Inspired by the prophetic messages of the great Swami Vivekananda a young and energetic monk of the Ramakrishna Order, Swami Prabhanandaji (Ketaki Maharaj) stepped into Shella village at the southern slope of Khasi Hills in 1924 from the adjacent plains of Sylhet district to see how he could serve the Khasi people and save their cultural heritage from the clutches of foreign forces under the then British Rule. For his sincerity, genuine affection and devotion to the cause of Khasi people he was readily accepted by them. With ready cooperation from the villagers he started a small Primary School as well as a Health Centre just within a few days. In this way Shella village became the taproot of the humble beginning of the mighty services by Ramakrishna Mission in the field of Tribal Welfare as early in 1924.
Slowly the work got its momentum and many more schools started coming up in many other areas in Khasi Hills resulting in the foundation of another School as well as an Ashrama at Cherrapunjee in 1931 reflecting the admiration and appreciation of the local people there. The School was later upgraded as a High School when its first batch of students appeared in Matriculation in 1939 under the University of Calcutta. Swami Prabhanandaji as well as his colleagues and successors remained relentlessly engaged in spreading man-making and character building education among tribal children over the years along with holding up the greatness of their own culture before the people of Khasi and Jaintia Hills. But the task was not an easy one because they were terribly confronted with the then political set-up of the country under the British Government. However, nothing could prevent these sincere and dauntless monks in their forward march. They went on foot from village to village, contacted people, shared their food, daily round of activities, joys and sorrows. Within three months, Swami Prabhanandaji mastered the Khasi language and wrote books in Khasi for his School, based on purely national ideas. He and his associates toiled hard to explain and make the Khasi people understand the aims and objects of the Ramakrishna Mission. Their aim was to preserve Khasi Culture and help the Khasi people develop along their own lines, to make them better Khasis through their own tradition and heritage.
Meanwhile, the Syiem of Cherra kindly granted a beautiful site to the Mission and the foundation stone of the school was laid in 1934. Sir Michael Keane, the then Governor of Assam showed keen interest in the work of the Mission from the very beginning. Through the unstinted support of the public of Cherra and Snillong the school had a steady growth. Gradually it attracted the notice of generous people from outside the Hills as well. Step by step, the Middle School of Cherrapunjee became a High School. The Calcutta University granted recognition in 1938 and the first batch of students appeared for the, Matriculation Examination in 1939. In 1948, the School was affiliated to the Gauhati University.
Unfortunately when Swami Prabhanandaji was about to see the fruits of hard labour the inevitable day of 12 December 1938 came and he passed away at the age of 38 only. He could not withstand the strenuous but sacred job which told upon his health and left behind unseen his cherished dream to be fulfilled by his successors. The work did not stop. It was undertaken by another stalwart monastic worker of the Ramakrishna Mission, Swami Lokeswaranandaji, who consolidated the work a bit further. He took over charge of the Cherrapunjee Centre in December 1936.
He moved the Calcutta University for recognition of the High School. He stayed here for a short span, but within this period he learnt the Khasi language and won over the hearts of local people by his sweet and gentle behaviour and sympathetic heart. He also became very popular. At that time, Srimat Swami Bhuteshanandaji Maharaj, 12th President of the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission, was the over-all-incharge of the activities of the Mission in Khasi and Jaintia Hills.
The Governing Body of the Ramakrishna Mission, Belur Math, constituted the Cherrapunjee centre with Shella and Nongwar schools under it as a seperate Mission Ashrama under a committee of management with effect from 1 January 1949, and Swami Suddhabodhanandaji was made Secretary. All major developments of this centre took place during his period. Although he acnieved tremendous success in all spheres yet he had to face a lot of confrontations in respect of procuring land for opening new schools in villages around Cherrapunjee and there was occasion also when the financial crisis rose upto such an extent that the institution was on the verge of winding up. Prior to 1951, many local Khasi admirers came forward with helping hands for the steady growth of the Mission activities in every possible way-either in cash or in kind. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the then Prime Misister of India, visited this Ashrama in 1952. The foundation stone of the present Administrative Building at the Ramakrishna Mission Ashrama, Cherrapunjee was laid by the then Prime Minister of India Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru when he visited this place on 20th October 1952.
Swami Suddhabodhanandaji brought the High School under the system of grant and decided to open Middle and Primary schools in interior villages as feeder schools. In 1957-58 the Government of India, Ministry of Home Affairs made a plan to extend financial assistance to Voluntary Organisations engaged in the welfare activities for the economic and cultural uplift of the scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and other backward classes in the country. Swami Suddhabodhanandaji approached the concerned Ministry for necessary grants for the extension of Technical School, High School, Hostel and for the construction of Swami Vivekananda Centenary Memorial Hall at Cherrapunjee, Middle and Primary school buildings in different villages, Teachers' Quarters at Cherrapunjee and in other places. With their liberal help he could complete only the Technical School, High School, a part of the Hostel, a few Primary and Middle school buildings and the Swami Vivekananda Centenary Memorial Hall (known as Community Hall). Within a short span of four years he opened 26 Primary Schools and 7 Middle Schools in different villages around Cherrapunjee The Sohbarpunji centre, founded by Sri Tarani Kumar Purkayastha, another silent and dedicated worker from the plains, also got affiliation as a branch centre of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission, Cherrapunjee on 31 March 1959. In fact, he completely changed the look of Cherrapunjee Ashrama. It became a great educational complex of the North Eastern Region of the country.
The work continued. The first school bus was procured from the Government of India. The Public Celebration of the Birth Day of Sri Ramakrishna was started in a modest scale. "The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna" in abridged form, Books on the lives of Sri Sarada Devi (Holy Mother), Swami Vivekananda, on Khasi religion and many other topics were published.More new Primary and Middle Schools in different villages were opened. The present temple was consecrated by Srimat Swami Vireswaranandaji Maharaj, Tenth President of the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission, on 1st February 1979. A Mobile Audio-Visual Unit, a Health Unit, a Mobile Dispensary and a Welding Section in the Technical School were started. During this time, a Girls' Hostel was constructed at Sohbar. The Dairy and the Poultry Farms were built along modern lines.
The Public Celebration of the Birthday of Sri Ramakrishna, which was introduced in a modest way, took a colourful shape including procession, various cultural functions, meeting and community feeding. Thousands of local people including cultural troupes from neighbouring states took part in the Public Celebrations.
the story of Ketaki Maharaj . . .
- excerpts from an old publication