Chennai relives its Ramakrishna connection
Ramakrishna Math is celebrating 175 birth anniversary of the spiritual guru, says Meera Srinivasan
It is hard to miss the shrine that stands tall on the busy Mylapore Road. Its proximity to schools, the Mylapore tank or the market area makes sure there is enough buzz around it all the time. But on Wednesday, the premises wore a particularly festive look.
As the mild pink-coloured structure morphed into near-white in the afternoon sun, hundreds of people were seen around it. It was a special day for them. They had descended for the 175 birth anniversary celebrations of Sri Ramakrishna, organised by the Ramakrishna Math in Mylapore through a series of events that will last until Sunday.
The five-day celebration began at 5 a.m. on Wednesday, with chants and bhajans. A special concert by Sikkil Gurucharan was organised in the evening. Various programmes, including a public meeting, parliament of religions, congregation of monks and lectures have been lined up for the nest few days.
Sri Ramakrishna’s Chennai connection goes back to over a century. It was his disciple Swami Vivekananda who was really behind it. During his visit to Chennai in 1893 and later, in 1897 when he stayed at the Ice House for nine days, that his disciples requested him to set up a centre in Madras. Soon after, he asked fellow disciple Swami Ramakrishnananda to initiate the process here.
Gradually, the centre gained popularity, drawing eager learners from various walks of life. Several hundred people in pursuit of spiritual understanding began seeing Ramakrishna’s teachings as a treasure chest of the kind of wisdom they sought.
The Ramakrishna Math is much more than an addition to the city’s spiritual fabric. The Ramakrishna Mission, its service wing, has been making significant contributions to the city through the schools, college and the dispensary it runs. Its leprosy rehabilitation centre has been providing treatment to hundreds.
In addition to these, the Math also brings in a different character to that part of the city. The sight of a distant monk clad in saffron, or that of groups of people walking into the premises for the lectures in the busy area every evening tend to evoke curiosity. Apart from lending its name to the road it stands on, the Math has gone on to become a reference point in central Chennai’s geography.
Reflecting on the Math’s services over the years, its manager Asutoshananda says many from various walks of life have been drawn to both, the Ramakrishna Mission and the Math. “People across religions find his teachings relevant. And that is because Sri Ramakrishna emphasises that mere temple worship and rituals were of little value, if they are not complemented by the service to the poor.” Every year as many as 40 monks graduate from this Math.
It is run largely on donations and endowments. Revenue from its publication wing also helps. “Over the next few days, we want to celebrate his work and reflect on his teachings. We have some inter-religious as well as intra-religious discussions, in additions to special programmes for children and youngsters,” Asutoshananda said.
The 175 anniversary celebration of Sri Ramakrishna has turned out to be even more special for the Math, with the 12 anniversary of the ‘universal temple’ coinciding with the event. A senior volunteer said: “We feel blessed that it is the time of the Kumbabhishekam. Prasadam is provided to everyone who comes here during these five days. Holy Mother Sharada Devi would not like it if someone went back hungry.”