He had refused to eat and was weeping piteously. Suddenly he saw the master at his house and was overwhelmed. He said, ‘Master, if you had not come today, I would have concluded that you had not attained that supreme state of knowledge where praise and blame are equal, and that you could not be called a Paramahamsa (an illumined soul)’.

8. Extract from: They Lived With God; Swami Chetanananda

Sri Ramakrishna once said to Girish: ‘You utter many abusive and vulgar words; but that doesn’t matter. It is better for these things to come out. There are some people who will fall ill on account of blood poisoning. The more the poisoned blood finds an outlet the better it is for them. You will be purer day by day. You will improve very much day by day. People will marvel at you.’

9. Extract from: They Lived With God; Swami Chetanananda

Sri Ramakrishna himself distributed ochre cloths among eleven of his young disciples. Thus, the foundation of the future Ramakrishna Order was laid by the Master. One cloth and one rosary were left and the Master asked that they be kept for Girish.

10. One day, not long after this, Gopal Ghosh (who later became known as Swami Advaitananda) expressed to the Master his desire to distribute ochre cloths and rudraksha rosaries to monks. Sri Ramakrishna pointed to his young disciples and said: ‘Why not give them to these boys. They are full of the spirit of renunciation. You wont find better monks anywhere’. Gopal had twelve pieces of cloth and twelve rosaries, which he handed over to the Master. Then Sri Ramakrishna himself distributed them among eleven of his young disciples. Thus, the foundation of the future Ramakrishna Order was laid by the Master. One cloth and one rosary were left and the Master asked that they be kept for Girish; for, indeed he was second to none in his spirit of renunciation.

More details of his life story

  1. In the evenings (his grandmother) would recount to him some of those ancient stories, and he would listen with rapt attention. Once she was describing the episode of Krishna’s departure from Vrindaban, one of the moving scenes of the Bhagavatam, Krishna’s uncle, Akrura, was sent to bring Krishna to Mathura, much to the despair of the shepherd boys and girls of Vrindaban. When Krishna sat in the chariot the boys began to cry, and they pleaded with him, ‘O Krishna, do not leave us!’ The girls held the wheels of the chariot, and some of them grabbed the reins of the horses. But Akrura would not pay any heed to them. He left Vrindaban with Krishna and thus the days of joy that Krishna’s playmates had known in his company came to end. Girish was listening intently and, with tearful eyes, he asked his grandmother, ‘Did Krishna ever return to Vrindaban?’ ‘No, replied the grandmother. Girish asked the question three times and each time got the same answer. He then burst into tears and ran away. The story upset him so much that for the next several evenings he refused to listen to any more tales.
  1. He was fearless, independent, and proud of his strength. No one could make him begin work or quit work through pressure or intimidation. He used to say, ‘A beast can be tamed by the whip, but not a human being’. His attitude was; ‘If I do not enjoy my work, why should I do it?’ What he considered right he did, without caring whether others criticized him or not.
  2. Girish hated hypocrisy from the bottom of his heart. Being bold and strong in character, he did not find it necessary to hide his weakness. And indeed, it takes tremendous courage to unite mind and speech, especially to one’s discredit.
  3. Girish had a brilliant and creative mind always found ways to overcome the inevitable managerial problems. There was no sufficient money to buy expensive costumes, so he wrote Chaitanya Lila, the drama on the life of Chaitanya, which Sri Ramakrishna saw, because it required only a few ochre robes and rosaries as costumes.
  4. Girish had a great feeling for art. He knew that the artistic faculty does not manifest itself properly if there is fear, uncertainty, pressure, or exploitation. He later donated sixteen thousand rupees to the authorities of the New Star Theatre to complete its construction and said to them: ‘Please do not humiliate or exploit the actors and actresses. Let them act freely.’
  5. Girish’s mind worked so fast and prodigiously that he required two secretaries to take down his words; he could not write them fast enough himself. Absorbed in the flow of ideas, he would pace back and forth in his room and dictate all the dialogues of the drama in a loud voice, as if he was acting each role himself. His secretary always kept three pencils ready at hand. He could not use a pen and inkpot because there was never enough time to dip the pen into the pot. Once the secretary could not keep up with the speed of dictation and requested Girish to repeat what he had just said. Girish became angry and asked him not break his mood. He told the secretary to put dots where he had missed words and he would fill them later.

Girish was his own greatest competitor. When one of his dramas was particularly well received, he felt that he had to work harder on the next in order to surpass the previous one. He was fond of defeating himself.

Sometimes the monastic disciples of Sri Ramakrishna, in order to bring a response out of Girish, would tease him: ‘You are writing and acting prompted by your own desires, and yet you say that the Master gave you the task saving the fallen people of the world. Don’t you feel ashamed to talk like that?’ But Girish would boldly reply ‘wait, brother! When I meet Sri Ramakrishna again I shall tell him that I won’t act in the role of villain anymore. The next time let his monastic disciples play the villains and I shall act the part of a noble character’. Truly, Girish believed that it was the Master who brought these devotees to the world to act in different roles in his divine drama.

Girish was actually the moving force behind the establishing of several theatres in Calcutta, including the Baghbazar Amateur Theatre, the National Theatre, and the Star, the Emerald, the Classic, and the Minerva Theatres. He was himself a superb and versatile actor, and wherever he performed, crowds would come to see him. Once he played five different roles in the same play, Kapalkundala, and proved by his performance the importance of each of the five characters.

Reminisces of his life

Memoirs of Girish Chandra Ghosh

(After he had lost his father and first wife, and was almost dying with Cholera after his second marriage – before meeting Sri Ramakrishna)

‘At such a crisis I thought: “Does god exist? Does he listen to the prayers of man? Does he show him the way from darkness to light?” My mind said, “Yes”. Immediately I closed my eyes and prayed, “Oh God, if thou art, carry me across. Give me refuge. I have none. I remembered the words of Gita, “Those who call on me only in the days of affliction, to them too I bring succor and refuge.” These words sank deep of my consciousness and gave me solace in sorrow. I found the words of the Gita to be true. As the sun removes the darkness of the night, so the sun of hop arose and dispelled the gloom that had gathered thick in my mind. In the sea of trouble I found the harbour of response. But I had nurtured doubt all these years. I had argued long, saying, “There is no God.” Where would the impressions of these thoughts go? I began to reason in terms of cause and effect and argued that such and such a cause had produced such and such an effect, which was instrumental in bringing release from this danger. It is said that doubt dies hard. Again I fell victim to doubt. But I had not courage to say boldly, “God does not exist”.

‘Desire for inquiry came. Looking into the current of events, sometimes faith, sometimes doubt, emerged. Everybody with whom I discussed my problem said unanimously that without instruction from a guru doubt would not go and nothing could be achieved in spiritual life. But my intellect refused to accept human beings as a guru; for one has to salute the guru with the words, “Guru is Brahma, Guru is Vishnu, Guru is the Lord Maheshwar [Shiva], the God of gods, etc.” How could I say this to a man like me? This was hypocrisy. But the tyranny of doubt was intolerable. Terrible conflicts pierced my heart through and through. That condition can be better being imagined than described. Suppose a man, all of sudden is forcibly dragged to a dark solitary room with his eyes covered, and kept confined there with no food and drink. What will be the state of his mind? If you can picture his mental condition, you will be able to understand something of my own. There were moments when I was breathless with emotion. Thoughts of despair bit through me like a saw. At other times the memory of the past was revived and the darkness of my heart knew no bounds.’

Sri Ramakrishna went on to Balaram’s house and there I followed him. Balaram was lying on a couch, seemingly ill. The moment he saw Sri Ramakrishna he got up quickly and with great reverence prostrated himself before him. After an exchange of a few words with Balaram, Sri Ramakrishna suddenly exclaimed, “I am alright, I am alright”. So saying, he went into a state of consciousness, which seemed very strange to me. Then he remarked “No, no, this not pretence, this not pretence”. He remained in this state for a while and then resumed his normal state. I asked him, “What is a guru?” He answered, “Do you know what the guru is? He is like a matchmaker. A matchmaker arranges for the union of the bride with the bridegroom. Likewise, a guru prepares for a meeting of the individual soul with his beloved, the divine spirit”. Actually he did not use the word match-maker, but a slang expression, more forceful. Then he said, “You need not worry. Your guru has already has been chosen.” I asked, “What is the mantram?” He replied, “The name of God”. And as an example he told the following story.

“Ramanuja used to bathe in the Ganges early every morning. A weaver by the name of Kavir was lying on one of the steps leading into the water. Ramanuja’s feet accidentally touched the body of Kavir. Being conscious of the divine presence in all beings, Ramanuja exclaimed the word Rama. On hearing this name from the lips of a holy man, Kavir took it to be his mantra, and by chanting it, eventually realized God.”

The talk drifted to the theatre, and Sri Ramakrishna said, “I liked your play very much. The sun of knowledge has begun to shine upon you. All the blemishes of your heart will be washed away. Very soon devotion will arise to sweeten your life with profuse joy and peace”. I told him that I had none of those qualities, and that I had written the play with the idea of making some money. He kept quiet. Then he said, “Could take me to your theatre and show me another play of yours”? I replied, “Very well. Any day you like”. He said, “You must charge me something”. I said, “Alright, you may pay eight annas”. Sri Ramakrishna said, “That will allow me a seat in the balcony, which is a very noisy place”. I answered: “Oh no, you will not go there. You will sit in the same place where you sat last time”. He said, “Then you must take one rupee”. I said, “Alright, as you please”. Our talk ended.

Looking back at my former objections to a guru, I understood the pride and vanity which had lain behind my rationalizations. I had thought, “After all, the guru is a man. The disciple is also a man. Why should one man stand before another with folded palms and follow him like a slave?” But time after time in the presence of Sri Ramakrishna my pride crumbled into dust. Meeting me at the theater, it had been he who first saluted me. How could my pride remain in the presence of such a humble man? The memory of his humility created an indelible impression on my mind.

A few days after my visit to with him to Balaram’s I was sitting in the dressing room of the theatre when a devotee came to me in a hurry and said with some concern, “Sri Ramakrishna is here in his carriage”. I replied, “Very well. Take him to a box and offer him a seat”. But the devotee answered, “Won’t you come and greet him personally and take him there yourself?” With some annoyance I said: “Does he need me? Can’t he get there himself?” Nevertheless, I went. I found him alighting from the carriage. Seeing his serene and radiant face my stony heart melted. I rebuked myself in shame, and that shame still haunts my memory. To think that I had refused to greet this gentle soul! Then I conducted him upstairs. There I saluted him touching his feet. Even now I do not understand the reason, but at that moment a radical change came over me and I was a different man. I offered him a rose, which he accepted. But he returned it again, saying: “Only a god or a dandy is entitled to flowers. What shall I do with it?”

‘One night’, in a gay and drunken mood, I was visiting a house of prostitution with two of my friends. But suddenly I felt an urge to visit Sri Ramakrishna. My friends and I hired a carriage and drove out to Dakshineswar. It was late at night, and everyone was asleep. The three of us entered Sri Ramakrishna’s room, tipsy and reeling. Sri Ramakrishna grasped both my hands and began to sing and dance in ecstasy. The thought flashed through my mind: “Here is a man whose love embraces all – even a wicked man like me, whose own family would condemn me in this state. Surely this holy man respected by the righteous, is also the saviour of the fallen”.’