A Symphony in Architecture - Ramakrishna Temple, Belur Math

 

PRELUDE



Ramakrishna Temple, Belur (Belur Math as it is fondly called) is a place of international pilgrimage significant due to the fact that Swami Vivekananda placed the relics of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa here and envisioned a unique temple to house them.

Before his debut in the Parliament of Religions (1893) at Chicago, Swami Vivekananda had wandered about many historically important places of India looking for the signs of the greatness as well as for the reasons for the decline of her ancient culture.

Swami Vivekananda's pilgrimage took him to many parts of Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu. He must have made profuse mental notes of his observations especially on the architectural monuments like the Taj Mahal, Fatehpur Sikri palaces, Diwan'I'Khas, palaces of Rajasthan, ancient temples of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and other places.

During his tour in America and Europe, he must have come across buildings of architectural importance of modern, medieval, Modern, Medieval, Gothic and Renaissance styles.

To pay tribute to the multifaceted, all-embracing divine personality of Sri Ramakrishna, he envisioned a great edifice combining various architectural features of monuments in various parts of the world. It was Swami Vivekananda's desire that the new temple should embody the salient features of major temple architecture of different religious beliefs so that every one who comes to the Ramakrishna Temple would feel at home and realise the underlying principle of the universal brotherhood and religion propounded by the Great Master.


Ramakrishna Temple : Belur Math

1. In the Garbha Mandira (Sanctum Sanctorum) of the Temple, Sri Ramakrishna's marble image is enthroned on a marble lotus platform with Braahmi Hansa engraved on it. His sacred Relics are preserved in side the platform.

2. One Bhandaar (store of sacred articles) is annexed behind the Garbha Mandira  bearing above the Shayan Kaksha (recline chamber) of the deity.
The kitchen for preparing the bhoga (cooked food for offering), however, is at a separate place behind the Garbha Mandira.

3. The canopy above the deity was made by a carpenter from Salkia (4 kms South of  Belur Math) with special teak wood brought from Burma (Myanmar).

4. The Garbha Mandira rests on a concrete foundation slab of 27 square metres area and more than 1 metre thick.

5. Thick stone slabs, bricks and concrete have been used in the walls of Garbha Mandira and only claddings have been done with chunar sand stone.

6. Surki (brick dust) was prepared locally and sand was collected from Magra (near Panduah) of Hooghly District.

7. Domes have been made of chunar stone, bricks and cement concrete. Galvanised iron strips have been used to resist tensile hoop stress.

8. The floor of the Garbha Mandira and the Nat Mandira have been laid on with white and black marble stones respectively.

9. The Nat Mandira and the Garbha Mandira are structurally separate. They are attached to each other by an expansion joint which is not easily visible to visitors.

10. All the doors and windows of Garbha Mandira and the Nat Mandira are made up of choicest teak'wood imported from Burma (Myanmar). The work was done by Chinese carpenters and the fittings were procured from a Bombay (Mumbai) based company at concessional rates.

11. Lamp stands (made of copper) on the temple platform were cast by a local artisan.

12. The estimated cost of the temple was six lakh rupees (1935), but on completion (1938), the actual cost came to around eight lakh rupees.

13.  Almost the whole expenditure of construction of the temple was borne by the generous donations from two disciples from USA.

 

Three decades after the passing away of Swami Vivekananda, the idea was put into actuality by Swami Vijnanananda, another direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, with the help of M/s. Martin Burn and Company, the then famous architect builders of Calcutta.

In his discussion with Mj. Herald Brown, the architect at Martin Burn Co., Swami Vijnanananda stressed upon the following three features that Swami Vivekananda wanted to incorporate in this temple monument :
1. Nat Mandira (Congregational Hall) and Garbha Mandira (Sanctum Sanctorum) should not be detached as in a Hindu temple but should be connected in a continuous space like that in a Christian Church.
2. Garbha Mandira  should have a domical roof as introduced in Mosques through Islamic Architecture.
3. Other rendering & detailing should conform with traditional Hindu temple architecture.
Two plans were submitted by the architect from which the one with more Indian tone was selected.



 

First foundation stone for Ramakrishna Temple was laid by Swami Shivananda on 13th March 1929, the birthday of Sri Ramakrishna. Swami Vijnanananda laid the foundation stone at the present site, 30 metres south of the first one on 16th July 1935. Construction was completed and consecrated on 14th January 1938.

Major outer dimensions of the temple

Maximum

Platform

Superstructure

Length 70.50 m (235 ft) 61.00 m (202 ft)
Width 42.00 m (140 ft) 24.00 m (80 ft)
Height 1.75 m (5.80 ft) 31.20 m (104 ft)

 

 
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