In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Rāmakŗşŋa

  • Introduction
  • General Works
  • Anthologies
  • Rāmakṛṣṇa’s Logia
  • Critical Literatures on Rāmakṛṣṇa’s Logia
  • Reminiscences
  • Comparatist Studies
  • Dissertations
  • Psychological and Psychoanalytical Studies
  • Scholarly Controversy in Print and in Cyberspace
  • Kripal’s and Hatcher’s Responses to the Critics of Kālī’s Child
  • Autobiographies and Biographies of Rāmakṛṣṇa’s Disciples
  • Rāmakṛṣṇa Movement
  • Visual Representations

Hinduism Rāmakŗşŋa
Narasingha P. Sil
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 December 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 May 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0077


Rāmakṛṣṇa (Ramakrishna) Paramahaṁsa’s (birth name Gadādhar Caṭṭopādhyāy, b. 1836–d. 1886) widely publicized samādhis (trances), sermons, and spirited dances (uddām nŗtya) earned him posthumous renown as the foremost spiritual master of modern India. He was born in a poor Brahmin family of Kāmārpukur. Though reputed to be intelligent, he could not make it to high school. However, he pursued his family profession and became a priest of the Kālī temple at Dakṣiṇeśvar, owned by a low-caste wealthy dowager, Rāṇī Rāsmaṇi (b. 1793–d. 1861). Rāmakṛṣṇa’s ecstatic behaviors and conversations, characterized by his homespun witticism, were recorded by his devotees and admirers during his lifetime. Especially after the founding of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission in its permanent location at Belud, India, in 1899, numerous sacred biographies of the Master and hermeneutical studies on his messages and spiritual states by monastic as well as lay scholars appeared. While most of these works are written in Bengali, with only some in English, critical studies since the 1990s have been available mostly in English. These generated a scholarly controversy that continues to stimulate further research.

General Works

The significance of Rāmakṛṣṇa’s life and teachings needs to be placed within the context of the contacts engendered, and the impact on India, and in particular Bengal, by the British colonial regime. The Rāmakṛṣṇa movement constituted a part of the Bengal Renaissance and Hindu religious reformist and revivalist movements of the 19th century. Rāmakṛṣṇa flourished during a crucial period in the history of colonial India. Following the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, India became a part of the British Empire, with Calcutta as its capital (renamed Kolkata in 2001). By this time, British education had become widespread in the principal urban conglomerates of the country, especially in the imperial capital city. The growth of education spawned an educated middle class, the bhadralok (the genteel class), who spearheaded, on the one hand, a modernizing cultural movement known as the Bengal Renaissance and, on the other, the twin religious movements Brāhmoism and Hindu Revivalism. The rise of Rāmakṛṣṇa as a popular religious figure, the Ṭhākur (Master) of Dakṣiṇeśvar, forms a significant part of the revivalist movement of the 19th century. Sen 2010 provides a succinct historical survey of colonial Bengal, and Mukhopādhyāy 1998 discusses the Bengali middle class that participated in the renaissance and revivalist movements. Rāy 2002 contains illuminating articles on the Bengal Renaissance as a modernizing movement, while Ghoṣ 1979 and Sarkar 1992 posit a Marxist critique in emphasizing the movement’s limitations. Chaṭṭopādhyāy 1983 traces the history of the Brāhmo Samāj, and Kopf 1979 discusses its social and cultural significance, while Sen 1993 analyzes the Hindu revivalist movement. Raychaudhuri 2005 discusses the Western impact on the religious movements of late colonial India, especially Bengal.

  • Chaṭṭopādhyāy, Kānailāl. Brahmo Reform Movement: Some Social and Economic Aspects. Calcutta: Papyrus, 1983.

    A very useful prosopographical study of the founding fathers of the Brāhmo movement, from Rājā Rāmmohan Rāy (b. 1774–d. 1833) to Kṛṣṇakumār Mitra (b. 1852–d. 1936). Well documented and analyzed.

  • Ghoṣ, Binay. Bāṁlār Nabajāgṛti. Calcutta: Orient Longman, 1979.

    A provocative Marxist analysis of the Bengal Renaissance as a bourgeois and elitist phenomenon and as an adjunct of colonial capitalism rather than a progressive movement emanating from an economic revolution affecting the society of Bengal, or Indian society at large. Indispensable for its critical examination of the phenomenon. In Bengali, not translated.

  • Kopf, David. The Brahmo Samaj and the Shaping of the Modern Indian Mind. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1979.

    A classic discourse on the Bengal Renaissance, with particular emphasis on the contributions of Rājā Rāmmohan Rāy. The author highlights the crucial significance of Western education for the Bengal Renaissance, or the new awakening of Bengal.

  • Mukhopādhyāy, Subodhkumār. Bāṁalī Madhyabitta o Tāra Mānasloka. Calcutta: Progressive, 1998.

    A succinct and perceptive historical analysis of the Bengali bhadralok. The author concurs with Binay Ghoṣ about the artificial rise of a professional and educated middle-income group (maddhyabitta). An interesting study, most especially for the four appendixes summarizing the conclusions of four distinguished social historians: Iqtidār Ālam Khān, Binay Ghoṣ, Narendrakṣṇa Siṅgha, and Aruṇ Dāsgupta. In Bengali, not translated.

  • Rāy, Śibnārāyaṇ, ed. Baṁlār Renaissance. Kolkata: Renaissance, 2002.

    An anthology of illuminating essays by a group of distinguished intellectuals of Calcutta, hailing the Renaissance movement as the harbinger of modernity in Bengal and other regions of late colonial India. In Bengali, not translated.

  • Raychaudhuri, Tapan. Perceptions, Emotions, Sensibilities: Essays on India’s Colonial and Post-colonial Experiences. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2005.

    Chapter 5 (pp. 96–110) provides a brief but useful discussion of the structure of religious consciousness and its emotional affects under colonial rule, discusses the Western impact on the modernist movement in the 19th century, and identifies Rāmakṛṣṇa as the upholder of traditional Hindu syncretistic message based on personal experience. Chapter 6 (pp. 111–128) discusses how Vivekananda presented his rustic guru’s homilies and parables as illustrative of the authentic Hindu spiritual wisdom. Needs to be read along with Sil 2009, chapter 9: “Ramakrishna Reconstructed: The Vivekananda Project” (pp. 147–157), cited under Biographies: Secular/Critical.

  • Sarkar, Sumit. “‘Kaliyuga,’ ‘Chakri’ and ‘Bhakti’: Ramakrishna and His Times.” Economic and Political Weekly 27.29 (18 July 1992): 1543–1566.

    Sarkar’s thesis that the “Ramakrishna cult,” characterized by an ambivalent attitude toward modernity and tradition, was “an essentially bhadralok affair in Bengal” was previously anticipated by John Rosselli. See Rosselli’s “The Self-Image of Effeteness: Physical Education and Nationalism in 19th-Century Bengal,” Past and Present 86.1 (February 1980): 121–148.

  • Sen, Amiya P. Hindu Revivalism in Bengal, 1872–1905: Some Essays in Interpretation. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1993.

    A judicious and comprehensive analysis of the revivalist movement, by a cultural and social historian. Useful for an understanding of the historical background and significance of the Rāmakṛṣṇa movement, because it contains a scholarly and balanced historical overview.

  • Sen, Amiya P. Explorations in Modern Bengal, c. 1800–1900: Essays on Religion, History, and Culture. New Delhi: Primus, 2010.

    Examines the twin themes of renascent Bengal in the 19th century—the questioning of tradition and a growing cultural pride—through three key facets of contemporary Hindu thought: concepts of history, dharma, and myths.

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