Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) : Swami Vivekananda was the chief disciple of Sri Ramakrishna (1836-86). He came to America to attend the World Parliament of Religions, held on 11 September, 1893 at Chicago and conquered the minds of Americans in his first lecture addressing them as ‘Sisters and brothers of America’. He became world famous religious teacher. After the World Parliament of Religions was over, a group of American students of Swami Vivekananda, who were interested to know more about Vedanta and Hindu Philosophy, requested him to start a centre in New York. As a result Vedanta Society of New York was established by Swami Vivekananda in 1894 at a rented house situated at 54 West 33rd Street, Manhattan. He stayed in America for about four years (1893 – 1897) giving lectures on Vedanta and other topics all over the America.
Swami Saradananda (1865-1927) : When Swami Vivekananda’s work in the West made headway, he was in need of an assistant, and the choice finally fell upon Swami Saradananda. So when Swami Vivekananda came to London for the second time in 1896, he met Swami Saradananda who had arrived there on the 1st of April. Swami Saradananda delivered a few lectures in London, but he was soon sent to New York, where the Vedanta society had already been established. Soon after his arrival in America he was invited to be one of the teachers at the Greenacres Conference of Comparative religions. At the close of the Conference, the Swami was invited to lecture in Brooklyn Ethical Association, New York where he delivered his first lecture (in New York) on 24 October 1896. Everywhere his dignity of bearing, gentle courtesy, the readiness to meet questions of all kinds, and above all, the spiritual height from which he could talk, won for him a large number of friends, admirers and devotees. Swami Saradananda afterwards settled down in New York to carry on the Vedanta movement in a regular and organized way.
After returning to India, Swami Vivekananda started the Ramakrishna Mission Association which was the forerunner of the present Ramakrishna Mission. For this Swami Vivekananda wanted an able hand, so he called back Swami Saradananda, who sailed on January 12, 1898.
Swami Abhedananda (1866-1939) : In response to an invitation from Swami Vivekananda who was then preaching Vedanta in London, he went there in the latter part of 1896. In 1897 a new chapter was opened in his eventful life. At the request of American friends and with the approval of Swami Vivekananda, Swami Abhedananda crossed the Atlantic and landed in New York on 9th August to take charge of the Vedanta Society which had already been started there.
He was almost penniless at this time and had to work hard to push on the work, by dint of perseverance, self-confidence and unflinching devotion to the Master he was soon able to create a field for himself and tide over the swarm of difficulties that surrounded him at the initial stage of his work. He was soon acclaimed as a great exponent of Hindu thought and culture and was invited to speak before various learned Societies.
He began his real pioneering work for the Vedanta Society after the successful season of lectures from October 1897 to May 6, 1898 traveling extensively all through the United States, Alaska and Mexico and delivered addresses on various phases of Vedanta philosophy in almost all the principal cities of America.
On October 29, 1898, the Vedanta Society was formally registered and incorporated under the laws of the state of New York.
After a long and successful work in America, Swami Abhedananda returned to India in 1921.
Swami Turiyananda (1863 – 1922) : In 1899, when Swami Vivekananda started for America for the second time, he persuaded Swami Turiyananda to accompany him for the American work. Turiyananda being a man of meditation was averse to the life of public preaching. So Swami Vivekananda found it hard, in the beginning to persuade him to go to America. When all arguments failed, Swami Vivekananda put his arms round his neck and wept like a child as he uttered these words: “Dear Haribhai, can’t you see I have been laying down my life, inch by inch, in fulfilling this mission of the Master, till I am on the verge of death. Can you merely look on and not come to my help by relieving me of a part of my great burden?” Swami Turiyananda was overpowered and all his hesitation gave way to the love he bore for the leader. They reached New York via England towards the end of August 1899.
Turiyananda worked at first at the Vedanta society of New York, and then he took up additional work at Mont Clair—a county town, about an hour’s journey from New York. Both at New York and Mont Clair the Swami made himself beloved of all. He carried the Indian atmosphere about him wherever he went. When he came to America, he said to Swami Vivekananda that platform work was not in his temperament. At this Swami Vivekananda told him that if he lived the life, that would be enough. Yes, Swami Turiyananda lived the life. Intensely meditative, gentle, quiet, unconcerned about the things of the world, Swami Turiyananda was a fire of spirituality. His very presence was a superb inspiration.
In 1900 Swami Vivekananda sent Swami Turiyananda to California to open a centre at San Antone Valley. A land measuring 100 acres—gifted by a student of Swami Vivekananda. The ashrama is known today as Shanti Ashrama.
Swami Bodhananda: Swami Bodhananda was one of those fortunate few who came to Baranagore Math in its very early days. He took initiation from Holy Mother and got sannyasa from Swami Vivekananda in 1898. He was a graduate of Calcutta University. During his stay with Swami Vivekananda at Varanasi (India), Swami Vivekananda told him, ‘ I ask you to lead the life and work in your own sincere ways and success will be surely yours’. Prior to coming to the United States, he was in charge of Bangalore Math. He left Bombay on April 15, 1906 and reached New York before June 1906. He started giving classes throughout the summer from June 1906, at New York Vedanta society while Swami Abhedananda visited India that year. Swami Bodhananda went to Pittsburgh in January 1907 to take charge of the Vedanta Society there for some years. He returned to New York Vedanta Society ( at 135 West, 80th Street) in 1910 and became the head of the centre in 1912.
In 1921 the Vedanta society of New York acquired its present home at 34 West, 71st st.
Swami Bodhananda passed away on 19 May 1950 at the age of 79.
Swami Pavitrananda: After the passing away of Swami Bodhananda in 1950, Swami Pavitrananda was sent to the Vedanta Society of New York by the Ramakrishna Order and he arrived in 1951 to serve as its spiritual leader. He was a member of the Governing Body of the Ramakrishna Mission.
Swami Pavitrananda entered the Ramakrishna Order at the age of 26, after receiving his master’s degree in English literature at Calcutta University. he was blessed to receive initiation from Swami Brahmananda and had his sannyasa from Swami Shivananda. After taking sannyasa, he spent more than 20 years in the Advaita Ashrama in the Himalayas, working in various capacities. He served as head of Advaita Ashrama for 11 years, concurrently serving four of those years as editor of Prabuddha Bharata journal.
Swami Pavitrananda passed away suddenly on 18 November 1977.