Museums usually remind you of archaic, dusty places, often dimly lit, leaving you cold with a sense of disconnect with the past. Swami Vivekananda’s Ancestral House and Cultural Centre, located at the ancestral house of Swami Vivekananda in north Kolkata is, however a notable exception. The house that was restored with the help of Archaeological Survey of India retains a warmth since every nook and corner is used for spiritual and cultural development of the masses and this sense of purpose breathes new life into the heritage building in one of the oldest localities of Kolkata.
Swami Vivekananda was born in this house at Simlapara and lived here till he became a monk. However, the ancestral property had been divided and sub-divided among family members and was in a poor shape due to neglect and encroachment till Ramakrishna Mission decided to step in. With generous help from the Central and state government, the house was vacated, restored to its former glory and a museum was set up to showcase the time and work of one of the greatest sons of Mother India. Set up in 2004, it receives a footfall of around 40,000 every year. A shrine has been set up at the actual birth place of Swami Vivekananda on the first floor of the house, dedicated to Vireshwar Siva, the family deity. The thakur dalan (the family place for worship) after renovation, is being used to conduct prayers even today.
Once you enter the newly constructed part of the museum, a life size photograph of Swami Vivekananda would draw your attention. The photograph, ‘Mendicant Swamiji’ was taken during his wandering days between 1892 and 1893 in India. The wall beside the grand marble staircase, displays the photograph of Swamiji’s historic appearance at the World Parliament of Religions, taken in Chicago, USA in 1893. Another photograph of Vivekananda during his tour to London in 1896, reminds one of his famous saying “the history of the world is the history of a few men who had faith in themselves…”
The inner part of the museum, housing a total of 36 rooms used by his family, highlights the affluence of the Duttas before the death of the patriarch, Biswanath Dutta as well as deep ethos of Bengali culture practised by them. After restoration, the exhibits have been displayed in a way so that first time visitors, unaware of the happenings in Swamiji’s life can be introduced to several memorable childhood incidents. Three adjoining rooms at the ground floor display items showcasing the childhood hobbies and interests of a young Vivekananda or Narendranath Dutta, as he was known prior to his monastic days. Young Narendranath was good in most of the sports he played. Apart from being an agile boxer, he was also trained in wrestling, fencing, horse riding, rowing and gymnastics. The room proudly displays equipment used for training in gymnastics and wrestling he had used during his boyhood.
The room next to it showcases the musician in Vivekananda who had good knowledge of Indian Classical music and contains his musical instruments including a tanpura, tabla and khol. It also exhibits the book on music named Sangeet Kalpataru, written by Swamiji during his youth. Some of other rooms on ground floor has been decorated with models of a young Swamiji to narrate certain significant incidents during his quest for truth in his boyhood days and his divine visions.
Casteism was so deep rooted that even the sharing of the same hookah with those from the lower caste would lead to ostracism. A room in the museum, has been rebuilt like the chamber of Swamiji’s father, an advocate. A row of hookah, one for each caste are kept there and narrates young Naren’s endeavours to smoke from each of the hookahs to test if it would really lead to losing his caste. The room next to it narrates the story of Swamiji’s enlightening vision of Lord Buddha during his childhood.
The upper storey of the house mostly consists of bedrooms of the family members including that of his parents, grandparents and his own. All the rooms are tastefully decorated with neatly made beds, dressing tables, wooden cupboards and pictures of Hindu gods and goddesses. It also has the famous family shrine of Lord Shiva, also known as Vireswar. Just before Vivekananda was born, his mother had a vision of a light entering her womb and Shiva agreeing to be her son.
Another integral part of the house; the thakur dalan where the goddess Jagadhatri was worshiped every year, had to renovated and restructured keeping the original shape intact while the museum was built. The huge open-air space or the traditional courtyard in the middle of the house was used for conducting rituals or family gatherings. An additional plot on the northern side has ensured that apart from the museum there are monk’s quarters and language classes that are held in the sprawling complex.
Name: Ramkrishna Mission, Swami Vivekananda’s Ancestral Home and Cultural Centre
Address: 3, Gour Mohan Mukherjee Street, Kolkata -700006 ( near Bidhan Sarani-Vivekananda Road crossing)
Tel: 033 2257 0213Open: Tuesday – Sunday
April to September, 10 am – 12:30 pm, 2 pm – 5:30 pm
October to March, 10 am – 12:30 pm, 2 pm – 5:00 pm
Ticket: Rs 10, Photography: Only with formal permission