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Tuesday, 28 March 2017

From service to God, to service to humanity---Dakshineshwar Kali Temple and Belur Math

  Kolkata is dotted with places of interest reminding us of the people who were instrumental in shaping the renaissance of Bengal.The scorching heat of the summer did not deter us from visiting two such places,The Dakshineshwar Kali Temple and the Belur Math. In the very same visit to the city we had visited Jorashako  The Ancestral home of the Tagores   in another part of the city.

Ramakrishna Paramhansa

The place is so drenched in history ,in philosophy and  teachings of the great Ramakrishna Paramhansa (who was the head priest at this temple) that I cannot help but recapitulate the same here.  
For the people of Kolkata The Dakshineshwar temple is a place of pilgrimage, as they come to worship Goddess Kali on the banks of the Hoogly.The river Hoogly is a dis tributary of the river Ganga in West Bengal.   For visitors like us this place is a reminder of a  philosophy and of teachings.

 It was on the banks of this holy river called 
Ganga, by the local people ,amidst greenery which existed at that time, thrived a timeless relation between the man and the supreme.Here brewed a a relation of veneration between a student (Swami Vivekananda )and a guru (Ramakrishna paramhansa ).He had influenced many of the important people of that time,like Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar,and Rabindranath Tagore's father Debendranath Tagore.  His teachings of universal brother hood brought about a change in the erstwhile affluent classes of Bengal.

The eateries outside the Dakshineshwar Kali temple.

The eateries outside the Dakshineshwar Kali temple.

My first glimpse of the temple

 The main sanctum has an idol of Goddess Kali with one foot on Lord Shiva lying on the floor ,as the main deity of the temple.

     The premises of the temple houses twelve Shiva temples(Jyotirlingas) in a row ,constructed by Rani Rashmoni .In his earlier days Ramakrishna himself offered prayers at these temples ,later he sent his disciples to pray there.The temples are built in the Bengali architectural form having the aat chala form.The aatchala form is the traditional architectural form of Bengal where the roof of the hut has eight (aat)eaves.

The Bally bridge as seen from the Shiva temples

Above is the picture of the main sanctum,do you see the queue of the devotees,waiting for a darshan.

Rani Rashmoni

   The picture below shows the memorial of Rani Rashmoni,a rich lady of erstwhile Bengal who established the temple.It was Rani Rashmoni ,who had appointed Ramakrishna Paramhansa's elder brother as the priest of the newly built temple. After his sudden death Ramakrishna Paramhansa was appointed as the priest of this beautiful temple.


As already said ,the entire temple complex of Dakshineshwar revolves around the life of this great saint Ramakrishna Paramhansa.He was married to his  child bride at the age of twenty three- but  the marriage was never consummated -.he even worshipped  Sharada Devi as a form of shakti.

   In due course of time he met Totapuri ,a monk who initiated him into sanyasa. It was here in Panchavati that he came very close to complete asceticism,but a divine command restricted him from renouncing  worldly life completely ,for the enlightenment of the people.In those days a simple mud hut existed here ,which has now been replaced by a bricks one.The place was so full of trees,pits ditches and wild plants when Ramakrishna meditated here ,that no one except him dared to come to this place.Ramakrishna spent most of his time here when the temple remained closed.During his time there were some thirty eight variety of plants here,all planted by Ramakrishna himself. Many of which have perished with time .The temple trust with the help of experts from the Botanical Survey  of India have been able to revive few of them.



The building called Nahabat where Sharada Devi lived in the ground floor


A dip in the river is considered to be auspicious at the temple.The ghats were crowded with people taking a holy bath and waiting in queue to cross the river in boats.

  The West Bengal Surface Transport Ministry runs ferries between Dakshineshwar and Belur.  The temple is located towards the north of Kolkata  . Crossing the river takes us to Howrah ,where the Belur Math is located.

We crossed the river in a motor boat which took us to Belur Math located on the west bank of the river Hoogly. The Bally bridge or the Vivekananda Setu can be seen at  a distance from the temple. We actually crossed the river from under the bridge .The short fifteen minute journey by boat was truly enticing. The temple looks resplendent when seen from the river.  Once we near the Belur Math we are treated once again to the beautiful view of the Belur Math shrine from the waters of the Hoogly.

The Belur Math is the headquarters of the Ramakrishna order in Kolkata. It is established by Swami Vivekananda ,the foremost disciple of Ramakrishna Paramhansa. It enshrines the relics of Ramakrishna,Sarada Devi and Swami Vivekananda.
 The place is a very peaceful one, with lush green lawns,one can spend some relaxing hours under the shade of the trees in the lawn.It houses a library,,math office ,monk quarters and a Ramakrishna museum apart from the shrines.It was here that Swami Vivekananda spent the last years of his life.

A little about Swami Vivekananda-
Though he needs no introduction,I still pen down a few lines for the great saint. Vivekananda was born to a Kshatriya family in Kolkata. He learnt from his religious teacher Ramakrishna Paramhansa that the best service to God is rendered by the service to humanity. In 1893 he traveled to the United States Of America to attend the Parliament of world religions.His philosophy influenced many great minds of that time .Some of them  being Mahatma Gandhi,Rabindranath Tagore ,Annie Besant ,Jamshedji Tata to name  a few .
Photography is strictly prohibited inside the Belur Math.so I could not get any of the pics of the three shrines at this place.The shrines are open at the following timings.

April to September-6.00 a.m. to 11.30 a.m
                               4.00p.m. to 7.00 p.m.

October to March-6.30 a.m .to 11.30a.m.
                             3.30 p.m. to 6 .30 p.m.

Do not expect guides at these places, though there is a lot of stories to be told . The place is so  popular among the local people and Ramakrishna Paramhansa is almost a household name here,that it is taken for granted that you know the history behind the temples by now.

Belur is an hours drive from Kolkata.Dakshineshwar is also accessible by train .there is a railway station by the same name.
If you plan to visit both the places the same day ,it is best to take a boat ride across the river like we did.
There are many eateries outside the Dakshineshwar temple ,but no such place could be seen  near the Belur Math.Though every afternoon the Math provides lunch to all its visitors,which is also a good experience.
The places are best visited in winters,as the tour involves a lot of time under the direct sun.