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All nations have attained greatness by paying proper respect to women. That country and that nation which do not respect women have never become great, nor will ever be in future.
- Swami Vivekananda

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Vivekananda Health Centre
 

 

 

 

Swami Vivekananda's clarion call was Daridra-devo-bhava, Murkha-devo-bhava, and Rogi-devo-bhava—the poor, the ignorant, and the afflicted—let these be your gods. To serve them in a spirit of worship animates this unit of the Math. It has both allopathic and homeopathic sections. Experienced doctors come to the Health Center twice or thrice a week to render honorary service in their respective specialized areas, such as general medicine, E.N.T., minor surgery cases, ophthalmology, dental care, gynecology, neurology, pediatrics, dermatology, and general dressing. An 'X' ray unit and a pathological laboratory aid in diagnosing the ailments of the patients.

 

 

 

Swami Vivekananada
Pre-monastic name: Narendranath Datta
Date of Birth: 12 January 1863
Place of Birth: Kolkata

Swami Vivekananda, known in his pre-monastic life as Narendranath Datta, was born in an affluent family in Kolkata on 12 January 1863. His father,Vishwanath Datta, was a successful attorney with interests in a wide range of subjects, and his mother, Bhuvaneshwari Devi, was endowed with deep devotion, strong character and other qualities. A precocious boy, Narendra excelled in music, gymnastics and studies. By the time he graduated from Calcutta University, he had acquired a vast knowledge of different subjects, especially Western philosophy and history. Born with a yogic temperament, he used to practise meditation even from his boyhood, and was associated with Brahmo Movement for some time.

With Sri Ramakrishna

At the threshold of youth Narendra had to pass through a period of spiritual crisis when he was assailed by doubts about the existence of God. It was at that time he first heard about Sri Ramakrishna from one of his English professors at college. One day in November 1881, Narendra went to meet Sri Ramakrishna who was staying at the Kali Temple in Dakshineshwar. He straightaway asked the Master a question which he had put to several others but had received no satisfactory answer: “Sir, have you seen God?” Without a moment’s hesitation, Sri Ramakrishna replied: “Yes, I have. I see Him as clearly as I see you, only in a much intenser sense.” Apart from removing doubts from the mind of Narendra, Sri Ramakrishna won him over through his pure, unselfish love. Thus began a guru-disciple relationship which is quite unique in the history of spiritual masters. Narendra now became a frequent visitor to Dakshineshwar and, under the guidance of the Master, made rapid strides on the spiritual path. At Dakshineshwar, Narendra also met several young men who were devoted to Sri Ramakrishna, and they all became close friends.

Difficult Situations

After a few years two events took place which caused Narendra considerable distress. One was the sudden death of his father in 1884. This left the family penniless, and Narendra had to bear the burden of supporting his mother, brothers and sisters. The second event was the illness of Sri Ramakrishna which was diagnosed to be cancer of the throat. In September 1885 Sri Ramakrishna was moved to a house at Shyampukur, and a few months later to a rented villa at Cossipore. In these two places the young disciples nursed the Master with devoted care. In spite of poverty at home and inability to find a job for himself, Narendra joined the group as its leader.

Beginnings of a Monastic Brotherhood

Sri Ramakrishna instilled in these young men the spirit of renunciation and brotherly love for one another. One day he distributed ochre robes among them and sent them out to beg food. In this way he himself laid the foundation for a new monastic order. He gave specific instructions to Narendra about the formation of the new monastic Order. In the small hours of 16 August 1886 Sri Ramakrishna gave up his mortal body. After the Master’s passing, fifteen of his young disciples (one more joined them later) began to live together in a dilapidated building at Baranagar in North Kolkata. Under the leadership of Narendra, they formed a new monastic brotherhood, and in 1887 they took the formal vows of sannyasa, thereby assuming new names. Narendra now became Swami Vivekananda (although this name was actually assumed much later.)

Awareness of Life’s Mission

After establishing the new monastic order, Vivekananda heard the inner call for a greater mission in his life. While most of the followers of Sri Ramakrishna thought of him in relation to their own personal lives, Vivekananda thought of the Master in relation to India and the rest of the world. As the prophet of the present age, what was Sri Ramakrishna’s message to the modern world and to India in particular? This question and the awareness of his own inherent powers urged Swamiji to go out alone into the wide world. So in the middle of 1890, after receiving the blessings of Sri Sarada Devi, the divine consort of Sri Ramakrishna, known to the world as Holy Mother, who was then staying in Kolkata, Swamiji left Baranagar Math and embarked on a long journey of exploration and discovery of India.

Discovery of Real India

During his travels all over India, Swami Vivekananda was deeply moved to see the appalling poverty and backwardness of the masses. He was the first religious leader in India to understand and openly declare that the real cause of India’s downfall was the neglect of the masses. The immediate need was to provide food and other bare necessities of life to the hungry millions. For this they should be taught improved methods of agriculture, village industries, etc. It was in this context that Vivekananda grasped the crux of the problem of poverty in India (which had escaped the attention of social reformers of his days): owing to centuries of oppression, the downtrodden masses had lost faith in their capacity to improve their lot. It was first of all necessary to infuse into their minds faith in themselves. For this they needed a life-giving, inspiring message. Swamiji found this message in the principle of the Atman, the doctrine of the potential divinity of the soul, taught in Vedanta, the ancient system of religious philosophy of India. He saw that, in spite of poverty, the masses clung to religion, but they had never been taught the life-giving, ennobling principles of Vedanta and how to apply them in practical life. Thus the masses needed two kinds of knowledge: secular knowledge to improve their economic condition, and spiritual knowledge to infuse in them faith in themselves and strengthen their moral sense. The next question was, how to spread these two kinds of knowledge among the masses? Through education – this was the answer that Swamiji found.

Need for an Organization

One thing became clear to Swamiji: to carry out his plans for the spread of education and for the uplift of the poor masses, and also of women, an efficient organization of dedicated people was needed. As he said later on, he wanted “to set in motion a machinery which will bring noblest ideas to the doorstep of even the poorest and the meanest.” It was to serve as this ‘machinery’ that Swamiji founded the Ramakrishna Mission a few years later.

Decision to attend the Parliament of Religions

It was when these ideas were taking shape in his mind in the course of his wanderings that Swami Vivekananda heard about the World’s Parliament of Religions to be held in Chicago in 1893. His friends and admirers in India wanted him to attend the Parliament. He too felt that the Parliament would provide the right forum to present his Master’s message to the world, and so he decided to go to America. Another reason which prompted Swamiji to go to America was to seek financial help for his project of uplifting the masses. Swamiji, however, wanted to have an inner certitude and divine call regarding his mission. Both of these he got while he sat in deep meditation on the rock-island at Kanyakumari. With the funds partly collected by his Chennai disciples and partly provided by the Raja of Khetri, Swami Vivekananda left for America from Mumbai on 31 May 1893.

The Parliament of Religions and After

His speeches at the World’s Parliament of Religions held in September 1893 made him famous as an ‘orator by divine right’ and as a ‘Messenger of Indian wisdom to the Western world’. After the Parliament, Swamiji spent nearly three and a half years spreading Vedanta as lived and taught by Sri Ramakrishna, mostly in the eastern parts of USA and also in London.

Awakening His Countrymen

He returned to India in January 1897. In response to the enthusiastic welcome that he received everywhere, he delivered a series of lectures in different parts of India, which created a great stir all over the country. Through these inspiring and profoundly significant lectures Swamiji attempted to do the following:

to rouse the religious consciousness of the people and create in them pride in their cultural heritage; to bring about unification of Hinduism by pointing out the common bases of its sects; to focus the attention of educated people on the plight of the downtrodden masses, and to expound his plan for their uplift by the application of the principles of Practical Vedanta.

Founding of Ramakrishna Mission

Soon after his return to Kolkata, Swami Vivekananda accomplished another important task of his mission on earth. He founded on1 May 1897 a unique type of organization known as Ramakrishna Mission, in which monks and lay people would jointly undertake propagation of Practical Vedanta, and various forms of social service, such as running hospitals, schools, colleges, hostels, rural development centres etc, and conducting massive relief and rehabilitation work for victims of earthquakes, cyclones and other calamities, in different parts of India and other countries.

Belur Math

In early 1898 Swami Vivekananda acquired a big plot of land on the western bank of the Ganga at a place called Belur to have a permanent abode for the monastery and monastic Order originally started at Baranagar, and got it registered as Ramakrishna Math after a couple of years. Here Swamiji established a new, universal pattern of monastic life which adapts ancient monastic ideals to the conditions of modern life, which gives equal importance to personal illumination and social service, and which is open to all men without any distinction of religion, race or caste.

Disciples

It may be mentioned here that in the West many people were influenced by Swami Vivekananda’s life and message. Some of them became his disciples or devoted friends. Among them the names of Margaret Noble (later known as Sister Nivedita),Captain and Mrs Sevier, Josephine McLeod and Sara Ole Bull, deserve special mention. Nivedita dedicated her life to educating girls in Kolkata. Swamiji had many Indian disciples also, some of whom joined Ramakrishna Math and became sannyasins.

Last Days

In June 1899 he went to the West on a second visit. This time he spent most of his time in the West coast of USA. After delivering many lectures there, he returned to Belur Math in December 1900. The rest of his life was spent in India, inspiring and guiding people, both monastic and lay. Incessant work, especially giving lectures and inspiring people, told upon Swamiji’s health. His health deteriorated and the end came quietly on the night of 4 July 1902. Before his Mahasamadhi he had written to a Western follower: “It may be that I shall find it good to get outside my body, to cast it off like a worn out garment. But I shall not cease to work. I shall inspire men everywhere until the whole world shall know that it is one with God.”

Swami Brahmananda
Pre-monastic name : Rakhal Chandra Ghosh
Date of Birth : 21 January 1863
Place of Birth : Sikra Kulingram,
36 miles to the N.W. of Kolkata.

Rakhal was devoted to God and used to practise meditation even in boyhood. At the age of 12 he was brought to Kolkata for his studies. There he met Narendra (later known as Swami Vivekananda) and, under his influence, joined the Brahmo Samaj. According to the custom prevalent in those days, he was married at the age of 18 to Vishweshwari. Soon after marriage Vishweshwari’s brother Manomohan Mitra, who was a close devotee of Sri Ramakrishna, took Rakhal to the Master. Prior to that Sri Ramakrishna had had a vision in which he saw the Divine Mother showing him a child who would be his son. As soon as Rakhal came to Dakshineswar, Sri Ramakrishna recognized him to be that child, and treated him like a son.

After a few visits Rakhal came to Dakshineswar to live permanently with Sri Ramakrishna. Under the Master’s guidance, he practised intense spiritual disciplines, and attained high levels of spiritual illumination. After the Master’s mahasamadhi in 1886 when the new Monastic brotherhood was formed at Baranagar, Rakhal joined it. He underwent sannyasa ordination and assumed the name Brahmananda. Two years later he left Baranagar Math and lived an intensely contemplative life at Varanasi, Omkarnath, Vrindaban, Hardwar and other places. During this period he scaled the highest peak of non-dualistic experience and used to remain absorbed in Samadhi for days together. In 1890 he returned to the Math. When Swami Vivekananda, after his return to India in 1897, wanted to give a new turn to monastic life, Swami Brahmananda whole-heartedly supported him. There was deep love between these two monastic brothers. After establishing Belur Math monastery when Swami Vivekananda got Ramakrishna Math registered as a Trust, Swami Brahmananda became its President. He held this post till the end of his life. During his tenure as President, the Ramakrishna Order underwent great expansion, and several new branch centres were opened in India and abroad. The Ramakrishna Mission, which had been founded by Swami Vivekananda as an Association, was revived and registered during his time. His stress on contemplative life served to counterbalance the activities undertaken by the monks. During those difficult formative years he gave great stability to the Sangha. For his kingly qualities of administration, Swami Vivekananda gave him the appellation ‘Raja’, and since then he was respectfully referred to as ‘Raja Maharaj’ by all. He was one of the six disciples of Sri Ramakrishna whom the Master regarded as ishvarakotis.

He gave up his body, after a brief illness, on 10 April 1922. At the place where his body was cremated in Belur Math, a temple now stands in his memory.

Swami Yogananda
Pre-monastic name: Jogendranath Roy Chaudhary
Date of Birth: 30 March 1861
Place of Birth: Dakshineswar, Kolkata

Jogin was one of the six disciples whom Sri Ramakrishna regarded as ishvarakotis. He was spiritually inclined from boyhood. He first met the Master when he was studying for school final examination. Since he lived in the neighbourhood of Kali Temple, he started visiting Sri Ramakrishna frequently.

After the Master’s passing, Jogin accompanied Holy Mother on her pilgrimage. At Vrindavan she initiated him by giving a sacred Mantra. After his return from the pilgrimage he joined Baranagar Math and took the vows of sannyasa, assuming the new name Yogananda. However, he dedicated his life to the service of Holy Mother. Whenever Mother visited Kolkata, Swami Yogananda would arrange for Mother’s accommodation, usually in rented premises, and stayed with her to look after her needs. He also spent some time in Varanasi and other places doing severe austerities which told on his health.

When Swami Vivekananda founded the Ramakrishna Mission on 1 May 1897, he made Yogananda its Vice-President (Swami Brahmananda was made the President). Owing to his delicate health, he did not live long. He passed away on 28 March 1899 at the age of 38, causing much sorrow to Holy Mother and the other disciples of Sri Ramakrishna.

Swami Premananda
Pre-monastic name: Baburam Ghosh
Date of Birth : 10 December 1861
Place of Birth : Antpur, a village 30 miles from Kolkata.

Baburam first heard about Sri Ramakrishna from the great devotee Balaram Bose to whom his elder sister was married. While studying at the Metropolitan Institution, Rakhal (later known as Swami Brahmananda) was his classmate. One day Rakhal took Baburam to Dakshineswar. Sri Ramakrishna recognized Baburam to be an extraordinarily pure soul (“pure to the marrow of his bones”), an ishvarakoti. Soon Baburam lost interest in his studies and came to live with Sri Ramakrishna as his attendant. During the Master’s last illness at Cossipore, Baburam was one among those who nursed him round the clock. After the Master’s passing, when the new Monastic brotherhood was formed at Baranagar, Baburam joined it. He underwent sannyasa ordination and assumed the name Premananda. Except for short pilgr/media/13864, he spent his days mainly at the monastery when it was in Baranagar and also when it was shifted to Alambazar. When Belur Math was established, Swami Premananda took charge of worship in the shrine. Later he became the Manager of the Math. The pure unconditional love that he radiated exerted tremendous influence on those who came into contact with him, and hundreds of devotees flocked to see him. He had a motherly interest in feeding people, but he also inspired them with his spiritual exhortations which flowed out from the depths of his heart. Towards the end of his life he went on a tour of East Bengal. There his radiant personality and inspired talks created great enthusiasm, particularly among the youth. On his return, he fell seriously ill, and passed away at Balaram Babu’s house on 30 July 1918.

Swami Niranjanananda
Pre-monastic name : Nityaniranjan Ghosh
Date of Birth : Some day in 1862
Place of Birth : Rajarhat-Vishnupur, W.B.

Born in a middle class family, Niranjan came under the influence of a group of occultists when he was a teenager, and it was in their company that he first visited Sri Ramakrishna at Dakshineswar. The Master took Niranjan aside, and cautioned him about the dangers of occult practices. Niranjan followed the Master’s advice and began to practise meditation under the direction of Sri Ramakrishna. During the Master’s last illness Niranjan served the Master with unflinching devotion. After the Master’s passing, when the new monastic brotherhood was formed at Baranagar, Niranjan joined it and after sannyasa assumed the name Niranjanananda. After staying at the Math for three years, he went on pilgrimage to different places in India, and also visited Sri Lanka.

Swami Niranjanananda was very much devoted to Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi. Towards the end of his life he went to Hardwar for tapasya. There he had a severe attack of dysentery and passed away on 9 May 1904.

Sri Ramakrishna regarded Niranjan as an ishvarakoti, an ever-perfect soul endowed with special divine attributes.

Swami Shivananda
Pre-monastic name: Taraknath Ghoshal
Date of Birth: 16 December 1854
Place of Birth: Barasat, east of Kolkata

Tarak was the second son of his father Ramkanai Ghoshal who was a lawyer and Tantrik adept and also very charitable. In accordance with the custom of those days Tarak was married in his teens but, with the consent of his young wife, he lived an absolutely chaste life. Years later, when Swami Vivekananda came to know of this, he called him ‘Mahapurush’ which meant ‘great soul’, and since then he came to be known as ‘Mahapurush Maharaj’.

After completing school final, Tarak took up a job in order to help his father. But he used to practise spiritual disciplines. He saw Sri Ramakrishna for the first time at the house of Ramachandra Datta in May 1880. A few days later he went to Dakshineswar and surrendered himself fully to Sri Ramakrishna. From then on he began to practise intense prayer and meditation under the Master’s guidance. Three years later his wife died; Tarak renounced hearth and home and started living sometimes in a devotee’s house and sometimes in lonely places.

After the Master’s mahasamadhi, when Baranagar Math was started, Tarak was one of the first to join the brotherhood. With sannyasa ordination he received the name Shivananda. He, however, spent several years leading an intensely contemplative life at different places in north India, and returned to Math in 1896.

When Swami Vivekananda founded the Ramakrishna Mission in 1897, he sent Swami Shivananda to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) to spread Vedanta there. A year later Swami Shivananda returned to Math. In 1902, just before Swami Vivekananda’s mahasamadhi, he went to Varanasi to start the Advaita Ashrama there of which he remained the head for seven years. In 1910 he was elected Vice-President of Ramakrishna Mission. In 1922, after the passing of Swami Brahmananda, he became the second President of Ramakrishna Math and Mission. He travelled to different places blessing sincere seekers with spiritual initiation. Like Swami Brahmananda, he stressed meditation along with work. He gave great importance to prayer as a form of Sadhana. He was full of love and compassion, and sincere seekers flocked to him.

In April 1933 he suffered a stroke and developed paralysis of one side. On 20 February 1934, a few days after Sri Ramakrishna’s birthday, Mahapurush Maharaj left the body for the heavenly abode. His memory is kept alive at Belur Math in the small room adjacent to the Old Shrine.

Swami Saradananda
Premonastic name: Sharat Chandra Chakravarty
Date of Birth: 23 December 1865
Place of Birth: Kolkata

Born in an affluent family, Sharat was always calm and quiet and pious in his boyhood. He joined the medical college with the idea of becoming a doctor, but discontinued his studies in order to serve Sri Ramakrishna. Along with his cousin Shashi (who stayed with Sharat’s family) he joined the Brahmo Samaj, and in 1883 they went together to Dakshineswar. Sri Ramakrishna drew them to him like a powerful magnet. During the Master’s last illness Sharat also, like Shashi, dedicated himself to serving the Master day and night.

After the Master’s passing, Sharat joined the Baranagar monastery and took the vows of sannyasa assuming the name Swami Saradananda. After spending a few years in pilgrimage and tapasya along with his brother monks, he returned to Baranagar Math in 1891. When Swami Vivekananda started extensive preaching work in the West, and felt the need for another brother monk to assist him, Swami Saradananda was brought to the United States in 1896. His calm and gentle disposition, courteous and loving manners and able exposition of Vedanta won him many friends and admirers in America. But Swami Vivekananda, who founded the Ramakrishna Mission soon after his return to India in 1897, saw that a highly capable person like Saradananda was necessary to manage the affairs of the Math and the Mission. So Saradananda was called back to Kolkata and made the General Secretary of Ramakrishna Math and the Mission, a post which he held for nearly three decades till the end of his life. By his mature wisdom, clear thinking, strength of mind and devotion to Sri Ramakrishna and Holy Mother, he guided the course of the twin organizations in those formative years when political agitation against the British rule was gaining momentum in India.

Apart from his important work as General Secretary, Swami Saradananda is remembered for several other types of great service that he rendered. The first one was his taking over the Udbodhan, the Bengali journal of Ramakrishna Math and Mission, as its editor and publisher in 1902 when Swami Trigunatitananda left for America. The second one was taking upon himself the full responsibility of looking after the needs of the Holy Mother whether she stayed in Jayrambati or Kolkata. His third work was writing the monumental biography of Sri Ramakrishna known as Sri Ramakrishna Lila Prasanga in Bengali (translated later into English under the title Sri Ramakrishna the Great Master). His last great work was the construction of the temple dedicated to Holy Mother in 1921 on the spot where her sacred body was cremated in Belur Math, and another temple at Mother’s birthplace in Jayrambati in 1923. He was loved and respected by hundreds of people. He was a great support especially to women. In the first week of August 1927 he suffered a stroke. Two weeks later on 19 August 1927, he breathed his last.

Swami Ramakrishnananda
Pre-monastic name: Shashi Bhushan Chakravarty
Date of Birth: 13 July 1863
Place of Birth: Ichapur in Hooghly district, West Bengal

Shashi’s father Ishwara Chandra Chakravarty was an expert in ritualistic worship, and Shashi imbibed from him love for ritualistic worship. After passing out of the village school, he went to Kolkata and lived with his cousin Sharat (later, Swami Saradananda) for higher education. A brilliant student, he chose mathematics for the B.A. course which, however, he could not complete owing to the terminal illness of Sri Ramakrishna at Cossipore.

While studying in college Shashi and Sharat joined the Brahmo Samaj, and heard about Sri Ramakrishna from Keshab Chandra Sen himself. In October 1883 they visited Dakshineswar and were deeply attracted to Sri Ramakrishna. The Master used to say that Shashi and Sharat had been the followers of Jesus Christ in their previous birth.

Shashi distinguished himself most by the self-sacrificing spirit and devotion with which he served Sri Ramakrishna during his last illness at Shyampukur and Cossipore. After the Master’s passing he joined the Baranagar Math and underwent sannyasa ordination, assuming the name Ramakrishnananda. He took charge of the worship of the Atmaramer kauta, the urn containing the relics of Sri Ramakrishna in the Math’s shrine. He felt the living presence of the Master, and so his worship was not a mere ritual but loving service to a living God. It was Swami Ramakrishnananda who formulated and introduced the system of daily ritualistic worship to Sri Ramakrishna that is followed in the Ramakrishna Movement. He seldom went out on pilgrimage, and devoted himself to daily worship at the Math. But when Swami Vivekananda, after his return from the West, asked him to go to Chennai and open a branch centre of Ramakrishna Math there, he obeyed without any hesitation. The saga of sacrifice and hardship that he underwent in preaching the message of Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda for 14 years under unfavourable conditions has been recorded in letters of gold in the annals of the Ramakrishna Movement. In the South he travelled extensively. The starting of centres in Trivandrum, Mysore, Bangalore and Mumbai owed much to his pioneering efforts.

Incessant work, however, told upon his health, and he contracted tuberculosis. He breathed his last in a state of ecstasy on 21 August 1911.

Swami Abhedananda
Pre-monastic name: Kali Prasad Chandra
Date of Birth: 2 October 1866
Place of Birth: North Kolkata

Born in a fairly well-to-do family, Kali had a great eagerness to learn yoga from his boyhood. He gained a good grounding in Sanskrit and English. At the age of 18, when he was studying for the school final examination, he went to Dakshineswar and met Sri Ramakrishna. Under the guidance of the Master, Kali practised meditation and was soon blessed with several visions.

Kali became a frequent visitor to Dakshineswar. He served the Master during his last illness. After the Master’s passing away, he joined the Baranagar Math and underwent sannyasa ordination, assuming the name Swami Abhedananda. At the Baranagar Math he used to shut himself up in a room and do intense meditation or study. This earned him the sobriquet “Kali Tapasvi”. He spent several years visiting places of pilgrimage on foot.

In 1896 Swami Vivekananda brought him to London for Vedanta work there. The next year he crossed over to USA and was given charge of the newly founded New York Vedanta centre. His profundity of scholarship, incisive intellect and oratorical power elicited widespread admiration, and people thronged to listen to him. He was also a prolific writer and his books on life after death, etc are famous.

After his long and successful work in America Swami Abhedananda returned to India in 1923. Soon he established a separate organization named Ramakrishna Vedanta Math and started living at the new centre. However, he maintained cordial relationship with his brother monks at Belur Math which he visited occasionally. He presided over the Parliament of Religions at the Town Hal, Kolkata, as a part of the celebration of the Birth Centenary of Sri Ramakrishna. He left the mortal frame on 8 September 1939. Of all the contributions that Swami Abhedananda made to Ramakrishna Movement, the most widely appreciated and enduring one is his composition of sublime and beautiful hymns (in Sanskrit) on Sri Ramakrishna and Sri Sarada Devi. His hymn to Holy Mother beginning with Prakritim paramam abhayam varadam, which is sung in many ashramas and homes, is unrivalled in the depth of conception and felicity of expression.

Swami Adbhutananda
Pre-monastic name: Rakhturam, usually called Latu
Date of Birth : Not known
Place of Birth : Chapra in Bihar

Speaking about Latu Maharaj, Swami Vivekananda once said, “Latu is Sri Ramakrishna’s greatest miracle. Having absolutely no education, he has attained the highest wisdom simply by virtue of the Master’s touch”. Latu was the only disciple of Sri Ramakrishna who could not even read or write. He was born of very poor parents in a village in Bihar. He lost his parents in early boyhood. Poverty forced his uncle to take him to Kolkata where Latu was employed as a houseboy in the house of Ramachandra Datta, a close devotee of Sri Ramakrishna. The Master recognized the dormant spiritual potential in the boy and asked Ram to allow Latu to stay at Dakshineswar as an attendant. Under the guidance of the Master Latu practised intense sadhana, spending whole nights in meditation, a habit which he followed all through his life.

After Sri Ramakrishna’s passing, Latu joined Baranagar Math, and was ordained a sannyasin bearing the name Adbhutananda. He, however, spent most of his time in contemplation on the bank of the Ganga or in a room in Balaram Babu’s house.

Swami Vivekananda established Ramakrishna Mission on 1897 and Belur Math in 1898. Latu Maharaj with his deep absorption in contemplative life could neither take up the service activities of the Mission nor follow the discipline and routine of the monastery. So Swami Vivekananda permitted him to follow his own way of life. After some years Adbhutananda moved to Varanasi where he lived alone, but his needs were taken care of by the Ramakrishna Home of Service. At the end of a brief ailment he passed away in a meditative state on 24 April 1920.

Swami Turiyananda
Pre-monastic: Harinath Chattopadhyay
Date of Birth: 3 January 1863
Place of Birth: North Kolkata

Born in a well-to-do family, Hari lost his parents in boyhood and grew up under the care of his eldest brother. After passing the school final examination he did not go to college. Instead, he devoted his time to meditation and the study of Sankara’s Advaita Vedanta. When he was about 17 years old he visited Sri Ramakrishna at Dakshineswar for the first time, and after that he started going to the Master frequently. The Master regarded him as a yogi. Hari was a member of the team of youngsters who served Sri Ramakrishna during his last illness at Cossipore.

After the Master’s passing, Hari joined Baranagar Math and underwent sannyasa ordination assuming the name Turiyananda. After three years he left the monastery and spent his time doing tapasya at different places, sometimes alone, sometimes in the company of his brother monks. When Swami Vivekananda went to the West for the second time, he took Swami Turiyananda with him. When Swamiji went back to India, Turiyananda continued his work first in New York and Boston and later in California. However, his health deteriorated and he left America in June 1902.

On his arrival in India, he was shocked to hear of the passing of Swami Vivekananda. Turiyananda spent the next several years practicing intense contemplation in Vrindavan, in different places in the Himalayas, in Dehra Dun, Kankhal, Almora, etc. He finally settled down in Varanasi in February 1919. During the last few years he suffered much from diabetes. He passed away on 21 July 1922 repeating Upanishadic Mantras.

Swami Advaitananda
Pre-monastic name: Gopal Chandra Ghosh
Date of Birth: Some day in 1828
Place of Birth: Rajpur (Jagaddal) in 24- Parganas, W.B.

Advaitananda was oldest in age among the disciples of Sri Ramakrishna; in fact he was older than Sri Ramakrishna himself by eight years. Hence the Master used to call him ‘Budo-Gopal’ (Elder Gopal); to all the others he was ‘Gopal-da’.

Gopal-da was an employee of Beni Madhav Pal of Sinthi who was a Brahmo and also devoted to Sri Ramakrishna. At the age of 55 Gopal-da lost his wife, and became grief-stricken. A friend took him to Sri Ramakrishna. After two or three visits he was so much drawn to the Master that he gave up hearth and home and came to live with him. Gopal-da was the only male devotee, other than Latu, to whom Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi talked directly. He would run errands and do shopping for her. During Sri Ramakrishna’s last illness Gopal-da served the Master with devoted care.

After the Master’s passing, Gopal, Latu and Tarak continued to stay at Cossipore garden-house for some more time, and they were the first to join the Baranagar Math. He underwent sannyasa ordination and became Advaitananda. After a year he went out on pilgrimage to different places and also did tapasya for several years in Varanasi. When Belur Math was established he settled himself permanently there, and did various types of work especially growing vegetables. After a brief illness he passed away, while remaining fully conscious, on 28 December 1909.

Swami Trigunatitananda
Pre-monastic name: Sarada Prasanna Mitra
Date of Birth: 30 January 1865
Place of Birth: Naora, a village in 24-Parganas, W.B.

Born in an aristocratic family, Sarada studied in the school of which Mahendranath Gupta (popularly known as M.) was the headmaster. After Sarada passed the school final examination, M. one day took him to Sri Ramakrishna. Owing to his parents’ opposition Sarada could not visit the Master frequently. When the Baranagar Math was established, Sarada joined it and underwent sannyasa ordination assuming the name, Swami Trigunatitananda. He spent a few years visiting the holy places and doing tapasya. He was endowed with strong physique and indomitable courage. In 1896, at the behest of Swami Vivekananda, he bought a press and started the monthly journal Udbodhan in a rented room. This is the first journal of the Ramakrishna Order and is the oldest surviving religious journal of its kind in India. After Swami Yogananda’s passing away, he served the Holy Mother for three years until he left for America.

At the behest of Swami Vivekananda he went to America in 1902 and took charge of the San Francisco centre. His holy life, selfless love and unmistakable marks of spirituality attracted a large number of students and disciples. He was, however, a strict disciplinarian. One of his main achievements in San Francisco was the construction of a new building for the centre. Incorporating certain unique architectural features, this building, known as ‘Hindu Temple’, still stands as a monument to the eternal truths of Vedanta and the immortal spirit of man.

One day when he was conducting a spiritual discourse, a former student of his who had become mentally deranged, threw a crude bomb at him, killing himself and seriously wounding Swami Trigunatitananda. The Swami remained calm and enquired about the student. However, he finally succumbed to the injuries on 10 January 1915.

Swami Subodhananda
Pre-monastic name: Subodh Chandra Ghosh
Endearingly called ‘Khoka Maharaj’
Date of Birth: 8 November 1867.
Place of Birth: Kolkata

Born in an affluent family, Subodh was spiritually inclined from boyhood. While studying in class eight he heard about Sri Ramakrishna from his father who was a follower of Brahmo Samaj. One day in 1884 Subodh walked all the way to Dakshineswar in the company of a friend. Sri Ramakrishna received them with great love. After that Subodh went to the Master several times. Owing to the opposition of his parents, he could not stay with Sri Ramakrishna or serve him during his last illness. But the Master understood his difficulty and made him his own through his boundless love. He joined the Baranagar Math and was ordained a sannyasin bearing the name Subodhananda. Since he was only nineteen and the youngest of the group, he was endearingly called ‘Khoka’ (which means ‘child’) by Swamiji and other monastic brothers. He spent several years travelling in different parts of India performing tapasya. After Swami Vivekananda’s return from the West when Belur Math monastery was established, he felt himself quite at home there. He visited East Bengal (now Bangladesh) twice and inspired many people with his talks and loving conduct. All through his life he combined in himself the simplicity of a child and the wisdom of an illumined soul. He passed away in Belur Math on 2 December 1932.

Swami Akhandananda
Pre-monastic name: Gangadhar Gangopadhyay
Date of Birth: 30 September 1864
Place of Birth: Kolkata

Born in an orthodox family Gangadhar lived a pure, disciplined life from boyhood. At the age of nineteen he went to Dakshineswar Kali temple. Sri Ramakrishna received him cordially and gave him several instructions. Since then he started visiting the Master and also cultivated friendship with the other young disciples, particularly with Naren (later, Swami Vivekananda).

When the Baranagar Math was formed after Sri Ramakrishna’s mahasamadhi, Gangadhar did not join it immediately. Instead, he set out on a long pilgrimage in 1886 which took him to different places in the Himalayas and Tibet. After three and a half years, he returned to Baranagar monastery in June 1890. He then took sannyasa vows formally and assumed the name Akhandananda.

In mid-July 1890 Swami Akhandananda again set out, this time in the company of Swami Vivekananda, on a pilgrimage which took them to different places in the Himalayas. When Swamiji left for the West, Akhandananda continued his wanderings in western India. Towards the end of 1895 he returned to the Math which had been shifted to Alambazar in Kolkata. When Swami Vivekananda, after his return from the West, reached Kolkata in February 1897, Swami Akhandananda enthusiastically participated in the reception accorded to Swamiji.

After a few days, when Swamiji left for Darjeeling, Akhandananda travelled towards Murshidabad. Reaching there he was distressed to find a famine raging. He immediately started famine relief work with whatever he could collect. Later Swami Vivekananda sent more funds and the relief operation was organized on a full scale. This was the first relief operation organized by Ramakrishna Mission. After relief work Akhandananda started an ashrama with an orphanage in Sargachhi, in the Murshidabad district. He served the orphan boys as manifestations of God.

In 1934, after the passing away of Swami Shivananda, Swami Akhandananda became the President of Ramakrishna Math and Mission. From that time he divided his time between Belur Math and Sargachhi. He participated in the celebration of the Birth Centenary of Sri Ramakrishna in 1936. Owing to old-age ailments he became weak. He passed away on 7 February 1937.

Swami Vijnanananda
Pre-monastic name: Hari Prasanna Chatterjee
Date of Birth: 30 October 1868
Place of Birth: Etawah in Uttar Pradesh

Hari Prasanna had the good fortune to see Sri Ramakrishna when he was a small boy. He met the Master when he was studying at St. Xavier’s College where Sharat (later, Swami Saradananda) was his classmate. During the first meeting Sharat was with him. Later he visited the Master alone several times. Sri Ramakrishna gave him important instructions regarding spiritual life and blessed him in several ways. After completing his studies in Kolkata, Hari Prasanna went to Bankimpur in Bihar and entered Patna College to study for BA degree. There he learned about the passing away of Sri Ramakrishna and also saw him in a vision. After graduation he went to Poona College of Science to study Civil Engineering. After receiving his engineering degree in 1892 he got the job of district engineer at Gazipur. However, the fire of renunciation which Sri Ramakrishna had lighted in him, was burning, and he finally renounced the world in 1896 and joined the Alambazar Math where the disciples of Sri Ramakrishna were staying. When the Belur Math property was purchased, Hari Prasanna’s knowledge of engineering proved to be a great asset. His first task was to remodel the existing building and build new ones including the shrine. The consecration of the new premises took place on 9 December 1898. Another major work he executed at Belur Math was the construction of a strong embankment on the bank of the Ganga in front of the main building. Another most important work that he undertook was the preparation of a plan for a new temple of Sri Ramakrishna based on the ideas given by Swami Vivekananda and supervising its construction. On 9 May 1899 Hari Prasanna formally took sannyasa and assumed the name Vijnanananda.

Swami Vivekananda asked Vijnanananda to start a new centre in Allahabad and, accordingly Vijnanananda left Belur Math in 1900. In Allahabad he lived a more or less secluded life, immersed in sadhana, reading and writing. He also went on pilgrimage to many places. On the demise of Swami Akhandananda, the third President of Ramakrishna Math and Mission, Swami Vijnanananda became the next President in March 1937. As President of the Order, Vijnanananda was full of love and compassion and initiated many people into spiritual life. On 14 January 1938, Swami Vijnanananda performed the dedication of the new temple of Sri Ramakrishna at Belur Math. He spent his last days in Allahabad and entered mahasamadhi on 25 April 1938.