Ramakrishna Parmahansa biography

Ramakrishna Parmahansa



Ramakrishna Parmahansa
Ramakrishna Parmahansa
Ramakrishna was born on 18 February 1836 in village Kamarpukur, district Hoogly in West Bengal. His parents, Khudiram Chattopadhayaya and Chandramani, were orthodox Brahmins. The village in which Ramakrishna was born was inhabited chiefly by people of the lower castes, mostly blacksmiths and karmakars or kamars; hence the name of the village Kamarpukur .Theirs was the only Brahmin family in the village.
Naturally, Ramakrishna had playmates from the lower caste families inculcating in him love and affection for every caste high or low. His family was poor but commanded respect in the village. They owned an acre of fertile land and subsisted on its produce, leading a simple, dignified and contented life. In his leisure time, Khudiram made garlands for the family deity Raghuvira.
It is believed that Ramakrishna’s parents, while on a pilgrimage to Gaya in Bihar, had a dream in which Lord Vishnu promised to be born as their son. This was to be their fourth child. When born, he was given the name Gadadhar, ‘the bearer of the mace’, an epithet for Vishnu.
As a boy Gadadhar was healthy and restless, full of fun and sweet mischief, with a feminine grace which he proudly preserved to the end of his life. He was intelligent and precocious and was endowed with an amazing memory, which helped him to remember whatever he heard from visiting pundits, religious men and story-tellers. They recited passages from the RamayanaMahabharataBhagwat Gita and other religious books. He was averse to school and did not learn to read or write any language, including his mother-tongue Bengali. Even in later life, he could barely write his name. Whatever he learnt was from word of mouth and whatever he communicated and preached throughout his life was through the spoken word. It is amazing how he could understand the essence of Hindu philosophy and religion without knowing Sanskrit. He was very fond of painting and the art of moulding images of gods and goddesses, which he learnt from the village potters. He had a beautiful voice and sang divinely the pastoral airs of ‘Sri Krishna’. He led his village playmates in staging stories from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata on a makeshift stage.
At an early age he started undergoing ecstasies which did not leave him till the end of his life. The first one he experienced was when he was only six years old. In his own words: I was following a narrow path between the rice fields. I raised my eyes to the sky as I munched my puffed rice. I saw a black cloud spreading rapidly until it covered the heavens. Suddenly at the edge of the cloud a flight of snow-white cranes passed over my head. The contrast was so beautiful that my spirit wandered far away. I lost consciousness and fell to the ground. An access of joy and emotion overcame me. This was the first time that I was seized with ecstasy." Ecstasies and visions became a regular feature of his life.
Gadadhar’s father died when he was seven years old. It brought a great change in the young Gadadhar. He became serious and often visited cremation grounds, staying there for long hours. At the age of nine, he was invested with the sacred thread and was formally initiated into the Brahmin caste.
In 1852, Gadadhar’s eldest brother Ramkumar took him to Calcutta where he had opened a Sanskrit pathshala (school) hoping that his younger brother would be tempted to learn reading and writing. But Gadadhar showed no such inclination. Soon after, a rich woman, Rani Rasmoni, built a large Kali temple on the bank of Ganges at Dakshineshwar, four miles from Calcutta in 1853. Ramkumar was appointed as the priest for performing rites and rituals for the deity in the temple. Gadadhar soon joined his brother as his assistant. Ramkumar died in 1856 and Gadadhar took over as the head priest. The Kali temple at Dakshineshwar became his spiritual abode where he experimented with various modes of god realization and later preached to thousands of seekers for the rest of his life from a small room which was his home in the temple. Soon, Gadadhar came to be known as Ramakrishna. Surprisingly no definite information is available about the origin of this name.
The temple, and the whole estate around it, was supervised by Rani Rasmoni assisted by her son-in-law, Babu Mathuranath. Both had great respect and affection for Ramakrishna and did not interfere with the daily routine practiced by him. His close association with the deity brought a strange emotional attachment in him for the deity. He began to look upon the image of the goddess Kali as his mother and the mother of the universe. He believed it to be living and breathing and eating food out of his hand. After the regular forms of worship he would sit in front of the image for hours singing hymns and talking and praying to her as a child does to his mother, till he lost all consciousness of the physical world. Sometime he would weep for hours, and would not be comforted because he could not see the mother in a living form." At times he forgot to perform the rituals. To help him the Rani appointed a young boy, Hariday, a distant nephew of Ramakrishna, who was destined to play an important role in Ramakrishna’s life.
About this time (1856), as his longing for a vision of the Divine Mother became more and more intense but he did not succeed and out of despair and agony he tried to commit suicide. And lo! He was blessed with a marvelous vision of the Divine Mother engulfed in a flood of light and he fell unconscious. After this first vision Ramakrishna often remained in ecstasy. People considered him insane. Ramakrishna was called back to Kamarpukur in 1858. The doctors could not cure him so the family members decided to get him married, hoping that marriage would cure him. So he was married to a girl of five years when he was twenty-three years old. She was Sharda Devi, daughter of Ram Chandra of a nearby village, who became famous later in life as the Holy Mother. She supervised the working of the Ramakrishna Mission and the math till her death in 1920. Ramakrishna stayed at Kamarpukur for a year and a half and then returned to Dakshineshwar. His madness for the Mother reappeared tenfold. But when the visions appeared again and again he was satiated and became calmer and was ready for further spiritual pursuits.
Around 1861 came to Dakshineshwar a Brahmin lady called Bhairbi Brahmani. She was around fifty but very handsome with a kind of divine grace. She was a learned lady, adept in the trantric and Vaishnava methods of worship. Ramakrishna welcomed her and told her all about his experiences and that people called him mad. After observing his activities for several days she proclaimed that Sri Ramakrishna, like Sri Chaitanya, was an Incarnation of God. She stayed at Dakshineshwar for two years. Several scholars and religious people started visiting Dakshineshwar to interact with Ramakrishna. One such man was Totapuri (the naked man), who arrived in 1864. He was an Advaita Vedantist and tried to preach Advaita (oneness of God) to Ramakrishna. But when he saw Ramakrishna in Samadhi (uninterrupted meditation) for three days continuously he was convinced about his extraordinary power and exclaimed: “He (Ramakrishna) has attained in a single day what took me forty years of strenuous practice to achieve.
Several other famous persons were drawn to Ramakrishna as his fame spread. Swami Dayanand Saraswati, the founder of Arya Samaj, came to meet him when he visited Calcutta in 1872. There is no record of what transpired between the two. At that time Dayanand knew only Sanskrit and Ramakrishna knew only Bengali. The most rewarding exchange of views was between the Brahmos led by Keshab Chandra Sen, and Ramakrishna. The exchange of views influenced the thinking of both. While Brahmos antagonism to idol-worship was diluted to some extent, Ramakrishna came to know what the educated Bengali was thinking about God and religion.
While the meeting with these elderly intellectuals was rewarding, Ramakrishna was waiting for young men who would become sanyasis and carry on his mission in life. Gradually, a band of young men came to him, promised to renounce the world and do his bidding. The most talented of them was Narendranath Dutt, who later became famous as Vivekananda. There were about sixteen of them at the time of Ramakrishna’s death, who later led the life of a monk to spread his message.
Ramakrishna had come to believe that all religions, if followed in the right spirit, lead to the same God. He even led the life of a Muslim and a Christian, in turn, for a few days to know their gods, which he concluded was in no way different from Hindu and other gods.
Ramakrishna’s wife Sharda Devi joined her husband after attaining puberty but their marriage was never consummated as Ramakrishna considered all women as mothers. That included his wife. Sharda Devi, after the death of her husband, played an important role as the Mother figure" to the monks of Ramakrishna Mission and math and they always looked to her for guidance.
During the last years of his life, Ramakrishna preached incessantly from his room in the Dakshineshwar temple. Crowds came at all hours of the day to listen to this man who had realized God. The Western educated, the agnostics, the skeptics, the orthodox, the Brahmos, and the believers flocked to him to hear and imbibe the Upanishadic truths that fell from his lips." He welcomed them all in unsophisticated Bengali with a slight, delightful stammer: Greetings to the feet of the Jnani! Greeting to the feet of the Bhakta! Greeting to the devout who believes in the formless God! Greeting to those who believe in God with form! Greeting to the men of old who know the Brahma! Greeting to the modern knower of truth"!
The continuous preaching began to tell on Ramakrishna’s health. In the beginning of 1885, he suffered what is known as the clergyman's sore throat. The situation worsened. Soonafter, he had a hemorrhage of the throat. The doctor now diagnosed the malady as cancer. Ramakrishna was taken to Calcutta for treatment. He died on 15 August 1886. Before, he died he had declared that Narendra (Vivekananda) would be his spiritual heir. It was Vivekananda who spread the message of the master in the world with significant modifications brought by him. It was he who founded the Ramakrishna Mission and math. Ramakrishna’s other apostle also did a commendable job by converting themselves into a team of monks, serving humanity devotedly and selflessly and spreading the message of Vedanta throughout the world. Every year, new monks join the cadre to keep alive the mission of Ramakrishna. His (Ramakrishna's) contribution towards improving the social tone of society, at a time when the influence of English education and missionary proselytisation had considerably undermined the faith of the English educated Hindus in their own religion and in the values of their own culture, is inestimable. “By presenting to the believers, waverers and scoffers, the highest wisdom of the ancient sages, together with the difficult teachings of the Upanishads and the Vedanta in a language which was simple and lucid in style as it was rich in telling similes and metaphors, he not only revived their faith in the cardinal values of Hindu culture, but also revivified Hinduism in such a way as to turn it into a huge magnet exercising an irresistible attraction for them all, including the Brahmos”.

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