Gadadhar Comes to Kolkata
At the age of sixteen, when Gadadhar came to Kolkata, he was entrusted with the duties of a priest, which he was glad to discharge. Here too by his simplicity, integrity of character, and winning manners he soon formed a circle of friends and admirers, all belonging to respectable families. But when, after some months, Gadadhar still showed no interest in his studies, Ramkumar naturally got annoyed, and one day took the boy aside and admonished him for his apathy towards education and his general indifference. “Brother, what shall I do with a mere bread-winning education?” was the spirited reply of the boy. “I would rather acquire that wisdom which will illumine my heart and getting which one is satisfied for ever.” Ramkumar could hardly understand the full import of this laconic answer, as he was quite ignorant of the phenomenal mental transformation of this wonderful boy, who now more than ever, realized that he was born for purposes different from those of the ordinary run of men. So Ramkumar was puzzled to hear the straight and pointed reply from his youngest brother. All his arguments to prevail upon the boy to pursue his studies with zeal and enthusiasm proved fruitless. He had therefore no alternative but to leave everything to the will of Raghuvir, until a new event, with far-reaching consequences in the life of young Gadadhar, came to pass in a most unexpected manner.
The Kali Temple at Dakshineswar
At that time a rich widow of great piety named ‘Rani Rasmani’ was living in Kolkata. In 1847, she spent a large sum to build a temple for Goddess Kali on the eastern bank of the Ganga at Dakshineswar. In the midst of a rectangular paved courtyard, stood the vast temple of Kali, while there was another shrine dedicated to Lord Krishna and Radha. Both the temples were connected by an open terrace above the Ganga between a double row of 12 (Dwadasha) Shiva’s shrines. In addition to the temples there were a spacious music hall, rooms for temple staff, quarters for the Rani’s family, etc. There was also a beautiful garden with two tanks and a large banyan tree which later played a great part in Shri Ramakrishna’s life.
The date for the installation of the image of the goddess Kali was fixed for May 31, 1855. The Rani was eager to spend any amount to make this function a splendid success. However, unfortunately, since she was from a lower caste, no orthodox Brahmin could be procured to officiate as her priest or partake of the sacramental food in her temple. According to the orthodox custom of the time, it was derogatory for a Brahmin to worship for lower caste people or to accept gifts from such. The Rani made frantic efforts to collect the opinions of renowned pandits in her favour on this matter. But none of the answers were acceptable, except that which came from the Tol of Jhamapukur.
Ramkumar informed the Rani that if she made a gift of the Kali temple to a Brahmin, endowing it with adequate funds for maintenance, it would be quite acceptable and the priests may not have any objection to participate and partake of the food offered there. The solution came to the Rani as god sent, and she eventually succeeded in getting Ramkumar himself as the priest in the temple of the goddess Kali. The temple was consecrated with great pomp to the unbounded joy and relief of the pious-hearted Rani.
Sri Ramakrishna’s Arrival at Dakshineswar
After a few days, Gadadhar also began to live with his brother in the sacred temple garden of Dakshineswar, in the calm and congenial atmosphere where he felt quite at home and found greater opportunities to pursue his spiritual practices. Hereafter we shall call him by his popular name: ‘Ramakrishna’. Who gave him this name we do not know: perhaps his parents, perhaps one of his religious teachers.
It was at this time that Hriday, a young man destined to be a close companion of Sri Ramakrishna for twenty-five years and a faithful attendant during the stormy days of his sadhana appeared on the scene. He was the nephew of Gadadhar. His presence at Dakshineswar delighted Gadadhar’s heart beyond measure as he found in him a trustworthy associate to whom he could open his heart in moments of trouble and difficulty.
Soon the eyes of Mathuranath Biswas, the son-in-law of Rani Rasmani, fell on young Gadadhar, whom he persuaded to take charge of decorating the image of Kali with flowers, leaves and sandal paste in the morning, and costly jewellery and clothes in the evening. Thus, entrusted with work quite suitable to his temperament, Gadadhar gave his heart and soul to the task, and in leisure hours entertained the goddess with devotional songs which kept every one enthralled and spell-bound.
Sri Ramakrishna’s Wisdom and Skill
Shortly after his appointment in the Kali temple, an incident occurred which enhanced the worth of Sri Ramakrishna in the eyes of Rani Rasmani and Mathur. One day, the priest of the Radha-Kanta temple, while taking the image of Krishna to the retiring room, slipped, and a leg of the idol was broken. This gave rise to commotion in the temple, and the priest was dismissed from service for his carelessness. The pandits, who were called to advise the Rani as to what should be done under the circumstances, unanimously came to the decision that the image should be thrown into the Ganga and a new one installed in its place. They claimed that it was contrary to the scriptural prescriptions to worship the Lord in a broken image. This decision did not appeal to the pious Rani, who, at the suggestion of Mathur, sought the opinion of Sri Ramakrishna on the matter. After hearing the whole story, he exclaimed in an exalted mood, “Their solution is ridiculous. If a son-in-law of the Rani fractured his leg, would she discard him and put another in his stead? Would she not rather arrange for his treatment? Why not do the same thing here? Let the image be repaired and worshipped as before.”
The Pandits were puzzled to learn the ruling of the young priest. It did not satisfy the scholars at first, but they finally had to accept it. The joy of the Rani knew no bounds. Sri Ramakrishna, who was an adept in clay modelling, undertook to repair the limb at the request of the Rani and did it so adroitly that even careful scrutiny did not reveal where the break had been.
Sri Ramakrishna was now made the priest of the Radha-Kanta temple, and Hriday was appointed to assist Ramkumar in dressing and decorating the image of Kali.
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