Character in order of speaking:
Villager One (Nilkantha)
Khudiram Chattopadhyaya (Ramakrishna’s father)
Chandra Devi (Khudiram’s wife; Ramakrishna’s mother)
Katyayani (Ramakrishna’s oldest sister) as a 4-year old girl
Ramkumar (Ramakrishna’s oldest brother) as a 9-year old boy
Lord Vishnu (Gadadhar)
Host: Khudiram and Chandra Devi Are Chosen. A one-act play in six scenes. Prologue. Sister Nivedita speaks.
Sister Nivedita: An occasion came during Swami Vivekananda’s London classes of 1896 when the call of renunciation was uttered with great force. “What the world wants today,” said the Swami, — the determination to quote “throw a bomb,” as it were as he called it, evidently taking sudden possession of him.
Swami Vivekananda: What the world wants today, is twenty men and women who can dare to stand in the street yonder and say that they possess nothing but God. Who will go?
Nivedita: He had risen to his feet by this time, and stood looking round his audience as if begging some of them to join him.
Swami Vivekananda: Why should one fear?
Nivedita: And then in tones of which, even now, I can hear again the thunderous conviction – – –
Swami Vivekananda: If this is true, what else would matter? If it is not true, what do our lives matter?
Song: We possess nothing but God
We possess nothing but God
If this is true, what else would matter?
If this is not true, what do our lives matter.
Host: Why were Khudiram and Chandra Devi chosen to be the parents of Sri Ramakrishna? I believe it is because they exemplified Swamiji’s ideal: They possessed nothing but God. To them God was more real than any other possession. Let us now turn to a play about the lives of Khudiram and Chandra Devi before the birth of Sri Ramakrishna. The bones and sinews of this play are based on facts from the monumental work by Swami Saradananda translated first as Sri Ramakrishna, The Great Master and a second time as Sri Ramakrishna and his Divine Play. A second important source is Akshay Kumar Sen’s great work, the Sri Sri Ramakrishna Punthi translated as A Portrait of Sri Ramakrishna. However, most of the details are from the author’s imagination.
Scene One. Villagers Talk.
Narrator: Scene one: Villagers Talk. The ancestral home of Ramakrishna’s father Khudiram was in the village of Dere, in the northwest part of Bengal. In 1814, he was living there with his wife Chandra Devi, their nine-year-old son Ramkumar and four-year-old daughter Katyayani on their 50 acres of land. One cloudy day some men of the village were talking.
First villager (Nilkantha): Our landlord, Ramananda Roy, expects us to show respect to him as if he were a Brahmin.
Second villager: What a tyrannical person. It was terrible the way he evicted Rajendra on account of such a petty offense.
Third villager: He’s so unrighteous and yet insists that he be treated like a pious person. Well I for one am afraid not to do so. Rama only knows what he would do to me if I failed to show him the respect he demands.
Second villager: I’m with you. I’m ashamed of myself to show him respect but afraid to not do so.
Nilkantha: I don’t care what he does. I refuse to give respect that he doesn’t deserve. I pay my rent, usually on time. That should be sufficient. What can he do to me?
Third villager: Nilkantha, you’re a brave person but aren’t you worried about what will happen to your family if you incur his wrath?
Nilkantha: I will place my trust in Rama. I just can’t bring myself to be false in that way.
Narrator: Just at this moment who should walk by but Ramananda Roy, himself. The second and third villager both rise to their feet and wrap their cloth around their necks as a sign of respect. Nilkantha remains seated. He has one thought in his mind.
Nilkantha: I really want to stand and show respect but how can I after the boastful speech I just made?
Second villager: Salutations, Sri Roy.
Third villager: I also offer my salutations.
Ramananda Roy: Thank you both. My salutations to you also. What’s wrong with you, Nilkantha? The cat’s got your tongue?
Narrator: Nilkantha’s stomach is churning.
Nilkantha: I think it looks like rain.
Ramananda: (in a menacing tone) It does indeed. A rain with a strong wind.
Scene Two: Khudiram’s Dilemma.
Narrator: Scene two, Khudiram’s Dilemma. Khudiram has been summoned to come to Ramananda Roy’s residence. As he walks to the door he murmurs to himself.
Khudiram: What a sense of foreboding I feel.
Narrator: Khudiram knocks. Ramananda opens the door.
Ramananda: Welcome Khudiram. I feel honored that you have graced my home by your presence. I’m also very pleased that you were able to come so quickly. May I offer you something to eat?
Narrator: Khudiram folds his hands and shakes his head, “no” very modestly.
Khudiram: Greetings Ramananda. You wanted to see me? In what way can I be of service to you?
Ramananda: Yes I would like to ask of you a big favor. Everyone knows your reputation for honesty. Your testimony in court would easily clinch my case against Nilkantha. He has not been paying his rent and I want to evict him. He is going to claim that he has indeed paid his rent. I don’t give receipts so there is no proof either way. However, I heard he bragged to you that he had not paid his rent for a whole year. I simply want you to testify to this in court. I assure you that I will make a large gift to your family if you oblige me in this way. Would you be willing to do this?
Khudiram: This is a difficult request. Courts fill me with a sense of horror. I have never gone to court even once. I have to think about this. I will give you my answer tomorrow.
Ramananda: Very good. Think it over. I look forward to your visit tomorrow. Good day.
Narrator: That evening Chandra Devi speaks to Khudiram.
Chandra Devi: You look so troubled. Please tell me what is wrong.
Khudiram: This is not easy to say. Calamity is facing us. Ramananda has asked me to lie in court about Nilkantha — to say he told me he hadn’t paid his rent for a year. Nilkantha in fact told me just the opposite. (pause) Rama is my ideal. You know how he willingly, even joyously, suffered for the sake of truth. Can I do less? And yet it is unbearable that you and the children should suffer because of these scruples of mine. Ramananda will surely do his best to ruin me if I refuse.
Chandra Devi: Do not soil your conscience. I have faith that Rama will protect us. If we suffer a little, what of it? We should be proud to suffer for the sake of truth, for the sake of God.
Narrator: Khudiram wells up with tears of gratitude. He takes her hands.
Khudiram: This is such a load off my mind. I will refuse and then we will together brace ourselves for his retaliation.
Song: You shall find me
Give me your whole heart,
Love and adore me,
Worship me always,
Bow to me only,
And you shall find me.
Scene three: Khudiram is Sued.
Narrator: Scene three: Khudiram is Sued. Khudiram has been summoned to the village court. Ramananda is present as well as Villagers Two and Three and the Judge. The Judge speaks.
Judge: This case is Ramananda Roy against Khudiram Chattopadhyaya. Ramananda Roy is asking Rs. 510 as immediate repayment of a loan made to Khudiram Chattopadhyaya three years and one month ago.
Khudiram: (in a pained tone) I’m very sure that I never borrowed money from him.
Judge: Quiet. You will have your chance to testify. He has brought in these two villagers as witnesses to support his claim. Do all of you who will testify here today swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help you Rama?
Everyone (except the judge) more or less in unison: I do.
Judge: Sri Roy, please take your place in the witness stand to state your complaint against Sri Chattopadhyaya.
Ramananda: Thank you your honor. This man, Khudiram Chattopadhyaya, has a reputation for truthfulness. However, although stating to me that he would immediately begin to repay the loan or at least pay the interest, he has yet to make any payments on this loan. Three years and one month ago I lent him Rs. 30. He agreed to an interest rate of 3 rupees a week. 160 weeks have gone by. The interest now comes to Rs. 480 plus the original principal of Rs. 30 bringing it to a total of Rs. 510. Our contract states that if he fails to make any payment for a full year I have the right to demand immediate repayment of the entire loan plus interest. Here is a copy of the contract for your honor to examine. I have been more than lenient to Khudiram.
Judge: Khudiram, do you wish to cross-examine the witness?
Khudiram: No, your honor.
Judge: I’ll now call the first witness.
Villager Two: I was present when Khudiram borrowed the Rs. 30. I saw him sign the contract.
Judge: Khudiram, do you wish to cross-examine the witness?
Khudiram: No, your honor.
Judge: Next witness.
Villager Three: I was also present when Khudiram borrowed this money and signed the contract.
Judge: Khudiram, do you wish to cross-examine the witness?
Khudiram: No, your honor.
Judge: Khudiram, do you wish to testify in your own defense.
Khudiram: Yes, your honor. I did not borrow this money. The signature in that contract cannot be mine. These two witnesses are tenants of Ramananda and are totally under his thumb. If Ramananda asks them to lie they can not say no. Not if they wish to avoid his wrath. Your honor, you must be aware that when Ramananda is crossed he takes revenge. Nilkantha and Rajendra are examples of this. I crossed him by refusing to lie for him in the Nilkantha case. Now he is taking revenge. So consider what is more likely: That I am lying or that the three of them are lying. That is all.
Judge: You may take your seat. (Pause) Here is my ruling in this case. I find you, Khudiram Chattopadhyaya guilty as charged and award to Ramananda Roy the immediate payment of Rs. 510.
Ramananda: God is great! Judge, you’ve made the right ruling. God will reward you.
Khudiram: O, Rama, I can’t possibly pay that.
Judge: If you cannot pay the sum awarded to Ramananda, you’ll have to put your property up for auction
Khudiram: O, Rama, give me strength! (Pause) I bow before Your inscrutable will.
Song: Not My Will But Thy Will
I bow before the inscrutable will of Rama
Make me patient and forbearing like a tree.
Do with me what you will. I am Yours. I am Yours.
Not my will, but let Thy will flow through me.
Teach me to renounce my own preference.
Let me cling to truth, as You are Truth itself.
My misfortune surely must be a blessing in disguise.
O, Beloved One, You are my only wealth.
Scene Four: Unexpected Grace
Narrator: Scene Four: Unexpected grace. Khudiram and Chandra Devi are packing. They are about to depart from Dere. Ramananda is watching them.
Ramananda: I bought this property at auction. Your fifty acres and your huts now belong to me. Also your Shiva temple. Don’t delay any longer. Get out. I, in my generosity, will allow you to use this cart to haul your possessions. I’ll give you two days to return it. You may take your clothes and kitchen stuff but not the image of Rama. He now belongs to me. Hurry up.
Narrator: Khudiram and Chandra Devi load the cart and place four-year-old Katyayani on top. Khudiram pulls it with Chandra on one side, nine-year-old Ramkumar on the other. Katyayani speaks.
Katyayani: Why do we have to leave?
Chandra Devi: It is the will of Rama. He will find us a new place to live.
Narrator: Ramkumar speaks.
Ramkumar: I’m going to miss my friends.
Khudiram: Yes it is very sad to leave Dere. But eventually you will find new friends.
Let us go to Kamarpukur. It’s just a few miles away. My old friend, the landlord Sukhlal Goswami, lives there. He heard about our misfortune and sent me a message that he wants to speak to me. I bow before the inscrutable will of Rama.
Ramkumar: What does “inscrutable” mean?
Khudiram: Son, we cannot understand God’s will – why he makes his devotee suffer.
Narrator: After weary hours of trudging, they arrive at the door of Sukhlal Goswami.
Sukhlal: Welcome, welcome. It’s so good to see you although the circumstances are tragic. Come in and refresh yourselves.
Narrator: Later the same day.
Khudiram: I’m feeling better now that I’ve had a rest, some water and a little food. Tell me, Sukhlal. What do you think we should do? I’ve always had great faith in your advice.
Sukhlal: Khudiram, please settle on my property. It would be a great honor and joy for me to have you close by. I so value your friendship. I have a few huts that I don’t use and Lakshmi’s meadow is nearby. It’s very fertile so you can use it for paddy and vegetables.
Khudiram: I’m . . . I’m speechless. O, Rama, you do clearly protect your own just as you promised. Sukhlal, I’m so grateful. How can I ever repay you?
Sukhlal: I can’t tell you how much joy I feel to be Rama’s instrument. Let me tell you, Khudiram, I feel the Lord has tested you to see if you would be able to carry out some great task He has in store for you.
Khudiram: If this be the case, it was the Lord Himself who gave me the strength to stick to truth. I’m not sure I would have been successful without the God-given brave support of Ramkumar’s mother. We are resigned and full of faith in the Lord’s will. Let us see what He has in store for us.
Song: You Are My All in All O Lord,
You are my All in All, O Lord; Life of my life, my inmost being, I have none
else but You in all the world to call my own.
You are my All in All, O Lord, You are my peace my joy and my hope. You are
my glory, my wealth, my support; You are my wisdom and my strength,
my all in all.
I have none else but You to call my own: You are my home, my place of rest; You are my nearest of kin, my dearest friend, You are my present, my future, my heaven and my salvation.
You are my All in All, O Lord: My holy scripture guiding my steps; You are my Teacher ever full of grace. You are the spring of my boundless bliss, the Way and the Goal.
You are the holy one to be adored, the tender Mother, the chastising Father, You the Creator, the only Protector; You are the Helmsman who steers my craft across the sea of life.
Scene 5: Khudiram and Chandra Devi in Kamarpukur
Narrator: Scene 5, Khudiram and Chandra Devi in Kamarpukur. Some beggars are talking together.
Beggar One: See that cottage over there. That’s the cottage I was telling you about. The mother there is always generous with alms.
Beggar Two: Oh very good. I’m starving. Let’s go to the door.
Narrator: They walk over to the cottage of Chandra Devi and stand outside.
Beggar One: Oh Mother. May God bless you. Please give us alms.
Chandra Devi: Glory to Rama. You two must be very hungry. I don’t have much but there is some cooked rice, vegetables, and a little dal. Let me fill your bowls. Do you have a place to spend the night?
Beggar One: You are very kind, but don’t worry Mother. We will be OK.
Narrator: They leave with the food talking with one another.
Beggar One: You see what I mean?
Beggar Two: I appreciate not only the food but also the kind way she spoke to us. So often people will give food but make it bitter with some sarcastic remark.
Narrator: Some children come to the door of Chandra Devi:
Children: Oh Mother, give us jalaby! Some wonderful sweet jalaby!
Chandra Devi: Oh, darling children. I’m so sorry. I don’t have any today. But I do have a little treacle. Would you like to suck on some treacle?
Children: Oh yes. Please do give us some.
Chandra Devi: Here it is. Maybe on Friday, if Rama is gracious, I’ll have some jalaby. Have fun playing.
Children: Rama, be gracious. Rama, be gracious.
Narrator: Khudiram is preparing for the evening worship. He has gone out. He speaks to himself.
Khudiram: The red hibiscus flowers are in bloom. I think I’ll pick some to offer to Rama. Ah, here they are. Oh look, there She is again. The goddess Shitala has appeared again as an eight-year-old girl. Oh what a radiant smile and what strange and wonderful ornaments she is wearing.
Narrator: Goddess Shitala speaks.
Goddess Shitala: Here beloved Khudiram, I’ll hold the branch down and you can easily reach these lovely flowers.
Khudiram, Mother, you are so kind.
Narrator: After his evening worship, Nilkantha comes to Khudiram and speaks.
Nilkantha (Villager One): We are both the victims of the evil Ramananda. As you know, I too have found shelter here in Kamarpukur. We are staying with my mother’s younger brother. I desperately need your blessing. My uncle has become ill and if he dies we will be homeless again. Please, your blessings never fail.
Khudiram: I bless you from the bottom of my heart.
Narrator: Later, Khudiram speaks to Chandra Devi.
Khudiram: It is weighing on me that I have not yet made the pinda offering in Gaya to redeem the souls of my ancestors. Next week on Monday I will start for Gaya.
Chandra Devi: May your trip be safe and successful.
Scene 6: Khudiram and Chandra Devi are Chosen
Narrator: Scene 6: Khudiram and Chandra Devi are Chosen. Khudiram is in the Gadadhar Vishnu temple in Gaya at the footprint of Vishnu. He speaks out loud.
Khudiram: Oh, Gadadhar, accept these pinda offerings for the satisfaction of my departed ancestors. Oh ancestors, be pleased with these offerings. May they give you satisfaction. Om, shanti, shanti, shanti.
Narrator: After spending the day in worship, Khudiram returns to his lodging. Along the way he has these thoughts:
Khudiram: How very fortunate I am that You, O Lord, have enabled me to make these offerings and thus fulfill my sacred obligation. Although I am unworthy, You have made everything propitious and given me the strength to accomplish this. Your grace is boundless. I’m so grateful to You. So grateful, I bow down to You.
Narrator: That night Khudiram has a strange dream. In the dream, Khudiram is thinking and speaking.
Khudiram: (in a tone of amazement) There are my ancestors. They are looking at me with such kindness. You, O ancestors, seem very pleased with my pinda offering. You are feasting on them. I bow down before you, beloved Ones. Now a wonderful glow is suffusing the room and you are all standing in a reverential way. A glowing Being with a complexion like new grass and with four arms is sitting upon a throne. It is surely Lord Vishnu. He looks so gracious. He is beckoning to me. I must prostrate at His feet.
Narrator: Lord Vishnu speaks.
Lord Vishnu: Khudiram, I am very pleased with your sincere devotion. I will incarnate Myself as your son and accept the loving service you offer me in your cottage.
Khudiram: (joyously) Oh how wonderful! I am overcome. (Plaintively) But Lord how can a poor man like me possibly offer you proper service. It is more than enough that you have graciously revealed Yourself and wish to be born as my son. Why should you undergo the hardship of actually being my son?
Lord Vishnu: Your words are sweet, but don’t be afraid Khudiram. Whatever you offer I will accept with relish. You need not worry at all about bringing me up. Don’t raise any objections to the fulfillment of my wish.
Narrator: At this Khudiram was speechless. Conflicting emotions of joy and sorrow flowed with such force that he was left stupefied and senseless. At that moment his sleep broke.
Khudiram: Where am I? (pause) Oh, I must have been dreaming. But this was no ordinary dream. This was a divine dream and divine dreams are always true. Gadadhar will definitely be born in my home. How wonderful and amazing. O Lord, I am speechless with gratitude and joyful anticipation but I feel some apprehension.
Narrator: The next morning in Kamarpukur, Chandra Devi and her friend Dhani, the blacksmith woman, are standing in front of the Shiva temple, close to Khudiram and Chandra’s cottage.
Chandra Devi: Dhani, did you hear, Nilkantha’s uncle has completely recovered. He’s his old self again.
Dhani: Yes, Khudiram’s blessing is infallible.
Chandra Devi: Look! The Shiva linga is . . . . .
Narrator: Chandra Devi falls to the ground unconscious
Dhani: What’s wrong, Chandra? Have you fainted? Please wake up. O Shiva, Shiva Shiva, do wake up. Good, you’ve opened your eyes.
Chandra Devi: How amazing! Please help me get up.
Narrator: Dhani helps Chandra to her feet.
Chandra Devi: Dhani, you may not believe this but the Shiva linga began to glow – a heavenly glow. What a glorious sight. The light filled the temple and then rushed at me in waves. The light engulfed me and entered into my body. (pause) Now I feel as if that wonderful light is in my womb.
Dhani: Glory be. But don’t tell anyone else except your husband. Others will think you’re mad. How wonderful. You’re going to have a divine child. Khudiram will be delighted when he hears the news. We will all be thrilled when the child is born.
Song : A new man is born on earth,
Benedictus qui venit in namine Domini.
To Khudiram and to Chandra a son is born in Kamarpukur.
To Khudiram, burning bright in faith and truth, To Mother Chandra full of loving kindness,
A joyous child, burning bright in faith and truth; his loving kindness bids to break our bondage.
All ye who long for divine light, approach and see at Kamarpukur, a guide who takes us across the sea of life, a loving friend who yearns to save and free us.
A child is born; a new man is come on earth bearing the gift of life divine, showing the way, the truth, the life.
O come and see: a new man is born on earth bearing etc.
Sing alleluia, jaya, jaya Ramakrishna, Sing jaya, jaya Ramakrishna, hosanna in the highest.
Aji premanandeman re gaha Ramakrishna nam: Sing today the name of Ramakrishna, dwell in joy divine, gaha Ramakrishna nam, Japa Ramakrishna nam.
Sing the name of Ramakrishna, cherish him within your heart.
Sarvajiva papanasha karanam bhaveshwaram Swikritancha garbha vasu deha pashamidrisham. yapitam swalilayacha yena divya jivanam tam namami deva deva ramakrishnam ishwaram.
Now the very God of gods renews his sport in human form. To redeem our weaknesses, descending through a mother’s womb. See compassion overflowing, see the bliss of God revealed. Sing “Hosanna, alleluia,
God with us: Emmanuel.”
Tam namami deva deva ramakrishnam ishwaram.
Bill Davis, a disciple of Swami Pavitrananda, came to the Vedanta Society of New York in 1972. After a career as a psychologist, he retired in 2007. Bill now lives at Vivekananda Retreat, Ridgely, where he serves as a handyman. He also still offers service at the Vedanta Society of NY. Email Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.