Sri Ramakrihna Paramhansa was one of the most seminal figures in the recent religious history of India. He was a sage, a mystic and a god-man. His legacy of religious mysticism and his simplistic dissemination of religious discourse has till now not been obscured by the legends, nor by adulating fantastic story-telling.
His simple yet exemplary life remains a source for inspiration and the core behind the formation of Ramakrishna Mission, founded by his disciple Sri Vivekananda to do well and bring about good. Ramakrishna Jayanti is the celebration of the day when this seer was born on the 18th of February in the year 1836.
- Early life of Ramakrishna Paramhansa
Ramakrishna was born as Gadadhar Chattopadhyay to Khudiram Chattopadhyay and Chandramani Devi in the year 1836, in the humble abode of Kamarpukur in the Hooghly district of West Bengal. His coming into the world was preceded by certain supernatural occurrences as felt by his parents. Giving up formal education when he was around twelve or thirteen, the young Gadadhar got involved with many holy men and he became well versed in the Puranas, or the Ramayana or the Mahabharata. From an early age he could feel God. The God consciousness or the spiritual intoxication happened to him from a childhood.
- Ramakrishna and Dakshineswar
Following suite, Ramakrishna joined his elder brother Ramkumar; as a helping hand of the priest. The temple of Dakshineswar was built by Rani Rashmoni, belonging to the Kaibartya community. Soon after Ramkumar passed away and Sri Ramakrishna took over the responsibilities for the daily puja in Dakshineswar where the reigning deity was Ma Kali, a form of Shakti. While performing his duties here, Ramakrishna became more and more engrossed in the divine and took to looking upon the Goddess Kali as the Universal Mother. Hearing such stories, Ramakrishna Dev’s mother began to get worried and started looking for a suitable match for her son, as she believed that a marriage may make his wandering soul become a little more family oriented. Ramakrishna himself gave direction to where his prospective wife could be found and Saradamani Mukhopadhyay of Jayrambati, then five years old was married to Ramakrishna Dev who was then twenty three at the year 1859.
The marriage did little to dissuade him from the path of seeking divinity, and by the time the young bride joined Ramakrishna Dev at Dakshineswar, she herself had become one of his biggest disciples; and he had become too immersed in the quest to seek the Universal Mother for the marriage to be ever consummated. Ramakrishna in fact, worshipped Sarada Devi as the Divine mother during Soroshi Puja and as such used to address her also as the Holy Mother.
- Ramakrishna’s Bhakti and religious Gurus
Ramakrishna had integrated various forms of religious philosophy in his own religious God- Consciousness. At a point of time Ramakrishna practiced his sadhana under Tantra, the Vedanta and the vaishnava school of thought. At one point he worshipped Lord Rama, with the affinity of Hanumana, his biggest disciple, then again at a point of time he practiced tantra. He later realized and mentioned too that all these varied roads led to only one goal- that to God- realization in oneself.
- Ramakrishna Dev’s Followers
It was the time of upheaval and of Bengal renaissance when Ramakrishna Dev arrived at the religious arena with his extremely simplistic views about religion. Neither did he preach a new religion, nor did he establish any kind of order for his followers. He was a simple man who felt the path to seek the ultimate truth is to attain a deep God- realization within one self. He acknowledged that there are various ways to do it and famously proclaimed – “joto mot, toto poth” meaning “as many faiths, that many paths”. Ramakrishna Dev proclaimed that a variety of religions only looked at the same ultimate and eternal God from a variety of perspectives, and thus they are in no way contradictory, rather they are complimentary to each other.
His religious beliefs drew Keshab Chandra Sen, an important leader of the Brahmo Samaj which was a reformatory religious sect. Keshab Chandra Sen, impressed with Ramakrishna Dev’s thought process kept on publishing his teachings in a magazine called Naba Bidhan or loosely translated as the new dispensation; which actually brought out his views in front of a wider and more learned urban audience. Other prominent people of the Bengali intelligentsia who flocked to Ramakrishna were Trailokyanath Sanyal, Pratap Chandra Majumdar and Shivanath Shastri to name a few. Pratap Chandra Majumdars’s English biography of Ramakrishna drew the German philosopher Max Mueller to his fold. However, the most prominent follower was Vivekananda, born Narendranath Dutta; born of aristocratic parents and a student of Scottish Church College, who despite his initial reservations, went on to become his greatest follower and spoke about the God in self realization or God Realization in one self in various International discourses and founded Ramakrishna Mission, an order which works for the welfare of society and in spreading his vision and mission throughout the world.
- His Final Days
Ramakrishna Dev diagnosed with throat cancer in 1885, kept talking incessantly to all his visitors about religion throughout. He asked Vivekananda to keep his followers together and is said to have transferred his self and spiritual powers to Vivekananda. He succumbed to cancer in the early morning of 16th of August 1886 in what his disciples called the Maha Samadhi. Vivekananda, with his band of followers in a house in Baranagar founded the Ramakrishna Mission which has now gone on from strength to strength.
- Ramakrishna Jayanti Celebrations
Ramakrishna Dev’s date of birth is celebrated world wide as the Ramakrishna Jayanti, marking the devotees’ devotion and love towards one of the most influential figures in the 19th century Bengali renaissance period. In all the Ramakrishna Math and Missions this day begins with a Mangalarati followed by Vedic chanting culminating into special puja. This puja is followed with a nama sankirtan or singing the praise of Sri Ramakrishna Dev. There is Homa conducted in the latter half of the day, followed by pushpanjali, or paying homage to Ramakrishna Dev with flowers. A dissertation, discourse and discussion on the life and time of Ramakrishna Dev are held. Prasad is distributed to all the devotees, bhajans sang and a final Deeparadhana is held marking an end to the celebrations. Millions of devotees from all across the world flock to attend these celebrations in various Ramakrishna Math and Missions situated almost all over the world with utmost zeal and devotion.
Ramakrishna Dev, in an era which was burning with doubts and traditional beliefs shaken under material worldly pressures; proved beyond doubt that God existed and it is in one self that one has to seek the Omnipotent as he is omnipresent.