The Dakshineswar Kali Temple is situated on the eastern bank of the River Ganges about 20 km from B.B.D Bag, Kolkata (Calcutta). It is one of the most popular temples in West Bengal and especially with Sri Ramakrishna’s devotees. It is so popular primarily because Sri Ramakrishna spent almost entire part of his spiritual life here and it saw his manifestation (of spirituality), unparalleled in the religious history of the world.
It was 1847. A wealthy widow of a rich Zamindar (landlord), Rani (a tile meaning‘the Queen’ bestowed on her by the British Government) Rasmani was preparing to go for a pilgrimage to the sacred city of Benaras (Varanasi) to offer her devotions to the Divine Mother. She was planning to go by Vazra (large boat ) since in those days there was no railway line between Calcutta and Benaras and roads were not very comfortable and safe for long journeys. The preparation was elaborate and several such big boats were prepared to carry relatives, attendants and supplies.
While the queen was planning for a grand pilgrimage, the Divine plan was something different. On the very night before the journey was to begin, the Rani had a dream. In her dream, the Divine Mother, in the form of the Goddess Kali appeared and asked her not to go to Benaras and instead install the Divine Mother in a beautiful temple on the banks of the river Ganges. She also told the Rani that in this temple She will dwell and accept the Rani’s worship.
Profoundly moved by the dream, the Rani immediately looked for a plot of land on the bank of the river. Soon she found a land at Dakshineswar spanning 25 acres on the East bank of the river Ganga. The Rani purchased the land from a gentleman and started the construction of the temple that very year.
It took nine years to build the temple, which was completed in the year 1855. The total cost was estimated to be Indian Rupees 900,000 including 200,000 spent for its inauguration. The temple was built by M/s Macintosh Burn.
The temple is a large elongated building standing on a high platform with a flight of stairs. The three-storeyed south-facing temple has nine spires (conventional Navaratna style) distributed in upper two storeys. The roof of the spires is beautifully ridged resembling Pirhas. The temple measures 46 feet square and rises over 100 feet high. In this shrine the beautiful statue of the Divine Mother Kali standing on the chest of Lord Shiva is established. The name of the Goddess is Bhavatarini (the rescuer of the world). A narrow covered verandah serves the purpose of an audience-chamber attached to the sanctum. On the south of the shrine, there is a long spacious hall (called the Natmandir) facing the Goddess for the congregation of the devotees and religious rituals.
There are other subsidiary shrines on this temple compound. On the north of the main shrine there is another temple dedicated to Lord Krishna and his eternal companion Radha. Adjacent to these temples is a large courtyard. To the west of the courtyard are the 12 temples dedicated to Lord Shiva. Six on each side of the way to the Ganges, called as Chandni Bathing Ghat (landing). On the north of these temples is the sacred room where Sri Ramakrishna used to live. Other than the main buildings, there is office, kitchen, preparation area, area where animals used to be sacrificed to the Goddess, guest rooms, dinning areas etc.
As the temple was nearing finish, the Rani started searching for a Head Priest to consecrate the temple. Since the Rani belonged to an inferior caste according to Hindu hierarchy, no priest wanted to serve at the temple. After a lot of effort, the Rani found a very pious priest Ramkumar who was ready to serve at the temple.
On the day of the inauguration, there was a very large gathering of several thousands of people. Ramkumar was joined by his younger brother Gadadhar (the pre monastic name of Sri Ramakrishna). Sri Ramakrishna later said that while all of those gathered on that day had a feast, he himself couldn’t partake of any food until the ceremony was over. The significance of such an incident arises from the common belief that any sacred activity should be completed by fasting. For most part of the day, Gadadhar was hiding, afraid of the large crowd and the magnanimity of the ceremony.
However, within a year Ramkumar died and his responsibility was passed on to his younger brother, who for the next thirty years would live there as one of the greatest spiritual leaders of all time. Confirming to conventional practices of worshipping and routine discharging of daily duties were something with which Gadadhar could not correspond to and soon found himself spending most part of his day in intense contemplation of the Mother Goddess. He was soon unable to work as a priest and spent most part of his day wandering on the bank of Ganges and longing to see the Mother Divine. Fortunately the Rani and his son-in-law could understand the true spirit of the holy man and made permanent arrangements for his stay inside the temple premises. This was the beginning of the spiritual life, which turned out to be the highest order in the next twelve long years.
One day, unable to bear the pain of spiritual austerities and frustrated by the failure to see the Mother Goddess in a tangible form, Sri Ramakrishna tried to sacrifice his life in front of the Goddess. At that very moment he had a Divine vision and saw the world being slowly filled up with a Divine Light (jyoti) that emerged from the statue. This was only the beginning of a series of divine visions for him.
Later, Sri Ramakrishna used to talk and worship to the Statue as if he could see Her personified. His profound spiritual knowledge and frequent ecstatic trances continued to occur throughout his life and drew the attention of many intellectuals and pilgrims from all over India. While Ramakrishna grew up and lived within the domain of Hinduism, his experience of the divine went far beyond the bounds of any faith, religion, class or creed. He fully realized the existence of the Divine and its all-inclusive, infinite nature.
The later part of Sri Ramakrishna’s life was dedicated to teaching a number of people from every class of the society including the most educated and the elite as well as the poor ones with simple faith – all were taught without any discrimination. He bred a group of young monks who later spread his teachings throughout the world and established the Ramakrishna Math and Mission. Sri Ramakrishna was accompanied by his wife Holy Mother Sarada Devi, who used to live in a small room, downstairs of Nahabat (a place from where musics are played) north of Sri Ramakrishna’s room.
The Divine play that Sri Ramakrishna played in this temple has created a history in the modern age. He is known as a Paramahamsa (the Great Swan of Discrimination) and thus the Dakshineswar Bhavatarini temple became famous among increasingly large number of people all over the world, who are taking refuge in Sri Ramakrishna.
Sri Ramakrishna's room in the temple is still preserved and anyone who visits the temple can feel his spiritual presence everywhere. The whole ambience has been purified by the presence of this holy soul and it is still continuing to provide peace and solace to any yearning soul and aspire devotees to search for the Divine.
The temple compound on three sides - north, east and south - are enclosed by rows of guestrooms and offices.
There are umpteen shops on both sides of the main entrance of the temple. The whole ambience is filled with busy spirituality.
The Panchavati, a congregation of five ancient trees, is a spot for peaceful meditation. Here Sri Ramakrishna used to meditate and performed severe penances sitting on the 'Panchamundi (5 skulls) Asana' - a custom which is mandatory for the 'Tantrika' (one discipline) form of worship.
The Belur Math (Headquarters of Ramakrishna Math and Mission) is about 3 km from Dakshineswar temple on the western bank of the river. The easiest way to reach Belur Math from Dakshineswar temple is to cross the river by boat. It also gives one the beautiful experience of crossing a placid and wide river by boat.
Time for Offerings:
Morning: 5.30 am to 10.30 am
Evening: 4.30 pm to 7.30 pm
Extended hours on special days.