Nag Mahashay (Durga Charan Nag)

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 on August 21, 1846, at Deobhog, a small village now Bangladesh.
  1. Began studies in the Campbell Medical School but, for some unknown reason, discontinued them after a year and a half. Later he studied homeopathy.
  2. Was unexpectedly visited by his family Guru who said ‘I have come at the special command of the Divine Mother to initiate you’. The initiation created in him more hunger for God.
  3. Was married at the age of 15, his wife lived at Deobhog and he at Kolkata. It is said that even when he visited Deobhog, he spent the nights on a tree. However, his wife died very suddenly and unexpectedly.
  4. Was married a second time to Sharatkamini, who herself lived like a nun. She was simply his co-pilgrim.
  5. Met Sri Ramakrishna and recognized him as “that Supreme One”.
  6. Gave up medicine (he was a homeopathy doctor) when he heard the Master say that “If the mind dwells on tiny drops of medicine, how can it conceive of the Infinite?”
  7. Passed away on 27 December 1899 being in samadhi off and on in the last few days.

His relationship with Thakur

  1. How can we harmonize God and the world? How can we live in this world without being worldly? How can we love and not be attached? Is it necessary to renounce the world for God-realization? What is the duty of a householder? What is the goal of human life? These and other vital questions Sri Ramakrishna answered for the modern world. He did so, not only through the use of tales and parables, but also by quietly moulding the lives of perfect exemplars of his teachings.

The life of Durga Charan Nag is just such a model of an ideal householder. Sri Ramakrishna demonstrated to the modern world through him that a person can lead a married life and at the same time have the highest spiritual experience.

  1. Although he had taken over his father’s job, he began to devote more time now to meditation and felt strong urge to renounce the world. With that intention, he one day went to see the Master. As soon as he reached there, the Master said in an ecstatic mood: ‘What harm is there in remaining as a householder? Only keep the mind fixed upon God. The householder’s life is like fighting from within a fortress. Remain in the world like the ancient king Janaka, unattached. You life will be an example of how a householder should live’. Durga Charan was speechless. He returned home, obeying the behest of the Master.
  2. During the last days of Sri Ramakrishna, when he was stricken with throat cancer, Durga Charan rarely went to visit him because he could not bear to see his beloved Master suffer. One day, when he did go to pray his respects to him, Sri Ramakrishna said: ‘Oh, you have come. Look, the doctors have failed. Can you do anything to cure me? Durga Charan reflected for a moment and then resolved to transfer the Master’s disease into his own body. He said in an inspired mood: ‘Yes sir, I know how to cure you. By your grace I will do it right now.’ But as he approached, the Master understood his motive and pushed him away, saying, ‘Yes I know you have that power to cure the disease.’
  3. The last few days Nag Mahashay was in samadhi off and on. Because Sri Ramakrishna had asked him to stay at home and live the life of a householder, he had never gone on a pilgrimage to the holy places, although he had once gone to Gaya to perform to the last rites for his father. Two days before he passed away, at 2′ clock in the morning, he said to Sharat Babu: ‘Sri Ramakrishna has come here to show me the holy places. Please tell me the names of holy places you have seen, and I will visit them one after another’. As Sharat Babu mentioned the name of each place-Hardwar, Prayag, Varanasi and Puri- Nag Mahashay immediately had a vision of it and vividly described what he was seeing. Sharat Babu knew he was witnessing the blessing of Sri Ramakrishna upon his disciple, yet, seeing Nag Mahashay pain and suffering, he could not help thinking that god was a cruel Master. But Nag Mahashay read his mind and said: ‘please, never doubt the boundless mercy of God. What good will this body be to the world? Look, I am bedridden; I cannot serve you, so Sri Ramakrishna, out of compassion, is taking away this body’. Then he said in a feeble voice, ‘Let the body and its suffering know each other; O my mind, you be happy’.

Some aspects of his personality

  1. Durga Charan was a handsome, modest, and sweet-natured boy. He was not very fond of sports, but occasionally, at the urging of his friends, he would join them in their games. His love for truth was so great that, even in play of fun, he would never speak a lie. And if any of his friends did so, he would immediately have nothing to do with that person. He was often drafted as a mediator when a dispute arose among his playmates, and the boys, knowing his fairness, accepted his decision without question. Once some mischievous boys insisted that he tell a lie so they could win a game, but Durga Charan refused and consequently they lost. Enraged, they dragged him through a rice field until his body was covered with cuts and bruises. He returned home in the evening in pain but without a word of complaint against anybody.
  1. Durga Charan could not tolerate worldly talk. If anyone started such a conversation, he would skillfully change the subject to spiritual matters. If he happened to become angry with someone, he would mercilessly beat his own body with whatever object he had near at hand as self-punishment. He would not contradict anyone, nor would he indulge in criticizing others. Once, he inadvertently made a critical remark about a person and, as soon as he was aware of it, picked up a stone and hit his own head with it until it bled profusely. It took about a month for the wound to heal. He justified this strange action by saying, ‘The wicked deserve right punishment.’
  2. Once a young devotee of Nag Mahashay came from Dhaka to visit him. It was a rainy day and there was no boat to cross the inundated area, so he decided to swim, although it was quite a distance. When the devotee reached the northern boundary of Nag Mahashay’s garden it was 9’oclock at night, and he was cold and completely exhausted. Much to his surprise, however, Nag Mahashay was waiting there for him.
    ‘Alas! What have you done?’ Nag Mahashay asked. ‘The fields are infested with venomous snakes at this time. Why did you take such a risk in this dangerous weather?’ He hurried the young devotee into the house. Sharatkamini gave him a dry cloth to put and then rushed to the kitchen to cook food for him, only to find that all the dry firewood was gone. Without a moment’s hesitation Nag Mahashay began cutting down a pole in his house. He would not listen to anyone’s objections. ‘Here is a man who came to see me’, he said, ‘even at the risk of drowning and snakebite, and can I not give up the attachment for his ordinary cottage for him? I would be blessed if I could serve such people at the cost of my life’.
  3. Spirituality is not something that can be measured with a measuring rod. When a person becomes spiritual his heart expands and he feels intensely for others. Nag Mahashay would feel the hunger of the dogs; cats, fish and birds, and he would feed them accordingly. A cobra appeared in his courtyard, and Sharatkamini, fearing it would bite someone, wanted it to be killed. Nag Mahashay said to her, ‘It is not the snake of the jungle but the snake of one’s own mind that injures a man’. Then with folded hands, he addressed the snake: ‘O goddess of the snake, your abode is in the jungle. Mother, please go back to your own place and leave this poor man’s cottage’. Amazingly, the snake then followed him to the jungle. ‘If you do not harm anyone in this world’, he commented, ‘no one will harm you. The reflection in the mirror shows exactly the same face you make at it.’
  4. Years before, when Sri Ramakrishna had introduced Nag Mahashay to Swami Vivekananda, he said: ‘This man has genuine humility. There is no hypocrisy in it. Humility was one of the main traits of his character.’ ‘I and mine’ are the warp and weft of Maya, which bind the soul, and these were totally obliterated from his personality. Girish once humorously remarked that the great enchantress, Mahamaya, was in trouble when she tried to bind Swami Vivekananda and Nag Mahashay: ‘As she tried to trap Vivekananda he became bigger and bigger, and at last he became so big that all her fetters were too short and she had to let him go. And when she attempted to trap Nag Mahashay, he began to make himself smaller and smaller until he had at last reduced himself to such a degree that he could easily slip through the holes of her net.’
  5. As a son Nag Mahashay was ideal. He not only served his father with much love and attention in his old age, but he also looked after his father’s spiritual life as well. Daily he read from the scriptures to his father, and he carefully protected him from the company of worldly-minded people so that Dindayal could not get any chance to listen to worldly gossip, or ‘maya-purna’ as he called it. Gradually, due to the spiritual influence of Nag-Mahashay, a great change came over Dindayal’s life.

More details of his life story

There is a saying, ‘Gurus are available by the thousands, but real disciples are very few.’ A real disciple is one who translates the teachings of his guru into the actions of his life. Durga Charan Nag was one such rare soul. Once he overheard Sri Ramakrishna say, ‘It is very difficult for doctors, lawyers, and brokers to advance on the path to God’. Referring to doctors in particular he said, ‘If the mind dwells on tiny drops of medicine, how can it conceive of the Infinite?’ Durga Charan was then practicing homeopathic medicine. He noticed that most of the time his mind was reflecting on them faces of his patients, and this disturbed his meditation. He therefore thought that the advice was meant for him. Immediately he resolved, ‘I will not make my living from that procession which is an obstacle to the realization of God’. He returned home and that very day threw his medicine box and medical books into the Ganga.

According to Vedantic tradition, the life of a householder is based on spirituality. He should follow the path of truth and dedicate the results of all his actions to the Supreme Being. It is not an easy path. ‘He is true hero’, said Sri Ramakrishna, ‘who can perform all the duties of the world with his mind fixed on god. None but a very strong man could stop to admire a bridal procession moving by while carrying a load of two maunds[164 pounds] on his head’.

It was because of his extraordinary personality that Durga Charan Nag came to be known as Nag Mahashay.

Swami Vivekananda once said about him, ‘I have traveled many places in the world, but nowhere have I come across such a great soul as Nag Mahashay.’

He began studies in the Campbell Medical School but, for some unknown reason, discontinued them after a year and a half. Later he studied homeopathy under Dr. Behari Lal Bhaduri, a renowned physician of Calcutta. His success in his profession was immediate. He had a rare intuition in diagnosis and even as a student performed some remarkable cures. He refused to set any fixed fee for his services. Whatever people offered he accepted, than what he considered just. He treated poor patients free of charge, sometimes even giving money to them for food and medicine. Some unscrupulous people took advantage of his kindness, but he did not mind. He served men as God.

The lives of the mystic prove that when intense longing for god dawns in a soul, God responds and makes everything favourable for the devotee. One morning Durga Charan was seated on the bank of the Ganges when his family guru arrived there, unexpectedly, on a boat. When he was asked the reason for his coming to Calcutta, the guru replied, ` I have come at the special command of the Divine Mother to initiate you,’. However, the initiation only created in him more hunger for God. He was carried away by the divine intoxication and often lost outward consciousness. Once, while he was meditating on the bank of the Ganga, the flood tide rose and swept him into the river. It was several moments before full consciousness returned to him and he was able to swim ashore.

People read about God, talk about God, hear about God, but how many really want to experience him directly? This desire completely possessed Durga Charan. One day his friend Suresh came to him with news about Sri Ramakrishna, the saint of Dakshineswar. They both decided to immediately to Dakshineswar and see him. They arrived there about two in the afternoon and inquired about the Master. Pratap Hazra, a strange devotee, informed them that Sri Ramakrishna had gone to Chandannagore and asked them to come back another day. They were terribly disappointed and about to leave when they noticed someone inside a room beckoning them to enter. It was Sri Ramakrishna.

The Master received them cordially and asked them about themselves. During the course of the conversation he advised: Live world like a mudfish. The fish lives in the mud but its skin is always bright and shiny. Similarly, remain at home unattached and the skin of worldliness will not touch your mind’. He asked them to mediate into the Panchavati grove for some time, and then he took them too see the different temples. As they were leaving, Sri Ramakrishna said to them:Come again. A relationship grows through frequent visits.’

It was a few months after his first meeting with Sri Ramakrishna that Durga Charan gave up his medical practice.

When Sri Ramakrishna passed away on August 16, 1886, Nag Mahashay quit eating and remained in bed. Hearing about this, Swami Vivekananda went to his house along with two of his brother disciples. After repeated requests he got up from bed, and Swami Vivekananda told him that they had come there for lunch. Immediately Durga Charan went to the market, brought back groceries, and cooked for them, but he would not eat anything himself. When they urged him to eat, he said, ‘Alas, how can I offer food to this wretched body which has not yet been blessed with god-realization?’ It was with great difficulty that Swami Vivekananda finally persuaded him to take some food.

There is a common belief among the Hindus that those who bathe in the holy river Ganga during Ardhodaya Yoga (An auspicious day which comes once every fifteen years) become free from impurities and ignorance, and go to heaven. Three or four days before that auspicious occasion Nag Mahashay left Calcutta, which is on the bank of the Ganga, to return to his village. His father was furious and said to him, ‘People are selling everything they own to go and bathe in the Ganga on this holy occasion, and you have come back home, leaving the Ganga! I really don’t understand your attitude towards religious life! Still a few days are left. Take me to Calcutta.’

But Nag Mahashay humbly said: If a man has true devotion, Mother Ganga reveals herself in his house. It is needless for him to go any place’.

On the day of Ardhodaya Yoga, several of Nag Mahashay’s devotees came to visit him. Suddenly one of the women noticed a stream of water gushing out of the southeast corner of the courtyard. The devotees gathered around it in amazement and watched as it formed a flowing stream. Nag Mahashay was in his room when he heard the excitement of the devotees. He came out and, seeing the stream, bowed down to it reverently. Then, sprinkling a little water on his head, he prayed: ‘Victory to Mother Ganga! Mother, purify us’.

Word of the mysterious water spread throughout the village, and on that auspicious day devotees and villagers alike were blessed by bathing in that miraculous stream. Hearing of this episode some time later, Swami Vivekananda commented: ‘The wish of a great soul like Nag Mahashay can make the impossible possible. Their infallible will power can even liberate people’.

Nag Mahashay did not wear the ochre cloth of a monk, but he was true a yogi. To him all women were the veritable manifestation of the Divine Mother. ‘I have never touched a woman in my life, so I have nothing to do with this world’, he said to his father when the latter scolded him about his unmindfulness of the household. His purity was almost tangible. Desire for progeny, wealth, and name and fame simply could not appear in his mind. But as he himself observed: ‘A man can overcome the temptation of gold and diamonds through renunciation, but he needs the grace of God to overcome lust. Where there is lust, there God is not; and where God is, therefore cannot be lust. As long as your body is not burned into ashes, do not be proud of your chastity. No one can escape Maya unless the Divine Mother allows one to pass’. Without having taken any monastic vows, he was a true monk.

Once Girish Chandra Ghosh presented a Nag Mahashay with a blanket, even though he knew he did not accept gifts. Out of his deep respect for Girish, Nag Mahashay accepted the blanket by putting it on his head and went home. Later a devotee went to visit him and found him seated with the blanket on his head. Hearing of this, Girish found a tactful way of taking it back so that Nag Mahashay might not suffer any further discomfort.

Although this type of behaviour seems very strange to ordinary people, it is called in devotional scriptures urjhita bhakti, or exuberant devotion. When this type of devotion awakens in the heart of an aspirant his behaviour becomes erratic. For no outwardly discernable reason he may smile, cry, dance, sing, or even remain motionless like a log. The least remainder of the beloved puts him into ecstasy.

Three years later after the passing away of his father, Nag Mahashay became seriously ill with colic and dysentery. He said to his wife: ‘My prarabdha karma (action performed in a past life, the fruit of which is being reaped in the present life) has almost come to an end – only a little is left. Don’t worry about this cage of flesh and bones.’

On December 27, 1989, the auspicious time of his final departure came. Nag Mahashay was in bhava samadhi. Sharat Babu began to chant the name of Sri Ramakrishna in his ear and, placing the picture of the Master in front of him, and said ‘This is the picture of your Master, in whose name you have renounced everything’. Nag Mahashay opened his eyes and saw the face of his beloved Master. With folded hands he saluted him and murmured, ‘Grace, grace-you blessed me out of your boundless mercy’. He then slowly merged into mahasamadhi.