A Portrait of Sri Ramakrishna

Item Code: IDK751
Author: Amrita M. Salm, Satchidananda Dhar and, Prasun Kumar De
Language: English
Edition: 2011
ISBN: 9788185843926
Pages: 886
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 10.0" X 7.5"
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Book Description
From the Jacket
About Sri Ramakrishna I am bringing to Europe, as yet unaware of it, the fruit of a new autumn, a new message of the Soul, the symphony of India, bearing the name of Ramakrishna.

The man whose image I here evoke was the consummation of two thousand years of the spiritual life of three hundred million people.

I myself am a devotee of Ramakrishna; I believe, or am at least strongly inclined to believe, that he was what his disciples declared that he was: an incarnation of God upon earth.

The story of Ramakrishna Paramahansa's life is a story of religion in practice. His life enables us to see God face to face. No one can read the story of his life without being convinced that God alone is real and that all else is an illusion. Ramakrishna was a living embodiment of godliness.

A Portrait of Sri Ramakrishna is the English translation of the Sri Sri Ramakrishna-Punthi, the story of the divine play or lila of Sri Ramakrishna with his devotees. It was written in Bengali by Akshay Kumar Sen, a householder (non-monastic) disciple of Sri Ramakrishna. The author had the rare privilege of coming into direct contact with Sri Ramakrishna and was a witness to many episodes in the Master's life. When he decided to write this epic he met many of Sri Ramakrishna's relatives, neighbours and friends who recalled earlier events of the Master's life so that these events would not be lost. The original book was written in verse, in typical style of a Bengali Punthi, a style in which some of the best classics in Bengali were written, in particular the two major epics: the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Sri Sri Ramakrishna-Punthi is very popular in Bengali villages because of its poetic style and devotional expression, similar to other Indian epics that depict the divine lila of an incarnation of God. They are often recited aloud and meditated upon.

In addition to the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna and Sri Ramakrishna, the Great Master, which have both been translated into English, this book, may be considered a complimentary work to them since it illustrates the life of Sri Ramakrishna, and was written by one of his direct disciples. It received the enthusiastic endorsement and encouragement of Swami Vivekananda and the blessings of Sri Sarada Devi, the Holy Mother, which makes it all the more necessary to make the book available to the rest of the world.

Sheshadri Iyer, a non-Bengali devotee from Southern India, made an heroic attempt to translate Sri Sri Ramakrishna-Punthi into English. However, it was never published. After thoroughly analysing about a hundred pages and we acutely felt the necessity of publishing an authentic English version of the entire work. The present book is the outcome of the efforts made in that direction. Many dedicated people have been involved over the last four years in this translation in an effort to keep as much of the uniqueness of this book and its unknown contents available to English speaking devotees of Sri Ramakrishna. This book is meant for those who are eager to know every detail of the Master's life and message as interpreted by a directed by a direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna.

It must be remembered that this book was written over one hundred years ago. The author wrote it based on his personal experiences and events that he witnessed in addition to accounts given by relatives, neighbours and people known to Sri Ramakrishna. Akshay Kumar Sen's style of writing, relating an event in the Master's life and then giving a devotional and often times philosophical interpretation to it, make this book unique and gives the readers an opportunity to become completely absorbed in that moment of the Master's life. The author is often highly emotional, either exaggerating the praise or denunciation of a person, or a virtue or a vice. For poetic or emotional reasons this is also true when he refers to numbers, as in crores, millions, etc. in a few places we tried to tone down the author's language. However, to preserve the eloquence of his devotional expression we felt the prosaic ways of austere methods would not be true to the original nor would it appeal to the reader. All these factors need to be remembered as one reads this book. It is for this reason we chose the title A portrait of Sri Ramakrishna since it is the portrait of Sri Ramakrishna as painted by his disciple by his disciple, Akshay Kumar Sen.

Unlike The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna which consists of conversations between the Mater and his visitors as recorded by 'M.' this book, unfolds step by step, and vividly shows Sri Ramakrishna, the man and his divinity. Written in a spirit of complete dedication, unreserved faith and intense devotion, the author describes every aspect of his life, his divine lila enacted in a human form, beginning from the moment of his birth until the final moments of his play in a physical form came to an end.

To do justice to the original book written in the Punthi style, which traditionally uses archaic Bengali, coupled with the author's literary flair, and carried away by a flood of reverence and devotion to his Master, the translators had the impossible task of reverence task of rendering an authentic version to the best of their abilities. The task was easier said than done. A proper translation from one language to another is always beset with difficulties. In this instance, the task was compounded by several other factors : the original book was written in verse, making the translation all the more difficult. Secondly, the subject matter is about spiritual experiences and philosophical interpretations, which are difficult to explain no matter what the language. Thirdly, the author's devotional fervour and emotional outbursts are unfamiliar to most people and may appear as fanatical and excessive verbiage to many people of a rational and Western temperament. And lastly, due to the massive size of the work, 639 pages, it required many translators and this entailed the continual need for the consistent usage of terms and a flow to assure that the voice of the author was heard and not that of all the translators. All of these factors combined resulted in endless review, revisions, and re-editing. We apologize to the author for any wrongdoing on our part.

A further problem that the translators had to confront was how to translate certain Bengali words into would faithfully covey the sense. Often it was felt that the retention of the Bengali word in the English text and the explanation of its imports, denotation and connotation in the glossary was the best solution. Such words are in italics. Footnotes were used, when needed, to give more elaborate explanation. For some Hindu, especially those living in India, the explanation may appear obvious. The sole intention is to help others understand the culture context of the language. The use of some Bengali words were deliberately retained in order to maintain an atmosphere of a typical scenario in which some of the events took place and those words were evolved. For example, the words lila (divine play), jiva (an embodied soul), and avidya (ignorance, either cosmic or individual that is responsible for the non-perception of the Ultimate Reality) are continually used by the author and retained these words. A book of such a nature will contain many technical terms which can conveniently be explained in a footnote or the glossary. But there are other word which, if translated, would lose their impact, because every such word has evolved itself by usage and application as its basis, a concept developed through time, through the culture. With such words, to maintain the correct import, proper annotations were made. Throughout the book, the author refers to the book by the abbreviated Bengali title, Ramakrishna-Punthi or Punthi. We have retained his words in this instance, and as much as was possible throughout this translation. A few words more commonly known in the West, such as Mother Kali were used rather than the original word, Mother Shyama. We chose to use the word 'My Master' since it is used in The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna and is familiar to most English readers. All song are original translations unless cited otherwise.

The introduction included in this book is brief and readers referred to the excellent introduction in The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna for a more detailed explanation on the subject matter. Most readers are expected to be familiar with the Master's life before turning to A Portrait of Sri Ramakrishna. May this book bring as much joy to the readers as it has to all of us who were involved in its emergence.

About The Author Had Akshay Kumar Sen not written his masterpiece, Sri Sri Ramakrishna-Punthi, a long narrative poem on his master's life which is read in most Bengal villages with the same devotion and fervour as other Indian epics, he probably would have left little impact on the history of the Ramakrishna Movement and the propagation of Sri Ramakrishna's message. Fortunately for us, his intense desire to write about Sri Ramakrishna resulted in a beautiful, poetic description about the master's life, teaching, humour, relationship with and influence on others, many details of which are not available elsewhere. The author's interpretation of these events is what makes the book both original and inspiring.

The author, Akshay Kumar Sen, was born in Maynapur, a small village in the Bankura district of Bengal in 1854. There are few details about his early life. His family was devoted to Lord Krishna. Due to the poor economic conditions of his family, Akshay received his education at the local village school. In an effort to improve his financial position Akshay went to Calcutta to earn a living and became the private tutor of the Tagore children living in Jorasanko, a locality of Calcutta.

Despite having been initiated by the family guru and practising japa and meditation, Akshay became discouraged in his spiritual practices. Another employee of the Tagore family, living at Jorasanko was Devendranath Majumdar, a devotee of Sri Ramakrishna. One day Akshay overheard Devendra and Dhirendra, a member of the Tagore family speaking about the Master. After six months, probably in 1885, Akshay requested Devendra to take him to meet the Master at a celebration at Mahima Chakrabarty's house. The Master sang songs to Akshay's Ishta and his heart was immediately captivated by Sri Ramakrishna several times, he had opportunities to serve him and was blessed by him on Kalpataru Day, January 1, 1886 when the Master whispered a mantra into his ear. He was also at the Master's bedside, fanning him, at the request of Swami Vivekananda, the night the Master entered into mahasamadhi.

The author describes his own appearance as frightening and accordingly Swami Vivekananda gave Akshay the name 'Shakchunni Master', which literally means a female ghost wearing bangles. Akshay was very proud of his name, since Swami only gave manes of endearment to those close to him.

Akshay used to decorate the photograph of Sri Ramakrishna after his passing away with sandalpaste and sing songs to the accompaniment of a one-stringed instrument. He had a desire to write about the Master's life and was persuaded to do so by Devendranath Majumdar. He expressed his desire to Swami Vivekananda who encouraged him and thus he began to write in Bengali verse in 1887. After completing the first part of the book he went Swami Vivekananda and read it to him. Swamiji was very moved by what he heard and took Akshay to Holy Mother, who blessed him. Again, Holy Mother blessed him when him he went to Kamarpukur. At that time Mother had him read the poem to some of the village women who had known the Master and requested him to continue to write about the Mater. In addition to meeting with many relatives and villagers to collect information about the Master the author also received assistance from other direct disciples including Swami Ramakrishnananda, Swami Niranjanananda and Swami Yogananda as well as Girish Chadra Ghosh.

Swami Shvananda, Mahapurush Maharaj, second President of the Ramakrishna Order, said that he had heard that at night Akshay would go to the bank of the Ganga and call to the Master with a longing heart saying, 'please give me strength so that I can write something about your precious life.' Then he would immediately feel inspired from within and return to his room and start writing. Relatives of Akshay said that he would be found in his room in a trance-like state while composing the Punthi.

Besides writing Sri Sri Ramakrishna-Punthi the author also wrote about the Master's teachings in 1896 in a book entitled Padye Sri Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsadever Upadesh (the teaching of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa in verse). In 1910 he wrote Sri Sri Ramakrishna Mahima (the glory of Sri Ramakrishna) in question and answer form.

Before retiring to his village, the author worked for Upendrenath Mukhopadhyaya, another disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, in the Basumati publication office in Calcutta. After reading Sri Sri Ramakrishna Lila-prasanga (Sri Ramakrishna The Great Master) Akshay made revisions to the Punthi and sent it to Swami Saradananda with the request that if he wanted he could publish it. Despite his poverty Akshay did not take any of the profits from the book. He spent the last days of his life quietly thinking about and worshiping his Guru, Sri Ramakrishna. Akshay passed away in 1923 at the age of seventy-three his bother, 'Please keep quiet now. I see the Master and the Mother.

A small temple is now located in his village where Sri Ramakrishna and Holy Mother are worshipped. Akshay's contribution to spreading the name and glory of Sri Ramakrishna continues and Swami Vivekananda's prophecy that his poem would be read throughout Bengal just like the Mahabharata and Ramayana has been fulfilled.

A Portrait of Sri Ramakrishna was original written in Bengali and is known throughout India as Sri Sri Ramakrishna-Punthi. The original work is a long poem of 639 pages written in the style of Indian epics. It is filled with devotional fervour, vivid descriptions and interpretations of the events of Sri Ramakrishna's life, from before his birth until after his death. Sri Ramakrishna's divinity, and how it was manifested step by step, is a fascinating adventure that is explained in relationship to his divine play or lila with the devotees. A practical personality, Sri Ramakrishna behaved just a man among his fellowmen. The difference being that he was the embodiment of love and humility, character trait only seen in incarnations of God. His frequent transcendental experiences, are described and interpreted in the light of Vedanta. As the author claims, the Master's life was a life of simplicity, in the guise of a rather unlettered village person, yet he spoke of the highest wisdom and explained the most complex ideas of the scriptures with utmost clarity and metaphors and often with a touch of humour, that was understood, appreciated and within the grasp of all, wise or unlettered.

The author wrote 'Nobody can precisely describe the lila of the Master with his devotees or the fun enjoyed mutually by both the Master and his devotees. Only a hint can be suggested.' Yet , the descriptions given by Akshay Sen of Sri Ramakrishna are both unique and unparalleled in their detail and spiritual insight. After reading the first edition of Akshay's book sent to America, Swami Vivekananda wrote to his brother-disciple Swami Ramakrishna in 1895 :

Just know I read Akshay's book. Give him a hundred thousand hearty embraces from me. Through his pen Shri Ramakrishna is manifesting himself. Blessed is Akshaya ! Let him recite that Punthi before all. He must recite it before all in the Festival (Sri Ramakrishna's Birthday celebration). Well, I do not find a single irrelevant word in it. I cannot tell in words the joy I have experience by reading his book. Try all of you to give the book an extensive sale. Then ask Akshaya to go from village to village to preach. Well done Akshaya ! He (Sri Ramakrishna) is doing his work. Go from village to village and proclaim to all Shri Ramakrishna's teachings, can there be a more blessed lot then this ? I tell you, Akshaya's book and Akshaya himself must electrify the masses. Dear, dear Akshaya, I bless you with all my heart, my dear brother. May the Lord sit in your tongue ! Go and spread his teaching from door to door. There is no need whatever of your becoming a Sannyasin Akshaya is the future apostle for the masses of Bengal. Take great care of Akshaya; his faith and devotion have borne fruit.

(The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Vol. VI, 1963, p. 334) Like the original work, this book is divided into five parts and contains ninety-one chapters. Almost each chapter begins with a short verse in praise of either Sri Ramakrishna or Holy Mother or both of them. We have retained all the verses and as much of the contents and the order of the original book including the Introduction by Swami Vivekananda and the prelude (containing prayers to Sri Ramakrishna, the Guru, and the Devotees). We have added footnotes for clarification, a rather extensive glossary and an index. In Part IV, Chapter 29 and in Part V, Chapter 3 we have given our own translation from the extracts that the author chose from the Katharita (the original book authored by Sri 'M.', later translated into English and known as The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna).

Over two hundred persons are introduced by the author and some of the names appear as many as fifty times to describe their lila with the Master. The author usually refers to their caste as a way of furnishing information about their character, and then pointing out particular praiseworthy traits which they acquired as a result of coming into direct contact with Sri Ramakrishna. It must be remembered however, Akshay Sen, himself being a Kayastha (the second highest caste in Indian society), felt conscious about the superiority of his own caste and often referred to it. Throughout the book the author repeats the phrase 'Oh my mind, now listen' It is his way of speaking to all of us, by referring to himself, a style often found in such epics. To retain the original manner in which this book was written we have not removed this phrase or its frequent occurrence. At times, the reader will also notice that the author repeats the same idea within a few lines for emphasis. This has also been retained to maintain the flow and the style. The life of Sri Ramakrishna unfolds vividly and visually in the following parts of the book :

Part I : Beings with the descriptions of the events prior to the Master's birth, the interesting moments of his birth, his growing up in his native village in the company of the villagers, mostly from the cowherd families, highly unnatural for a child coming from a very orthodox Brahmin family, and attaining adulthood. This least-known period of his life reminds the reader of Lord Krishna; his childhood lilas in Vrindavan with the cowherd boys. Association with the young women in some households cannot but help to revive the memories of the Gopis in Vrindavan. Losing his external consciousness and slowly attaining the state of samadhi, an oft-repeated phenomenon witnessed throughout his lifetime, were even evident in one form or the other in the child Gadadhar.

Part II : Describes the Master's coming to Calcutta as an adult to assist his elder brother Ramkumar as a priest and become a teacher in a Sanskrit school, traditional roles for Brahmin men. Soon Gadadhar displays his apathy and indifference to this way of life and his steadfast inclination towards things beyond this material world. It is interesting to watch how he became a part of the manifestation of his divinity. He comes in contact with Mathur Bishwas and then with Rani Rasmani, the manager and founder of the temple complex, both of whom had the eyes to recognize his uniqueness. Slowly, though reluctantly, Sri Ramakrishna in appointed the junior priest. Thus the ground was set for the unfolding of his divine lila. At the untimely demise of his brother the Master was offered the position as the main priest of the Kali temple. He vigorously refused to accept it at the beginning but finally agreed. As an individual or as a priest, he often committed acts unheard of and unusual, neither sanctioned by the scriptures nor accepted by the customs of the time, sometimes even revolting to ordinary human mind. After testing the Master's purity, Mathur was ever-tolerant of all these apparent abnormalities and provided the Master with whatever was needed for his sadhana. The hand of divine intervention is clearly evident here, especially in an age when blind, senseless adherence to rituals often accompanied with haughtiness, was the order of the day. During this period, for nearly twelve years, Sri Ramakrishna dedicated himself entirely to sadhana, practically leaving no faith or spiritual practice untouched, including Islam and Christianity. It was the first time in the history of mankind that a real life demonstration of the harmony of religions or the doctrine of equality among all religions was practiced and it is explained in detail.

Part III & Part IV : Both these parts colourfully describe the gradual gathering of young men with pure and spiritual dispositions, all flocking around the half-literate temple-priest hailing from an unknown village of Bengal. From the rooftop at Dakshineshwar Sri Ramakrishna used to call his would-be devotees for whom he had waited so long. This was the place of future activities which were to be carried out by these men when the Master left his physical frame. Those who could hear his calls in their hearts, came to him, some chose to remains as householders and others embraced the monastic life and later on were the pioneers of the Ramakrishna order and spread his message, that the purpose of life is to realize God and to serve God in man. One of them was Narendranath, later known to the world as Swami Vivekananda. Many of the scenarios described here are reminiscent of some of the chapter in the Gospel by Sri 'M.', but told from another perspective and with more detail. Sri Ramakrishna's meetings with some of the most noteworthy men of the time, keshab Chandra Sen, Iswarchandra Vidyasagar and others clearly testifies to his all-embracing and irresistible appeal to young and old, wise and learned, Shikhs, Christians, believers in God with form or without form. These meetings are resplendent with Sri Ramakrishna's brilliance, humour and joy and for the first time one reads about these unknown and sweet incidents of his life.

Part V : It is here that one finds a graphic and most pathetic picture of the Master's last days when he came to Calcutta for the treatment of his deadly disease. There was that struggle on the human level with all its pains and sufferings of the body and side by side glimpses of the divine soul totally invulnerable to all sufferings. One sees that the Master's body and the soul were two separate entities. The body suffered but the mind and the soul did not, a phenomenon which was witnessed by all.

Hundred of scenes of Sri Ramakrishna's life, from his birth until his death, are vividly and poetically depicted by the author. His devotional fervour and deep spiritual insight give devotees the opportunity to become completely absorbed in Sri Ramakrishna and to feel his divine presence. The author repeatedly tells the reader to listen attentively to the tales of Sri Ramakrishna's lila and all doubts will be removed and one will obtain supreme joy. It is with this hope that we present this book.

Introduction by Swami Vivekananda
My Dear Shashi, Just now I read Akshaya's book. Give him a hundred thousand hearty embraces from him. Through his pen Sri Ramakrishna is manifesting himself. Blessed is Akshaya ! Let him recite that Punthi before all. He must recite it before all in the Festival. If the work be too large, let him read extracts of it. Well, I do not find a single irrelevant word in it. I cannot tell in words the joy I have experienced by reading his book. Try all of you to give the book an extensive sale. Then ask Akshaya to go from village to village to preach. Well done Akshaya! He is doing his work. Go from village to village and proclaim to all Sri Ramakrishna's teachings, can there be a more blessed lot then this? I tell you, Akshaya's book and Akshaya and himself must electrify the masses. Dear, dear, Akshaya, I bless you with all my heart, my dear brother. May the Lord sit in your tongue! Go and spread his teaching from door to door. There is no need whatever of your becoming a Sannyasin?.Akshaya is the future apostle for the masses of Bengali. Take great care of Akshaya; his faith and devotion have borne fruit.

Ask Akshaya to write these few points in the third section of his book, 'The Propagation of the Faith'.

1. Whatever the Vedas, the Vedanta, and all other Incarnations have done in the past, Shri Ramakrishna lived to practise in the course of s single.

2. One cannot understand the Vedas, the Vedanta, the Incarnations, and so forth, without understanding his life. For he was the explanation.

3. From the very date that he was born, has sprung the Satya-Yuga (Golden Age). Henceforth there is an end to all sorts of distinctions, and everyone down to the Chandala will be a sharer in the Divine Love. The distinction between man and woman, between the rich and the poor, the literate and the illiterate, Brahmins and Chandala ? he lived to root out all. And he was the harbinger of Peace ? the separation between Hindus and Mohammedans, between Hindus and Christians, all are now things of the past. That fight about distinctions that there was, belonged to another era. In this Satya-Yuga the tidal wave of Sri Ramakrishna's Love has unified all.

Tell him to expand these ideas and write them in his own style.

Whoever ? man or woman ? will worship Sri Ramakrishna, be he or she ever so low, will be then and there converted in to the very highest. Another thing, the Motherhood of God is prominent in this Incarnation. He used to dress himself as a woman ? he was, as it were, our Mother ? and we must likewise look upon all women, and grinding the poor through caste restrictions. He was the Saviour of the messes, Saviour of all, high and low. And let Akshaya introduce his worship in every home ? Brahmin or Chandala, man or woman ? everyone has the right to worship him. Whoever will worship him only with devotion shall be blessed for ever.

Tell him to write in this strain. Never mind anything ? the Lord will be at his side.

Publisher's Note to the Revised Edition
Swami Lokeswaranandaji Maharaj, Secretary of the Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, as also Swami Swahanandaji Maharaj, Minister-in-charge of the Vedanta Society of southern California, Hollywood, inspired a group of devotees to take up the project of translating from Bengali into English the Sri Sri Ramakrishna-Punthi by Akshay Kumar Sen. About twelve people selected by these two Swamis took part in this project, and Dr. Amrita Salm coordinated them. After the publication of the first edition July 1998 we had to reprint the volume in June 1999 to meet the immediate demand for it. While it earned praise from many people, it also received some criticism from a few others. Moreover, it was found that 763 lines of the text were inadvertently omitted in about 240 places. These have now been included in the present edition, and a few necessary corrections have also been effected. Except for some controversial material, nothing of the original Punthi has been omitted.

Besides the translations' hard labour of love and dedication to the cause, the role of the three editors, under the leadership of Dr. Amrita Salm, deserves special recognition. We are particular thankful to Dr. Satchidananda Dhar for bearing the major part of the responsibility in preparing the manuscript of the revised edition.

I believe the English version of the Sri Sri Ramakrishna-Punthi will be well received by the admirers of Sri Ramakrishna.


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Book Categories
Publisher's Note to the Revised Second Editionv
Publisher's Note to the First Editionvii
About the Authorxix
Introduction by Swami Vivekanandaxxvii
Prayer to Ramakrishnaxxix
Prayer to the Guruxxxi
Prayer to the Devoteesxxxvii
Birth of the Great Master3
Mood of Shiva11
Manifestation of Divine Powers and Assuming the Guise of a Guest13
Acceptance of Raghuvira's Garland15
Playing with Hanuman18
In the Meadows20
At school25
Defeat a Padits30
Acceptance of Sweetmeats and Garland offered by Chinu Shankhari32
Master in an Ecstatic Mood thinking of the Goddess Vishalkshi35
Writing the Punthi39
Kalipuja : The Master in Woman's Dress41
Demonstration of Asanas in a Playful Mood45
The Sovereign Hymn to Sri Ramakrishna51
Master's coming to Calcutta54
Establishment of the Temple at Dekshineshwar57
Master at Dekshineshwar and Meeting Rani and Mathur65
Prayer to Holy Mother77
Vision of Mother Kali Out of Devotion81
Tantra Sadhana99
Sadhana According to the Devotees of Rama118
Fun with Haladhari and Mathur's Vision124
Testing by Rani Rasmani 131
Yoga Sadhana133
Maher Sadhana140
Sadhana According and Islam156