Sri Ramakrishna(1836 - 1886)

"Ramakrishna has no peer; nowhere else in this world exists that unprecedented perfection, that wonderful kindness for all that does not stop to justify itself, that intense sympathy for man in bondage. Either he must be the Avatara as he himself used to say, or else the ever-perfected divine man, whom the Vedanta speaks of as the free one who assumes a body for the good of humanity." - Swami Vivekananda

From the day Sri Ramakrishna was born dates the growth of modern India and of the Golden Age. A divine life steeped in the truest knowledge of Atman (Self), Sri Ramakrishna was the concentrated embodiment of knowledge, love, renunciation, catholicity and the desire to serve mankind. His halycon infancy at the remote village Kamarpukur where he was born on 18 February, 1836, showed the deepest inclination towards spiritual practices of Hinduism. This further led to the sincerest observance of different other faiths such as Vaishnivism & Tantrism as well as other religions like Islam & Christianity – all of which unfolded the Great Truth of One, Infinite Reality before him. Pervaded by this oneness in the state of 'Samadhi', he revalidated the Rig-Vedic declaration – 'Truth is one, the wise speak of it variously'.

The Kali temple at Dakshineswar where he lived later on became the confluence of people from all walks of life; gentry as well as laity rushed to him like bees coming of their own accord to the blooming flower. His deepest devotion and unfathomable urge for seeing Mother Kali was the beaconlight for a great many contemporary spiritual aspirants.

An extraordinary yet astonishingly simple speaking style adorned with knowledge of things spiritual and human was his very characteristic. Still all his knowledge was derived from direct perception. The boundless love that Sri Ramakrishna personified permeated his disciples – monastic as well as householders – and resulted in the founding of the Ramakrishna Math & Ramakrishna Mission (founded by Swami Vivekananda in 1897) that would carry the torch of 'Sacrifice & Service' to humanity.

Such a God-intoxicated life was really a phenomenon that influenced and transformed great Indian minds such as Vidyasagar, Bankim Chandra, Girish Ghosh, Keshab Chandra, Mahatma Gandhi, Subhash Bose and western scholars like Arnold Toynbee, Leo Tolstoy, Aldous Huxley, Roman Rolland, Christopher Isherwood et al. The life that itself was the message is the 'shining pillar of illumination', as Swami Vivekananda puts it, 'and by his light alone man now crosses the ocean of Samsara'.

Sri Ma Sarada Devi(1853 - 1920)

Inseparable from Sri Ramakrishna as is heat from fire, Sarada Devi was the divine consort of Sri Ramakrishna. Born on 22 December, 1853 at Jayrambati (Bankura) in the pious ambience of a Brahmin family, she spent her childhood in doing various domestic chores as is the case with most girls of rural upbringing. But hers was a spontaneous spiritual fervour that revealed itself amidst the usual rigour of household works.

Her marriage to Sri Ramakrishna at the early age of five was indeed a divinely ordained dispensation as she was 'marked' for the great Master. However, her spirituality flourished into full bloom after coming to Sri Ramakrishna at Dakshineswar. 'Do you want to drag me down into Maya?' – at this question she retorted to Sri Ramakrishna , 'I have come only to help you in the path of religious life'. It was a period of training and discipleship – a silent and profound process – during which the 'Mother' in her became more manifest, making her ready to take up the leadership of the spiritual movement that the Master inaugurated.

Her hours were spent in tireless but silent service to the Master & his disciples as well as in prolonged meditation & devotional disciplines. She was the figurehead, the 'Mother' of the spiritual ministry after the passing away of Sri Ramakrishna – serving as guide and the supreme inspiration of the disciples who renounced all worldly ties for the sake of God-realisation. She was the embodiment of all wisdom, as Sri Ramakrishna used to say, and this wisdom, both worldly and spiritual, was the guiding force behind the establishment of the Ramakrishna Mission in 1897.

Hers was a universal motherhood, characterised by unconditional love, unruffled spirituality, extreme simplicity blended with dignity and a loving temperament that accepted all irrespective of nationality, religious affiliation or social position. Even after she left her mortal coil in 1920, she remains the soothing solace for millions of afflicted hearts longing for her nonpareil, eternal bliss.

Swami Vivekananda (1863 - 1902)

Swami Vivekananda (1863 - 1902) was a preacher of 'Divinity in Man'. Born Narendranath Dutta on 12 January, 1863 in Calcutta, he gave clear indications of self-realisation in his early days. A youth of guts and gumption – with an iron determination and a fiery zeal to seek the highest knowledge of the self, he met Sri Ramakrishna at the Dakshineswar Kali temple in 1881; the incident that channelised himself later on towards the greatest cause of humanity.

The Great Master inculcated in his foremost disciple the presence of an all-pervading stream of consciousness in every being, the immanence of divinity in all existence in this world. An ardent believer in Advaita, Vivekananda also realised & recognised the dualistic as well as qualified non-dualistic faiths that were lived and approved by the Master. He presented the quintessence of Vedanta in the 1893 Parliament of Religions in Chicago , America , and, the rest is history. In the following years the 'Cyclonic Hindoo Monk' transfigured the world; hitherto unaware of its 'spirit free, blest & eternal'.

All his life was an exhortation to every individual to make its potential divinity manifest. His influence led to the reaffirmation of conviction in every Indian; India was reminded of her supreme duty to don the mantle of spirituality to the world as well as to accept 'western sciences' for alleviating her condition.

His two greatest ideas – Sacrifice and Service – found expression in 1897 through the establishment of Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission which bears the motto 'Atmano Mokshartham Jagat Hitaya Cha' [Self realisation and the benefit of the world]. He leaves behind a legacy that transcends all bounds & so that the dormant divinity in every soul find its avenue of manifestation in any time, any place in the world itself.