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Nag Mahashay (Durga Charan Nag)

The highlights of his life

(This life-story has been excerpted from the book ‘They Lived With God’ by Swami Chetanananda, published by the Vedanta Society of St. Lois. To read the entire studied life, and lives of 27 other intimate disciples, please read this book. )

  1. Born on August 21, 1846, at Deobhog, a small village now Bangladesh.
  1. Began studies in the Campbell Medical School but, for some unknown reason, discontinued them after a year and a half. Later he studied homeopathy.
  2. Was unexpectedly visited by his family Guru who said ‘I have come at the special command of the Divine Mother to initiate you’. The initiation created in him more hunger for God.
  3. Was married at the age of 15, his wife lived at Deobhog and he at Kolkata. It is said that even when he visited Deobhog, he spent the nights on a tree. However, his wife died very suddenly and unexpectedly.
  4. Was married a second time to Sharatkamini, who herself lived like a nun. She was simply his co-pilgrim.
  5. Met Sri Ramakrishna and recognized him as “that Supreme One”.
  6. Gave up medicine (he was a homeopathy doctor) when he heard the Master say that “If the mind dwells on tiny drops of medicine, how can it conceive of the Infinite?”
  7. Passed away on 27 December 1899 being in samadhi off and on in the last few days.

His relationship with Thakur

  1. How can we harmonize God and the world? How can we live in this world without being worldly? How can we love and not be attached? Is it necessary to renounce the world for God-realization? What is the duty of a householder? What is the goal of human life? These and other vital questions Sri Ramakrishna answered for the modern world. He did so, not only through the use of tales and parables, but also by quietly moulding the lives of perfect exemplars of his teachings.

The life of Durga Charan Nag is just such a model of an ideal householder. Sri Ramakrishna demonstrated to the modern world through him that a person can lead a married life and at the same time have the highest spiritual experience.

  1. Although he had taken over his father’s job, he began to devote more time now to meditation and felt strong urge to renounce the world. With that intention, he one day went to see the Master. As soon as he reached there, the Master said in an ecstatic mood: ‘What harm is there in remaining as a householder? Only keep the mind fixed upon God. The householder’s life is like fighting from within a fortress. Remain in the world like the ancient king Janaka, unattached. You life will be an example of how a householder should live’. Durga Charan was speechless. He returned home, obeying the behest of the Master.
  2. During the last days of Sri Ramakrishna, when he was stricken with throat cancer, Durga Charan rarely went to visit him because he could not bear to see his beloved Master suffer. One day, when he did go to pray his respects to him, Sri Ramakrishna said: ‘Oh, you have come. Look, the doctors have failed. Can you do anything to cure me? Durga Charan reflected for a moment and then resolved to transfer the Master’s disease into his own body. He said in an inspired mood: ‘Yes sir, I know how to cure you. By your grace I will do it right now.’ But as he approached, the Master understood his motive and pushed him away, saying, ‘Yes I know you have that power to cure the disease.’
  3. The last few days Nag Mahashay was in samadhi off and on. Because Sri Ramakrishna had asked him to stay at home and live the life of a householder, he had never gone on a pilgrimage to the holy places, although he had once gone to Gaya to perform to the last rites for his father. Two days before he passed away, at 2′ clock in the morning, he said to Sharat Babu: ‘Sri Ramakrishna has come here to show me the holy places. Please tell me the names of holy places you have seen, and I will visit them one after another’. As Sharat Babu mentioned the name of each place-Hardwar, Prayag, Varanasi and Puri- Nag Mahashay immediately had a vision of it and vividly described what he was seeing. Sharat Babu knew he was witnessing the blessing of Sri Ramakrishna upon his disciple, yet, seeing Nag Mahashay pain and suffering, he could not help thinking that god was a cruel Master. But Nag Mahashay read his mind and said: ‘please, never doubt the boundless mercy of God. What good will this body be to the world? Look, I am bedridden; I cannot serve you, so Sri Ramakrishna, out of compassion, is taking away this body’. Then he said in a feeble voice, ‘Let the body and its suffering know each other; O my mind, you be happy’.

Some aspects of his personality

  1. Durga Charan was a handsome, modest, and sweet-natured boy. He was not very fond of sports, but occasionally, at the urging of his friends, he would join them in their games. His love for truth was so great that, even in play of fun, he would never speak a lie. And if any of his friends did so, he would immediately have nothing to do with that person. He was often drafted as a mediator when a dispute arose among his playmates, and the boys, knowing his fairness, accepted his decision without question. Once some mischievous boys insisted that he tell a lie so they could win a game, but Durga Charan refused and consequently they lost. Enraged, they dragged him through a rice field until his body was covered with cuts and bruises. He returned home in the evening in pain but without a word of complaint against anybody.
  1. Durga Charan could not tolerate worldly talk. If anyone started such a conversation, he would skillfully change the subject to spiritual matters. If he happened to become angry with someone, he would mercilessly beat his own body with whatever object he had near at hand as self-punishment. He would not contradict anyone, nor would he indulge in criticizing others. Once, he inadvertently made a critical remark about a person and, as soon as he was aware of it, picked up a stone and hit his own head with it until it bled profusely. It took about a month for the wound to heal. He justified this strange action by saying, ‘The wicked deserve right punishment.’
  2. Once a young devotee of Nag Mahashay came from Dhaka to visit him. It was a rainy day and there was no boat to cross the inundated area, so he decided to swim, although it was quite a distance. When the devotee reached the northern boundary of Nag Mahashay’s garden it was 9’oclock at night, and he was cold and completely exhausted. Much to his surprise, however, Nag Mahashay was waiting there for him.
    ‘Alas! What have you done?’ Nag Mahashay asked. ‘The fields are infested with venomous snakes at this time. Why did you take such a risk in this dangerous weather?’ He hurried the young devotee into the house. Sharatkamini gave him a dry cloth to put and then rushed to the kitchen to cook food for him, only to find that all the dry firewood was gone. Without a moment’s hesitation Nag Mahashay began cutting down a pole in his house. He would not listen to anyone’s objections. ‘Here is a man who came to see me’, he said, ‘even at the risk of drowning and snakebite, and can I not give up the attachment for his ordinary cottage for him? I would be blessed if I could serve such people at the cost of my life’.
  3. Spirituality is not something that can be measured with a measuring rod. When a person becomes spiritual his heart expands and he feels intensely for others. Nag Mahashay would feel the hunger of the dogs; cats, fish and birds, and he would feed them accordingly. A cobra appeared in his courtyard, and Sharatkamini, fearing it would bite someone, wanted it to be killed. Nag Mahashay said to her, ‘It is not the snake of the jungle but the snake of one’s own mind that injures a man’. Then with folded hands, he addressed the snake: ‘O goddess of the snake, your abode is in the jungle. Mother, please go back to your own place and leave this poor man’s cottage’. Amazingly, the snake then followed him to the jungle. ‘If you do not harm anyone in this world’, he commented, ‘no one will harm you. The reflection in the mirror shows exactly the same face you make at it.’
  4. Years before, when Sri Ramakrishna had introduced Nag Mahashay to Swami Vivekananda, he said: ‘This man has genuine humility. There is no hypocrisy in it. Humility was one of the main traits of his character.’ ‘I and mine’ are the warp and weft of Maya, which bind the soul, and these were totally obliterated from his personality. Girish once humorously remarked that the great enchantress, Mahamaya, was in trouble when she tried to bind Swami Vivekananda and Nag Mahashay: ‘As she tried to trap Vivekananda he became bigger and bigger, and at last he became so big that all her fetters were too short and she had to let him go. And when she attempted to trap Nag Mahashay, he began to make himself smaller and smaller until he had at last reduced himself to such a degree that he could easily slip through the holes of her net.’
  5. As a son Nag Mahashay was ideal. He not only served his father with much love and attention in his old age, but he also looked after his father’s spiritual life as well. Daily he read from the scriptures to his father, and he carefully protected him from the company of worldly-minded people so that Dindayal could not get any chance to listen to worldly gossip, or ‘maya-purna’ as he called it. Gradually, due to the spiritual influence of Nag-Mahashay, a great change came over Dindayal’s life.

More details of his life story

There is a saying, ‘Gurus are available by the thousands, but real disciples are very few.’ A real disciple is one who translates the teachings of his guru into the actions of his life. Durga Charan Nag was one such rare soul. Once he overheard Sri Ramakrishna say, ‘It is very difficult for doctors, lawyers, and brokers to advance on the path to God’. Referring to doctors in particular he said, ‘If the mind dwells on tiny drops of medicine, how can it conceive of the Infinite?’ Durga Charan was then practicing homeopathic medicine. He noticed that most of the time his mind was reflecting on them faces of his patients, and this disturbed his meditation. He therefore thought that the advice was meant for him. Immediately he resolved, ‘I will not make my living from that procession which is an obstacle to the realization of God’. He returned home and that very day threw his medicine box and medical books into the Ganga.

According to Vedantic tradition, the life of a householder is based on spirituality. He should follow the path of truth and dedicate the results of all his actions to the Supreme Being. It is not an easy path. ‘He is true hero’, said Sri Ramakrishna, ‘who can perform all the duties of the world with his mind fixed on god. None but a very strong man could stop to admire a bridal procession moving by while carrying a load of two maunds[164 pounds] on his head’.

It was because of his extraordinary personality that Durga Charan Nag came to be known as Nag Mahashay.

Swami Vivekananda once said about him, ‘I have traveled many places in the world, but nowhere have I come across such a great soul as Nag Mahashay.’

He began studies in the Campbell Medical School but, for some unknown reason, discontinued them after a year and a half. Later he studied homeopathy under Dr. Behari Lal Bhaduri, a renowned physician of Calcutta. His success in his profession was immediate. He had a rare intuition in diagnosis and even as a student performed some remarkable cures. He refused to set any fixed fee for his services. Whatever people offered he accepted, than what he considered just. He treated poor patients free of charge, sometimes even giving money to them for food and medicine. Some unscrupulous people took advantage of his kindness, but he did not mind. He served men as God.

The lives of the mystic prove that when intense longing for god dawns in a soul, God responds and makes everything favourable for the devotee. One morning Durga Charan was seated on the bank of the Ganges when his family guru arrived there, unexpectedly, on a boat. When he was asked the reason for his coming to Calcutta, the guru replied, ` I have come at the special command of the Divine Mother to initiate you,’. However, the initiation only created in him more hunger for God. He was carried away by the divine intoxication and often lost outward consciousness. Once, while he was meditating on the bank of the Ganga, the flood tide rose and swept him into the river. It was several moments before full consciousness returned to him and he was able to swim ashore.

People read about God, talk about God, hear about God, but how many really want to experience him directly? This desire completely possessed Durga Charan. One day his friend Suresh came to him with news about Sri Ramakrishna, the saint of Dakshineswar. They both decided to immediately to Dakshineswar and see him. They arrived there about two in the afternoon and inquired about the Master. Pratap Hazra, a strange devotee, informed them that Sri Ramakrishna had gone to Chandannagore and asked them to come back another day. They were terribly disappointed and about to leave when they noticed someone inside a room beckoning them to enter. It was Sri Ramakrishna.

The Master received them cordially and asked them about themselves. During the course of the conversation he advised: Live world like a mudfish. The fish lives in the mud but its skin is always bright and shiny. Similarly, remain at home unattached and the skin of worldliness will not touch your mind’. He asked them to mediate into the Panchavati grove for some time, and then he took them too see the different temples. As they were leaving, Sri Ramakrishna said to them:Come again. A relationship grows through frequent visits.’

It was a few months after his first meeting with Sri Ramakrishna that Durga Charan gave up his medical practice.

When Sri Ramakrishna passed away on August 16, 1886, Nag Mahashay quit eating and remained in bed. Hearing about this, Swami Vivekananda went to his house along with two of his brother disciples. After repeated requests he got up from bed, and Swami Vivekananda told him that they had come there for lunch. Immediately Durga Charan went to the market, brought back groceries, and cooked for them, but he would not eat anything himself. When they urged him to eat, he said, ‘Alas, how can I offer food to this wretched body which has not yet been blessed with god-realization?’ It was with great difficulty that Swami Vivekananda finally persuaded him to take some food.

There is a common belief among the Hindus that those who bathe in the holy river Ganga during Ardhodaya Yoga (An auspicious day which comes once every fifteen years) become free from impurities and ignorance, and go to heaven. Three or four days before that auspicious occasion Nag Mahashay left Calcutta, which is on the bank of the Ganga, to return to his village. His father was furious and said to him, ‘People are selling everything they own to go and bathe in the Ganga on this holy occasion, and you have come back home, leaving the Ganga! I really don’t understand your attitude towards religious life! Still a few days are left. Take me to Calcutta.’

But Nag Mahashay humbly said: If a man has true devotion, Mother Ganga reveals herself in his house. It is needless for him to go any place’.

On the day of Ardhodaya Yoga, several of Nag Mahashay’s devotees came to visit him. Suddenly one of the women noticed a stream of water gushing out of the southeast corner of the courtyard. The devotees gathered around it in amazement and watched as it formed a flowing stream. Nag Mahashay was in his room when he heard the excitement of the devotees. He came out and, seeing the stream, bowed down to it reverently. Then, sprinkling a little water on his head, he prayed: ‘Victory to Mother Ganga! Mother, purify us’.

Word of the mysterious water spread throughout the village, and on that auspicious day devotees and villagers alike were blessed by bathing in that miraculous stream. Hearing of this episode some time later, Swami Vivekananda commented: ‘The wish of a great soul like Nag Mahashay can make the impossible possible. Their infallible will power can even liberate people’.

Nag Mahashay did not wear the ochre cloth of a monk, but he was true a yogi. To him all women were the veritable manifestation of the Divine Mother. ‘I have never touched a woman in my life, so I have nothing to do with this world’, he said to his father when the latter scolded him about his unmindfulness of the household. His purity was almost tangible. Desire for progeny, wealth, and name and fame simply could not appear in his mind. But as he himself observed: ‘A man can overcome the temptation of gold and diamonds through renunciation, but he needs the grace of God to overcome lust. Where there is lust, there God is not; and where God is, therefore cannot be lust. As long as your body is not burned into ashes, do not be proud of your chastity. No one can escape Maya unless the Divine Mother allows one to pass’. Without having taken any monastic vows, he was a true monk.

Once Girish Chandra Ghosh presented a Nag Mahashay with a blanket, even though he knew he did not accept gifts. Out of his deep respect for Girish, Nag Mahashay accepted the blanket by putting it on his head and went home. Later a devotee went to visit him and found him seated with the blanket on his head. Hearing of this, Girish found a tactful way of taking it back so that Nag Mahashay might not suffer any further discomfort.

Although this type of behaviour seems very strange to ordinary people, it is called in devotional scriptures urjhita bhakti, or exuberant devotion. When this type of devotion awakens in the heart of an aspirant his behaviour becomes erratic. For no outwardly discernable reason he may smile, cry, dance, sing, or even remain motionless like a log. The least remainder of the beloved puts him into ecstasy.

Three years later after the passing away of his father, Nag Mahashay became seriously ill with colic and dysentery. He said to his wife: ‘My prarabdha karma (action performed in a past life, the fruit of which is being reaped in the present life) has almost come to an end – only a little is left. Don’t worry about this cage of flesh and bones.’

On December 27, 1989, the auspicious time of his final departure came. Nag Mahashay was in bhava samadhi. Sharat Babu began to chant the name of Sri Ramakrishna in his ear and, placing the picture of the Master in front of him, and said ‘This is the picture of your Master, in whose name you have renounced everything’. Nag Mahashay opened his eyes and saw the face of his beloved Master. With folded hands he saluted him and murmured, ‘Grace, grace-you blessed me out of your boundless mercy’. He then slowly merged into mahasamadhi.

Swamiji’s extraordinary life on earth came to an end on July 4, 1902.

Swamiji’s temple Belur Math – built at the exact spot where his body was cremated

The Swami knew his end was nearing. His body was wearing away day by day, and he was preparing for the final departure. “How often does a man ruin his disciples”, he said, “by remaining always with them! leader leaves them, for without his absence they cannot develop themselves.” He refused to express any opinion on the questions of the day. “I can no more enter into outside affairs, I am already on the way” was his reply to those who came to him with problems regarding work. “You may be right, but I cannot enter any more into these matters; I am going down into death”, he told Sister Nivedita when she questioned him on some important matter concerning her educational programme.

Everything about the Swami in the last days was deliberate and significant. A week before the end, he was seen consulting the Bengali almanac. Three days before, on an Ekadashi day, he fed Sister Nivedita with his own hands, though he himself was fasting. At the end of her meal he helped her wash her hands by pouring water for her, and then he dried them with a towel. “It is I who should do these things for you, Swamiji, not you for me”, she protested. His reply startled her: “Jesus washed the feet of his disciples,” he said. The reply, “But that was the last time” came to her lips, but remained unuttered. Something checked her. Here also it was the last time.

On the last day, Friday, 4th July 1902, he rose very early. Going to the chapel alone, he shut the doors and bolted them, contrary to his habit, and meditated for three hours. He came down the steps of the shrine, singing a beautiful song to the divine Mother Kali. Then he said in a whisper: “If there were another Vivekananda, then he would have understood what this Vivekananda has done. And yet how many Vivekanandas shall be born in time?” Next he asked his disciple, Swami Shuddhananda, to read a passage from the Shukla Yajur-Veda with the commentary of Mahidhara on it. He did not agree with Mahidhara and exhorted the disciple to make independent research into the Vedas. He partook of the noon meal with great relish, in company with the members of the Math, unlike on other days when he took his meal alone in his room. Immediately after, he gave lessons to the Brahmacharins on Sanskrit grammar for three hours. In the afternoon, he went out with Swami Premananda and walked nearly two miles, discussing his plan to start a Vedic College in the monastery. When questioned as to its utility, he said: “The study of the Vedas will kill superstition.” On his return, he inquired about the welfare of every member of the monastery. Then he conversed for a long time with the members on the rise and fall of nations. “India is immortal”, he said, “if she persists in her search for God. But if she goes in for politics and social conflict, she will die.” At seven o’clock in the evening, the bell announced the worship in the chapel. The Swami went to his room and told the disciple attending him that no one should come to him until called for. He spent an hour in meditation and telling beads, then called the disciple to open all the windows and fan his head. He lay down quietly on his bed. The attendant thought that he was either sleeping or meditating. At the end of an hour, his hands trembled a little and he breathed once very heavily. There was silence for a minute or two, and again he breathed in the same manner. He had breathed his last. He had just completed thirty-nine years, five months, and twenty-four days, thus fulfilling a prophecy which was frequently on his lips, “I shall never live to see forty”.

Compiled and Edited by Swami Gambhirananada
The Apostles of Sri Ramakrishna
Advaita Ashrama; Mayavati; June 1995

Last year in India

Immediately after arrival in Bombay, he left for Calcutta, and reached Belur Math late in the evening of 9th December, 1900, without any previous intimation. The gates of the monastery were closed for the night. Hearing the dinner bell, in his eagerness to join the monks at their meal, he scaled the gate. There was great rejoining over the hero’s home-coming.

The tree under his room, where he received visitors

Now the Swami tried to lead a carefree life at the monastery, surrounded by his pets: the dog Bagha, the she-goat Hansi, an antelope, a stork, several cows and sheep and ducks and geese, and a kid which he named Matru. He used to run and play with Matru on the grounds, sometimes clad in his loin-cloth ; or he would supervise the cooking arrangement ; or be with the monks singing devotional songs.

Sometimes he would be seen imparting spiritual instruction to the visitors, at other times engaged in serious study in his room or explaining to the members of the Math the intricate passages of the scriptures and unfolding to them his scheme of future work.

Swamiji’s room overlooking the Ganges (view from the river)

He freed himself entirely from all formal duties by executing a deed of trust in favour of his brother disciples, investing in them all the properties, including the Belur Math so far held in his name. Brahmananda was elected President. Still he kept a careful watch on the life in the monastery, in spite of his physical suffering, and he was obeyed unquestioningly by all including the President. He looked to every detail – cleanliness, meals, study, meditation, work. He drew up a weekly time-table and saw to it that it was scrupulously followed. The classes on the Vedas and the Puranas were held daily, he himself conducting them when his health permitted.

Inside his room – where he studied

The bell sounded at fixed hours for meals, study, discussion, and meditation. About three months before his death, he made it a rule that at four o’clock in the morning a handbell should be rung from room to room to awaken the monks. Within half an hour all were to gather in the chapel for meditation. He was always there before them. He got up at three and went to the chapel, where he meditated for more than two hours. As he got up, he used to chant softly “Shiva!” Shiva!”. His presence in the chapel created an intense spiritual atmosphere. Swami Brahmananda used to say: “Ah! one at once becomes absorbed if one sits for meditation in the company of Naren. I do not feel this when I sit alone.”

Compiled and Edited by Swami Gambhirananada
The Apostles of Sri Ramakrishna
Advaita Ashrama; Mayavati; June 1995

Work in India

For the purpose of establishing his work on a firm basis, the Swami summoned all the monastic and lay disciples of Shri Ramakrishna to a meeting at Balaram Bose’s house on 1st May 1897. He told them that he has conclusion that without an organization nothing great and permanent could be achieved, and proposed that an association be formed in the name of the Master know as the Ramakrishna Mission.

The aims and ideals of the Mission as propounded by the Swami were purely spiritual and humanitarian. The Mission had nothing to do with politics. Suitable resolutions were passed to this effects and the Ramakrishna Mission came into being. The Swami himself became the General President, Swami Yogananda the Vice-President, and Swami Brahmananda the President of the Calcutta centre.

To fulfill the Swami’s cherished dream of having a permanent monastery on the Ganga, plot of land was secured at Belur, near Calcutta, early in 1898, and the Math was removed to Nilambar Mukherjee’s garden house at Belur.

His main concern, however, was the training of the young Sannyasins and Brahmacharins, who were to carry on his work in the future. He encouraged them to develop an all-round personality, himself setting the example. He arranged study classes them: “You will go to hell if you seek your own salvation. Seek the salvation of others if you want to reach the Highest.” You must try to combine in your life immense idealism with immense practicality. You must be prepared to go into deep meditation now, and the next moment you must be ready to go and cultivate the fields. You must be prepared to explain the intricacies of the scriptures now, and the next moment to go and sell the produce of the fields in the market…… The true man is he who is strong as strength itself and yet possesses a woman’s heart.”

Compiled and Edited by Swami Gambhirananada
The Apostles of Sri Ramakrishna
Advaita Ashrama; Mayavati; June 1995

Return of the Hero

Though the Swami was completely absorbed in his work in the West, he never forgot about his original mission. He was constantly in correspondence with his disciples in Madras and elsewhere, guiding, instructing, and encouraging them to push on with the work in India. In his immortal letters, detailed instructions were given about organizing the work.

To quote only a few of his inspiring words: “Work hard, be steady, and have faith in the Lord. . . . Keep the motto before you – ‘Elevation of the masses without injuring their religion’. . . the fate of a nation does not depend upon the number of husbands their widows get, but upon the condition of the masses. Can you raise them? Can you give them back their lost individuality? . . . This is to be done and we will do it. You are all born to do it. Have faith in yourselves, great convictions are the mothers of great deeds.” (Complete Works, 1963, V. 29-30).

In the middle of November 1896, he suddenly decided that he must go back to India. So he asked Mrs. Servier, after a class talk, to book their berths for India from Naples by the earliest steamer available. On 16th December the Swami left London with the Serviers.

At Naples, Mr. Goodwin joined the party, and they arrived in Colombo on 15th January 1897.

The news of the swami’s return had already reached India. He was no longer the unknown, wandering Sannyasin. The great work he had done for India in the west had become known throughout India. From Colombo to Madras, in all the important cities, committees consisting of all sections of the society had been formed to accord him a fitting reception.

All along the route of his tour, specially in Jaffna and Kumbakonam, he gave inspiring lectures, reminding the people of the glory of India’s past and exhorting them to apply themselves to the task of raising her to her ancient splendour. But it was in Madras that he gave full expression to his ideas. On the third day after his arrival, a public address of welcome was presented to him at the Victoria Hall, but it was too small to contain the large gathering. The Swami at the insistent demand of the enthusiastic public waiting outside, spoke to them in the open from the top of a coach in “the Gita fashion”, urging them to maintain their enthusiasm and utilize it for the service of India. During his stay in Madras the Swami gave five public lectures, the subjects selected being “My Plan of Campaign”, The Sages of India”, Vedanta in Its Relation to Practical Life”, The Work before Us”, and “The Future of India”. In these, the Swami addressed the whole of India, and here one finds his message to India expressed in the most inspiring Languages.

Let us listen to a few of his soul-stirring words: “I see that each nation, like each individual, has one theme in this life, which is its centre, the principal note round which every other note comes to form the harmony, in one nation political power is its vitality, as in England, artistic life in another, and so on. In India, religious life forms the centre, the keynote of the whole music of national life. …. Therefore, if you succeed in the attempt to throw off your religion and take up either politics, or society, or any other things as your centre, as the vitality of your national life, the results will be that you will become extinct.

Every man has to make his own choice ; so has every nation. We made our choice ages ago and we must abide by it. And, after all, it is not such a bad choice. It is such a bad choice in this world to think not of matter but of spirit, not of man but of God?

Compiled and Edited by Swami Gambhirananada
The Apostles of Sri Ramakrishna
Advaita Ashrama; Mayavati; June 1995

Work in America

In order to further the cause of India and to free himself from obligation to his friends, he accepted the offer of a lecture bureau for a lecture tour of America. He thought that would help him also in spreading his ideas. The tour took him round the large cities in the Eastern and Mid-Western States. Everywhere, people flocked to hear him. His speeches, delivered extempore, were mostly devoted to the exposition of religion and philosophy as preached and practiced by the Hindus through the centuries. He also explained to the America audience the Hindus manners, customs, and religious practices, removing some of the misconceptions spread through the monstrous and fantastic stories told by the Christian missionaries.

The Hindoo Monk (as he was known then! – a newspaper picture)

The Swami also spoke with great reverence on Christ and his teachings and the valuable contribution of the West to the culture and civilization of the world. He did not hide his admiration for the tremendous progress the West had made in the fields of industry and economics, as well as for the western democratic social systems with equal opportunity for everyone. While he was never sparing in his praise of the good side of western civilization, the hollowness of the western society- the tears behind the peal of laughter-became more and more apparent to him as he moved from city to city. He was mercilessly critical of the defects in European culture-the signs of brutality, inhumanity, pettiness, arrogance, and ignorance of other cultures-as he was severe in his criticism of the defects of Indian social customs like untouchability and other allied evils during his lectures from Colombo to Almora after his return from the West in 1897.

Thus the Swami’s western work took him gradually beyond his original plan, which was just to raise money for the uplift of the Indian masses. He realized that his services could not be confined within narrow limits. He wrote to his disciples who were urging him to return to India: “I have helped you all as I could. You must now help yourselves. What country has any special claim on me? Am I a nation’s slave? I do not care whether they are Hindus, or Mohammedans, or Christians, but those that love the Lord will always command my service.” He gave away most of his earnings through lectures to the charitable institutions there in American and asked his friends to do the same. He wholeheartedly devoted himself to the service of the West.

This attitude, however, was no mere volte face. It arose from the fact that he had become conscious of the full significance of his life’s work. His mission was to the whole world, not to India only. He realized that his task was to preach the fundamental universal principles of religion, and to preach them to all countries. Later he was to assure India that only if she clung to those universal principles, which were her birthright, would her poverty and other problems be solved. To these universal principles he gave the name “Vedanta”. As Miss Marie Burke writes in Swami Vivekananda in America: “Never before had it been broadened into a philosophy and religion which included every faith of the world and every noble effort of man-reconciling spirituality and material advancement, faith and reason, science and mysticism, work and contemplation, service to man and absorption in God. Never before had it been conceived as the one universal religion, by accepting the principles of which the follower of any or no creed could continue along his own path and at the same time be able to identify himself with every other creed and aspect of religion.

“The Herculean task of teaching Vedanta in a foreign land had completely worn him out; he needed rest badly.

The Thousand Island Park – where he rested

Thence he proceeded to Thousand Island Park on the St. Lawrence where, at the earnest request of a few students, who were ready to put aside all other interests to study Vedanta, he agreed to hold classes for them.

There, under ideal surroundings, he taught those intimate students. The subjects discussed in that heavenly atmosphere surcharged with his spirituality were many. The Swami expounded to them such precious texts as the Bhagavad-Gita and the Narada-Bhakti-Sutras, with his mind always absorbed in Brahman. He himself said later that he was at his best at Thousand Island Park. One of the students records: “Of the wonderful weeks that followed, it is difficult to write. Only if one’s mind were lifted to that high state of consciousness in which we lived for the time, could one hope to recapture the experience. We were filled with joy. . . . On the wings of inspiration, he carried us to the height which was his natural abode. … His first overwhelming desire was to show us the path of Mukti, to set us free. … His second object … was to train this group to carry on the work in America.” There he reached one of his loftiest heights ;the students saw ideas unfold and flower. He sought to awaken the heroic energy of the souls placed in his hands. He said: “If I could only set you free with a touch!” And how many were helped to freedom during his lifetime; Besides, the number of those who are being inspired to divinity by his immortal message is on the increase as time rolls on.

A concrete result of his New York work was the establishment of a Vedanta Society there, under the presidentship of Mr. Francis H. Leggett.

The Swami had seen by now the best and the worst of both the East and the West. He was now convinced that each had something to learn from the other. Ï believe that the Hindu faith has developed the spiritual at the expense of the material,” he said, “and I think that in the West the contrary is true. By uniting the materialism of the West with the spiritualism of the East, I believe much can be accomplished.” In Detroit, he said: “May not one combine the energy of the lion and the gentleness of the lamb? Perhaps, the future holds the conjunction of the East and the West, a combination which would be productive of marvelous results.” The problem was how to harmonise everything without sacrificing anything. He had in his mind the plan of bringing his brother disciples to teach and preach Vedanta in America, and taking some of his American and English disciples to teach science, industry, economics, applied sociology, organization, and co-operation in India.

That, however, would not go far unless there was a complete and thorough reorganization of the great religious and philosophical thought of India on a sound national and universal basis. Then alone could Indian thought recover its dynamic drive and progressive power to advance and spiritualise the west. For this purpose, he seriously thought of writing a book. He revealed this idea of his to Alasinga, his disciple, thus: “Now, I will tell you my discovery. All of religion is contained in Vedanta, that is, the three stages of the Vedanta philosophy-the Dvaita, Vishishtadvaita, and Advaita; one comes after the other. These are the three stages of spiritual growth in man. Each one is necessary. This is the essential of religion. The Vedanta applied to the various ethnic customs and creeds of India is Hinduism. The first stage, Dvaita, applied to the idea of ethnic groups of Europe is Christianity; as applied to the Semitic groups, Mohammedanism. The Advaita as applied in its Yoga perception form is Buddhism, etc. now by religion is meant Vedanta. The application must vary according to the different needs, surroundings, and other circumstances of different nations.

Compiled and Edited by Swami Gambhirananada
The Apostles of Sri Ramakrishna
Advaita Ashrama; Mayavati; June 1995

The Parliament of Religions

At Porbandar, where he arrived after visiting Verawal and Somnath (Prabhas), he stayed for eleven months, and helped the Dewan of the place, Pandit Shankar Pandurang, in translating the Vedas. He completed his study of the Mahabhashya, and learnt French at the instance of the Dewan, who suggested to him to go to the West, where his ideas were likely to be better appreciated. Hearing about the Parliament of Religions to be held at Chicago he expressed to his host at Porbander his desire to attend it.

The Swami found himself the guest of the Maharaja of Mysore, Chamaraja Wadiar. In his talk with the Maharaja, he unburdened the heavy load he was, as it were, carrying on his head, and expressed his intention of going to the West to get funds to ameliorate the material condition of India. The Maharaja offered to bear the expenses.

While arrangements were being made for sailing, a sudden invitation came from the Maharaja of Khetri to go to his place, with the assurance that he would do everything for the trip. The Swami agreed to this. With the Maharaja he went to Jaipur, and from there he left for Bombay alone. On the way to Bombay he halted for a night at the house of a railway employee, one of his hosts during his wandering days. At Mt. Abu he met Swamis Brahmananda and Turiyananda, to whom he said with great feeling: Ï travelled all over India. But, alas, it was agony to me, brothers, to see the terrible poverty of the masses, and I could not restrain my tears. It is now my firm conviction that to preach religion to them without trying to remove their poverty and suffering is futile. It is for this reason-to find means for the salvation of the poor of India-that I am going to America.”

The first session of the Parliament was held on Monday, 11th September 1893, in the spacious hall of the Art Palace; and its huge galleries were packed with nearly 7,000 people-men and women representing the best culture of the country. Representatives of all organized religions-Hinduism, Jainism Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Mohammedanism, and Mazdaism-were there, and amongst them was Swami Vivekananda, who represented no particular sect. the Swami represented nothing and yet everything. There was a grand procession of delegates. Cardinal Gibbons, the highest prelate of the Roman Catholic Church in the U.S.A., opened the meeting with a prayer and, after that, Dr. Barrows, the Chairman, introduced the delegates one by one. All of them, except Swami Vivekananda, read prepared for the first time, and his heart was fluttering and his tongue dried up. He was so nervous that he did not speak in the morning session. He went on postponing the summons from the chair.

In the end, when he could no longer put off his turn, he stepped up to the rostrum and, in his mind, bowing down to Saraswati Devi, began to speak. No sooner had he addressed the assembly “Sisters and Brothers of America” than there was deafening applause lasting for full two minutes. The audience rose as one man to express heartfelt appreciation for the warm feelings which those five simple words conveyed to them. Others addressed them in the set way, but the Swami touched the deepest cord of their hearts by discarding the formality and stressing the kinship of humanity with such sincerity. After the applause had subsided, the Swami made a brief speech.

The Swami, however, did not take this as a personal triumph. Although he had become famous overnight, and the doors of the rich were open to him, he wept over his victory, remembering his people at home, sunk in poverty and ignorance, for whose sake he had come to America.

Compiled and Edited by Swami Gambhirananada
The Apostles of Sri Ramakrishna
Advaita Ashrama; Mayavati; June 1995

The Baranagore days

One of the lay disciples of Sri Ramakrishna offered to contribute towards the maintenance of a monastery where the young disciples of the Master could stay and continue their spiritual and devotional exercises, and where the householder disciples might now and then go for peace and solace. Accordingly, an old dilapidated house was rented at the Baranagore, and two of the monastic disciples went to live there. Narendranath who was busy conducting a law suit pending at the court, used to spend the night at the monastery. He exhorted the others to join the brotherhood.

At Baranagore – after the passing away of the Master

Lest this devotion should become dammed up within the narrow limits of a creed or cult, the leader forced them to study the thought of the world outside. He himself instructed them in western and eastern philosophy, comparative religion, theology, history, sociology, literature, art, and science. He read out to them the great books of human thought, explained to them the evolution of the universal mind, discussed with them the problems of religion and philosophy, and led them indefatigably towards the wide horizons of the boundless truth which surpassed all limits of schools and races, and embraced and unified all particulars truths. In the light of the teachings of Shri Ramakrishna, he reconciled the apparent contradictions between the various systems.

The wandering monk

Between the closing of 1888, when Narendranath first left on his temporary excursions, and the year 1891, when he parted from his brethren alone and as an unknown beggar, “to be swallowed up in the immensity of India”, there came over him a remarkable change in outlook. When he first left in 1888, it was mainly to fulfill the natural desire of an Indian monk for a life of solitude. But when he left the monastery in 1891, it was to fulfill a great destiny. By then he had realized that his was not to be the life of an ordinary recluse struggling for personal salvation. Many times he had tried it: he had entered the deepest of Himalayan forests to lose himself in the silent meditation of the absolute. Every time he had failed. Something or other brought him back from the depths of meditation to the midst of the suffering masses, beset with a thousand and one miseries. The sickness of a brother monk, or the death of a devotee, or the poverty at the Baranagore monastery, was enough to disturb him. More than all, the fever of the age, the misery of the time, and the mute appeal issuing from the millions in oppressed and downtrodden Indian pained his heart.

He lived in anguish during that period, in a seething cauldron as it were, and carried within himself a soul on fire whose embers took years to cool down. As he moved from place to place in the north, and later on in the south, studying closely the life of the people in all strata of society, he was deeply moved. He wept to see the stagnant life of the Indian masses crushed down by ignorance and poverty, and the spell of materialistic ideas among the educated who blindly imitated the glamour of the West but who never felt that they were the cause of India’s degeneration and downfall. Spirituality was at a low discount in the very land of its birth. The picture of ancient India, once the envy of the world, came before his eyes vividly in all its grandeur and glory. The contrast was unbearable. Things should not be allowed to drift in this way. He visualized that India must become dynamic in all spheres of human activity and effect the spiritual conquest of the world, and he felt that he was the instrument chosen.

Compiled and Edited by Swami Gambhirananada
The Apostles of Sri Ramakrishna
Advaita Ashrama; Mayavati; June 1995

Master & Disciple

The second time Narendranath went to Dakshineswar, a month later. Sri Ramakrishna was alone, sitting on his bedstead. As soon as he saw Narendranath, he received him cordially and asked him to sit near himself on the bed. In a moment, overcome with emotion, the Master drew closer to him. Muttering something to him, and with eyes fixed on the young aspirant, he touched him with his right his foot. The magic touch produced a strange experience in Narendranath. With his eyes open, he saw the walls and everything in the room, nay, the whole universe and himself within it, whirling and vanishing into an all-encompassing void. He was frightened as he thought he might be on the verge of death; and cried out: “What are you doing to me? I have my parents at home.” Sri Ramakrishna laughed aloud at this, and stroking Narendranath chest said: “All right, let us leave it there for the present. Everything will come in time.” Surprisingly, as soon as he uttered these words, Narendranath became his old self again. Sri Ramakrishna, too, was quite normal in his behaviour towards him after the incident, and treated him kindly and with great affection.

Drawn by this kindness and, even more, by the need to fathom the mystery, Narendranath went to Dakshineswar for a third time, probably a week later. He was determined not to allow the previous experience to repeat itself, and was fully on his guard. But with all his critical faculties alert, he fared no better. Sri Ramakrishna took him to the adjacent garden belonging to Jadunath Mallik. After a stroll, they sat down in the parlour. Soon, Sri Ramakrishna fell into a spiritual trance and touched Narendranath. Despite his precautions Narendranath was totally over-whelmed adn he lost all outward consciousness. When he regained consciousness, he found Sri Ramakrishna stroking his chest.

Referring to his incident, Sri Ramakrishna said later on: “I put several questions to him while he was in that state. I asked him about his antecedents, and where he lived, his mission in this world and the duration of his mortal life. He gave fitting answers after diving deep into himself. The answers only confirmed what I had seen and inferred about him, These things shall remain a secret, but I came to know that he was a sage who had attained perfection, a past master in meditation, and the day he know his real nature, he will give up the body by an act of will, through Yoga.”

Of all the disciples of Sri Ramakrishna, Narendranath alone doubted the Master and critised any of his teachings that appeared irrational.

Firmly poised as he was in the knowledge of the highest truth, Sri Ramakrishna, however, did not upset the intellectual outbursts of Narendranath. He rose equal to the occasion. He never asked Narendranath to abandon his reason. On the other hand, he enjoyed his criticisms, and even encouraged them. He told him: “Test me as the money changers test their coins. You must not accept me until you have tested me thoroughly.”

Narendranath was bitterly against the doctrine of Advaita Vedanta which Sri Ramakrishna was eager to explain to him. The Advaita idea of the identity of the individual soul and the Supreme Self appeared to him as bizarre and blasphemous. Sri Ramakrishna tried his best to bring home to the disciple the truth of Advaita by reason and argument, but without success. One day after a trying discussion, he found Narendranath speaking about the doctrine disparagingly to a friend and in a light vein. Sri Ramakrishna, in a semi-conscious mood, approached him and just touched him, and immediately a wonderful change came over Narendranath. He was filled with the consciousness that everything around him was God. The impression persisted even when he reached home, at the end of the day. He did not relish his food. He ate too much or too little, to the consternation of his mother. He felt that the food, the materials, the server and he himself were all God. In the street, he did not feel like moving out of way of the swiftly, moving cabs, thinking they were God Himself. In the public park, he struck his head against the railing to see if they were real. This feeling lasted for many days. Henceforth he could not deny the truth of Advaita.

In 1884, Vishwanath Datta (Narendranath’s father) suddenly passed away, plunging the whole family into grief and poverty. He was the only earning member of the family, and being of a prodigal nature, he spent lavishly and left the family in debt.

Everywhere the door was slammed in his (Vivekananda’s) face. Friends turned into enemies in an instant. Creditors began knocking at the door. Temptations came. Two rich women made proposals to him to end his poverty, and he turned them down with scorn. Often he went without food so that others at home might have a better share. He was face to face with realities and the world appeared to him to be the creation of a devil.

Nevertheless, the protégé of Sri Ramakrishna did not lose his faith in God and divine mercy. Every morning, taking His name he got up and went in search of a job. One day his devout mother overheard him and said bitterly: “Hush, you fool, you have been crying yourself hoarse for God from your childhood. What has He done for you?” Narendranath was stung to the quick, and began doubting the existence of God.

One evening, after a whole day’s fast and exposure to rain, Narendranath was returning home with tired limbs and a jaded mind. Overpowered with exhaustion, he sat down on the outer plinth of a roadside house in a dazed condition. Various thoughts crowded into his mind. He was too weak to drive them off and concentrate on any particular thing. Suddenly he felt that, by some divine power, the coverings of his soul were being removed one after another. His doubts regarding the coexistence of divine justice and mercy and the presence of misery in the creation of a benign providence were automatically sloved. He felt completely refreshed and full of mental peace. He decided to become a monk, renouncing the world. He even fixed a date for it. Sri Ramakrishna came to Calcutta that day. Narendranath went to have his blessings, and accompanied the Master to Dakshineswar. There, in a state of spiritual trance, Sri Ramakrishna began to sing a touching song which brought tears to the eyes of both. The meaning of the song was very clear, for it revealed that the Master had known the disciple’s decision even without being told of it. But Sri Ramakrishna persuaded Narendranath to stay in the world as long as he himself lived.

Thus, with infinite patience, Sri Ramakrishna calmed the rebellious spirit of Narendranath and led him from doubt to certainty and from anguish of mind to spiritual bliss. More than Sri Ramakrishna’s spiritual guidance and support, it was his love for him that bound Narendranath to him for ever. Narendranath, too, in turn reciprocated in full measure the love and trust of the Master.

An incident which had some bearing on the future work of Narendranath may be mentioned here. Once, Sri Ramakrishna was expatiating on the triple precept of the Vaishnavas, namely, relish for the name of God, compassion for all creatures, and service to the Lord’s devotees. When he came to compassion for all creatures, he said in a semiconscious state, as if speaking to himself: “Thou fool! An insignificant worm crawling on earth, who are thou to show compassion? No, it is not compassion for others, but services to man, seeing in him the veritable manifestation of God.” Narendranath, who was near by, drew from these simple words, which went unnoticed by others present there, a world of meaning, and vowed to proclaim to the whole world the grand truth which he had discovered in them. It was then that he conceived his philosophy of practical Vedanta.

In the middle of 1885. Sri Ramakrishna developed cancer in the throat. For better treatment he was taken to a rented garden house at Cossipore, a northern suburb of Calcutta. The young disciples, under the leadership of Narendranath, took charge of nursing the Master.

At Cossipore also, as earlier at Dakshineswar, Sri Ramakrishna impressed on the other disciples the high plane of spirituality to which Narendranath belonged, and the mission he was born to fulfill. He often talked with Narendranath privately about the orders of monks he was to organise, with the brother disciples as the nucleus. Narendranath was thus chosen and trained as the future leader of a spiritual regeneration.

Having finished his immediate task and being assured of a glorious future for the new movement, Sri Ramakrishna passed away on 16th August 1886.

Compiled and Edited by Swami Gambhirananada
The Apostles of Sri Ramakrishna
Advaita Ashrama; Mayavati; June 1995

In College

At college Narendranath began to interest himself more seriously in studies. Apart from the usual college curriculum, he avidly studies western logic, the abstruse philosophy of Herbert Spencer, the systems of Kant and Schopenhauer, the mystical and analytical speculation of the Aristotelian school, the positivist philosophy of Comte, and John Stuart Mill’s Three Essays on Religion. He also mastered the ancient and modern history of Europe and the English poets like Shelley and Wordsworth. He even took a course in physiology with a view to understanding the functioning of the nervous system, the brain, and the spinal cord.

But this contact with western thought, which lays particular emphasis on the supremacy of reason, brought about a severe conflict in Narendranath. His inborn tendency towards spirituality and his respect for the ancient traditions and beliefs of his religion which he had imbibed from his mother, on the one side, and his argumentative nature coupled with his sharp intellect which hated superstition and questioned simple faith on the other, were now at war with each other. Under a deep spiritual urge, he was then found observing hard ascetic practices, staying in his grandmother’s house, away from his parents and other relatives, following a strict vegetarian diet, sleeping on the bare ground or on an ordinary quilt, in accordance with the strict rules of brahmacharya. From youth, two visions of life had presented themselves before him. In one, he found himself among the great ones of the earth, possessing riches, power, honour, and glory, and he felt himself capable of renouncing all worldly things, dressed in simple loin- cloth, living on alms, sleeping under a tree, and then he felt that he had the capacity to live thus like the Rishis of ancient India. It was, however, the second vision that prevailed in the end, and he used to sleep with the conviction that by renunciation alone could man attain the highest bliss.

In his eagerness for spiritual illumination he went to Devendranath Tagore, the leader of the Brahmo Samaj, and asked him: “Sir, have you seen God?” The old man was embarrassed by the question, and replied, “My boy, you have to eyes of a Yogi. You should practice meditation.” The youth was disappointed, but he received no better answer from the leaders of other religious sects whom he approached with the same question.

At this critical juncture he remembered the words of his professor, William Hastie, who, while speaking of trances in the course of his lectures, had said, “Such an experience is the result of purity of mind and concentration on some particular object, and is rare indeed, particularly in these days. I have seen only one person who has experienced that blessed state of mind, and he is Ramakrishna Paramahamsa of Dakshineswar. You can understand if you go there and see for yourself.” … now in his trouble, the young seeker decided to have yet one more try to solve his problem.

At the first meeting:

Approaching him (Sri Ramakrishna at Dakshineswar), Narendranath asked him the question which he had asked others often before: “Sir, have you seen God?” “Yes, answered Sri Ramakrishna, “I see Him just as I see you here, only I see Him in a much intenser sense. God can be realised; one can see and talk to Him as I am doing with you. But who cares to do so? People shed torrents of tears for their wife and children for wealth and property, but who does so for the sake of God? If one weeps sincerely for Him. He surely manifests Himself.”

This startling reply impressed Narendranath at once. For the first time he had found a man who could say that he had seen God, and recognised that religion was a reality to be felt. As he listened, he could not but believe that Sri Ramakrishna spoke from the depths of his own realisations

Compiled and Edited by Swami Gambhirananada
The Apostles of Sri Ramakrishna
Advaita Ashrama; Mayavati; June 1995

Swami Vivekananda, Early Days

Swami Vivekananda, or Narendranath Datta, or simply Narendra or Naren as was known during his pre-monastic days, was born to Vishwanath Datta and Bhuvaneshwari Devi on Monday, 12th January 1863, at Calcutta.

Naughty and restless though Narendranath was by nature, and given to much fun and frolic, he was greatly attracted towards spiritual life even in childhood. The stories of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, which his mother told him left on him an indelible impression. Play delighted Narendranath, and one of his pastimes as a child was to worship and meditate on the image of Rama, Sita or Shiva. Every night, before he fell asleep, there appeared to him between his eyes a wonderful spot of light of changing hues. That light would gradually expand until it burst and bathed his whole being in a white radiance. He had full faith in Hindu mythology. Once he went to hear an exposition of the Ramayana in the course of which he heard the pundit describe the great devotion of Hanuman. At the end of the exposition, he approached the pundit and said he would like to know the whereabouts of Hanuman. The pundit said that he might be in some plantain grove. So Narendranath waited at a plantain grove till late at night expecting to meet Hanuman, and his people could find him only after a great search.

Even in his early boyhood, Narendranath demanded intellectually convincing arguments for every proposition. He often used to swing on the branches of a champaka tree in a neighbour’s compound. This irritated the owner, an old man, and he warned Narendranath and his companions that the tree was haunted by a bad ghost who would some day break their necks. This frightened the other boys ; but Narendranath argued that if the old man were right, their necks would have been broken long ago. And he continued to swing on the branches of the tree as before.

Narendranath was gifted with a multiplicity of talents and he cultivated them all. His leonine beauty was matched by his courage ; he had the build of an athlete, a delightful voice, and a brilliant intellect. His interests ranged from fencing, wrestling, rowing, games, physical exercise, cooking and organising dramas to instrumental and vocal music, love of philosophic discussion, and criticism. In all these he was an undisputed leader. These and other traits in his character soon attracted the notice of his teachers and fellow students. The principal of his college, Professor Hastie, once remarked: “Narendra is a real genius. I have travelled far and wide, but have not yet come across a lad of his talents and possibilities even among the philosophical students in the German universities. He is bound to make his mark in life.”

Compiled and Edited by Swami Gambhirananada
The Apostles of Sri Ramakrishna
Advaita Ashrama; Mayavati; June 1995

2009 Vivekananda Vidyarthi Bhavan

Vivekananda Vidyarthi Bhavan inaugurated

The newly constructed Vivekananda Vidyarthi Bhavan was inaugurated on Saturday the 3rd January 2009 by Srimat Swami Vagishanandaji Maharaj, a senior trustee of the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission, Belur, Howrah and the President, Ramakrishna Math, Mumbai.

The foundation stone had been laid by Srimat Swami Atmasthanandaji Maharaj, then Vice President of Ramakrishna Order on 22nd January 2007.

The new Vivekananda Vidyarthi Bhavan will house 50 deserving students from rural poor section. The hostel has an Assembly Hall, Recreation Hall, Kitchen and Dining Hall and a Library (containing books on philosophy, religion, education, culture, literature, sociology, history, arts, science, biography, agriculture etc. and academic course books in various languages such as Sanskrit, Marathi, Hindi, English, and Bengali etc.) and also a C.D. Library to be used by students of the Vidyarthi Bhavan only.

It also has best of the facilities for computer knowledge lab., sports (indoor and outdoor) gymnasium and exhibition hall emphasising the role of spirituality and human values for all-round personality development of the inmates of the Vivekananda Vidyarthi Bhavan.

Vivekananda Vidyarthi Bhavan inaugurated

 

 

2006 Universal Temple

Nagpur Math Universal Temple Opening

Newly constructed Universal Temple of Sri Ramakrishna was consecrated on 10th February 2006 by Srimat Swami Gahananandaji Maharaj, the then President Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission Belur Math Howrah.

The foundation stone of the new temple was laid by Srimat Swami Atmasthanandaji Maharaj, the then Vice President, Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission Belur Math Howrah on 5th December 2002.

In order to commence the construction of the new Universal Temple, the Old Temple had been shifted to temporary location of Library Reading Hall by Srimat Swami Gahananandaji Maharaj on 3rd March 2004. Rakshoghna Homa and Vastu Puja was performed on 24th April 2004.

 

2004 March Platinum Jubilee

 

Platinum Jubilee

In March 2004, the Math celebrated its Platinum Jubilee year and the 150th Birth Anniversary of Sri Ma Sarada Devi under the stewardship of Srimat Swami Gahananandaji Maharaj the then Vice President, Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission, Belur Math.

Spiritual discourses were delivered by Srimat Swamis Gautamanandaji Maharaj, Satyarupanandaji Maharaj, Nikhilatmanandaji Maharaj and Vishnupadanandaji Maharaj.

1996 National Youth day

Swami Vivekananda’s birthday is celebrated on 12th January as National Youth Day (declared by Government of India) by the students of Vivekananda Vidyarthi Bhavan.

Since 1996, the Math conducts various programmes in rural areas of Nagpur in about 60 schools covering around 80 villages. The programmes include Recitation Competition, Essay Competition, Extempore Speech and Rallies. The Math also distributes school material such as Note Books, Pens, Compass and School Uniforms to the poor needy students every year along with high protein diet.

1988 Physiotherapy Unit

 

           Physiotherapy Unit

The Math constructed a separate building for charitable Physiotherapy Unit which is equipped with all modern physiotherapy instruments and consists of qualified physiotherapist, assistants and dedicated volunteers. It serves the citizens who suffer from accidents, arthritis, spondylitis, slip disks etc.

 

 

1986 Mobile Dispensary

 

Mobile Dispensary

The charitable Mobile Dispensary started in the year 1986 with doctors, paramedical staff and dedicated volunteers serving the patients with allopathic medicines. The vehicle travels about 70 kms on Bhandara, Umrer and Koradi routes alternatively and covers more than 60 villages in a week.

Golden Jubilee 1979

Half a century with Sri Ramakrishna’s blessings on Nagpur and Central India saw the Ashrama well established and well-reputed, having been the training ground of illustriously dynamic and brilliant monks managing not only Nagpur Centre, but many more ashramas run by the devotees in Yavatmal, Amravati etc. acquitting themselves creditably, all respectfully be holden to Swami Bhaskareshwarananda who passed away in January 1976. Activities, material facilities and buildings were properly set up at optimum level. Golden Jubilee function was enthusiastically organized from 18th March to 26th March 1979 under the saintly Presidentship of Srimad Swami Vyomarupananda.

Many a head of other centres, were alumni of Nagpur Ashrama. They reverentially participated as a token of their gratitude. They were Swami Bhashyananda (Chicago), Akamananda (Ranchi), Vyomananda (Rajkot), Atmananda (Raipur), Balaramananda (Mauritius). The then President of the Ramakrishna Sangha Srimad Swami Vireshwaranandaji Maharaj graced the occasion. Rev. Swami Abhayanandaji (Bharat Maharaj) was a guest of honour.

Swami Budhananda (New Delhi), Rev. Swami Ranganathanandaji (Hyderabad) were the important speakers.

Besides these, several monastic brothers attended and witnessed the functions. The entire nine days’ function was a grand divine festival with spiritual feast of learned discourses of Shri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother, Swami Vivekananda, Vedanta, etc. as also melodious Bhajans and Kirtan by eminent experts. Illumination of all the buildings for all the nine days added grandeur to the spiritual fair as the discourses inspired inner illumination.

January 1976: Swami Bhaskareshwaranandaji leaving mortal coils.

Swami Bhaskareshwaranandaji

Swami Bhaskareshwarananda worked silently and he gradually built up the Ashrama and its various activities. He inspired many young men to join the Ramakrishna Order. Through his inspiration about 25 young men joined the order. He left this world on the 16th January 1976 at about 4.30 a.m.

Silver Jubilee 1954

By 1954, the Ashrama completed twenty five years of glorious achievements both in terms of spiritual gains and material development. Spiritually, Swami Bhaskareshwarananandaji’s life of meditation and service inspired many a youth to embrace life of renunciation and service to become monks of Ramakrishna order. Swami Nikheleshwarananda, Vyomarupananda, Bhashyananda and Shivatatwananda were amongst the important creations of Swami Bhaskareshwarananda.

Silver Jubilee 1954

Activities like Shrine Worship and Prayer, Discourses, Library and Reading Room, Homeopathic Dispensary, Publication of books and their sale, coming of number of devotees, volunteers and initiated devotees grew significantly to demand bigger and better buildings than the original GIC sheet shade. Hard work by the monks and public support gradually brought about construction of these buildings by 1954:
(a) Double Storey building, including Shrine building (1930-1934)
(b) Double Storey building (Present book sale – 1942)
(c) Kitchen and Dining building – 1944
(d) Vidyarthi Bhavan and Sabhagriha – 1948
(e) Monks quarter – 1952. Land for Library building and some construction in 1955 are the milestones in progress.

A hearty jubilation was thus organized for Silver Jubilee celebration which held for eight days from 19th April 1954 along with Sri Ramakrishna Anniversary public function. Lectures on Bhagwan Ramakrishna, Vivekananda, Vedanta, Bhagwat Geeta and spiritual themes discussing various religions, Kirten’s Bhajans by eminent personalities were the highlights of function along with delightful illumination. Buddha Bhikshu Sheelabhadra of Mahabodhi Society of India Calcutta was the Chief Guest. He spoke on Buddha and Buddhism. Srimad Swami Ojasanandaji, Head, Ramakrishna Ashrama, Ootacamand (Ooty) and the local leaders of the society were among the other illustrious guest speakers.

1945-1965: Consolidation of the Nagpur Ashrama.

The Ashrama also opened Charitable Dispensaries in the villages of Khamla and Somalwada. Due to some difficulties both these dispensaries had to be closed after a few years. Then Dispensaries were opened in the villages of Ajni and Babulkheda. But these also were closed in 1946 due to some difficulties.

             The Dispensary at Khamla

     The Dispensary at Indora (1963)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dispensary Building (1942) in Ashrama Premises

In 1942, a building was constructed for Dispensary, Library and Reading Room, Publication Department and Student’s Hostel. After this construction, the number of students in the hostel was increased.

 

In 1948 a large building of Vivekananda Vidyarathi Bhavan was constructed in front of the old building and the accommodation of the hostel was increased to 19 students. Besides this, 6 students stayed in the old building. A spacious lecture hall was constructed on the first floor of Vivekananda Vidyarthi Bhavan and it has been named as ‘Shivananda Sabha Griha’. The weekly discourses as well as other functions of the Ashrama are held in this hall.

 

         Student’s Home Building (1948)

As the number of the inmates of the Ashrama increased, some more land was obtained and towards the end of 1952, the monastic quarters with 12 rooms were constructed.

In 1954, the Ashrama celebrated its Silver Jubilee at the time of the Birth Anniversary of Shri Ramakrishna with a variety of programmes such Kirtan, Bhajan, Lectures and feeding of the poor. On the 5th January 1959, on the auspicious occasion of the Birthday Anniversary of Shri Mahapursh Maharaj, the Library and the Reading Room were shifted to a spacious two storied building constructed on a new plot of land.

             The Reading Room

 

   The new Library & Publication Building

In 1963 the Birth Centenary of Swami Vivekananda was celebrated for 7 days for a variety of programmes such as Kirtan, Bhajan, Lectures and feeding of the poor. In December 1965, a separate building was constructed for the Publication Department and the office of the Marathi Monthly “Jeevan-Vikas”.

Publication Department & Jivan Vikas Office (1965)

1937-1944: New Brahmacharya / Sadhus join the Nagpur Math.

One student entered monastic life in 1937 after the completion of his education. Between 1937 and 1944, five or six more young men became Sadhus. The activities of the Ashram gradually increased with the help of these Brahmacharis and other intimate devotees.

Group Photo

With the help of these Brahmacharis Swami Bhaskareshwarananda began to preach Vedic religion and the teachings of Shri Ramakrishna-Vivekananda through lectures and with the help of magic lantern in adjoining villages like Khamla, Somalvada, Babulkheda, Ajni, Pachpaoli, Indora etc. Swami Bhaskareshwarananda also used to take these Brahmcharis with him when he went for lectures to various places in Vidarbha like Akola, Amaravati, Akot, Khamgaon, Paratwada, Buldana, Yavatmal, Chimur, etc. and also Betul, Chhinadwada, Mandla, Jabalpur. Durg, Rajnandgaon, Raipur, Bilaspur, etc. in the present Madhya Pradesh. Besides the above places the Sadhus and Brahmacharis from the Ashrama delivered lectures at other places on the occasion of Shri Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Birth Anniversary, Gita Jayanti, Shri Jnaneshwara Anniversary, Dasanavmi, Ganesh Festival, etc.

Inmates & Students (1942)

1936: Birth Centenary year of Bhagwan Sri Ramakrishna is celebrated with great enthusiasm. A conference of all Religions is the highlight.

1936 was the Birth Centenary year of Bhagawan Shri Ramakrishna. This Birth Centenary was celebrated all over the world. The Nagpur Ashrama also celebrated this Centenary. Various programmes like Kirtan, Bhajan and religious discourses were held for about two weeks. The chief attraction of the Centenary Celebrations was the conference of all Religions. The following speakers belonging to various religions were invited from different parts of India.

Prof. G.R. Malkani delivered one more speech on “Relation of Self to Knowledge” (In the light of the philosophy of Shri Shankaracharya). This Conference was held on the 1st, 2nd and 3rd March 1936, and Jagadguru Shri Shankaracharya of Karavir Peeth (Dr. Kurtakkoti, M.A. Ph.D.) presided over the Conference on all those three days.

1. “Hindusim” – Prof. G.R. Malkarni, MA (Indian Institute of Philosophy, Amalner)
2. “Buddhism” – Prof. N.K. Bhagwat, MA (Fellow, Bombay University)
3. “Jainism” – Prof. Hiralal Jain, MA, L.L.B., (Amaraoti)
4. “Sikhism” – Prof. Tej Singh, MA (Khalsa College, Amritsar, – Prof. Dilip Singh Virdi, MA City College, Nagpur)
5. “Islam” – Shri L.A. Haidary (Madrasat-ul-Baiizin, Lucknow)
6. “Christianity” – Rev. T.W. Gardiner, MA O.B.E. (Nagpur)
7. “Zoroastrianism” – Shri F.J. Jinwala (Bombay)
8. “Theosophy” – Shri W.L. Chiplunkar, Advocate (Akola)
9. “Vaishnavism of Shri Chaitanyadev” – Shri Kumudabandhu Sen, Puri

Swami Bhaskareshwarananda

On the last day, Swami Bhaskareshwarananda gave a speech on “Shri Ramakrishna and Universal Religion”. He explained to the audience the significance of the harmony of religions preached by Shri Ramakrishna. His speech was greatly appreciated by the audience. The President of the Conference Jagadguru Shri Shankaracharya also was impressed by this speech. The celebrations were attended by Shri Vinayakbuva Masurkar of Masurashram, Bombay, along with his disciples. He delivered two lectures. There were Bhajans of Shri Tukdoji Maharaj, a renowned saint from Vidarbha, on two days.

A special programme of one day was held for women only. It was presided over by Smt. Parvatibai Patwardhan, wife of Shri Shivajirao Patwardhan of Amaravati.

One more feature of the Centenary Celebrations was the beginning of Publication of books under the title “Shri Ramakrishna – Shivananda – Smriti – Grantha-Mala”, ‘Shri Ramakrishna Vaksudha’ (Marathi) was the first book in this series. Two more books, “Short biography of Shri Ramakrishna Paramahansa Deva’ (Marathi) and ‘Premyoga’ (Hindi), were published in the same year. The Ashrama also got the publication rights and all copies of the Marathi book, ‘Biography of Shri Ramakrishna’ by Late Shri N.R. Paranjape.

November 1934: First initiation by a direct disciples.

                Inmates and Students

After Shri Mahapurush Maharaj left the mortal body, Srimat Swami Akhandanandaji Maharaj, a direct disciple of Bhagwan Shri Ramakrishna and the beloved brother-disciple of Swami Vivekananda became the President of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission. After becoming President he went to Bombay in the month of November 1934 and while returning to Belur Math, he halted at Nagpur for two days. One day he initiated a lady devotee in the temple. Thus the first initiation in the temple was given by a direct disciple of Bhagawan Shri Ramakrishna. Therefore, on one side in the temple the photograph of Swami Akhandanandaji Maharaj has been kept near that of Shri Mahapurush Maharaj.

1929-1934: The Ashrama takes shape.

Main building is constructed in 1929-30.
Library is opened in 1932.
Temple is constructed in 1933-34.
Regular worship begins in February 1934.

Temple Building (1932)

Towards the end of 1929 the construction of the main building was complete in May 1930. The Library was opened in a small room on the ground floor in 1932. It contained books on religion, culture, philosophy, etc. donated by some generous persons. Swamiji now stayed in the shrine room. That year a Hostel of two students was started in the adjacent hall. Later, when the number of students increased, regular religious classes were held for them. The room above the Library was now used as the shrine and the adjacent hall was used as the prayer hall. When Swami Bhaskareshwarananda showed the photograph of the building, under construction to Shri Mahapurush Maharaj, he was extremely pleased and said – “Hindi and Marathi books will be published from this Ashrama.”

Temple Building (1932): Under Construction

The construction of the temple of Bhagwan Shri Ramakrishna began in 1933 and was completed in May 1934 Shri Ramakrishna had practiced all the main religions of the world. He realized that different religions ultimately lead to the same God who is given different names in different religions. He declared this great truth and thus established harmony among different religions.

 

The Shrine

To indicate this harmony, symbols of eight chief religions including Hinduism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism. Islam and Christianity were fixed on the dome of the temple. (This dome was later covered by the roof of tiles due to leakage.) It was the desire of everyone that the installation of the photographs of Bhagawan Shri Ramakrishna, Shri Saradadevi and Swami Vivekananda should be done at the hands of Shri Mahapurush Maharaj. But as Shri Mahapurushji passed away on the 20th February 1934, according to his instructions, Swami Bhaskareshwarananda installed the photographs of Bhagawan Shri Ramakrishna, Shri Saradadevi and Swami Vivekananda on the altar with proper religious rites. Shri Mahapurush Maharaj had told Swami Bhaskareshwarananda – “You install Thakur there.: From that day the regular worship was started in the new temple.

September 1928: Swami Bhaskareshwarananda begins the Ashram – a shrine, a kitchen, and a Homeopathic Dispensary in that hut.

The hut where all three – a shrine, a kitchen, and a homeopathic dispensary were housed
Swami Bhaskareshwarananda purchased a box of Homeopathic medicines with the two rupees given by his spiritual Master and came to Nagpur via Varanasi-Jabalpur in September 1928. The activities of Shri Ramakrishna Ashrama at Nagpur began in the hut mentioned above. Two Brahmacharis from Belur Math had accompanied Swamiji to assist him. They left after a few days. There was a shrine, a Kitchen and a Homeopathic Dispensary in that hut.

The Homeopathic DispensaryThe work of collecting funds for the construction of the building of the Ashrama was started. Swamiji occasionally wrote articles about Shri Ramakrishna-Vivekananda in the local papers like ‘Hitavada’ and ‘Maharashtra’. He took weekly moral classes in the local Patwardhan High School and Sule High School. Swamiji was occasionally invited to participate in the symposia organised by the Students’ Union of Nagpur University. There was no bus-service of Rickshaws in Nagpur at that time. Tonga was the only available conveyance. But Swamiji had no money to pay for the fare. So sometimes he used to go on foot to distant areas like Mahal, Itwari, Civil Lines, Sadar etc. Sometimes he even had to personally distribute the handbills of the programmes held in the Ashrama. His noble personality, his love and sympathy for others, his command over English and his oratory attracted many people to the Ashrama. The young lawyer helping the swami renounced the world at about this time and entered monastic life. Swamiji got great help from him.

Daridra Narayan Seva in Ashrama Premises

Initially, any great work has to face difficulties and impediments. However, if all actions are performed with the spirit of service to God with full faith in him, all those difficulties and impediments are surmounted by his grace. Here also some persons in society bitterly opposed the work and created various obstructions and problems. On the other hand some people helped the Ashrama a lot. Among them were people of different communities and of different social strata – young and old, men and women, rich and poor, educated and uneducated, Maharashtrians, Hindustanis, Gujaratis, Panjabis, Bengalis, etc. Sir B.K. Bose, Vice-Chancellor, Nagpur University, Shri P.N. Rudra, Advocate and Shri N.K. Behre, Headmaster, Patwardhan High School, helped the Ashrama in many ways. In the beginning for about six years Shri P.N. Rudra was the Secretary of the Ashrama.

 

February 1927: Mahapurush Maharaj worships Sri Ramakrishna on Ashrama Land and lays corner stone for the Math

In February 1927, Sri Mahapurushji Maharaj visited Nagpur a second time. This time, he desired to stay on the plot of land meant for the Math. Accordingly, tents were erected for Sri Mahapurushji Maharaj and other disciples. On 16th February 1927 Mahapurush Maharaj worshiped Sri Ramakrishna on the spot where there is now the temple of Sri Ramakrishna, and laid the corner stone of the future Ashrama.

While offering worship, Mahapurushji lost himself in divine consciousness. In that high state of consciousness, looking at the land full of trees and shrubs, he exclaimed – “Jangal me mangal ho jayega”. (‘The forest will become a holy place”).

Early 1925:
Mahapurush Maharaj consents to setting up a permanent Ashrama in Nagpur

Swami Shivananda

Srimat Swami Shivanandaji, (Mahapurushji) direct disciples of Sri Ramakrishna’s 2nd President of the order visited Nagpur in early 1925. During this visit he consented to start a permanent centre at Nagpur.

Later in November 1925, a devotee, Ananda Mohan Chaudhari gifted a plot of land to the Ramakrishna Math, Belur for this purpose.

Mid 1927: Mahapurush Maharaj selects Swami Bhaskareshwarananda to spread Ramakrishna-Vivekananda ideas in Nagpur

Mahapurushji left Nagpur and reached Belur Math on the 22nd February 1927. When the thought of starting an Ashrama at Nagpur for spreading the message of Shri Ramakrishna-Vivekananda arose in his mind he saw before his divine vision a person who would achieve this object – his beloved disciple Swami Bhaskareshwarananda.

Swami Bhaskareshwarananda founder and first President

After a few days Swami Bhaskareshwarananda, who was then working at Narayanganj in East Bengal (Bengal Desh of today) went to Belur Math on the instructions of the authorities of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission. He was to go to Rajkot. After coming to Belur Math he went to offer Pranams to Shri Mahapurush Maharaj and told him that he was to go to Rajkot. Mahapurush Maharaj said, “Rajkot! But I have already decided to send you to Nagpur. I was waiting for you to tell you so. You will have to go to Nagpur. I have accepted a gift of land there and laid the corner-stone of the temple of Thakur”. According to the wish of Shri Mahapurush Maharaj, Swami Bhaskareshwarananda’s departure to Rajkot was cancelled.

It was not an easy task to start an Ashrama at a distant place like Nagpur. Therefore Swami Bhaskareshwarananda said to Mahapurush Maharaj, “Maharaj, I do not Hindi or Marathi. What can I do at Nagpur? How shall I work there? Who will help me there?” Mahapurush Maharaj replied, “It is the personality that does the work and not the language. You simply go and stay there. You will not have to do anything – You will not do anything ….. Thakur will Himself do everything. The boys who will help you have come upto Wardha ….. So go there and give love to those who will come to you. Tell them about Thakur. Give your life to the people there. Show your life to them. Take the classes of scriptures as long as possible. I vividly see that Thakur’s Ashrama has taken shape at Nagpur.”

Swami Bhaskareshwarananda holding ‘garden’ classes in accordance to his Master’s wishes -before any construction came up…

Mahapurush Maharaj asked his attendant to give two rupees to Swami Bhaskareshwarananda and said, “Take these two rupees and begin your work.”