Swami Shivananda

Biografie şi Bibliografie

Swami Shivananda (1854–1934) was born Tarak Nath Ghosal in the village of Barasat in West Bengal. He was a direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, and became the second president of the Ramakrishna Mission. His devotees refer to him as Mahapurush Maharaj (Great Soul). Swami Shivananda and Swami Subodhananda were the only direct disciples of Sri Ramakrishna to be filmed. He was a Brahmajnani (knower of Brahman or the Supreme Being). Swami Shivananda introduced the celebration of the birth anniversaries of his brother-monks. He was known to have laid the foundation stone of Shri Ramakrishna Temple at Belur Math, which was designed by Swami Vijnanananda.

Early Life

Swami Shivananda or Tarak's father was Ramakanai Ghoshal, a pious Brahmin who also had a substantial income as a lawyer. He was a follower of Tantra in his personal live. He and his first wife Vamasundari Devi who was the mother of Tarak, provided free boarding and lodging to twenty five to thirty poor students. Ramkanai also knew Sri Ramakrishna personally as he used to visit Dakshineswar on matters of business. Tarak was contemplative and meditative in his childhood and was not attracted towards conventional education. Like other young boys of his age he was drawn towards Brahmo Samaj. After completing his school studies, Tarak took up a job with Mackinnon Mackenzie in Calcutta in order to help his father, though he used to practise spiritual disciplines most of the time. He had heard about Sri Ramakrishna when he was working in Delhi and now he came to know about him through a relative of Ramchandra Dutta, a foremost householder disciple of Sri Ramakrishna.

Sri Ramakrishna's influence

He saw Sri Ramakrishna for the first time at the house of Ramchandra Dutta in May 1880. A few days later he went to Dakshineswar to visit Kali Temple and surrendered himself fully to Sri Ramakrishna. From then on he began to practise intense prayer and meditation under Sri Ramakrishna’s guidance. Sri Ramakrishna also initiated him at this stage and this increased his spiritual yearnings. About the Master he wrote later in his life, "I have not yet come to a final understanding whether he was a man or a superman, a god or the God Himself, but I have known him to be a man of complete self-effacement, master of the highest renunciation, possessed of supreme wisdom, and the supreme incarnation of love."


Family circumstances compelled Tarak to marry in 1881–82. Because of the poor financial conditions of the family his father could not afford a dowry for the marriage of his sister as per the prevailing customs. Tarak therefore agreed to marry a daughter of the prospective bridegroom's family. However his marriage was not consumed and the perfect purity of married life earned him the epithet of Mahapurush or Great Man in his later life. Three years later his wife died and Tarak renounced hearth and home and started living sometimes in a devotee’s house and sometimes in lonely places, till the Baranagar Math was started.


Tarak continued to visit Dakshineswar till the Master fell ill and was brought, first to the Shyampukur house and then later to the Cossipore Garden House. In Cossipore, Tarak joined the brother disciples including Narendranath Dutta, who later became famous as Swami Vivekananda to serve Sri Ramakrishna. As Tarak disclosed his intention of renouncing the world to his father, the latter was outwardly moved but heartily gave his blessings. Tarak also related this to the Master who was pleased. After the passing away of Sri Ramakrishna in 1886, the small group of direct disciples who decided to embrace monastic life gathered round in a dilapidated house in Baranagar and Tarak was one of the first to settle down there. Thus began the Baranagar monastery of the Ramakrishna Math.

As a wandering monk

During his days of itineracy Swami Shivananda visited various places in North India. He went to Almora where he was acquainted with a local rich man, Lala Badrilal Shah, who became a great admirer of the disciples of Sri Ramakrishna. During the later part of 1893 Tarak Maharaj also met E.T. Sturdy, an Englishman interested in Theosophy. Sturdy later became an admirer and follower of Swami Vivekananda after he met him in England. He was inclined towards leading a contemplative life and went to Himalayas several times. He also went to Amarnath in 1909 along with Swami Turiyananda (Hari Maharaj).

Establishment of Ramakrishna Math and Mission

Tarak Maharaj's itinerant life came to an end when Swami Vivekananda returned to India in 1897. He went to Madras to receive Swami Vivekananda and came back with him to Calcutta. Swami Vivekananda sent Swami Shivananda to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) to spread Vedanta there. There he held classes on Gita and the Raja Yoga. He returned to the newly established Ramakrishna Math or monastery in Belur in 1898. In 1899 a plague broke out in Calcutta and Swami Shivananda, upon request from Swami Vivekananda, helped in organizing relief efforts. In 1900 he travelled along with Swami VIvekananda to Mayavati. While returning, Swami Vivekananda left him in Pillibhit requesting him to raise some funds for the Belur Math, which he did.

Advaita Ashrama, Benaras

In 1902, just before Swami Vivekananda’s death, he went to Varanasi to start the Advaita Ashrama utilizing the donation by Raja of Bhinga to Swami Vivekananda. There he remained as the head for seven years. There in the beginning he along with the inmates had to undergo tremendous hardship on account of the non availability of funds and therefore resorted to great austerities. About this time he also translated Swami Vivekananda's Chicago lectures in local Hindi. He continued to look into the affairs of the Ashrama till 1909.

Office bearer of Ramakrishna Mission

In 1910 he was elected Vice-President of Ramakrishna Mission. Swami Shivananda was also one of the original trustees of Belur Math. In 1917 when Baburam Maharaj (Swami Premananda) fell ill and died, his duties of managing the affairs of the Math and Mission came to rest with Swami Shivananda. In 1922, after the passing of Swami Brahmananda, he became the second President of Ramakrishna Math and Mission. Like Swami Brahmananda, he stressed meditation along with his daily work. He was full of love and compassion, and had the power of blessing and forgiving. He also went to Dhaka and Mymensingh in erstwhile East Bengal and initiated for a first time a lot of spiritual seekers. Sincere seekers flocked to him in the hope of getting initiation. In 1924 and 1927 he went on two long tours to South and first established the Ramakrishna Math in Ootakamund and then later in Bombay and Nagpur. In 1925 he went to Deoghar and opened a new building for the local chapter of Ramakrishna Mission.

The title of Mahapurush

Tarak was married in his teens but, with the consent of his young wife, he lived an absolutely chaste life.

After the foundation of Belur Math, one day as the brother-monks were chatting about holy life he happened to say this to Swami Vivekananda who immediately called him ‘Mahapurush’ which meant ‘great soul’, and since then he came to be known as ‘Mahapurush Maharaj’. King Albert I of Belgium, after meeting Swami Shivananda at the Belur Math said 'for the first time.....I have met one with whom I could talk as man to man'.

His Last Years

From 1930 onwards his health broke down rapidly. During his last years he initiated quite a large number of people. He had to perform so much of work that it was quite impossible for him to eat at a proper time, and sometimes he even forgot to eat. In April 1933 he suffered a stroke and developed paralysis of one side. On 20 February 1934, a few days after Sri Ramakrishna’s birthday, Mahapurush Maharaj died. His memory is kept alive at Belur Math in the small room adjacent to the Old Shrine as the 'Room of Shivananda'.


Under the presidentship of Swami Shivananda, Ramakrishna Mission slowly expanded in various other locations. He himself established centres in Ootacamund, Nagpur and Bombay. Centres were also opened in various foreign locations. In 1915 he established a Ramakrishna mission centre in Almora. After the demise of Swami Brahmananda, he initiated a large number of people.


    It will not do to be restless. One has to get deeply absorbed in spiritual exercises;one must strengthen one's spiritual attitude in one's own mind. One may get a temporary enthusiasm by noticing someone else's spiritual fervour, but then one must remember that all such men had to pass through hard struggle
    Behind work there should be meditation. Without meditation work cannot be performed in a way which conduces to spiritual growth. Nor is work nicely performed without having a spiritual background


Swami Shivananda was austere and seemimgly serious but he had a soft heart. He himself washed the clothes of a new inmate to his monastery in Benaras when the latter being ill soiled them unconsciously. He loved dogs and nursed a sick one back to its health. He started a free nursery school for the poor children in Benaras. His trait of humility was evident by his refusal to proclaim himself as the president of Ramakrishna Mission after the demise of Swami Brahmananda as he considered himself as merely a representative of Swami Brahmananda. He was in favour of disciplines in monastic life and he himself practised them rigorously till he was physically unable to do.

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