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Ramakrishna Math - Mylapore, Chennai

Nestled in the heart of Chennai, amid the bustling urban landscape, lies a serene and spiritually charged sanctuary – the Ramakrishna Math. This sacred institution, deeply rooted in history and devotion, beckons seekers of truth and inner peace to explore its hallowed halls and tranquil surroundings. Join me on a journey through time and spirituality as I uncover the rich history and architectural marvels of the Ramakrishna Math, Chennai.

A Divine Beginning

The Math owes its existence to the profound connection between Swami Vivekananda and his disciples in the city. Swami Vivekananda, after his historic appearance at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago, returned to a grand reception in Chennai in 1897. It was during this period that he stayed at the Ice House, now known as Vivekanandar Illam, for nine days. Overwhelmed by the devotion of his disciples, Vivekananda agreed to their request to establish a permanent center in Chennai. He entrusted this noble task to his brother disciple, Swami Ramakrishnananda.

Swami Ramakrishnanandaarrived in Chennai in March 1897. He initially stayed in a rented house in Triplicane before moving to the Ice House, where the Math's journey began. Swami Ramakrishnananda not only laid the foundation of the Sri Ramakrishna Math in Chennai but also played a pivotal role in spreading the Ramakrishna movement across southern India.

After a decade, the Math relocated to Mylapore in 1906. Sri A. Kondiah Chettiar, a devoted follower, gifted the land for this new beginning. However, due to structural issues, a new building was constructed, and Swami Brahmananda, the first President of the Ramakrishna Order, inaugurated it in 1917. This building, known as the "Old Temple" today, has witnessed the footprints of many spiritual giants, including Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi and direct disciples of Sri Ramakrishna.

The Old Temple

The current Old Temple was inaugurated on April 27, 1917, with Swami Brahmananda laying the foundation stone. The Old Temple initially had a large hall and a few rooms on the ground floor. Later, rooms were added on the first floor. The shrine area underwent modifications in 1938 to provide space for worship and devotees. The terrace was constructed in the Madras Terrace Style, and other architectural features included rectangular black stone flooring, pillars, and arched entrances.

The Prayer Hall in the Old Temple witnessed significant spiritual and cultural events, including pujas, ordinations, and discourses. It served as the main hall for various celebrations and meetings until 1963 when the new universal temple was consecrated on the premises. Today, the Old Temple is used for meditation, classes, and meetings.

The Universal Temple

The Universal Temple of Sri Ramakrishna in Chennai is a testament to Swami Vivekananda's vision of promoting spiritual advancement without any bias towards other faiths. The temple's architectural guidelinesblend various architectural elements and motifs from Hindu, Buddhist, Jain temples, and European churches, reflecting its universal outlook.

The temple's entrance gateway, inspired by the Vijayanagar style, impressively aligns with the temple's central axis, offering a panoramic view of the shrine. The forecourt, reminiscent of Mughal monuments, features a central lawn flanked by pathways and ornate low parapet walls.

The grand central stairway, elevated to enhance the temple's grandeur, leads to the prayer hall, which resembles the shape of Latin cross cathedrals. The prayer hall's design, inspired by Gothic churches and Buddhist Chaitya halls, includes ribbed vaulted roofs, naves, aisles, and columns adorned with portraits of Sri Ramakrishna's disciples. The gable wall surfaces draw inspiration from Mahabalipuram's Bhima Ratha and Gothic churches.

The central Garbha Mandira houses the white marble image of Sri Ramakrishna, framed by columns reminiscent of Jain Temples in Mount Abu. Separate shrines for Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi and Swami Vivekananda open into the prayer hall.

The towering Vimana above the Garbha Mandira, reaching a majestic height of 102 feet, serves as the crowning glory of this temple. This three-tiered vimana is designed based on the Dravidian temple architectural style. 

At the heart of the Vimana, the central tower takes on the role of the Sikhara, traditionally the pinnacle of such structures. Adding intricate detail to this masterpiece, small towers grace the corners of the two receding floors of the Vimana just beneath the central dome. These small towers embody the Karnakoota motifs commonly seen in South Indian temple Vimanas.

Further embellishing the design are the central rectangular miniature towers positioned between the square miniature towers at the four corners of the Vimana's second floor. These rectangular structures, reminiscent of the Chandi mandaps of Bengal, can be likened to the "Bhadrasala" of the Vimanas seen in Tamil Nadu temples. Remarkably, the small towers at the four corners of the Vimana's two tiers are crafted in the form of temples themselves, housing Eka Tala (single-storeyed) Vimanas adorned with Deva Koshtas (niches). Within these niches, one can discover images of  deities, including the Ashtadikpalakas such as Indra, Agni, Yama, Nirti, Varuna, Vayu, Kubera, Isana, and also representations of Vishnu, Dakshinamurthy, Surya, Rajarajeswari, Subrahmanya, and Ganapati. 

To culminate this splendid design, the pinnacle of the central dome of the Vimana is crowned with a stainless steel lantern standing at 5 feet in height, topped by a 3 feet 6 inches high gold-coated copper Kalasa. This intricate and awe-inspiring Vimana is a testament to the craftsmanship and devotion that defines this sacred temple.

Centenary Library

The inception of the library dates back to the centenary celebrations of Sri Ramakrishna in 1936, marking a significant milestone in its history. Today, it stands as a prominent library within the city, boasting an extensive collection of over 45,000 books spanning multiple languages.

Ramakrishnananda Mandapam

As mentioned already, Swami Ramakrishnananda took up residence at the Ice House in Chennai for an extended period spanning nearly a decade. During this time, one of his dedicated students, Sri Kondiah Chettiar, made a generous contribution by donating a parcel of land in Mylapore. Swami Ramakrishnananda, in turn, utilized this land to establish a modest ashram, where he resided for four years, infusing the place with spiritual sanctity. While the original ashram building no longer exists, the land remains an integral part of the present Math premises, preserved as a testament to its historical significance.

In honor of Swami Ramakrishnananda's 150th birthday celebrations, a magnificent Mandapam was erected at the very hallowed location where Swami's quarters and the shrine of Sri Ramakrishna once stood. Adorning the apex of this Mandapam are depictions of three revered Acharyas: Sri Sankara, Sri Ramanuja, and Sri Madhva, alongside the modern-era luminary, Swami Vivekananda. This auspicious Mandapam was formally inaugurated on the 15th of July in the year 2012, under the esteemed presence of Srimat Swami Suhitananda Ji Maharaj, the General Secretary of Ramakrishna Math & Mission.

The Ramakrishna Math in Chennai is not just a place of worship but a spiritual haven that transcends boundaries of faith and tradition. Its rich history, architectural splendor, and the luminous presence of great saints make it a must-visit destination for anyone seeking solace, wisdom, and spiritual growth. As you step into its hallowed precincts, you embark on a journey of self-discovery and divine realization, leaving you profoundly touched by the spirit of unity, love, and enlightenment that dwells within.

Happy travelling.

This post first appeared on Indian Columbus, please read the originial post: here

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Ramakrishna Math - Mylapore, Chennai


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