The superior form of a person is one whose heart swings with devotion, mind dances in the rhythm of God, and purity of spirit uplifts the whole of human civilisation. An enlightened yogi and a mystique – Shri Ramakrishna Paramhansa, whose mind was blissed with the devotion of Maa Kali, became the frontier for the new definition of spiritualism in the late 19th century. Paramahansa (also spelled as paramahamsa) is a Sanskrit title of honor given to enlightened spiritual gurus, which literally means ‘supreme swan’. By his vivid understanding of religion, Ramakrishna laboured hard to translate the rigid spiritual practices into intelligible and understandable manner for commoners to realize and follow.
Ramakrishna is perhaps one of the very few yogis around the world, who did not limit his understanding to one religion only but spread across the dimensions of different religions and religious entities. Throughout his life, he emphasised on self for the understanding of the Divine, who is omnipotent in various forms and lives within every individual. After his great and divine realization, Ramakrishna compiled his spiritual practices in a simply followed dictum: ‘yato mat, taato path’ which means ‘as many faiths, so many paths’.
Childhood and Early Life
The childhood of Ramakrishna was just like any other kid in rural India, but what emerged as a difference in upbringing is the spiritual inclination. On February 18, 1836, Ramakrishna was born as Gadadhar Chattopadhyay at Kamarpur village in the Hoogly district of present-day Bengal. His parents, Khudiram Chattopadhyay and Chandramani Devi were poor but virtuous. Initially, in his infant days, Ramakrishna was educated in Sanskrit in a local school of his village, but he showed more interest in making clay idols of the Hindu Gods and Goddesses and learning mythological and folk literature. Soon, at a very young age, he had mastered the verses of the Mahabharata, the Ramayana, the Puranas, and other Hindu holy scriptures from the temple priests. It is said that he experienced a divine ecstasy and intoxication of devotion and religion while performing pujas, religious dramas, and community hearing of religious scriptures.
In 1843, Ramakrishna’s father observed his last days, and with his death, the entire family’s responsibility fell on the shoulder of Ramakumar, Ramakrishna’s brother. Soon, Ramakumar left for Calcutta for the sake of the survival of his family. While Ramakumar was away, Ramakrishna took up his brother’s duties and was deeply engrossed in ritualistic worship of his family-deity.
Priesthood at Dakhineswar Mandir
At around the age of sixteen years, Ramakumar brought his brother Gadadhar to Kolkata, by means of helping in his daily chores of the priesthood. In 1855, Rani Rashmoni had established the Kali Temple of Dakhineswar and as destiny had in it, Ramakumar was positioned as the chief priest. Ramakrishna followed his brother in all his chores and showed extreme proficiency in his tasks. But soon after, in the year 1856, owing to illness, Ramakumar breathed his last and thus all the duties of the chief priest passed to the hands of the adolescent Ramakrishna.
Ramakrishna found Maa Kali as existential reality. He felt as if the Goddess danced vigorously, with her open hair and madness, before his eyes, ate from his own hands, came when she is remembered and drove his existence in devotional captivity and ecstasy. He started shuddering all his priestly chores to be at the lap of the Divine Mother. It is said that Ramakrishna was attached to the Goddess in the same way a child is attached to his mother. When Ramakrishna was deeply indulged in the thoughts of the ‘Holy Mother’, he would burst out singing and dancing with the name of the Goddess, and if he experienced a moment of detachment from the Goddess, he would burst into tears, obliging the Mother to not lose contact from him.
Marriage with Sarada Devi
When Ramakrishna’s relatives experienced his frenzy mind for the Goddess, the alarmed relatives thought of getting him married, so as to bind him fully in a marital bond and family welfare. They married him off to a young girl named Saradamani, then six years old, a simple girl from Jayrambati, the neighbouring village of Kamarpukur. However, even after marriage, she continued to live with her parents till the age of nineteen, while Swami Ramakrishna engrossed himself in his God-intoxicated life and divinity at Dakshineshwar Mandir.
Devi Sarada is said to have spent most of her days devoting herself to household chores, looking after cattle, and helping her family in their village work. Unlike Ramakrishna, she received no formal education but shroud herself under the cover of spiritualism and worship. In the year 1872, Devi Sarada, transformed into a lady of virtues, attended Ramakrishna, who received her with much respect and affection.
During her unattended phase to Ramakrishna, he had reached the highest realization of a human being and mingled with the divine, where he could feel the presence of God in every individual. As a husband, guide, and teacher, Ramakrishna taught her the spiritual way of life, along with focussing on the duties of a wife. During their stay in the Dakhineswar Mandir, Ramakrishna worshipped Sarada as a Divine Mother, and later she was known as Sarada Devi. Sarada and Ramakrishna continued to live together as a married couple, but their marital relationship was not consummated and focussed on the superior realm of spirituality.
Spiritual Journey, Practices and Moksha
In 1861, Bhairavi Brahmani, a remarkable woman, and saint set foot at the Dakhineswar Temple. She is said to have conquered the realm of Tantric practices and culminated the deep understanding of religious scriptures and spiritualism. This great religious guru took to her undertaking Ramakrishna’s Tantric path. Under her guidance Shri Ramakrishna learned the 64 Sadhana of Tantras. He even exerted the learning of Kundalini Yoga from the female sage.
Around three years later, in 1864, Ramakrishna bent his mind towards understanding the inner mechanics and working of Vaishnav Dharma, a faith contradicting the zeal of a Kali practitioner. Under the expert guidance of Guru Jatadhari, Ramakrishna started practicing ‘Batshalya Bhava’, the worship of God. He also practiced the core concept of Vaisnav or ‘Madhura Bhava’.
Ramakrishna also encountered a Naga Sannyasi named Totapuri, the wandering monk, while the former was sitting at the bank of the river and acknowledging the spiritual realm of nature. Totapuri saw in him a light, that might tough the zenith of Humanity, enlightenment. Monk Totapuri trained Ramakrishna in Advaita Vedanta and showed him the tough path of enlightenment.
The path of Ramakrishna’s spiritual samadhi is often glided through generations and the tale follows the path of glory. Whenever Ramakrishna closed his eyes, he could visualize the picture of Kali driving him frenzy. Monk Totapuri asked him to destroy the picture controlling him. But the long perseverance could overpower him and drive him to attain Nirvikalpa Samadhi, or the highest spiritual realm of spiritualism. He stayed in the same position, without sustenance and necessity for six months, embracing the true understanding of inner and outer spirituality and governance of mind. Shri Ramakrishna’s condition gradually worsened, and he died in the early hours of 16 August 1886, in a state of ‘mahasamadhi’, at the Cossipore Udyanbati in Kolkata.
Teachings and Inspirations from the Life of Shri Ramakrishna
Ramakrishna practiced and projected the life of a simple man. He chose to inculcate his teachings in simplistic terms, understandable to the public. He preached that ‘the goal of human life’ is directed to the understanding of ‘the Ultimate Reality’, which would bring in ‘everlasting peace’. ‘The Ultimate Reality’ is one, focussing on both personal and spiritual realm, and is known by various names like God, Bhagwan, Ishwar, etc. ‘All religions are true’ as they lead the way to one God, but the path is traversed with ‘Purity of mind’. Egoism is the core cause of suffering. God resides in all of us and one can experience God by ‘helping the needy’ out of love and compassion.
The legacy of Shri Ramkrishna Paramahansa was carried over by Swami Vivekananda. Vivekananda spread the ideals of Ramakrishna across the world and taught Harmony of Religions. In the year 1897, Swami Vivekananda along with his small group of disciples, founded two ashramas, one at Belur, in Howrah District of West Bengal, which became the headquarters of Ramakrishna Mission; and the other at Mayavati on the Himalayas, in Champawat District of Uttrakhand, called the Advaita Ashrama. These ashramas were meant to receive and train young men who would eventually become ‘sannyasis’ of the Ramakrishna Mission.
The spiritual and religious contribution of Ramakrishna to the Modern world remains numerous. The world seeks him as ‘the Prophet of Harmony of Religions.’ Struggled minds, indecisive thoughts, and agitated spirits come to a standstill by embracing the teachings of Ramakrishna.