Born in 1836 in a remote village of Bengal in India, Sri Ramakrishna attained an exalted state of spiritual illumination. Before his passing in August 1886, he gave monastic vows to a group of young, earnest spiritual seekers. That was the seed of the monastic order which later became known as the Ramakrishna Order. The first monastery (Sanskrit, Math) at Baranagore, a northern suburb of Kolkata, was organized by Ramakrishna?s monastic disciples headed by Swami Vivekananda. Gradually the Order set for itself a twofold ideal:
For some time the latter work was carried on through an association called the Ramakrishna Mission Association, started by Swami Vivekananda in May 1897, shortly after his return from the West. In 1899 he shifted the Math, which had changed places by then, to its present site in Belur, across the river Ganga, about six kilometers north of Howrah railway station, where it set itself more vigorously to the task of training a band of monks inspired with the twin ideals of Self-realization and service to the world. Soon after this, the Math authorities took upon themselves the work of the Mission Association.
- to create a band of monastic teachers of Vedanta as taught by Sri Ramakrishna and practically illustrated by his own life; and
- in conjunction with the lay disciples to carry on missionary and philanthropic work, looking upon all - irrespective of caste, creed or color - as veritable manifestations of the Divine.
The Ramakrishna Math was registered as a trust in 1901. To facilitate the work of the Mission Association and for
giving it a legal status, a society named the Ramakrishna Mission was registered in 1909 under Act XXI of 1860.
Its management was vested in a Governing Body. Both the Math and the Mission gradually extended their spheres of
activity as a result of which a number of branches in different parts of India and abroad came into existence.
Excluding the Headquarters at Belur, the Order has 141 branches
in all with resident swamis. The distribution of centers is as follows: 10 in Bangladesh; 1 each in Argentina, Brazil, Canada,
Fiji, France, Japan, Mauritius, Netherlands, Russia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, and UK; 12
in USA; and 106
Though the Ramakrishna Math and the Ramakrishna Mission with their respective branches are distinct legal entities,
they are closely related, inasmuch as the Governing Body of the Mission is made up of the Trustees of the Math; the
administrative work of the Mission is mostly in the hands of the monks of the Ramakrishna Math, and both have their
Headquarters at Belur Math. The Math organization is constituted under the trust with well-defined rules of procedure.
The Mission is a registered society.
Though both the organizations take up charitable and philanthropic activities, the former lays emphasis on religion and
preaching, while the latter is wedded mainly to welfare services undertaken with the spiritual outlook. This distinction
should be borne in mind, though "Ramakrishna Mission" is loosely associated by people with Math activities also. In the West,
the branches of the Ramakrishna Order are generally known as "Vedanta Society." It is necessary, moreover, to point out that
the appropriation of the name of Sri Ramakrishna or Swami Vivekananda by any institution does not necessarily imply that it
is a branch of either the Ramakrishna Math or the Ramakrishna Mission.
The Math and the Mission own separate funds and keep separate accounts of them. Both the Math and the Mission centers
in India receive grants from the Indian federal and state governments and also public bodies, as well as donations from
the public. The accounts of both the Math and the Mission are annually audited by qualified auditors.