Swami BrahmanandaKnown as Rakhal Chandra Ghosh in his premonastic life. Swami Brahmananda was born on 21 January 1863, at Sikra Kulingram, a village thirty-six mile northeast of Kolkata.
In 1875, Anandamohan took him to Kolkata for his higher education. Rakhal met Narendranath Datta (Swami Vivekananda) in a gymnasium, nearby to the house of Rakhal’s step mother in Kolkata. They became close friends.
In the middle of 1881 Rakhal married Vishweshwari Mittra, sister of Manomohan Mittra, who was a devotee of Ramakrishna. Ironically, it was his bride’s brother who took Rakhal to Ramakrishna in June or July 1881, and later made it possible for him to renounce the world.
Ramakrishna behaved towards Rakhal as a mother to her child; Rakhal acted like a child rather than a boy of eighteen. It was a mystical relationship beyond human comprehension. Under Ramakrishna’s guidance Rakhal began to practice intense spiritual disciples.
After Sri Ramakrishna’s passing away, in the third week of January 1887 Rakhal and others took their final monastic vows by performing the traditional viraja homa (fire ceremony) in front of the Master’s picture.
In November 1888 Swami Brahmananda went to Puri for a short time, and then in the early part of 1889 he visited Kamarpukur and Jayrambati, the birthplaces of Sri Ramakrishna and Holy Mother.
On 1 may 1897 Swami Vivekananda inaugurated the Ramakrishna Mission at Balaram Basu’s house in Kolkata. He made Swami Brahmananda president and Swami Yogananda Vice-President, of the Ramakrishna Order.
During his presidency, Swami Brahamananda travelled extensively in various parts of India to organize the activities of the order. In the middle of 1903 he went to Varanasi. He collected funds to help the Ramakrishna Advaita Ashrama; he also officially affiliated “Ramakrishna Mission Home of service, Varanasi” with the Ramakrishna order, and arranged to buy some land and to construct some buildings on it. He then went to Kankhal ( Hardwar), where Swami Kalyananda, had started to serve sick monks in three thatched huts. Swami Brahmananda with the help of Kolkata devotee arranged to buy fifteen acres of land.
Then Maharaj went to Vrindaban and practiced sadhana with Swami Turiyananda.
On 20 January 1909 Maharaj inaugurated the Ramakrishna Ashrama in Bangalore.
In January 1916 Maharaj went to Dhaka with Swami Premananda and a few other monks to lay foundation stone of the Ramakrishna Math.
On 31 October 1919 Maharaj dedicated the monastery at Bhubaneswar.
Sri Ramakrishna once remarked about Brahmananda: “Rakhal is like the kind of mango that looks green even when ripe.” He meant that within Rakhal was a great spiritual power that he kept hidden from the outside world.
On Monday, 10 April 1922, Swami Brahmananda passed away.
Swami YoganandaJogindra Nath Roy Chaudhury was born into a well to-do aristocratic family at Dakshineshwar on 30 March 1861.
During his final year of School he met Sri Ramakrishna and began to visit him daily. Jogin left for Kanpur, probably in 1884. He tried for several months to get a job but did not succeed, so he spent most of his time in prayer and meditation. This thing alarmed his uncle, who with family members of Jogin, arranged marriage of Jogin. In spite of his unwillingness to get married, Jogin married for the sake of his mother. After marriage Jogin and his wife never slept in the same bed. Later, Swami Vivekananda remarked, “If anyone amongst us who has conquered lust in all respects, it is Jogin”. Sri Ramakrishna mentioned that six of his disciples, including Jogin, were Ishwarkotis.
A few weeks after the passing away of Sri Ramakrishna, Jogin left for a pilgrimage with Holy Mother. Jogin and other young disciples of the Master took final vows of renunciation, Jogin became Swami Yogananda. Yogananda did not care much for studying. He loved to be in solitude, and would practise japam and meditation for many hours.
In 1891 Yogananda went to Varanasi, where he lived in a small cottage in a solitude garden. He spent most of His time in meditation.
Because Yogananda was pure like the ever-free Shukadeva, the Master engaged him to do errands for Holy Mother. “Jogin and Sharat belong to my inner circle,” said Holy Mother, “None loved me as did Jogin. If anybody would give him any money, he would save it, saying, ‘Mother will use it for her pilgrimage.
From 1895 to 1897 Yogananda arranged the birth anniversary festival of Sri Ramakrishna on a large scale at Dakshineshwar. In 1898 he organized a similar celebration at Dahn’s temple complex of Belur. On 1 may 1897 Vivekananda inaugurated the Ramakrishna Mission at Balaram Basu’s house in Kolkata. He made Swami Brahmananda president and Swami Yogananda Vice-President, of the Ramakrishna Order.
Yogananda led an ideal life, and he taught by his example. He did not lecture or do any spectacular work. Although married and born into a rich family, he demonstrated how to practise renunciation and purity.
Swami Yogananda passed away in Samadhi at 3:10 p.m. on 28 March 1899.
When Yogananda breathed his last, Holy Mother burst into tears and said, “My Jogin has left me – who will now look after me?” Swami Vivekananda was so stunned that he did not go to the cremation ground, grief stricken, Swamiji did not go to Sri Ramakrishna’s shrine for three days. He remarked, “A beam is down and now the rafters will fall one after another.”
Swami PremanandaBaburam Ghosh (Premonastic Name of Swami Premananda) was born at 11:55 p.m. on Tuesday, 10 December 1861, at Antpur, a village thirty miles from Kolkata.
Baburam studied for a few years in his village and after that his mother sent him to his uncle in North Kolkata to continue
his education. Where he was admitted to Banga Vidyalaya, then to Aryan School and finally to Metropolitan School, Shyambazar, where Master Mahashay (M.) was the head master, and Rakhal (Swami Brahamananda) was his classmate.
Baburam first met with Sri Ramakrishna with Rakhal, probably on 8 April 1882.
In 1885 Baburam was preparing for his Entrance examination, but after meeting the Master he cared very little for study. Baburam failed his Entrance examination, when Vaikuntha told Baburam’s bad news to the Master; he made a light of it. “Well”, he said, “that is very good. You have failed to pass; now you are free from all passes.” (In Bengali, “pass” is the same word as “fetter”)
On 7 March 1885 the Master said to M. in front of Baburam: “I have been seeking one who has totally renounced ‘woman and gold’. When I find a young man, I think that perhaps he will live with me; but everyone raises some objection or other. Baburam had no objection, so the Master called him daradi, the companion of his soul.
Baburam was deemed a proper attendant for Sri Ramakrishna because of his absolute purity. He was one of those fortunate souls whose touch the Master could bear during Samadhi.
After passing away of Master all brother disciples took vows of renunciation at the country home of Baburam at Antpur, Narendra gave Baburam the name ‘Premananda’, meaning ‘bliss of divine love’, remembering the Master’s remark that Sri Radha herself, the goddess of love, was partially incarnated in him.
Swami Vivekananda made Swami Premananda the manager of the Belur Math, the headquarters of the Ramakrishna Order. Apart from his regular worship service, he trained the monks, entertained the devotees and visitors, supervised the kitchen, dairy, and garden, took care of sick monks, collected money for the maintenance of the monastery, and sometimes went on lecture tours.
Swami Premananda’s life depicts how a person acts, and lives in this world after God-realization. His heart swells with love and compassion for people’s suffering, and he acts without any ulterior motive of selfishness. Work turns into worship for him. Sometimes Swami Premananda gave his food to the devotees and went without. Devotees would sometimes come after dinner was over, and he himself would go to the kitchen and start cooking.
Once in the trustee meeting Swami Shuddhananda read the financial report and told Swami Brahamananda that there was a four hundred rupee deficit in connection with the service to the devotees. Swami Brahamananda asked, “Brother Baburam, how shall we tackle this deficit?” Swami Premananda replied, “Maharaj, I have spent this money for serving the devotees, so I shall collect it by begging.”
Because Swami Premananda was so loving to all, he was often referred to as the ‘Mother of the Math’.
Swami Premananda was a magnetic and powerful speaker, and he talked based on his experience. Every year from 1913 to 1917, Swami Premananda visited East Bengal. He emphasized Swami Vivekananda’s karma yoga, practical Vedanta, and concluded that the religion of this age is to serve mankind.
A real teacher must be ready to sacrifice himself and to set an example for others. Swami Premananda’s favorite saying was: If you want to be a Sardar (leader), be Sirdar (ready to sacrifice one’s head).
Either because of physical exhaustion in Dhaka or from eating tainted food, Swami Premananda contracted high fever, doctors diagnosed it as kala-azar, a malignant fever that was then difficult to cure and frequently fatal.
On Tuesday, 30 July 1918 Swami Premananda passed away. About Baburam’s purity, the Master used to say, “He is pure, pure to the very marrow of his bones.”
Swami NiranjananandaNityaniranjan Ghosh, who later became Swami Niranjananda, was born on 1862 (probable in August) at Rajarhat-Vishnupur; district 24- Paraganas, a few miles from Kolkata.
When Niranjan was in his teens, he as sent to his uncle’s house at Ahirtola, West Kolkata, for higher education. There he was attracted by the group of spiritualists headed by his uncle, Prearychand Mittra. This group used Niranjan as a medium.
In the early part of 1882, this group of spiritualists went to Dakshineshwar, and expressed a desire to use their power to mesmerize Sri Ramakrishna. After trying hard for an hour, they failed. Then Master got up and said privately to Niranjan, “Come here often.”
In his second meeting with Master, Master said, “My boy if you allow your mind to dwell on ghosts, you will become a ghost yourself. If you fix your mind on God, your life will be filled with God. Now which of these are you going to choose?” “Well, of course, the latter,” replied Niranjan. Sri Ramakrishna advised him to sever his connection with the spiritualists, and Niranjan agreed to this.
In September 1885 Sri Ramakrishna had to move to Shyampukur, Kolkata, for his cancer treatment. Niranjan left home and became the Master’s Gatekeeper, as he was strong and heroic by nature.
Maharaj, worked hard to spread the message of Sri Ramakrishna in Sri Lanka. In 1897 Maharaj went to Colombo to receive Swami Vivekananda and received him on 15 January 1898. Afterwards he travelled with Swamiji all across southern India as well as in various parts of North India.
In 1898 Swami Niranjananda went with Swamiji to Almora, then remained there in order to practise further spiritual disciplines. In Varanasi, Maharaj encouraged a group of young men to enter spiritual life and to practise the ideal of service. In 1899 this group observed Sri Ramakrishna’s guidance. Niranjananda inspired them to sacrifice their lives for the good of many and the welfare of all. This group later founded the Ramakrishna Mission Home of Service.
Swami Niranjananda’s devotion to Holy Mother was indeed remarkable. Swami Vivekananda used to say, “Niranjan has a militant disposition, but he has great devotion for Mother so I can easily put up with all his vagaries.” It was partly as a result of Swami Niranjananda’s active preaching that many devotees came to recognize the spiritual greatness of Holy Mother.
Towards the end, he was stricken with cholera. Like a hero, he took shelter on the banks of the Ganges ( Hardwar) and surrendered himself to God. When his attendant offered to serve him, Niranjananda declined. When the attendant nevertheless insisted, he said, “Don’t you want me to die in peace?”
Sri Ramakrishna recognized Niranjan as one of his inner circle, an Ishwarkoti – a godlike soul who is perfect from his very birth and is never trapped by Maya. Once in a vision Sri Ramakrishna saw the luminous form of Niranjan playing with a bow and arrows. Later he remarked that Niranjan had been born as a partial incarnation of Ramachandra.
Swami Niranjananda, a heroic monk of Sri Ramakrishna, passed away in Samadhi on 9 May 1904.
Swami ShivanandaTaraknath Ghosal as known in his premonastic life Swami Shivananda was born on Thursday, 16 November 1854, at Barasat, a small town east of Kolkata.
Tarak had to marry against his wishes. He explained to his wife, Nityakali, his hunger for God, and also gave her spiritual advice and guided her in leading a spiritual life.
On May or June 1880 Tarak met Sri Ramakrishna at the Kolkata home of Ramachandra Datta.
Tarak recalled his wonderful experiences during his early encounters with the Master:
When I first started visiting the Master, I often felt inclined to cry. One night I was crying uncontrollably by the riverside near the bakul tree. The master was in his room, and he inquired where I had gone. When I returned he asked me to sit down and said: “The Lord is greatly pleased if one cries to Him. Tears of love wash away the mental impurities accumulated through the ages. It is very good to cry to God.”
Tarak was first amongst the disciples to renounce worldly attachments. He lived mostly with Ramakrishna during the last three years of the master’s Life.
“For over a decade the swami travelled in different parts of India, sometimes in the Himalayas, sometimes on the plains, and sometimes in deserts or forests, and always he lived a life worthy of a man of God. Mahapurush (Swami Shivananda) had experienced Samadhi three times as a young man during the lifetime of the Master. The austerities and meditations of his itinerant period established him in that blessed state, enriching his life and giving him the necessary depth and strength to shoulder the responsibilities of the great task ahead of him. On the anvil of those years and the ones in which he began doing works of service were forged the character and personality later adored as Mahapurush, the head of the Order, who constantly lived in God and overflowed with love and blessings to all.” ~ Swami Vividishananda in A Man of God.
Swami Shivanandas lifestyle was very simple. He regularly wrote letters to the monks and devotees himself. In the afternoons he would meet with devotees and answer their spiritual questions or talk about his days with the master and Swamiji.
From 1902 to 1909 Maharaj concentrated on establishing a permanent center in Varanasi, with Swami Brahamananda’s help. He named the center Sri Ramakrishna Advaita Ashrama, with the idea that one can be established in Advaita (nonduality) by moulding oneself on the life and teachings of Sri Ramakrishna. He decided to preach Vedanta by practicing it in daily life rather than by lecturing about it from the pulpit. He practiced severe austerities in Varanasi and set an example for others.
On 1 April 1921 Maharaj left for Madras to open the students’ Home in Madras.
On 13 February 1922 Maharaj visited Dhaka with Swami Abhedananda and some other monks.
In 1910 Maharaj became vice- president of Ramakrishna Math and Mission, after passing away of Swami Brahamananda in 1922, Swami Shivananda was elected president of the Ramakrishna Order.
In January 1923 he went to Varanasi to dedicate a building in the Ramakrishna Advaita Ashrama, in the memory of Swami Adbhutananda, who had died in 1920.
After dedicating the Vivekananda Temple on 28 January 1924 and the Brahmananda Temple on 7 February 1924 in Belur Math, Swami Shivananda left for South India.
On 7 January 1925 Maharaj left Madras for Bombay, on the way he stopped for a few days at Cuddapah, a small town where some Hindu and Muslim devotees had established the “Ramakrishna Samaj”.
Maharaj arrived in Bombay on 12 January, the Ramakrishna Ashrama was then in a rented house at Khar, on 6 February the swami laid foundation stone of the new Ashrama.
In January 1926 Maharaj visited the Ramakrishna Mission Vidyapith, at Deoghar, Bihar. On 28 January he opened the new school building at Vidyapith and installed the picture of Sri Ramakrishna.
On 24 September 1926 Maharaj inaugurated the building of the new Ashrama in Ootacamund.
On 15 January 1928 Jawaharlal Nehru came to visit the Ramakrishna Home of Service in Varanasi, and he was delighted to meet Swami Shivananda. A few days later, his wife, Kamala Neharu, came to Shivananda for a blessing and spiritual instruction. She became a devotee and visited the swami in Belur Math many times.
Swami Shivananda was keen to spread the message of the master throughout the world. During his presidency many swamis of the Ramakrishna Order were sent to North America, South America, and Europe. These swamis and others worked hard to carry out the mission of Vedanta inaugurated by Swami Vivekananda. It was a golden era for the Order.
He passed away on Tuesday 20 February 1934. One day he humbly said to a monk: “Look, I am my Master’s dog. As a dog protects the precious wealth of it’s master from robbers, so I am protecting the valuable spiritual treasures [discrimination, renunciation, knowledge, devotion] of the Master in this monastery. He who stays like a faithful dog will attain the greatest good.”
Swami SaradanandaSharat Chandra Chakrabarty (Premonastic name of Swami Saradananda) was born in Kolkata at 6:32 p.m. on Saturday, 23 December 1865.
Shashi (Swami Ramakrishnananda) a cousin of Sharat was studying and living with Sharat’s family.
In October 1883, Shashi, and Sharat visited Sri Ramakrishna. At first sight, Sri Ramakrishna recognized Sharat and Shashi as his own. Guru Maharaj set the fire of renunciation in the minds of Sharat and Shashi. Sharat began to visit Master on a regular basis.
After passing away of Sri Ramakrishna, Sharat and some other disciples of Sri Ramakrishna took formal monastic vows through the viraja homa ceremony in Baranagar. Narendra gave the name “Swami Saradananda” to Sharat. In monastery Swami Saradananda would help others with the household duties, such as cleaning the rooms, washing the dishes, and so on.
On the call of Swami Vivekananda, Swami Saradananda left for England and arrived there on 1 April 1896. His first task was to supply materials about the life of Sri Ramakrishna to Professor Max Muller, the famous German orientalist.
Towards the end of June 1896 Swami Saradananda went to America, with J.J. Goodwin, Swami Vivekananda’s English disciple and stenographer, to carry on the Vedanta work. Swami Saradananda’s sweet and gentle personality and his masterly exposition of the Vedanta philosophy proved attractive at once. He was invited to be one of the speakers at the Green Acre Conference of Comparative Religions in Maine, where he lectured on Vedanta and held classes on yoga. After the sessions closed, Swami Saradananda lectured in Brooklyn, New York, and Boston.
Swami Saradananda returned to India on 8 February 1898. Swami Saradananda was entrusted to oversee the office and supervise foreign visitors. He also organized plague relief in Kolkata. During August and September he gave a series of lectures in Bengali at Albert Hall in Kolkata which was later published in Gitatattwa. Swamiji made Swami Brahmananda the president (Spiritual Head) and Swami Saradananda the general secretary (Executive Head), of Ramakrishna Math and Mission. For nearly three decades (1898 – 1927) Swami Saradananda was the chief organizer of the Ramakrishna Order in it’s manifold activities.
Swami Saradananda took the responsibility of caretaker of Holy Mother until Holy Mother passed away in 1920. He borrowed money to build a house for the Mother, which also would be used for the Udbodhan office. This building is now called ‘Udbodhan’, or ‘Mother’s House’. Swami Saradananda’s devotion to Holy Mother has become legend in the Ramakrishna Order.
In 1909 Swami Saradananda began to write his monumental work Sri Sri Ramakrishna Lilaprasanga in Bengali, which has been translated as Sri Ramakrishna, The Great Master. It is not only an authentic, interpretive biography of the Master, but also a classic in Bengali literature. It consists of five volumes and took nearly ten years to complete.
Swami Saradananda is a glowing example of a person who could keep his mind in God, or the self, and at the same time his hands at work. The Gita says, “Great is the man who controls the senses with his mind and engages them in selfless actions.”
In 1926 he convened the first convention of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission in Belur Math. Swami Saradananda was the chairman, and he gave two important and inspiring speeches: “Ramakrishna Mission: It’s past, Present, and Future” (1 April) and “The Ideas, Ideals, and Activates of the Ramakrishna Mission” (3April). Both of these precious speeches were published in “Ramakrishna Math and Mission Convention 1926″.
Friday, 19 August 1927 was the birth anniversary of Sri Krishna. About 1:00AM the monks began to chant “Hari Om Ramakrishna”. At 2:34 AM Swami Saradananda, the great yogi and beloved disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, breathed his last.
Swami RamakrishnanandaShashi Bhushan Chakrabarty was born on Monday, 13 July 1863, in Ichapur Village . After finishing his education in the village school, Shashi went to Kolkata for higher English education.
He lived with his cousin Sharat (Later, Swami Saradananda).
One day in October 1883, Shashi, Sharat and some of their friends went to Dakshineshwar to visit Sri Ramakrishna. After the first meeting Shashi felt an irresistible attraction for Sri Ramakrishna, and he began to visit him frequently.
Observing that other disciples were experiencing ecstasy and devotion, one day Shashi prayed to the Master for those spiritual experiences. The Master said to him, If you have that experience, you won’t be able to serve me.” “Then I don’t need it,” replied Shashi. “I don’t care for that ecstasy which will take my opportunity to serve you.” He was the very embodiment of service. He was convinced that service to the guru was the highest form of religion. He practiced no spiritual discipline, knew no other asceticism, travelled to no holy places. For getting his personal comfort, he was always ready to serve the Master.
Swami Vivekananda gave the name “Swami Ramakrishnananda” to Shashi, knowing that his devotion to the Master was second to none.
At Baranagar and Alambazar Shashi Maharaj performed the Master’s worship as one serves a living human being. One summer night when he was lying in his room at Alambazar Monastery, and fanning himself with a palm- leaf fan, he felt that the Master too must be suffering from the heat. At once he entered the shrine and stood near the bed of the Master, fanning him till dawn.
Returning from America in January 1897, Swami Vivekananda sent Sashi to Madras. Swami Ramakrishnananda was cordially received by the Madras devotees of Vivekananda. They first rented Flora Cottage, shortly afterwards he was offered a first floor of Ice House, to start his work. Within five years of his arrival in Madras, Swami Ramakrishnananda became well known in the city, and his work was appreciated by many.
In 1906. a student of the Swami donated a piece of land on Boris Road in the Mylapore area. On an auspicious day, Swami Ramakrishnananda conducted the religious ceremonies, and Swami Abhedananda, who was visiting from U.S.A. at that time, laid the foundation stone. The building was dedicated by swami on 17 November 1907.
From 1897 to 1911 Swami Ramakrishnananda travelled all over South India, preaching the Hindu religion and philosophy as well as the message of Sri Ramakrishna.
He wrote a beautiful Sanskrit hymn on Swami Vivekananda; in addition, he composed Sanskrit mantras for the brahmacharya vows of the Ramakrishna Order. Further, he introduced and systemized the ritualistic worships of Sri Ramakrishna, which is now more or less followed by the centers of the Order.
He contributed many articles to the Bengali Udbodhan magazine, and wrote Sri Ramanuja Charit in Bengali, an authoritative life of Ramanuja, the propounder of the qualified-monastic Vedanta. Swamiji’s main works in English are: God and Divine Incarnation, The Message of Eternal Wisdom, Sri Krishna: Pastoral and King-maker, For Thinkers on Education, The Ancient Quest, Sri Ramakrishna and His Mission, and Search After Happiness.
Swami Ramakrishnanandas service to Sri Ramakrishna is now legendary in the Ramakrishna Order. Swami Ramakrishnananda kept the Master alive in his mind through his intense love. One day he was resting when all of a sudden he had a desire to feed Ramakrishna hot luchis, which was his favorite dish. Immediately swami got up and made the dough, then he fried luchis. He placed a plate in front of the Master and carried hot, crispy luchis to him one after another, as if the Master were eating and enjoying his favorite dish.
Swami Ramakrishnananda’s life was short but eventful. For fourteen years he worked hard to spread the message of Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda in South India. He burnt his energy quickly.
Swami Ramakrishnananda left his body while in Samadhi at 1:10p.m. on Monday, 21 August 1911.
Swami AbhedanandaKali Prasad Chandra was born on Tuesday, 2 October 1866, in North Kolkata. In June 1884 Kali went to Dakshineshwar and met Sri Ramakrishna.
Kali began to practise spiritual disciplines under the Master’s guidance.
It is an ancient Indian custom for monks to live on alms. One day Master asked his disciples to go out and beg for food. This act helps eradicate the ego and teaches one to depend solely on God. Narendra, Niranjan, Kali and Hutko Gopal first went to Holy Mother and asked for alms, chanting the hymn on the goddess Annapurna.
At Baranagar monastery he spent his time in meditation, studying the scriptures, and composing some Sanskrit hymns on Sri Ramakrishna and Holy Mother. He composed a Sanskrit hymn on Holy Mother, “Prakritim paramam abhyam varadam”. One day Narendra proposed to the brotherhood that they all take the vows of sannyasa according to scriptural injunction. All agreed. When Kali told them that he had a copy of the viraja-homa mantras, which he had gotten from a monk in Gaya, his brothers were excited, knowing that this was the master’s divine grace. In the third week of January 1887, they took final monastic vows by performing the traditional viraja homa in front of the Master’s picture. Narendra gave Kali the name, ‘Swami Abhedananda’.
Swami Abhedananda travelled extensively in India, visited many pilgrimage places and performed sadhana. In June 1896 Swami Vivekananda sent Saradananda from London to America to keep the Vedanta movement there alive; in July he sent a cable to Swami Ramakrishnananda to send Kali to London. Towards the end of September 1896 Swami Abhedananda reached London.
On 27 October 1896 he gave his maiden speech before the learned audience of the Christo-Theosophical Society at Bloomsbury Square in London. Vivekananda was highly pleased and said, “Even if I perish on this plane, my message will be sounded through these dear lips and the world will hear it.”
For one year Swami Abhedananda continued to give classes and lectures in different churches and religious and philosophical societies in London and it’s suburbs.
Then on 31 July 1897 Swami Abhedananda left for New York and arrived there on 9 August. He was the guest of Miss Mary Phillips, secretary of the Vedanta Society of New York which Vivekananda had founded in 1894. Swami Abhedananda did not confine himself to New York City; he travelled and gave talks in various places along the East Coast – Philadelphia, Washington, Virginia and New Paltz in New York State.
One day Swami Abhedananda went to meet Thomas Edison, the famous scientist and inventor. They talked about Vedanta and India, and Mr. Edison showed the swami his laboratory. The swami worked very hard; he slept very little, as he spent most of the night writing his books, the sale of which eventually made the Society self supporting. On 19 May 1898 Swami had a meeting with President McKinley. The President received Swami Abhedananda cordially and inquired about the Vedanta movement in the United States and also British rule in India. After the summer recess, Swami Abhedananda arranged a memorial meeting for Swami Vivekananda, who had passed away at Belur Math on 4 July 1902.
On 24 May 1904 Swami Abhedananda went to Saint Louis, Missouri, to attend the World’s Fair, where he arranged for an exhibition at the Webster Groves Society on “Indian Women”.
Students of Vedanta society decided to establish a retreat site for students of Vedanta. Accordingly a plot of 370 acres was bought in the Berkshire Connecticut. The Berkshire Retreat was duly inaugurated by Swami Abhedananda in March 1907, and he remarked, “The Ashrama looks like Fairyland.”
On 1 July 1908 he inaugurated the Vedanta Society at 22 Conduit Street.
Towards the end of 1908, one of his disciples, Sister Avavamia, founded a Vedanta Society in Sydney, Australia.
In 1909 Swami Abhedananda founded a Vedanta Society in Paris. On 7 may 1909, Frank Dvorak, the celebrated Czechoslovakian artist, came to the Vedanta Centre to see Abhedananda. At Abhedanandaâ€™s request, Dvorak later painted oil portraits of Sri Ramakrishna and Holy Mother, which are still preserved in the Ramakrishna Vedanta math in Kolkata.
Another of Swami Abhedananda’s important contribution was an Indo-American Club, which the swami formed in New York in 1909 so that Indian students could get together and come in close contact with American friends.
From 1912 to 1919 Swami Abhedananda lived mostly in the Berkshire Retreat, and occasionally went out for lecture tour.
Swami Abhedananda was not only highly intellectual, a great orator and prolific writer, but he was also a hard-working, practical person. He taught his students to harmonize action and contemplation in their lives. In early part of 1919, Swami, with Brahamananda’s approval, decided to return to India. On 10 November 1921, he reached Kolkata and then went to Belur Math.
On 10 January 1922 Swami Abhedananda went to Jamshedpur and gave three lectures at the Tata Institute: “Universal Religion”, “Progressive Hinduism” and “Message of Vedanta”.
On 13 February Swami Abhedananda went with Swami Shivananda to Dhaka and Mymensingh in Bangladesh, where he gave several lectures.
He established the Ramakrishna Vedanta Society in Kolkata of which he was President, in 1924 he opened a branch of this society at Darjeeling under the name of Ramakrishna Vedanta Ashrama.
Swami Abhedananda passed away on Friday, 8 September 1939. One day he said to a disciple, “My body belongs to the Master.” Towards the end he indicated that his body should be cremated at the Cossipore cremation ground after his death.
Swami AdbhutanandaFamiliarly and affectionately known as Latu Maharaj, was a true mystic.
If anyone asked him about his childhood he would say: “Do you mean to leave God aside to talk about this insignificant person? Don’t be silly.”
Latu was born in northeastern India in the Chapra district of Bihar, probably sometime just after the middle of 19th century. He was given name Rakhturam, which means, “O Rama, be thou the protector of this child. Both his father and mother died before Rakhturam was five years old.
Rakhturam (Latu) was hired as a servant in Ramachandra Datta’s house, who was one of the first disciple come to Sri Ramakrishna. In late 1879 or early 1880 Latu first time visited Sri Ramakrishna with Dr. Ramachandra Datta. After his first meeting with the master, Latu began finding it difficult to work for Ramachandra with his earlier enthusiasm.
In June 1881, Latu permanently stayed with Sri Ramakrishna, and at Dakshineshwar Latu began a life of rigorous spiritual discipline under the Master’s guidance.
Latu Maharaj was extremely fortunate that he got the opportunity to live with Ramakrishna and serve him for over six years. Latu Maharaj reminisced: “Did you know that the Master snatched me from the snares of the world? I was an orphan. He flooded me with love and affection.”
A true mystic loves to live alone, without any possessions, and without depending on anyone except God. That is why, between 1893 and 1894, Latu Maharaj left the monastery and began to live on the bank of the Ganges.
Latu’s whole life was extraordinary. His single-minded approach to God was wonderful in every way, and he was unique among the disciples of Sri Ramakrishna. Swami Vivekananda therefore gave him the monastic name Swami Adbhutananda, meaning, “He who finds bliss in the wonderful nature of Atman”.
Latu Maharaj made several pilgrimages; in 1895 he visited Puri, in 1897 he went to Kashmir and other parts of North India with Swami Vivekananda.
Latu Maharaj spent the last eight years of his life in the holy city of Varanasi. As was characteristic of him, he was so often absorbed in meditation that he rarely had a fixed time for meals. During this time, Swami Turiyananda, would often visit him and would sit by him silently for an hour or so. One day a devotee asked the swami, that why he sit while Latu Maharaj dose not talk at all? Turiyananda replied: “Latu Maharaj is almost always in deep meditation. How can he talk with me? So I sit in silence for some time and then leave, having enjoyed his Holy Company.”
Swami TuriyanandaHarinath Chattopadhya, who would grow up to become Swami Turiyananda was born on 3 January 1863, in North Kolkata.
Harinath met Sri Ramakrishna for the first time at Dinanath Basu’s house in Baghbazar, Kolkata when he was thirteen or fourteen years old.
Gradually, Harinath became familiar with Ramakrishna and began to ask all sorts of personal questions. “Sir”, he asked one day, “how can one become free from lust completely?” Sri Ramakrishna replied: “Why should it go, my boy? Give it a turn in another direction. What is lust? It is the desire to get. So desire to get God and strengthen this desire greatly, the more you go towards the east, the farther you will be away from the west.”
In 1889 Swami Turiyananda left the Baranagore Monastery and went to Rishikesh. In the summer 1890, he and Swami Saradananda went to Gangotri, the source of the Ganges. He then decided to practise sadhana alone at Rajpur, on the Mussoorie Hill of Dehra Dun.
It was in Srinagar where he committed eight Upanishads to memory.
In June 1899 Swami Turiyananda left fro England and America with Swami Vivekananda and his Irish disciple, Sister Nivedita. After visiting England, the two swamis left for America on 16 August 1899. Swami Turiyananda carried on the Vedanta work in New York for a year; during that time Swami Vivekananda preached in California, where he founded the Vedanta Society in San Francisco. While leaving San Francisco, Swami Vivekananda said to the students: “I have lectured to you on Vedanta; in Turiyananda you will see Vedanta personified. He lives it every moment of his life. He is the ideal Hindu Monk, and he will help you all to live pure and holy lives.”
Miss Minnie C. Boock, a student of Vedanta, offered a property of 160 acres in northern California for a retreat. This later became Shanti Ashrama. Ashrama life began under primitive conditions – no running water, no electricity and no bathroom facilities. There were snakes, scorpions, and tarantulas all around. They had to bring water from a distance of six miles.
In Shanti Ashrama, the students learned the profound truths of Vedanta from Swami Turiyananda. He left Shanti Ashrama on 10 January 1901, and went to San Francisco for treatment of gallstones and other complications. During February and March 1901, at 770 Oak Street in San Francisco, Swami Turiyananda conducted a meditation class everyday at 10:00a.m.; and on Tuesdays and Thursdays he gave lectures on the Gita and Raja Yoga. In spite of his ill health, Swami Turiyananda gave lectures and classes in and around San Francisco for a few months, and then returned to Shanti Ashrama for a period of five months. Turiyananda left Shanti Ashrama in late May of 1902 and set sail for India from San Francisco on 6 June.
Towards the end of October 1902, Turiyananda moved to Vrindaban. In Vrindaban Swami Turiyananda gave classes on the Bhagavata.
In 1905 Swami Turiyanand’s health broke down due to his severe austerities, and he had to leave Vrindaban. He went to Advaita Ashrama at Mayavati in the Himalayas, where he stayed a few months and regained his health. Then he visited Almora, Nainital, Hardwar, Rishikesh, and last settled in Uttarkashi in 1906.
On 8 April 1915 he left for Almora, a small resort town in the Himalayas. During his itinerant days, Swami Vivekananda had expressed a wish to have a retreat centre in Almora. Swami Shivananda and Swami Turiyananda therefore fulfilled his wish, and the Ramakrishna Cottage came into existence. The Ramakrishna Cottage was dedicated on 22 may 1916 with a ritual worship of Sri Ramakrishna.
One time an abscess formed on Swami Turiyananda’s leg, and an English surgeon was consulted. He agreed to do the surgery, but pointed out that Turiyananda might become lame. When the Swami heard about it, he said: “I don’t want to live as an invalid, completely depending on others. If that is to be the case, better I die.” The news reached Holy Mother. She sent following message to Turiyananda through her attendant: “Why do you wish to give up the body? Being alive permits you to do the Master’s work. Don’t wish for death.”
On 4 February 1919 Swami Turiyananda left for Varanasi, ‘the city of light’, and lived there until the end of his life. During his last three and a half years, the swami inspired many monks and devotees. Many of his conversations are recorded and translated in Spiritual Talks.
Swami Turiyananda passed away at 6:45 p.m. on 21 July 1922.
Sri Ramakrishna had once remarked about Swami Turiyananda, “He comes of that transcendent region whence name and form are manufactured.”
Swami AdvaitanandaGopal Chandra Ghosh fifty-five years of age. when he first met Sri Ramakrishna sometime in March or April 1884.
The second time Gopal went to Dakshineshwar, Sri Ramakrishna, like a good physician, gave him an infallible antidote for his grief. Gopal later narrated what happened after his third visit: “The Master possessed me. I would think of him day and night. The pang of separation from the Master gave me chest pain. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t forget his face.”
Gopal Chadra Ghosh was born in 18285 at Rajpur (Jagaddal) in 24 Paraganas, nearly 25 miles north of Kolkata.
As he had no family ties after the death of his wife, Gopal moved from Sinthi to Dakshineshwar to serve the Master. Sri Ramakrishna accepted Gopal as his disciple and would address him as “the elder Gopal” or “Overseer.” The other disciples called him “Gopal-da”, since he was eight years older than Ramakrishna.
The Master introduced him to Holy Mother, who needed a person who could shop and run errands for her. Sri Ramakrishna praised Gopal’s managerial capacity in household affairs and his sweet behavior with people.
In spite of his age, Gopal tried to keep the same pace as the other young disciples. When Narendra would sing to the accompaniment of the Tanpura (a stringed instrument in the Master’s room, Gopal would play the Tabala (drums)
In September 1885 Ramakrishna moved to Shyampukur in Kolkata for cancer treatment and Gopal accompanied him. He served the Master like a nurse, giving him medicine and proper diet. Usually Holy Mother prepared the Master’s food and carried it to his room. Gopal acted as holy Mother’s messenger; he was free with her, and she did not cover her face with a veil in front of him.
On Tuesday, 12 January 1886 (Makar-Sankranti), Gopal gave the ochre clothes and rosaries to the Master, who touched them and sanctified them with a mantram. He himself then distributed them among his young disciples. The disciples who received the ochre clothes were: Narendra, Rakhal, Niranjan, Baburam, Shashi, Sharat, Kali, Jogin, Latu, Tarak, and Gopal. The 12 th cloth and rosary, according to the Master’s instruction, were set aside for Girish Ghosh.
After passing away of Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Advaitananda visited many holy places in India. He passed five years in Varanasi practicing austerities and forgetting the mundane world. Swami Advaitananda was entrusted a job of leveling the new plot of land purchased at Belur. Apart from leveling the ground and other construction work, Advaitananda started a vegetable garden and a dairy farm. Swami Adbhutananda recalled about the early days: “Without Gopal-da the monks of Belur Math would not have had vegetables along with their rice. He worked so hard to produce various kinds of vegetables in the monastery garden.”
He kept himself busy in the service of Sri Ramakrishna and couldn’t bear lazy people. Because of his age and temperament he did not engage in public activities such as relief work and preaching; his monastic life was therefore uneventful. In spite of that, he definitely set an example for all and he was a source of inspiration to many.
Swami Advaitananda passed away at 4.15p.m. on Tuesday, 28 December 1909.
Swami TrigunatitanandaThe loss of a gold watch caused Sarada prolonged agony. M. who was very fond of Sarada, noticed his depression and on 27 December 1884 brought him to Dakshineshwar.
This was Sarada’s first visit to Sri Ramakrishna.
Sri Ramakrishna talked about some important aspects of human life. He said, ” … He who seeks God plunges headlong; he doesn’t calculate about how much or how little he needs for the protection of his body. … It is pure mind that perceives God, and at that time this ordinary mind does not function. A mind that has the slightest trace of attachment to the world cannot be called pure.” The Master’s teachings worked on Sarada’s mind. He came to realize that spiritual treasures were far more valuable than a gold watch. This seemingly trivial incident was the turning point of his life.
Sarada Prasanna Mitra, who later became Swami Trigunatitananda, was born in the village of Naora (Paikhati), 24- Paraganas, at 9.26 p.m. on Monday 30 January 1865.
Sarada had such a wonderful memory that he memorized 108 hymns and salutation mantras on different gods and goddesses before he was fourteen.
Although Sarada was Ramakrishna’s disciple, Holy Mother later gave him formal initiation. As far as the record shows, Jogin and Sarada were the only two monastic disciples of Sri Ramakrishna who were initiated by Holy Mother.
Sarada continued his visits to the master, serving him during his last days. Sometimes he stayed overnight, enduring his father’s scolding.
In January 1887 Sarada and other disciples performed the viraja homa, a special fire sacrifice, in front of Sri Ramakrishna’s picture and took their final monastic vows. Swami Vivekananda gave Sarada the name ‘Swami Trigunatitananda’. Vivekananda later teased him about his long name and asked him to shorten it, so ‘Trigunatita’ became what he was usually called.
Trigunatita was an extremist by nature. Once he decided to repeat his mantram day and night. His goal was ‘God-realization or death by starvation’. Shivananda was very concerned about this young brother monk, and tried to persuade him to come out of his room. Trigunatita did come out, but he refused to eat. At last, it was decided that while Trigunatita ate, Shivananda would touch him and repeat a mantram on his behalf. Thus he hurriedly took his meal and continued his japam.
To spread the message of Sri Ramakrishna in Bengali, Swamiji asked Trigunatita to start the magazine that he had thought of in 1896. Swami Vivekananda contributed one thousand rupees; Harmohan Mittra donated another thousand. These contributions enabled Trigunatita to buy a press and inaugurate the publication of Udbodhan. Trigunatita rented a couple of rooms at Combuliatola Lane, Kolkata, for the magazine, laboring on this pioneering job alone, without any previous experience. His main assets were his sincerity, patience, perseverance and above all love for the ideal. As he had no monastic assistants at first, Trigunatita was the editor, proofreader, manager, and supervisor of the press; and when the typesetters were sick, he had to compose the type also. Sometimes he would go door to door to collect subscriptions, since his funds were limited he didn’t travel by tram; instead, he would walk ten miles a day. Sharat Chandra Chakrabarty, a disciple of Swami Vivekananda, recorded the following in his Talks with Swami Vivekananda
Disciple: “Sir, it is impossible for any other man to exert himself as Swami Trigunatita is doing for the magazine.”
Swamiji: “Do you think these monastic children of Sri Ramakrishna are born simply to sit for meditation under trees lighting dhuni-fires? Whenever any of them will take up some work, people will be astonished to see their energy. Learn from them hoe to work. Look, Trigunatita has given up his spiritual practices, his meditation and everything, to carry out my orders, and he has set himself to work. Is it a matter of small sacrifice? He will not stop short of success!”
Trigunatita edited and managed the Udbodhan for four years.
Trigunatita’s love for and faith In Holy Mother was phenomenal. Once Yogin-ma, a disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, asked the swami to buy some hot chilies for Holy Mother. In his eagerness to get the hottest possible, he walked through many markets from Baghbazar to Barabazar 9four miles), tasting all the hot chilies by chewing one of each, until his tongue became red and swollen. At last he found the hottest ones at Barabazar and brought them to the Mother. Later when Trigunatita went to America, he sent money regularly for Holy Mother’s personal service.
In 1904 some students invited Trigunatita to start a Vedanta centre in Los Angeles, nearly 500 miles south of San Francisco. On 25 August 1905, with appropriate ceremonies, the cornerstone was laid. This was the first Hindu Temple in the Western world. It was dedicated on 7 January 1906 and the first services were held there on Sunday, 15 January 1906.
One of the members of the monastery, a Hungarian named Joseph Horvath, was a printer; this gave Trigunatita the idea of starting a printing press in the temple basement. In April 1909 Trigunatita started a monthly magazine called ‘Voice of Freedom’. By special arrangements with M. Trigunatita published an American edition of his Gospel in 1912, which was circulated widely. When Trigunatita came to San Francisco, he took charge of Shanti Ashrama, but Gurudas continued to mange it.
For the last five years of his life. Trigunatita continuously suffered from rheumatism and Bright’s disease. On Friday, 25 December 1914 Trigunatita conducted the all-day Christmas Service from 6.00 a.m. to 9.00 p.m. This consisted of three lectures, chanting and singing, reading and exposition of the scriptures. Two days later, on Sunday afternoon 27 December 1914, Trigunatita was lecturing from the podium of the Hindu Temple in San Francisco. All of a sudden a young man in the front threw a bomb onto the pulpit; there was an explosion and a cloud of dense blue smoke obscured the platform. When the smoke cleared it was found that the young man, a former student of Trigunatita named Louis Vavra, had been killed, and that the swami had received severe injuries. Even in the midst of excruciating pain the swami’s mind was filled with pity for his mentally ill student Louis.
Swami Trigunatitananda, the great yogi and disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, passed away at 7.30 p.m. on 10 January 1915.
Swami SubodhanandaSubodh Chandra Ghosh was born on 8 November 1867 at 23 Shankar Ghosh Lane, Kolkata.
First meeting of Subodh with the Master was very significant. The Master asked him to come on Saturdays and Tuesdays. The Master also asked him to visit Mahendra Nath Gupta for spiritual instructions, but Subodh never did so.
After some time the Master asked Subodh, “Mahendra’s house is very close to yours, then why did you not call on him?”
Subodh replied: “He hasn’t been able to renounce his family. What could I learn about God from him?”
Immediately the Master said with a laugh, “O Rakhal, did you hear what this rascal Khoka said?”
He was pleased to see Subodh so stern in his renunciation; but he said: “He won’t talk about himself; he will only tell you what he has learned from me. Don’t hesitate to go to him.”
Sometimes Subodh would arrive at Dakshineshwar at noon, having walked all the way from school in the hot sun. He had a strong desire to serve his guru. While fanning the master, he would feel that all his fatigue had gone. The master could not bear for Subodh to fan him while standing, so he asked him to sit on his bed and fan him. Like a loving father, at times the Master took the palm leaf fan himself and fanned Subodh.
Performing the traditional viraja homa, Subodh took final monastic vows and became known as Swami Subodhananda. As he was one of the youngest among the disciples, he was known as “Khoka Maharaj” in the Ramakrishna order. Swami Vivekananda and others lovingly called him “Khoka”, which means “little boy”.
Swami Vivekananda wanted his brother disciples to become accustomed to speaking in public, so he persuaded to give weekly lectures by turn in the Alambazar Monastery. When Subodhananda’s turn came he tried in vain to be excused. At last Subodhananda mounted the platform – miserable and unwilling – and opened his mouth to speak. But before he could say a word, the building began to vibrate and rock and trees crashed down outside: This was the devastating earthquake of 12 June 1897. The meeting was dissolved. Swamiji humorously said, “Well, Khoka, you have made an earth-shaking speech!”
Subodhananda’s love for Swamiji was second only to his love for the Master. Swamiji also had great affection for him. Sometimes when Swamiji would become so serious that none of his brother disciples dared to approach him, it was left to Khoka Maharaj to go and interrupt his mood.
Subodhananda was very fond of traveling. Between his stays at Belur Math in 1899 he visited Almora, Mayavati, and again Kedarnath and Badrinath. The next year he went to Navadwip (the birth place of Chaitanya), Darjeeling, and Kamakhya in Assam. In 1902 he revisited Mayavati and was there when Swamiji passed away. In 1905 he went to Almora again to recover from Kalaazar (a serious infectious disease).
During the plague epidemic in Kolkata in 1899, he worked hard to relieve the suffering of the helpless, panic-stricken people.
He had a very tender heart, and sometimes begged money from others to help poor patients with food and medicine.
As a guru he travelled to many places in Bengal, Bihar, and Uttar Pradesh to spread the message of Sri Ramakrishna.
In spite of all his suffering Subodhananda did not forget what the Master had told him: “Think of me twice a day”. The terminal tuberculosis devoured all his energy, and he could not even change his position without help. Still, in the morning and before he went to sleep at night, he would lift his head with much effort and look at the picture of the Master behind his head and salute him with folded hands. What a touching scene! He didn’t want the Master’s words to be in vain. His love and devotion for his guru were outstanding.
Swami Subodhananda passed away at 3:05 p.m. on Friday, 2 December 1932.
Swami AkhandanandaSwami Akhandananda was born as Gangadhar Gangopadhyay on 30 September 1864.
In May 1883, when he was nineteen, Gangadhar visited Sri Ramakrishna at Dakshineshwar.
Gangadhar later recalled: ‘Whenever I approached the Master he would invariably ask me, Did you shed tears at the time of prayer or meditation?” And one day when I answered yes to this, how happy he was! “Tears of repentance or sorrow flow from the corners of the eyes nearest the nose,” he said, and those of joy from the corners of the eyes.” Suddenly the Master asked me, “Do you know how to pray?” Saying this he flung his hands and feet about restlessly – like a little child impatient for it’s mother. Then he cried out: “Mother dear, grant me knowledge and devotion. I don’t want anything else. I can’t live without you.” While thus teaching us how to pray, he looked like a small boy. Profuse tears rolled down his chest, and he passed into deep Samadhi. I was convinced that the Master did that for my sake.
When the master was at Shyampukur and then at Cossipore, Gangadhar served the Master whenever he could. Gangadhar’s father found a job for Gangadhar in a merchant’s office. Gangadhar worked there a few days and then gave it up. He then fully engaged himself in spiritual disciples and service to the master.
On Christmas Eve of 18886, Gangadhar went with the other disciples to Antpur and took vows of renunciation. He returned home and told his father secretly that he would leave for the Himalayas very soon. His father gave his consent. In February 1887 Gangadhar took the ochre cloth that the Master had given to him and left the monastery without telling anyone.
In June of 1890, after being away for three and a half years, Gangadhar returned to the Baranagore Monastery. Swami Vivekananda advised him to take final monastic vows before Sri Ramakrishna’s picture, in accordance with the Vedantic tradition. Gangadhar then became Swami Akhandananda (which means Undivided Bliss).
Swami Akhandananda lived in Rajasthan for nearly eight months. He observed the pitiful condition of the masses as well as the luxury of a handful of rulers and rich landlords. Swami Vivekananda’s encouraging letter from America which was sent as a reply to Swami Akhandananda’s request to Swamiji for guidance pushed him further, and in 1894 Akhandananda began his campaign against poverty. On 15 may 1897 Akhandananda started famine relief work in Mahula and several other villages in the Murshidabad district. It was the first organized relief work of the Ramakrishna Mission which had been started by Swami Vivekananda on 1 May 1897 in Kolkata. When the relief operation in Mahula was over, Akhandananda decided to open a permanent orphanage. The Murshidabad district magistrate promised to give him financial help for this project. Madhusundari Barman, a rich landlord, was impressed with Akhandananda’s work, so she donated one and a half acres of land to him for the Ashrama, and offered him her office building in Shivnagar, near Sargachi, to use temporarily. During the year 1899 Swami Akhandananda operated a flood relief work in Ghogha area for two and a half months, serving fifty villages.
Swami Akhandananda managed the orphanage and the Ashrama, from the Shivnagar office building for over twelve years. The land that had been donated was not sufficient for the Ashrama, so in August 1912 he bought about thirteen acres of land in Sargachi village. Along with education, the swami concentrated on improving the agricultural and industrial activities amongst the villagers. The Ashrama ran a full-fledged industrial school, teaching weaving, sewing, carpentry, and sericulture, which was the pride of the locality. In 1934, after the passing away of Shivananda, Akhandananda became the president of the Ramakrishna Order. From then on he lived in both Belur Math and Sargachi; but spent most of his time in Sargachi. In January 1934 there was a devastating earthquake in Bihar and many people were killed. In April Akhandananda went to inspect the Ramakrishna Mission’s relief work there. His presence raised the morale of the people and he also inspired monks to serve the afflicted as God.
On 7 February 1937, Swami Akhandananda passed away at the age of 72.
Swami VijnananandaSwami Vijnanananda’s premonastic name was Hari Prasanna Chattopadhyay. He was born on Friday, 30 October 1868 in Etawah, Uttar Pradesh.
Hari Prasanna entered the Hare School in Kolkata, and in 1882 he passed the Entrance examination. In 1883 Hari Prasanna entered Saint Xavier’s college in Kolkata, and Sharat Chakrabarty (later, Swami Saradananda) and Ramananda Chattopadhyay (later, the editor of Pravasi) were his classmates.
On 26 November 1883 he and Sharat went by boat to see Sri Ramakrishna with another classmate, Barada Pal. During his college days, Hari Prasanna visited Sri Ramakrishna several times at Dakshineshwar temple garden.
Hari Prasanna was not able to spend a great deal of time with the master, but the unbounded grace of his guru filled his heart. In 1885 Hari Prasanna passed the First Arts examination in the first division at Saint Xavier’s College. He then moved to Bankipur in the state of Bihar and entered Patna College to study for a B.A. degree. In 1887 Hari Prasanna graduated from Patna College and then went to the Poona College of Science to study civil engineering.
Because his father died in Hari’s childhood, Hari Prasanna had to work until his family was financially secure. As time went on, however, his uncle began to pressure him to get married. He became disgusted with these attempts to tie him to a worldly life and joined the Ramakrishna Monastery at Alambazar in 1896.
Swami Vivekananda returned to India from the West in 1897 and took Hari Prasanna with him on his travels in western and northern India. During this tour they visited the old Hindu temples of Rajputana. Vivekananda discussed the architecture of the future Ramakrishna Temple with him and expressed his own ideas as to how the temple should be built. On their return to the monastery, Hari Prasanna drew a sketch of the Ramakrishna Temple using Swamiji’s ideas as his guide. He also consulted with Mr. Guithar, a noted architect. Swamiji was pleased when he saw the sketch and said, “This temple will certainly come up, but I may not live to see it…. I will see it from up high.”
On 13 February 1898 the Ramakrishna Monastery was moved from Alambazar to Nilambar Mukharjee’s garden house at Belur. The site for Belur math, the headquarters of the Ramakrishna Order, was purchased in March of 1898. Swami Vivekananda entrusted Hari Prasanna with the task of remolding the main building and constructing new buildings and the shrine for the monastery. Hari Prasanna drew up the site plan and building plans, prepared estimates, as well as supervised the construction. He did all of this single-handedly. When the construction was completed, Vivekananda consecrated the Ramakrishna Math on 9 December 1898. On 9 May 1899 Hari Prasanna formally took sannyasa, he became known as Swami Vijnanananda.
When the construction of the Belur Monastery was finished, Vivekananda advised Swami Vijnanananda to start a centre at Allahabad (Prayag). This city is an important pilgrimage site because the confluence of three rivers – the Ganges, the Jamuna and the Saraswati – is located there. He first stayed with his friend, Dr. Mahendra Nath Odedar, and then moved to the Brahmavadin Club. The Club rented two rooms on the upper floor of a two-storey building – a small one ( 10 by10 feet) for the shrine, and a larger one (18by10feet) for a library and meeting room.
Swami Vijnanananda loved to be alone and was a man of few words. Swamiji has great affection for Swami Vijnanananda, and called him the “Bishop of Allahabad”.
He published a number of important books during his thirty eight year stay in Allahabad. In 1904 he translated Sri Ramakrishna’s life and Teachings by Suresh Chandra Datta from Bengali into Hindi and published it as Paramahamsa-Charitra. His later publications were: Jalsarvaraher Karkhana, a engineering and waterworks manual in two volumes in Bengali; translations of Varahamihira’s Brihajjataka and Surya-siddhanta, two ancient Sanskrit astrological and astronomical works, the first into English and the second into Bengali; and translations of Devi Bhagavata and Narendra Pancharatra, two famous Hindu scriptures, from Sanskrit into English.
Swami Vijnanananda practiced severe austerities fifteen hours a day for ten years while at the Brahmavadin Club. In 1910 he bought a house and a vacant plot across the road from it in the Muthiganj area of Allahabad. He turned the house into a Ramakrishna Monastery and built another house on the vacant plot for a charitable homeopathic dispensary.
In the beginning the financial condition of the Allahabad Ramakrishna Math was poor. There were only few devotees and Swami Vijnanananda had to take out a loan of 4,100 rupees in order to buy the house. A Muslim horse carriage driver collected monthly subscriptions for the Ashrama from some of those devotees.
Since Swami Vijnanananda was an engineer, he was always consulted regarding the construction of the Ramakrishna Mission’s hospitals or temples. In 1909 the swami went to Varanasi to supervise the construction of the Ramakrishna Mission Home of service, and in the year 1910 to Kankhal ( Hardwar)
In the latter part of his life, Swami Vijnanananda visited various holy places.
From 1919 to 1920 he supervised the construction of the Vivekananda Temple at Belur Math.
In 1937, after Akhandananda passed away, Swami Vijnanananda became the president of the Ramakrishna Order.
Swami Brahamananda once remarked, “Vijnanananda is a hidden knower of Brahman.”
Another important characteristic of Swami Vijnanananda was his wonderful sense of humour. The Swami was very fond of Beni, his attendant in Allahabad. Once Swami Vijnanananda wrote a letter to Beni from Belur math and asked a monk to write the address of the Allahabad Ashrama on the envelope. The letter was addressed to Dr. Beni Madav, M.A.B.L., LL.D. The monk, out of curiosity, asked, “Maharaj, who is he?” The swami only smiled. Another monk indicated that it was Beni, the swami’s servant. All laughed. Beni served Swami Vijnanananda until the swami passed away.
Swami Shivananda had laid the foundation stone for Ramakrishna Temple on 13th March 1929. Afterwards, when the new temple site was selected in July of 1935, Swami Vijnanananda had to re-lay the same stone one hundred feet south. It took three years to construct the main part of the temple.
On 12 January 1938 Swami Vijnanananda came to Belur Math from Allahabad for the consecration of the Ramakrishna Temple. On Friday, 14 January 1938, the swami got up early in the morning and put on a ochre cloth. He said to his attendant, “When I install the Master in the new temple, I shall say to Swamiji, “Your consecrated deity has now been installed in the temple you planned. You said that you would watch from up high. Please see now that the Master is seated in the new temple”.”
Swami Vijnanananda’s health was not good, so it was arranged for a car to take him from the Math building to the new temple. A monk brought the relics of the Master from the old shrine and handed them to Swami Vijnanananda who waited in the car. Then the procession moved to the accompaniment of conches, bells, and the burning of incense. A group of singers led the procession, singing the famous Bengali song in praise of Sri Ramakrishna that begins with “Eshechhe nutan manush dekhbi yadi ay chole” (A new man has appeared; come if you want to see him). The procession reached the new temple at 6:30 a.m. Swami Vijnanananda entered the inner sanctum, placed the relics of Sri Ramakrishna on the altar, and offered the flowers.
Swami Vijnanananda passed away on Monday 25th April 1938.