Ramakrishna, Sri (1836-1886) Hindu reformer and humanist, was born on 18 February, 1836 in a Brahmin family of modest means in the village of Kamarpukur in hughli district. His parents, Khudiram Chattopadhyaya and Chandra Devi, named him Gadadhar, one of the names of Lord vishnu, although he came to be known eventually as 'Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa', his monastic name.
A gifted child with a prodigious memory, Sri Ramakrishna had little formal education. He learnt from his father hymns addressed to the divinities, from village kathaks or story tellers the stories of the ramayana, the mahabharata, and the puranas, and from Puri-bound passing holy men sacred lore.
In 1852, Sri Ramakrishna moved to Kolkata, but his distaste for worldly pursuits continued. He was appointed priest at the Kali temple at Dakshineswar, founded by Rani Rashmani, in 1856.
His education, he claimed, began at the hands of the goddess, from whom he learnt about the oneness of all deities. During his 12-year-long tapasya (meditation), he had two other teachers, Bhairavi Brahmani and Totapuri, from who he learnt Tantric sadhana and Vedantic sadhana respectively. He also learnt the Vaisnava mode of sadhana.
Not content with the Hindu ways of sadhana, Sri Ramakrishna studied islam and christianity. He did not fit the role of the traditional ascetic and neither looked nor dressed like them. He also married a woman named Sarada Devi, whom he actually worshipped as a goddess. He tried to unite all religions by showing that the realisation of God was the only goal of life and that different religions were only different paths leading to the same ultimate goal, God.
Sri Ramakrishna died in August 1886, leaving behind a group of dedicated young sannyasin who later organised themselves into the Ramakrishna Order, the chief of whom was Narendranath Datta, later famous as swami vivekananda. [Anil Baran Ray]
Bibliography WH French, The Swan's Wide Waters: Ramakrishna and Western Calcutta, Port Washington, New York, USA, 1974; Hixon, Lex, Great Swan: Meeting with Ramakrishna, Shambala Publications, Boston and London, 1992; Isherwood, Christopher, Ramakrishna and His Disciples, Calcutta, 1980; FM Muller, Ramakrishna: His Life and Sayings, Calcutta, 1988; Swami Saradananda, Sri Ramakrishna: The Great Master, Mylapore, Madras, 1952; Richard Schiffman, Sri Ramakrishna: A Prophet For The New Age, New York, USA, 1989.