History and Significance
The villages of Kamarpukur , Sripur and Mukundapur in West Bengal, stand so close to one another in the shape of a triangle at the junction of the districts of Hooghly, Bankura and Medinipur, that they have become known from very early times as different parts of the Kamarpukur village.The name of Kamarpukur became prominent, probably because the local landlords had lived in it for many generations.It is situated in the Arambagh Sub-division of the Hooghly District. Manik Raja, a well-to-do person, lived in the village of Bhursubo at about 2 km north of Kamarpukur. The renowned tanks of Sukhasayer and Hatisayer excavated by him as also the mango-grove, now almost extinct, in the nearby meadows, testify to some of his noteworthy contribution. Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi was born at Jayrambati about 5 km west of Kamarpukur. On the western border of Kamarpukur, the canal Bhutir-Khal flows in a zigzag course from the north to the south and joins the Amodar river which flowed by the side of Jayrambati Two cremation grounds called Budhui Moral and Bhutir-Khal lie on the north-east and north-west of the village respectively. Along the eastern border of the villages a wider road runs from Barddhaman (about 53 km from Kamarpukur) to Puri in Orissa.To the south-east are the ruins of Fort Mandaran and the ancient temple of Saileswara Siva, which bear witness to the prosperous days of the Pathan rulers. About 50 km to the east, is the famous temple of Tarakeswar Siva, which is connected with Kamarpukur by a road running via Jahanabad (Arambagh). Besides this, Ghatal (about 30 km to the north) and Bishnupur (50 km to the west) are joined with Kamarpukur by another road that abuts on the aforesaid road to Puri,after passing through Kotalpur and Koalpara villages.It was at Kamarpukur which is adorned with the beauty of nature and an evergreen atmosphere, that Bhagavan Sri Ramakrishna was born.With his advent and on account of the frequent visits of his disciples, this hamlet has become a place of pilgrimage. Thousands of devotees visit it every year from the various parts of the world and get spiritually refreshed and elevated.”
The signs of ancient prosperity are still visible everywhere at Kamarpukur. A number of ponds, tanks and old buildings and dilapidated temples still bear witness to its old glory. In olden days, Kamarpukur, surrounded by extensive fields, looked like an island floating in a vast sea of green fields. Apart from agriculture, it was also noted for cottage industries. Sweet-meats like jilapi and nabat, hookah pipes of ebony, yarns, towels, cloth, etc., were made here and sent out for sale to Kolkata as well as to nearby markets. To this day, in the month of Chaitra (March- April), Kamarpukur reverberates with songs during the worship of Goddess Manasa and festival of lord Siva, and in the following month, devotional choral songs of Sri Hari are sung for three days at a stretch. Even now people belonging to the different strata of society live in peace in the serene atmosphere of the village.
Through the help of the devotees and the management, and of the monks of the Ramakrishna Order, the beautiful temple of Bhagavan Sri Ramakrishna, with his marble statue installed in it, was built in 1951 at Kamarpukur. With the construction of guest houses, a library, a dispensary and schools and the re-excavation of the tank called Haldarpukur, as also with the development of the surroundings, the place has really become one of the beauty spots in the whole locality.
In the nineteenth century there was a great conflict of cultural ideals due to the influx of Western thought into the arena of Indian life. The young minds became so much enamored of the glamour of the Western civilization that they began culture, swallow queer cultural shibboleths of the West and remold themselves according to the exotic scheme of life thrust on them by the foreign rulers. There was thus a serious retrogression in the cultural life of the Indian people who came under the sphere of English education. As a result Hinduism also came face to face with a new challenge and had to struggle hard to survive this mighty onslaught of the westerners for a complete cultural conquest of India. At this critical juncture, was born on the 18th of February, 1836, in an orthodox Brahmin family of Kamarpukur a very small village in the district of Hooghly, Sri Gadadhar Chattopadhyaya who, in later years, became world famous as Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa. This village, though small in size, was replete with temples of various gods and goddesses. It is flanked on either side by two cremation grounds which remind people of the transitory earthly existence. In the midst of the calm sylvan surroundings of the hamlet, the boy Gadadhar began to grow under the loving care of his devout parents-Sri Khudiram Chattopadhyaya and Srimati Chandramani Devi. Khudiram, though poor, was a staunch votary of truth and was deeply imbued with a spirit of renunciation and sacrifice. He had unflinching faith in his household Deity Raghuvira and performed all religious rites with great devotion. This Deity was a perennial spring of peace and inspiration to him under all circumstances.
Sri Ramakrishna [1836-1886]
Sri Ramakrishna was born Gadadhar Chattopadhyaya in 1836 at village Kamarpukur about sixty miles from Kolkatta. His parents, Khudiram and Chandramani, were poor and made ends meet with great difficulty.
Gadadhar was the pet of the whole village. He was handsome and had a natural gift for the fine arts. He, however, disliked going to school and when asked why he did not want to go to school, his reply was :”The so-called education is for earning money only ; I don’t care for this kind of education.” He loved Nature and spent his time in fields and fruit gardens outside the village with his friends.
Gadadhar lost his father at the age of seven. He became more serious from now on, but he did not change his ways and habits. For instance, he would not go to school,instead, he was seen visiting monks who stopped at his village on their way to Puri. He would serve them and listen with rapt attention to the arguments they often had among themselves over religious issues.
Gadadhar had now attained the age when he should be invested with the sacred thread. When arrangements were nearly complete for this, Gadadhar declared that he would have his first alms as a brahmin from a certain sudra woman of the village. This was something unheard of ! Tradition required that it should be a brahmin and not a sudra who would give him the first alms. This was pointed out to him but he was adamant. He said he had given his word to the lady and if he did not keep his word, what sort of brahmin would he be then ? No argument, no appeal, no amount of tears could budge him from his position. Finally, Ramkumar, his eldest brother and now the head of the family, had to give in.
Meanwhile, the family’s financial position worsened everyday. Ramkumar ran a Sanskrit school in Kolkatta and also served as priest in some families. What he earned was pitifully small and he could not send any money home regularly. He decided to bring Gadadhar to Kolkatta. His plan was to try to make him study Sanskrit. Perhaps he could also do some priestly work and make some money of his own. Gadadhar arrived, but he lost no time in making it clear that he was not going to study. He, however, did not mind doing some priestly work, not for money but for the pleasure of it.
About this time, a rich woman of Kolkatta, Rani Rashmoni, founded a temple at Dakshineswar. She approached Ramkumar to serve as priest at the temple of Goddess Kali and Ramkumar agreed. After some persuasion, Gadadhar agreed to decorate the deity. When Ramkumar retired, Gadadhar took his place as priest. When Gadadhar started worshipping the deity, he began to ask himself if he was worshipping a piece of stone or a living Goddess. If he was worshipping a living Goddess, why should she not respond to his worship? This question nagged him day and night. Then, he began to pray to Kali – “Mother, you’ve been gracious to many devotees in the past and have revealed yourself to them. Why would you not reveal yourself to me, also ? Am I not also your son ?” He would weep bitterly and sometimes even cry out loudly while worshipping. At night, he would go into a near-by jungle and spend the whole night praying. One day he was so impatient to see Mother Kali that he decided to end his life. He seized a sword hanging on the wall and was about to strike himself with it when he saw light issuing from the deity in waves and he was soon overwhelmed by those waves. He then fell down unconscious on the floor. Gadadhar was not, however, content with this. He prayed to Mother Kali for more religious experiences. He specially wanted to know what truths other religious systems taught. Strangely enough, teachers of those systems attired as and when necessary as if directed by some invisible power, and what is more surprising, he reached the goals of those experiments in no time. Soon word spread about this remarkable man and people of all denominations and all stations of life began to come to him. From now on he came to be known as Ramakrishna Paramahansa, and like a magnet he began to attract true seekers of God. He taught ceaselessly for fifteen years or so through parables, metaphors, songs and above all by his own life the basic truths of religion. He passed away in 1886, leaving behind a devoted band of young disciples headed by the well-known scholar and orator, Swami Vivekananda.
Holy Mother Sarada Devi [1853-1920]
Rumours spread to Kamarpukur that Ramakrishna had turned mad as a result of over-taxing spiritual exercises he had been going through at Dakshineswar temple. Alarmed,mother Chandra Devi brought him home and arranged that he might have the best medical care available in a village. The doctors who examined him declared that there was nothing abnormal about him. Chandra Devi who studied him closely also found him absolutely normal. As he had always done, Ramakrishna sang songs, told stories…. people laugh-that is all. He was interested in everything except in the financial affairs of the family.
Chandra Devi’s neighbours advised that if Ramakrishna could be persuaded to marry, he might be more conscious of his responsibilities to the family and accordingly pay more attention to its financial needs. Chandra Devi started looking for a suitable bride. She did not want Ramakrishna to know anything about her plan, for she feared he might see marriage as a hindrance to his spiritual progress. Ramakrishna, however, came to know, and far from objecting to the marriage, began to take an active part the selection of the bride. He, in fact, mentioned that in Jayrambati village, five kelometrs to the north-west of Kamarpukur,where the bride could be found at the house of one Ramchandra Mukherjee. The bride, six-year old and bearing the name, Sarada, was found. The marriage was duly solemnized, the bride went back to her father’s house and Ramakrishna to Dakshineswar to resume his spiritual practices.
Years passed by and the bride and the bridegroom seldom met. Sarada continued to live at her father’s house, helping her poor peasant parents with the usual chores of feeding the cattle, carrying food to the paddy-fields for labourers working for her parents, cooking, cleaning, looking after the younger brothers, and so on. Once famine gripped Jayrambati and its surrounding areas. Starving people went about searching for food, but there was no food anywhere. It so happened that Sarada’s parents had saved some food grains that year. They decided to cook some food everyday and distribute it to the starving people, fresh and hot. Sometimes, the hungry people would burn their fingers in eating hot food. Sarada, still a tiny girl, would fan the food to help it cool. She did it on her own.
As Sarada grew older, neighbours began to gossip about her misfortune. They would say that her husband had gone mad. Sarada overhead such remarks and was naturally disturbed. She decided to go to Dakshineswar and see for herself the condition of her husband. She went and found her husband quite normal. She stayed with him for few months and then returned to Jayrambati. After some years, she permanently stayed with him.
In a way, Sarada Devi was Ramakrishna’s first disciple. He taught her everything he learnt from his various Gurus. Ramakrishna must have been pleased to see she mastered every religious secret as quickly as himself has done, perhaps even more quickly. Impressed by her great religious potential, he began to treat her as the Universal Mother Herself. He said, ‘I look upon you as my own mother and the Mother who is in the temple’. Ramakrishna fell sick with cancer in the throat. He was removed to Cossipore for treatment. By now he had come to be known as a great religious teacher. Many of the Kolkatta elite came under his influence, but Ramakrishna was not satisfied until he had a band of young men who were prepared to mould themselves strictly according to his instructions. Such young men, fifteen or sixteen in number, were all with a good family background and modern education. All of them are well-known for their later achievements as religious teachers. The leader was Swami Vivekananda, who in fact influenced every aspect of Indian national life. It is this band of young men who later formed the Ramakrishna Order. Before passing away, in 1886, Ramakrishna made Sarada Devi feel as if she was the mother of these young men, nay of the entire humanity. At first, Sarada Devi was shy about playing this role, but slowly, she filled that role, and even became a religious teacher in her own rights. For the thirty-four years or so that she lived after Ramakrishna’s passing away, she inspired people, both monastic and lay, with the ideals that Ramakrishna himself had preached and practiced. She did this in the same way as Ramakrishna-she lived those ideals. But her life was more testing and complicated than Ramakrishna’s. Being an ideal monk, Ramakrishna always kept away from the cross-currents of a family life.He loved to watch the fun called life but was careful enough never to be drawn into its maelstroms.Sarada Devi, on the contrary, was at the very heart of it.She was the head of a large family comprising men and women, most of them not even distantly related to her. And what an assortment of characters they were ! Some of them were great souls by any standard but there were also some who were mean, jealous, and positively mischievous. How she managed to keep them all together without loosing her balance in mind in the process is a mystery. And each of them was convinced that she loved him or her the best. They were all of them dependent on her, not only spiritually but also materially. She was not only their ‘mother’ but also their guru. She gave them full satisfaction on both scores.
Sarada Devi had a hard life from the beginning to end. As a daughter, wife, and finally, as the beloved mother of a large community of people cutting across race and language, there were demands on her much more than a woman in her circumstances has to meet. She fulfilled them in a manner possible only for her. But what is remarkable is that, in the midst of all her cares, she maintained a degree of aloofness which Hinduism attributes to the highest and best among men and women. Through the eskein of all the varying situations which she faced, she remains absolutely calm as if these were no concern of hers. Her fortitude, courage, and wisdom, tested again and again, amazed everybody.But the most amazing thing about her was her renunciation, a quality she shared with her husband in a measure equal to, if not more than, his. She often found herself in a situation in which starvation seemed certain, but under no circumstances would she seek aid from any quarter. Even when her disciples had grown to a considerable number and there were people among them with means to keep her in comfort and also anxious to be of service to her, she would never so far as even drop a hint that she had any difficulty.
She taught not by percepts but by examples. There were irritants galore in the way people around her behaved, but she was an indulgent mother who knew the best way to educate an erring child was to set an example before him, which she did. She had seen the worst side of man, but she never lost faith in him, knowing that, given affection, sympathy, and guidance, he could overcome all his limitations.
She was human, yet divine. Her divinity shone through everything she did, even if it was something entirely mundane. She was a simple woman, but in thought, speech, and action she was attuned to God. She was a true saint, but she never claimed she was. She passed as an ordinary woman, but everything about her was extraordinary.