Calcutta was then the capital of British dominance as well as the cultural centre of the nation.
Bengali ‘Bhadralok’ were the toast of the day because of their modern thinking and cosmopolitan approach to the British culture. The schools and collage had switched over to English as a medium of instruction on the recommendation of Lord Macaulay. The ethnic students were found to display their proficiency in this language of the rulers. The setting up of Telegraphic Communication and the Calcutta University coincided with the Sepoy Mutiny or the First Battle of Indian Independence.
The rule of the East India Company ended and the administration was transferred to the British Crown. Proclamation by Queen Victoria was issued in 1858. The Sun had peaked for the Englishmen and the Indians, earlier faced with the dilemma of accepting another religion forcefully saw the alignment of forces in the form of slow persuasion and discrimination rather then coercion. It was during this time that a Great Man of India was born as Narendra Nath Dutta who would later become the greatest disciple of ‘The Madman of God’ Ramakrishna Paramhansa and would be known to the world as Swami Vivekananda. The credit for becoming an icon to the western influenced elite of Bengal gose solely to this poor Brahmin from a remote family of Kamarpukar, who with his devotion to religion and to the Goddess Kali, changed the outlook of even a reformer and leading Brahmo Samaji like Keshub Sen. He had come to Calcutta in 1852, after some mystic experience at a very young age.
In 1856, he reluctantly took up charge of priesthood at the new Kalighat temple devoted to his Goddess. Soon he immersed himself in the millennial ascetic tradition of Hindu religion under the tutelage of a wandering sanyasin known as Bhairavi Brahmani and Punjabi Naga Sadhu known as Tota Puri. The mystical experiences earlier and his personal identification with his diety, visions of Goddess Kali, oceanic sentiments of oneness with the universe etc seemed to denote a far higher level of mysticism than his teachers. His biographers have repeatedly mentioned these visions, right from his youth and he referred to himself as ‘The Madaman of God’. He may have been considered as an extraordinary ascetic of mysticism but this is not a new phenomenon in matters of strict Hinduism. There have been several sages over the centuries who have experienced this in orthodox Brahminical religion. What drew him apart was his transcendence to ‘Guru’ of the Westernised social category under the influence of the Company Raj, nurtured by its critical and scientific thinking. This influence was quite a formidable intellectual challenge which needed the required response to reign back into line the Hindu society affected by the questioning nature and liberal thinking of the Company Raj.
This influence was a challenge posed, very different from the one posed earlier by Islam for it was manifested, in the from of a very superior social, cultural and scientific way of approach and a principle that was different from the Hindu way of thinking. The gospels of equality preached by Christian missionaries with their dedication for service to the poor, the infirm and the discards of society which unlike Islam, found its realization in social norms and political practices. The elite group of Bengali Hindus who regularly interacted with the Britishers, were convinced by them that these norms were far advanced than any principle found in their religion. The Brahmo Samaaj, founded by Raja Ram Mohun Roy in 1828, was in response to this challenge, synthesizing the best of Christianity and Hinduism. This effort was to establish a new level of dignity for Hindu culture in the eyes of European Society and also to introduce radical reforms within Hindu society by eliminating the evil practices of sati sand child marriages and introducing inter-caste and widow re-marriage citing our shastras and vedic hindusim. The new credibility citing the Vedas was also a repudiation of polytheism in favour of monotheism. The popular practices in our society were logically proved wrong after the study of our holy scriptures.
This was the period when Ramakrishna appeared on the horizon although his spiritualism and mystic experiences were features which distanced the modern society from him due to the irrational beliefs steeped in superstition. Narendranath Dutta latter known as Swami Vivekanand faced the same dilemma and disbelief when he initially came to know of Ramakrishna. His logical questioning nature refused to accept the possibility but his mystical experience, when he came into direct contact with him, changed all that. Ramakrishna during this period consciously made an attempt to become a religious preceptor under the influence of what is described as a religious epiphany. It was during this period that he decided the need for disciples and he was impatient when Narendranath delayed in coming to him. His efforts to project his own beliefs, thoughts and experiences through his disciples, to be shared by the society, was the turning point. He gave back to the elite, something which had been shrouded through years of popular practices, a religion that was alive, that had the content that could be described as transcendental, that had ‘God’ in it.
What was more effective was that Ramakrishna himself was not completely free of the odour of Christianity. His own description of Christ as an incarnation was what gave a distinct flavour to his thinking, a status he did not bestow on Mohammad even though he had given himself for a while to a mystic Islam. He was also willing to accept all faiths and beliefs, instead of indulging in rigid orthodoxy, this appealed very strongly to the intellectual and educated class of Hindus. His attitude was also totally different from the superior distanced attitude of Bramhin Purohits. He was very liberal in his social behaviour, indifferent to class distinctions, embracing the socially dammed and showed great irreverence for Hindu social practices. He definitely succeeded, albeit unintentionally, to veer away the society heading towards the embracement of an alien religion, norms and culture.
His efforts paid dividends in the form of his foremost disciple Swami Vivekananda who raised the feeling of the whole nation into a resurgent mass of Hinduism. After his death in 1886-his biographers believe that he gave up life on his own, when he had the power to cure himself of his pain-Swami Vivekananda toured the country on foot as a wandering ascetic spreading the message. He founded the Ramakrishna Mission, a monastic order that would engage itself in the service of the society specially the poor.