The name may sound like a mathematical term but Belur Math is definitely not that. It is an important temple in Kolkata, India, serving as headquarters for the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission that were founded by Swami Vivekenanda. What exactly is this organization about and what’s so special with Belur Math that it is considered a leading city attraction?
The twin organizations, Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission, make up the Ramakrishna Movement, a global spiritual movement whose principles and teachings are based on karma yoga. A “math” is a monastic organization. Also referred to as Vedanta Movement, the Ramakrishna Movement is known to offer free healthcare, rural management, disaster relief and education to those who cannot afford them and are in dire need.
In a nutshell, the Ramakrishna Mission is a philanthropic and volunteer organization. Founded on May 1, 1897 by Ramakrishna’s leading disciple, Swami Vivekenanda, the movement is now being kept alive by thousands of modern disciples and hundreds of ordered monks working together to promote brotherly love in India and around the world, as well as to propagate the teachings of karma yoga.
The most fitting home of this important movement is the Belur Math, located along the Hooghly River in West Bengal, India. Belur Math is a beautiful temple that makes use of Hindu, Islamic and Christian architecture and motifs. It is clearly one of the most important and meaningful institutions in Calcutta. True to its teachings of promoting brotherly love, the temple includes different symbols from the different religions of the world. Below are some of the important features of the temple compound.
Belur Math is home to a vast 40ha campus that contains the main monastery of the Ramakrishna Movement, the Sri Ramakrishna Temple, a museum that is dedicated to the Ramakrishna Math and Mission, a variety of educational institutions, and different temples and relics that are dedicated to Ramakrishna, Sarada Devi and Swami Vivekananda.
The Sri Ramakrishna Temple was consecrated on January 14, 1938 with the purpose of celebrating “the diversity of Indian religions”. It is one building that actually resembles a (Buddhist) temple, (Muslim) mosque and (Christian) church. The goal of the temple is to represent a “universal faith” and therefore promote love and unity to everyone, regardless of religious differences. The temple’s façade is Buddhist in appearance (including a replica of the Shiva lingam), the towers represent Hindu temples, the windows and hanging balconies follow Islamic style, the central dome is very European, and the ground plan is shaped like a cross.
In addition to the temple, a prominent figure is a full-size statue of Sri Ramakrishna. It sits on a lotus with 100 petals over a marble pedestal shaped as a two-headed drum. The statue was created by Gopeswar Pal, a highly respected sculptor in Calcutta during his time. It sits under a canopy that is made completely of selected teakwood imported all the way from Burma (Myanmar).
There is more to see and wonder at inside Belur Math. It may be a temple, museum and headquarters but it definitely is a leading tourist attraction at the same time. Former Indian president Abdul Kalam once described it as a “place of heritage and national importance”.