The Animal Companions of Sri Chinmoy's Childhood
In his later years, we saw what lengths Sri Chinmoy went to in order to express his fondness for various members of the animal kingdom – whom he referred to as his younger brothers and sisters. He lifted white horses in Mongolia, elephants in Thailand, lambs and cows in New Zealand and even an aquarium of tiny fish in New York. With immense affection and tenderness, he raised these “creatures great and small” into the air. Prior to that, in the 1980’s, he had transformed his modest home in New York into a veritable menagerie, filling it with dogs, parrots, macaws, chinchillas, monkeys and rabbits. It comes as no surprise, then, to find that even as a child in Shakpura, Sri Chinmoy (Madal) had a number of assorted pets.
MonkeysMadal’s favourite pets were two monkeys: Jadu and Madhu. Sri Chinmoy often told us about the antics of this pair and the so-called “village wisdom” that allowed him to escape their mischievous and unkind assaults:
“I was very fond of monkeys. There was a chain hanging down from a pole and at the top was a small round house where they lived. The monkeys’ lives were spent climbing up and down the chain and screaming. Then from their own bodies they removed bugs. Every second they used to discover something on their skin. We could not see anything, but a monkey sees everything on its own body. The monkeys used to bite. When a monkey starts running toward you, you have to lie down and stop breathing. If you act as if you are dead, then it will never, never bite. So many times I did that when I was about six years old. Little children of one or two years and elderly people they never bite, but young boys and girls they bite. A few times I was caught. I have at least ten or twelve marks. I used to go near a monkey with such fondness and joy, but then I forgot that the chain was so long. Sometimes, before I brought food for the monkey, it used to bite me. We had a servant who was fourteen or fifteen years old. There was not a single day when he was not bitten by one particular monkey.
“When monkeys are tame, they show affection. My mother was not bitten even once. They felt kindness in my mother. My sister once or twice was bitten. The monkey bite hurts a lot. It bleeds immediately and profusely. How many times my right or left thigh or my elbow was bitten! Their teeth are very small but they grind. My brother Mantu never gave them any bananas or anything else to eat. He did not like monkeys, he did not like dogs, he did not like cats. He was against every kind of animal. Monkeys do something that is really worth seeing. They climb up a tree and from the very topmost branch they jump into a pond. Then they swim across.” (The Jewel of Humility)
Elsewhere, Sri Chinmoy mentions that when he saw Madhu or Jadu running fast towards him, he would immediately fall down on his back and stop breathing:
“Then they would examine me closely. Meanwhile, I would pretend that I was dead. They were satisfied and they would not bite me. That is how I escaped most of the time, but I still have very, very big marks from those occasions when they caught me by surprise.” (Sri Chinmoy Answers, Part 14)
His technique was not always successful, however. He lamented,
“Unfortunately, it worked only if I fell down when [Madhu] was forty or fifty metres away. If he was released just ten metres away from me, then no matter what I did, he would bite me very nicely!” (Amusement I Enjoy Enlightenment I Study, Part 5)
As he related these episodes, Sri Chinmoy would often point out some of the scars he bore from the bites of his ‘beloved’ pets. Jadu is a term of endearment, meaning ‘darling’, while Madhu means ‘honey’ – not appropriate names, perhaps, for primates who kept the entire household at a respectful distance! It is yet another indication of Madal’s great courage and will-power that he was able to remain motionless, without flinching, for several minutes and allow the monkeys to examine him. We should also note that monkey bites, nowadays, are treated as potentially serious, since monkey saliva can be laden with infectious organisms and viruses.
It is unclear what species of primate Jadu and Madhu belonged to. They may have been rhesus macaques, which are common to Bangladesh and are known to actively enjoy swimming. This species typically becomes aggressive on maturity. Alternatively, they may have been some kind of leaf monkey or capped langur, also native to Bangladesh. Monkey bites from species with long canines, such as the rhesus macaques, are usually a deep, razor-like slice, whereas Sri Chinmoy describes Jadu and Madhu as having small teeth that grind. This would indicate a species that has more molar teeth and not such prominent incisors.
Madal had two dogs: Bagha (‘tiger’) and Tegh (‘sword’). It seems that domestic dogs in rural areas were not generally kept indoors, but were free to roam over the family property and even beyond. “In those days,” writes Sri Chinmoy, “we had two or three large gardens and several houses.” He goes on to describe his dogs:
“Bagha looked like a tiger. He was very big and very, very kind. He used to guard the whole Ghosh family – five or six houses. Bagha was big, spirited and very powerful. If you dropped something, if you made any sound, then you were finished; he used to bark for five minutes. When we were studying for our examinations, we never studied silently. To convince the physical mind that we were studying, we used to recite aloud. At that time, when anything went wrong, the dog used to bark. That was Bagha.
“When we left Shakpura for good, Bagha would not stay behind. He entered into the Karnaphuli River and followed us. Our boat was sailing and he was swimming to catch up. Finally, we put him in the boat with us. We stayed for two or three days at our maternal uncle’s place and Bagha was so happy. Then we had to go to Pondicherry and we could not take him with us. Our relatives were so kind to this dog, but in one week Bagha died. That was Bagha’s sacrifice for our family.
“We had another dog named Tegh. Our house was in Shakpura and my aunt’s place was in Dhalghat. Tegh used to carry messages from one house to the other. My sister used to write down a message. Then the servant would go with Tegh for a half mile or so. Immediately Tegh knew what he should do. The servant would come back and Tegh would go all the way to my aunt’s place, three miles away, and deliver the message. Then, from my aunt’s place he was so eager to come back. Twice he did that.
“If an animal is evolved and very close to its master, then that animal can do something very, very special to prevent a serious calamity from taking place either in the family or among the very dear ones. That kind of supreme sacrifice an animal can make.” (Sri Chinmoy Answers, Part 27 and The Jewel of Humility)
One of his earliest pets was a small animal, possibly a palm squirrel. Madal came into possession of this little creature via a distant cousin who had been interned by the British for his revolutionary activities. In one of his stories, Sri Chinmoy describes how his cousin smuggled the little creature out of jail. At the time of writing the story, Sri Chinmoy used an autobiographical mode, but he later substituted fictional names for the main characters in the published version. I have restored the original dictated version in the text below:
“In the jail, the prisoners kept a very small, cute animal as a pet. It was forbidden to take anything out of the jail, whether it was a bird, a squirrel or any other animal. But on the day that he was due to be released, my cousin thought of me and wanted to bring me a gift. So he decided to smuggle this little animal from the jail as a gift for me.
“Normally, this cousin never wore a hat or cap. But on the day he was coming out of jail, he put on a very dignified suit and a tie and wore a hat. Under the hat he was hiding the little animal. Because he was wearing such gorgeous clothing, nobody suspected him and he was able to fool the guards.
“When my cousin gave me the cute animal, I was thrilled. I was four or five years old at that time and I liked my present very, very much.” (Compassion-Affection versus Deception-Destruction)
Sri Chinmoy also mentions various other pets: “I had a white hare. I had also many, many birds. I had a kite and others.” (The Jewel of Humility) There are several different kites seen in the skies of Bangladesh and India, including the magnificent Brahminy kite with its chestnut plumage and white head and breast:
Aside from these birds and animals, it seems that Madal had a special relationship with the larger animals on the property. After he lifted a cow on 27 November 1986, Sri Chinmoy recalled: “In Chittagong, we had a cow named Nandini that was almost the same size as the one I lifted today. We had another cow named Surabhi. Surabhi was quite thin and Nandini was quite heavy.” (My Weightlifting Tears and Smiles, Part 2)
Both Surabhi and Nandini are names of cows in Hindu mythology. Surabhi is the divine cow of plenty which emerged when the cosmic gods and the demons churned the ocean of milk. She is also known as Kamadhenu. Nandini is her daughter. Both of them are believed to have the miraculous power of being able to grant any wish.
Leaving the pets behind
It is heartbreaking, indeed, to imagine that Madal was compelled by the untimely deaths of his parents to leave this pastoral haven. On the one hand, he longed to go to the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, especially since his elder brother Chitta and his sister Lily were already there and he missed them immensely. Of all his brothers and sisters, he was closest to these two. On the other hand, for a young boy who was struggling to cope with the tragic loss of his adored parents, this additional wrench from the innocent creatures that he loved must have been extraordinarily difficult.
We can identify with Madal’s anguish at leaving Bagha to fend for himself on the now deserted family estate and then his sudden joy and concern as the faithful dog jumped into the river and swam desperately behind the ferry. How powerful the animal must have been to have caught the vessel! One can picture the commotion it created as it was hauled on board, exhausted, dripping and yet ecstatic to be reunited with the family. Thus the final farewell of the boy and his dog was postponed for three more days. Eventually, however, the day of departure day dawned and Hriday had to take Madal and Mantu to the railway station. Once more Madal had to part from his dog. This time there was to be no reprieve for Bagha.
The closeness of the connection between Madal and Bagha is indicated by the fact that Bagha did not survive this parting. He stopped eating altogether. The powerful dog which had swum after the ferry – and caught it – lived for only a week more and then gave up his body. Meanwhile, Madal had arrived at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram and, at the tender age of twelve, plunged into the life of spirituality. It was a life where the male and female members of his family lived in separate quarters and where pets were not permitted. Those childhood village days of boundless freedom were past and his life of strict discipline and inner awakening had begun. He did not acquire another dog for almost forty years.
– End –
Map reference: The villages of Sakpura (Shakpura), Dhalghat and Kelishahar are marked on the attached district map of Chittagong (located between Chittagong 9 and 10).Caveat: This is an overview of Sri Chinmoy’s childhood pets as mentioned in his writings. It is by no means conclusive and I am sure that in the course of time other writers will be able to add to it from their own personal reminiscences of Sri Chinmoy’s enthralling conversations about his childhood. I recall, for instance, Sri Chinmoy talking about a mynah bird he used to own which was a marvellous mimic. Sometimes, the birds and other pets with which he filled his house in New York called forth certain childhood memories. Sri Chinmoy even acquired two monkeys and named them Jadu and Madhu, while he gave the name Bagha to a guard dog belonging to one of his attendants. And he inundated his dogs Sona, Kanu, Chela and Gopee (his gift to Ranjana a few months before his passing) with love and affection.