Sri Ramakrishna was born of poor parents at village Kamarpukur in the district of Hooghly of West Bengal. His earlier name was Sri Gadadhar Chattopadhyay. Even in his very childhood, Gadadhar gave on many occasions, a clear evidence of divine inspiration and power through his thoughts and actions. While very young, he felt a keen urge to know if the Divine power of God manifests itself through everything on earth, particularly through the idols or images the Hindus generally worship.
At the age of seventeen, he was sent to his eldest brother at Kolkata where the latter conducted a Sanskrit academy. On being advised to join studies in keeping with the tradition of the Bramhins, he replied, “Brother, what shall I do with a mere bread winning education? I would rather acquire that wisdom which will illuminate my heart and in getting which, one is satisfied forever.” Thereafter he was engaged as a priest in the Holy temple of Goddess Kali on the bank of the Ganges at Dakshineswar, 8 kilometres off towards the north of Kolkata, a city which was then full of western thoughts and more Europeanized than any other city in India. There he practiced in extreme austerity while performing daily worship in the temple of Kali and ultimately realized that God is the goal of human life and God is the only friend of all beings at all times and under all circumstances. Thereupon he wanted to know the Truth in other religions.
Towards the end of 1866, he got formally initiated into Islam. As a non-Hindu, he began to reside outside the precincts of the temple and started dressing and behaving like a devout Muslim reciting the namaz regularly. In 1874, i.e. after about 8 years, he practiced Christianity imbibing all the teachings of Christ. Thus he tried all beliefs and traversed all different ways one by one. He realized that all the religions are equally true and there are different ways of getting to the truth of existence and everyone has the right to approach God in his or her own way. He said, “A lake has several ghats. At one, the Hindus take water in pitchers and call it “jal”; at another, the Mussalmans take water in leather bags and call it “pani”. At the third, the Christians call it “water”. Can we imagine that it is not “jal”, but only “pani” or “water”? How ridiculous! The substance is one under different names, and everyone is seeking the same substance; only climate, temperament, and name create differences. Let each man follow his own path. If he sincerely and ardently wishes to know God, peace be unto him! He will surely realize Him.’
He expressed in very simple words, with the aid of stories and parables, the great truths he had realized. He was totally free of any dogma and bigotry and emphasized that there could be no claim to monopoly over spiritual matters. Naturally, great scholars and numerous spiritual aspirants, belonging to different sects, with genuine desire for god – realization, were attracted by his wonderful teachings. He did not claim any originality. But with great humility he could keep his audience spellbound for hours together with lucid talks and unfathomable wisdom. During the British rule, education was arranged in such a manner as to turn out men who would be English in taste and intellectual outlook. The shaken Hindu social culture with its spiritual foundation was at a critical juncture when the life and message of Sri Ramakrishna brought fresh strength into the Hindu Society. In fact, from the quiet abode at Dakshineswar he breathed life into Hinduism and ushered in an era of Hindu renaissance.
The great contribution of Sri Ramakrishna to the modern world is the harmony of religions. He preached equal regard for all faiths – “Sarvadharmasadbhava.” He was the embodiment of renunciation and example of the complete conquest of lust and of desire for money. By his life Sri Ramakrishna teaches us that pride and power, wealth and glory, are nothing in comparison with the power of spirit. In fact, he was one of those rare beings, in whom the flame of spiritual life burnt so brightly that all who came near were able to share the illumination. Never before mankind got such a unique personality with synthesis of Jnana, Yoga, Bhakti and Karma.
Three miles from Kamarpukur is the village Joyrambati, in the district of Bankura, where Saradamoni Mukherjee was born. At the age of 23, Sri Ramakrishna married Sarada, 5 years old. On being questioned by Sri Ramakrishna, Sarada, on her first visit to Dakshineswar at the age of 19, replied without any reservation that she was not interested in a worldly life and would help him in his pursuit of God. A few days, thereafter, while massaging her husband’s feet, Sarada wanted to know what he thought about her. In reply Ramakrishna said, “The divine Mother who is worshipped in the temple is verily the mother who has given birth to this body and who is now putting up in the music tower, and again it is she who is massaging my feet at the present moment, verily, I look upon you as a representation of the blissful Mother in human flesh.”
Such behaviour of a husband towards his wife is not recorded anywhere in the history of mankind where the husband saw the divine mother in his wife and yet acted like a husband by allowing her to massage his feet. Thus the Holy couple lived together in a unique bond of love and devotion in the heights of God consciousness without a trace of worldliness. After her husband’s demise, she could not wear the widow’s garb, as she distinctly felt his continued presence with her and was the source of strength and inspiration in establishing and running the twin great organizations, Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission at Belur in the district of Howrah (West Bengal). Gradually she became the Mother with great love and compassion for all creatures.
Swami Vivekananda was born as Narendra Nath Dutta in a liberal and well-to-do family of Kolkata. As a boy, he used to spend long hours in a meditative pose and later on, had radical & modern thoughts. As a true rationalist he rebelled against the idea of accepting anything of faith. He desired to satisfy himself with reasons and evidences. No preaching or sermons were acceptable to him straightway. He met many religious leaders but none could convince him about the existence of God. He had become restless in search of truth when he came in contact with Sri Ramakrishna. Previously he did not believe that the individual and the supreme are identical but Sri Ramakrishna’s teachings and careful handling made him realize the all pervasiveness of the ‘Spirit.’ Thus at the feet of a simple and almost illiterate Ramakrishna, the most intellectual humbled himself.
Swami Vivekananda became highly famous after his historic speech at the Parliament of Religions at Chicago in America in the year 1893. Through him the western world was enriched with a proper idea about the imperishable wealth of spiritual and cultural treasures of India. It is also truly held that the said Parliament is remembered because of Swami Vivekananda. The reasons of his universal popularity is to be traced to the fact that he tried to raise the dignity of man to the highest level and dedicated himself with great devotion to the service of the suffering humanity. His personality bled at the sight of human suffering. He declared that service to the poor, the illiterate, the ignorant, the afflicted is the highest religion. God is present in every ‘jiva’ and there is no other God besides that. The dignity of man was raised above everything else and he was emphatic on the point that one can find peace and prosperity by serving the suffering humanity more easily than offering tons of fruits and flowers at the holy altar of God. The example he gave was very simple. In our daily life, he said, we find a father is naturally happy when his children are well taken care of. How can the Supreme Father be happy when tons of flowers and fruits are offered to Him in the temple but His children outside are starving or suffering from ailments? His mission was both national and international. Like Bhagiratha, he brought down the stream of spirituality from the height of Ramakrishna’s life for the benefit of the mankind.
As a great lover of humanity, this patriot Saint of Modern India upheld the glory of India’s ancient heritage and stressed upon the need for formulating all national programmes on the basis of spirituality. His “Lectures from Colombo to Almora” was the fountain-head of national inspiration to hundreds of freedom fighters of the country. He lived a short life of thirty nine years of which about a decade was spent in intensive social work including establishment of the great Math in the name of his Master at Belur (Howrah). Yet he left for posterity his four classics – Janna Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga and Raja Yoga, all of which are outstanding treatises on Hindu philosophy.
It has been said that if Ramakrishna was the thought – Swami Vivekananda was the expression. Both the Master and the disciple revealed the spirit of Hinduism at its best and highest espousing at the same time that philosophy and not mythology and rituals was the very soul of every religion. It is because of mistaken attitude towards religion that different communities could not tolerate each other. The cardinal principle of Ramakrishna Movement is “Atmana mokshartham jagatddhitayachaa (the liberation of the self and the welfare of the world)”. Swami Vivekananda showed how renunciation can go hand in hand with intense activity for the sake of others.