Shivanath Shastri (1847–1919) – Distinguished Brahmo leader, versatile writer and educationist. Born on 31.1.1847 in his maternal uncle’s house in Changripota village of 24 Parganas. His father, Harananda Bhattacharya, hailed from nearby Majilpur. Nephew of Dwarakanath Vidyabhushan, Editor of the Somprakash and college-mate of Vijaykrishna Goswami. Came into contact with Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar as a teenager and having passed the Entrance examination from Sanskrit Collegiate School (1866), passed F.A., B.A. and M.A. (1872) from Sanskrit College, the title “Shastri” being conferred on him. Married twice (1860, 1866). Joined the “Bharatvarshiya Brahmo Samaj” being initiated to the Brahmo faith by Keshab Chandra Sen on 22.8.1869. Disowned by father for having renounced the sacred thread. During his tenure as Headmaster of South Suburban School, Bhawanipore, met the Master at Dakshineswar where the Master’s discourses attracted him though he did not agree with the Master who warned against the company of women, declaring that they were associates and helpers in men’s spiritual struggles and social progress (The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, p. 44). The Master used to extol Shivanath’s merits and, eager to see him, would visit his residence at Brahmanpara Lane, Calcutta 6. Shivanath once visited him with a clergyman friend. The Master admired Shivanath’s lofty spiritual values and enjoyed discussing spiritual issues with him. Shivanath had arranged the Master’s visit to the zoo to see a lion. Keshab Sen’s daughter’s marriage created a rift between the two Brahmo leaders and Shivanath and others founded the “Sadharan Brahmo Samaj” (1878) of which Rakhal Chandra Ghosh (Swami Brahmananda) and Narendranath Datta (Swami Vivekananda) were members initially. Shivanath visited England (1888) and returned after 6 months. Elected President of the Sadharan Brahmo Samaj in 1901, dedicated the rest of his life to propagating the Brahmo faith, till his death on 30.9.1919.
Distanced himself from the Master citing the latter’s association with actors and his devotees’ claiming him to be an incarnation of God to be the reasons behind it. At the start of the Master’s ailment Shivanath visited him at Dakshineswar giving the above reasons for having stayed away.
Among his numerous works most well-known are Ramtanu Lahiri O Tatkalin Banga Samaj (1904), History of the Brahmo Samaj (in 2 vols., 1911-12), Atmacharit (1918) and Men I have Seen (1918). In the chapter on Ramakrishna Paramahamsa in the last book, one learns that in spite of being guided by Sri Ramakrishna in many ways and having benefitted from him too, he did not acknowledge the Paramahamsa to be a divine incarnation and disapproved of his close relationship with some actors. Besides, he described the Master’s states of samadhi as fainting fits caused by a super-abundance of emotion resulting from practise of severe austerities, and, even, “mental imbalance”. Some of the Master’s words quoted by him, one does not come across anywhere else. Alludes to his association with the Master in his autobiography (1982, pp. 181-83). Topically mentions the Master in the second volume of History of the Brahmo Samaj. Wrote in the fifteenth chapter of Ramtanu Lahiri O Tatkalin Banga Samaj “… the disciples of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa have formed a new sect, Ramakrishna Sampraday, and thereby strengthened the renaissance of the Santana Dharma.”