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Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission are twin organizations which form the core of a worldwide spiritual movement known as Ramakrishna Movement or Vedanta Movement. The Ramakrishna Mission is a philanthropic, volunteer organization founded by Sri Ramakrishna's chief disciple Swami Vivekananda on May 1, 1897. The Mission conducts extensive work in health care, disaster relief, rural management, tribal welfare, elementary and higher education and culture. It uses the combined efforts of hundreds of ordered monks and thousands of householder disciples. The Mission bases its work on the principles of karma yoga.

The Mission, which is headquartered at Belur Mathmarker near Kolkatamarker, Indiamarker, subscribes to the ancient Hindu philosophy of Vedanta. It is affiliated with the monastic organization Ramakrishna Math, with whom it shares members.


The Ramakrishna Math and the Ramakrishna Mission are the two key organizations that direct the work of the Ramakrishna movement, a socio-religious movement influenced by 19th century saint Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and shaped by his chief disciple Swami Vivekananda.Also referred to as the Ramakrishna Order, the Math is the movement's monastic organization. Founded by Ramakrishna in 1886, the Math primarily focuses on spiritual training and the propagation of the movement's teachings.

The Ramakrishna Mission, founded by Swami Vivekananda in 1897, is an humanitarian organization which carries out extensive medical, relief and educational programs. Both the organizations have head quarters at the Belur Mathmarker. The Ramakrishna Mission acquired a legal status when it was registered in 1909 under Act XXI of 1860. Its management is vested in a Governing Body. Though the Mission with its branches is a distinct legal entity, it is closely related to the Ramakrishna Math. The trustees of the Math also serve as Mission's governing board and the two bodies are difficult to distinguish. Vedanta Societies comprise the American arm of the Ramakrishna movement and are devoted to spiritual development rather than social welfare.


Ramakrishna Paramahamsa ( 1836-1886 ), a 19th century saint was the founder of the Ramakrishna Order of monks and is regarded as the spiritual founder of the Ramakrishna Movement. Ramakrishna was a priest in the Dakshineswar Kali Templemarker and attracted several monastic and householder disciples. Narendranath Dutta, who later became Swami Vivekananda was one of the chief monastic disciples. Shortly before his death in 1886, Ramakrishna gave the ocher cloths to his young disciples, who were planning to become renunciates. Ramakrishna entrusted the care of these young boys to Vivekananda. After Ramakrishna's death, the young disciples took informal monastic vows on Christmas Eve in 1886.

After the death of Ramakrishna in 1886, the monastic disciples formed the first Math (monastery) at Baranagore. Later Swami Vivekananda became a wandering monk and in 1893 he was a delegate at the 1893 Parliament of the World's Religions. His speech here, beginning with "Sisters and brothers of America" became very famous and brought him widespread recognition. Vivekananda went on lecture tours and held private discourses on Hinduism and spirituality. He also founded the first Vedanta Society in Americamarker at New Yorkmarker. He returned to India in 1897 and founded the Ramakrishna Mission on May 1, 1897. Though he eventually became one of the prominent Hindu missionary, he would often exhort his disciples "to become like Jesus Christ, and to aid in the redemption of the world." The same year, famine relief was started at Sargachi by Swami Akhandananda, a direct disciple of Ramakrishna. Swami Brahmananda, a direct disciple of Ramakrishna was appointed as the first president of the Order. After the death of Swami Vivekananda in 1902, Sarada Devi, the spiritual counterpart of Ramakrishna, played an important role as the advisory head of an nascent monastic organization. Gayatri Spivak writes that Sarada Devi "performed her role with tact and wisdom, always remaining in the background."

The motto and principles

The aims and ideals of the Mission are purely spiritual and humanitarian and has no connection with politics. Vivekananda proclaimed "Renunciation and service" as the twofold national ideals of modern India and the work of Ramakrishna mission strives to practice and preach these ideals. The service activities are based on the message of "Jiva is Shiva" from Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda's message of "Daridra Narayana" to indicate that service to poor is service to god. The Principles of Karma Yoga in Bhagavad Gita are one the main source of inspiration for the Ramakrishna Mission. The service activities are rendered looking upon all as veritable manifestation of the Divine. The Motto of the organisation is Atmano Mokshartham Jagad-hitaya Cha. Translated from Sanskrit आत्मनॊ मोक्षार्थम् जगद्धिताय च it means For one's own salvation, and for the good of the world.

Monastic Order

After the passing away of their Master Sri Ramakrishna in 1886 the young disciples organized themselves into a new monastic order. The original monastery at Baranagarmarker known as Baranagar Math was subsequently moved to two other places before finally being shifted in January 1899 to a newly acquired plot of land at Belurmarker in Howrah districtmarker by Swami Vivekananda. This monastery, known as Belur Math, serves as the Mother House for all the monks of Ramakrishna Order who live in the various branch centres of Ramakrishna Math and/or Ramakrishna Mission in different parts of Indiamarker and the world.

All members of the Order undergo training and ordination (Sannyasa) at Belur Math.
  • A candidate for monastic life is treated as a pre-probationer during the first year of his stay at any centre, and as a probationer during the next four years.
  • At the end of this period he is ordained into celibacy (Brahmacharya) and is given certain vows (Pratijna), the most important of which are chastity, renunciation and service.
  • After a further period of four years, if found fit, he is ordained into (Sannyasa) and given the ochre (gerua) clothes to wear.

Emblem of Ramakrishna Math and Mission

Designed and explained by Swami Vivekananda given in his own words:
The wavy waters in the picture are symbolic of Karma; the lotus, of Bhakti; and the rising-sun, of Jnana. The encircling serpent is indicative of Yoga and the awakened Kundalini Shakti, while the swan in the picture stands for Paramatman (Supreme Self). Therefore, the idea of the picture is that by the union of Karma, Jnana, Bhakti and Yoga, the vision of Paramatman is obtained.


The principal workers of the Mission are the monks. The activities of Ramakrishna Mission covers the following areas,
  • Educational work
  • Health care
  • Cultural activities
  • Rural uplift
  • Tribal welfare
  • Youth movement

The Ramakrishna Mission has its own hospitals, charitable dispensaries, maternity clinics, tuberculosis clinics, and mobile dispensaries. It also maintains training centers for nurses. Orphanages and homes for the elderly are included in the Mission's field of activities, along with rural and tribal welfare work.

In educational activities, the Ramakrishna Mission has established many renowned educational institutions in India, having its own university, colleges, vocational training centers, high schools and primary schools, teacher's training institutes, as well as schools for the visually handicapped. The Ramakrishna Mission has also involved in disaster relief operations during famine, epidemic, fire, flood, earthquake, cyclone and communal disturbances.

The Ramakrishna Mission played an important role in the installation of Photovoltaic (PV) lighting systems in the Sunderbansmarker region of West Bengal. Due to the geographical features of the Sunderbans, it is very difficult to extend the grid network to supply power to its population. The PV lighting was used to provide electricity to the people who were traditionally depending on kerosene and diesel.

Religious activities

Ramakrishna ashrama's religious activities include satsang and arati. Satsang includes communal prayers, songs, rituals, discourses, reading and meditation. Arati involves the ceremonial waving of lights before the images of a deity of holy person and is performed twice in a day.Ramakrishna ashramas observer major Hindu festivals, including Maha Shivarathri, Rama Navami, Krishna Asthami and Navarathri. They also give special place to the birthdays of Ramakrishna, Sarada Devi, Swami Vivekananda and other monastic disciples of Ramakrishna. The January 1 is celebrated as Kalpataru day.

The Math and Mission are known for their religious tolerance and respect for other religions. Among the earliest rules laid down by Swami Vivekananda for the Math and Mission was, "Due respect and reverence should be paid to all religions, all preachers, and to the deities worshiped in all religions." Acceptance and toleration of all religions is the one of ideals of Ramakrishna Math and Mission. Along with the major Hindu festivals, Prophet Mohammad's birthday, Christmas Eve and Buddha's Birthday are also devoutly observed.Professor Cyril Veliath SJ of Sophia University writes the Ramakrishna Mission monks are a relatively orthodox set of monks who are "extremely well respected both in India and abroad", and that they "cannot be classified as just another sect or cult, such as the groups led by the gurus". Veliath writes that "of the Hindu groups I have worked with I have found the Ramakrishna Mission to be the most tolerant and amenable to dialogue, and I believe that we Christians couldn’t do better, than to cooperate wholeheartedly in their efforts towards inter-religious harmony. Bob Robinson writes, "Unlike more militant Hindu organizations, The mission has consistently advocated and itself displayed a tolerant, friendly attitude towards minority religious traditions and a sympathetic acquaintance with at least of parts of the scriptures of those faiths."

Awards and Honorable Mentions

  • Bhagwan Mahavir Foundation Award (1996).
  • Dr. Ambedkar National Award (1996).
  • Dr. Bhawar Singh Porte Tribal Service Award (1997-98).
  • In 1998 the Mission was awarded the Indian government's prestigious Gandhi Peace Prize.
  • Shahid Vir Narayan Singh Award (2001).
  • Pt. Ravishankar Shukla Award (2002).
  • National Communal Harmony Award (2005).
  • The Ramakrishna Mission was selected for an honorary mention of the UNESCO Madanjeet Singh Prize for Promotion of Tolerance and Non violence 2002.

In a speech made in 1993, Federico Mayor, Director-General of UNESCOmarker, stated:


To a large extent, the Ramakrishna Mission has avoided controversies through its policy of non-involvement in politics.

In 1980, however, in an act that caused "considerable debate" within the Order, the Mission petitioned the courts to have their organization and movement declared a non-Hindu minority religion. It is possible that this was because they believed there was a danger that the local marxist government would take control of its schools unless it could invoke the extra protection the Indian constitution accords to minority religions. The Supreme Court of India ruled against the Mission in 1995. The leadership today embraces the Mission's status as a Hindu organization.

Presidents of the Ramakrishna Mission

The following is the traditionally accepted list of Presidents(spiritual heads) of the monastic order.
  1. Swami Brahmananda (1901–1922)
  2. Swami Shivananda (1922–1934)
  3. Swami Akhandananda (1934–1937)
  4. Swami Vijnanananda (1937–1938)
  5. Swami Shuddhananda (1938–1939)
  6. Swami Virajananda (1939–1952)
  7. Swami Shankarananda (1952–1959)
  8. Swami Vishuddhananda (1959–1960)
  9. Swami Madhavananda (1960–1965)
  10. Swami Vireshwarananda (1966–1985)
  11. Swami Gambhirananda (1985–1988)
  12. Swami Bhuteshananda (1988–1998)
  13. Swami Ranganathananda (1998–2005)
  14. Swami Gahanananda (2005–2007)
  15. Swami Atmasthananda (2007–)

Prominent monks

Apart from Direct disciples of Sri Ramakrishna, some of the other notable monks of the order are
  1. Swami Adidevananda
  2. Swami Ashokananda
  3. Swami Budhananda
  4. Swami Nirvedananda[62715]
  5. Swami Ghanananda
  6. Swami Jagadananda
  7. Swami Nikhilananda
  8. Swami Nityaswarupananda
  9. Swami Paramananda
  10. Swami Prabhavananda
  11. Swami Premeshananda
  12. Swami Purushottamananda
  13. Swami Shambhavananda
  14. Swami Siddheshwarananda
  15. Swami Tapasyananda
  16. Swami Yatishwarananda
  17. Swami Kirtidananda
  18. Swami Gokulananda [62716]
  19. Swami Lokeshwarananda

See also


  1. Carl T. Jackson, "Preface", Vedanta for West pp.xii-xiii
  2. Carl T. Jackson, Vedanta for the West p.16
  3. The social role of the Gita: how and why, p.77, p.80
  4. The social role of the Gita: how and why, p.83
  5. The social role of the Gita: how and why, pp.8-9
  6. The social role of the Gita: how and why, p.ix
  7. History of Belur Math
  8. Hinduism Today | Aug 1999

Further reading

  • Ram Swarup: Ramakrishna Mission in Search of a New Identity. Voice of India, Delhi 1986.

External links

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