The early life of Sri Ramakrishna
Sri Ramakrishna was born to humble but deeply religious parents in the small Indian village of Kamapukur. The father of Ramakrishna was Ksudhiram. Ksudhiram led a quiet, devoted life and was held in high regard by other members of the community. One important instance in his life was when a rich and powerful landlord, Ramananda Roy, wished Ksudhiram to give false witness in a court trial. Ksudhiram knew the likely consequences but could not bring himself to bear false witness. Thus enraged the landlord forced Ksudhiram and his family out of his ancestral home in Dere Village. This left Ksudhiram in a difficult financial situation, but Ksudhiram retained explicit faith in Lord Rama or Raghuvir. After a while Ksudhiram was offered a new plot of land in the village of Kamarpukur by his friend Sukhal Goswami. It would be here that Ramakrishna would later be born.
The Mother of Ramakrishna was the equally pious Chandradevi, it was said by all who knew her that she was an embodiment of maternal love, simplicity and self sacrifice. Often she would freely give some of her frugal resources to passing mendicants and other neighbours who came for assistance. Before the birth of Ramakrishna, Chandradevi experienced many significant dreams in which she felt she would soon give birth to a child of exalted spiritual stature. Chandradevi was somewhat alarmed by these visions, wondering whether she was fit for such a task. However Ksudhiram also had similar experiences during his meditations, thus he was able to reassure Chandradevi, who at the time was 45.
Ramakrishna (or Gadadhar as he was named in birth) was born on 18th February 1836, according to Indian astrology maps this was said to be an auspicious day and Ramakrishna was said to have a similar birth chart to other avatars such as Krishna and Sri Chaitanya. As a young child Gadadhar was dearly loved by all members of the small village of Kamarpukur. Gadadhar had an endearing personality and marvellous sense of humour. In particular he developed the ability to mimic other people, including women. This ability to bring joy made him a popular visitor throughout the village. Gadadhar made good progress at school, although he was completely hopeless at arithmetic and displayed no interest in the subject. However Gadadhar did become very interested in the lives of spiritual Masters and the various Gods and Goddesses worshipped by the different religious traditions. At the frequent request of village members Gadadhar entertained them through singing devotional songs, acting parts of spiritual plays or recounting tales from the Puranas. Gadadhar began to experience heightened states of spiritual consciousness. One instance occurred when Gadadhar was walking along when he glanced at a flock of white cranes flying against a backdrop of darkened clouds. Gadadhar was so overwhelmed with the beauty of nature that he lost outer consciousness and entered into a state of ecstasy. Thus Ramakrishna’s early years in the village of Kamarpukur were days of happiness and growing spiritual awareness. Later he looked fondly back on these days with a sense of gratitude, especially for his devoted parents.
Ramakrishna’s eldest brother Ramakpur had a job as a part time priest. And in In 185? was asked by Rani Raswami to be the priest in a new temple complex on the eastern banks of the Ganges at a place called Dakshineswar. Rani Raswami was a devout worshipper of Kali. She had planned to go on an expensive pilgrimage to the holy city of Varanaswi however just before she had a vision in which the goddess appeared instructing her to stay in Dakshineswar and build a temple. Rani Raswami was well known for her charitable works, she was rich but also generous and was concerned with the interests of the poor. Although Rani Raswami initially employed Ramkapur to be the priest in the Kali temple this job was handed over to Sri Ramakrishna even though he was reluctant to take any job. Sri Ramakrishna didn’t want to tie himself down to a worldly job but he had grown to like the temple surroundings at Dakshineswar and also he managed to secure the help of his nephew Hriday. Hriday would play an important role in the life of Sri Ramakrishna. In particular he looked after his material needs during Ramakrishna’s most intense spiritual practices.
It was at Dakshineswar that Ramakrishna’s sadhana gathered pace and intensity. He would finish his temple duties and then spend the night fearlessly meditating in the Panchavi grove. Many were impressed with the devotion and spiritual fervour of this young priest, although his unorthodox behaviour also started to create misunderstandings and some started to wonder at the mental state of Ramakrishna.
Ramakrishna tells how he became absorbed in devotion to the Divine Mother. His heart felt an indescribable pain of separation and he became desperate for a vision of the Divine Mother.
Ramakrishna began to spend increasing amounts of time absorbed in another consciousness. He would pray and meditate with great intensity, his chest would glow red and his eyes were filled with tears of longing. In this state he lost all desire for worldly enjoyments, the need for sleep vanished, (without his cousin Hriday to feed him he would have forgotten about food.) When he felt the presence of the Divine Mother he was overwhelmed with an intense inner ecstasy and joy, but if this feeling vanished he would feel great pain and would pray intensely until his vision returned.
Ramakrishna became so absorbed in his spiritual sadhana he was unable to fulfil his duties as a priest. Also Sri Ramakrishna worshipped the Divine Mother in his own way, which to many observers was highly unorthodox. Some of the workers in the temple authorities complained to Mathur, who worked on behalf of Rani Raswani. Mathur decided to visit Ramakrishna unannounced however Rani Raswani felt in Sri Ramakrishna a genuine spirituality which she admired she asked that Sri Ramakrishna remain, indeed she felt it an honour that such a great Saint was praying in her temple.
Article by: Richard Pettinger 1/12/2005
To be continued