Swami Vivekananda established Ramakrishna Mission as commanded by his Master, Sri Ramakrishna, for the secular and spiritual amelioration of humankind as a whole, irrespective of caste, creed, colour, nationality, gender or religion. The twofold aim of the Ramakrishna Mission is, in Swami Vivekananda’s own Sanskrit slogan, atmano mokshartham jagaddhitaya cha (“For one’s own spiritual emancipation and for the welfare of the world”). To achieve this aim at both the individual and the collective level, he established the Ramakrishna Mission, by which he “set in motion a machinery which will bring noble ideas to the door of everybody.” Swamiji envisioned it as “a lever for the good of humanity…which no power can drive back.” Swami Vivekananda made Belur Math the headquarters of the worldwide Ramakrishna Movement, comprising the twin organizations of Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission. He envisioned that Belur Math would be a centre of great harmony and synthesis, not only of all religious beliefs and traditions, but also of arts and sciences and the various branches of knowledge, both secular and spiritual. In fact, on 2 July 1902, just two days before he passed away, he prophesied, standing at the Belur Math grounds: “The spiritual impact that has come to Belur [Math] will last fifteen hundred years, and it will be a great University. Do not think I imagine it; I see it.”
It is apparent that Swami Vivekananda’s conception of a “University” is a centre where ‘man-making’ and character-building education would be imparted, higher values would be inculcated and all-round personalities would be formed. His own conception of a complete, all-round personality was one with “heart to feel, brain to conceive and hands to work”.
Swamiji’s emphasis on character as the hallmark of an educated person is well known. He emphasized times without number that education is not the “amount of information that is put into your brain” but the “life-building, man-making, character-making assimilation of ideas.” In 1939, the Governing Body of Ramakrishna Mission took a small step in this direction by starting an institution of higher education near Belur Math called Ramakrishna Mission Vidyamandira. The name ‘Vidyamandira’ is Swamiji’s own christening of the educational institution he wanted near Belur Math. Then, in 1963, Swami Vivekananda’s birth centenary year, the authorities of Ramakrishna Mission submitted a proposal to the Government for the starting of the Vivekananda University. For various reasons, however, the university did not materialize at that time. Efforts in this direction were made off and on in subsequent years until finally, a deemed university under University Grants Commission (UGC) was established under Ramakrishna Mission’s auspices. The Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India, declared the Ramakrishna Mission Vivekananda Educational and Research Institute (RKMVERI)—later renamed Ramakrishna Mission Vivekananda University—under the aegis of Ramakrishna Mission, as a deemed-to-be university under Section 3 of UGC Act, 1956. This Institute was subsequently renamed as ‘Ramakrishna Mission Vivekananda University’ with the approval of UGC.
It staggers one’s imagination to actually see how the University has blossomed already within the space of just five years. Headquartered at Belur as Swamiji wished, it began in July 2005 with just one branch in the Specialized Faculty Centre at Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu in the unique field of ‘Disability Management and Special Education’. The very next year, the first anniversary of the University Foundation Day, 4 July 2006, saw three more branches being added: the three ‘off-campus’ centres in the other ‘thrust areas’ began their journey. University Grants Commission and the Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India, accorded their approval to these three ‘off-campus’ centres and the then minister in charge of human resource development ministry of the Central Government announced this at the foundation day ceremony on 4 July 2006 at Belur Math. These centres were:
- Faculty of ‘Integrated Rural Development and Management’ (IRDM) at Ramakrishna Mission Ashrama, Narendrapur, Kolkata, West Bengal,
- Faculty of ‘Integrated Rural and Tribal Development and Management’ (IRTDM) at Ramakrishna Mission Ashrama, Ranchi (Morabadi), Jharkhand,
- Research in Indian culture and philosophy, Ramakrishna-Vivekananda thought vis-a-vis modern trends in socio-political thought, Vedanta in all its aspects, comparative religion, Vedanta vis-a-vis modern science, consciousness studies, translation studies and so on, at the Vivekananda Research Centre at Swami Vivekananda’s Ancestral House, Kolkata, West Bengal.
Close on heels to the above development, namely, the starting of the ‘off-campus’ centres at Narendrapur, Ranchi and Swamiji’s own birthplace in Kolkata, came another remarkable development–another pet dream of Swamiji realized. Swami Vivekananda’s passion for Sanskrit as well as for fundamental science is well known. Further, the combination of the best elements of the East and the West was Swamiji’s favourite dream. In fact, he is said to have told Swami Premananda, his dear brother-disciple, on the very day of his mahasamadhi on 4 July 1902 that “on the lands of Belur should be established a University that would keep the ancient Indian traditional wisdom in tact and harmonize it with the modern scientific knowledge”. In pursuance of this grand wish of this great rishi of the modern age, two Schools have been started at the Belur main campus. One, the School of Mathematical Sciences devoted to three important areas of fudandamental science, namely, pure mathematics, theoretical physics and theoretical computer sciences–areas which receive little attention in most Indian Universities. Two, the School of Indian Heritage, devoted to Sanskrit Studies, ancient Indian scientific heritage and Vedanta, particularly the Upanishads and the Bhagavad-Gita. Conceptually, these two Schools have been placed alongside each other to create a natural and unconscious blend of thought as Swamiji envisioned. Interestingly, the physical structures housing these two Schools are mirror images of each other, declaring even at the physical level the unique blend of the East and the West that Swamiji wanted. Swamiji also desired a college for teaching comparative religion and Vedanta in all its phases, the Advaita, Vishishtadvaita and Dvaita aspects. The University is therefore establishing a third School, namely, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, wherein are being started teaching and research in Bengali Studies, Philosophical Studies and Economic Studies. All the aspects of Vedanta and comparative religions will also be some of the main subjects of study in this School.
Swami Vivekananda’s emphasis on man-making and character-building education is always being kept in view in all the programmes and courses of study in the University bearing his hallowed name.