Rajar Hat – Bishnupur, Bengal Presidency, British India
|Died||9 May 1904
Niranjanananda (Senior), born as Nitya Niranjan Ghosh, usually called by the shortened name of Niranjan, was one of the foremost monks of Ramakrishna Mission and was one of the direct monastic disciples of Ramakrishna. Niranjanananda was one of those few disciples, whom Ramakrishna termed as "Nityasiddhas" or "Ishwarakotis" – that is, souls who are ever perfect. [Niranjanananda is termed Senior since there was another swami, Niranjanananda (Junior) also known as Pandalai Maharaj, later in the Ramakrishna Mission who died in 1972]. Even though his tenure with the newly formed Ramakrishna Mission was short lived owing to his early death, he left an indelible mark in spiritual and philanthropic activities. He had a majestic appearance, being tall with broad shoulders and strong physique.
Niranjanananda was born as Nityaniranjan Ghosh and he was called by the short name of Niranjan. Little is known about his early life except that he came from a village called Rajarhat-Bishnupur in 24 Paraganas of Bengal province. He lived in Calcutta with his maternal uncle Kalikrishna Mitra. In his boyhood he became associated with a group of spiritualists and was considered as a successful medium.:126 He was very frank and open minded, a trait which was appreciated by Ramakrishna. He had an abhorrence for married life and a relatively short temper, even though he was tender in nature.:129 He later took up job with an indigo planter in the district of Murshidabad.
Influence of Sri Ramakrishna
Niranjan was about eighteen years old when he met Ramakrishna for the first time. When he came to know of his leanings towards spiritualism, Ramakrishna apparently chided him saying that, "if you think of ghosts and spooks, ghosts and spooks you will become, if you think of God, divine will be your life.":127 He later told Niranjan when he visited him for the second time, "My boy, days are passing, when will you realise God?". Niranjan was very impressed and he continued his association with Ramakrishna. Once when Niranjan was travelling by a boat to Dakshineswar, some of his fellow passengers began to speak ill about his master. At this, Niranjan got angry and threatened to drown the entire boat. When Ramakrishna heard about the incident he disapproved by saying that, "Anger is a deadly sin, why should you be subject, to it? Foolish people in their pitiable ignorance say many things. One should completely ignore them as beneath notice".:130
Ramakrishna also disapproved of Niranjan working in an office, but he consented when he heard that Niranjan took up the job to maintain his aged mother.
When the master was ill and was kept in Shyampukur by his devotees, Niranajn quit his job to work as the gatekeeper of the house. There he was fooled by actress Binodini Dasi who visited an ailing Ramakrishna in the disguise of a European gentleman. Later when Ramakrishna was shifted to Cossipore garden house he continued with his role as a gatekeeper with utmost devotion and prevented at least two lay disciples of Ramakrishna from entering the premises when the master was critically ill, among them Ramachandra Dutta and Atul Ghosh, the brother of Girish Chandra Ghosh.
After the death of Ramakrishna, there was a dispute among his disciples with the ownership of the relics which was mitigated with the help of Narendra (later Vivekananda). Niranjan, together with Shashi Maharaj (later Ramakrishnananda) preserved most of the relics in a separate urn and this they kept in the house of Balaram Bose, which was later removed to Belur Math.
Niranjan took his monsatic vow along with other brother disciples in 1887 and came to stay permanently in the Baranagar Math, the first abode of the monks of the Ramakrishna order. He was given the monastic name of Swami Niranjanananda (Niranjan – the blameless or the guileless one, and ananda – bliss), by Vivekananda. In the monastery he did most of the laborious tasks, being physically stronger. He travelled to Puri and returned in April 1887. He made an altar for the Master in the old monastery house and also planted a Bel Tree on the same spot where Ramakrishna was cremated in Cossipore and created an altar around the tree. He went for a pilgrimage in November 1889 to Deoghar and stayed in Banshi Dutt's garden house living on alms. He went to Prayag (Allahabad), travelled through various parts of India and went to Colombo in Sri Lanka. For sometime he lived there as a preaching missionery teaching the ideals of his Master. In 1895 he returned to the Alambazar monastery before the birthday of Ramakrishna. When Vivekananda returned to India, Niranjanananda went to Colombo to receive him in 1897. He travelled with Swami Vivekananda all over Northern and Southern India. In 1898 he went to Almora and there he initiated Shuddhananda (Sudhir Maharaj). He then went to Varanasi and lived on alms. He inspired a group of youth to follow the path of service and renunciation, who later organised the home of service.
He later went to Kankhal near Haridwar and became ill and came back to Calcutta for treatment. Upon recovery he went back to Varanasi, met Vivekananda there. During Vivekananda's illness he arranged for Ayurvedic treatment and during the latter's last days he was his gatekeeper, preventing people from crowding and disturbing an ailing Vivekananda in his room. After Vivekananda's death he returned to Haridwar. During his last days he suffered from chronic dysentery. He died 9 May 1904.
With Holy Mother
Niranjanananda, like his brother disciples held the Sarada Devi in very high esteem, calling her the holy mother. He took Girish Chandra Ghosh to the holy mother in her native village of Jairambati when the latter was going through a period of depression. Before his death he came to meet her and insisted that she did everything for him, including preparing food for him and feeding him.
Character and legacy
According to Ramakrishna, Niranjan was an ever pure soul and it was easy for him to realise god because he was guileless. According to the memoirs of his associate Achalananda (Kedar Maharaj) and the accounts of other brother disciples, Niranjan was marked for his simplicity, truthfulness, purity, fearlessness, steadiness (in any matter of principle) and renunciation. He once saved Sarada (Trigunatitananda), a brother disciple from drowning. He earnestly took up philanthropic and charitable work at the behest of Vivekananda and later formed the Sevashrama or the Ramakrishna Mission Home of Service at Varanasi, by inspiring a group of young men to renounce the world and take up the service of the poor. Despite in need for fund he refused donation from a rich person when the latter went back on his promise. He nursed many of his brother disciples, including Yogananda whenever they were ill. He believed in Ramakrishna as the infinite god in human form, did not put much stress on rituals, and had tremendous faith in the doctrine of service.
- Swami Niranjanananda, RMIC
- Swami Nrmalananda, a Unique Disciple of Sri Ramakrishna
- The Disciples of Sri Ramakrishna, published by Advaita Ashram, Mayawati, 1943.
- "God Lived with Them", by Chetanananda, published by Advaita Ashrama, 1997, page 243