As It Has Been Growing

(a brief history of the Students’ Home, drafted by the Founder himself – Swami Nirvedananda)

Gathering Strength

Sometime in 1919, Srimat Swami Saradananda said to the tutor, “Don’t you think that the Ashram should now be affiliated to the Ramakrishna Mission?” “As it pleases you,” was the answer. The Swami kept silent for a while and then said, “But there is one thing. Will you be able to stick to it to the last?” “Do you consider it necessary?” was the reply. The Swami said without delay, “Yes, I do so.” The tutor then gave him his word that so long as it would be physically possible for him he would be at the work. Soon after this, in October, 1919, the Ashram was affiliated to the Ramakrishna Mission under the title, the Ramakrishna Mission Students’ Home, and the tutor, the first and only worker, was made its Secretary. At that time the Students’ Home had no Permanent Fund, no landed property and its total balance at the end of the year of its affiliation was only Rs. 3/5/9. Yet it was made a branch of the Ramakrishna Mission. A petty streamlet was thus merged in a mighty river. Who can doubt that something behind the scenes was forcing the pace of the evolving institution? And were not the great minds at the helm of the Ramakrishna Mission acting in perfect unison with the mysterious urge of the Divine Will?

One day towards the beginning of the year 1920, Srimat Swami Brahmananda told the secretary, “Look here, my child, I have something to tell you in the interest of Students’ Home. See that the Home turns out its own workers. This will go to preserve peace and harmony so necessary for the growth of an institution. If you get your workers from outside, conflict of ideas will arise and make a mess of whole thing. Don’t go that way.” The solemn, yet very sweet, words of the Swami fell like a Divine command. And, like the voice of God, these words proved prophetic. For, who could have guessed then that within a few months, one of the inmates would enroll himself as a monastic worker of the Students’ Home, and this inspite of the Secretary’s earnest appeal to him to go back to his house? Who could see then that, after a couple of years, another would step in? Not only this. The Home sent out the first four monastic teachers to work at the foundation of the Ramakrishna Mission Vidyapith at Mihijam under the able direction of Swami Sadbhavananda. One of these workers is now on a preaching mission in Portland, USA, and another in London. And all these took place while the Students’ Home had been in that small house on the Corporation Street. Since then, thirteen more have joined the Order bringing the total to nineteen; of these, seven are posted in the Students’ Home and the rest in other centres of the Ramakrishna Mission. In each of these cases the urge for renouncing the world came always from within, for nobody incited them in any way to take that step. From this it appears that Srimat Swami Bhambhananda’s propfetic words took shape in this way to form a remarkable feature of this institution. And one feels convinced that when Srimat Swami Turiyananda had said, “Sri Ramakrishna himself will look to the spiritual growth of its inmates” he had really meant what he said.

The second worker joined in April, 1920, shortly his B.A. examination. This young man appeared to be more dynamic than the secretary. He felt the urge for building up a big institution. And he was not a mere visionary; he had a correct perspective of things. He saw that the work could not get beyond that humble stage without public support. The coaching class depending on one man’s labour was, after all, a limited and uncertain source of income. On such a flimsy support the Students’ Home could not possibly stand for long, not to speak of expanding. All though, made conscious of this fact by Srimat Swami Sharvananda, the secretary had been able, with the help of Srimat Swami Suddhananda, to secure only three subscribers before the second worker came in. It was given to the latter to work zealously to consolidate and expand the work. He came just in time, like a Godsend, to complement the secretary’s capacity and temperament. But for this event, the secretary would perhaps have gone on drudging in that small house as long as his health permitted. As a matter of fact, before a year had elapsed, his health broke down due to a virulent attack of typhoid fever. Had not the second worker been there who would have looked after the patient and at the same time saved the institution from certain collapse? Indeed. One cannot help feeling that this young man was brought in due time by the mysterious urge of the Diving will that has been evolving this institution.

Since 1920, the 24th of December has come to be a red-letter day in the Student’ Home. For it was on this day of that year that the Students’ Home was consecrated by the Holy presence of Srimat Swami Brambhananda. It was like a visit of the son of God. It is still fresh in one’s memory like a luminous vision of something exceedingly sweet, majestic and inspiring. He came with a retinue of monks and devotes, at about 9 in the morning and left before dusk. During the whole day, the house brimmed with ecstatic joy. Was it under an enchantment? Every heart seemed to be stirred to its depths. The human plane and the Divine were spanned. The abode of eternal Peace and Beatitude was just in the offing! Did not God appear, for the while, to be within one’s easy reach? Yet, it was no hypnotic spell. Divine grace really did descend on the infant institution on that day and it was hallowed. It will ever remain a memorable day in the annals of the Students’ Home.

That small house witnessed some more scenes of spiritual fervour, when on the different occasions, it was visited by four other apostles of Sri Ramakrishna, namely, Srimat Swami Saradananda, Srimat Swami Akhandananda, Srimat Swami Subodhananda and Srimat Swamat Vijnanananda.

Ever since its affiliation in October 1919, the hazy notions about the nature and scope of the institution had been crystallizing into definite ideas. It was Students’ Home, a home, particularly for poor and meritorious college students drawn from all castes of Hindu-Bengal. An earnest endeavour was to be made to see how far home training in a hostel for college students might go to supplement their academic education by all that was necessary for an all-round growth, The Students were to be made culturally self conscious. The Ideas and the Ideals of the ancient Gurukula system were to be coordinated, as far as practicable, with the requirements of modern University life. Secular and spiritual education, Apara-Vidya and Para-Vidya were to go together. A suitable environment was to be made that might help the Students manifest their latent perfection. These ideas came, by way of a legacy from Swami Vivekananda to stimulate efforts for making education essentially man-making.

And these ideas, though imperceptible, had been shaping the institution from the very beginning. Now they became clear and appealed to many among the enlightened public. That small house attracted no less than thirty eminent visitors. All of them appreciated the work, though it had such a humble setting. A few among them had the rare keenness of seeing through externals and giving correct values to potential worth and it was for them to take up the cause in right earnest from the day of their first visit. Their names will shine forever in the history of this Home. The late Srijut Girish Chandra Bose, the founder and principal of Bangabasi college visited the home on the 24th of September, 1920 and said, “I have come almost to the end of my life, achieving almost nothing. It has been practically a wild goose chase. You have got on the right lines, I envy you…I give you a blank cheque. Students sent up from this Home will have no difficulty in getting free studentship in my college.” Such remarks and such a generous offer came from one of the best sons of Bengal, who had the eyes to see, the mind to judge and the heart to feel, and this on his first visit to the Home in its dingy house. And he remained true to his word till the end of his life. May his soul rest in peace! On the 4th November, 1922, Sir Manmathanath Mukherjee paid his first visit and remarked, “I see that one of my long-cherished dreams is going to be fulfilled through this institution.” And on that day the Students’ Home found in him an ardent well-wisher, who was to play a very important role in helping it through its further stages of growth. He was then an advocate of the Calcutta High Court, not yet knighted. Since then he has always been a worthy guide and an unfailing patron of this Home. The late Srijut Kumarkrishna Dutta, Solicitor, visited the Home in July, 1920, and very promptly paid a donation of Rs. 500/-. This combined with the same amount secured from the Peace Celebration Committee through the efforts of the late Sir Devaprasad Sarvadhikary went to form the nucleus of the Permanent Fund. In this way the infant institution began just to toddle.

The institution had been in that small house for a fairly long period, from May, 1917 to March, 1923. Throughout this period, the number of student inmates never rose above nine, of whom seven used to be free. The income from the coaching class began to dwindle since 1921, when the Secretary’s life was jeopardized by an attack of typhoid fever. After 1922 this class, as a source of income, became a thing of the past. Since 1919, however, the Home had started enrolling subscribers. Immediately after the second worker had joined in 1920, the list of subscribers and donors began to swell. Within a couple of years the burden of collecting regular subscription and finding new supporters proved too heavy for one man to shoulder. Relief, however, came almost miraculously just when its need was felt most keenly. This was some time in 1920 when, shortly after his B.A. examination, another worker stepped in. Thus one became three. The strength of workers was tripled. And public support was on the increase. The three subscribers and eight donors of 1919 swelled into one hundred and ninety subscribers and sixty seven donors by 1922.

As It Has Been Growing
As It Has Been Growing: Part - 2 [Home in Embryo]

As It Has Been Growing: Part - 4 [A Step Forward]
As It Has Been Growing: Part - 5 [On the Way to Permanence]
As It Has Been Growing: Part - 6 [In Its Own Premises]
As It Has Been Growing: Part - 7 [Where It Stands]