Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa was one of the most prominent religious figures of India during the nineteenth century. Born in a simple Bengali rural family in 1836, he pursued the divine sadhana throughout his life in various forms and believed in divine embodiment of the Supreme Being in every individual. Sri Ramakrishna was the embodiment of spiritual salvation to the troubled souls from all walks of life.
Sri Ramakrishna opened the eyes of the Indians to the beauty, grandeur, and strength of Hinduism at a time when their faith in it had weakened. He was born not only to revive faith in Hinduism but in all other Faiths.
During his life, Sri Ramakrishna practised other religions too besides Hindus and experienced all to be true. His experiences revealed that a person belonging to any religion, can, strengthen his faith and experience His God. Proper study of the life of Sri Ramakrishna is sure to stem the tide of the general disbelief in religions all the world over.
Sri Ramakrishna explained complex spiritual concepts in a lucid and intelligible manner. In essence, his teachings were as traditional as that of ancient sages and seers, yet remains contemporary at any point of time. His teachings and principles were continued by his most prominent disciple Swami Vivekananda.
Towards mid-18th century there lived in the village of Derepore in Hooghly district, Bengal, a Brahmin by name Manik Ram Chattopadhyaya, who was pious and kind-hearted man, was the head of the family.
With fifty acres at his disposal, he was able to meet the needs of his family and also lend a helping hand to the poor and distressed of the village during times of calamity. In about 1775 he was blessed with a son who was named Kshudiram. He later had two more sons and a daughter. After the death of Manik Ram, the entire charge of the family passed on to his eldest son, Kshudiram, who, trained in an orthodox family traditions, was eminently fit to attend to the religious and secular duties of the household.
Kshudiram Chattopadhyaya was married to Chandramani in 1799. Both of them were exceptionally devoted to their tutelary deity Sri Ramachandra, and soon earned the love, respect, and admiration of the villagers for their charity, truthfulness, and kindness.
Their first son Ramkumar was born in 1805 and daughter Katyayani in 1810.
In 1814 an incident of great importance occurred in the life of Kshudiram.He was ordered by a Zamindar to bare false witness in court against a neighbour which he refused to do. So fearless was Kshudiram's integrity that he was prepared to stake his all rather than deviate from the path of truth and righteousness. His stout refusal to comply with the request made the zamindar bring a false case against him. It deprived him of his ancestral property. This ultimately led him to leave his ancestral house for good. Penniless and homeless, Kshudiram left Derepore and made Kamarpukur, a neighbouring village, his new home.
The Pious Family of Kamarpukur
Through the benevolence of one of his friends, he got about an acre of very fertile land in Kamarpukur, which supplied the simple needs of the family. Kshudiram began his life anew in the midst of the quiet and peaceful surroundings of this village, and soon gained the respect of his neighbours.
One day, while returning from a neighbouring village, Kshudiram strangely came into possession of the emblem of his tutelary deity Raghuvir (Salagram) in a paddy field. He took it home and began to worship it as his own Ishta. Kshudiram and Chandramani made a profound impression upon the villagers by their exemplary life, unswerving devotion to their beloved deity, and kindness to all who came to their doorstep for help and succour.
Six years after he had moved to Kamarpukur, Kshudiram performed weddings of his son Ramkumar and daughter Kathyayini.
Ramkumar, meanwhile, had become quite proficient in Hindu lore, and was able to relieve, to a certain extent, his father’s family burden by serving as a temple priest and earning his livehood. Kshudiram had now more time at his disposal to devote himself to religious practices.
In the year 1824 he went on a pilgrimage, walking to Rameshwaram in South India, which lasted about a year.
Twelve months later, in 1826, his wife Chandra gave birth to her second son, who was named Rameshwar, based on the pilgrimage.
The Dream at Gaya
Eleven years later, in 1835, Kshudiram went on another pilgrimage, this time to Gaya. Here, after the performance of the sacred rites, he had a strange vision at night. He dreamt that he was in the temple of Vishnu, where his forefathers were feasting on the sacred offerings he had made. Suddenly a flood of celestial light filled the holy precincts of the shrine, and the spirits of the departed fell on their knees to pay homage to a Divine Presence seated on a throne. The effulgent One beckoned to Kshudiram, who, came near, prostrated himself before Him and heard the luminous person say, “I am pleased at your sincere devotion. I shall be born in your cottage and accept you as my father."
Kshudiram awoke with his heart thrilled with joy. He understood that a Divine Being would bless his family very soon.
About the same time Chandramani was also having strange visions at Kamarpukur. One night she dreamt that a luminous person exactly like her husband was lying by her side. Another day, while standing with Dhani (a village blacksmith woman) before the Shiva temple adjacent to her house, Chandramani saw a bright beam of divine effulgence dart from the image of Lord Shiva and enter her. Chandramani was overpowered and fell unconscious on the ground. Dhani nursed her back to consciousness, but from that time Chandramani began to feel as if she were quick with child. On Kshudiram’s return to Kamarpukur, Chandramani narrated this event to her husband with her characteristic simplicity. But Kshudiram, who had already had the strange vision at Gaya, was now completely convinced that they were soon to be blessed with a divine child. He advised her not to speak of her visions to anyone. Chandramani was greatly consoled, and passed her days in complete resignation to the will of Raghuvir.
Illustrations by Smt. Hema Satagopan
- Sri Ramakrishna The Great Master by Swami Saradananda, Translated by Swami Jagadananda, Sri Ramakrishna Math, Mylapore, Chennai - 600 004
- The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, Translated by Swami Nikhilananda (Madras: Sri Ramakrishna Math, 1974)
- The Path Divine, Sathya Sai Balvikas Magazine, Dharmakshetra, Mahakali Caves Road, Andheri (East), Mumbai - 400 093
- A Short Life of Sri Ramakrishna, published by Swami Tattwavidananda, Adhyaksha, Advaita Ashrama, Uttarkhand, Himalayas from its Publication Department, Kolkata
- The Story of Ramakrishna, Published by Swami Bodhasarananda, Advaitha Ashrama, Uttarkhand, from its Publications Department, Kolkata