Believe it or not, Ramakrishna Math and Mission that is now active in 21 countries was set up by 16 disciples of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa in the penultimate decade of the nineteenth century in the northern fringes of Kolkata in a ‘haunted house’.
On Wednesday a major hurdle was removed when 38 plot owners of a slum occupying a part of the land were given compensation/rehabilitation. The authorities have so far spent about Rs 10 crore in the past 10 years to rehabilitate the families living in three slums and several houses to free the land that once made the building compound.
The original house collapsed in 1897.
The Ramakrishna Mission authorities have almost reclaimed the 2.7 bigha plot on which the two storied building stood.
“The house was locally known as a haunted house, and the rooms on the ground floor were uninhabitable. The monastery began its journey from the first floor. The monthly rent was Rs 11,” said Amalendu Mukherjee, office superintendent of the Baranagar Math which is a branch of Belur Math, the global headquarters of the Ramakrishna order.
“We will use the same type of bricks that were used in the original house,” said Ashoke Basu, an office bearer of Baranagar Math.
Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) and 15 other disciples of Ramakrishna started living in this house from September 1886 – a couple of weeks after Ramakrishna’s death on August 16, 1886 – and took their formal monastic vow. They founded the Ramakrishna Math and the Ramakrishna Mission – the twin charitable organisations that has now blossomed into a behemoth – in September/October 1886 and in May 1887, respectively.
The monks lived in extreme frugality and used to seek alms for their essential needs.
“We will rebuild the house exactly where it stood and as it stood. The plan is to turn it into a museum portraying the life of the monks in this building which served as the first monastery of the Ramakrishna order,” added Mukherjee.
The new house will be erected on the foundations of the old structure that still exist below the ground.
The building belonged to a zamindar family of Taki now on the Indo-Bangladesh border in North 24 Parganas. Apart from the building, there was a pond and a garden inside the compound.
By 1892, however, the monks left the house as it became completely uninhabitable and the monastery was relocated. The land was sold and, over the next 100 years, it made way for three slums and nearly two dozen houses that have two to four storeys. The Ramakrishna Mission authorities have purchased a few of these and are negotiating with the owners of others. They will demolish these to recreate the entire compound.
According to Mahandra Nath Gupta, a disciple and the chronicler of Ramakrishna’s conversations, those who lived in this house and started the monastery were Narendra (Vivekananda), Rakhal, Niranjan, Sarat, Sashi, Baburam, Jogen, Tarak, Kali, Latu, Saradaprasanna, Subodh, Burogopal and Gangadhar. Hari and Tulsi joined them later.
“The western part was rented out to the math. There was a yard in front, the ground floor was almost buried under earth dug up by foxes and rats; at most places the earth rose waist-high. The ground floor was totally unfit for use. On the west an old broken staircase led up to the verandah of the first floor,” Gupta described in his books.
The first floor had five rooms, including one to worship a shrine and one as library.
Ramakrishna Mission now has 1,200 monks who organise a range of activities from disaster relief to education and healthcare services across 180 centres in 21 countries.