Category Archives: 1. Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and the Ramakrishna Order

The Devotion of Sri Ramakrishna

“Nobody has been able to understand him who came on earth as Sri Ramakrishna. Even his own nearest devotees have no real clue to it. Only some have a little inkling of it. All will understand in time.” (Swami Vivekananda in Sil xvii)

How can we realize the presence of God? Sri Ramakrishna searched the answer of that question throughout his life in the Daksinesvar Kali Temple, where he is reputed to have succeeded in gaining a vision of the gods and goddesses of many religions. To his devotees, Sri Ramakrishna represents an Avatar (incarnation) of the Divine, among the innumerable spiritual figures of India. Devotees also believe that he spreads the light of mystic radiance over the entire world.

In 1936, in Kamarpukur, a little Bengali village sheltered by banyan trees and mangoes and surrounded by rice fields and pools, Ramakrishna was born. His father was Khudiram Chattopadhaya, and his mother was Chandramoni Devi (Paramahamsa 29). According to legend, while Khudiram was on pilgrimage to Gaya, a god appeared to him during a dream and promised to be reincarnated in Khudiram’s next son. Meanwhile, while Chandra Devi was visiting a Siva Temple, she too had a vision that foretold the birth of a divine child (Lemaitre 45). Dhani Kamarani, a blacksmith woman, was present with Chandramani Devi when this happened. In the memory of the dream at Gaya, he was named Gadadhar which means “the Bearer of the Scepter”, which is one of the names of Visnu (Lemaitre 45). It was later in life that he began to be called Ramakrishna. From a very early age he was disinclined towards formal education and wordily affairs, but he was a very talented boy who could sing spiritual hymns and paint. He was found to be absorbed in spiritual moods while listening to the discussions and discourses of Holy men.

According to his biographies, Gadadhar was six years old when he experienced his first ecstasy. It occurred while he was walking with his sister-in-law and some of her friends to a temple in their village. He was singing devotional songs and running around in the paddy field. The sky was covered by black clouds and when he saw a flight of white canes in front of the dark clouds, Gadadhar lost connection with outer consciousness and experienced an incredible joy in that state (Lemaitre 46). Gadadhar repeatedly experienced similar experiences throughout his childhood. At times when he was worshiping the goddess Vishalakshi or while playing with his friends, he would lose connection with his consciousness and move into his own happy land, samadhi. Once in his village during the festival of Sivaratri, there was a play being conducted about Siva but somehow the person who was going to act as Lord Siva was missing. So Gadadhar volunteered to act. While playing the role of Lord Siva, Gadadhar, once again, lost his consciousness. At the age of ten Gadadhar would experience this trance more often, until it became a common thing.

In 1855, Ramkumar, Gadadhar’s brother, and his nephew, Redayram, became the priests of Dakshineswar Kali temple, which was built by Rani Rashmoni who belonged to Kaivarta cast. Gadadhar’s task in the temple was to decorate Ma Kali. Gadadhar was also known as Thakur, a simple priest. He was unconventional. He believed that if you do not think that god is with you and a human being, then you cannot come close to god. So Gadhadhar did not follow all the rules and regulations of the Brahmin caste. Nevertheless, he was later appointed as the main priest of the temple. He then started looking at the goddess, Ma Kali, as his own mother and also the Mother of the Universe. He also worshipped his own wife, Chandra Devi as the Divine Mother and invoked the divinity in her. As Gambhirananda describes:

“By the by, the Mother lost all outer consciousness and the worshipper, too as he proceeded with his ceremonies, gradually lost himself in beatitude. On the level of ecstasy the Deity and the devotee became identified.” (Sil 147)

During the 1860s Sri Ramakrishna also practiced Islam under the Banyan tree of Daksinesvar. Govind Roy, a Sufi initiated him (Sil 73). Ramakrishna used to say prayers five times daily wearing a cloth like an Arab Muslim. The Hindu way of thinking disappeared from his mind. According to biographical accounts, he spent three days in that mood and a radiant countenance of Muhammad appeared to him in a vision. He also had an interest on Christianity. He was so surprised to see the shyness of the figures of Madonna and the child Jesus and became interested in Christian religion. Though his deep meditation he had a vision of Christ, as a great Yogi and son of the Divine Mother. He did not believe that any one religion could hold the whole truth to the exclusion to others (Lemaitre 112). One of his renowned teachings is: as many faiths so many paths.

One day Ramakrishna went on a pilgrimage to Varanasi with Mathur Babu, the son-in-law of Rani Rashmoni, and his family. They first stopped at the Vaidyanath Siva temple in Behar (Lemaitre 115). He was greatly distressed to see the wretched condition of the people in a nearby village. Moved by sympathy for them, he requested Mathur to feed the poor people and give everyone a piece of cloth. Unfortunately, they did not have sufficient funds to feed and clothe everyone as they had to bear their own expenses for the pilgrimage. However, Ramakrishna was inexorable; he canceled the journey to Varanasi and spent all the money for the poor villagers. He believes that God lives in every living soul. During a state of hyperconsciousness Sri Ramakrishna said, “Jiva is Shiva [the living being is God]” (Lemaitre 116).

Ramakrishna also met with many of the great sons of India. Among them Swami Vivekananda was one of his favorite disciples who became a messenger of Hinduism in the western world. According to legend, long before he knew Naren (i.e., Vivekananda), as in the case of Rakhal, a young disciple who later became Swami Brahmananda, his other favorite son, the priest of Daksinesvar had seen him in a vision in the guise of a wise man plunged in the meditation of the Absolute, having incarnated in a human body in order to assist his master in the earthly task of which at that time Vivekananda was utterly ignorant (Lemaitre 186). Sri Ramakrishna went to Samadhi with Vivekananda before his death and gave everything to Naren to lead the work of Ramakrishna-Vivekananda.

After the death of the great master, his favorite disciple Narendranath assumed the role of organizer and evangelist following Ramakrishna’s example. He took a leadership of the permanent monastery in 1898 at the Belur Math where Vedantic study got a promotion with the arts, sciences , and industries, teacher training, mass literacy and education, establishment of schools, colleges, orphanages, workshops, laboratories, nursing home for individuals and so on. The Math and the Mission together have 144 centers all over India and in different parts of the world (Lemaitre 205). Most of the missions and Maths are situated in India and Bangladesh.

Sri Ramakrishna was a successful priest of Kali as he had a vision of the Divine Mother through his restless devotion. On August 15, 1886, he had fallen into a trance and never awoke, but his teachings are still alive in the millions of his disciples. Sri Ramakrishna’s chief apostle, Swami Vivekananda’s organizations, Ramakrishna missions and Maths, are spreading out the concept of love and devotion among the people of all over the world and providing humanitarian aid. Being an illiterate sage, Sri Ramakrishna became a spiritual master of Hindu philosophy and a savior of twentieth century. The German philologist portrayed Sri Ramakrishna as “a wonderful mixture of God and man” and as “a bhakta, a worshipper or lover of the deity, much more than a Gnanin or a knower.” (Paramahamsa: 58)

References and Further Recommended Reading:

Lemaitre, Solange (1969) Ramakrishna and the vitality of Hinduism. New York: Funk & Wagnalls

Sil, Narasingha Prosad (1937) Ramakrishna Paramahamsa: A phychological Profile. New York: Brill’s Indological Library

Gupta, Mahendranath (2001) Sri Sri Ramakrishna Kathamrita. Chandigarh: Vedanta Press

Paramahamsa, Sri Ramakrishna (2008) Ramakrishna, His Life and sayings. Toronto: Forgotten Books

Related Topics for further investigations:

  • The Ramakrishna Math and Mission
  • Swami Vivekananda
  • Goddess Kali
  • Sarada Devi
  • The Guru
  • Bhakti
  • The Dakshineswar Kali temple
  • Four stages of life
  • Rani Rashmoni
  • The four stages of life
  • Samadhi
  • The Vedanta
  • The Bhagavad-Gita
  • Brahmasamaj
  • Karma
  • The Darcanas and Yoga

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic:

Article written by: Sudipto Chowdhury (2009) who is solely responsible for its content.

Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa

Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa is to be considered one of the most profound figures in India’s history. Unlike many people who centre their lives primarily around their outward actions and extrinsic influences, Sri Ramakrishna lived only for spirituality and his innermost thoughts. Solange Lemaitre remarks that, “his life is the muted accompaniment of the purely inner story of an exceptional soul and its spiritual steps towards the Absolute” (146) [For further information on “the Absolute,” see Lemaitre 83-93]. Over the years, Ramakrishna received great fame and admiration for his effortless ability to enter into samadhi [this is one of the Eight Limbs of Yoga; a spiritual state when one’s ego disappears, for more information, see Nikhilananda 169], his deep beliefs rooted in the Hindu tradition, and his teachings on acceptance and charity.

Even Ramakrishna’s birth was said to be surrounded by divine occurrences. Both of his parents, Khudiram Chattopadhyaya and Chandra Devi, apparently received spiritual visions about their son before they were even aware of his conception. Khudiram dreamt that the god Visnu made a promise to him to be born as his son, and Chandra experienced a vision “indicating the birth of a divine child” (Nikhilananda 4). And it was on February 18, 1836 that Chandra gave birth to a son, Gadadhar [this name translates as “the Bearer of the Mace,” an epithet of Visnu, see Nikhilananda], who would go on to be recognized as Sri Ramakrishna. He was born at Kamarpukur, a village in the Hooghly District of Bengal, India. Gadadhar grew to be an intelligent, inquisitive, and “healthy and restless boy” (Nikhilananda 4) whose primary interests lay in Hindu mythology and the epics, religious readings, and observing Hindu monks’ pilgrims and worship. Gadadhar’s strong passion for religion and the spiritual world was only beginning to develop and would continue to grow stronger with time.

From an extremely young age, Gadadhar demonstrated unconventional manners, according to the Indian caste system. At his sacred thread ceremony, the nine-year-old Gadadhar accepted and ate food that had been prepared by a sudra woman, which was seen as improper due to his Brahmin status. This event marked the beginning of his long-standing belief that, “[t]hose who love God belong to no caste” (Lemaitre 78).

Gadadhar had special divine qualities about him that sparked in him a burning desire to know God and continually obtain more knowledge about God. Lemaitre explains that as soon as the teenaged Gadadhar “entered into contemplation, the Lord appeared to him virtually immediately. It was from this time forward that the propensity of his nature to lose consciousness became stronger” (49). It was this strengthening propensity that would go on to guide Gadadhar in his new role as a priest at the Kali temple of Dakshineshwar, located near Calcutta, in the state of Bengal. Gadadhar would also be guided throughout the course of his life by two influential and very different people. One of his mentors was a master of non-dual Vedanta, “Totapuri” (Nikhilananda 26), and the other was a female tantric, “the Brahmani” (Nikhilananda 18).

Sri Ramakrishna became a priest at the Kali temple by replacing his brother, who had died one year after accepting the position. At only twenty years of age, Ramakrishna was brimming with vibrant energy and enthusiasm for religion and pursuing God, but he did reserve some hesitation towards the temple of Kali and the hierarchical implications of his new position as a priest. He did not support the idea of the caste system, as previously mentioned, and this was reflected in his initial reluctance to accept the position. But soon after beginning this new chapter of his life, Ramakrishna was overwhelmed by the holiness of the temple, its close proximity to the sacred river the Ganges, the atmosphere of the temple and its surroundings, and above all, “the living presence of the Goddess Kali” (Lemaitre 57). He would go on to regard Kali as the “Divine Mother” (Lemaitre 86) and rapidly became more obsessed with seeing her in her absolute form. This obsession drove Ramakrishna to perform unorthodox rituals, such as praying to Kali throughout the night while removing all of his clothing, including his sacred thread (this was thought to be sacrilegious), in an effort to free himself of all external bonds (Lemaitre 65). These unorthodox practices intensified the growing notion that Ramakrishna was, in actuality, insane. It is not difficult to understand the assumption that Ramakrishna had gone “mad” as he would suffer bouts of hysteria when he felt as though his body was on fire, fits of uncontrollable sobbing, delirious moments of ecstasy, and an overall complete indifference to the outer world (Nikhilananda 18).

Sri Ramakrishna was twenty-three years old when he married Sarada Devi in 1859. His marriage further emphasized his devotion to God and his “unquenchable desire to enjoy God in various ways” (Nikhilananda 15) as their marriage was never consummated. This act of celibacy lifted Sarada Devi to a type of pedestal so that Ramakrishna could “worship his wife as an embodiment of the Divine Mother” (Rodrigues 285). They remained married until his death in August of 1886.

Although Ramakrishna remained a priest in Dakshineshwar, his teachings rapidly spread throughout India and eventually worldwide as well. People were traveling in increasingly larger groups to see the “Divine Incarnation” (Lemaitre 84) and to hear him share his thoughts on life and God. He is well known for his warm acceptance of religions outside of Hinduism, as he himself briefly practiced the disciplines of Islam and Christianity. Nikhilananda remarks, “Sri Ramakrishna realized his identity with Christ, as he had already realized his identity with Kali, Rama, Hanuman, Radha, Krishna, Brahman, and Mohammed […] thus he experienced the truth that Christianity, too, was a path leading to God-Consciousness” (34). These realizations of various spiritual identities undoubtedly caused controversy amongst Hindus and others, but they also underlined Ramakrishna’s notion of tolerance and non-ignorance.

Of all the people who Sri Ramakrishna influenced, his impact on Swami Vivekananda was perhaps the most profound. Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) became Ramakrishna’s most devoted disciple, spreading his master’s teachings and stories throughout the world, including the Western world. Ramakrishna’s name, along with Vivekananda’s, became known in North America after Vivekananda visited the United States. His appearance at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893 marked the beginning of the development of a more compassionate, accepting, and appreciative relationship between Eastern and Western religions. He established the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center in New York City and this center, along with its missions, continues to bridge the gap between the East and the West.

It was on August 16, 1886, that Sri Ramakrishna died in a house in Cossipore, India, with his disciples, dearest friends, and Sarada Devi at his side. His name lives on in his teachings and in the actions that thousands upon thousands carry out today in his honour. Lemaitre notes that “Ramakrishna’s sympathy for the unfortunate derived from his conception that God is in every being” (116). This sympathy is recognized and put into action through such groups as the Ramakrishna Order which, among other accomplishments, has “created schools, colleges, hospitals, dispensaries, homes for the aged, and orphanages” (Rodrigues 285). And so, Sri Ramakrishna remains a celebrated and illustrious religious figure and one whom Narasingha P. Sil affectionately calls, “the nineteenth-century Bengali Saint” (1).


Lemaitre, Solange (1969) Ramakrishna and the Vitality of Hinduism. Trans. Charles Lam

Markmann. New York: Funk & Wagnalls.

Nikhilananda, Swami (1984) The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. New York: Ramakrishna-

Vivekananda Center.

Rodrigues, Hillary (2007) Introducing Hinduism. New York: Routledge.

Sil, Narasingha Prosad (1991) Ramakrishna Paramahamsa: A Psychological Profile. Ed.

Johannes Bronkhorst. Leiden: E. J. Brill.

Related Topics for further investigation:

· The Absolute

· Samadhi

· The Ramakrishna Order

· Keshab Chandra Sen and the Brahmo Samaj

· Swami Vivekananda

· Tantra

· The Vedanta

· The Goddess Kali

· Brahmin class

· Eight powers of yoga

· Aum

Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic:

Article written by: Stefanie Rausch (2008) who is solely responsible for its content