(1930 - 2021)
Swami Vagishanandaji Maharaj was known in his pre-monastic days as Samaresh Chandra. He was born on 12 January 1930 in the family of Ramesh Chandra and Pankajbala Mitra in Chittagong (Chattogram) district of today’s Bangladesh. It is said that Samaresh was very fond of cycling and swimming in his student days.
Young Samaresh Chandra was admitted to class 4 in the Ramakrishna Mission Vidyapith, Deoghar, and continued there till he passed the matriculation exam in 1947. Later, he studied at the St. Paul’s Cathedral Mission College in Kolkata for two years and passed the higher secondary exam in 1949, staying during this period at the Ramakrishna Mission Calcutta Students’ Home in Gouripur. Next, we find Samaresh completing his graduate studies in science from the Bangabasi College in Kolkata in 1952. After this, he enrolled for studying medicine at the Homoeopathic Medical College when, however, a new horizon started beckoning him and did not allow him to complete the medical course. It was during this period that he started visiting the Janasikshamandira of Ramakrishna Mission Saradapitha (located next to Belur Math), as a volunteer, and came under the influence of the ideals of Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother Sarada Devi and Swami Vivekananda.
Leaving his home for good in 1954, Samaresh took a plunge into the monastic life by joining the Ramakrishna Mission Saradapitha. No words can describe the joy he felt when his long-cherished dream was thus fulfilled. In the days before joining the order, he had the good fortune of coming in contact with Swami Vimuktanandaji and Swami Tejasanandaji, two stalwarts of the Ramakrishna Order. Their exemplary lives left an indelible impression on Samaresh’s mind. Also in those days, there were many disciples of Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi, Swami Brahmananda, Swami Shivananda, and other monastic disciples of Sri Ramakrishna living in Belur Math. As a result, Samaresh got the rare blessing to be in the company of these exalted souls and start his monastic life on a rock-solid foundation.
Swami Shankaranandaji Maharaj gave mantra diksha (spiritual initiation) to Samaresh in 1955. Three years later he also conferred on him the brahmacharya vows. Subsequently, in 1962, Swami Vishuddhanandaji Maharaj blessed him with sannyasa diksha on Shankara Jayanti and gave him the name Swami Vagishananda.
Vagishanandaji Maharaj served at Saradapitha from 1958 through 1967 and the Institute of Culture in Gol Park, Kolkata, from late 1967 to March 1970. He also actively participated in East Pakistan (Bangladesh) migrant relief work in North 24-Parganas district for six months in 1970. Upon completion of relief service, he was sent as an Assistant Secretary to Ranchi Morabadi centre. In April 1972, he assumed charge as the Secretary of the centre. After about 4 years at Ranchi, he was appointed head of the Malda branch, in which capacity he served till September 1982.
Then followed his brief stints as the head of Cossipore Math in Kolkata and as the head of Kamarpukur centre. In 1986 he was put in charge of Mumbai centre, in which capacity he continued for 24 years. All who came in contact with him during his stewardship of Mumbai centre remember with affection, gratitude and reverence his capacity to guide them all in their respective vocations. This was true not only for the city of Mumbai but for the entire state of Maharashtra as he showed keen interest in Bhava Prachar Parishad activities throughout the state.
Maharaj’s long stay in Mumbai ended in 2010 when he was once again requested to take charge of Cossipore Math in Kolkata. He shouldered this responsibility till his end.
Maharaj was appointed a trustee of the Ramakrishna Math and a member of the Governing Body of the Ramakrishna Mission in 1990. He was authorized in 2011 to give mantra diksha to devotees. Revered Maharaj gave mantra diksha to thousands of spiritual aspirants in different parts of India for a little over eight years. The outbreak of the Covid pandemic in March 2020 forced Maharaj to discontinue mantra diksha programmes and remain in Cossipore Math.
Revered Maharaj suffered from diabetes, hypertension and kidney disease for a few years towards the end. On 1 March 2021, he was admitted to Seva Pratishthan hospital and was kept under expert medical care. Despite the best available treatment, his condition deteriorated and became critical. The end came peacefully on 12 March 2021. He was 91 years old at the time of his Mahasamadhi.
Maharaj had the unique trait of winning the hearts of people with his ever-present smile and warm hospitality. He easily understood the problems of others and empathized with them. He did not speak much, yet no one felt unwelcome in his presence because of his loving motherly heart. He was always a champion of the poor and needy.