[The story of Sri Sarada Math--how it was conceived, how it came to be established and how a small center grew into the great organization it is today, needs to be recounted. In a series of articles starting with September 2011: Sri Sarada Math, Dakshineswar-I, we will attempt to tell that story. Editor, Samvit]
By the time the new millennium rolled up, Sri Sarada Math was already forty-six years old. For an organization rooted in spiritual life and welfare of others, and conceived by someone who had not lived to see the relization of his dreams, it has remained remarkably relevant even to this day. The decades brought new challenges and new centres were opened.
In 2000, a Math was established at Valsad, Gujarat. Gujarati devotees of Sri Ramakrishna, Dhansukh Mistri and his wife, Bhanuben Mistri, were living in America when Swami Vireswarananda, then president of the Ramakrishna Order, told Dhansukh that he wanted him to build a house at Valsad. Dhansukh named the house Thakur Ghar (shrine). When Dhansukh performed the foundation ceremony, he and his wife wrote Sri Ramakrishna's name a hundred thousand times and placed the papers beneath the foundation stone. In 1999, Dhansukh offered that house along with its garden to Sri Sarada Math. On 29 April 2000, Pravrajika Shraddhaprana, then president, opened a Sri Sarada Math centre there. Now the centre conducts daily worship, devotional singing and spiritual discourses along with coaching classes for the poor, a library and a homeopathic dispensary.
In 2001, a Sri Sarada Math and Ramakrishna Sarada Mission centre was started at Guntur in Andhra Pradesh. Ramdas, a long established and well-known medical practitioner, lived in a large, beautiful house next to the Ramakrishna Samiti temple and adjoining school in Guntur. All of Ramdas' sons and daughters were devotees of Sri Ramakrishna and were settled abroad. In 2000, Ramdas passed away while abroad, leaving a will in which he stipulated that this house be given to Sri Sarada Math to start a centre in the future. His descendents faithfully donated it in their father's memory.
1 April 2001, the day of the worship of the Goddess Annapurna, was the opening day of Sri Sarada Math at Guntur. Pravrajika Shraddhaprana installed the images of Sri Ramakrishna, Sri Sarada Devi and Swami Vivekananda in a shrine room in the Math building where there was a special worship.
Many devotees had hoped for initiation but no one could decide where the initiation could be arranged. Mataji went to the Ramakrishna Samiti temple next door. She was charmed to see the large image of Sri Ramakrishna on a beautifully decorated altar. She found an atmosphere so imbued with spiritual power, she preferred this place for initiation ceremonies. Upon inquiry, it was discovered that Ramdas used to meditate there early every morning for two or two and a half hours. In October that year, the Ramakrishna Samiti handed that temple and the school over to the Ramakrishna Sarada Mission. At every centre, the lives and teachings of Sri Ramakrishna, Sri Sarada Devi and Swami Vivekananda are studied and welfare programmes started, particularly for local women and children.
One day, when Sri Sarada Devi's mother, Shyamasundari was returning from her father's house, she suddenly felt unwell and sat down to rest under a nearby bilwa tree on the bank of the Elapukur pond in Shihar. A beautiful little girl wearing a lot of jewelery came down from the tree and affectionately put her arms around Shyamasundari's neck and said, "Mother, I have come to you." Shyama fell unconscious and with the help of others was brought back home. Following that incident Sri Sarada Devi was born. One hundred and fifty years after birth, the plot of land adjacent to that bilwa tree was purchased, prompted by the Ramakrishna Math and Mission's present president, Swami Atmasthananda. A memorial was constructed under the bilwa tree and a Math building and temple was built on the land.
Swamiji said,"Two such Maths will be started in some suitable places in the Himalayas and conducted on similar principles." According to Swamiji's plan, in 1899, an Advaita Ashrama was established at Mayavati for the sannyasis. Nearly a century later in 1998, Sri Sarada Math built a Math centre on the Kasar Devi Hill in Almora. Two years later, the Ramakrishna Sarada Mission opened an Advaita centre at Pangot in Nainital district. The centre was built with donations from women devotees from the West. There, western and eastern women eager to study Vedanta, can learn from sannyasinis in the pure spiritual atmosphere of the Himalayas. Periodically, week-long retreats are organised in that centre for the study of particular scriptures.
"If an Indian woman in Indian dress preaches there the religion which fell from the lips of the Rishis of India--I see a prophetic vision-there will rise a great wave which will inundate the whole Western world," said Swamiji. Swamiji first went to America in 1893 when his participation in the Parliament of Religions in Chicago made a great stir. A hundred years later, when the centenary of that Parliament was observed, Sri Sarada Math sannyasinis were invited as delegates. They spoke at several Vedanta centres and met and lectured to groups of devotees in other places. The foreign devotees, especially the women, were so enthusiastic that thereafter nearly every year, invitations come to Sri Sarada Math sannyasinis to lecture in America, South America, Canada as well as in England, Holland, Germany, France and other parts of Europe.
In 2002, the Present General Secretary, Pravrajika Amalaprana went on a tour to South Africa. She also went to Sri Lanka in 2002 and 2003 with Pravrajika Ramaprana, President, Sri Sarada Math, Chennai. Requests have come from all places inviting Sri Sarada Math to open centres there.
The expansion of the activities of Sri Sarada Math and its influence is not the result of the efforts of any individual member of the Order but because of Swamiji's power working through the members and devotees. It is this power and the will of the Divine Mother that is making his dream a reality. The life of the Order has two sides--one's own liberation and the welfare of others. The motto of the Order is, atmano mokshartham jagadhitaya cha. It is the duty of every sannyasini of the Math to spread the teachings of Sri Ramakrishna for the welfare of mankind. Swamiji did not exclude from the life of a sannyasi any of these methods of spreading the ideal of the Ramakrishna movement-writing books, lecturing and delivering scriptural discourses.
In 1980, Sri Sarada Math's English journal, Samvit (a semi-annual) was launched from the Ramakrishna Sarada Mission, New Delhi. The journal has spread the teachings of Sri Ramakrishna, Mother and Swamiji for thirty-four years. In 1987, the Bengali Journal, Nibodhata (a bi-mnonthly), was first published from Sri Sarada Math, Dakshineswar. Swamiji wanted India's message to reach the world with a new attitude and lively language, in poetry and prose. In addition to the journals, Sri Sarada Math and Ramakrishna Sarada Mission publish an increasing number of books in English, Bengali and several regional languages.
Swamiji said, "Even the least work done for others awakens the power within; even thinking the least good of others gradually instills into the heart the strength of a lion." In 1978, due to the continuous rainfall, there were floods in West Bengal, including Kolkata. The Ramakrishna Sarada Mission Vivekananda Vidyabhavan College and its campus at Dum Dum were flooded too. A truck was hired to rescue stranded students who were then taken to the Sister Nivedita School at Baghbazar. But Sri Sarada Math and Ramakrishna Sarada Mission centres did not limit their rescue efforts to just their own institutions, choosing to assist in other parts of the the state and carrying relief material-food, medicines, clothes and blankets to affected regions. Whatever is required, the Math and Mission participate in rescue work. Sri Sarada Math, Valsad, had hardly begun to function when, on 26 January 2001, there was a tremendous earthquake in Gujarat and many areas of the state were devastated. The new centre zealously served those in difficulty as much as possible. The following year, this centre built a school in the midst of the area devastated by the earthquake. The workers of the centre at Shilla in Burdwan faced another kind of experience when they went to distribute food, milk powder and clothes to the residents of leper colonies in Durgapur, Asansol, Midnapur and other places. The Mission workers were distressed when they saw the deplorable condition of the sick and found locals ignorant about this disease. The sannyasinis of this centre are still trying to help these people, neglected by society.
Swamiji declared, "The root cause of all misery in India is the wide gulf between the lower and the upper classes. Unless this difference is removed, there is no hope of any well-being...Preachers will have to be sent to all places to impart education and religious ideas to those people." "...Modern Science women must learn: but not at the cost of ancient spirituality." There are many poor, low-caste fishing families living in Dakshineswar. It is rare that they get a chance to express their talents. It is especially so for women. Sri Sarada Math now has the capacity to provide technological training to underprivileged students, even if it is on a limited scale.
Rasik, a sweeper at the Kali temple in Dakshineswar, was blessed with Sri Ramakrishna's company. Near the temple, his house was purified by the dust of Sri Ramakrishna's feet. Years later, a vanaprastha ashram for retired householders called, 'Kali Ramakrishna Math' was started where his home used to be. In 1997, the property with a building in much disrepair was given to Sri Sarada Math. A modern, well-equipped four-storey building has been constructed in its place called, 'Rasik Bhita-Educational and Cultural Centre'. The foundation stone was laid by Pravrajika Shraddhaprana, third President, Sri Sarada Math and Ramakrishna Sarada Mission on 23 November 1999. The dedication ceremony took place on 24 November 2001 and the inauguration of the institution was on 23 December 2001 while classes commenced from 16 January 2002. At this centre, computer and spoken English classes are conducted for poor students and housewives. Discourses and discussions are organized on cultural and spiritual topics.
An international youth program is also run in which participating members are engaged in various activities including cleaning the streets, exercises and mountain climbing. They also learn various arts and crafts and organize debates. They are encouraged to engage in all these activities to strengthen their self confidence. Several girls who have received specialized education at the centre have secured well paid positions and lifted their families out of poverty. Young girls are also getting the opportunity of inspiration from the ideals of Sri Ramakrishna, Mother and Swamiji.
With the passing years, due to the increasing number of students, an extension of Rasik Bhita was a dire need. On 23 May 2012, Pravrajika Bhaktiprana, the fourth President, Sri Sarada Math and Ramakrishna Sarada Mission, inaugurated Sarada Bhita-the new extension of Rasik Bhita at the premises 4/ 2 T. N. Biswas Road, Kolkata-700035, which is very near to Rasik Bhita. Since then regular classes are being held in this three- storey building. Swami Vivekananda 150th Birth Anniversary Memorial Building at 490 Dumdum Park, another extension of Rasik Bhita, was inaugurated on 10 April 2014. This new branch is also offering courses in computer and spoken English, mainly for girl students from low income families in and around Dumdum area.
"It is a welcome news that Sri Ramakrishna's festival has come off with great eclat; the more his name is spread the better it is...Spread his lofty character, his sublime life, his infinite soul. This is the only work there is nothing else to do," said Swamiji. Within these fifty years, apart from the regular work, just as it was possible to establish a few new centres, there were a few special occasions that were celebrated on a grand scale such as Swamiji's centenary celebration. The centenary celebration of Sister Nivedita's birth was celebrated in 1967. On her birthday, a new life-sized photograph of Nivedita was hung at the entrance to the Sister Nivedita Girls' School. At early dawn Pravrajika Bharatiprana Mataji performed arati before this image. Women delegates came from various states of India to participate in a public meeting. There were discourses, students' competitions and cultural performances in celebration of the occasion. Sister Nivedita's writings and speeches were compiled and published in four volumes of The Complete Works of Sister Nivedita.
In 1977, the platinum Jubilee of the Nivedita School was celebrated in December with various functions and the publication of a souvenir. Before that, during the Durga puja holiday, when a few members of the Nivedita School went to Belur Math to make pranams to Revered President Swami Vireswarananda, he suddenly said that on 13 November, he would go to school and offer flowers to Mother in the prayer hall. It was on 13 November 1898, that Mother inaugurated the school at 16 Bosepara Lane.
On the one hand, the workers of the school were overjoyed at his proposal; on the other, it was vacation time and none of the teachers or students had yet returned. How could a reception be organized without them? The students would chant some Vedic hymns, sing and recite from Swamiji and Nivedita's sayings. At last, all this became possible. Other special occasions during this period were the opening of Sri Sarada Math's temple, Sri Ramakrishna's 150th birth anniversary celebration and the centenary celebration of Swamiji's Chicago Parliament of Religions addresses. For the last, apart from delivering discourses at public meetings, a book was published in Bengali entitled, Mahima Tava Udbhasita. On the Math premises, an exhibition was assembled of many exceptional pictures of the Chicago Parliament of Religions and its cultural background.
During the last quarter of the 1900s, the Silver Jubilees were celebrated by turn, of Matri Bhavan, the maternity hospital, the Ashrama (which used to be Ramakrishna Mission Women's Welfare Centre), the Vivekananda Vidyabhavan College, the Shiksha Mandir, the Delhi Mission and Khonsa centre. Then, in 1998, the Ramakrishna Sarada Mission Sister Nivedita Girls' School celebrated its centenary. It was observed with meetings in various theatres in Kolkata and in the school courtyard. There was also an exhibition of paintings of many artists of India and abroad who had such regard for Sister Nivedita, that after the exhibition they donated all the priceless paintings that were exhibited at the school A special bronze memento was made from a design of Sister Nivedita's to be presented to these artists. A hard-cover brochure was printed with colour reproductions of all the paintings in the exhibition and of Sister Nivedita's original designs. A large souvenir book was also published on the occasion.
In 2000, Matri Bhavan celebrated its golden jubilee. The year 2003-2004 was the 150th birth anniversary of Holy Mother. During the many celebrations, a new book in Bengali, Janmajanmanterer Ma, was published, containing a collection of articles by esteemed writers. Similarly, a book was published in English entitled, Eternal Mother in which writers from various parts of India and the world contributed articles, allowing a much broader view of Holy Mother's life as it includes different perspectives spread over a century and a half.
Marking the fiftieth year of Sri Sarada Math, a booklet was published, Sri Ma Sarada O Sri Sarada Math in Bengali (Sri Sarada Devi and Sri Sarada Math). Half the printed copies were distributed free. Similar booklets were published in English, Hindi, Oriya, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada and Marathi.
On 20 May 2008, Buddhapurnima Day, a new project was started in the backward and remote village of Baladbandh, Hooghly district, on a plot of two acres of land gifted to the Mission for welfare activities. The project includes coaching classes for children, vocational training in tailoring, embroidery and other handicrafts for the village women and cultural classes. Occasional medical camps are arranged for the benefit of the poor villagers. Sarees and children's garments are distributed at the time of Durga puja and blankets and warm garments are given in winter.
Ramakrishna Sarada Mission, Kantanagar, Murshidabad, was started on 1 April 2010, on the premises gifted to the Mission for educational, cultural and welfare activities. Besides classes, the activities include a primary school and a homeopathic charitable dispensary once a week.
Another new centre of the Mission was inaugurated at Balurghat, Dakshin Dinajpur, on 4 May 2011. The premises were transferred to the Mission by the Balurghat Sarada Sangha. The centre situated in beautiful surroundings, conducts a kindergarten and a Sunday school. Vocational training in embroidery, tailoring and other handicrafts are some of its other welfare activities.
Swamiji, through his spiritual insight could see that the coming of Sri Ramakrishna would create a great wave of spirituality that would arise and inundate everything. Sir Sarada Math is fortunate to be instrumental in the fulfillment of his ideal. This is our perennial inspiration. He said, "Everyone will be swept away! Take care, he is coming! Whoever will be ready to serve him-no, not him but his children-the poor and the downtrodden, the sinful and the afflicted, down to the very worm-who will be ready to serve these, in them he will manifest himself. Through their tongue the Goddess of Learning Herself will speak, and the divine Mother the Embodiment of all Power - will enthrone Herself in their hearts."