Amazing Amsterdam

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12th September 1896.

Screen Shot 2015-06-24 at 10.49.26 pmSwami Vivekananda arrived at the Amsterdam Central Station with Dr Paul Deussen, a renowned German philosopher of those days, and the English couple, Captain and Mrs Sevier. The group booked two rooms at the Victoria Hotel This was where they stayed for the next three days. Swami Vivekananda visited several museums. Of them, the Rijksmuseum was one… Swamiji also visited the Tower of Tears (Schreierstoren) and the Royal Palace… Swamiji enjoyed seeing the canals in the city. The party left Amsterdam and Holland on 16th September for England. 

Courtesy : http://www.vedanta-nl.org/history.htm

Cycles, cycles, cycles galore

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Swami Vimokshananda at the New Year deco in Schiphol airport

That was the evening of Sunday 31 December 2014. My Emirates flight A380 landed  at the Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. The Christmas and New Year deco lights were bright and  twinkled like stars. As I stepped into the arrival hall I could immediately feel the festive mood, but there was a sense of quietness at the airport. It seemed that the  travellers were less. Perhaps celebrating the New Year’s eve with family and friends?

The airport shuttle bus took us through the town. The narrow, cobblestone streets somewhat reminded me of the old Howrah city of Kolkata. Hundreds of whirring bicycles almost flew past us. I saw a massive parking garage. To my astonishment it housed thousands of bicycles not cars!  The streets were lined with gabled houses, colourful markets occupying the fronts. A wonderful sight for tired eyes!

Support from a stranger!

The weather was extreme chilly. We had to adorn thick warm clothes. I thanked mentally the devotee-couple from Durban who equipped me with the right winter garments!  We travelled to the ashram by tram. We were sure that we were in the correct vicinity of the ashram. We however got off on the wrong platform! It was a desolate road in Amstelveen.

The address slip was in my hand. But whom to enquire? The road was empty. While standing for some time we saw a small car going past us and we all gestured the car to stop. To our surprise the driver offered to help us by asking us to ‘jump’ into the car. Happily we all squeezed into the small car and started searching for the ashram. All attempts to locate the ashram failed! The driver was almost tired and was about to give up; he saw one old man with his pet dog, walking on the pavement. On enquiry, lo! he could exactly specify where the house was. 

IMG_8263What a relief when we arrived at the right spot! Glad to see the monogram of the Ramakrishna Mission. To show our deep appreciation, we offered the driver a few Euros, to which he very politely refused and said in a friendly tone, nodding his head, “will not someone help me in case this happens to me somewhere? ” I was nonplussed and said “God bless!” We were standing on the road till that small car disappeared from our vision! Humane feeling lives. What more do we expect in a strange land from a stranger who understood the unspoken law of karma? Did not Holy Mother remind us that no one is ‘stranger’ in this world?

Munching the marshmallows

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My brother monk Swami Sunirmalanandaji is the Minister-incharge of this centre. He welcomed us cordially. The Amsterdam ashram is a three storey building. It looks like any other house in that locality. The shrine is on the ground floor. While kitchen is on the second, the monks’ quarters is on the 3rd with an office in the mezzanine floor. That was the 1st January, the most welcomed New Year Day. That was again the auspicious Kalpataru Day. The Swami in the morning had done worship with flower offerings. Bhajans and reading from the Gospel were over. We relished a sumptuous and most delicious lunch prasad prepared by himself. He didn’t forget to include the tasty Amsterdam marshmallow sweets.

Museum musings

The Swami prepared an itinerary for sightseeing. Our first tour was the well-kept Rijksmuseum which is a work of art in itself. Swami Vivekananda visited this museum in September 1896. The museum houses ancient artefacts of Nederlands and the world. I enjoyed viewing the part where Asian images are displayed. Especially of Hinduism and Buddhism. The image of Lord Shiva in the dancing pose of Nataraja was really captivating. Who could believe that we managed to get a few pictures thereof?

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Miniature marvels

Madurodam is another marvellous place that held our attention. Visit to this place is a must if one is interested in miniature objects.  I read one review about this : The models are beautifully constructed and very accurate, and the grounds are landscaped with lawns and gardens and hundreds of bonsai trees, many of them 6o years old but only 1/2 metre high! The models are exact replicas of real buildings in Holland. if you are having a trip to the Netherlands it is really worth checking out some of the interesting buildings you might see by going to see them in Madurodam first! Utrecht cathedral, the canals of Amsterdam,many historic houses, the Dutch houses of Parliament, palaces, castles… all accurately reproduced in landscapes. But also windmills, flower markets, industrial buildings, concert hall, all kinds of engineering projects, and some beautiful up to date trains, it has a massive train and transportation system. Many of the models move. You can even get the chocolate factory delivery truck to deliver you a sweet!

In the shivering cold I enjoyed seeing these miniature marvels.

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Viva Victoria!

Next day the Swami joined us for the breakfast at the hotel. He took us on a cruise through the Unesco World Heritage sights. We saw the oldest building which is a church. We passed by the famous  Anne Franks House.  We also saw the Royal Palace of King Willem and his family, the city centre of 17th century canal houses etc.. And it was charming to see many more ancient buildings in the evening. Among them to our great delight we reached a spot that is nothing less than a place of pilgrimage.

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That was Victoria Hotel. Herein Swami Vivekananda stayed for three days in 1896. Standing at the Reception of the hotel I had a feeling of blessedness. Never did it occur to me that one day I would have the golden opportunity to visit the faraway land – the very place that Swamiji blessed! All by His grace!

Sunirmalanandaji handed over as our padkos some delicious sandwiches and aromatic coffee in a huge flask.  We thanked the Swami profusely. As the Swami bid farewell to us, we both uttering  “Durga Durga”, the train began to move on.

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I settled on my comfortable seat. The soothing subdued sound of wheels clacking down acted as a musical lullaby. My mind went on floating to those olden days – who were those blessed people who saw Swamiji and his group of devotees off ?

|| Aum Shri Raamakrishnaarpanamastu ||

27 comments

  1. Respected Maharaj,
    Pranam.
    Thanks for sharing a wonderful account of visit with us.
    With homage at lotus feet of Holy Trio,
    Deep Regards,
    Debanjan
    Kolkata, India

    Like

    1. ||AUM Sri Ramakrishna sharanam||
      Dear Debanjan
      Glad you enjoyed reading the post!
      May the blessings of Bhagawati Saraswati be on them is my earnest prayer!
      Swami Vimokshananda

      Like

  2. “Memoirs of an European travel” by Swamiji then…
    and now revisited by Swami Vimokshanandaji !
    Splendid insight into the lovely centre and we feel we have had a chat with Swami Sunirmalanandaji and that too on the dining table!
    Oh! so charming indeed!
    Ok Maharaj that was December 2014 and you still preserve the photos and memorable moments!!
    Swami Tatpurushananda
    Chennai, India

    Like

    1. ||AUM Sri Ramakrishna sharanam||
      Dear Tatpurushananda
      Oh No…! Nothing to be compared with Swamiji’s! That would be a blaspheme!
      These notings are more of a ‘pastime pleasure’ for my own spiritual elevation as musings about places visited are one of the spiritual tools to keep our minds on His glory. I am glad that you felt happy at the vivid description!
      Yes, thanks to Google Photos, I don’t need to take any extra effort to preserve any photo unlike the olden times. Whatever I shoot by my cell phone camera, is automatically uploaded to its Cloud whenever my phone gets internet connection through wifi. So, you see, its all easy. No botheration of storing hard copies in albums etc. I can download it anytime I want it. And all this for free!!
      But if I need more storage in the Cloud I need to pay for it.
      May the blessings of Bhagawan Sri Ramakrishna be on you is my earnest prayer!

      Like

  3. Aum namo Narayanaya Maharaj,
    Thank you very much for the journey to Amsterdam, highlighting Swami Vivekananda‘s visit to the west. Have a superb Saturday!
    Mandusha
    Durban, South Africa

    Like

    1. ||AUM Sri Ramakrishna sharanam||
      Dear Mandusha
      Thanks! I am glad you liked the post for highlighting Swami Vivekananda‘s visit to the West. Happy weekdays!
      May the blessings of Bhagawan Sri Ramakrishna be on every member of your family is my earnest prayer!

      Like

  4. Om Namo Bhagavate Ramakrishnaya
    Revered Maharaj,
    Please accept my pranam.
    Wonderful start of the travelogue and thanks for taking us to Amsterdam and treating us with tasty marshmallows. Delightful snaps with Revered Swami Sunirmalanandaji.
    My humble pranam to him too.
    Any place sanctified by the visit of Swamiji becomes a place of pilgrimage.
    We feel blessed by your recollections of visit of Swamiji to various places in Amsterdam.
    So, thanks for your yet another dose of your week-end blog. In this connection, I feel tempted to reproduce the Great Master‘s allusion tp “opium and peacock” in the first chapter of Gospel.
    …..Presently the Master explained the cause of his laughter to the devotees, He said: “A man once fed a peacock with a pill of opium at four o’clock in the afternoon. The next day, exactly at that time, the peacock came back. It had felt the intoxication of the drug and returned just in time to have another dose.”(All laugh.)…
    With pranam once again,
    T S Sitaraman
    Hyderabad, India

    Like

    1. ||AUM Sri Ramakrishna sharanam||
      Dear Sitaraman
      It is very much true that “Any place sanctified by the visit of Swamiji becomes a place of pilgrimage.” Thats the very reason that I jotted my musings in this blog. This blog is nothing but a diary of my personal reminiscences for ‘public’ consumption. In the past a Diary was considered absolutely personal. But need not be so now. Anyone in the world can open this diary and read it wherever in the world the person is! Transparency is the mantra for this diary. Nothing to hide!
      ‘Opium-peacock’ example is apt no doubt. But with me the regularity in my inputs is sometimes challenged by the attention-seeking other matters. Perhaps the ‘peacocks’ have to wait and their feed is delayed! And some ‘peacocks’ do not want to ‘come back’!!
      May the blessings of Bhagawan Sri Ramakrishna be on every member of your family is my earnest prayer!

      Like

  5. Om Namo Narayanaya.
    Prostrations at the Feet of Maharaj.
    Thank You, Maharaj, for giving us a glimpse of Amsterdam seen through Maharaj’s eyes!
    Thanks to Maharaj, too, for the picture of Swami Surnirmalandaji whose superb, thought-provoking articles on “Happiness” and “Tsunami : Should We Lose Faith in God?” I read some time back and wished then I could find more of his works. With the passage of time, the quest was forgotten. Seeing his picture reminded me of that desire I had had.
    Looking forward to anecdotes related to the Singapore Ashram!
    Hari Om Tat Sat!
    Nirmala Balkaran
    Ladysmith, South Africa

    Like

  6. Ram Ram, Maharaj.
    Thank you for sharing this…it’s like we were all with you on this journey.
    Thank you, again.
    Anila Gupta
    Maryland, USA

    Like

    1. Om Namo Nayayanaya, MaharajJee!
      Thanks a lot for sharing your marvellous journey with us!
      It’s like we were nearby with you.
      Again Thanks for this!
      Rajen,
      BIT, Dhanbad, India

      Like

  7. Thank you so much Maharaj!!
    I was transported to Amsterdam!!
    Your descriptive lucid post was a joy to read.
    Hope you are keeping well.
    Pranam to you
    Kshama
    Dubai, U A E

    Like

  8. Pranam Swamiji.
    Thank you for sharing this wonderful experience with us.
    When you told us you were going to Amsterdam I wondered how Swamiji was going to cope with the cold.
    Glad to know that you had managed and could enjoy the experience.
    Jai Sri Ramakrishna!
    Rani Chunder
    Chatsworth, South Africa

    Like

    1. ||AUM Sri Ramakrishna sharanam||
      Dear Rani
      Thanks for your concern for my comfort! It is these feelings that move one’s heart.
      I was also wondering initially whether I should take up the European trip in that extreme cold. In SA I have not had such cold weather during my stay. Even in India I had not experienced minus degrees! It was indeed daunting.
      But the grace of Master was such that, before my departure, one devotee couple of SSDA (Mother’s heart, you know what I mean!) took me or commanded me to go with them to a shop and purchased all necessary winter garments. That shop in Durban specialises in selling exactly those garments. I was overwhelmed!
      Though I was at start resentful, I realised what a precious service this devotee couple did for me! I would not have definitely ‘managed’ the cold that I experienced in Europe sans these garments! If they are reading this comment, my heartiest blessings go to them!
      May the blessings of Bhagawan Sri Ramakrishna be on every member of your family is my earnest prayer!

      Like

  9. Aum Namo Narayanaya
    Pranam at Swamiji‘s Lotus Feet!
    Thank You Maharaj for that most exhilarating ride to Amsterdam!
    Jai Sri Ramakrishna!
    With love from
    Nisha and Family
    Chatsworth, South Africa

    Like

    1. ||AUM Sri Ramakrishna sharanam||
      Dear Nisha
      Glad you enjoyed this post!
      May the blessings of Bhagawan Sri Ramakrishna be on every member of your family is my earnest prayer!

      Like

  10. Revered Vimokshanandaji Maharaj,
    Pranam.
    Your itinerary is simply wonderful! descriptive memoirs also educative!
    Though personal, they are interesting to read.
    yours with loving pranam
    Swami Sukritananda
    Kadapa, Andhra Pradesh, India

    Like

    1. ||AUM Sri Ramakrishna sharanam||
      Dear Sukritananda
      Thanks for sending a comment on this blog!
      I am happy. I know many monastic brothers do read but hardly except one or two provides any type of interactive messages here. Well, if many join in the Discussion it would be a great e-Satsang!
      May the blessings of Bhagawan Sri Ramakrishna be on you and every every member of your Centre is my earnest prayer!

      Like

  11. Aum Dearest Maharaj,
    My loving pranam at Maharaj‘s lotus feet.
    Finally I am able to join in the discussion.
    Thank you for taking me along on this very “amazing” and nostalgic trip down the canals of Amsterdam.
    Via Maharaj‘s blog.
    I was transported along the spiritual journey, the route that was not travelled by myself some 20 years ago when I visited.
    Jai Sri Ramakrishna!
    Keshri Fuchs
    Ballito, South Africa

    Like

    1. ||AUM Sri Ramakrishna sharanam||
      Dear Keshri
      Glad that you re-lived your past experience of your travels in Amsterdam. I did hear from your mum that she took you to those countries. Swamiji always liked travelling to new, new places. He used to say that only by ‘going out’ one can get his ‘eyes opened’ to the varied people’s different cultures. A true harmony comes when one understands the thread of Unity that exists through the external differences.
      May the blessings of Bhagawan Sri Ramakrishna be on every member of your family is my earnest prayer!

      Like

  12. Aum Namo Narayanaya Swamiji Maharaj,
    Thank you for that spiritual tour through parts of Europe!
    Reading your blog felt as though I was physically in Europe.
    The pictures are delightful and your account of your experiences was absolutely enjoyable.
    We miss your spiritual presence. Hope and pray that Master affords us your presence soon.
    Aum Namo Narayanaya,
    Dr Nuthan Maharaj
    Morningside, Durban, SA

    Like

    1. ||AUM Sri Ramakrishna sharanam||
      Dear Nutan
      Glad that you enjoyed reading this blog!
      Yes, I would be happy to meet you all again, if Master affords an opportunity further for your visit here. Singapore is a clean, tight, beautiful city where Nature and modern Science co exist. Recently in the Gardens by the Bay, I saw one remarkable feat of Science. Amazing! Plants from Five continents are there. The temperatures for their growth as available in those five continents have been re-created within a dome and those plants are surviving. So intensify your prayer to visit Singapore soon!
      May the blessings of Bhagawan Sri Ramakrishna be on every member of your family is my earnest prayer!

      Like

  13. Aum Namo Narayanaya dearest Maharaj
    Very entertaining to see Swamiji in somewhat “casual” clothing, escpecially the large shoes! I am glad Maharaj enjoyed his Dutch trip.
    Revered Prostrations
    Rohith Jeebodh
    Estcourt, South Africa

    Like

    1. ||AUM Sri Ramakrishna sharanam||
      Dear Rohit
      Wow! You have spoken your heart out! Thanks! First time after joining the Mission in 1971, I wore ‘casual’ clothes in order to ward off the cold weather! With mere dhoti and kurta, it would not have been manageable! And from the extreme cold my travels brought me finally to extreme heat in Dubai! Thats another story!
      May the blessings of Bhagawan Sri Ramakrishna be on every member of your family is my earnest prayer!

      Like

  14. Revered Maharaj,
    Please accept my respectful pranam.
    I am writing about this article almost after two months. I had lost my password, and WordPress would not allow me to comment. Then, I also thought in what way I could better express my gratitude to you for the visit. So here I am.
    I am grateful to you for taking all the trouble to visit this Centre in Holland. I know how difficult it is to come from the Airport, especially when you have lost the address and also when you have no car. Yet you and the dear friends from the South Africa Centre made it. An adventure on the New Year’s day!
    And it was the holy Kalpataru Day, when you conducted such a beautiful prayer and satsang! It was so inspiring. We request you to repeat your visits to this Centre.
    Please accept my respectful pranam.
    Sunirmalananda
    Amstelveen, Netherlands

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ||AUM Sri Ramakrishna sharanam||
      Dear Sunirmalananda
      Thanks for your loving words, brother!
      Our Holland visit was indeed memorable. The day of Kalpataru has special significance for all of us. Instead of spending time in any hotel or sight-seeing, how we were blessed to be at His ashram where He is worshipped daily!
      Your hearty reception and cooking tasty meals for all of us made me feel ashamed as I can’t even prepare a cup of tea for the devotees.
      In Durban when I was all alone and if any devotee family arrives, I would take them to kitchen and politely (diplomatically?) tell them how wonderful I could taste the tea prepared by them! Thus I could avoid that hardest task of cooking! And needless to say that they would be happy to prepare tea for me.
      But you yourself cooked everything and fed us like a mother is something I am yet to learn in my life. Monk’s cooking has something special to it. I remember how Brother Lawrence, though engaged in cooking, washing and taking care of old monks at the monastery would always continue his ‘japa’ and he used to say that ‘everything becomes pure by the touch of God’. This purity is enough to wipe off the ‘kalimalam’ today.
      May the blessings of Bhagawan Sri Ramakrishna be on you is my earnest prayer!
      Swami Vimokshananda

      Like

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