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Religion 39 (2009) 289298

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Religion
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Kalis child and Krishnas lover: An anatomy of Ramakrishnas Caritas Divinaq


Narasingha P. Sil*
History, Western Oregon University, 345 N. Monmouth Avenue, Monmouth, OR 97361, USA

a b s t r a c t

Keywords: The famous 19th-century Bengali saint Shri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa has almost universally been
Ramakrishna regarded as a Shakta (sometimes confused with Tantrika) devotee of the Mother Goddess Kali. His
Chaitanya association with the Kali temple at Daksineshvar, in the northern suburb of Calcutta, has no doubt been
Vaisnavism
a powerful argument behind his Shakta/Tantrika afliation. This paper argues that Ramakrishna was
essentially a bhakta (devotee) in the Vaisnava tradition and his cultural and family inheritance. His idea
of the divine and his career and logia as a priest and a saint provide ample justication to consider him
essentially a Vaisnava whose spiritual battle-cry was to demand to have dalliance with God.
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Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (birth name Gadadhar Chattopadhyay, 18361886), was a priest of the temple of Bhavatarini or Deliverer of
the World (one of the appellations of the popular Goddess Kali) at Daksineshvar, some ve miles north of Calcutta. He has been hailed
throughout India as a respectable eclectic who preached the oneness and equal validity of all religions d Vedantic, Tantric, Vaisnava,
Buddhist, Christian, Islamic, and Sikh. As he said: I have practiced everything d I accept all paths. I defer to the Shaktas, the Vaisnavas, and
moreover, the Vedantists . and the Brahmos even. (Gupta 1989, IV, 167. Diary of 19 September 1884).1 However, he has acquired
a reputation in the West as an ecstatic Tantrika, a member of the esoteric Shakta sect practicing various erotic rituals with a view to realizing
Shakti, the cosmic feminine principle, of which Kali is the most popular divine exemplar. At the same time, we note that in his public and
even private behavior and lifestyle he strove to be what Shankaracharya (c. 788820) had described as a holy fool, an atmavetta or knower of
atman (Shankara, 1978: 122, 123). Ramakrishna painstakingly projected this image of a holy fool (in the context of his culture) as a para-
mahamsa who was also a khepa or a pagal (madman) to the world (Gupta, 1987, III: 190. Diary of 13 June 1885; IV: 175, 176. Diary of 19
September 1884; V: 55, 56. Diary of 17 June 1883: 113, 114. Diary of 9 March 1884). This image has been reafrmed in the biographies
beginning with Ramchandra Datta (18511899) (Datta [1890] 1950 in Chattopadhyaya, 2003) and ending with Narasingha Sil (1998).
Ramakrishnas reputation as the delirious child of Kali the Divine Mother endeared this mad mystic of Daksineshvar to many of his
contemporaries as well as to millions of Indians even to this day, who respectfully regard him as god d bhagavan.2
This paper argues that Ramakrishnas eclectic spirituality is informed primarily by Bengali Vaisnava traditions, despite the widespread
tendency to associate him primarily with (Tantric) Shakta traditions. Even then he could not be associated easily with any particular

q I borrow the term Kalis Child from Kripal 1998. I thank the anonymous reviewers of Religion for their helpful suggestions for improvement and revision.
* Tel.: 1 503 838 8464.
E-mail address: siln@wou.edu
1
This is the most important source of Ramakrishnas logia.
2
Ramakrishnas popularity was greatly facilitated by his rst posthumous biographical article in two parts in the Bengali journal of the Brahmo Samaj, Dharmatatva (31
August and 6 September 1886). See Bandyopadhyay and Das, 1375 B.E.: 5371. It is not certain exactly when and by whom Gadadhar was called Ramakrishna and para-
mahamsa. Most accounts agree that he was thus called and regarded by his devotees in later years. There are indications that he was named Ramakrishna and also given the
appellation of paramahamsa by his vedantic mentor Totapuri, a naked monk from the Punjab. See Sengupta, 1394 B.E.: 102. Nikhilananda (1984: 10) states that Ramakrishna
was so called by his patron Mathuranath Biswas, and the temple deed of Rasmani dated 18 February 1861 refers to Shriramakrishna Bhattacharya in connection with an
allowance of 1858. This of course proves that neither Totapuri (who visited Daksineshvar in 18631864) nor the bhairavi brahmani (who, as stated by Swami Kalikrishna-
nanda Giri in his Shriramakrishner Shriguru Bhairavi Yogeshvari, visited Ramakrishna in 1859) gave him the name. In fact Barman (1316 B.E.) wrote that Ramakrishna was
Gadadhars original name. According to ShriMs report of 13 February 1886 (not recorded in Gupta, 1987), Gadadhar was addressed by his father Kshudiram as Ram-
akrishnababu [Babu Ramakrishna]. See Prabhananda, 1981: 411. A fuller discussion of this problem may be found in Basu (1981: 131, 134). Probably Ramakrishnas
recognition as a paramahamsa in print is dated 1878, when Keshabchandra Sen published a ten-page booklet of the Masters sayings titled Paramahamser Ukti. See French
(1974: 34). Sureshchandra Dattas collection of Ramakrishnas sermons was titled Paramahamsa Ramakrishner Ukti (1884). See Deb (1394 B.E.).

0048-721X/$ see front matter Published by Elsevier Ltd.


doi:10.1016/j.religion.2008.12.002
290 N.P. Sil / Religion 39 (2009) 289298

Vaisnava sect (see Sil, 2001: 355362).3 Ramakrishnas family and village background, his devotional behavior, and his logia were informed
by Vaisnava bhakti even when it was directed to Goddess Kali or Chinmayi Shrishrijagadamba [Twice-Blessed Mother of the Universe
Consciousness]. In fact his disciple biographer Swami Saradananda [birth name Sharatchandra Chakravarti, 18651927] and subsequent
monastic scholars of the Ramakrishna Order all uniformly regard their Master [Thakur] as the incarnation of Krishna as well as Krishna-
chaitanya (14861533), also known as Shrigauranga [Blessed Fairbody] or Mahaprabhu [Great Master].4 My thesis addresses, inter alia, two
anomalies. At one time the saint assumed the iconographic posture of Kali to indicate himself as the Goddess in human form (Gupta, 1987,
III: 239, 240. Diary of 6 November 1885). More importantly, in his early youth, as a caste-conscious Brahmin, Ramakrishna harbored a benign
contempt for the Vaisnavas of his village, who were mostly low-caste folks. As he confessed later, I . used to think what sort of avatara is
this Chaitanya! He is the creation of the neda-nedis [the shaven-headed erstwhile Buddhist mendicants converted into Vaisnava faith]
(Saradananda, 1398 B.E., II [Gurubhava-Uttarardha]: 131). Nevertheless, it is important to bear in mind that Bengali folk culture essentializes
simple ducia and that Ramakrishna, an untrained and unread temple priest (although initiated into Shakti or Kali mantra by a professional
priest named Kenaram Bhattacharya) cannot be pigeonholed neatly in any one sect formally. In other words, he was basically a lover of god.5
One of Ramakrishnas devotees, Satyacharan Mitra, claimed, albeit without any substantial evidence or argument, that the master was
a consummate Tantrika (ghora tantrika). He, however, concluded his biography by claiming that the Masters lila was the reenactment of
Srichaitanyas four centuries earlier (Mitra, 1308 B.E.: 72, 192). Saradananda informs us that his Master had been visited by a roving bhairavi
named Yogeshvari (. 1860s) shortly after Rani Rasmanis death on February 19, 1861, whom he regarded as a mother gure and who in turn
showered her maternal affection on the young priest. Prior to this meeting between the two, Gadadhar had been behaving crazily and the
bhairavi, referred to as bamni (that is, Brahmani) by him, diagnosed the young priests apparently crazy state as divine madness, which
described Chaitanyas ecstasy (mahabhava), and even before him, that of Shriradha, Lord Krishnas lover (Saradananda, 1398 B.E., I [Sad-
hakabhava]: 189). Reportedly, Yogeshvari decided to cure Gadadhars mad state [unmader avastha], supposed to have been caused by his
spiritual austerity and continence, by inducting him in the ways of tantra.
Of his tantra sadhana with the bhairavi we read about his delight in wearing silk clothes (garader kapad), his practices under the bel tree,
during which he did not discriminate between the basil (tulsi) and horseradish plants, his eating foods left by jackals, riding a stray dog and
feeding it luci [deep-fried atbread of rened wheat our], and washing himself in muddy water collected on the ground. He also told his
devotees how he licked a piece of rotten esh as part of the ritual of purnabhiseka and performed other rituals too numerous to remember
(ibid., 206). He was innocent of the tantric anatomy of the mystical body containing six centers or nerve-plexuses [sadachakra] and once
queried a Tantrika visitor about it, but the complex symbolic meaning of the mystical body made little impression on the Master (Gupta,
1987, V: 103. Diary of 2 January 1884). Once Ramakrishnas favorite householder devotee Adharlal Sen (18551885) asked him about the
meaning of a Sanskrit verse of Tantra, oblivious of the fact that the Master had no clue as to what it was. On listening to Adhars recitation of
the shloka, he remained silent and, on sighting the kirtan [devotional melodies] party from the town of Konnagar, rushed to join the singers
and began dancing to the tune of the kirtan. Sen, who never got to hear the meaning of his recitation, was nevertheless awestruck by the
Masters visage in mahabhava, and started to shiver and weep in sheer devotion, thinking he was beholding the Goddess Kali Herself when
the saint stared at him (Mitra, 1308 B.E.: 132).
However, he clearly recalled how the bhairavi made him witness ritual intercourse, the so-called heroic rite [virachara] marking the
culmination of his tantra sadhana, although he could not perform the rite itself nor drink the ritual alcohol [karanabari]. Yet, on his own
admission, the Master savored the sight of the heroic rite and was entranced (ibid.). This initiation into beholding human lovemaking might
have induced his later vision of cosmic coitus performed eternally by Shiva and Shakti through men, animals, trees, and plants d male and
female (Gupta, 1987, IV: 56. Diary of 2 January 1884). However, Saradananda writes that Ramakrishnas refusal to perform the heroic rite
together with his attitude toward women (including his wedded wife) as mother gures made him equal to Lord Ganesha, as the Master
claimed himself. The swami provides no annotation or scriptural source for Ramakrishnas claim, except that it was explained by the latter
through a tale he told his devotees (Saradananda, 1398 B.E., I [Sadhakabhava]: 206210).6 Saradananda further writes that Ramakrishnas
success in tantric training without following two (maithuna and madya) of the required ve sacraments, the ve Ms or pancha-makara
(madya, matsya, mamsa, mudra, and maithuna) was a mark of his unique spiritual genius and an unmistakable proof that the two rituals in
question were not really indispensable part of tantric practices (ibid.). Ramakrishna in fact told a baul [mystic troubadour] of the Kartabhaja
sect of Ghoshpara village (adjacent to the town of Kalyani in Nadia district of West Bengal), that sadhana is realized only after overpowering
the genital, thus making one a jitendriya, that is, one who has achieved complete control of lust. He further explained that if and when
a mans genital becomes limp, like a leech gone limp following the administration of lime, he is able to live with a woman without
copulating with her d ramanir sange thake na kare raman (Gupta, 1987, IV: 134. Diary of 7 September 1884).
There is a further problem in respect of Ramakrishnas tantric orientation: his idea of Shakti and Brahman was quite problematic. He once
claimed that Brahman alone is real and the world of names and forms is an illusion (Gupta, 1987, I: 61. Diary of 28 October 1882). He even

3
It ought to be noted that the Vaisnavas never constituted a homogeneous community. There were numerous sects, subgroups, and sampradayas or gosthis, who often
engaged in cantankerous contentions and claims. See Sanyal, 1989: chs. 7, 9, and 14. Bengal, traditionally, was a Vaisnava stronghold. Nineteenth-century observers such as
William Ward, Walter Hamilton, and Bholanath Chandra commented on the widespread prevalence of Vaisnava inuence in the region. See Chakrabarty, 1985: 385.
4
This appellation was rst coined by Chaitanyas associate in Nilachal, Svarup Damodar. (Kavikarnapur, 1329 B.E.: 813, cited in Sanyal, 1989: 63.)
5
Here I need to clarify my methodological orientation for this study. Trained in archival research in the administrative history of Tudor England as established by Sir Lewis
Namier, Sir John Neale, and above all, Sir Geoffrey Elton, I had to reorient myself in the theoretical and methodological tradition of scholarship in religion and theology. My
personal grounding in historical criticism thus needed to be purged of historicist determinism and tempered and modied with hermeneutical scholarship and literary
criticism. In other words, I attempted, as far as possible, to understand the sources both historically and hermeneutically. See Wallace, 1988.
6
Ramakrishna related to his intimate [antaranga] associates the Puranic story [Pauranik kahini] of Ganeshas mother-consciousness. According to it, in a sudden t of rage
the child Ganesha once tortured a female feline physically. The injured cat somehow survived the ordeal and escaped. Thereafter Ganesha went to see his mother, the
Goddess Parvati, and was pained to notice marks of wounds on her body. On being asked by her son the causes of her bruises, the Goddess told him that he was the cause of
her injuries, because she is present in all the female creatures [strimurtivishista jivas] of the world. Hence, by thrashing the animal Ganesha had unwittingly wounded his
mother. Hearing this, the guilty child resolved never to marry, as marrying a woman would mean marrying his mother. He thus remained a celibate [brahmachari] realizing
that the entire world is a part of Shiva (progenitor of the worlds pungmurtidhari, that is males) and Shakti [Shivashaktyatmatjagat]. Ramakrishna claimed to share Ganeshas
attitude to women and so never consummated his marriage but worshiped his wife as the World Mother.
N.P. Sil / Religion 39 (2009) 289298 291

complained to his devotee Bhavanath Chattopadhyay (18631896) that his village neighbor Pratapchandra Hazra (c. 18461900) could never
understand the truth that Shakti and Brahman were one and the same thing d undifferentiated (Gupta, 1987, II: 137. Diary of 28 September
1884; see also I: 41. Diary of 27 October 1882). He also told a preacher of the Adi Brahmo Samaj, Acharya Becharam, that saguna Brahman
[Brahman with attributes], nirguna Brahman [Brahman without attributes], and Adyashakti [the Primal Shakti, an appellation of Kali] are one
and the same (Gupta, 1987, V: 37. Diary of 22 April 1883). He also regarded Adyashakti as Mahamaya [Great Illusion, another appellation of
Kali] (Shrishriramakrishnakathamrita, 1397 B.E.: 222). However, he taught Girishchandra Ghosh (18441912) that Mahamaya is actually an
impediment to the realization (or vision) of Tanr [Him], that is, of Brahman.7 Hence She needs to be propitiated (Gupta, 1987 III: 112. Diary
of 14 December 1884). The implication is clear and unmistakable: Shakti and Brahman are different.
In fact there are indications that the Master expressed his disenchantment with, and even deance of, Shakti. Trialokyanath Dev
writes in his Atiter Brahmo Samaj that, when once he requested the paramahamsa to show him Kalis arati, that is, ritual with a lighted
lamp, at Daksineshvar, the Master responded: I no longer look at that bitch, you go alone and see for yourself [ami ai shalir mukh ar
dekhina, tui ekla giya dekhiya ai]. When Trailokya insisted on hearing the cause of his disaffection, Ramakrishna exploded: That bitch has
been giving me a run around without pointing to the right path for a long time. Thats why I no longer look at her face [anek din dhariya
ai shali amake path ghuraiya laiya bedaitechhila. Amake think path dekhaiya dei nai, sei janya ami ar or mukh dekhina] (Dev, 1979: 56, 57).
Evidently, Ramakrishnas disaffection for Kali was meant to endear himself to his Brahmo admirer, as he continued his conversation to
relate his spiritual experience. The Master told Trailokya that one night he was summoned by a voice to come to the bank of the Ganges
and sit there with his eyes closed. When told to open them, he beheld an unprecedented lighted apparition lling his soul [pranman]
with a blissful ray. Trailokya later wrote admiringly of the Brahman vision of this great man who was a realized yogi [yogasiddha
mahapurus] (ibid.: 58).
Ramakrishna was primarily a bhakta d that is, a devotee of the divine par excellence.8 The general refrain of his sermons or counsel was
bhakti and vishvas [devotion and faith]: Quit studies and discourses, stick to bhakti, it is the quintessential stuff [jnancharcha chhado
d bhakti nao d bhaktiyi sar] (Gupta, 1987, III: 120. Diary of 7 March 1885). As he averred: Without a simple childlike faith none can realize
the divine [saral vishvas, balaker vishvas na hale bhagavanke paoa yay na] (Gupta, 1987, II: 137. Diary of 29 September 1884). According to his
characteristic insight, too much knowledge is called ajnana, ignorance. To know only one thing is jnana, knowledge d that is, God alone is
real and exists in all beings. To converse with him is vijnana. To love him in different ways after realizing him is vijnana (Gupta, 1987, IV: 209.
Diary of 5 October 1884). He considered himself a vijnani d one who had frequently conversed with Kali.
Ramakrishna also argued that jnana, mere knowledge of God, is male and bhakti, the quality of a vijnanai, is female. Jnana, being a male,
is obliged to stand and wait in the outer court of Divine Mothers home, whereas bhakti, being female, goes direct to the inner apartments, to
the very presence of the Mother. (Mookerjee, 1976: 21, 22). Maudeline Biardeau has aptly observed that Bhakti appeared as a new reading
of Vedic Revelation and of its most narrow brahmanic interpretation, a reading in which the world of desire came to be rehabilitated in its
relation to salvation (Biardeau, 1989: 90). For Ramakrishna, bhakti became one overarching formula by which he attempted to demonstrate
his moral purity, spiritual excellence (ability to converse with Kali and commune with Krishna), and intellectual strength (Sil, 1998: 164).
A la Chaitanya, who had advised Murari Gupta adhyatmacharcha tabe kara parityag/Gunasamkirtana kara Krishna anurage [give up all
exertions for spiritual realization/sing the glory of love for Krishna] (Lochan Das, 1388 B.E.: 2/2/105) and for whom Vrindavan Das wrote
dhane kule panditye chaitanya nahi pai/Kebal bhaktir bash Chaitanya Gosain [we dont get to know Chaitanya (also implying a pun with
chaitanya or god consciousness) by being attached to riches, caste, or learning/He is to be realized only through devotion] (Vrindavan Das,
1938: 2/10), Ramakrishna clearly postulated that the path of bhakti [bhaktimarga] is good for Kaliyuga because its easy (Gupta, 1987, I: 141.
Diary of 25 June 1884). Ramakrishnas foregrounding of devotion and faith comprehended all sectarian beliefs and practices, most notably
those of the Tantrikas and the Vaisnavas.
Admittedly, there is a world of difference between the lifestyle of a Tantrika and that of a Vaisnava. Ramakrishna was perfectly
aware of the distinction between a Shakta and a Vaisnava. He once reported an encounter between Pandit Vaisnavacharan, the devotee
of Keshava (Krishna), and Mathuranath Biswas (18171871), the worshipper of Bhagavati (Kali), in which the latter was terribly upset
with the pandits preference for Krishna and abused him. The Master understood the cause of his irate employers reaction and
observed: Sejobabu [the third babu, Mathurs designation because of his marriage to Rasmanis third daughter Jagadamba] is a Shakta,
worshipper of Bhagavati (Gupta, 1987, IV: 104. Diary of 3 July 1884).9 Nevertheless, Tantra is symbiotically allied to bhakti and thus to
the religion of devotion, that is, Vaisnavism, it being somewhat confused in the practices of the marginal Vaisnava subsect, the
Kartabhajas (or the Sahajiyas), which provided a paradigm of salvation radically different from the upanisadic ideal of moksa [liberation
or salvation].
The Upanisads emphasized renunciation as the path to moksa at the expense of kama [desire], but bhakti reversed the perspective by
overcoming the antinomy between kama and moksa. This is what Tantra sought to achieve. Conceiving the Absolute (Brahman) as the Purusa
into which all d including its feminine Energy or Shakti d is reabsorbed, Tantra provided the vision of a cosmic couple d Brahman in
a permanent and happy union with Shakti (ibid.: 150). The tantric ideal, then, glories amorous heterosexual love d kama. Ramakrishnas
tantric orientation thus ought to have made him a practitioner of the tantric virachara. But, because of his personal phobic aversion to
heterosexual sex, he would have nothing to do with it and even regarded the ways of Tantra as deled and dirty d the passage of the latrine
[paikhana] (Gupta, 1987, IV: 134. 7 September 1884). But he was relieved to hear from a Tantrika that faith in the gurus teachings is the
hallmark of Tantra sadhana (Gupta, 1987, V: 103. Diary of 2 January 1884). As a matter of fact, as a Tantrika initiate, he felt that the world is full
of Visnu d sarvam Visnumayam jagat (ibid., IV: 175. Diary of 19 September 1884) d something he would rephrase from time to time as Tini

7
It is not surprising that a scholar sincerely but misleadingly believes that Ramakrishna, along with the 18th-century poet Ramprasad Sen (17201781) tried to articulate
Kalis inexpressible mystery when they declared that she and the highest Brahman are one, that she is both immanent and transcendent reality. David Nelson (aka Devadatta
Kali) (2008), The Many Faces of Kali, 7 (webpage).
8
Even a Ramakrishna scholars determined effort to consider the Master as the greatest of the Shaktas of Bengal ends up acknowledging him as a Shakta bhakta (McLean,
1988: 170).
9
In spite of some tantric inuence on the Vaisnavas of Bengal, the Shaktas (a Tantrika by denition is a Shakta) and the Vaisnavas follow distinctly different religious
calendars (shaktamat or the opinion of the Shaktas and vaisnavamat or the opinion of the Vaisnavas) even to this day.
292 N.P. Sil / Religion 39 (2009) 289298

sab hoyechhen sakaleyi Narayan [He (Brahman) has become everything, all are Narayan] (Gupta, 1987, IV: 175. Diary of 1 March 1885).10 On
another occasion he counseled Narendranath to meditate on Ram (Rama or Raghuvira, considered as an incarnation of Visnu, was Ram-
akrishnas family deity) because that Ram is the primeval provenance of everything (Ore, sei Ramyi sakaler mule) (Prabhananda, 1401 B.E.,
2: 66).
This sort of devotional eclecticism was not of course Ramakrishnas innovation; it in fact followed the pre-Chaitanyite tradition of bhakti
[bhaktidharma] d an unconditional and unqualied surrender to a personal god (prapatti). The Rigvedic hymns expressed a profound
feeling of devotion (see Miller, 1993: 135). The great Hindu philosophies of Vedanta, Sankhya, and Yoga emphasized jnana [enlightenment]
as much as devotion (see Hirst, 1993: 117145). The bhakti movement of medieval India centered on Visnu, one of the Hindu trinity (the
other two being Brahma and Maheshvara). The gures of Ram and Krishna, especially the latter as incarnation of Visnu, achieved a central
position in Visnu worship or Vaisnavism. However, the most popular variety of Vaisnavism had nothing to do either with Visnu or with the
Krishna of the Bhagavadgita but Kanu (cowherd Krishna) or Gopala (baby Krishna), famous for his dalliance with the cowgirls [gopi] of the
Braja country (region of Mathura and Vrindavan in northern India). The Gopala-gopi saga was developed in the Harivamsa, the Visnupurana,
and, above all, the Bhagavata Prurana (or Shrimadbhagavata), written probably in the ninth or tenth centuries CE but attributed by tradition
to Vyasa at the outset of the Kaliyuga (c. 3100 BCE) (De, 1961: 6; see also Matchett and Freda, 1993: 95115).
It must, however, be noted that Vaisnavism, too, propagated the efcacy of erotic love for God (Das, 1997: 2338). In particular, the
Chaitanyite Vaisnavism arose from the soil of Bengal, long noted for an interface between Tantric and Vaisnava eroticism that antedated
Chaitanya of the 15th century (see Sanyal, 1989: 2130, 119138). As he taught, of all the paths to the divine, that of erotic love, characterized
by unqualied surrender to God, is the most important. The paradigmatic erotic love is that which was felt by Lord Krishnas cowherd
consort Radha, and it was manifested by the latter sharing in the Lords lila [divine play]. This divine play is eternal and trans-spatial and
remains invisible. It is only by dint of correct methods that a devotee can participate in this hidden lila by transposing oneself into his/her
innermost counterpart, that is, by taking up the counterparts personality (aropa). Yet it must be noted that the Vaisnava eros is more like
agape, the spontaneous divine love of the gopi d kamagandhahin svabhavik gopi prem. As Hitesh Ranjan Sanyal explains, the Vaisnava
sahajiyas clearly distinguish between kama [lust] and prema [love]. Carnal contact between a man and a woman is kama. But the sahajiya
practitioner strives at all times to transcend kama and attain prema. This transcendence or transition is achieved through meditation or
bhavasadhana predicated on devotion to Radha and Krishna (Sanyal, 1989: 122, 123). As the Chaitanyacharitamrita has it: atmendriya priti-
ichchha tare bali kam/Krishnendriya priti-ichchha dhare prem nam [self-centered desires make for lust (kam) but theo (Krishna)-centered
ones constitute love (prem)] (Sen, 2002: 7. My translation. See also Sanyal, 1989: 122125).
The Vaisnava Sahajiyas, Edward Dimock, Jr. writes, are social deviants like their Tantrika counterparts. But while the former aunt the
accepted social values, they continue to live within society. Tantrism does not afrm the basic social order, Dimock reminds us, it rather
provides an alternative to it (Dimock, 1999, Introduction: 108, 105). Shashibhusan Dasgupta (1969: 33, 34) has noted how the esoteric yogic
practices [guhya sadhana] as part of the Brahmanic Hindu subculture came to be allied with the speculation of the esoteric Vaisnavic cult,
known as the Vaisnava Sahajiya movement (Prabhananda, 1398 B.E.: 11). The Vaisnava Sahajiya could live in society when his personal
ideals coincided with those of the society. But he would always harbor his unofcial self, his Sahajiya self, which will remain as not only its
own moral arbiter but which . goes against all normal standards. His personality is thus somewhat schizophrenic (Dimock, 1991: 109).
The Sahajiyas believe in the unity of macrocosm and microcosm and thus in the existence of the Cosmic Principle in the human body,
represented by a male and a female principle in divine dalliance (Sanyal, 1989: 228, 229). Anyone capable of combining both principles in his
own body becomes identical with the Cosmic Principle itself. The method for uniting the two components of the Cosmic Principle consists in
the male practitioners ritual copulation with a parakiya partner, that is, a woman other than ones wife. We know that one of Ramakrishnas
intimate friends and admirers was a Kartabhaja Vaisnava and the acknowledged leader of the Vaisnava community (Saradananda, 1398 B.E.,
II [Gurubhava-Uttarardha]: 7) named Pandit Vaisnavcharan Goswami, who had once taken the young priest of Daksineshvar to a secret
Kartabhaja hangout at Kachhibagan in north Calcutta to make him participate in ritual sex with the Navarasika women. These women were
not whores but came from regular families of the city. However, as we learn, the paramahamsa underwent instant samadhi when an
unsuspecting parakiya sucked his toe. She was embarrassed and duly apologized to the August visitor (Datta 1950, in Chattopadhyaya, 2003:
51, 52).
Ramakrishna, never a doctrinaire or a pedant but a believer in simple ducia, does t the prole of a Sahajiya Vaisnava, even though he
did not always display fully or clearly the Sahajiya psychological traits, such as a sense of illumination, equipoise, spontaneity, freedom, and
harmony, or the Sahajiya attitude to sex (an exception due most probably to his personal antipathy to heterosexual behavior) (see Sil, 1998:
ch. 3 and 3583; see also Neki, 1975: 6, 7; Oddie, 1995). It is noteworthy that Mahendranath Gupta (ShriM) once observed that the para-
mahamsa displayed sahajavasta, that is, the state of sahaja. His understanding of this condition was realization of jnana, prema, vairagya
[gnosis, agape, tristitia]. The Master did not contradict his disciple but referred to the Sahajiyas of Ghoshpara village, who preached that
God is called sahaja and that one cannot recognize sahaja [i.e. God] unless one becomes a sahaja (Gupta, 1987, IV: 122. Diary of 3 August
1884; see also Kennedy, 1925: 210215).
Ramakrishnas sahajiya orientation explains his freewheeling attitude toward piety. His dictum of yata mat tata path (indicating that all
Hindu sectarian paths lead to God),11 together with his insistence on bhakti as the only path to realize the divine, allowed him to endorse the
efcacy of all sects without, however, compromising his personal antipathy to rigorous rituals, especially those involving sexual practices, as
well as to theological and philosophical discourse (jnanamarga). He considered the Tantrika virachara [ritual copulation] or the Vaisnava

10
For a discussion of Ramakrishnas sexuality (or the lack thereof) see Sil, 1991: 4467; Sil, 1998: 6383; Kripal, 1998. Ramakrishna expressed his disgust with both Vaisnava
and Tantric sexual rituals as he was contemptuous of heterosexual activities, if not heterosexuality per se. Amiya P. Sens commendable effort to provide a new interpretation
of Ramakrishnas piety and spirituality as a practical Tantrik (much like his famous disciple Vivekanandas (18631902) reputation as a Practical Vedantist) is marred by his
tendentious arguments supported by select evidence ignoring those that contradict his viewpoint (see Sen, 2001). Jeffrey Kripals recent mystical hermeneutic of Ram-
akrishnas tantric ontology is a marvelous mythopoesis rather than a useful reference for anyone researching the life and teaching of the historical Ramakrishna (see Kripal,
2007: ch. 3).
11
For an astute interpretation of this popular saying of the Master that its underlying eclecticism concerned only the various sectarian paths within the ambit of Hindu faith,
see Mrigananda, 1994. See also Datta, 1995: 5258.
N.P. Sil / Religion 39 (2009) 289298 293

parakiya rati unnecessary and undesirable and knowledge of Vedanta as the knowledge of the householder to be spat and pissed on (Gupta,
1987, IV: 43. Diary of 23 December 1883; Majumdar, 1987: 81). At the same time, he had no qualms about being a priest of the Shakta
Goddess Kali, participating in the Brahmo prayers and preachings or experimenting with Islam and claiming identity with the Christ. Freda
Matchett (1982: 177) concludes judiciously that Ramakrishnas spiritual experience and teaching cannot be identied with any one Hindu
tradition, because they were derived from and shaped by a tradition where much synthesis had already taken place. Another scholar
remarked astutely long ago d and this is of signal importance d that Ramakrishnas eclecticism was informed by his responsive and
childlike mind. In this way, wrote Wendell Thomas (1930: 60),
our saint became in turn a Saivite, Visnuite, and an Advaitin, a follower of yoga, bhakti, and jnana, in short, an epitome of Hindu tradition.
He held all cults to be true, because each one seemed to lend itself to his familiar travel, which as a typical Hindu he regarded as the
highest realization of God. He would harmonize every Hindu cult with his simple logic of emotion because they were already in
fundamental or structural accord.
In this connection it must be understood that Ramakrishnas lack of formal education, even at an elementary level, rendered him
incapable of studying the scriptures of any religion. All his insights, if any, into the various religious practices were culled from what he learnt
during conversations with pandits, practitioners, kathaks, kirtaniyas, and pilgrim mendicants. However, he claimed that he learnt the essence
of the Vedanta direct from the Goddess Kali and from a young sannyasi with a trident, who emerged from his own body (hinting at his
identication with Shiva perhaps). Therefore, the Brahmani, Totapuri, and others . told [him] . what [he] knew already (Saradananda,
1398 B.E., I [Sadhakabhava]: 161). He in fact told his nephew Hridayram Mukhopadhyay (18401899) that he had made the bare-bodied
bloke [nyangta-phyangta] Ishwar Totapuri his guru merely to honor the injunctions and instructions of the Vedas (Barman, 1316 B.E., I: 77).
He, however, confessed:
Though I read nothing myself, . I have heard the Vedas, the Vedanta, the Darshanas, and the Puranas from good and reliable scholars.
Having heard them and understood what they contained, I made a garland of them with a string and hung it round my neck and offered it
at the lotus feet of the Mother, saying Take all your scriptures and Puranas, just give me pure devotion (Saradananda, 1398 B.E., I
[Gurubhava-Purvardha]: 67).
It appears that the wacky priest of Daksineshvar does have a spiritual identity, which is on the whole Vaisnava. The peasant society of
Ramakrishnas native village of Kamarpukur was deeply inuenced by Chaitanyite Vaisnavism (Saradananda, 1398 B.E., II [Gurubhava-
Uttarardha]: 285). This simple Vaisnava piety was easily accessible to the hardworking agrarian laborers, who had little education and who
enjoyed the devotional stories recited by the kathaks or enacted by the yatras that had tremendous entertainment value, as contrasted with
dry sermons or complex and costly rituals. Ramakrishna grew up in this pietistic environment and in a family devoted to the worship of
Raghuvira or Rama. Indeed, most members of the Masters family had ram as part of their rst name: Manikram, Kshudiram, Nidhiram,
Ramkanai, Ramshila, Ramkumar, Rameswar, and Ramlal. Even Ramakrishnas nephew was named Hridayram.12
It was by sheer accident that young Gadadhar became a reluctant priest of Kali at the temple of Rasmani, most probably because of
a hassle-free living, thanks to the loving insistence of Rasmanis son-in-law Mathuranath, who was also the temple manager. As he was born
and brought up in a non-Shakta family, Gadadhar had to be initiated into Kali worship rituals (shaktimantra) by a Shakta pandit named
Kenaram Bhattacharya (Saradananda, I [Sadhakabhava], 102). However, his preferred personal deities appear to be both Kali and Krishna
(like Ram, an incarnation of Visnu). He often sang a few favorite lyrics of the mystic poets and devotees of Kali, Ramprasad Sen (17181775)
and Kamalakanta Bhattacharya (d. 1820) as well as dancing almost every morning and evening chanting Visnu/Krishnas various names Jai
Govinda, Jai Gopal, Keshava Madhava dina dayal. Hare Murare Govinda. Vasu-Daivakinandana Govinda. Hare Narayana Govinda he. Hare Krishna
Vasudeva (Sil, 1998: 232; Mitra, 1339 B.E.: 5). Ramakrishnas Vaisnava consciousness, indeed that of most Bengali Hindus, never separated
Krishna from Kali. In his ecstatic mood on the day of Navami (the ninth day of the full moon phase of the Bengali lunar month of Ashvin,
corresponding to the month of October), marking the third day of the four-day-long Durga Puja celebration at Daksineshvar, Ramakrishna
prayed to the Goddess as Krishna, son of Yashoda, as Radha, the gopi of Braja, and as Parvati, the mountain-daughter [Girija], consort of
Shiva.13 On the same day, he also sang in praise of Shrikrishna and Shrichaitanya (Gupta, 1987, V: 7982. Diary of 10 October 1883).
In one sense, Ramakrishna, like Chaitanyas principal associate Nityananda (1478-c. 1542), was an avadhuta, that is, one who rejoices in
and renounces creature comforts at the same time, by exercising or exhibiting total detachment and a demonstrably uxorious habit (Sanyal,
1989: 152). The Mahanirvanatantram (1333 B.E.: 8) maintains that the avadhutas are the only sannyasis [renunciants] in Kaliyuga. Some
avadhutas are called bhaktavadhutas [devotional avadhutas], who are further subdivided into two groups: parivrajakas [peripatetic ascetics]
and paramahamsas [ascetics possessing the power of discrimination like the mythical hamsas or swans] (Sanyal, 1989: 151). As a para-
mahamsa, Ramakrishna never observed traditional discrimination in food and lived the life of a married householder, spending his time
dancing and singing merrily with his devotees and associates.
Ramakrishnas hagiographers claimed multiple similarities between his birth, childhood and spiritual illumination and those of Shri-
chaitanya. Their enterprise in this regard was no doubt prompted by Ramakrishnas own rethinking about his Chaitanya parampara or
incarnation. As noted earlier, although in his infancy Gadai was worshiped by the women of his village as an embodiment of Krishna and
Chaitanya, he grew up as a caste-conscious young Brahmin who held the Vaisnavas as well as Chaitanya himself in utter contempt. However,
following the diagnosis of his burning sensation by the bhairavi Yogeshvari as Chaitanyas mahabhava [superconscious state], and, later, his
sojourn at Navadvip in 1870, Ramakrishna changed his outlook on the Vaisnavas and their leader Chaitanya. Especially after his vision of two
handsome youths (presumably Chaitanya and Nityananda) descending from the sky and disappearing into him, Ramakrishna, on the basis of
bhairavi Yogeshvaris interpretation and imprimatur, was convinced of his identity with both Vaisnava stalwarts (Saradananda, 1398 B.E., I
[Sadhakabhava]: 162). Jayanandas (b. c.1512) celebrated biography of Chaitanyas earlier years, Chaitanyamangala (c. 15501560), claims
that Chaitanyas aging mother Shachi Devi dreamed that Lord Jagannath (one of the several appellations of Visnu) extended his hand to sit

12
A fuller discussion of this problem may be found in Basu, 1981: 131, 134.
13
For an explanation of Durga Puja calendar, see www.durga-puja.org/durga-puja-timing.html.
294 N.P. Sil / Religion 39 (2009) 289298

on her lap, and when she recounted the dream to her husband, Jagannath Mishra, he was overwhelmed with delight in divine love and told
her clearly that in his home Lord Jagannath himself will be born to her [Shachi thakurani dekhe Shrijagannath/Shachi kole samaila prasariya
hath/Ei svapna dekhe tabe Shachithakurani/Mishra Jagannathe svapna dekhila apani/Svapna shune premanande pulakita haia/Hriday prakash
tare kahila bhangiya./Kon mahapurus asi kaila garbhabas./Amar mandire Jagannather prakash] (Majumdar and Mukhopadhyay, 1971: 16).
After hearing this, Shachi blossomed doubly beautiful [dvigun sundari haila Shachi thakurani] (ibid.). Similarly, we have Gadadhars mother
Chandramani being impregnated by the forceful penetration of a ray of light emanating from the Shiva temple of her village. At the time her
husband Kshudiram Chattopadhyay (17751843) was away at Gaya, where he was told by Lord Raghuvira in a dream that the god wished to
be born in Kshudirams household. Like Shachi, Chandramani, too, looked lovely during her divine pregnancy in her mid-forties (Sar-
adananda, 1398 B.E., I [Purvakatha O Valyajivan]: 68, 70).
Chaitanyas birth name was Vishvambhar (literally, Sustainer of the World, an appellation of Visnu) and his nickname was Nimai (having
the quality of the Neem plant), while Ramakrishnas birth name was Gadadhar (literally, Bearer of Mace, another appellation of Visnu) and
his nickname was Gadai. Both Nemai and Gadai were apples of their neighbors eyes because both were reputedly very pretty (Akshay-
chaitanya, 1401 B.E.: 2). Nemai was reputed to be fair-complexioned and hence was known as Gauranga [Fairbody]. Gadai, too, was
convinced that his body was fair and bright like pure gold (Gambhirananda, 1977: 79, 80).14 Saradananda describes his gurus beauty when
performing arati as part of Kali worship: The beauty and complexion of the Master at that time were so charming that they overowed all
around, as it were. That complexion further brightened in bhava [spiritual mood] d as if a ray emanated from his body. People could not turn
their eyes away when they saw that beauty and stared in wonder. Ramakrishna admitted that in his younger days he looked so authentically
like a beautiful woman that people used to stare at me (Saradananda, 1398 B.E., I [Gurubhava-Purvardha]: 191). Vaikunthanath Sanyal
(18571937) provides a rst-hand description of the Masters physical beauty d of middle height but with long arms, wide ruddy chest and
lips, fair skin, and shapely but sleepy eyes (Sanyal, 1390 B.E.: 54).
Both Gadai and Nimai were pranksters during their boyhood, although the former was never a rowdy boy (Sil, 1998: 35. Emphasis
added) and the latter was a very real boy (De, 1961: 70). The boy Nimai used to tease the village women by hiding their saris, left on the bank
while they were bathing in the pond, or by spraying sand dust on their bodies after they came out of the water, or even importuning some
with his persistent demands to marry him (Akshaychaitanya, 1401 B.E.: 3). Gadai, on the other hand, used to peek at the naked bodies of the
women bathing in Haldarpukur, the large pond of Kamarpukur village. He was even admonished by a female bather for peeking at naked
women, and she also complained to his mother about his behavior. The boy, however, told his mother with disarming candor that he felt no
reaction at the sight of the bare-bodied belles (Saradananda, 1398 B.E., I [Purvakatha O Valyajivan]: 92).
As a student of Pandit Gangadas of Navadvip, Vishvambhar exhibited his mastery of Sanskrit grammar and power of memory and was
even reputed to have defeated a stupendous poet and rhetorician, Digvijayi (literally, world conqueror) Shrimukunda, in a critical discourse
(Dimock, 1999, Adilila, 16: 306308). He was in fact extremely egotistic [atmashlaghi] and cantankerous [kalahaparayan], and his biographer
Vrindavan Das (15071589) describes him as a uniquely arrogant man: teman uddhata ar nahi Navadvipe [no one was so arrogant in
Navadvip] (1938: Adikhanda 8, cited in Sanyal, 1989: 34). Gadadhar, while not as brilliant as his forbear, yet won kudos for his prodigious
memory and his musical and acting talent. He, like Nemai, even scored over formidable scholars in debates on complex issues (Saradananda,
1398 B.E., I [Purvakatha O Valyajivan]: 113; Sen, 1392 B.E.: 21, 22). Both men also experienced madhura bhava (the emotional state of divine
love) during their respective sadhana. Both were aficted with divine madness (Saradananda, 1398 B.E., II [Gurubhava-Uttarardha]: 714;
Sil, 1998: 129160).
Vrindavan Das writes that Chaitanya chose his rst wife Lakshmi: Nija-Lakshmi chiniya hasita Gaurchandra./Lakshmio bandila mane
prabhu padadvanda./Henamate donha chini donha ghare gela [Gaurchandra recognized his Lakshmi and smiled./Lakshmi, too, meditated on
the masters feet./Thus both acquainted themselves and went home] (Shrichaitanyabhagavat, Adikhanda, 7, cited in Chakravarti, 1991: 650).
Gadadhars marriage was also based on choice rather than paternal initiative and arrangement. According to traditional accounts, the ve-
year-old Saradamani (18531920) chose Gadadhar for her husband when the infant girl sighted him in a musical soiree in Sihore, her
parental village. Gadadhar is also reported to have told his mother, who was searching for a suitable bride for her son, that he would marry
only that child who had chosen him as her husband. At the time of marriage (May 1859), Ramakrishna was known to have been aficted by
some sort of mental derangement caused, purportedly, by his kathor tapasya [severe ascetic exercises]. Stories of his eccentric and ecstatic
behaviors at Daksineshvar had reached his home at Kamarpukur. His employers as well as his widowed mother Chandramani hoped that his
mental condition, an outcome of severe continence, would be cured if he got married. Finding a suitable girl from a compatible caste family
for a mentally deranged young man proved problematic, and hence Ramakrishnas mother decided on the only available match (on which
the intended groom himself insisted), even at the cost of paying the girls father a hefty bride price [kanyar maryada] of 300 rupees
(Bhumananda, 1986: 10).
Ramakrishnas androgynous attitude and behavior since his childhood mirrored Chaitanyas habit of cross-dressing and behaving as the
Great Mother or Yashoda, Lord Krishnas mother, or Sriradha, Krishnas devotee and lover. We learn from Vrindavan Das that Mahaprabhu
[the Great Master] once matribhave . sabare dharia/Stanpan karay param snigdha haia/ . /Anande vaisnav sab kare stan pan,/Koti koti janma
yara mahabhagyavan [in a maternal mood suckled everybody with great affection . The Vaisnavas who suck (his) breasts with great
delight are blessed in million births] (Shrishrichaitanyabhagavat, 2, 18, cited in Akshaychaitanya, 1401 B.E.: 27). On the other hand, Chai-
tanyas male identity is pronounced in the Brajabuli texts, where he is depicted as an attractive lady killer urban playboy [nagarika] to
admiring and swooning women (McDaniel, 1989: 169). He is also reported to have cohabited with his dear friend and disciple, the learned
Gadadhara or Gadai Pandit, whom he considered as his divine wife (ibid.: 36). This apparent anomaly could be explained by the supposition
of the hagiographers that Chaitanya is Krishna in fair form (akrishnanga), that is, Chaitanya is the double incarnation of Krishna and Radha
(De, 1961: 424; see also 422447) d a powerful representation of achintya bhedabheda, the theory that postulated simultaneous and
incomprehensible difference and non-difference between human and divine (Dimock, 1966: 43. See also Sanyal, 1989: 165). Toward the end
of his life Chaitanya always experienced Radhabhava: Radhikar bhave prabhur sada abhiman/Sei bhave apanake hai Radhajnan [Prabhu
always experienced the bhava of Radhika, and in that bhava he knew himself as Radha] (Dimock, 1999: 927; Sen, 2002: 220).

14
In actuality, Ramakrishnas complexion, although not very dark, was slightly darker than that of the average Calcuttan (Datta, 1396 B.E.: 29).
N.P. Sil / Religion 39 (2009) 289298 295

Although there is no reference to Ramakrishna actually living with another male devotee or disciple as a married couple (except an
allusion to his teenage love [pranay] for Shriram Mallik, a boy from the neighborhood in his village [Gupta, 1987, III: 184. Diary of 13 June
1885]), Saradananda describes Ramakrishnas penchant for being reborn as a widow devotee and lover of Krishna, as well as showing
himself in public as a well-dressed enticing woman, fanning the deity with a chamara (a hand-held fan made of the tail of a chamri cow,
a yak-like quadruped) during arati in the Kali temple. One of Ramakrishnas contemporaries writes about the Masters maternal love for
some of his boy devotees, especially Rakhalchandra Ghosh (later Swami Brahmananda, 18631922), whom he suckled publicly (Rakhaler ki
sundar svabhav. Khelte khelte doude ese amar kole base mai khay) [What a beautiful childlike nature Rakhal has! While at play, he would
come running to me, sit on my lap, and suck my tits] (Saradananda, 1398 B.E., I [Gurubhava-Purvardha]: 197; Sanyal, 1390 B.E.: 159; Sil, 1998:
3561).
Ramakrishnas habit of touching his disciples with his foot in his bhava or ecstasy or having his feet massaged by them mirrored
Chaitanyas similar behavior: Yakhan khattay uthe prabhu Vishvambhar, charan arpaye sabar upar [Whenever the master got up on the bed
he stepped on everybody] (Shrichaitanyabhagavat, Madhyalila, 16, cited in Chakravarti, 1991: 652). Ramakrishnas behavior was regarded by
his devotees as the Christ-like touch of divine compassion for the sinful humanity, although, as we shall see later, not everybody thought so.
But Ramakrishnas intrepid devotee Girish Ghosh proclaimed that his master touches others for their own good. Sometimes he thinks that
he might be ill by taking others sins upon himself (Gupta, 1987, I: 254. Diary of 27 October 1885).
Ramakrishnas reputation as Chaitanya needed an analogy for Jagai and Madhai, the two wayward winos, whose boisterous behavior was
tamed by Chaitanyas almost Christ-like compassion, admittedly through the intercession of Nityananda (Dimock, 1999, Adilila, 17: 251).
Thus we have the parallel story of the alcoholic and abusive Girish Ghosh (18441912) transformed into an eager and penitent bhakta by the
magic of the Masters magnanimity (Gupta, 1987, V: 143. Diary of 25 February 1885; see also III: 133. Diary of 6 April 1885; II: 227. Diary of 16
April 1886). Girish, a noted socialite and a prominent personality in the world of Calcutta theater, became the most vocal and forceful
proclaimer of the Masters Chaitanya and Christ connections.
Both Chaitanya and Ramakrishna claimed divinity. Toward the end of his life, Ramakrishna announced that he had received an impri-
matur from no other than Sachchidananda [Brahman or Absolute conceived in abstraction of qualities and states: sat, chit, and ananda, that
is, truth, being, and bliss] Himself that he was Shrichaitanya and, to further demonstrate a Kali priests incarnation as a Vaisnava prophet,
added that Sachchidananda also declared that Chaitanya, too, worshiped Shakti [i.e., Kali or the Female Godhead] (Gupta, 1987, III: 121.
Diary of 7 March 1885). His deathbed assertion that He who was Ram and Krishna is now, in this body, Ramakrishna (Gupta, 1987, V: 183,
184. Diary of 7 March 1885)15 echoed Chaitanyas mui Krishna, mui Ram, mui Narayan [I am Krishna, I am Rama, I am Narayana] (Shri-
chaitanyabhagavat, Antya Khanda, 1, cited in Chakravarti, 1991: 652). Once in his childhood, Chaitanya gorged on the ritual food for Gopala
worship three times, and when confronted by the exasperated cook showed him his four-armed form (that is, the iconic image of Lord
Visnu) (Das, 1989: 22, 23). Similarly, as a full-grown adult, he showed Kashi Mishra of Puri, Orissa his four-armed form [Kashimishra padila
asi prabhur charane/ . Prabhu chaturbhuja murti tnare dekhaila] (Dimock, 1999: 483; Sen, 2002: 83).
Both also expressed humble disclaimers in respect of their respective divinity. Lying on his deathbed, Ramakrishna responded to his
visitor Shivanath Shastris (18471919) report on the masters devotees comparing him to god: Just fancy, God Almighty dying of cancer in
the throat. What great fools these fellows must be! (Shastri and Sivanath, 1966: 77). Chaitanya once slapped an overenthusiastic bhatta-
charya pandit, who told how people beheld Lord Krishna in the waters of Kalidaha, and admonished him: You are a pandit, but you have
become a fool because of your foolish talk. Would Krishna give darshana in this Kali age? [Lok kahe Krishna prakat Kalidaher jale/ .
Bhattacharya tabe kahe prabhur charane./Ajna deha yai kari Krishnadarashane/Tabe tahe kahe prabhu chapad mariya/Murkher vakye murkha
haila pandit haia/Krishna kene darashan dibe kalikale/Nijabhrame murkha lok kare kolahale]. When some people told Chaitanya that he was
the incarnation of Krishna in Vrindavan, Prabhu said, Visnu, Visnu! Do not speak so. Do not mistake a low jiva for Krishna [Lok
kahe.Vrindavane haile tumi Krishna avatara . Prabhu kahe Visnu Visnu iha na kahio/Jivadhame Krishnajnan kabhu na kario] (Dimock, 1999:
603; Sen, 2002: 129).
The most inuential spiritual behavior of both Ramakrishna and Chaitanya consisted of song, dance, and trance revealing their
divyonmattata (divine madness). Chaitanya was noted for his samkritana (see Das, 1989: 32) and frenzied dance [uddanda or tandava nritya]
(Sen, 2002: 101), as was Ramakrishna for his ecstatic shivers (mahabhava) and his dancing like a mad elephant [matta matanga] in his
intoxicated mood [matoara bhava] (Gupta, 1987, I: 159. Diary of 19 October 1884; V: 41, 42. Diary of 27 May 1883). It is known that Chai-
tanyas enlightenment commenced sometime between December 1508 and January 1509, after he emerged from the grotto of the Vaishnava
scholar Ishvarpuri at Gaya (in the state of Bihar) as an intoxicated devotee of Krishna; this signaled the beginning of Chaitanyas conversion
from a scholar into an ecstatic devotee (Kennedy, 1981: 18). Likewise, Ramakrishnas Vedanta enlightenment (which he would later
deemphasize), for which he was made famous by Vivekananda (Sil, 1998: 215225), occurred following his enchanted encounter with the
naked ascetic Ishwar Totapuri at Panchavati (the grove in the compound of the Daksineshvar temple) (ibid.: 76). After the Totapuri phase,
Ramakrishnas skill in the highest form of trance, the nirvikalpa samadhi, received wide publicity (ibid.: 139).16 In fact, Saradananda pro-
claimed his master as the unparalleled prince of bhava [bhavarajyer ata bada raja manabsamaje ar kakhanao dekha yay nai] (1398 B.E., I
[Gurubhava-Purvardha]: 90).
Interestingly enough, both Ramakrishna and Chaitanya were quite aware of the pathology of their phenomenal ecstasies. Ramakrishna
confessed candidly that his ecstasy turned him crazy. His touching the devotees with his foot offended his physician and devotee Dr.
Mahendralal Sarkar (18331904), who admonished his ecstatic patient: Its not nice that you place your foot on others bodies in ecstasy. To

15
Saradananda writes that Ramakrishna often made such a claim (1398 B.E., I [Gurubhava-Purvardha]: 132).
16
There is no corroboration, however, of Totapuris actual presence at Daksineshvar. Most probably Totapuri was just one of the many roving holy men who routinely
halted at Daksineshvar on their pilgrimage to Puri (Orissa), the home of Lord Jagannath. As a child Gadai had often been attracted to them (ibid.: 37). The story about Totapuri
comes from Ramakrishna or his nephew Hridayram Mukhopadhyay (18401899). While the latter was an unreliable and garrulous witness, Ramakrishna was, like most
Bengali storytellers, capable of imaginative invention for the sake of making a point [cf. Ramakrishnas story of the legendary ascetic king Janak and the historical Sikh
religious leader Nanak (14691539)] (ibid.: 175).
296 N.P. Sil / Religion 39 (2009) 289298

this Ramakrishna responded: It is due to madness, what can I do? Divine ecstasy makes me mad (Gupta, 1987, I: 254. Diary of 27 October
1885). Chaitanya admitted: Mrigi-vyadhite ami hai achetan [I become unconscious because of epilepsy] (Dimock, 1999: 607; Sen, 2002: 130).
The late David Kinsley rightly observed that Ramakrishna, like Chaitanya, was a great actor and frequently recommended the technique
of raganuga to his disciples (1979: 220).17 By the 17th century, the famous Vaisnava scholar Vishwanath Chakravarti (16561708) enjoined
the male devotees to imitate such divine models as Radha or the gopis [cowgirls] only with the meditative perfected body. Physical
imitation with the sadhakas actual body had to refer not to the divine but to the paradigmatic imitators of the divine model. In other words,
for a Vaisnava it was not necessary to behave like a real Radha or a real gopi (presuming, of course, that they existed in real life!), but to
behave like the Vaisnava masters of the past, such as Chaitanya or Rupa Goswami (14891564), who were the spiritual models. Ramakrishna
did imitate Chaitanya but did not rest there. He actually sought to become a woman in his grand act of mimesis (Haberman, 1988: 94108).
The Master once advised a young visitor: A mans character can change through aropa [imposition or imitation]. Lust can be destroyed by
imitating prakriti. Genuine feminine behavior can thus be acquired. I have seen those men who take female parts in the yatra [open air
theater popular in the villages of Bengal] talk and clean their teeth like women while bathing (Gupta, 1987, IV: 4. Diary of 1 January 1883).
Ramkrishnas contemporary Dr. Shashibhusan Ghosh observed about his master: Judging from his talk we realize that he associated with
several sects like the Kartabhaja, Baul, and others, and appropriated and assimilated the spiritual moods of their adepts (Ghosh, 1960: 166).
Ghoshs point about Ramakrishnas eclecticism is well taken. However, as a Vaisnava, the paramahamsa opted for the most spontaneous path
d the path of sahaja. This path of course deviated from the natural path of the Sahajiya belief, that is, the path of natural heterosexual
delight. But as a Sahajiya Vaisnava, Ramakrishna was enchantingly personal and informal, in fact quite intimate, in his relationship with the
divine. Free from the constraints of ratiocination and intellection, his clarion call as a man of god was not sapere aude [dare to know], but
ludere aude [dare to play]. Apparently Ramakrishnas temple at Daksineshvar was a veritable haven of bliss, ananda niketan, as it were. The
nahavat [tune from a wind pipe called shanai in Bengal] used to play various melodies in the early hours of the morning, in mid-morning, at
noon, in the early afternoon, and in the evening, in short throughout the day. Scores of devotees and itinerant mendicants visited the place
every day (Gupta, 1987, I: 14, 15. Diary of 26 February 1882). Ramakrishna lived in this charming and serene atmosphere in superb comfort
(thanks to the generosity and devotion of the temple proprietress and the temple manager) d singing, dancing, eating good food, and being
ecstatic, to everybodys wonderment. This world is a hunk of fun. I eat (and drink) and make merry d ei samsar majar kuti, ami khai dai ar
maja luti d he loved to repeat this doggerel often (Gupta, 1987, V: 72, 134. Diary of 22 February 1885). In his characteristic crazy way he told
his Brahmo admirer Keshabchandra Sen (18381884): Why should I cry Brahman, Brahman! Ill call on Him in every bhava d shanta
[calm], dasya [service], vatsalya [childlike naivete], sakhya [companionship], and madhura [sweet love] d Ill have fun with God (Gupta,
1987, V: 210. Diary of 1 January 1881]). Ramakrishna confessed that his is the attitude of a child (Gupta, 1987, III: 24. Diary of 24 August
1882; 50. Diary of 9 September 1883) and claimed that even God has a boyish nature (Gupta, 1987, IV: 3. Diary of 1 January 1883). In fact, he
was initiated in Gopalamantra, that is, worship of Gopala (Saradananda, 1398 B.E., I [Sadhakabhava]: 219).
Ironically and tragically enough, the saint who was an innocent and fun-loving bon viveur of sorts died a painful death, aficted with
throat cancer. His scribbling and doodles made a few months before his death (August 16, 1886) invoked the name of Radha d Jai Radhe
pumamohi18 [premamayi] d instead of Kali. Ramakrishna, the child of Kali, died as he was born, a Vaisnava. It is not surprising that Swami
Prabhananda, a distinguished scholar monk of the Ramakrishna Order, called him a novel incarnation of Shrichaitanya d Navagauranga
[Neo-Gauranga] d while providing a graphic account of his matoara bhava (intoxicated mood) and ecstatic dance during Harilila [enacting
Shrichaitanyas devotion for Hari or Vishnu] at Peneti or Panihati (a suburban town some seven miles north of Calcutta) in 1858, and at
Phului-Shyambazar and Beldiha or Belte villages (adjacent to Sihore and close to Ramakrishnas native village of Kamarpukur) in 1875.
Ramakrishnas masterful performance inspired even the conservative and puritanical Vaisnava Goswamis of the region in the spontaneous
outburst of devotional delight (Prabhananda, 1398 B.E.: 7493; Akshaychaitanya, 1393 B.E.: 189194).
Ramakrishna has been famous and popular as the Pagal Thakur, Mad Master of Daksineshvar. His so-called madness has nothing to do
with our clinical concept of mental derangement or lunacy, but is an acceptable and respectable erratic and often funnily crazy behavior
culturally associated with the state of a mystic in direct liaison with the divine (see McDaniel, 1988: chs. 3, 4 and 6). In other words, the
madness of a religious personality is divine madness or divyonmattata. The Bhakti movement has produced numerous saints who appear
crazy from the standpoint of society, but they represent an indifference to or transcendence of the phenomenal world. Ramakrishna
consciously and forcefully imitated the reported ecstatic behavior of Shrichaitanya. He borrowed his ideas of the ve sthayi bhavas
[permanent emotional state or mood] from Chaitanyite Vaisnavism: shanta, dasya, sakhya, vatsalya, and madhura.19 Chaitanya emphasized
Radhas madhura bhava as the lover of Krishna (see De, 1960: 123128. See also Jiva Goswamis [d. 1618] Bhaktisandarbha (Goswami 2005)
and Rupa Goswamis Bhaktirasamritasindhu [Goswami 2003]).20 An expert mimic, Ramakrishna, too, impersonated the Radha of folklore and
in fact frequently recommended the technique of raganuga bhakti to his disciples. Both Ramakrishna and Chaitanya attempted to embrace
the image of Lord Jagannath (a variant of Visnu or Narayana) in the attitude of madhura (Gupta, 1987, IV: 227, 228. Diary of 15 July 1885;
Shrichaitanyabhagavat, Antya khanda, 2, cited in Chakravarti, 1991: 651).
As Chaitanyas beauty, dancing, and ecstasy marked him as special and implied his divinity (Kinsley, 1979: 220), Ramakrishnas reputed
beauty, kirtanas, dances, and trances led to his phenomenal popularity. According to the Master, madness as world weariness is the outcome
of meritorious acts of past life and is the characteristic trait of the nal birth (Gupta, 1987, III: 180. Diary of 13 June 1885). He further
maintained that a man of perfect knowledge and a perfect idiot betray similar characteristics (ibid.: 191). Hence his spiritual battle-cry: Be
mad! Be crazy with love of God!(Gupta, 1987, II: 169. Diary of 11 October 1884). This is caritas divina or what Ramakrishna, following the

17
Raganuga is formed of raga [spontaneous and deep attraction for the desired object] and anuga [following] and thus means a following after passion, in a manner of
passion, the transformative process that leads to a condition of ragatmika [spontaneous and inseparable (atmika) passion]. Dimock, 1999, Madhyalila, 85n: 703. See also De,
1961: 176; Kinsley, 1979: 211; Das, 1997: 25; Haberman, 1988: 9, 10.
18
Swami Purnatmanandas (1401 B.E.: 284) explanation of the sketch and the scribblings done by Ramakrishna on 11 February 1886.
19
For a succinct and scholarly explanation of the Vaisnava concept of rasa or bhava see Mitra et al., 1990: 1420.
20
In fact Krishnadas Kaviraj argues that Chaitanya was a double incarnation of Radha and Krishna. Krishna wished to have a dalliance with Radha by being Radha and so
Chaitanya was the incarnation of Krishna as well as Radha (Radha Krishna ek atma dui deha dhari. Anyonye bilase rasa asvadan kari. Sei dui ek ebe Chaitanyagosain. Rasa
asvadite donhe haila ek thain). (Sen, 2002: 5).
N.P. Sil / Religion 39 (2009) 289298 297

Vaisnavas, labeled parabhakti or premabhakti (Gupta, 1987, II: 45, 46. Diary of 2 June 1883; Nirvedananda, 1390 B.E.: 66). Nearly a century ago,
the Protestant missionary and scholar John Nicol Farquhar (18611929) observed: The character of Ramakrishna was singularly simple. He
seemed to be capable of only a single motive, namely a passion for God that ruled him and lled him (1915: 195, cited in Sen, 2001: 104).
More recently, Kinsley wrote: The lesson of Ramakrishna is that man must approach the divine without guile d openly, in wonder, with the
simple faith of a child; that in mans love affair with the divine he is free to behave . like a child; and nally.that God is like a child, who
needs to be amused in superuous sport and aimless dalliance (1979: 236, 237). Indeed, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, like the mythological
prince Prahlada, the intrepid child devotee and tamer of Lord Visnu as the terrible Narasingha, whom he adored (Gupta, 1987, IV: 28. Diary of
15 December 1883; Ramakrishnananda, 1972: 10), was a puer aeternas d the eternal child d in love with his mother Goddess, the terrifying
Kali, or his lover God, the terric Krishna.

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Dr. N.P. Sil, currently Professor of History at Western Oregon University, USA, has authored, inter alia, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa: A Psychological Prole (Brill, 1991), Ramakrishna
Revisited: A New Biography (UPA, 1998), Swami Vivekananda: A Reassessment (Susqhehanna UP, 1997), and Divine Dowager: The Life and Teachings of Saradamani the Holy Mother
(Susquehanna UP, 2003). His biography of Vivekananda was selected by Choice as an Outstanding Academic Book in Religion in 1997.