Sri Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa Deva, hailed by his foremost disciple Swami Vivekananda as Avatāra-Variṣṭha – the Greatest among the avatars of Bhagavan – appeared on the scene at a critical juncture in the history of Bengal and India.
By Sreejit Datta, Director of Civilisational Studies Practice & Resident Mentor at Rashtram
“In the life of Ramakrishna Paramhans, we see a colossal spiritual capacity…Its object was…to exemplify in the great and decisive experience of a master-soul the truth, now most necessary to humanity, towards which a world long divided into jarring sects and schools is with difficulty labouring, that all sects are forms and fragments of a single integral truth and all disciplines labour in their different ways towards one supreme experience”.”
– Sri Aurobindo
Sri Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa Deva, hailed by his foremost disciple Swami Vivekananda as Avatāra-Variṣṭha – the Greatest among the avatars of Bhagavan – appeared on the scene at a critical juncture in the history of Bengal and India. It was a particularly dark hour for Bengal, whose enlightened section was being led by the proselytising missionaries into the Christian fold at an alarmingly fast pace, resulting in widespread confusion (and even contempt in the case of specific groups) among Bengali thought leaders with regard to the native culture and Sanatana Dharma.
The Christian missionaries had the backing of the Rāja-śakti – the British colonial administration – which exercised a near-complete control over the cultural and political life of the Bengali people through institutional instruments. Lord T.B. Macaulay’s blueprint for creating “a class of persons Indian in blood and colour, but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect” was used by the British in the three presidencies – Bengal, Madras, and Bombay – to destabilise the indigenous systems of producing and imparting knowledge. This project was corroborated by the new political economy of greed and exploitation which the colonialists had implemented across continents, and whose impact was perhaps most severe in Bengal. The province’s thriving handloom industries and agricultural practices were completely destroyed by this evil collusion of colonial politics and the constant search for markets for the manufactured goods of Britain’s industrial revolution, a painful affair aptly called the “drainage of wealth” from India, the history of which has been recorded by Major B.D. Basu, Dadabhai Naoroji, and R.C. Dutt.
In short, the entire atmosphere of Bengal and the rest of British India at that time was gloomy. Bereft of their own ideals and leaders, the people were completely demoralised. The collective depression of the people manifested in a general cultural and moral decadence. The circumstances were profoundly worrying for India as a whole, because the presidencies had naturally assumed the driver’s seat in determining the fate of her society, culture, and politics in the colonial set-up, and in most cases the leading personalities of the time from these three provinces had little or no compunction in allowing themselves to be led as far away from the indigenous roots as the British colonialists would take them.
But time and again, Bharatavarsha has seen the resurgence of the Sanatana Dharma at precisely that hour when she found herself at her lowest. Fortunately for Bharat, there was to be seen no exception to this trend at this difficult era of British colonialism, either.
On the 18th day of February in 1836 as per the Gregorian calendar, right after a particularly remarkable year in British Indian history in terms of cultural colonisation of Indians, Sri Gadadhar Chattopadhyay was born in a little-known village called Kamarpukur in the Hooghly district of Bengal (now in West Bengal). The village lies about a hundred kilometres northwest of Kolkata. It was the household of a humble Brahmin family, who, like most others sharing the same socio-spiritual calling, were struggling to cope with the changing social and economic scenario of Rural India under the British East India Company’s rule. Despite the upheavals in the outside world, the family remained steadfastly pious in their worship of the family deity Sri Raghuveer i.e., Sri Rama. Young Gadadhar accompanied his elder brother Ramkumar to Kolkata, where the latter was appointed the chief priest in the Kali Temple at Dakshineswar built-in 1855 by Rani Rasmani. Ramkumar passed away prematurely and the duties of the chief priest fell upon Gadadhar. But he, oblivious of the priest’s usual rituals, often spent hours on end with the deity of Mata Bhavatāriṇī in spiritual ecstasy. This was by no means unusual for young Gadadhar, who had already experienced several such spells of dwelling in a heightened state of consciousness, the first such instance occurring when Gadadhar, as a six-year-old boy, watched on a flight of fair cranes against the backdrop of dark clouds.
It is this intense personal relationship with the divine, embodied by Gadadhar Chattopadhyay, that became the game-changer for Bengal, and for India in time. Through him was re-expressed the many shades of Bhakti, the ‘Religion of the Kali Yuga’. In him, the people saw the living proof of the Truth of the Sanatana dharma and of the mystical utterances of the Vedanta. Bengal and India had seen the last such living embodiment of Sanatana dharma in Mahaprabhu Sri Chaitanya Deva, who appeared in the fifteenth century. Now for the first time in centuries, people were once again getting a direct access to one who had seen and heard the Divine; and not only that, it was one who was used to getting into this Divine Ecstasy very frequently. And when he came out of it, his very utterance would usher in the supreme welfare of those who surrounded him.
Sri Ramakrishna’s legacy is the resurgence of Sanatana dharma, through which the rebirth of Bharatavarsha was set in motion. The spiritual powerhouse of Dakshineswar in Kolkata sent such gigantic waves of energy in all directions that the same people who were demoralised only a generation ago, became the most creative in the fields of arts, literature, and spirituality, and the fiercest in the field of nationalist politics. This has been acknowledged in so many words by every one of the men and women who had led the initial phases of that rebirth – be it Swami Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo, Sister Nivedita, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, Rabindranath Tagore, Gandhiji, or the countless nationalist revolutionaries who sacrificed their lives for the emancipation of the motherland. Sri Ramakrishna, or Thakur as he is venerably called by his followers, is the symbol of India’s reawakening in the present age, a process which started with the “renaissance” of Bengal in the nineteenth century.
His most well-known disciple Swami Vivekananda has paid obeisance to the Guru in the form of the following śloka, which has come to be a veritable mantra for millions of bhakta-s in India and abroad:
sthāpakāya ca dharmasya sarvadharma svarūpiṇe |
avatāra-variṣṭhāya rāmakṛṣṇāya te namaha ||
- Aurobindo, Sri. (1990). The Synthesis of Yoga (p. 41). Sri Aurobindo Ashram Publications Department 1990-04-01.
- Minute on Education (1835) by Thomas Babington Macaulay. Columbia University in the City of New York. Retrieved February 17, 2021, from http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00generallinks/macaulay/txt_minute_education_1835.html
- Sri Ramakrishna – Belur Math – Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission. Belur Math – Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission; https://www.facebook.com/rkmbelur/. Retrieved February 17, 2021, from https://belurmath.org/sri-ramakrishna/