Sunday, March 20, 2011

Belur Math: Swami Vivekananda's Legacy

Swami Gahanananda, the 14th President of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission, , Belur, passed away at the Belur Math on Sunday 4th Nov 2007 and was cremated on the 5th Nov 2007. It imay be of interest to note that when a monk belonging to the Ramakrishna Math dies, it is the tradition of the Math to cremate the body of the monk and not to bury it.

I thought that this would be an appropriate occasion to understand the purpose with which the Belur Math was founded by its Chief Architect Swami Vivekananda sometime in 1897-98.

The attachment throws some light on the functions of the Belur Math.

Best Wishes
B.M.N.Murthy, Saturday 10th Nov 2007

--Swami Vivekananda’s Brainchild.

Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, though ordained as a monk, lived like an ordinary person and hardly left the precincts of the Kali temple where he was given a room. When the fame of his holiness began to spread, disciples mostly belonging to the educated middle class in Kolkata, began to gather around him. He trained some of his young disciples to become monks. The foremost among them was Swami Vivekananda. Sri Ramakrishna passed away on 16th August 1886 at the age of 55 years.

After the Master passed away, fourteen of the Master’s young disciples [two more joined later] under the leadership of Swami Vivekananda formed a monastic brotherhood known as the Ramakrishna Math [order]. The original monastery was housed in a dilapidated building at Baranagore in Kolkata. After staying in this monastery for two years, Swami Vivekananda spent a few years touring all over the country as a Parivrajaka [wandering mendicant]. During these travels he was deeply moved to see the appalling poverty and backwardness of the millions of poor people in India. He could also observe that in spite of poverty, people clung to their religion and that the ancient cultural heritage was a living force in their lives. At a time when social reformers were busy with such problems as widow re-marriage, dowry, idol worship etc, Vivekananda perceived that the real cause of India’s backwardness was the neglect and exploitation of the masses. Owing to centuries of exploitation and tyranny, the poor people, especially belonging to the lower strata of society, had lost their sense of worth, hope and initiative. The people therefore needed a message of hope and strength that would infuse faith in themselves. Vivekananda found this message in Vedanta. Thus, Swamiji concluded that in order to uplift the masses, it was necessary to spread both secular and spiritual education among them. And for this, what was needed most was an organization – a machinery which would bring the noblest ideas to the doorstep of even the poorest and the meanest.

During his tour of India, Swamiji heard about the World Parliament of Religions to be held at Chicago in September 1893. He felt that it would be an ideal forum to take Vedanta to the West. It also occurred to him that the occasion would provide him with an opportunity to seek financial help for his planned projects to uplift the masses. Swamiji was supported by the entire country to go to Chicago and acquaint the West with the greatness of our Sanathana Dharma. Vivekananda’s speech in the World Parliament of Religions at Chicago and his subsequent lectures all over the West made him world famous. He was busily engaged for a period of nearly three and a half years in the West. Institutions and individuals vied with each other to invite him and get enlightened by Vedantic teachings Swamiji finally returned to India in January 1897.

On 15th January 1897, the ship which carried Swamiji touched Colombo. He received such a tumultuous welcome from the Indians there that even the Viceroy of India or a victorious General would have envied. As the huge procession slowly passed through triumphal arches, thousands of people flung themselves on the ground to touch his feet. The same scene was repeated in half a dozen places in South India which he visited on his way to Madras. The reception was particularly touching at Ramnad whose ruler, the Raja of Ramnad, had encouraged and helped him to go to America. The horses were unyoked from the carriage of the Swamiji and it was drawn by the people, including the Raja himself. Enthusiasm rose to the highest pitch at Madras, for it was in Madras that the idea of Swamiji’s visit to America was seriously taken up and subscriptions collected for the purpose of financing his tour to Chicago. . Calcutta, the city of his birth, where he arrived on 20th February 1897 gave him a rousing reception

Though overwhelmed by the public reception he got after his triumphal tour of the West, Swamiji never lost sight of his main purpose namely the setting up of a monastic order. The Math had been shifted from Baranagore to Alambazar in 1892. After each hectic day, Swamiji repaired there each night to join his brother monks. The central idea in his mind was to carry into practice what he had so long preached by making the monks devote themselves to an actual life of service for the masses and thus to make the monastic organization a potential instrument for social and national rejuvenation, by spreading education among the illiterate, helping them fight against poverty and disease, removing social evils and inequalities and raising them to a higher level of morality.

Swami Vivekananda’s concept of social service for monks was a revolutionary departure from the time-honoured monastic practice in India. Naturally there was a lot of opposition from a section of the monks themselves. These dissenting monks were individuals who were eager for their personal salvation. They wanted to practice austerities, enjoy peaceful meditation and lead a quite life of detachment from the world. To them God was first and the world came next. It was an uphill task for the Swamiji to convince them that ‘Service to Mankind is Service to God’ and that it was their duty to serve all others as the visible manifestation of God. It was Swamiji’s idea to create a band of devoted monks who would not only take the traditional view of personal salvation but also a new vow of service to humanity. Ultimately Swamiji’s view was appreciated by all the monks and all of them unanimously accepted the twin ideals of personal salvation by meditation and the active service for the masses.

Swamiji now proceeded to set up a regular organization to achieve his aim. He convened a meeting of the disciples and devotees of Sri Ramakrishna in Calcutta on 1st May 1897. He convinced them how the lack of an organization was the bane of Hinduism in the spread of Vedanta. Adding his own views on the administration of such an organization, Swamiji said “In a country like India, in the existing state of development, it would not be wise to form an organization on a democratic basis where each member would have an equal voice and decisions were to be made according to the vote of the majority. Democratic principle could be followed later, when with the spread of education, people would learn to sacrifice individual interest and personal prejudices for the public weal. It is therefore better that, for the time being, the organization is under the leadership of a ‘dictator’ whose authority and decision everyone respects”. The meeting unanimously approved Swamiji’s suggestion.

The next important event was the transfer of the Math from Alambazar to its present site at Belur which had spacious ground. The new Math was consecrated with due religious ceremony on 9th Dec 1898 as a purely monastic organization. Swamiji also drew an elaborate set of rules which provided for disciplined life and spiritual practice and emphasized the need of strength of character, self reliance and faith in the Guru.

In course of time, the Belur Math was handed over to a Board of Trustees all of whom were drawn from the monks of the Order. It was declared to be the Chief Math and all the other Maths of the Ramakrishna Math were to abide by its rules. After setting in motion a machinery for the propagation and practical application of the life-giving principles of Vedanta and taught by Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda left the mortal world on 4th July 1902 at the age of thirty-nine and a half years.


ARTICLE No. 417-------THE RAMAKRISHNA MATH,BELUR---The Brainchild of Swami Vivekananda
Created: Friday, November 9, 2007 9:18 PM


At April 19, 2016 at 3:42 AM , Blogger Debosmita Roy said...

Thank you for the informative post on Belur Math. It is a place of pilgrimage for people from all over the world professing different religious faiths. Even people not interested in religion come here for the peace it exudes. Check Belur Math timing for more details.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home