Svāmī Vivekānanda (A. D. 1863-1902), with his uncanny and incisive intellect, discovered that the best way to revitalise the Hindu society, which had often lapsed into deep slumber, was to rejuvenate its temples and monasteries. This could be better achieved by building a model temple and a model monastery in which there would be a balanced blend of the ancient and the modern values, both spiritual and cultural. The result of this dream was the now well-known Belur Math.
Belur Math is the main Monastery of the Ramakrishna Order built in the small village of Belur in the Howrah District of West Bengal. (The place has now become a big suburb of the Calcutta city [now known as Kolkata].) Apart from an impressive temple of Rāmakṛṣṇa (A. D. 1836-1886), the monastery houses the Head quarters of the Ramakrishna Order with its twin organisations of the Ramakrishna Math and the Ramakrishna Mission. Other buildings include three smaller shrines—dedicated to Sāradā Devī, Svāmī Vivekānanda and Svāmī Brahmā-nanda—residential quarters of the monastic members, a museum, a dispensary as also guest houses.
The temple of Rāmakṛṣṇa is the pivot of the whole campus.
In one of his conversations, Vivekā-nanda gives his description of the temple of his vision thus: ‘In the building of this prospective temple and Math, I have the desire to bring together all that is best in Eastern and Western art...The Rama-krishna Temple and Prayer-hall should be built together....Within the temple there would be a figure of Śrī Rāmakṛṣṇa seated on the swan’. (The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Vol. VII. pp. 204-205.)
Vivekānanda entrusted the task to Vijñānānanda (A. D. 1868-1938), another disciple of Rāmakṛṣṇa, who was a qualified engineer.
Incorporating Vivekānanda’s concepts as far as possible, Vijñānānanda prepared three plans of the proposed temple, with the help of Mr. Gyther (Government Architect). One of them is said to have been approved by him.
However, due to the sudden demise of Vivekānanda as also paucity of funds, the temple project had to be kept in cold storage for quite a few years.
Later on, the plan was revived and the foundation stone was laid by Vijñānā-nanda himself on the 16th May 1935. When it was completed, he consecrated it on the 14th January 1938.
The whole plan had been prepared by Martin Burn and Company, the famous architects of the day.
The temple, built mainly in sandstone, contains the architectural features of several styles. The facade is massive and impressive. At the back is the garbhamandir (sanctum) with one main dome and eleven subsidiary ones.
The whole temple has been built on a platform 1.75 meters (5.8 ft.) high, the length and the width being 70.5 metres (235 ft.) and 42 meters (140 ft.).
The superstructure is 61 metres (202 ft.) long and 24 metres (80ft.) wide. The pinnacle of the central dome is 33 metres (110 ft.) from the ground level.
The garbhamandir is a square measuring 8 metres (26 ft.). The nāṭmandir (navaraṅga or congregational hall) is 31 metres (103 ft.) by 12 metres (41 ft.).
The beautiful marble image of Rāmakṛṣṇa is about 1 metre (3.5 ft.) high, mounted on a pedestal of 0.8 metre (2’ 8") height.
The daily rituals in the temple are: maṅgalārati (waving of light in the early morning); pūjā (ritualistic worship); bhoga or naivedya (food offerings); vesper service with music.
The following are the festivals observed in this temple: Birthdays of Rāmakṛṣṇa, Sāradādevī, Vivekānanda and of other saṁnyāsin disciples of Rāma-kṛṣṇa; jayantīs of Śaṅkarācāya, Buddha and Śrīkṛṣṇa Caitanya; Rāmanavamī; Śrī Kṛṣṇa-janmāṣṭamī; Gurupūrṇimā; Phalahāriṇī Kālīpūjā; Snānayātrā; Gaṅgā-pūjā; Durgāpūjā; Kālīpūjā; Sarasvatīpūjā (on Vasantapañcamī) and Mahāśivarātri.
Out of these, the Durgāpūjā (in image), started by Vivekānanda himself, is celebrated in an elaborate and grand manner. Kumārīpūjā (worshipping a small girl as the Divine Mother) is one of the special attractions during this celebration.
With its harmonious combination of several architectural features incorporated in the building and the spirit of harmony of religions as personified in the snow-white marble image of Rāmakṛṣṇa permeating the atmosphere, this unique temple at Belur Math has now become a centre of universal attraction for all the pilgrims in the path of spiritual progress.