Thakur’s Antaranga

The antaranga, or inner circle of intimate devotees of Sri Ramakrishna, have a special role in his Lila, or Divine Play. Each one has a unique story worth telling which reveals an aspect of the phenomenon and mission of the Master

A Devotee: “Sir, who may be called an antaranga?”

Master: “Let me give an illustration. A natmandir has pillars inside and outside. An antaranga is like the inside pillars. Those who always live near the guru are the antarangas.” — from the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna

Swami Akhandananda“To see God in all beings is the culmination of the Vedantic experience.”

Swami Akhandananda was an embodiment of the ideal of service to God in the poor and the afflicted which was an ideal he inherited from both Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda.  He was many things – a saint, a wondering monk, a patriot, an enthralling story teller, and a writer. Above all he was a lover of man – one who sees God in every human form and worships Him by loving and dedicated service.

Swami Akhandananda, or Ganghadar Ghatak as he was called in his pre-monastic life, was born on September 30, 1864 in Calcutta. Even from his boyhood he showed exceptional powers of concentration and strength of mind. He was of a deeply religious nature and was extremely orthodox in his habits. He bathed several times a day, prepared one daily meal for himself, read Holy Scriptures, and regularly practiced meditation. This was already his mode of life when he came into contact with Sri Ramakrishna. The Master did not discourage the practice of such austerities, but gently urged him to practice more repetition of the Gayatri mantra in place of pranayama. Constant association with the Master gradually brought about a spiritual awakening within Ganghadar. 

Ganghadar served Sri Ramakrishna until the Master entered into Mahasamadhi. The brother disciples started the new monastery at Baranagore, but although Ganghadar, now Swami Akhandananda, did not join the monastery immediately, he kept in close contact with his brother disciples. Fired with the ideal of leading the unfettered life of a wandering monk, he started on a long pilgrimage to the Himalayas and Tibet. Along the way he had many opportunities to teach and bring assistance to the villages he passed through on his journey. He returned to the Baranagore monastery only to set out on yet another pilgrimage to the Himalayas, this time with Swami Vivekananda beside him.

Among the direct disciples, Swami Akhandananda was most receptive to the ideal of service to God in man. Swami Akhandananda drew inspiration for his humanitarian services primarily from Sri Ramakrishna himself. The Master used to say, ‘If God can be worshipped in an image, can He not be worshipped in a living person?’ Swami Akhandananda literally transformed relief and rehabilitation into acts of worship. After Swami Vivekananda left for America, Swami Akhandananda offered himself heartily in service to the poor and in the spread of basic education in Rajasthan, Khetri, and Udaipur. He established the Ramakrishna Mission at Sargachi, where a school was started as well as an orphanage.
The Swami had a flair for learning languages, which brought him into intimate contact with all types of people wherever he went. His childlike simplicity endeared him to one and all. His austerity and scholarship were a source of inspiration for many.

On the death of Swami Shivananda, Swami Akhandananda was elected as the third President of the Ramakrishna Order. The Swami always talked about renunciation, dispassion, sadhana, and service. He spoke of his own life experiences, and once said, “To me, life has been one long road of suffering… We fully know that it is only through suffering and sacrifice that we can reach Him, our highest Ideal…..The Master has still kept me alive for his work. Distribute your Self among others and bring others souls within yourself. You will see how much joy you will get from it. On the other hand if you are always busy about yourself, you will get entangled within yourself, you will kill your Self, and you will die (Not knowing the Self is akin to suicide or death). The more you disseminate yourself among the people, the more you will attain bliss and that will lead you to Self-realization.

Swami Akhandananda entered into Mahasamadhi on February 7, 1937.

Some of his teachings:

The spiritual path for the present age lies through the harmony of all paths of earlier ages — harmony of knowledge, devotion and selfless work. We must have knowledge, devotion and service. It won’t do to have only one.

In this age of Kali, one thing that counts is the Lord’s name. Go on repeating His name. Just repeat His name for a hundred and eight times; that will bear fruit in time. Try to increase the number slowly.

No work should be considered degrading. All works are His. Swamiji himself scoured the vessels. When you sweep the floor or dress vegetables, think that you are doing His work. Let the poor and ignorant be your gods. You are to dedicate yourselves – your body, mind, and speech – to the good of the world.

Indeed, friends, the brunt of the task lies upon us. We have hardly begun. Wake up, heroic souls! Look ahead and march on. What is required of us today is that overflowing, all-encompassing love and sympathy for the poor and oppressed that was in the hearts of Sri Ramakrishna and Vivekananda.

For Further reading:

Swami Akhandananda, by Swami Annadananda
God Lived with Them, by Swami Chetanananda
Holy Wanderings, In the Lap of the Himalayas, by Swami Akhandananda
From Holy Wanderings to Service of God in Man, by Swami Akhandanda