Thousands of pilgrims, several officials of the state government and volunteers of various non-government agencies would be visiting Gangasagar mela, to be held on January 2017, to pay tribute to Swami Hangseshwaranandaji of Bharat Sevashram Sangha, one of the key figures for organising the mela in the past five decades.
The 92-year-old monk, popularly known as Kanhaiya Maharaj, died a few days ago due to old age-related ailments.
Senior monks of the order and government officials, including Principal Secretary (Transport) Alapan Bandopadhyay, attended the condolence meeting held on December 28 at the organisation’s headquarters and paid rich tribute to him.
Born in Kanpur, he went to Gujarat to do business where he came into contact with senior monks of Bharat Sevashram Sangha. He then left home and joined the organisation in 1950. He went to Gangasagar in 1951 to serve the pilgrims. The whole area was covered by a dense forest. There were no camps for pilgrims, no doctor and not even drinking water.
For the next five decades, serving the pilgrims became Swami Hangseshwaranand’s motto in life. He organised volunteers and served them every year. In 1972, he approached the then state government and persuaded it give 10 acre of land where the present Ashram is located.
Inspired by him, many NGOs began working in Gangasagar and the state government began to improve the infrastructure. Makeshift tents were set up for the pilgrims, arrangements were made to provide drinking water, medical camps were opened and even government officials took his advice for managing the camps as well as the crowd.
Bandopadhyay, who served as the additional District Magistrate and later District Magistrate in South 24 parganas, came into close contact with him while organising the fair at Gangasagar. “His presence was extremely inspiring, soothing and highly comforting to those who came into contact with him.
He had a pleasing personality and could give spiritual leadership to thousands of volunteers who believed that service to humans was service to God.” Bandopadhyay suggested holding a condolence meeting at Sagar Island.
The Sangha’s General secretary Swami Biswatmananda, also known as Dilip Maharaj, said Swami Hangseshwaranandaji was a source of inspiration to many and could work for 18 to 20 hours at a stretch. “He was a born organiser and gave service as the highest ideal.”