A beautiful pocket of calm set amidst a sprawling campus of over 40-acre along the bank of river Hooghly is the headquarters of Ramkrishna Math/Misssion – known as the Belur Math. It is today a place of pilgrimage for people from all over the world professing different religious faiths. Even people not interested in religion come here for the peace it exudes. Belur Math has become the hub of a worldwide spiritual movement known as the Ramakrishna Movement.
The math (monastery in English) was established by Swami Vivekanand after his return to Kolkata from the Parliament of Religion in Chicago. Swami Vivekananda founded Ramkrishna Mission on 1 May 1897. The purpose was for monks and common people to undertake propagation of Practical Vedanta, and various forms of philanthropic activities.
The foundation stone of Belur Math was laid in 1897 when Bengal was in a state of famine, the start of the construction of the Belur Math was also seen as a philanthropic activity to provide relief.
As a wandering monk, Swami Vivekanad had travelled the whole country far and wide and his visit to Parliament of Religions, took him to tours in Europe and America. He tried to incorporated these various architecture ideas in the design of the Belur Math temple. Swami Vigyananda was one of the disciples of the monastery of Ramakrishna, who before renouncing the world, was a civil engineer. The huge construction was handled by Martin Burn & Company.
The campus is spread over 40 acres and the main attractions here are the temples dedicated to Ramakrishna, Sarada Devi and Swami Vivekananda, Swami Brahmanand in which their relics are enshrined, and the main monastery of the Ramakrishna Order. The temple’s architecture fuses Hindu, Christian and Islamic patterns denoting the unity of all religions. There is also a museum containing articles connected with the history of Ramakrishna Math and Mission.
Adjacent to the temple are also other building that house the several educational institutions affiliated with the Ramakrishna Mission.
The Ramakrishna temple at the Belur Math is designed to “celebrate the diversity of Indian Religions” and resembles a temple, a mosque, a churchif seen from different positions. The architectural style and symbolism from a number of religions have been incorporated into the design of the temple at Belur Math, to convey the “universal faith” in which the movement believes. The temple is considered as a prime example of the importance of “material dimension” of religion.
The main entrance of the temple, has a facade influenced by Buddhist styles in the Buddhist stupa at Sanchi & the main entrance of the Ajanta Caves.The structure which rises over the entrance is modelled on the Hindu temples of South India with their lofty towers. The windows and balconies inside the temple draw upon the Rajput (Hindu) and Mughal (Islamic) style of north India. The central dome is derived from the Renaissance architecture of the Duomo of the Florence Cathedral. The ground plan is in the shape of Christian cross.
The temple mainly is built of chunar stone and some portion in the front is of cement. The high entrance of the temple is like a South Indian Gopuram and the pillars on both sides represent Buddhistic architectural style. The three umbrella-like domes on the top built in Rajput-Moghul styles give an idea of thatched roofs of the village Kamarpukur.
The circular portion of the entrance is an intermingling of Ajanta style with Hindu architecture and within it, placing the emblem of the Order is representation of beauty and solemnity. Just above seen is a replica of a Shiva lingam. The natmandira, the spacious congregational hall attached to the sanctum, resembles a church, especially of St Peter’s Church in Rome. The pillars in a line on its both sides are according to Doric or Greek style. The beam above is held by decorative brackets similar to the Meenakshi Temple at Madurai in Tamil Nadu.The elaborate designs on the pillars resemble the Orissa style.
The hanging balconies above the natmandir and the windows show the effect of Moghul architecture used in the Fatehpur Sikri.The broad parikramapath for doing circumambulatory rounds on all sides of the garbhamandira (sanctum sanctorum) are built like Buddhist chaityas and Christian Churches. The lattice work statues of Navagraha figures are etched on semi-circular top of outside the temple. The golden kalasha is placed on the top of the temple and has a full-bloomed lotus below. The architecture of the big dome and of the other domes show a shade of Islamic, Rajput, Bengal terracotta and Lingaraj Temple styles. The entrance doors on both east and west of the temple having pillars on both sides are like the elegant gateways of the Manmandir in Gwalior Fort. Ganesha and Hanuman images, representing success and power are carved above them.
Swami Vivekananda Temple
The Swami Vivekananda Temple stands on the spot where Swami Vivekananda’s mortal remains were cremated in 1902. Consecrated on 28 January 1924, the temple has in its upper storey an alabaster OM (in Bengali characters). and on the ground floor is Swamiji’s shrine with a marble relief of Swamiji. The shrine floor is below the ground level because that part of the land was very low when the temple was built. Beside the temple stands a bel (bilva) tree in the place of the original bel tree under which Swami Vivekananda used to sit and near which, according to his wish, his body was cremated.
This temple stands on the spot where Swamiji’s mortal remains were consigned to flames. The place was chosen by Swamiji himself. His Life records: ‘Three days before his passing away, as the Swami was walking up and down on the spacious lawn of the monastery in the afternoon with Swami Premananda, he pointed to a particular spot on the bank of the Ganga, and said to his brother-monk gravely, “When I give up the body, cremate it there!” (He passed away on 4 July 1902.) He was 39. Vivekananda had fulfilled his own prophecy of not living to be forty-years old. On that very spot stands today a temple in his honour.
Holy Mother’s temple
The Holy Mother’s temple is dedicated to Sarada Devi, the spiritual consort of Ramakrishna.
The holy mother’s temple is right at the entrance of Belur Math . The temple is over the area where her mortal remains were consigned to flames. The temple of the Holy Mother was consecrated on 21 December 1921.
According to Swamiji, Mother was born to revitalize power in this world. He said: ‘You have not yet understood the wonderful significance of Mother’s life—none of you. But gradually you will know. Without Shakti (Power) there is no regeneration for the world. Why is it that our country is the weakest and the most backward of all countries?—Because Shakti is held in dishonour there. Mother has been born to revive that wonderful Shakti in India; and making her the nucleus, once more will Gargis and Maitreyis be born into the world. Dear brother, you understand little now, but by degrees you will come to know it all.’
Mother’s temple stands on the spot where her mortal remains were consigned to flames. Hence the place is a Shakti Pitha, an abode of the Divine Mother.
Swami Brahmananda’s temple
Another temple dedicated to Swami Brahmananda—a direct disciple of Ramakrishna and the first president of the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission—is situated near Holy Mother’s temple. Swami Brahmananda, was also known as ‘Raja Maharaj’, ‘Rakhal Maharaj’ or simply ‘Maharaj’. His temple which was built in a short period of 2 years, stands on the spot where his body was cremated on his passing away on 10 April 1922.
The temple has a marble image of Swami Brahmananda. Sri Ramakrishna once declared him to be a boyhood companion of Sri Krishna in his earlier birth. As if to remind that fact, there is a little image of child Krishna below Swami Brahmananda’s image. It is worshipped on special occasions like Sri Krishna Janmashtami. On the top of the temple dome there is a Chakra (Disc), symbolising Maha Vishnu’s weapon.
The upper storey of the temple is maintained as Maharaj’s bedroom; it has a cot and a few other things used by him. It is opened to the public once a year on Maharaj’s birthday.
The famed, two-storey Ramakrishna Museum hosts artifacts used by Ramakrishna, Sarada Devi, Swami Vivekananda, and some of his disciples. The museum chronicles the contemporary growth of the movement, and the Bengalese.
The museum has a realistic recreation of the Panchavati — the clutch of five sacred trees of the Dakshineswar Kali Temple where Ramakrishna practised sadhana (spiritual disciplines). The black stone bowl from which Ramakrishna took payasam (a sweet Indian dish) during his final days, while suffering from throat cancer, and the pillow he had used, in the house in Calcutta where he spent his last few months, are on display.[
The museum showcases a huge replica of Swami Vivekananda in the front of the Chicago Art Institute, where the famous Parliament of the World’s Religions was held in September 1893. The wooden staircase and the lotus woodwork of Victoria Public Hall in Chennai, where Vivekananda gave inspiring speeches to a large congregation, have been brought over.