Today is the birth anniversary of Sri Ramakrishna Paramhamsa (18 February 1836 — 16 August 1886). Although I had heard about him since my childhood, I didn’t know much about him. I always thought him to be similar to several other saints and divine personalities that this land has produced. I became more and more interested in him after reading Swami Vivekananda literature, who used to refer to his Master time and again. I got one small book containing compilation of quotes by Sri Ramakrishna, and was immediately touched and moved by the utter simplicity of his words and thoughts. It is remarkable to even think that such complex ideas of Indian philosophy and spirituality could be explained and elaborated in such simple words.
When I told about my interest in Swami Vivekananda and Sri Ramakrishna to my senior Jayendra, he told me about the book ‘Sri Sri Ramakrishna Kathamrita’ (the image shows the book cover) and said, “If you want to explore Sri Ramakrishna first hand, then have a look at this book.” I found it interesting and wondered how can one have a ‘first-hand experience’ about anyone by ‘reading’ any book. Aren’t books already second-hand or may be third-hand account of any person’s life and thoughts? However, when I got hold of the English translation of the book (the original was written in Bengali), I came to realise how wrong I was. Indeed, Jayendra was correct — one should read this book to obtain a first-hand understanding of Sri Ramakrishna and his thoughts.
I did not stop there. I wanted to feel how the Master’s original words felt and sounded like. So I went ahead to learn Bengali. Yes, to be able to read the Kathamrita in original was a sufficient motivation for me. It would be my little tribute to the Master. I was helped in this endeavour by my friends, juniors and seniors — everybody was too kind and eager to help me realise my dream. I give the largest share of credit to Jayati Chatterjee, Kabitri Nag, Subimal Deb, Sanat Kumar Das, Swaroop Banerjee, Ramakrishna Das and Tanmay Dhar. All of them are absolutely wonderful people.
When Swaroop Banerjee was going home to attend the Kolkata Book Fair, I requested him to bring the original Kathamrita in Bengali for me. He brought it, but refused to take the price from me. When I insisted, he told me that his wife had stressed that he should not take any money for the book. She had said, “Nowadays youth are rarely interested in deeper thoughts, leave alone spirituality or philosophy. And if here we have found one young boy who is showing interest in them, and being non-Bengali is taking so much trouble to learn the language just to be able to read the original words, we should in every way help him with whatever little we can contribute.”
Finally, a few words about the Kathamrita. This story is from the time when Sri Ramakrishna was the priest at Dakshineswar. Sri Mahendranath Gupta, a school teacher, paid a visit to him partly out of curiosity and partly upon recommendation from other people. When he met Sri Ramakrishna in person, he got so much impressed and touched by his wisdom that he started paying regular visits to him whenever his schedule permitted him, which was mostly on Sundays and holidays. Upon returning home after every meeting with Sri Ramakrishna, he used to write whatever the Master had said during the conversation. He wrote everything in very fine detail and it took form of several diaries. Sri Ramakrishna stands out in his simplicity of explaining complex philosophical ideas with the help of tales, metaphors, stories and parables. What is remarkable is that Sri Mahendranath Gupta nowhere put his name in the book. Instead, he referred to himself simply as ‘M.’ and put the book author’s name as ‘Sri Ma Kathit‘ (As told by Sri M.) preferring to forever remain in the background in the shadow of the Master. When Sri M. showed his diaries to Swami Vivekananda, the latter commented something like, “Reading these words, it feels as if the Master himself is saying them” and encouraged Sri M. to publish his diaries in a book form. Sri M. followed and the result was Sri Ramakrishna Kathamrita. It contains words of wisdom for worldly people, i.e., those who are not monks. Here I would like to mention that just as Swami Vivekananda was Sri Ramakrishna’s foremost monk disciple, same way Sri M. was his foremost worldly disciple.
On this auspicious day, I paid my tribute to Sri Ramakrishna, his words and his disciples by sharing the story of my association with this book. May be you already knew about this book. However, in case you hadn’t, by all means please do take a look. This book is translated into English by Swami Nikhilananda as ‘The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna’ and into Hindi by Suryakant Tripathi Nirala as ‘Sri Ramakrishna Vachanamrita’. Translations into other languages are also available.
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