Swami Vijnanananda

Monastic Name : Swami Vijnanananda
[1868 - 1938]


Swami Vijnanananda, before he took orders, was known by the name of Hariprasanna Chattopadhyaya. He was born on 28th October 1868, in a respectable family of Belgharia, which is within a couple of miles of Dakshineswar. When reading in the first or second class of a High School, Hariprasanna saw Shri Ramakrishna at Dewan Govinda Mukherji's house. But Hariprasanna was too young then. The real meeting came off two years later. It was in the year 1883 that Hariprasanna, then a student of the St. Xavier's College, went to Dakshineswar with his fellow students Sharat (Swami Saradananda) and Barada Pal. The Master, as was his wont, showed great love and kindness towards Hariprasanna, which bound him indissolubly to him. Young though Hariprasanna was, it did not take him much time to find out that here was a man who was extraordinary in every sense of the word, and he was as much captivated by his words of wisdom as he was drawn by his charming naivety.

One of his class-friends says that as a student Hariprasanna was very spirited and would be upset at the sight of any moral turpitude or social injustice. After passing the First Arts Examination from Calcutta he went to Bankipore, Bihar, where he was when Shri Ramakrishna left his mortal body. He related that he had a vision of the Master at that time. He graduated from the Patna College and then went to study Civil Engineering at Poona. After taking his degree of L.C.E. he joined the Government Service and rose in the course of a few vears to the position of a District Engineer. By that time the monastery at Baranagore had been founded, and the monastic disciples of the Master often became his guests at different places. The flame of renunciation, however, that had been kindled in him by the Master was burning within him, and he found it impossible to remain in the world for a long time. Even as an officer Hariprasanna was taciturn, would mix with few people, and remained in his bungalow absorbed in his own thoughts. But his colleagues and assistants were surprised at his uncommon degree of integrity as well as his strictness in regard to the discharge of his duties. And those who came into close touch with him revered him almost as a god-such was the force of his character, pure, spotless, and at the same time humble and unassuming.

In the year 1896, shortly belore Swami Vivekananda returned for the first time from his triumphant mission in the West, Hariprasanna joined the Brotherhood at Alambazar where the monastery had meanwhile been shifted. Hariprasanna was very devoted to his mother and it was only for her sake that he had accepted a job and continued in it for some years. But when he had collected enough money to meet her future maintenance, he felt his conscience free. He was then at Etah. Before the final decision for renunciation was taken, he had two repeated visions of the Master who urged him to give up the world. So with his worldly duty over and conviction firm, he joined the Ramakrishna Math.

Swami Vijnanananda accompanied Swami Vivekananda on his trip to Rajputana and elsewhere. Just before the monastery was removed to its permanent home at Belur in 1899, the task of constructing the necessary buildings was entrusted to Swami Vijnanananda who later also supervised the construction of the embankment on the Ganga in front of the main building.

Swamiji had a great desire to raise a big memorial temple to the Master at the Belur Math and entrusted the task of planning it to Swami Vijnanananda, giving him specific instructions for it. The Swami, in consultation with a noted European architect of Calcutta, prepared a design of the proposed temple, which had the approval of Swami Vivekananda. Swamiji's premature passing away in 1902 nipped the project in the bud. But the serious thoughts of spiritual giants never die out; they only bide their time. Thirty years after Swami Vivekananda's exit from this world, a magnificent offer of help came from some devoted American students of his teachings, which made it possible for the authorities of the Belur Math to erect the present beautiful temple of Shri Ramakrishna after the design left by Swamiji. The foundation-stone Of this noble edifice was set in its proper place in july 1935, by Swami Vijnanananda as Vice-President of the Order. Swami Vijnanananda loved retirement. He was, therefore, not actively engaged in the main work of the Ramakrishna Mission. But whenever his help was necessary he would ungrudgingly give it. His engineering knowledge was particularly useful in this respect. He supervised the construction of some buildings of the Ramakrishna Mission Home of Service, Varanasi, as also of the Swami Vivekananda Temple at the Belur Math. Besides, he helped with valuable advice in regard to the construction of other buildings.

On account of his humility and love of retirement, he refused for years on end to be a trustee of the Ramakrishna Math. But when in 1934 after the passing away of Swami Shivananda, the then President of the Ramakrishna Order, the necessity arose for his becoming a trustee, he could not decline it any longer. He became Vice-President of the Order that very year, and on the demise of Swami Akhandananda, the next President, he became the President of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission in March 1937.

From the time when the construction of the Shri Ramakrishna Temple at Belur began, he was anxiously watching its completion in order that he might install his great Master there as early as possible. In view of his failing health, it was decided to have the installation ceremony done just after the completion of the main shrine. On 14th January 1938, Swami Vijnanananda performed the dedication of the temple and the consecration of the marble image of Shri Ramakrishna amidst imposing rites - a function which was witnessed by about fifty thousand devotees and spectators. Having done this, he felt that the great task of his life was finished, and he got ready to join his beloved Master. He paid only one more visit to Belur, and that was only on the occasion of the Master's next birthday. He looked very much emaciated, and those who saw him then were apprehensive of the approaching end. Still he initiated hundreds of aspirants, lay and monastic and answered their queries.

The Swami returned to Allahabad, and entered Mahasamadhi on 25th April 1938. The body which he gave up like a rejected garment, but which was the vehicle of supreme spiritual achievement and great spiritual ministration was consigned with appropriate ceremonies to the sacred waters of the Triveni, at the confluence of the Ganga and the Jamuna, in the presence of a large number of monks and devotees.

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