Jay Krishan Raina
The valley of Kashmir is surrounded on all sides by high Snow-clad Mountains. The rivers gushing with clean waters flow though its meadows and plains. Lakes and springs with clean sparking waters are seen here and there which add to the beauty of the valley. The soil of this land of Kashyap Rishi has given birth to great saints, Rishis, Sufis, Philosophers and great thinkers. Besides, this holy land has always been a meditating heaven for saints, rishis, Sadhus who came from all over India to attain spiritual bliss here. One of such great saints has been Swami Ashokanand Ji, Swami Ji was born in 1911 in a poor Mukherjee family in a small village in East Bengal now in Bangladesh, Swami Sachhdanda who was the direct disciple of Maa Sharda was the guru of Swami Asoka Nanda. Swami Sachhda nanda loved his favourite disciple Swami Ashoka Nandaji. It was Swami Sachda Nanda ji who directed Swami Ashoka Nanda ji to go to Kashmir valley to spread the teachings of Shri Ramakrishna Parm Hamsa and complete the left over work which he could not finish in his life time. Obeying his Guru,Swami Ashokananda left Rishikesh and came to Kashmir the “Kashyapa Desh” some time in 1935-36. He first came to the house of Shri Hari Nath Tarazudhar and there from reached Sumbal Sonawari where he stayed for a year or two at the famous Shrine of Nanda Keshwar Bhairav.
In search of a better spiritual environ and solitary place, swami ji moved to a hilly forest place Nagdandi near Achhabal village. This place was discovered by Hari Nath Trazudar for Swami Ji. This place was surrounded by thick and lofty pine trees and had many natural springs with crystal clear water gushing from them. The old monuments at this place were evident of the fact that there had been a Vishnu temple or a Vihar in early days. Swami Ashoka Nanda ji selected a gigantic pine tree and sat under it for his sadhna. It is said that Swami Ji sat bare bodied regardless of snow, cold and rain. It was as per he direction of his guru that Swami Ji never wore clothes and even during the cold winters, he did not use them to protect his body.
For a long time nobody knew that such a great saint was residing there amid thick forests. Some wood cutters noticed swami ji and the news soon spread like wild fire and people started flocking to have the darshan of Swami ji. Kashmiris gave him every possible regard and respect and soon Nagdandi Ashram became a center of great learning. It was his great love for Kashmir that even the hardships of Kashmir did not deter his determination. By making Kashmir his karam-bhumi (Tapobhumi) Swami Ashoka Nanda succeeded in making the teaching of Thakur ji reach every household/person. His sound advice and kind look were the only remedy he offered to those who visited him. He never perfrmed miracles.
I have heard people saying that swami ji was fearless and even the dangerous wild animals also were not afraid of him. These animals would sit about him when he was in deep meditation. People who came to have the darshan of swami ji would hesitate to go near him when they would see the unusual sight of wild animals around him. It is said that many times swami ji would order the animals to go away from near him to permit the visitors to come close to him and they used to obey him like tamed animals.
Nagdandi is a picturesque breathtaking beautiful place about 2 kilometers away from historical mughal garden of Achhabal on the right side of the road leading to the shrine of Uma Devi (brareiangan) Nawgam Shangus.
Ramakrishna Mahasamellan Ashram under the aegis of Vivekananda Rock memorial and Vivekananda Kendra is situated here in Nagdandi and this Ashram was established by late Swami Ashokanananda ji. It is a spiritally vibrant place and one can feel such vibrations on entering the Ashram premises. Swami Ji was a perfect sadhak. He was so simple that even in severe winter he wore only a simple dhoti and a chadder.
Maharaja Hari Singh the then Maharaja of Jammu & Kashmir used to pay frequent visits to Swamiji and Yuvraj Dr Karan Singh used to accompany his father on such visits Dr Karan Singh is attached to the Ashram and it serves as a source of inspiration for the karykartas.
The Ashram started in the beginning by construction of a small hut with a kitchen Gradually some disciples of Swami ji donated lands and some more land was purchased and few more rooms for proper shelter of visitors were constructed. This was followed by construction of a small temple of Thakur Shree Ram Krishen Paramhamsa and a guest house (presently the temple is being given a new look by expanding its flour area to about 1400 sft and walls erected in chissled stones (Diver Kani). By 1948 the Ashram had acquired about seven Acres of land and an Apple Orchard was started to make the Ashram self generating for its maintenance.
In 1970, because of his ill health, Swami ji was anxious about the continuance of the work after him and he wished that the Ashram should be taken by Shree Ramarishna muth bellur Kolkatta. But the muth was reluctant to take care of ashram due to their own preoccupations with other centers. This was followed by sending an invitation to Sh Ek Nath Ranade, then the organizing secretary of rock memorial Vivekananda Kendra Kanya Kumari. Mananeeya Eknath ji visited Kashmir and called on the Swami Ji who was sick and had moved to Dr Jai Lal Ogra’s house at Srinagar. Ek Nath ji being a visionary person readily accepted the responsibility. In the meantime Swami ji attained nirvaan on 19th dec 1971 and in his will dated 6th Oct 1970 he had expressed his desire to hand over the properties of Ashram either to Rama Krishna Mission bellur Muth Kolkata or Vivekananda Kendra Kanya Kumari. Thus the Ashram came into the possession of Vivekananda Kendra Kanya Kumari and ever since various representatives in the form of jeevanvirti karykartas (life workers) from Vivekananda Kendra Kanya Kumari were deputed to look after the Ashram and teach, Preach, Propagate and Preserve Sanatan Dharma. Presently two such life workers from Vivekananda Kendra kanya kumari namely Atul Saha (Dada) and Kumari Lalita Ji are there to assist the Administrative committee for management and development of the Ashram.
The administrative committee is committed to manage and develop Ashram in accordance with the will of Swami Ashoka Nanda ji with approved code of conduct and time to time guidance (marg darshan) from Vivekananda Kendra Kanya Kumari. The present Administrative committee for management and development of the Ashram has been constituted by Vivekananda Kendra Kanyakumari through formal resolutions passed on 28th of April, 2013 and subsequently on 8th of August,2014 with a size able No. of members and headed by a chairman.
For the last three years, the Administrative committee, with the active support of karykartas having faith in sanatan dharma and Ashoka Nandji has been engaged in carrying out various development and renovation works in the Ashram round the year. The latest works attended to by the committee members and other karykartas include establishment of a “High density Apple orchard” after seeking technical support/advice from consultants and Central Institute of Temperate Horticulture (CITH), fixation of three additional iron gates on three sides of the Ashram parisar, approach path to ancient temple outside the fenced area of Ashram, fixation of steel Mesh and acrylic sheets in Hawan Shalla, flooring of Hawan shalla, fixations of doors and windows in Vivekananda Bhawan, marble flooring of Vivekananda Bhawan (about 4000 sq ft), road leading to orchard, steel fencing with mesh around the statue of swami Vivekananda and allied developmental works.
The administrative committee has achieved a mile stone in overcoming the acute drinking water shortage (that occurred due to unfortunate drying of old perennial spring water source) by getting water connection from main source of Achhabal garden with assistance and co-operation of the local populace and concerned PHE department. The sarovar in the ashram is presently full of fresh water and has further added to the aesthetic and spiritual value of ashram with holy fish in it.
Performing annual Hawans on Ram navmi, Nag-panchmi/Samadhi pratishtha divas of Swami Ashoka Nanda ji are the essential annual activities and people from all round join such festivals and have Prasad after the purani Ahutis of Hawans. Performing hawans do have spiritical gains, but by performing them in valley we get connected to our roots, they lead to normalization and help in National integration.
SRMA Vivekananda Kendra Nagdandi is also actively involved in arranging yoga shibits on national level, spiritual retreats, group meets, symposia etc connected to Sanantan Dharma. Such shibirs are held on “self financing basis”.