Ramakrishna Paramahamsa: Most Prominent Religious Figures of India

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Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (born 18 February 1836 – 16 August 1886), born Gadadhar Chatterjee or Gadadhar Chattopadhyay, was an Indian mystic and yogi during the 19th century. Ramakrishna was given to spiritual ecstasies from an early age and was influenced by numerous religious traditions, with devotion toward the Goddess Kali, Vaishnava bhakti, Tantra, and Advaita Vedanta. Reverence and respect for him amongst Bengali leaders led to the formation of the Ramakrishna Mission by his leading disciple Swami Vivekananda. His believers look upon him as an incarnation or Avatar of the formless Supreme Brahman as described in the Vedanta while some devotees see him as an avatar of Vishnu. Ramakrishna Paramhansa was born in a small village, called kamarpukur in the Hooghly district of West Bengal. His father was khudiram Chattopadhyay, and chandramani Devi was his mother.

His interest in teachings of God grew when his father died in 1843, and all the responsibilities fell over him and his brother, at this time Ramakrishna would stay close to her mother and used to spend his time in praying and doing household activities. At a very young age of 19, Ramakrishna was appointed as the priest of Dakshineswar Kali temple, built by Rani Rashmoni. Ramakrishna and his nephew Hriday were the assistants to his elder brother Ramkumar; he was given the task of decorating the deity. When after the death of Ramkumar in 1856, Ramakrishna took his place as the priest in the temple. Ramakrishna used to have visions of Goddess Kali as the universal mother and would describe them as “… houses, doors, temples and everything else vanished altogether; as if there was nothing anywhere! And what I saw was an infinite shoreless sea of light; a sea that was consciousness. However far and in whatever direction I looked, I saw shining waves, one after another, coming towards me.”

Later rumours spread that Ramakrishna had become unstable due to his spiritual practices, so his mother and his elder brother Rameswar decided to get him married. He was then married to a 5-year-old girl Saradmani Mukhopadhyaya, while Ramakrishna was 23 at that point but the age difference was common during the 19th century.

At some point in the period between his vision of Kali and his marriage, Ramakrishna practiced dāsya bhāva, during which he worshipped Rama with the attitude of Hanuman, who is the ideal devotee and servant of Rama. According to Ramakrishna, by the end of this sadhana, he had a vision of Sita, the consort of Rama, merging into his body.

In 1861, Ramakrishna accepted Bhairavi Brahmani, an orange-robed, middle-aged female ascetic, as his teacher. She used to carry with her the Raghuvir Shila; it was a stone icon representing Ram and all Vaishnava deities. She was thoroughly conversant with the texts of Gaudiya Vaishnavism and practiced Tantra. According to the Bhairavi, Ramakrishna was experiencing phenomena that accompany mahabhava, the supreme attitude of loving devotion towards the divine, and quoting from the bhakti shastras, she said that other religious figures like Radha and Chaitanya had similar experiences.

During his last days, Ramakrishna got throat cancer and was moved to Shyampukur near Calcutta, where he was treated by some of the best physicists of the time. Ramakrishna was not allowed to speak, but ignoring the doctors advise he used to converse with everyone who came to visit him. He was taken care by his wife, Sarada Devi and his disciples. Ramakrishna transferred his spiritual powers and his responsibilities as the leader to Swami Vivekanand. Then on 16th August 1886, Ramakrishna passed away and was given a mahasamadhi (grand funeral).  

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