By Swami Harshananda
Svāmi Śivānanda lived in A. D. 1854-1934. Svāmi Śivānanda, the second President of the Rāmakṛṣṇa Order, was popularly known as ‘Mahāpuruṣ Mahārāj.’ He was born probably in 1854 at Bārāsat of West Bengal in a respectable and deeply religious family. Tārak was his original name. He got a good education, both secular and spiritual. When he was working in Calcutta in an English firm, he got an opportunity of seeing Rāmakṛṣṇa about whom he had already heard.
Later, when he met Rāmakṛṣṇa at Dakṣiṇeśvar, the latter was pleasantly surprised to learn that he was the son of Rāmkanāi Ghoṣāl, his old acquaintance. Tārak had the full approval of his father for becoming a disciple of Rāmakṛṣṇa. He was the first person to join the monastery at Barānagore after the demise of the Master. Then he was christened with the name ‘Svāmi Śivānanda’ while receiving the monastic orders. Though Tārak was married, he had successfully kept up the vow of brahmacarya. This made Svāmi Vivekānanda remark in later days that he was a ‘Mahāpuruṣ.’ This name got associated with him and he became known as ‘Mahāpuruṣ Mahārāj.’
Like his brother-disciples, he also spent a few years as an itinerant monk. But he had to settle down at the monastery in 1897 after the triumphant return of Svāmi Vivekānanda from the West. For some time he was in Ceylon also, preaching Vedānta at the behest of Svāmi Vivekānanda. He also took a leading part in the first plague relief work of the Ramakrishna Mission in 1899. He also started the Āśrama at Vārāṇasī.
The most memorable part of his life was during his stewardship of the Ramakrishna Organizations as the President from 1922 to 1934, when he blessed a large number of people with initiation and brought spiritual solace and comfort to thousands of devotees. He passed away on the 20th February 1934 after a protracted illness which never alienated him from his Lord, whose presence he was constantly aware of. He was one of the finest examples of the fact that the beauty and sublimity of the inner life of a holy man can never be described in words but can only be tangibly felt.
- Brahmacarya means celibacy.
- Ceylon is in Sri Lanka.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore