Keshab Chandra Sen (1838-84)—An outstanding Indian of the 19th century with contributions in the fields of religion, culture and education, one of the Master’s greatest devotees. Born on 19.11.1838, scion of the well-known Vaishnava family, the Sens of Kolootola. Educated at Hindu College, Bankimchandra Chatterjee being one of his classmates. Initiated into the Brahmo religion by Maharshi Devendranath Tagore, joined the Brahmo Samaj (1857). The title “Brahmananda” conferred on him by the Maharshi and appointed Acharya of the Brahmo Samaj (1862). Differences with the Maharshi followed by Keshab’s founding the Brahmo Samaj of India. Travelled all over India to propagate Brahmo ideology and acclaimed for brilliant oratory in English, Bengali and Hindi. An orator, social reformer and educationist, Keshab was the leader of Western-educated young Bengal. The Master had remarked that “Young Bengal” started going to him after Keshab had begun to visit Dakshineswar (Sri Ramakrishna, the Great Master, Vol. 2, p. 601). Spent six months in England (1870), highly acclaimed for his lectures on religion, nationalism and India. Returning to India, devoted himself to social welfare activities and publication of journals. The Master had first seen Keshab at the Adi Brahmo Samaj (1864) where several members of the Samaj were sitting on the dais with Keshab in the centre, “motionless as a log”, in deep meditation and remarked to Mathur Babu, “That bait has been swallowed by a fish!” (The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, p. 605). They first met on 15.3.1875 at the garden house of Jaygopal Sen at Belgharia (8, B. T. Road, Rathtala) where the Master had gone with Hriday upon learning that Keshab was residing there with some of his disciples. Despite Keshab’s adoration for Christ, spent hours singing kirtans with his followers. Under the influence of the Master his devotion to the Divine Mother deepened. Though the two differed widely in many respects, their mutual attraction developed into deep friendship and they held each other in great love and respect.
On 28.3.75 the Indian Mirror wrote (first news about the Master in print): “A Hindu Saint. We met one (a sincere Hindu devotee) not long ago and were charmed by the depth, penetration and simplicity of his spirit. The never-ceasing metaphors and analogies in which he indulged, are, most of them as apt as they are beautiful. The characteristics of his mind are very opposite to those of Pandit Dayananda Saraswati, the former being so gentle, tender and contemplative as the latter is sturdy, masculine and polemical. Hinduism must have in it a deep sense of beauty, truth and goodness to inspire such men as these.” The Master visited Belgharia upon Keshab’s invitation on 14.5.1875 and on some more occasions, engaging in spiritual discourses. A brief write-up on the Master appeared in the Dharmatatwa. Subsequently the Master met Keshab twice at his Kolootala residence (122 C, C. R. Avenue, Calcutta-73). The photograph of the Master standing in a state of samadhi was taken at Keshab’s instance at his residence, Lily Cottage (78 B, A. P. C. Road, Raja Bazar, Calcutta-9) on 21.9.1879. The Master visited Lily Cottage three more times as reported by the Gospel. Keshab’s first (?) visit to Dakshineswar was on 22.10.1879. Keshab boated down to Dakshineswar five times with his associates, the Master boarding the steamer on the last three occasions upon Keshab’s invitation, Vijaykrishna Goswami having accompanied the Master from Dakshineswar on the last steamer trip. During the Master’s stay of more than seven months at Kamarpukur (1880), Keshab sent a Brahmo devotee there to inquire after his well-being. That same year Keshab’s faction of the Brahmo Samaj split further and he founded the Navavidhan Brahmo Samaj (the New Dispensation), an assembly of numerous talented and accomplished men among whom many were known to the Master. One particular favourite of the Master was Trailokyanath Sanyal, a composer of songs and also a good singer. In Keshab’s autobiography, Jiban bed, the Master’s influence is clearly noticeable in the chapter titled “Bhakti-sanchar”. Paramahamser Ukti, a booklet containing the Master’s sayings, was published by Keshab (1878), followed by a similar booklet Srimat Ramakrishna Paramahanser Ukti O Sankshipta Jiban by Girishchandra Sen (1886). Pratapchandra Mazumdar who used to frequent Dakshineswar wrote an article eulogizing the Master. Whenever the Master was present in the Brahmo Samaj temple at the time of divine service Keshab would ask him to address the congregation. A unique blend of varying traits, Keshab was a lifelong vegetarian and never used western clothes, even during his tour of England. Died of tuberculosis at Lily Cottage on 8.1.1884, calling out “Ma, Ma” with his last breath. The Master described his own grief thus, “I could not leave my bed for three days when I got that news; it seemed as if a limb of mine was paralyzed” (Sri Ramakrishna, the Great Master, Vol. 1, p. 360). The Master visited the family even after Keshab’s death. His comments: “He is a saintly man” (The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, p. 1024); “Keshab always tantalizes me like this, it is his way” (Ibid., p. 1022); “Keshab thinks of God and chants His name” (Ibid., p. 278); “I go there (to Keshab) to hear the name of God” (Ibid., p. 651); “Keshab now believes in Kali as the embodiment of Spirit and Consciousness, the Primal Energy. Besides, he repeats the holy name of the Mother and chants Her glories” (Ibid., p. 378); “Mother had shown me that Keshab is a part of (me)” (Sri Sri Latu Maharajer Smritikatha, p. 144). Once when the Master requested Keshab to speak a few words before a gathering of devotees at Dakshineswar, he had answered, “To open my lips here would be like trying to sell needles to a blacksmith” (The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, p. 1009). The Master last met Keshab on 28.11.1883 when he dwelt at length on spiritual issues. The Master said to Keshab, “After hearing of your last illness I used to weep to the Divine Mother in the small hours of the morning. I prayed to Her, ‘O Mother, if anything happens to Keshab, with whom then shall I talk in Calcutta?’ Coming to Calcutta, I offered fruits and sweets to the Divine Mother with a prayer for your well-being” (Ibid., p. 323). To Keshab’s devotees he said, “Is Keshab an ordinary person? He is respected by all, seekers after wealth as well as holy men. Once I visited Dayananda, who was then staying at a garden house. I saw he was extremely anxious about Keshab’s coming: he went out every few minutes to see whether he had arrived.… Keshab is free from the pride of a small-minded religious teacher. To many people he has said, ‘If you have any doubts, go there (to the Master) to have them solved.’ It is my way, too, to say: What shall I do with people’s respect? Let Keshab’s virtues increase a million fold.’ Keshab is certainly a great man…” (Ibid., p. 324).