Belur Math, Kolkata: The Global Headquarters of the 173 branch centres of the twin organizations - Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission is the Belur Math in Howrah District of West Bengal. Located at 22°37′57″N 88°21′23″E on the banks of River Hooghly, Belur Math is 6.5 kilometres north of Howrah Railway Station and 8 kilometres northeast of Kolkata City Centre.
The 1, 60, 000 square metres (40-acre) campus of Belur Math comprises the main Monastery of the Ramakrishna Order; and temples dedicated to Sri Ramakrishna, Sarada Devi and Swami Vivekananda in each of which their respective relics are enshrined; Educational institutions affiliated with Ramakrishna Mission; and a two-storeyed Museum which houses and showcases articles pertaining to the history of Ramakrishna Math and the Ramakrishna Mission.
Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902), born Narendranath Dutta, the chief disciple of Saint Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (18 February 1836 – 16 August 1886) had lived in the present site of Belur Math before he consecrated the area by worshipping the urn that contained the sacred relics of Sri Ramakrishna in 1898. The words that Swami Vivekananda uttered at this site – “The blazing light of universal harmony that will emanate from here will flood the whole world… from this place will spring forth ideals which will be the harmony of Knowledge, Devotion, Yoga, and Work ... all true seekers of spirituality will in course of time assemble here” turned prophecy into reality when he founded the twin organizations – Ramakrishna Mission and the Ramakrishna Matt and established the Belur Math which has become a nexus of the Ramakrishna Movement – a Global spiritual Movement. The room in which Swamiji attained ‘Mahasamadhi’ has been preserved here at the Belur Math.
The Belur Math was erected by Swami Vivekananda in honour of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa was a world-renowned mystic of the 19th Century India who was born on 18 February 1836 and breathed his last on 16 August 1886. He was believed to be an incarnation of God and his religious school of thought led to the formation of the Ramakrishna Mission and became a key figure of the Bengali Renaissance – a social reform movement which started with Raja Ram Mohan Roy (1775–1833) and ended with Rabindranath Tagore (1861–1941). Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, who was born in a poor Brahmin Vaishnava family in rural Bengal about 60 kilometres northeast of the present city of Kolkata, had initially become a Priest of the Dakshineshwar Kali Temple which was dedicated to Goddess Kali. He later imbibed and converged the best ideologies of the Puranas, Ramayana, Mahabharata, Bhakthi, Tantra, Vedanta, Christianity and Islam in his teachings which primarily taught religious unity. The Cultural elite of Bengal took instant fascination to his teachings which were spoken in simple Bengali language using metaphors and parables for illustrating concepts. Having developed throat cancer in 1885, he gave in to it in 1886.
Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa’s teachings run into scrolls and his oral lore or oral tradition remains immortalized by his chief disciple Swami Vivekananda and 12 other disciples – Swami Brahmananda; Swami Yogananda; Swami Premananda; Swam Niranjanananda; Swami Shivanda; Swami Saradananda; Swami Ramakrishnananda; Swami Abedhananda; Swami Adbhutananda; Swami Turiyananda; Swami Advaitananda; Swami Trigunatitananda; Swami Subodhananda; Swami Akhandananda and Swami Vijnanananda.
The Belur Math is an international tourist attraction, apart from a place of pilgrimage and is regarded as a place of heritage and National importance. The lush green lawns and dense tree coverage on this serene campus enhances the spiritual ambience of the place. Belur Math with its vast and serene surroundings offers a quiet and contemplative atmosphere for people to harness their minds and to explore their inner spiritualistic selves for their overall well being.
A typical day at the Math would start with ‘Mangal Aarti’ – a ceremony that is conducted by the Math’s Monks and is not open for general public, at 4 am which is followed by meditation at the main temple. As ‘Bhog’, the first meal is offered to Bhagwan Ramakrishna at 7 am and ‘Annabhog’ is offered at 11 am. Bhog is available till 8 pm. After 22 minutes post sunset daily, the evening Arati is offered. The best time to witness the Math’s pious and festive ambience is during festivals like Durga Pooja, Kali Pooja, Ras Purnima, Christmas and birthdays of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Swami Vivekananda. The birthdays of the first 12 disciples of Sri Ramakrishna are also celebrated and observed with silent prayers, meditation and devotionals sung by the Monks of the Matt.
The architecture of Belur Math is exemplary and is a seamless mix of architecturally typical elements of a Church, a Mosque and a Temple and was combined into one in order to symbolize and reflect the Central Philosophy of the Ramakrishna Mission – the ‘Universal Faith’. The temple was architected by Swami Vijnanananda but was the brainchild of Swami Vivekananda and was consecrated on 14th January 1938. It took 4 years to construct this temple with funds donated by Swami Vivekananda’s American disciple – Ms Helen Rubel.
The front façade of the main entrance is influenced by the Buddhist style while the South Indian Hindu temple ‘Gopuram’ influenced the structure which rises over the entrance. The balconies and the windows exhibit a combined architecture of the Rajput Hindu temple style and the Mughal style. The Central Dome takes its appearance from the European architecture which grew popular during the Renaissance period and finally the ground plan is modeled in the shape of a Christian cross. The spacious congregational Hall – the ‘Natmandira’ that is attached to the Sanctum resembles a Church. The temple stands at a height of 112.5 feet and sprawls over 32, 900 square feet of area. The material used in the construction of the temple is Chunar Stone with few areas covered in cement.
The most live part of Belur Math – is the full size statue of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa who is sculpted of marble and is seated on a hundred petalled Lotus flower over a damaru shaped marble pedestal wherein the sacred relics of Sri Ramakrishna are preserved. The Brahmi-Hamsa on the front represents a ‘Paramahamsa’ - a Sanskrit religious and theological title of honour bestowed upon Hindu spiritual teachers of lofty status. Famous Kolkata based sculptor Gopeshwar Pal sculpted the statue of Sri Ramakrishna while Sri Nandalal Bose designed the decorations of the temple. Teakwood was imported from Myanmar for making the canopy above the Statue and all the door and windows of the temple.
The Emblem of Ramakrishna Math & Ramakrishna Mission symbolizes religious and mental harmony and synthesis in an age of conflict and disharmony. The wavy waters in the picture symbolizes Karma; the sunrise symbolizes Gyana; The serpant which encircles the swam symbolizes Yoga and the Kunadilini Shakti; and Paramatman is what the swan in the centre stands for. All aspects together, the emblem sends a message that Paramatman can be attained by the union of Karma, Bhakti, Gyana, and Yoga.
The ideologies of the Ramakrishna Mission are:
1. The ultimate goal in life is ‘God-Realization’.
2. The essence of true religion is the manifestation of potential divinity.
3. The synthesis of Gyana Yoga; Bhakthi Yoga, Raja Yoga; Karma Yoga can lead to the achievement of God-realization.
4. Morality based on strengths and potentialities.
5. Harmony of religions in a pluralistic society such as ours.
6. Harmony among World Religions.
7. The ‘Avatar-hood’ of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa.
Belur Math engages in the following activities:
1. Charitable Dispensary: Free allopathic and homoeopathic medicines have been dispensed since 1913. Presently the allopathic section has several departments such as general, dermatology, gynaecology, radiology (including ultra-sonography), dental, ophthalmology, ENT, pathology and biochemistry and has treated 7,53,216 cases in the year.
2. Help To The Poor: Belur Math regularly donates money to about 310 families and 2340 students to the tune of Rs. 22,72,378. Besides which, about 9700 pieces of clothing and 3 tricycles were distributed to the needy.
3. Relief & Rehabilitation: Belur Math undertook relief and rehabilitation of thousands of distressed people affected by Tsunami, devastating floods, cyclones and other calamities in several parts of India to the tune of Rs. 13 crores.
4. Pallimangal: programmes centred on agriculture, cottage industry, mobile medical service, and so on were implemented as a part of Rural Development Programs.
5. Veda Vidyalaya: Within Belur Math periphery, Vivekananda Veda Vidyalaya imparts Vedic education to the young since August 1993. The ancient ‘Gurukula’ system and atmosphere has been replicated where the students reside and study. The library houses 3389 books and 4 periodicals.
6. Ramakrishna Museum: Belur Math Museum houses articles and artifacts closely associated or belonging to Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother, Swami Vivekananda and other direct disciples of Sri Ramakrishna.
Charitable Activities of Ramakrishna Mission & Ramakrishna Math:
1. Ramakrishna Mission & Ramakrishna Math provides Medical Help to the poor and the needy through their tie-ups with 15 Hospitals; 130 dispensaries; 59 Mobile Medical Units; 790 Medical camps by which about 80 Lakh patients have benefitted.
2. Specialized Medical Treatments provided by the Ramakrishna Mission & Ramakrishna Math have cured Tuberculosis; Leprosy; Psychiatry; Neurology; Physiotherapy related ailments and diseases. Regular Medical Camps, eye treatments and Maternity and child welfare services have been offered by the Math.
3. Excelling in the field of education, Ramakrishna Mission & Ramakrishna Math has spent Rs. 115 crores on providing education to the needy on a yearly basis.
4. The rural and tribal projects taken up by Ramakrishna Mission & Ramakrishna Math helped provide pucca houses; drinking water; bore wells and tube wells; low-cost toilets; agro-clinics; wasteland development; planting of fruit and forest trees; free schools for children with free boarding and lodging; free night schools; self-help groups; training in carpentry; bee-keeping, pisciculture, dairy and poultry-farming, weaving, incense-stick rolling, etc to enable the rural and tribal folk to achieve self-reliance; free medicines through mobile dispensaries among a host of others.
Belur Math comprises the following units which belong directly to the main monastery:
1. The Monks’ Quarters: It where Monks of the Sri Ramakrishna Order permanently reside and are not open for tourist visits.
2. Math Office: Activities concerning worship in the temples, annual celebration of Durga Puja and other festivals, maintenance of the premises, maintenance of monks, taking care of devotees, distribution of ‘Prasad’, etc. Pranami (offerings) for worship and contributions for the maintenance of monks are managed and controlled by the Math Office - the main office of Belur Math which is situated behind the main temple.
3. Sacred Shrines: The imposing sandstone temple which enshrines the sacred relics and a beautiful marble statue of Sri Ramakrishna also houses smaller temples dedicated to Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi, Swami Vivekananda and Swami Brahmananda and a few other buildings which are associated with the early history of Ramakrishna Math are:
i. Old Shrine - worship service has been conducted for more than 3 decades to Sri Ramakrishna.
ii. Swami Vivekananda’s room where spent his last years.
iii. ‘Old Math’ which was formerly known as ‘Nilambar Mukherjee’s Garden House’, which served as the monastery of Ramakrishna Order for a short period.
4. Probationers’ Training Centre: Before they are given ‘Brahmacharya Ordination’, all Probationers (novices and Acharyas (teachers)) of the Ramakrishna Order have to stay for two years at the Training Centre. Education is imparted here which is based on basic Hindu scriptures, lives and teachings of Sri Ramakrishna, Sri Sarada Devi, Swami Vivekananda and other incarnations and prophets, Indian philosophy, Western philosophy, Comparative Religion, etc. Training in music, Vedic chanting, performing Puja, keeping accounts, gardening, etc is given to the probationers.
5. Math Library: The Math Library which houses 21,481 books and 79 periodicals, including a collection of books used by the direct disciples of Sri Ramakrishna is meant for the use of Monks and lay Mission members.
6. Celebrations: Birthdays of Sri Ramakrishna, Holy Mother and Swami Vivekananda, Belur Math as well as traditional Hindu festivals such as Durga Puja, Lakshmi Puja, Kali Puja, Saraswati Puja, Shiva Ratri along with birthdays of Sri Krishna, Buddha, Jesus Christ and Chaitanya are observed and celebrated at the Math which attracts huge crowds. ‘Kumari Puja’ is a tradition that was started in 1901 by Swami Vivekananda.
Women’s Monastic Organization:
Swami Vivekananda attributed the neglect of the masses and neglect of women to the downfall of India. He believed that the life and message of Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi had great significance for the upliftment of women which reflects in his letters to the other Monks and he had expressed in several conferences that a separate women’s monastic order on the lines of Ramakrishna Math be established – with Holy Mother as its inspiration. Half a century later, a group of women, who had been leading a life of renunciation and service for several years, were given the vows of ‘Brahmacharya’ at Belur Math on 27 December 1953, the sacred birthday of Sri Sarada Devi and on 2 December 1954, a new Monastic Order for Women – ‘Sri Sarada Math’ was launched. Sri Sarada Math was formally made a separate entity from Ramakrishna Math in August 1959. Since then, both institutions have been jointly conducting spiritual, cultural, educational, medical and charitable activities for needy women and children.
With the Headquarters in Howrah District of West Bengal, Centres of Ramakrishna Math & Ramakrishna Mission in India are in Andaman, Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chandigarh, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Gujarat, Jammu & Kashmir, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Meghalaya, Orissa, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and West Bengal. Overseas, the Centres are at Argentina, Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, Fiji, France, Germany, Japan, Malaysia, Mauritius, Netherlands, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and United States of America.