( 1888 – 1965 )
Swami Madhavananda was known for his saintliness, austerity, simplicity, devotion to duty and firm adherence to high ideals and moral principles.
He showed great patience, forbearance in all conditions and displayed tolerance for the failings of his juniors.
Endowed as he was with remarkable qualities of head and heart, he commanded the spontaneous respect and implicit obedience of one and all in the organization. Under his wise stewardship and guidance, the Ramakrishna Math and Mission has grown and expanded immeasurably in all directions.
Birth and Early life
Swami Madhavananda, was known as Nirmal in his pre-monastic life, was born on 15 December 1888 in Baganchra, a village three miles from Santipur in the District of Nadia, West Bengal.
After completing graduation from Calcutta University, he joined the Ramakrishna Math and Mission in January 1910. He was an initiated disciple of the Holy Mother, Sri Sarada Devi, and was ordained sannyasin by Swami Brahmananda in 1916.
He came into intimate contact with other direct disciples of Sri Ramakrishna also and worked in various capacities in the Ramakrishna Math and Mission. For a short time, he was at the Udbodhan, helping in the editing work of Udbodhana, the Bengali monthly of Ramakrishna Order. Later he came to Advaita Ashrama, Mayavati, in 1917, and was elected its President from 1918 to 1927.
In March 1922, he was elected a Trustee of the Ramakrishna Math and member of the Governing Body of the Mission.
Swami Madhavananda was an erudite scholar having an intimate knowledge of the Hindu scriptures. He had edited and translated many valuable books of the Ramakrishna Vivekananda literature. His translation into English of many of the Sanskrit scriptures is very lucid, faithful, and authoritative. Noteworthy among it is his translation of Sri Sankara’s commentary on the Brhadaranyaka Upanisad which was a monumental work.
As the President of Advaita Ashrama, he had published and conducted the now-defunct Samanvaya, a monthly magazine in Hindi, in collaboration with the late Pandit Suryakanta Tripathi (Nirala), the well-known Hindi poet. Swami Madhavananada took this opportunity to translate into Hindi many works of Swami Vivekananda and the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, again with the active co-operation of Sri Nirala.
In 1927, he was sent to San Francisco, U.S.A., as the Head of the Vedanta Centre there. He was recalled to India in 1929 to become the Assistant Secretary of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission, with its headquarters at Belur, near Calcutta.
At the Helm of the Sangha
In May 1938, he was appointed as the General Secretary of Ramakrishna Math and Mission and held this post with distinction till April 1961, with only a gap of two years between 1949 and 1951, when he lived in retirement for reasons of health. In March 1962, he was nominated the Vice-President of the Organization.
He was elected as the President of the Order on 4 August 1962.
As the executive head of the vast organization, and later as its spiritual leader, he traveled far and wide in India and abroad.
He visited the U.S.A. thrice, once when he was sent as the head of the Vedanta Centre at San Francisco (1927-29), a second time in 1956 for the dedication of Sri Ramakrishna Temple at Santa Barbara, California, and a third time in 1961 for reasons of health.
During the first two visits, particularly the second one, he visited most of the Ramakrishna Mission centers in the U.S.A. and also the centers in London and Gretz (near Paris in France).
During these visits in India and abroad, he instructed his subordinates, inspected their work, and inspired and guided them towards a better life. As the spiritual head of the organization, he had initiated a large number of lay devotees.
Swami Madhavananda attained Mahasamadhi on 6 October 1965, at 6:50 p.m. The swami had been ailing for a long time, and a month before his passing away he was hospitalized at the Ramakrishna Mission Seva Pratishthan, Calcutta. But the best medical help and care proved futile.