In the year 1873, a boy was born who was destined to become a great Saint. He was born in a poor brahmin family in the village of Murawalla, some forty miles east of Lahore, in the Punjab. His father, Hiranandaji Goswami, followed the profession of a priest, though an unlettered man. He was a proud and hot-headed character and had not acquired inner control.
His son was named Tirtha Rama and he soon grew to be a handsome and intelligent boy, who loved nature in all its varying moods. When he was eight years old, a wandering Hindu Saint passed that way and blessing the boy, whispered some words into his ear.
Tirtha Rama won a scholarship at his village school at Gururanwala. Here he fell under the influence of a devout man named Dhanna Bhagat, who taught him the Ramayana of Tulsidas and initiated him into the mysteries of prayer and meditation.
Winning a further scholarship, Tirtha Rama went to Lahore and joined the Forman Christian College, taking Sanskrit and science as his special subjects. Each examination brought him fresh triumphs and scholarships but poverty, ill-health and loneliness also taught him many lessons, so that he acquired proficiency, not only in secular studies, but also in devotion passing his nights in deep prayer to Shri Krishna.
Tirtha Rama was respected wherever he went for his simple life and exemplary character. His vacations were spent on pilgrimages to Shri Brindavan and Hardwara. He headed the list of successful candidates in the B.A. examinations but, as his learning Increased, so also did his devotion to God and although he had the chance of coming to England to take his I.C.S.examination, his love for the Ganges and the holy Himalayas made him unwilling to leave India.
Tirtha Rama gave, away a good part of his scholarship money in charity and lived an extremely simple and devout life – passing his nights in adoration of Shri Krishna on the banks of the river Ravi, and preaching the glory of the Divine Name. .
It was in Hardwara that he met his Guru, a simple brahmin, who initiated him into the higher mystic truths.
Tirtha Rama studied various philosophies and became versed in Arabic, Persian, Sanskrit, Greek and Roman classics. He was a brilliant mathematician and was invited to teach mathematics in his own college, which he did with great distinction. He stated that he found the highest yogic wisdom in the Vedanta of holy Shankaracharya.
Every summer he used to go to Rishikesha to sit at the feet of the Mahatmas and to receive inspiration from the peaceful atmosphere of Tapovana. In the deep forest, he passed weeks and months in meditation. One day while meditating on a text of Shruti, he fell Into the Ganges from a height of some hundred feet. The text was:
“He who sees underlying unity in all, For him there is no delusion and no sorrow.”
The holy river supported and saved the body of her son and this happening brought him a direct realisation of the identity of the individual with the Universal Spirit. The bliss was overpowering; a flood of love swept away all his remaining individual limitations. He returned to the university but he found that it was impossible to continue as a teacher.
He, therefore, renounced the world and accompanied by his wife and their three children and two personal disciples, entered the Himalayas.
From now on, he gave inspired teachings and wrote poems in Persian, Urdu, Punjabi and English, all saturated with divine love. After a year, his family found it impossible to live in the deep Himalayan forest and returned to the plains. Following the tradition of shri Shankara and other great Acharyas, Tirtha Rama became a monk and took the name of Rama Tirtha. He visited the Badri and Kedar peaks, Gangotri, Yamunotri, Sumeru and other holy spots in the Himalayas, accompanied by two disciples, living on alms and yet like a King of Kings.
The Maharaja of Tehri provided the funds for a visit to Japan where Rama Tirtha taught for two months. He then crossed the Pacific and went from California to New York.
Whilst abroad he lived with nature in a state of divine consciousness. Name and fame, honour and following he eschewed.
He wrote his Forest Philosophy and many other works in English and Persian at this time and became a deep student of Vedanta.
The writer visited him for the last time on the bank of the Vasishtha Gunga near Kedar Peak. His whole body had become etherealised; his every word spoke of his universal consciousness. The beauty of the spot where he lived has been described in the Memoirs of the writer. The Paramahansa was passing beyond all limitations. On the 28th October 1906 he allowed his body to be swept away in a strong whirlpool in the Bhrigu Gunga near Tehri.
The alarm was given by the cook who had witnessed the incident. The news of the passing away of this great and young Saint spread through the capital of Tehri. The Maharajah who had the greatest veneration for the Swami and in whose territory he lived after his retirement from the world, was deeply moved. All government offices and schools were closed.
After twelve days of intense search by a large number of men, the body of the Saint was caught in a net laid across the Holy River. It was in a state of perfect preservation and was found to be in the posture of meditation, the mouth formed as if uttering the Holy Syllable OM. His Highness ordered the body to be encased in a sandalwood coffin and accompanied by many learned and holy monks and officials of state, all chanting the verses of the Swami; It was sent adrift on the Holy Ganges, the divine river which the Saint and all other holy Saints of the Himalayas have loved and venerated. The coffin drifted on the waves, then, after travelling for about half a mile, it struck a rock and the body was thrown into the Ganges.
Swami Rama Tirtha lived as a true brahmin monk. He possessed no property and founded no monastery. His life was a life of universal peace. His writings breathe the spirit of his holy personality. Dr Shastri, who loved him, noticed that Rama Tirtha loved all equally – no one was high or low in his estimation. God-consciousness so possessed his soul, that he had no awareness of the world and its limitations.
He was not a nationalist or a patriot – he was a true universalist and treated every object as if it were alive. He nominated no successor nor did he expect any organisation to be named after him. Several miracles were attributed to him, but he disclaimed all such ‘narrowness’ as he used to call it.
The Swami’s attainments in both literature and mathematics were considerable but his real glory was his God-realisation. He was indeed one of the most beautiful flowers that have ever bloomed in the garden of spiritual India and we have much to learn from him.