Friday 5 August 2011

Dakshineswar Temple

Rani Rasmani : Builder  of Dakshineswar  Temple
 “Truly speaking, without Rani Rasmani there would have been no Dakshineswar Temple; without Dakshineswar Temple, no Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, without Ramakrishna no Vivekananda and without Vivekananda, no Vedantic message to the West.”
So said Sister Nivedita (Margaret Noble) in highlighting the magnificent contribution of Rani Rasmani by building the Dakshineswar Temple in Calcutta more than 150 years ago. In the middle of the last century, this great woman of India, provided a setting in which Sri Ramakrishna enacted his divine play of thirty years.
Rani Rasmani was born in 1793 in a village called Kona, about 30 miles from Calcutta. Her father Hare Krishna Das was a labourer by profession who repaired the roofs of cottages. When the child was one-year old, her mother Ramapriya started calling her ‘Rani’ out of sheer affection and love. Strangely enough, this name Rani, meaning a queen, which subsequently clung to her other name Rasmani, was an unconscious betokener of her future greatness. As years rolled by, the little girl captured the hearts of all by her extraordinary eagerness to listen to the readings from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. She even put on some of the insignia of a Vaishnavite devotee like her parents.
When Rasmani was seven years old, her mother passed away. This unexpected calamity created a great void in the mind of the little girl. Three years passed by. Meanwhile, a stage was being set elsewhere by divine grace for Rasmani to rise quickly to affluence and fame. One Pritram Das in the Howrah District amassed a large fortune by dint of his business acumen in Calcutta during the days of the East India Company. He lived in a palatial building on Free School Street in Calcutta. At his old age, his younger son Rajchandra became the  support of the family. Rajchandra married twice but unfortunately both the wives died within a short time.
He was not keen on a third marriage, even though his father favoured it. On a certain occasion, Rajchandra went by boat for a bath in the Ganga at Triveni in the Hooghly District.  While passing the bathing ghat on the river near the village Kona, he was struck by the beauty and grace of a young girl who had also come to bathe there. He felt an inward urge to marry that girl.  Enquiries revealed that she was Rani Rasmani belonging to the village of Kona.
 When his father came to know the desire of his son to marry that girl, he hailed it as divine dispensation and arranged for the marriage. The marriage was celebrated in Calcutta in 1804 amidst great pomp and pageantry.
This sudden change of fortune was no doubt a windfall to Rasmani. But even in the midst of plenty, she did not give up her wonted simplicity and piety. She made it a point of her daily routine to serve her aged parents-in-law. The family noticed that with the advent of Rasmani to their family, its affluence and fame had increased. She became the darling of the family. In course of time, her intelligence, shrewdness and sober judgment so much impressed the family that her husband would not take any decision without consulting her.
In 1817 Pritram passed away, leaving a huge estate and property worth several lakhs of rupees to his son Rajchandra. Rajchandra became very influential in Calcutta whose friendship was sought even by the directors of the East India Company. In 1821 he built a palatial edifice costing about Rs.25 lakh and comprising nearly 300 rooms. He shifted his residence there and endeared himself to one and all in Calcutta by his extensive charities, respected by everyone for his honesty and integrity.
Tragedy struck Rasmani in June 1836 when her husband, aged 49, died suddenly of apoplexy, leaving three married daughters .
Rasmani started living a simple, pious, religious life, strictly following the spiritual injunctions regarding a Hindu widow. Her spiritual practices were not necessarily confined to the house. For self-purification, she undertook several  pilgrimages. These spiritual activities in no way came in the way of her discharging duties efficiently as one in charge of a huge estate. She was bold, courageous and never lost her balance of mind even under trying circumstances, as would be evident from the following incident:
Immediately after the subsidence of the so called Sepoy Mutiny in 1857, some British soldiers were stationed in the Free School Building near Rani’s house. Some of these soldiers used to roam on the streets in a drunken state and waylay the pedestrians. On one occasion, some of them were beaten up by Rani’s security guards in an attempt to protect the pedestrians from the rude behaviour of the drunken soldiers.
In retaliation, a big batch of soldiers attacked Rani’s house and started damaging the entire estate and killing some animals and pets in the estate. All members of the family, except Rani, ran and took shelter in a relative’s house in the vicinity, evidently under Rani’s advice, through a back door.
With a sword in her hand, Rani posted herself at the door of Sri Raghunathji’s temple in the premises, to prevent its desecration, even at the cost of her own life.
Fortunately, the soldiers did not go that side and soon dispersed at the order of the Commanding Officer who had just then arrived at the scene.
For a long time, Rasmani had cherished a strong desire to go on a pilgrimage to Kashi. Finally, when all arrangements were made for the journey, she had a dream the previous night when the Divine Mother appeared before her in a vision and ordered her to cancel the pilgrimage and instead, erect a temple for Her on the bank of the Ganga. Rasmani obeyed the instructions implicitly.
The articles procured for the journey were distributed among the poor and needy and the money earmarked for the journey utilised for purchasing a suitable plot for the temple.
She purchased a 20-acre plot on the eastern bank of the Ganga, a few miles from Calcutta, for the Dakshineswar Temple and constructed a magnificent edifice at a total cost of Rs. 10 lakh. Besides the main temple dedicated to the Divine Mother Kali, a temple for Lord Krishna and another for Lord Shiva were also built.
In 1885, the temple was  consecrated, with Ram Kumar, Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa’s elder brother as the first priest.
The consecration was a grand success. Rasmani spent nearly Rs. 2 lakh for the consecration of the temple, the  greatest achievement in her life. Within a year, Ram Kumar passed away and Sri Ramakrishna took over as the chief priest of the Kali Temple.
Gradually, Rasmani detached herself from the affairs of the estate, leaving the entire estate management to her son-in-law. She spent most of her time in spiritual pursuits and devotional exercises in the temple garden attached to the Dakshineswar Temple.
She often came to meet Sri Ramakrishna and talk about spiritual matters with him and hear devotional songs from him.
In early 1891, Rasmani became ill with a fever and chronic dysentery.
The best of doctors in Calcutta could not cure her. At her request, Rasmani was moved to her garden house at Kalighat, in South Calcutta,  on the banks of Adi Ganga, a small tributary to Ganga.
 Rasmani knew that her death was imminent and there was one task which she had left unfinished. The property which she had bought in Dinajpur [now in Bangladesh] as an endowment for the maintenance of the Dakshineswar Temple was still not transferred to the Temple Trust. She executed the deed of endowment on February 18, 1891 and died the very next day. 
Her intense devotion to Kali Ma, her reliance on Sri Ramakrishna for spiritual guidance and above all, her respect for all forms of worship endured her life with a superb grace and halo.
When she was on her death bed, it was night. Some lights were  burning. But she asked all lights to be removed, since they looked pale before the effulgence of the Divine Mother who revealed Herself to Rasmani all of a sudden at the time of her death.
Her face beamed with joy to visualise the dearest object of her worship.
Thus on  February 19, 1891, with the name of Kali Ma on her lips, Rani Rasmani passed quietly into eternity.
Article by : B.M.N.Murthy
Source: Bhavan's Journal 15 May 2009
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