This picture was taken in front of the Krishna temple at Dakshineswar in 1884, when Sri Ramakrishna was 48 years old. According to Swami Nirvanananda, “Bavanath Chatterjee, the Master’s devotee from Baranagore, wanted to take a photograph of the Master. One day he requested him very strongly to give his consent, and on the afternoon of the next day brought a photographer along with him from Baranagore. He could not make the Master agree. The Master just went away near the Radhakanta [Krishna] temple.
“In the meantime Narendra arrived on the scene and heard everything; he said, ‘Wait a bit. I shall put everything straight.’ Saying this, he went to the veranda to the west of the Radhakanta temple where Sri Ramakrishna was sitting and started a religious conversation with him. The Master went into samadhi. Swamiji went and called the others and ordered them to get ready quickly to take the picture.
“In the state of samadhi the Master’s body was bent on one side and therefore the cameraman went to make him sit erect by softly adjusting his chin. But as soon as he touched his chin the whole body of the Master came up like a piece of paper – so light it was!
“Swamiji then told him, ‘Oh, what are you doing? Be quick. Get the camera ready.’ The cameraman took the exposure as hurriedly as possible. The Master was completely unaware of this incident.
“After some days when Bavanath brought the printed copy of the photo the Master remarked: ‘This represents a high yogic state. This form will be worshipped in every home as time goes on.’” (“Concerning the Photographs of Sri Ramakrishna” by Swami Vidyatmananda; Vedanta and the West, No. 172).
Swami Vishuddhananda stated that when Sri Ramakrishna saw the photo he went into ecstasy and touched the photo to his head several times, saying: “The photo is nicely taken. This mood is very high – fully merged in Him. Here the Lord is fully depicted in his own nature.”
The following is a quotation from Sri Sarada Devi: The Holy Mother, (p. 416) concerning one of the prints of this photograph:
“Disciple: Mother, that photograph of Sri Ramakrishna which you have with you is a very good one. One feels it when one sees the picture. Well, is that a good likeness of the Master?
“Mother: Yes, that picture is very, very good. It originally belonged to a brahmin cook. Several prints were made of his first photograph. The brahmin took one of them. The picture was at first very dark, just like the image of Kali. Therefore it was given to the Brahmin. When he left Dakshineswar for some place – I do not remember where – he gave it to me. I kept the photograph with the pictures of other gods and goddesses and worshipped it. At one time I lived on the ground floor of the nahabat. One day the Master came there, and at the sight of the picture he said, ‘Hello, what is all this?’ Lakshmi and I had been cooking under the staircase. Then I saw the Master take in his hand the bel leaves and flowers kept there for worship, and offer them to the photograph. This is the same picture. That brahmin never returned, so the picture remained with me.”
This picture which Sri Ramakrishna worshipped is now on the shrine at the Udbodhan Office in Calcutta, where it is worshipped daily. This fact was authenticated by Swami Madhavananda, Swami Vireswarananda, and Swami Nirvanananda. Swami Atmabodhananda, who was the head of Udbodhan for many years until his death in 1959, stated that the Udbodhan print was the same one that Sri Ramakrishna worshipped at the nahabat. (“Concerning the Photographs of Sri Ramakrishna” by Swami Vidyatmananda; Vedanta and the West, No. 172).
In 1982 Swami Chetanananda received a negative from the original picture of Sri Ramakrishna mentioned above. It was made by Braja Kishore Sinha, the Curator of Victoria Memorial Hall, Calcutta. Swami Chetanananda brought that negative to the United States and gave it to Mr. John Hench, Vice President for Creative Development of Disneyland, who worked on this picture for two years. Mr. Hench carefully removed the scratches, black dots, and other imperfections from this historical, one hundred-year-old photograph without disturbing its originality.