Photograph at the top of this page: Main Temple dedicated to Sri Ramakrishna on Belur Math grounds.
The Ramakrishna Order, with headquarters in Kolkata, is one of the largest and most respected religious orders in India today. The Order was inspired by the great Bengali saint, Sri Ramakrishna. Shortly before his death in 1886, Ramakrishna encouraged his young disciples to formally renounce the world by giving them the ochre cloth of renunciation. He entrusted the care of these young men to his foremost disciple, Swami Vivekananda, who later in 1897 founded the Ramakrishna Order.
The Ramakrishna Order was formed along two parallel lines: The Ramakrishna Math which is primarily dedicated to spiritual development, and the Ramakrishna Mission which is dedicated to social service. In a sense these twin efforts cannot be separated, since the motto of the Ramakrishna Order has been since its inception: "Liberation for oneself and service to mankind."
There are over 166 official centers of the Ramakrishna Order, and many more unofficial, or unaffiliated ones. These centers not only cover the length and breadth of the Indian subcontinent, but can also be found in Europe, Russia, Japan, South American, Africa, Canada and the United States.
Those branches of the Ramakrishna Order located outside India are generally know as Vedanta Societies, and are under the spiritual guidance of the Ramakrishna Order. The work of the Vedanta Societies in the west has primarily been devoted to spiritual and pastoral activities, though many of them do some form of social service.
On the Indian subcontinent, the Ramakrishna Mission has been in the forefront of philanthropic activities. Its first social service efforts---inspired by Swami Vivekananda---began in 1897. Since that time, the Mission's activities have continued to expand up to the present day. Whenever disaster has struck, the Ramakrishna Mission has been there to offer relief from famines, epidemics, fires, floods, earthquakes, cyclones, and communal disturbances.
The Ramakrishna Mission has its own hospitals, charitable dispensaries, maternity clinics, tuberculosis clincs, and mobile dispensaries. It also maintains training centers for nurses. Orphanages and homes for the elderly are included in the Mission's field of activities, along with rural and tribal welfare work.
In educational activities, the Ramakrishna Mission has consistently been ahead of its time. It has developed some of the most outstanding educational institutions in India, having its own colleges, vocational training centers, high schools and primary schools, teachers' training institutes, as well as schools for the visually handicapped. It also has adult education centers throughout the country.