( 1873 - 1951 )
Birth and Early Life
Kalikrishna Basu, the name by which Swami Virajananda was known in his pre-monastic life, was born on 10 June 1873. It was the day of Lord Jagannatha’s Snan Yatra, an auspicious day for the Hindus.
Kalikrishna’s father, Sri Trailokyanath Basu, was a well-established physician of Calcutta. His mother Nishadkali Devi was an extremely devoted and religious-minded lady and she was a great influence on her son’s character. Even after renouncing the world Kalikrishna would confess, “I was greatly attached to my mother”. One of the singular features of his mother was that, though she would do her household work meticulously, she was completely detached. For this reason, when Kalikrishna later wanted to renounce the world, she encouraged him. Instead of posing difficulties for him, she said on that occasion: ’Why should I become an obstacle to your religious life? I have no objection to your renouncing the world.’ How many such mothers do we come across in this selfish world?
Kalikrishna had his education first at the Training Academy and later at the Ripon College where Sri Mahendranath Gupta or M, the author of the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna was the professor.
Even at an early age Kalikrishna evinced a keen interest in spiritual matters and devoted much of his time in the study of scriptures and singing bhajan and kirtan in the company of young boys of a similar disposition. This spiritual inclination led him to Sri Ramachandra Datta, a householder disciple of Sri Ramakrishna from whom he would hear the wonderful life of Sri Ramakrishna.
Mahendranath Gupta or M recognized Kalikrishna’s aspirations and directed him to the Sannyasin (Monastic) disciples of the Master who were then living in the newly started Baranagore Math in Calcutta. This was a turning point in the life of Kalikrishna. The austerity and spiritual ambience of the monastery and, above all, the love of the Master’s disciples especially that of Swami Ramakrishnananda, left an indelible impression on the young Kalikrishna, who would visit the monastery often and even on certain occasions spent a few days there.
Beginning of Monastic Life
As days passed by, the attraction for the life of a monk welled up in him and ultimately in 1891, at the age of 17, Kalikrishna renounced the world and joined the brotherhood at Baranagore. Before embarking on the life of renunciation, he obtained his parents’ blessings.
For Kalikrishna the days at the Baranagore Monastery was imbued with inspiration, because here he witnessed the young disciples of the Master develop, in a great measure, their strength and holiness. The hard life of Tapasya could not deter him in the least. He threw himself heart and soul into the work in the monastery. He was bestowed with the unique privilege of serving Sri Ramakrishna’s direct disciples who lovingly moulded his spiritual life.
The other companions alongside who he would visit the Baranagore Math also joined the Ramakrishna Order one by one and became known to the world as Swamis Vimalananda, Suddhananda, Prakashananda, Bodhananda, Atmananda and Nirbhayananda.
After receiving Holy Mother’s blessings, in 1892, Kalikrishna spent some time in spiritual practices in the company of Swami Premananda at Vrindaban.
Kalikrishna was initiated into the monastic life by Swami Vivekananda, who had returned from the west, in 1897. He was given the name Swami Virajananda.
Shortly after, under Swami Vivekananda’s special instructions, he went to Dhaka and a few other places in East Bengal for preaching work and organized with success famine relief work at Deoghar. Swami Virajananda also had the privilege of rendering personal service to Swami Vivekananda, who, in turn, was especially pleased with his one-pointed devotion and service.
In the Himalayas
As per Swamiji’s instructions, Swami Virajananda went as a worker to the newly started Advaita Ashrama in Mayavati.
The Ashram was then at its nascent stage and the Swami’s help was of great value to the Seviers in organizing it. On 28 October 1900, the Ashrama suffered a great loss due to the passing away of Mr J. H. Sevier, one of the most beloved western disciple of Swami Vivekananda. Swami Vivekananda wanted to pay a visit to Mayavati to comfort Mrs Sevier in her bereavement. It was winter and the road to Mayavati was impassable, due to the want of proper facilities to travel. The journey from the railway station to Mayavati-a distance of sixty-five miles was by no means pleasant. The task of bringing Swamiji safely from Kathgodam to Mayavati fell on Swami Virajananda. The Swami started from Mayavati, walking day and night, covered the whole distance in two days, and was ready at Kathgodam to escort the party. Swami Vivekananda was highly pleased with this and remarked, ‘He is indeed a fit disciple of mine!’ He again escorted Swami Vivekananda on his way back as far as Pilibhit and alas, this was to be their last meeting. Swami Virajananda was at Ahmedabad on a tour, when Swami Vivekananda passed away at the Belur Math in 1902.
Swami Virajananda was overwhelmed with grief for not being present with Swamiji in his last days. He retired from active life and spent three years in study, meditation, and serving Swamis Brahmananda and Turiyananda.
In 1904, a proposal was made to send him to America, but it fell through as the Swami wanted to stay in India and practice Tapasya.
After the passing away of Swami Swarupananda in 1906, Swami Virajananda was appointed President of Advaita Ashrama, Mayavati and was given the onerous task of developing the institution. For eight years he continued to bear the burden of responsibility. This can be considered as one of the most creative periods of his life.
His work at Mayavati was many-sided. In addition to being the Editor of the Prabuddha Bharata, the organ of the Ramakrishna Order, he had to edit the monumental life of Swami Vivekananda by his Eastern and Western Disciples in four volumes. The collection, editing, and publication of the Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda is also a tribute to his energy and intellectual abilities.
Swami Virajananda gave up the Presidentship of the Advaita Ashrama on 15 December 1913 but continued to stay there for one more year to complete the editing of the Complete Works.
Sorely in need of a peaceful place where he can spend his days in solitude, the Swami started a new Ashrama at Shyamalatal, in 1915. Here, he spent ten years in study and long hours of meditation. His life at Shyamalatal was exemplary of simple living, self-discipline and austerity. He had a special affection for this Ashrama, for here he had spent some of his best years in contemplation and meditation.
In 1926 a Sevashrama an ancillary to the work of the Ashrama was started. Swami Virajananda was touched by the great move to provide medical help to the needy and illiterate people of the villages around his retreat. Indeed from 1926 onward, his desire for service of Man grew and he took a keen interest in the activities of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission.
At the helm of the Sangha
In 1934 he was elected the Secretary of the Ramakrishna Math and the Ramakrishna Mission.
In May 1938 he became the Vice-President of the Ramakrishna Math and the Ramakrishna Mission after the demise of Swami Shuddhananda, he became the President.
During Swami Virajananda’s period of Presidentship was witnessed a phenomenal expansion of the Ramakrishna Mission in extent and activity.
The spiritual influence he radiated, his serene temperament, along with the joyful simplicity of a child, attracted thousands of devotees, young and old, men and women, and moulded the lives of the many young men who joined the Ramakrishna Order. More than once the Swami went on extensive tours to different parts of India and thousands of men and women had their spiritual life awakened and strengthened through his advice and personal influence. Indeed we find in the Swami a wonderful example of the ideal of Swami Vivekananda-intense activity coupled with intense meditation.
His advice to disciples, a valuable spiritual legacy, has been published under the title Parmartha Prasanga in original Bengali. The book has been translated into English and Hindi and published in India.
The last few days of the Swami were one of great illness. The complications in his system multiplied. But he bore all sufferings with extreme patience and stoicism and few could understand that he was feeling any pain. On the morning of the 30 May 1951, at about four, the condition became very grave. All the Sannyasins and Brahmacharins gathered and started chanting the name of Sri Ramakrishna. The end came peacefully at about fifty-six minutes past six. Floral offerings were made by the thousands of devotees who had gathered there. By about six in the evening the mortal remains of the Swami were, after the cremation, consigned to the sacred waters of the Ganges. The Belur Math resounded with the cries of ‘Jai Guru Maharaj Ji ki Jai’ from the devotees who felt that in the passing away of Swami Virajananda they had lost an invaluable guide and the world a great spiritual personality.