Rakhal Chandra Ghosh, was one of the direct disciples of Ramakrishna and the first president of the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission. He was born in Sikra Kulingram near Basirhat, Kolkata. Ramakrishna recognised him as his ‘spiritual son’. He became the first president of the mission. Known as “Raja Maharaj” (chief administrator), he was largely responsible for the initial development of the mission.
College and meeting Vivekananda
After Rakhal had finished the primary education, he was sent to Calcutta in 1875 and admitted into an English High School. In Calcutta he came in contact with Narendra Nath, afterwards known as Vivekananda, who was then leader of the boys of the locality. Narendra, with his dynamic spirit and born leadership, cast his influence over others and carried them along the path he thought right. Rakhal, meek, quiet and soft-natured as he was, easily came under his spell, and there grew a close friendship between the two which culminated in a common discipleship at Dakshineswar and bore far-reaching results.
Rakhal’s indifference to studies and worldly things made his father to get him married. Such, however, was the irony of fate that his marriage itself brought Rakhal in contact with Ramakrishna who at once recognised in him his ‘spiritual Son’ as per the vision vouchsafed to him by the Divine Mother. Rakhal left his wife and only son to embark on his spiritual sojourn. Thus started a course of spiritual intimacy and intensive training under the loving care of the guru, which resulted in several exalted mystic moods and spiritual experiences.
After a few visits Rakhal came to Dakshineswar to live permanently with Sri Ramakrishna. Under the Master’s guidance, he practised intense spiritual disciplines, and attained high levels of spiritual illumination. After the Master’s mahasamadhi in 1886 when the new Monastic brotherhood was formed at Baranagar, Rakhal joined it. He underwent sannyasa ordination and assumed the name Brahmananda.
Two years later he left Baranagar Math and lived an intensely contemplative life at Varanasi, Omkarnath, Vrindaban, Hardwar and other places. During this period he scaled the highest peak of non-dualistic experience and used to remain absorbed in Samadhi for days together. In 1890 he returned to the Math. When Swami Vivekananda, after his return to India in 1897, wanted to give a new turn to monastic life, Swami Brahmananda whole-heartedly supported him. There was deep love between these two monastic brothers. After establishing Belur Math monastery when Swami Vivekananda got Ramakrishna Math registered as a Trust, Swami Brahmananda became its President. He held this post till the end of his life.
During his tenure as President, the Ramakrishna Order underwent great expansion, and several new branch centres were opened in India and abroad. The Ramakrishna Mission, which had been founded by Swami Vivekananda as an Association, was revived and registered during his time. His stress on contemplative life served to counterbalance the activities undertaken by the monks. During those difficult formative years he gave great stability to the Sangha. For his kingly qualities of administration, Swami Vivekananda gave him the appellation ‘Raja’, and since then he was respectfully referred to as ‘Raja Maharaj’ by all. He was one of the six disciples of Sri Ramakrishna whom the Master regarded as ishvarakotis.
He gave up his body, after a brief illness, on 10 April 1922. At the place where his body was cremated in Belur Math, a temple now stands in his memory.