The didactic nationalism of the Brahmo Samaj appealed more to the intellectual elite in Bengal, while the average Bengali found more emotional satisfaction in the cult of bhakti and yoga. The teachings of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (1836- 1886), a poor priest at the Kali temple in Dakshineshwar, on the outskirts of Calcutta (who was known in childhood as Gadadhar Chattopadhyay) found many followers. Ramakrishna experienced spiritual trances (ecstasy) from a very early age. He is considered to have attained the highest spiritual experience available to Hindus. He did not write books, but his conversations with people formed the basis of what were considered his teachings. He spoke simply, in the form of parables and metaphors, drawn from the observation of ordinary life and nature. But what he said was of universal relevance.
Two objectives of the Ramakrishna movement were—
- To bring into existence a band of monks dedicated to a life of renunciation and practical spirituality, from among whom teachers and workers would be sent out to spread the universal message of Vedanta as illustrated in the life of Ramakrishna, and
- In conjunction with lay disciples to carry on preaching, philanthropic and charitable works, looking upon all men, women and children, irrespective of caste, creed or colour, as veritable manifestations of the Divine.
Paramahamsa himself laid the foundations of the Ramakrishna Math with his young monastic disciples as a nucleus to fulfil the first objective. The second objective was taken up by Swami Vivekananda after Ramakrishna’s death when he founded the Ramakrishna Mission in 1897. The headquarters of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission are at Belur near Calcutta. The two are twin organisations, though legally and financially separate .