South Africa’s Ramakrishna Centre is set to play a lead role in the upcoming Narendra Modi visit to connect with the Indian community.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) cell that usually organises Modi’s engagements with the diaspora on overseas trips is working with the Ramakrishna Centre and two other spiritual missions in South Africa in the absence of its own unit and a community of RSS-BJP sympathisers there.
The Divine Life Society, inspired by Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh, and the Chinmaya Mission are the BJP’s other conduits to reach out to people of Indian descent and NRIs in South Africa.
History of Ramakrishna Centre’s beginnings
The Ramakrishna Centre, a branch of the Belur Math Mission, traces its origins to 1934, when a monk, Swami Adyananda, stayed in South Africa for a few months at the invitation of the local community.
However, the centre was established and strengthened in 1942 by a local resident, Dhanagopal Naidoo, who was inspired by Swami Vivekananda and later became Swami Nischalananda. The centre is now headed by Swami Sumanasananda, who was earlier based in Meghalaya.
Unlike the Ramakrishna Centre, the Divine Life Society and the Chinmaya Mission focus their educational and welfare programmes to integrate the local African communities.
Narendra Modi & His Ramakrishna Background
A year ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on made an emotional visit to the Ramakrishna Math and Mission headquarters at Belur Math which had turned down his request to join the monastic order thrice in the past.
The Prime Minister sat near the slippers of Swami Vivekananda to meditate in the 19th century philosopher-saint’s room at the math for around 15 minutes. He looked visibly emotional after reaching the room where Vivekananda’s relics are kept.
Modi also stood amongst monks of the monastic order and got himself photographed with them amidst chanting of Vedic ‘shanti mantras’.
Before leaving the math where he was there for about an hour, he offered prayers at the temple of
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He was gifted ‘dhoti’ and shawl by the authorities who also gave him ‘prasad’ made of ‘Payesh’ (Bengali sweet dish) and fruits. The monks gave the Prime Minister memorabilia related to Belur Math and books like Bible, Gospels of Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda.
He thanked the authorities for inviting him to visit the monastery premises. As a young boy, Modi was deeply influenced by the ideals of Swami Vivekananda and had decided to join the order as a monk. It was during this time that he had first visited Belurmath.
“But our then president had advised him to concentrate more on his education. He was also below the minimum age required to join the Order,” said Swami Subirananda, assistant secretary of the Math.
Later Modi went to the RKM centre in Almora, where his request was turned down again, he said. “Modi then went to the Himalayas for two years and after that he came back to his village and subsequently started visiting our Rajkot centre where he got the holy company of Swami Atmasthanand, now RKM president. Modi used to get spiritual instructions from him,” the monk said.
After Modi expressed his desire once again to be a monk, he was discouraged by the Swami and told that his calling lay elsewhere.
“When Modi visited Belur Math in 2013 when he was the Gujarat Chief Minister, he told the Swami, ‘Aapne mujhe bhaga diya tha us samay isiliye main aaj mukhyamantri hu’ (You had told me to go away that time and that is why I am the chief minister now),” the monks recall.