Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Baranagore Math Restoration

From The Dailypioneer
Ramakrishna Mission to restore Swami Vivekananda's math

Saugar Senguta / Kolkata

Lying in ruins for decades and buried under the debris of time for more than a century, the historic first monastery of the Ramakrishna Mission at Baranagore, in the northern precincts of Kolkata, is all set to be restored to its past glory.

Originally a "bagaanbaari", it was at this Baranagore garden house that Swami Vivekananda laid the foundation of the Ramakrishna Mission Order in October 1886 along with 15 disciples of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa after the seer-saint's departure. It became the mission's first math.

In 1886 it was an imposing building that stood amid sprawling land owned by the landlords of Taki in North 24 Parganas. Today, only two imposing pillars of the math stand mute witness to history.

The Ramakrishna Mission has now adopted an ambitious programme to restore the math to its original glory. With this end in view, the Mission started a branch centre on the premises in May 2001 in a small building in the area adjacent to the old pillars. Much of the property has been taken over by squatters.

"The task is daunting and things have to be done in phases... At present, we are trying to restore the math area to its original size," says Swami Vamananda, president of the branch housed in barely a few kathas of land. The reclamation and restoration project could involve a whopping Rs 5 crore as more than 20 families who own pucca houses and 15 to 20 slum-dwellers on the premises have to be "adequately compensated and rehabilitated". A special fund has been launched for this purpose.

Once this is done, the second phase, involving cultural and philanthropic activities ranging from providing free medical services to setting up educational and research institutions, will begin. "At present we conduct daily worship, organise spiritual discourses, a non-formal school, coaching classes for slum children, charitable homeopathic dispensary, general library and offer regular financial aid to the distressed from this centre," says the president of the Baranagore math.

After the death of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa, fondly called "Thakur" by his followers, there was a frantic search for premises to establish a math. The house at Baranagore was located and Suresh Chandra Mitra, a devotee, came forward to pay the rent.

It was a deserted, dilapidated and reportedly haunted house, rented out for Rs 11 by the landlords of Taki. Even as the math's expenditure increased by the day, Suresh Chandra Mitra increased his contribution to Rs 100. With the half-buried ground floor overrun by rats, jackals and snakes, the first batch of monks led by Swami Vivekananda decided to establish the math on the first floor, which could be approached only through a broken, trembling staircase - as trembling as the financial might of the 16 disciples of "Thakur".

Undaunted, they worked out of this math for the five years during which Ramakrishna Mission was headquartered there. Such was the plight of the founders of Ramakrishna Mission, one of the biggest monastic orders in India with centres across the world today, that they often went without food. "They were so short of resources that they had only one decent dhoti to wear and hence the disciples wore it by turn if they had to go outside the math. It was at this math that the 16 original disciples of Thakur accepted sanyas," says a senior monk.

"The Baranagore math is important not only because Ramakrishna Mission started its journey from there but also because the great monks took to formal monastic life from there," he adds.

As part of the restoration programme, says Swami Vamananda, the math and the adjoining more than one acre of land that changed hands in subsequent years even as the building crumbled to dust has to be restored to their original shape. "This includes vacating and purchasing back the land that originally fell within the premises of the math, and construction of a replica of the original building," he explains. Other buildings will be constructed to house monks and for philanthropic activities.

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