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 Lay Disciples of Sri Ramakrishna


Ram Chandra Datta


Ram Chandra Datta was born in Kolkata on 30 October 1851. His father, Nrisimha Prasad Datta, was devoted to Krishna, and his mother, Tulasimani, was known for her piety and kindness. Ram's mother died when he was only two and a half. His favourite pastime during childhood was the worship of Krishna. He would also visit a hermitage near his home, where he came in contact with several monks.

As he grew up, Ram became greatly interested in science, and studied chemistry. He later succeeded in extracting an antidote for blood dysentery from an indigenous medicinal plant. As a result, he was appointed a member of the Chemist Association of England. However, his ardour for science promoted free-thinking, and as is often wont, he became an atheist. The untimely death of his daughter, however, changed all this.

On 13 November 1879, he visited Dakshineswar with Gopal Chandra Mitra and Manomohan Mitra. This was his first visit to Sri Ramakrishna. From the beginning, Sri Ramakrishna made Ram his own and enquired about his personal life and mental conflicts. In response to Ram's questions, Sri Ramakrishna said, “God really exists. You do not see any stars during the day, but that does not mean that the stars do not exist...Make your mind like a fishing-rod and your life-force or Prana, like a hook. Your devotion and your japa are like the bait. Eventually you will be blessed by the vision of God.” As days went by, Ram's scepticism gave way to faith. He surrendered himself spiritually to Sri Ramakrishna. He would arrange Kirtan (devotional singing) in his home in the company of devotees of Sri Ramakrishna.

In 1883, he bought a Garden House at a secluded place known as ‘Kankurgachi’ with the idea of leading a contemplative life there. He named it, “Yogodyana”. Ramakrishna visited that place on 26 December 1883. After Sri Ramakrishna's passing away, a part of his relics was installed at the Kankurgachi Yogodyana on the holy day of Janmashtami. Ram was the first person to publish a biography of Sri Ramakrishna, and to build a temple for him.

On 17 January 1899, Ram breathed his last. His relics are placed next to Sri Ramakrishna's temple at Yogodyana.

 


Surendra Nath Mitra

Surendra Nath Mitra was probably born in 1850, and met Sri Ramakrishna for the first time when he was about thirty.

Surendra's early life was that of a Bohemian – open-minded, care-free and indifferent to religion. He was promiscuous and often got drunk. But this gave him no peace and he even wanted to end his life. Finally, urged by Ramchandra Datta who was his neighbour, Surendra went to Dakshineswar in the company of Ram and Manomohan to meet Sri Ramakrishna, probably in 1880. Sri Ramakrishna was speaking about self-surrender. His words gave Surendra solace and strength. The Master accepted him with all his blemishes. Surendra was deeply devoted to Mother Kali and set up a shrine to her at his home. He worshipped her with much love and devotion. One day the Master said to Surendra, “Well, Suresh, why don't you first offer the wine you drink to Mother Kali, and then drink it as her Prasad?” When he started practising this, the action, curiously enough, filled him with devotion.

Surendra was large-hearted by nature, and used to make arrangements for the food and bedding for those devotees who spent nights with the Master at Dakshineswar to serve him. It was Surendra who commissioned the famous oil painting in which Sri Ramakrishna points out to Keshab Chandra Sen the harmony of religions.

After Sri Ramakrishna's Maha Samadhi, Surendra paid the rent of the house at Baranagore that housed the first monastery of the disciples of the Master. Thus, Surendra's devotion and sacrifice made it possible for those earnest souls to renounce the world for the realization of God.

Surendra passed away on 25 May 1890 at the age of forty. When Belur Math was built, the marble flooring for the original shrine-room was done with some money that Surendra had set part for the Math.

 


Balaram Basu

Balaram was born in December 1842, in a wealthy Vaishnava family of North Kolkata. His grandfather, Guruprasad Basu, had established a Radha-Shyam temple in his house, and because of this, that section of the city has come to be known as Shyam-bazar.

It was probably on 1 January 1881 that Balaram met Sri Ramakrishna for the first time. Balaram asked Sri Ramakrishna, “Does God really exist?” “Certainly, he does”, was the prompt answer. Balaram soon became one of the principal suppliers and gave generously to the Master and his disciples. Every year Balaram would celebrate the Car Festival of Lord Jagannath at his home. The Master's presence would greatly enhance the joy of the occasion. The Master used to love visiting Balaram's home in Kolkata. The entire household of Balaram Basu was devoted to God. Krishnabhavini, Balaram's wife, was the sister of Swami Premananda, one of the foremost disciples of Sri Ramakrishna.

After Sri Ramakrishna's passing, Balaram would give one rupee every day for the daily worship of Sri Ramakrishna at the Baranagore Math. He would also keep track of the food situation in the monastery.

In 1890, Balaram became a victim of an influenza epidemic in Kolkata. Before passing away, he wanted only to talk of Sri Ramakrishna, and keep the company of his all-renouncing disciples. It is said that the Master came at the final moment to take him to the Eternal Realm.


 


Mahendra Nath Gupta (M.)

M. was the pen name of Mahendra Nath Gupta. He was born in Kolkata on 14 July 1854. His parents were spiritual minded and he was deeply devoted to his mother. When he was four, he went to the Car Festival at Mahesh with his mother, and visited Dakshineswar on the way back. It is likely that this was the first time that he saw Sri Ramakrishna. From his childhood M. had mystical inclinations. He was a bright student and gained deep knowledge in English literature, Western philosophy and other subjects.

After graduating from college, M. took up the profession of a teacher and served as a head master in several schools. One afternoon, he went for a walk with his nephew Sidhu to the temple garden of Dakshineswar. He was in a depressed frame of mind, but the subsequent meeting with Sri Ramakrishna removed all sadness. On his second visit, he tried to argue with Sri Ramakrishna and got a scolding from the Master. As he described it later, his ego was crushed. At the Master's instruction, M. practised inner sannyasa, while not being indifferent to his worldly duties and responsibilities.

M. used to note down Sri Ramakrishna's words in order to think about them in the intervening period before he met him again. Gifted with artistic ability and an accurate memory, he recreated vividly in writing what he had seen or heard in the Master's presence. After the passing away of Sri Ramakrishna, some of the disciples of the Master asked him to publish the diary, but he was reluctant. Only after Sri Sarada Devi approved it, did he feel that he had divine sanction. The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, or Sri Sri Ramakrishna Kathamrita as it is called in Bengali, has not only made M. immortal but it has also become the source of solace and hope for millions today. About the new Gospel, Aldous Huxley remarks in his Foreword: “Never have the casual and unstudied utterances of a great religious teacher been set down with so minute a fidelity”.

M. regularly visited the Baranagore Monastery and supported the monastic disciples in every possible way. On June 4, 1932, M. left his body in full consciousness, uttering “Mother, Gurudeva, take me up in your arms”.

 


Nag Mahashay

Durga Charan Nag was born on 21 August 1846 at Deobhog, a small village in present Bangladesh. His father was Dindayal Nag. His mother passed away when he was eight, and he was brought up by an affectionate aunt. The latter used to narrate to the boy tales from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.

In later years, he studied homeopathy under Dr. Behari Lal Bhaduri, a renowned physician of Kolkata. He was very successful as a homeopath. However, he remained unattached, and lust and greed, name and fame, did not taint him.

As years passed, the desire to realize God possessed Nag Mahashay , and one day, with his friend, Suresh, he visited Dakshineswar. The saint of Dakshineswar received them cordially, and at the time of parting said, “Come again. A relationship grows through frequent visits.” Soon after, he felt a tremendous urge to renounce the world, but the Master said in an ecstatic mood, “Remain in the world like the ancient king Janaka unattached. Your life will be an example of how a householder should live.”

Durga Charan could not tolerate worldly talk and his austerity was extreme. After the Master's death, Nag Mahashay spent most of his time in Deobhog, managing the household and looking after his aged father. He lived a simple, unassuming life, concealing his glowing spirituality under a veil of great humility.

His reputation as a holy man spread. However, he did not initiate anybody. Barely three years after his father's death Nag Mahashay came down with colic and dysentery which proved to be fatal. The last few days of his life, he frequently he used to be in samadhi. On 27 December 1899 he passed into maha samadhi.

 


Girish Chandra Ghosh

Born of pious parents on February 28, 1844, Girish grew up as a lively carefree soul. He inherited from his father a sharp intellect and a pragmatic approach to life, and from his mother a love for literature and devotion to God. His grandmother introduced him to the rich heritage of India's epics and mythology.

Unfortunately, at the threshold of youth, Girish started drifting into drunkenness and debauchery. Yet side by side with his perverse behaviour, he would raise money to help the poor.

Because of his wayward nature, he could not complete his school education. But he was a genius and a voracious reader. He studied several subjects and gained vast knowledge in English literature, Western philosophy and science. His prodigious creativity found expression through writing and acting. He wrote many well-known plays, and acted in most of them. The songs which he wrote are popular even today.

In his case, it was not he who first sought Sri Ramakrishna, but it was the Master who sought him first. On seeing Sri Ramakrishna for the first time, he thought that the latter was a fraud. Only in his fourth meeting did he feel the wonderful attraction of Sri Ramakrishna. Through the latter's influence, he slowly gave up his haughtiness, rudeness and arrogance. The Master asked him to have faith in order to get rid of crookedness of heart. Under the Master's loving care, Girish started realizing that the Master would not condemn him for his shortcomings. One great virtue that Girish had was his steadfastness to Truth and total lack of hypocrisy. Finally, one day Girish surrendered completely to the Master. Girish's faith and love were so intense that his life was quickly transformed.

On 1 January 1886, during the Master's last illness, Girish openly started preaching the Master's divinity. Many were blessed by the Master after the event. After the Master's death, he purposely did not see the latter's dead body to preserve in his mind the conviction that the Master was immortal.

He breathed his last on 8 February 1912. His last words were: “Master, you have come. Please destroy my worldly intoxication. Victory to Sri Ramakrishna. Let us go”.

 


Akshay Kumar Sen

Akshay was born in 1854 at Maynapur, a small village in the Bankura District of Bengal. Because of the extreme poverty of his parents – Haladhar Sen and Bidhumukhi Devi, Akshay was brought up in the countryside and educated in a village school.

He moved to Kolkata to escape his poverty, and took up a job as a private tutor. He once overheard a conversation about a Paramahamsa in Dakshineswar and was intrigued. One day a friend took him to Sri Ramakrishna. On his first visit, he witnessed the Master singing and dancing in a God-intoxicated state. Then Akshay underwent a period of great trial, during which he felt that Sri Ramakrishna was ignoring him. However, one day he got the first opportunity to serve the Master personally. This left a deep mark on him. On 1 January 1886 (Kalpataru Day), he was one among those who were specially blessed by the Master. On that occasion Sri Ramakrishna whispered a Mantra (Sacred Syllable) in his ear.

After Sri Ramakrishna's passing away, Akshay used to worship Master's photograph at his home with flowers etc and sing his glory to the accompaniment of a one-stringed instrument. In 1887, he started writing Sri Ramakrishna's life in verse, the Sri Sri Ramakrishna Punthi in Bengali. The book has been translated into English prose under the title A Portrait of Sri Ramakrishna. He later wrote Padye Sri Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa Dever Upadesh and Sri Sri Ramakrishna Mahima. These books have given to Akshay an everlasting and important place in the Ramakrishna Movement. He suffered from poverty and other family problems. But he used to pass his days in recollection of the Master. Akshay died on 7 December 1923.

 


Devendra Nath Majumdar

Devendra Nath Majumdar was born in the village of Jagannathpur in the Jessore District of East Bengal (now Bangladesh) on 7 January 1844. His father, Prasanna Nath, died two months before his birth. As a child, he would never utter a falsehood. The death of his elder brother, Surendra, thrust the family into poverty. His work fetched very little money. He was also assailed by doubts about the existence of God.

One day, coming to know of Sri Ramakrishna from a friend, he rushed to Dakshineswar. He was deeply impressed by the Master's completely artless nature. The next meeting took place in Balaram Bose's house. Mentally Devendra accepted the Master as his guru, and later came to feel that the Master was with him all the time and watching over him.

Soon he resigned his job and took to a life of intense sadhana. He experienced ecstatic moods. On 6 April 1885, Sri Ramakrishna visited to Devendra's house along with several devotees.

After the Master's death, Devendra used to visit the Baranagore Monastery and the Kankurgachi Yogodyana from time to time. He worked in Girish Ghosh's Minerva Theatre from 1893-1895, but this seemed to lead him astray. So, he gave up the job and suffered from financial distress for a year.

Devendra began to spend his time speaking about Sri Ramakrishna’s life and teachings. He composed several beautiful songs on Sri Ramakrishna which are sung even now.

In February 1902 he, along with some other devotees, rented a house at 39 Dev Lane where they worshipped Sri Ramakrishna and performed Kirtan and meditation. This Institution was called, Sri Ramakrishna Archanalaya. On 8 October 1911, Devendra passed away at the Archanalaya uttering the name of Sri Ramakrishna.

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