The ancestral home of the great Swami Vivekananda has stood tall since the 18th century.
But the iconic monument went into disrepair until 1962, when the Ramakrishna Mission authorities decided to take over and turn it into a museum.
Today, it is much more.
A research centre, a memorial shrine, a library, an English centre, a computer training centre, and a charitable dispensary where seminars and conventions are regularly organised, the location is now a full-fledged cultural centre.
As a young boy, Vivekananda, whose parents named him Narendranath Datta, would run through the very same house, which catered to his interests in music, gymnastics or studies.
The son of an attorney, the young lad devoured Western philosophy and history, graduating from Calcutta University.
The death of his father in 1884 left the family penniless, and the responsibility of supporting his mother, brothers and sisters fell on Narendranath’s shoulders.
Narendranath’s aunt, also living with them in the ancestral house, immediately filed a lawsuit against the family, claiming possession of the whole property.
The property, built by Narendranath’s great-grandfather, Rammohan Datta, was over 300-years-old
Surrounded by a lush garden and a large open space while the young Swami lived there, the burgeoning city later caused the area to be crowded, resulting in the approach road to the house being turned into a lane, known as the Gour Mohan Mukherjee Street.
The aunt’s lawsuit caused the matter to be dragged to court, and the palatial house was split into ten parts. A portion of the house was even demolished to make a common passage for all the occupants.
It is perhaps bittersweet, that despite the lengthy litigation, and court cases, according to the final ruling, Swami Vivekananda got possession of the home he grew up in, just before he died.
As it does, time took its toll on the house over time, after Swami Vivekananda’s era. Sinking into a dilapidated condition, the building at one time had around 143 families and small business centres within it.
Sadly, the ancestral childhood home of Swami Vivekananda had become a slum.
To clear the pile-up of so many decades seemed impossible. But, the first step is always the biggest, and after the area was cleaned, the Ramakrishna Mission began restoring it.
The Archeological Survey of India and Development Consultants Pvt Ltd collaborated as well, and the house was restored, interestingly using materials similar to those in the original 18th-century construction.
Later the Kolkata Municipal Corporation declared the house a Grade-1 Heritage Building.
When Swami Vivekananda and his family occupied this home, it was at its zenith. With a massive doorway, the house comprised of two buildings bordering a courtyard, which also had a stable. The men stayed in a single-storied structure with many rooms. The ladies stayed in a 2-storey apartment, with a latticed enclosure.
Walk up to the terrace, where the ladies once used to gather, and you shall see a small shrine, marking the place where Swami Vivekananda was born.
The family’s place of worship and an assortment of other rooms are there, all used by Swami Vivekananda in his pre-monastic days, and his relatives.
Different incidents of Swami Vivekananda’s life are portrayed in the museum, right from his boyhood. Aiming to inculcate a sense of value education, the museum and cultural hub wishes to showcase a glimpse into the life of Swami Vivekananda – a true shaper of our times.
Today, the iconic structure is responsible for activities spanning different spheres:-
The medical services include a charitable dispensary and comprehensive programs tailored towards rural health and hygiene.
The educational services encompass a textbook library, computer education, value education, school of languages, a free coaching centre, and work on rural education.
The spiritual services include worship, prayer, spiritual discourses, and devotee’s conventions.
The cultural services include musical programmes and celebrations on social festivals and observance of important days.
The youth services include a youth forum, and a youth convention, as well as lectures and seminars.
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Swami Vivekananda touched lives in his day, and his legacy lives on in this cultural hub that quietly continues to serve society in ways that Vivekananda would have probably approved.