The Miracle in Shillong
By Swami Bhaskarananda
It happened nearly thirty years ago. I was then working at the headquarters of the Ramakrishna Order in Belur Math near Calcutta.
One morning a stranger came to see me. He was well dressed and seemed to be in his late forties.
After the usual exchange of greetings he asked me, “Have you heard of a disciple of the Holy Mother Sarada Devi (1853-1920) named Panchanan Brahmachari, who lived in Shillong?”
I answered, “Yes, I vaguely recall a senior Swami once mention him many years ago. He said to us that something miraculous had happened to Panchanan Brahmachari, but I’m sorry, I don’t remember that story too well.”
Hearing this the gentleman became quite emotional and with tears in his eyes said with great humility, “I’m an unworthy son of Panchanan Brahmachari! My father was a great devotee and a saintly person.”
I said to him, “Will you please tell me what miracle was experienced by your father?”
The gentleman then told me the story that I record below:
“The event took place in the year 1912 when the Holy Mother Sarada Devi was still alive and was living in Bengal. My father was then a teacher in Shillong.
“It was the period when the capital of Assam had been temporarily shifted from Shillong to Dacca by the British government. As a result, Shillong became like a ghost town. Most streets were lined on both sides by empty houses. The neighborhood where my father lived had about eighty homes. Out of them only three were occupied; the rest were empty. Taking advantage of this situation, the local tribal boys started vandalizing the empty buildings all over the city and even setting fire to some of them.
“At that time my father was not living in his own home. Rai Bhupal Chandra Basu Bahadur, a very prosperous and respected citizen of Shillong, owned a large house in the city. With his family he had gone to Calcutta on a vacation. As there had been many cases of vandalism in the city, Mr. Basu had ardently requested my father to stay in his large home and watch over it until they returned.
“One day my father engaged three Nepalese laborers to do some work in his own home. When he arrived at the gate of his home to supervise their work, he noticed that the third home down the street was on fire. The home belonged to the queen of Bijney—a princely state in British India. At that time, like many other homes in the city, it was empty.
“The home had two residential buildings, one large and one small.
The smaller building had already been engulfed by fire. At that time running water was supplied to the city only during certain hours of the day. The building caught fire during those hours when there was no water supply.
“Asking two Nepalese laborers to follow him my father ran toward the burning house carrying a bucket of water that he had found in a neighbor’s home.
“Arriving at the burning home, he handed the bucket to one of the Nepalese laborers and climbed on the thatched roof of the larger building. He then asked the laborer to lift the bucket up so that he could grab its handle and bring it up to the roof. By the time he got the bucket most of its water had spilled. Meanwhile, the fire from the burning building had leaped to the roof of the larger building and surrounded my father with twenty-foot flames. He realized that his death was near. Therefore, with all his heart and soul he started praying to his guru, the Holy Mother Sarada Devi.
“Then he saw an extraordinary sight. He saw the Holy Mother Sarada Devi appear before him. She came flying through the sky with her body dazzling like lightening and her eyes radiating super-human compassion. With raised arms she said to him, ‘Don’t be afraid my child, I’m here!’ Waving her arms around she instantly neutralized the burning power of the flames and my father no longer felt any heat.
“Then for about three hours my father lost his outer consciousness.
After regaining consciousness he noticed that the smaller building had already burned down to ashes. But the larger building didn’t show any sign of fire damage. Not a single straw on its roof had been burnt!
When he sat up on that roof the two Nepalese laborers said with amazement, ‘Sir, are you still alive? When we saw you being engulfed by the flames we heard you screaming ‘Mother! Mother!’ After that we couldn’t hear anything. That’s why we thought that you must have died.’
“The laborers helped my father to come down from the roof. They noticed that only my father’s face showed signs of burn and it had already developed a few blisters. It was strange that no other part of his body had been burnt. The skin of his face turned reddish at first, then gradually started becoming black. After a few days his face became so dark that even those who had known my father for nineteen or twenty years couldn’t recognize him any more.
“A doctor friend of my father said that when the layer of burnt skin on his face would peel off, the skin underneath, which is devoid of pigment would become visible. Then he would start looking like a person suffering from leucoderma.
“This information somewhat distressed my father. One morning, around 3 o’ clock, he had another vision of the Holy Mother. She said to him, ‘My child, you’ve become upset over your burnt face. Just tell me once that you want to be healed. Then I’ll make your face all right.’
“My father said, ‘Mother, I can’t say this to you. What shall I do with my external beauty? If at all I’ve to ask for any boon from you, I’ve many better things to ask for.’
“At this the Mother beamed a heavenly smile and with great compassion said to my father, ‘My child, if you aren’t going to tell me then I’m telling you that your face will be completely healed as soon as you’ll take a bath in the nearby spring on the last day of the Bengali year.’ So saying the Holy Mother disappeared.
“A gentleman at that time was staying with my father as a roomer.
One day he said to my father, ‘Your face has been looking more and more terrible everyday. Aren’t you going to do anything about it?’
“My father then told that gentleman what the Holy Mother had said to him in his second vision. By word of mouth that story gradually spread to others as well. One of them was a senior member of the Brahmo Samaj church. All of them heard the story with utter disbelief and made no secret of that to my father.
“As the last day of the Bengali year started approaching near, my father grew very nervous thinking that had the miracle as promised by the Holy Mother not happened, it would draw a lot of ridicule from others. He himself wouldn’t mind being ridiculed but the thought that people might ridicule the Holy Mother made him feel extremely miserable. Therefore he resolved not to go and take the bath in the spring.
“Nevertheless, on the last day of the Bengali year, in spite of his reluctance, he arrived at the spring as though driven by a superior power beyond his control. He took his bath in the spring and quickly returned home. Meanwhile, two of his acquaintances had come to his home and were anxiously waiting to see if the prophecy of the Holy Mother had been fulfilled. When they looked at my father’s face they were wonder-struck to see that there was no sign of burn whatsoever on his face.
“This is the miracle that happened to my father,” said Mr. Panchanan Brahmachari’s son with tears in his eyes. He further added, “This miracle in Shillong was thoroughly investigated and declared as authentic by the Swamis of the Ramakrishna Order. Not only that, later a letter of my father describing this wonderful story to his friend Acharya Jagadish Mukhopadhyay was published in the “Udbodhan,” the well-known Bengali journal of the Ramakrishna Order, in 1939.”
This article was published in our Fall issue, 1999, of Global Vedanta, our quarterly journal.