Memories & memorabilia: Swami Vivekananda at his disciple’s house in Shibpur

Vivekananda established the Ramakrishna Mission on 1 May 1897, at the house of Balaram Bose in Bagbazar with a few of his followers

Memories & memorabilia: Swami Vivekananda at his disciple’s house in Shibpur

In 1897, while returning home after winning the hearts of the people in the United States of America and many other western countries with his intellectual modern philosophy of Vedanta and Hinduism, Swami Vivekananda was determined to serve his country through an organised institution dedicated to social work and nation-building. The idea of establishing his dream project, the Ramakrishna Mission, was already in his mind, and he was nurturing many ideas to execute the project after landing in Madras from Colombo in February 1897.

Vivekananda knew that his achievement in the West had caused sensational mayhem in the country, but at the same time, it had added many critics to his life, from Sir Gurudas Banerjee, noted Judge of Calcutta High Court, to certain nationalistic newspapers in which he was frequently mentioned as a “meat-eating Swami”.

Vivekananda had confidence in several key individuals in Calcutta and across India, whom he had known prior to departing in 1893, and whose steadfast support he believed would be crucial in realising his project. In Calcutta, he had Balaram Bose and Pashupati Bose.


Vivekananda established the Ramakrishna Mission on 1 May 1897, at the house of Balaram Bose in Bagbazar with a few of his followers, and at the beginning, the organisation hardly had any useful resources, including a permanent address.

The address was finally derived on 3 February 1898, when a piece of land in Belur, a village in Howrah on the other bank of Hooghly, was purchased from one Bhagat Narayan Singh of Patna to build an abode for a monastery. The land was once owned by the royal family of Nepal.

Until that time, RKM had no permanent address to work as an organisation. Vivekananda and his brother disciples used three addresses as their place of work. Two of those were Baranagar Math and the house of Balaram Bose at Benghbazar. The third one was the house of Nabagopal Ghosh at Shibpur in Howrah.

Nabagopal Ghosh, an employee of a commercial house named Henderson Company with a monthly salary of Rs 300, was a household devotee of Sri Ramakrishna for many years. Such was his devotion to Sri Ramakrishna that he left his ancestral home at Calcutta’s Brindavan Mallick Lane in Badurbagan and moved to Ramakrishnapur, then a small village on the other bank of the river, in 1890. There, he built his own house and started getting involved with the RKM’s activities as soon as Vivekananda returned to India in 1897.

His devotion made Vivekananda move, and after getting land for the RKM on 3 February 1898, a much relieved Vivekananda decided to pay a visit to his house with the holy purpose of consecration of an in-house shrine at the residence of Nabagopal Ghosh. It is important to note that one son of Nabagopal by then had already joined the team of Vivekananda and taken the new name Swami Ambikananda. It is reasonable to think that Swami Ambikananda played a vital role in convincing Vivekananda to pay a visit to his house for this purpose.

Vivekananda, humbled by Nabagopal Ghosh for his many contributions to his mission, not only agreed to come to his house but also carried some special gifts for him.

On 6 February 1898, Vivekananda arrived at Chintamani Ghat in Ramakrishnapur village with nearly 15 brother-disciples. He was accompanied by Subodhananda, Premananda, Bramhananda, Turiananda and a few more monks.

They all came from Baranagar Math in three boats. Landing upon the ghat, a barefoot Vivekananda with his signature Rajasthani silk turban took a khol, an instrument used in devotional music, around his neck and started singing a song written by legendary Girish Chandra Ghosh. His party and the local people joined him in chorus as they slowly moved to 81 Ramakrishnapur Lane, the iconic house of Nabagopal Ghosh. It was the day of Maghi Purnima, one of the most sacred days in the Hindu calendar.

Arriving at the gate of the house, Vivekananda was given a warm welcome by Nabagopal and his wife, Nistarini Devi. Taking the staircase, Vivekananda climbed up to the terrace of the house, where a new shrine was built.

The marble-floored temple was built with simplicity, keeping a stone lotus at the edge of one wall with a marble arch supported by two pillars engraved on the wall. The marble stone lotus with three layers of blooming petals was placed on a stepped foundation, and near that one on the floor, a small floral design with three colourful stones was done.

“Vivekananda sat exactly here at the time of the sacred consecration of this shrine and was engrossed in deep meditation,” says Subrata Ghosh, former professor of Presidency College and also the great-grandson of Nabagopal Ghosh.

Vivekananda surprised everyone when he placed a small urn full of ashes collected from the funeral pyre of Ramakrishna, named “atmaramer kouto” under the stone lotus and also by placing a porcelain mural of Ramakrishna’s image framed in silver on top of it. After a few years, Vivekananda’s own mortal remains, in the form of ashes, would find a place here with his master.

It was brought from Berlin, Germany, by Vivekananda himself while returning to India from the US, adds Subrata Ghosh. According to him, Vivekananda brought only three pieces of this unique porcelain image from abroad. While one is gifted to the Ghosh family of Shibpur, the second is in Belur Math and the third is probably now in Dhaka RKM.

Ghosh is proud that this is perhaps one of the very few cases in the life of Vivekananda where he came to the consecration ceremony of a family shrine and gave a gift like this. Today, that small porcelain image of Ramakrishna is regularly worshipped in the temple.

On that day, another groundbreaking incident took place inside this shrine in the presence of Vivekananda. While he was on the puja, Swami Prakashananda, one of his close disciples, requested that he create a prayer sermon for the RK Mission. Vivekananda, who had an excellent command over Sanskrit, delivered a two-line sermon promptly from his memory. It is now the official sermon of all RK Mission institutions across the globe. Family members of Ghosh are proud to think that a global prayer statement was born in their house and was created by none other than Swami Vivekananda.

After the consecration ceremony was over, Vivekananda rested at this house for a couple of hours, and during that time, he tried his hands on a piano made in Hamburg, Germany, kept in one of the rooms of the house. A trained musician, Vivekananda, played it with ease, although he did not sing any song as assumed by the scholar.

At the time of returning from the house, Nistarini Devi, wife of Nabagopal Ghosh, politely asked for a gift from Vivekananda. At that moment, Vivekananda, moved by the hospitality of the Ghosh family, took his silk turban off his head and gifted it to Nistarini Devi. This is perhaps another unique event in the life of Swami Vivekananda.

Both the turban and the piano played by Vivekananda are kept in this house as treasured gems. These are shown to the common people only on the day of Maghi Purnima, when the house is opened to all visitors.

The wooden railing of the stair that Vivekananda climbed and the interior of the shrine are kept intact even after 126 years.

It is very unfortunate that no photograph was taken on that day to freeze the great event forever, though photography was very much a common practice in India during that time. However, how Vivekananda looked during that time can only be understood by an iconic photograph taken in Madras just a few months before this event. No doubt, it was a big miss to capture a piece of our heritage.

“It is not only Swami Vivekananda who came to our house,” exclaims Ghosh. Even Ma Sarada came to this shrine in 1908 and again in 1909. One of her visit dates was 30 August 1909.

The red-coloured house, now a landmark of the locality, contains two marble plaques at its entrance. One briefly describes the glory of 6 February 1898, when Vivekananda visited the house, while the other one contains that legendary prayer sermon created by Vivekananda himself at his place on the same day.

Subrata Ghosh did not forget to mention that the internet is loaded with many baseless surmises and “man-made legends“ about this house. Most of those are not supported by history.

So someone who wants to know the heritage of this house must be a little careful, he signs off.

The writer is a freelance contributor