Vivekananda returned to the Belur Monastery in the second week of May. Concerning the impressions of his trip, he said that a certain part of Assam was endowed with incomparable natural beauty. The people of East Bengal were more sturdy, active, and resolute than those of West Bengal. But in religious views they were rather conservative and even fanatical. He had found that some of the gullible people believed in pseudo-Incarnations, several of whom were living at that time in Dacca itself. The Swami had exhorted the people to cultivate manliness and the faculty of reasoning. To a sentimental young man of Dacca he had said: 'My boy, take my advice; develop your muscles and brain by eating good food and by healthy exercise, and then you will be able to think for yourself. Without nourishing food your brain seems to have weakened a little.' On another occasion, in a public meeting, he had declared, referring to youth who had very little physical stamina, 'You will be nearer to Heaven through football than through the study of the Gita.'
The brother disciples and his own disciples were much concerned about the Swami's health, which was going from bad to worse. The damp climate of Bengal did not suit him at all; it aggravated his asthma, and further, he was very, very tired. He was earnestly requested to lead a quiet life, and to satisfy his friends the Swami lived in the monastery for about seven months in comparative retirement. They tried to entertain him with light talk. But he could not be dissuaded from giving instruction to his disciples whenever the occasion arose.
He loved his room on the second storey, in the southeast corner of the monastery building, to which he joyfully returned from his trips to the West or other parts of India. This large room with four windows and three doors served as both study and bedroom. In the corner to the right of the entrance door stood a mirror about five feet high, and near this, a rack with his ochre clothes. In the middle of the room was an iron bedstead with a spring mattress, which had been given to him by one of his Western disciples. But he seldom used it; for he preferred to sleep on a small couch placed by its side. A writing-table with letters, manuscripts, pen, ink, paper, and blotting-pad, a call-bell, some flowers in a metal vase, a photograph of the Master, a deer-skin which he used at the time of meditation, and a small table with a tea-set completed the furnishings.
Here he wrote, gave instruction to his disciples and brother monks, received friends, communed with God in meditation, and sometimes ate his meals. And it was in this room that he ultimately entered into the final ecstasy from which he never returned to ordinary consciousness. The room has been preserved as it was while the Swami was in his physical body, everything in it being kept as on the last day of his life, the calendar on the wall reading July 4, 1902.
Three days before the mahasamadhi, Vivekananda pointed out to Swami Premananda a particular spot on the monastery grounds where he wished his body to be cremated.
On Wednesday the Swami fasted, following the orthodox rule: it was the eleventh day of the moon. Sister Nivedita came to the monastery to ask him some questions about her school; but he was not interested and referred her to some other Swamis. He insisted, however, on serving Nivedita the morning meal. To quote the Sister's words:
Each dish, as it was offered — boiled seeds of the jack-fruit, boiled potatoes, plain rice, and ice-cold milk — formed the subject of playful chat; and finally, to end the meal, he himself poured the water over her hands, and dried them with a towel.
'It is I who should do these things for you, Swamiji! Not you for me!' was the protest naturally offered. But his answer was startling in its solemnity — 'Jesus washed the feet of his disciples!'
Something checked the answer, 'But that was the last time!' as it rose to the lips, and the words remained unuttered. This was well. For here also, the time had come.
There was nothing sad or grave about the Swami during these days. Efforts were made not to tire him. Conversations were kept as light as possible, touching only upon the pet animals that surrounded him, his garden experiments, books, and absent friends. But all the while one was conscious of a luminous presence of which the Swami's bodily form seemed only a shadow or symbol. The members of the monastery had never felt so strongly as now, before him, that they stood in the presence of an infinite light; yet none was prepared to see the end so soon, least of all on that Friday, July the Fourth, on which he appeared so much stronger and healthier than he had been for years.
On the supreme day, Friday, he rose very early. Going to the chapel, alone, he shut the windows and bolted the doors, contrary to his habit, and meditated for three hours. Descending the stairs of the shrine, he sang a beautiful song about Kali:
Is Kali, my Mother, really black?
The Naked One, though black She seems,
Lights the Lotus of the heart.
Men call Her black, but yet my mind
Will not believe that She is so:
Now She is white, now red, now blue;
Now She appears as yellow, too.
I hardly know who Mother is,
Though I have pondered all my life:
Now Purusha, now Prakriti,
And now the Void, She seems to be.
To meditate on all these things
Confounds poor Kamalakanta's wits.
Then he said, almost in a whisper: 'If there were another Vivekananda, then he would have understood what this Vivekananda has done! And yet — how many Vivekanandas shall be born in time!'
He expressed the desire to worship Mother Kali at the Math the following day, and asked two of his disciples to procure all the necessary articles for the ceremony. Next he asked the disciple Suddhananda to read a passage from the Yajurveda with the commentary of a well-known expositor. The Swami said that he did not agree with the commentator and exhorted the disciple to give a new interpretation of the Vedic texts.
He partook of the noon meal with great relish, in company with the members of the Math, though usually, at that time, he ate alone in his room because of his illness. Immediately afterwards, full of life and humour, he gave lessons to the brahmacharins for three hours on Sanskrit grammar. In the afternoon he took a walk for about two miles with Swami Premananda and discussed his plan to start a Vedic College in the monastery.
'What will be the good of studying the Vedas?' Premananda asked.
'It will kill superstition,' Swami Vivekananda said.
On his return the Swami inquired very tenderly concerning every member of the monastery. Then he conversed for a long time with his companions on the rise and fall of nations. 'India is immortal,' he said, 'if she persists in her search for God. But if she goes in for politics and social conflict, she will die.'
At seven o'clock in the evening the bell rang for worship in the chapel. The Swami went to his room and told the disciple who attended him that none was to come to him until called for. He spent an hour in meditation and telling his beads, then called the disciple and asked him to open all the windows and fan his head. He lay down quietly on his bed and the attendant thought that he was either sleeping or meditating.
At the end of an hour his hands trembled a little and he breathed once very deeply. There was a silence for a minute or two, and again he breathed in the same manner. His eyes became fixed in the centre of his eyebrows, his face assumed a divine expression, and eternal silence fell.
In the morning people poured in from all quarters. Nivedita sat by the body and fanned it till it was brought down at 2 p.m. to the porch leading to the courtyard. It was covered with ochre robes and decorated with flowers. Incense was burnt and a religious service was performed with lights, conch-shells, and bells. The brother monks and disciples took their final leave and the procession started, moving slowly through the courtyard and across the lawn, till it reached the vilva tree near the spot where the Swami himself had desired his body to be cremated.
The funeral pyre was built and the body was consigned to the flames kindled with sandalwood.