Whether you are a believer or a non-believer, the tranquil Belur Math Monastery near Kolkata is a must-visit whenever you are in the eastern part of India. Located in Kolkata’s adjacent district, Howrah, the Belur Math is a unique Hindu monastery that exudes secularism in serenity. The sprawling monastery covers about 40 acres of land on the western bank of the Hooghly River. It is the headquarters of the Ramakrishna Mission that is at the core of the Vedanta or the Ramakrishna, the global spiritual movements. Swami Vivekananda, the great Hindu monk and one of the key architects of the Bengali Renaissance, envisioned this monastery to enshrine the relics of the great Hindu mystic and saint, Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa. Swami Vijnanananda, one of his brother monks, gave life to his ideas and founded the Belur Math in 1938.
The main shrine at the Belur Math is the Sri Ramakrishna Temple, where the relics of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa have been preserved. Swami Vivekananda’s journey as a Parivrajak (a wandering monk) across India and the world made him encounter a plethora of architectural styles from different times and communities. He wanted to incorporate all those diverse components into a shrine in a way that would best manifest the monotheistic, all-embracing, divine personality of Sri Ramakrishna. Accordingly, the temple boasts an impeccable blend of architectural elements belonging to all possible religions. Here, you must attend the evening aarti (prayer offering), which is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The monks and the disciples offer their prayers to Sri Ramakrishna and his spiritual companion, Sarada Devi, through meditation and music every evening at 5:30 PM. If anything, the Belur Math aarti will make you feel content and at peace!
Go south of the Sri Ramakrishna Temple to visit the temple of Ma Sarada Devi, the Holy Mother, overlooking the wide bathing ghats (‘ghat’ means ‘a descent of stairs to a river’) along the Hooghly River. Then, pay a visit to the Swami Vivekananda Temple, which was built at the spot where Swamiji was cremated in 1902. To the right of the temple is Swamiji’s house, where the modest worldly possessions of the illustrious monk are exhibited. Walk to the Samadhi Pith (samadhi- tomb, pith- enclosure) that marks the spot of cremation of seven among the 16 direct disciples of Sri Ramkrishna. Sit on the bank of the Hooghly River in front of the holy site and enjoy the stillness and the cool breeze blowing your way. And finally, head to the Ramakrishna Museum to take a look at some interesting memorabilia.
During the months of April-September, the Belur Math remains open from 6 AM in the morning till noon and then reopens at 4 PM and closes its doors at 9 PM. The timing changes slightly from October to March. During this period, the Belur Math opens its gates at 6:30 AM and closes at noon. The monastery again opens at 3:30 PM and closes at 8:30 PM. The Belur Math remains open on all days of the week barring Monday and some special days, a list of which is available on their official website. The best time to visit the place is during the Durga Puja, the biggest Bengali festival which is celebrated here in great style with the Kumari Puja (sometime in September-October). At the Kumari Puja, a prepubescent girl is worshipped as the incarnation of Shakti, the Supreme Divine Mother. The Kumari Puja at Belur Math is a sacred sight to behold. Every year, thousands of devotees from around the world visit to be a part of Durga Puja at Belur Math.
The Belur Math is only an hour’s drive away from Kolkata. Hop on to one of Kolkata’s signature yellow ambassador taxis from the Howrah Junction Railway Station to reach the monastery. I would suggest taking an entire day out of your Kolkata itinerary to plan a day trip to the Belur Math along with the nearby Dakshineswar Kali Temple and the Adyapeeth Temple. There is a regular ferry service from the Dakshineswar Temple to the Belur Math which are located on the opposite banks of the Hooghly River. So, if you visit Dakshineswar first, board the ferry from there to reach the monastery and enjoy the glimpse of rural life along the banks of the river on your way.
If you are a meditative soul, there is no better place than Belur Math for you. And if you are not one of those spiritual people, visit Belur Math for the quietude that we seek in today’s dynamic world. At the verdant monastery, miles away from the cacophony of city life, the tranquil aura and the austere life will make you feel grateful for the things we often take for granted. Take some time out of your Kolkata itinerary to visit this beautiful place that symbolizes the amalgamation of different religious beliefs for the sake of humanity.
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