Ramakrishna Mission Ashrama, Salem
100 years! Yes, 100 years is a landmark in the life of any individual, institution or business outfit. To cross this landmark of one hundred years by a religious institution run by monastics and lay people is, no doubt, a miracle as most of us may either leave out of the world or of our ideals as the years march on. Yes! It needs extraordinary dedication, devotion and useful Nishkama Karma of swamis as well as those volunteers who stood by them in service the Lord. When this Ramakrishna Mission Ashrama celebrated its centenary in 2019, it felt that it was a landmark in its history and essentially felt like expressing its gratitude to the Divine Will and satisfaction that the Ashrama has fulfilled the purpose for which it was founded.
Well! Who founded this Salem Ashrama? It was the Divine Mother’s plan that one Swami by name Tulasi Maharaj met the few young men like Namagiri Iyer, Dr. Narayana Iyer and Prof Yegnanarayanan while on his way from Bangalore to Kerala where he was the President of Ramakrishna Ashrama at Basavanagudi. Divine Mother had deputed this Swami Nirmalananda Maharaj to carefully hold in his holy palms, the zeal and glow of the young men thus inspiring them to commence their seva to Sri Ramakrishna. One of them Dr Narayana Iyer had seen Swami Vivekananda at Madras, on his triumphant return from West, while Sri Namagiri Iyer had the burning desire to serve the Lord in umpteen ways. They were motivated by Sri Rajaji, the then Chairman of Salem District Board.
Swami Nirmalanandaji brought a few others into the fold of these young men and then begins the story of Salem Ashrama. Is it story or history? As it brings in the life stories of many yearning souls, who joined the band and the unfoldment of the sincerity and devotion of hundreds of others who came in later, we can call this an interesting story of how the Ashrama came into being and shining its glory even after 100 long years!
Phases of Ashrama down the years
Abiding by the natural biological phenomenon of growth curve, we can tell the story of our Ashrama in three phases: 1) Initial Phase 2) Growth Phase and 3) Developmental Phase. These phases are spread along the 100 years of the Ashrama as per the following moulds. 1919 to 1945 forms the initial phase of the infant Ashrama and it came of age during the years 1945 - 1995 denoting the growth phase, while the next phase of development stretched from 1995 to till date.
Initial Phase of Ashrama (1919 - 1945): The Story begins…
Inspired by the holy Sage, the first festival of the newly christened Sri Ramakrishna Samajam went off on 2nd February 1919 as Swami Vivekananda Jayanti at the very site where the Ashrama stands gloriously today. This was followed by 85th Jayanti of Bhagavan Sri Ramakrishna and 58th Jayanti of Swami Vivekananda on 14th Mar 1920, in which 6000 poor Narayanas were fed. Later the land purchased in 1917 by Sri Namagiri Iyer was solemnized by Swami Nirmalanandaji with bhoomi puja for Ashrama on 13th June 1919. This new centre was absorbed as a sub centre of Bangalore Ashrama till it got its own building in1928.Sri N.S Lakshminarasimha Chettiar of Shevapet gifted 22 cents of lands adjacent to this site. The Ashrama building constructed at this site was dedicated to Sri Ramakrishna by Tulasi Maharaj as Ramakrishna Ashrama, Salem on 14th November 1928. Way back in 1917, when Namagiri Iyer purchased this land, his guiding force, Sri Rajaji the then Chairman of Salem Municipality named the road as Ramakrishna Road and the park in front of it as Ramakrishna Park. The Vilva sapling sent by Swami Nirmalanandaji through Br. Neelakandan , (later Swami Purushotamananda, Vashista Guha, Hrishikesh) even now stands as testimony to growth of the Ashrama.
On this holy day of inauguration eminent monks of the holy Order, Swamis Yatiswarananda, Sambhavananda and Chidbhavananda came for the prathista. Speeches by Swami Yatiswarananda and a brief report of origin of Ashrama by B V Narasimha Iyer as well as feeding of 2000 poor people marks the occasion.
This phase begins in God’s grace through devoted followersof Dharma, Truth, the Lord’s own men- the sages, and by their endeavours, prayer and personal touch, that was valid for all the three phases of Ashrama’s growth. Swami Nirmalananda sent his disciple Swami Srikantananda, to take charge of the Ashrama in 1928.
The first building of the Ashrama took 9 years for its construction and it was completed in the year 1928. This has 4 rooms and a prayer hall of 46’ x 32’. This was possible with the collection from Public. Kitchen was constructed by Sri Vijayaraghava Chetty. “Sri Ramakrishna Seva Mandir” - a service Committee with affiliation to Ashrama, started the Free Ayurveda Hospital at Kanakkar Street in 1933. Later it moved to Veeralakshmi Hall a Cherry Road in 1939 and then in 1948 to its own building near the Ashrama.
The first monastic member of Ashrama was Swami Vishwambharananda, who started the night Patasala/ Harijan Patasala in 1935. It moved to its own building at Pudur in 1942. Weekly religious classes were conducted at Ashrama, Gugai and feeding of milk to 200 children and food to the poor weaving labourers at Gugai were the other activities. During Sri Ramakrishna Centenary in 1936 Swami Vishwambharananda visited 84 villages and spread the teachings of Sri Ramakrishna through pictures.
1943 - Tulasi Manidr was constructed from the donation of Rs.8000/- by Tulasidas Chettiar in memory of his mother Thimmakka Ammal.
In 1944 Dr. K V Nair treated 33,000 patients at our Dispensary and Salem Municipality offered a land, very near our Ashrama for our Dispensary in 1945. Smt. Seethalakshmi Ammal’s women group collected Sri Sarada Devi Fund as kind donation and medicines for Rs.7500/- came from Rangaraju Naidu.
Sri Namagiri Iyer’s Tamil booklet “Life of Sri Ramakrishna was published in 1919 while P. Natesa Pandaram’s book of Life sketch of Sri Ramakrishna was distributed to all schools in 1936. Swami Srikantananda was succeeded by Swami Desikananda during this initial phase.
II) Growth Phase of Salem Ashrama 1945 - 1995.
The second phase of 50 years marks the growth phase of Ashrama. Whatever infrastructure needed for the extension of full-fledged Seva in worship, healthcare and community welfare got fulfilled in this most important phase. The silver lining in the story of our Salem Ashrama was the construction of new temple and the Charitable Dispensary in second stage.
In 1948 our Charitable Dispensary moved from Veeralakshmi Hall in Cherry Road to our Ramakrishna Road and very near to our Ashrama. Benevolence of Sri Ramasamy Mudaliar in its construction is praiseworthy. The new dispensary building was inaugurated by Paramapujaniya Madhavanandajii Maharaj, the then General Secretary. District Administration allotted 4880 sq. ft. of land next to our new dispensary building.
‘Vivekananda Hall’ was a gift of Seethalakshami Ammal and S V Ramasamy and it was addition to the original Ashrama building. A Mandapa for Sri Krishna image was the gift from Soundammal, mother of Seethalakshmi Ammal .
1953 - Holy Mother Birth Centenary was celebrated for 3 days with Swami Yatiswarananda as President. He also declared open an Emergency Ward at the Dispensary on 6th December 1953.
In the year 1955 the then Governor of Madras Sri Sri Prakasa visited. Visit of Babu Jagajivanram, Central Minister in 1959 and Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, Vice President of India and eminent writer K V Jagannathan in 1960 spoke on Holy Mother. Grand Celebration of Swami Vivekananda Birth Centenary in 1963 was marked by meetings and Harikatha in which concluding function was graced by Chief Minister of Madras Sri M. Bakthavatsalam, Prof. TMP Mahadevan, Anna Subramaniam. Sri D. S.Raju, Central Minister Health and Smt. Jothi Venkatachalam, State Minister for Health, Madras, inaugurated the new Operation Theatre in our Dispensary.
Landmark event of this decade was the construction of our New Shrine, Prayer Hall etc. The donor who contributed the Vivekananda Hall then in 1950, on the suggestion of Swami Samprajnananda, herself demolished it and offered a new hall and shrine in the year 1968 at the cost of Rs.1,25,000/-. This philanthropist Smt. Seethalakshmi Ammal wife of Sri S V Ramasamy was source of strength of Ashrama since 1944. It is a divine grace that later years she became a monastic adorned with the name Yatiswari Saradapriya Amba. More contributions came from the people of Salem for the construction of Temple.
It was in 1968, forty years after the first Ashrama building was solemnized, the time came for a newly renovated expanded Ashrama Shrine and Vivekananda Hall to get consecration done. Blessed indeed that Paramapujaniya Srimat Swami Vireshwarananda, the 10th Sangha Guru performed the Consecration on 29th November 1968. The renovated Vivekananda Hall was declared open on 30th November 1968. It was attended over by 60 monastic members from all over India. Scriptural discussions by eminent religious speakers like Sengalipuram Anantharama Deekshithar, Sri T. S. Balakrishna Sastrigal, Smt. Sivananda Vijayalakshmi gave thousands of devotees a rare feast. The consecration was attended by 12000 devotees and public.
This decade was marked by the holy visits of Swami Vireshwaranandaji (1966, 1968 and 1978) Swami Gambhiranandaji Maharaj in 1967, 1970 and Swami Ranganathanandaji Maharaj in 1967. On 15th March 1969, Sringeri Sannidanam Abhinava Vidhyatheertha Maha Swamigal gave anugragha Bhashanam to all the devotees at the Ashrama. Pravrajika Muktiprana Mataji, General Secretary of Sri Sarada Math and Ramakrishna Sarada Mission, Dakshineswar visited our Ashrama on 28th January 1969 and gave a talk on Sri Sarada Devi and Sister Nivedita.
The final part of the Growth Phase of the Ashrama went on during 1975 -1995.
During 1980 an annexe to the Tulasi Mandir measuring 1000 sq. ft. our Bookstall functions now, was constructed at the cost of Rs. 85,000/-. The paintings of Holy Trio by the noted artist Sri Purushotham Karant of Mangalore were installed in the temple prayer hall.
Another landmark event was the construction of ‘Sri Sarada Hall’ and this was declared open on 13-10-1985, by Paramapujaniya Srimat Swami Tapasyanandaji Maharaj, the then Vice President of our Order. A multipurpose hall at the rear of the Ashrama was constructed and it was inaugurated by Srimat Swami Tapasyanandaji Maharaj on 19th April 1987. This period marks the speciality of the holy messages by organizing Seminars, on Ramakrishna Movement (1984) devotees’ convention on Swami Vivekananda’s 125th Jayanthi (1987), Guest Lectures as well as Parliament of Religions (1992). The distinguished monks who graced these functions are very eminent monks such as Paramapujaniya Swamis Smarananandaji and Gautamanandaji, Sri T. S. Avinasilingam and Dr. Aram.
The letters of Swami Desikananda secretary (1944 - 1966) were compiled by a beautiful book by name ‘Atmavidya’. This 50-year growth period was marked by the following torch bears who led the Ashrama to a monumental growth. They are Swami Desikananda, Swami Samprajnananda, Swami Vijnananda, Swami Raghaveshananda and Swami Somananda. In this period Mantra Diksha to spiritual aspirants was blessed by Swamis Yatiswarananda, Vireswarananda, Tapasyananda, Bhuteshananda and Gahanananda.
III ) The Third Phase in the story of Ashrama:
is of development, expansion and reaching on to different strata of the society and this served to do its might in fulfilling the dream of that great visionary Swami Vivekananda. This extends to the current 25 years’ study from 1995.
It was divine will that led Swami Somananda, Secretary of the Ashrama then in 1996 to one of its till then uncared and unknown property. It was almost a discovery to Pudur property which lay in the interior of a by lane. Yes! Through the efforts of E.S Rathinam the service activity that began 60 years before revived our so called Night Patasala/ Harijan Patasala, and ‘Tuition Centre’ was its new name, thus providing children from poor, ignored strata of the society a new heaven for learning and improving their study, skills and culture! A new building was built by Swami Sukhatmananda the next Secretary and was inaugurated by Srimat Swami Gautamanandaji Maharaj, President Sri Ramakrishna Math Chennai in 2001. The children had the coaching at the Centre, came to the Ashrama for seva and food and thus began their transformation and evolution into noble children/adult of the society.
It got a pep and new energy when Swami Kamalanandaji, the next secretary, met Smt. Sudha Murthy, Chairperson of INFOSYS at Bangalore while accompanying another Swami for an entirely different purpose. She voluntarily gave 20 lakhs for 3 years for feeding them daily, as well as gifted 11 computers for setting up a Computer Centre at this Tuition Centre. Later, her grant of a Corpus of one crore to provide food for the years to come is a great act of benevolence. As on date this Centre gives holistic development, growth and care to 140 boys and girls who are guided by 8 staff and 2 volunteers.
Since 1972, the Balaka Sangha (age 7 -12) attracted young students to its Sunday Classes and it is noteworthy to state that many of them are now our present volunteers. They are trained in spiritual study, music, bhajans etc., by the Swamis and others. Swami Rajeshananda was the pioneer since 1972 and guided the young minds to noble citizen for 17 years. Swami Kapalishananda continued this task of moulding the children through rigorous training.
The Dispensary renovated at Rs.40 lakhs was inaugurated by Swami Sureshanandaji in May 2007. Ashrama commenced Mobile Medical Camps in 2008 it goes on till date. Mega Eye camp at Cluny School on 9-12-2018. 198 multi Speciality Mobile Medical Camps and 71 free eye camps have treated around two lakh patients while the Charitable Dispensary has to its credit treatment of around five lakh patients in the last 11 years.
The Charitable Dispensary became hi-tech with new equipments for digital X-ray, ENT endoscope, ultrasound scan, dental, opthalmic. Bio-chemical, cardiac examination and care, thanks to benevolence of noble minded donors and institutions. The Dispensary incorporates highly computerized integrated Hospital Management System on 26th February 2017.
Celebrations of Sri Ramakrishna 175th Birth Anniversary in 2011, a prolonged four year celebrations of Swamiji’s 150th Birth Anniversary (2010 - 2014), Sister Nivedita’s 125th Birth Anniversary (2017-18) as well as 125th Anniversary of Swamiji’s Chicago Address went on in a massive grandeur and took the message of the Mission to the public and people at large, not only in Salem city but in the entire district as well.
Decorated procession of Sri Ramakrishna (2011), Holy Mother 150th Jayanthi Ratha Utsav organized by our Chennai Math in 2003 and Swami Vivekananda Ratha Utsav 2013-14 organised by our Ramakrishna Mission Vidyalaya Coimbatore, drew large number of students, devotees and public to everlasting messages of Holy Trio. Swamiji’s bronze image in 2012 and Sister Nivedita’s image in 2018 brought in their divine presence into the Ashrama. Youth conventions, women conventions, competitions, Parliament of Religion’s Seminars, Teachers’ Conventions, Auto Drivers Convention in addition to Youth Day Competitions conducted for last several years marked the above Centenaries during this development period. Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam Former president of India addressed the youth of Salem in 2013.
These were also marked by distribution of 45000 note books, with Swamiji’s picture in 2010, one lakh copies of Swamiji’s Works at the cost of 10 lakh (2013) and 50000 copies of Sister Nivedita’s Works reached rural and urban schools run by Government as well as private educational centres in and around Salem. This was ably supported by the benevolence of Sri Sivanantham, Chairman, Narasu’s Coffee, Salem.
Publication of Books & Booklets mark the spreading of the messages of our Math & Mission. They are 10 in number and their titles are, Souvenir of 15th Devotees’ Conference in 2007, Spiritual life and its Secrets by Swami Satyapriyananda, Swami Vivekananda Town Hall by Swami Yatatmananda; Sri N. S. Nellaiappan authored 4 books - three on Holy Trio and one on Sister Nivedita. 70,000 copies of Pictorial on Swamiji from Ramakrishna Mission Students’ Home, Chennai was reprinted by the Ashrama and distributed to Youth. A Booklet on Swami Somanandaji our former Secretary paid homage to him on his demise in 2018.
Three day Tamilnadu Devotees Conference in Dec 2007 was conducted in grand scale at Sona College campus where in 105 monks and 4000 devotees shared the divine messages of Holy Trio.
Spiritual ministration through blessed Mantra Diksha to over 1200 aspirants by Paramapujaniya Swami’s Atmasthanandaji in 2001, 2003, Gitanandaji in 2004, 2005, Smarananandaji in 2007,2009 and Gautamanandaji in 2012 - 14, 2017 and 2019.
Sri Ramakrishna Centenary Library continued to attract spiritual minded persons to its 3500 books, 20 magazines and 4 dailies.
“Vivek Vikasa” our mobile book stall launched in December 2011 went to all schools and colleges and rural centres so as to spread the messages at their own places. Book stall in the Ashrama was renovated and declared open by Swami Raghunathananda on 12th January 2012.
Book exhibition was conducted by our Ashrama in educational institutions such as Vysya college, Jairam School, Vivekananda Matric. Hr. Sec. School, Bharathi Vidyalaya, Yuva Bharathi etc. During the Centenary year, it has reached 10 institutes and 10,000 youth.
The centenary of our Ashrama was Celebrated on 2nd February 2019
The Centenary of our Ashrama was celebrated in a grand scale on 2nd February 2019. Paramapujaniya Swami Gautamanandaji Maharaj presided over the celebration along with over 65 sadhus. The three-day function was marked by Benedictory addresses, release of Centenary Souvenir and a book on Amutha Mozhigal, decorated procession of Sri Ramakrishna, Youth Convention, cultural programme on Bhakta Vijayam as well as spiritual initiation for 85 aspirants.
This was followed by a chain of events during the year 2019 - 2020. A report on the activities reveal the dedication of our Ashrama to Commitment of our founding fathers Secretaries down the years as well as devotees and volunteers all through these 100 years of holy life of the Ashrama. It will be befitting to record the glorious service rendered to the Ashrama by 1) Sri Narai S Nellaiappan in giving spiritual discourses for the last 40 years and 2) Sri Kuppuramalingam who served the shrine and office for last 50 years!
Having got initiated into this service to Sri Ramakrishna by his emissary Swami Nirmalanandaji in 1919 through his devoted lieutenants, this Ashrama grew from strength to strength and has carried on the holy task for over 100 years; In this Centenary march so many have come to give their mite, however tiny or mighty it may be, among hundreds of these noble hearts we cannot forget anyone soul, be it a monastic, devotee, volunteer or donor as the stories of their lives have led us to this story of Salem Ashrama. Prayers to the Lord for more strength, more benediction for onward march to the next 100 years!!