Born: 18 February 1836, Kamarpukur

Died: 16 August 1886, Cossipore, Kolkata

Spouse: Sarada Devi (m. 1859–1886)

Guru: Totapuri

 

Sri Ramakrishna was born on 18 February 1836, in the village of Kamarpukur, in the Hooghly district of West Bengal, India, into a very poor, pious, and orthodox Brahmin family. Kamarpukur was untouched by the glamour of the city and contained rice fields, tall palms, royal banyans, a few lakes, and two cremation grounds. His parents were Khudiram Chattopadhyay and Chandramani Devi. According to his followers, Sri Ramakrishna’s parents experienced supernatural incidents and visions before his birth. In Gaya his father Khudiram had a dream in which Bhagwan Gadadhara (a form of Vishnu), said that he would be born as his son. Chandramani Devi is said to have had a vision of light entering her womb from (Yogider Shiv Mandir) Shiva’s temple.

 

The family was devoted to Hindu God Rama, and male children of Khudiram and Chandramani were given names that started with Ram or Rama: Ramkumar, Rameswar, and Ramakrishna. There has been some dispute about the origin of the name Ramakrishna, but there is “…evidence which proves beyond doubt that the name ‘Ramakrishna’ was given to him by his father…” Ramakrishna confirmed this himself, as recorded in “M”s diaries, “I was a pet child of my father. He used to call me Ramakrishnababu.”

Although Ramakrishna attended a village school with some regularity for 12 years, he later rejected the traditional schooling saying that he was not interested in a “bread-winning education”. Kamarpukur, being a transit-point in well-established pilgrimage routes to Puri, brought him into contact with renunciates and holy men. He became well-versed in the Puranas, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, and the Bhagavata Purana, hearing them from wandering monks and the Kathaks—a class of men in ancient India who preached and sang the Purāṇas. He could read and write in Bengali.

Ramakrishna describes his first spiritual ecstasy at the age of six: while walking along the paddy fields, a flock of white cranes flying against a backdrop of dark thunder clouds caught his vision. He reportedly became so absorbed by this scene that he lost outward consciousness and experienced indescribable joy in that state. Ramakrishna reportedly had experiences of similar nature a few other times in his childhood—while worshipping the Goddess Vishalakshi, and portraying God Shiva in a drama during the Shivaratri festival. From his 10th or 11th year of school on, the trances became common, and by the final years of his life, Ramakrishna’s samādhi periods occurred almost daily. Early on, these experiences have been interpreted as epileptic seizures, an interpretation which was rejected by Ramakrishna himself.

Ramakrishna’s father died in 1843, after which family responsibilities fell on his elder brother Ramkumar. This loss drew him closer to his mother, and he spent his time in household activities and daily worship of the household deities and became more involved in contemplative activities such as reading the sacred epics. When Ramakrishna was in his teens, the family’s financial position worsened. Ramkumar started a Sanskrit school in (Jhama pukur lane) Kolkata and also served as a priest. Ramakrishna moved to Kolkata in 1852 with Ramkumar to assist in the priestly work.