( 1924 - 2014 )
Swami Gitananda Maharaj was born on 17 April 1924 in Arial village of Dhaka district in what is now known as Bangladesh. He was known as Basudev Mukhopadhyaya in his pre-monastic days. The religious temperament of his parents and the spiritual atmosphere of the household shaped the inner life of Basudev. He was deeply influenced by the discussions on Ramayana, Mahabharata and Srimad Bhagavatam held in his home. Thus the foundation of his spiritual life was laid at a young age. Imbued with a spiritual hankering, Basudev determined even at that time that he would not lead a worldly life.
He came to Kolkata for his college education. During his college days, he came in touch with the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda literature and found in it a new meaning for life. Attracted by the spiritual ideals, he joined the Ramakrishna Order at Sri Ramakrishna Math, Chennai, in 1946 and started his monastic life under the love and care of Swami Kailashananda Maharaj who was the head of the Math. He received mantra diksha (spiritual initiation) from Swami Virajananda Maharaj at the Order’s branch in Visakhapatnam in the year 1947. Later he had the fortune of serving his guru for some time.
Basudev received the vows of Brahmacharya in 1952 and was given the name Brahmachari Ameyachaitanya. After four years, he was given Sannyasa ordination and the name Gitananda, in the year 1956 by Swami Shankarananda Maharaj.
During his long monastic life in the Order, he served at Belur Math Headquarters and Kanpur centre as an assistant and Ranchi Sanatorium, Varanasi Home of Service and Kankurgachhi centres as the head. He had established a cordial relationship with the poor people of Ranchi where he spent quite a few years. He also worked for about four years in organizing and coordinating the Swami Vivekananda’s Birth Centenary (1963-64) celebrations. He attended to the needs of the Swami Shankarananda Maharaj as his personal secretary for some time.
He was appointed a Trustee of Ramakrishna Math and a Member of the Governing Body of Ramakrishna Mission in 1973. In 2003, he was elected a Vice-President of the twin organizations. In the beginning, he did not agree to accept this post. At the repeated request of senior monks, he finally yielded and held that responsibility till the end of his life. As the Vice-President, he visited many places in India and blessed thousands of spiritual aspirants by giving them mantra-diksha. Outside India, Maharaj visited Russia and Mauritius. Wherever he went, his peaceful countenance drew to him devotees and aspirants. He initiated about 45,000 aspirants in all. He felt immensely attracted to places of pilgrimage. He had a special love for Varanasi, Vrindaban and Puri.
After becoming the Vice-President, he at first stayed at Ramakrishna Math, Baghbazar, (Mayer-badi). Later, in 2005, he took charge as the head of Ramakrishna Math (Yogodyan), Kankurgachhi, and managed the affairs of that centre till August 2009.
He had a deep understanding of Srimad Bhagavatam. His discussions on this sacred text were filled with divine fervour and went far beyond the dry insipid interpretations given by learned pandits. His lecture series later took the concrete shape of an extraordinary book in Bengali Bhagavat Katha. This is not a translation of the entire Bhagavatam, but embodies the principal theme intertwined with several micro-narratives and highlights the underlying philosophy. In the same vein, he also wrote Sri Ramer Anudhyan.
Japa or repetition of the mantra was a natural way of life for him. Sri Sarada Devi used to say that one attains everything by japa. The truth of this statement was fulfilled in Swami Gitananda Maharaj’s life. His habit of doing all work with serenity while remaining immersed in the silent repetition of the Holy Name has left an indelible mark in the spiritual history of the Order. He was singularly affectionate and simple. Endowed with this he could make everyone his own.
After suffering from old-age-related ailments for a few years, he attained Mahasamadhi on 14 March 2014 in Kolkata at the age of 90 years.