Born in 1836 in a pious Brahmin family at Kamarpukur, a remote village of west Bengal, Sri Ramakrishna attained an exalted state of spiritual illumination that had never before been achieved by any other religious genius in India or elsewhere. Shortly after the passing away of this prophet of harmony of religions, in August 1886, a monastic order bearing his name was organized in pursuance of his own instructions, with a monastery (Math) at Baranagore, a northern suburb of Kolkata, by his Sannyasin disciples headed by Swami Vivekananda.
Gradually it set for itself a two fold ideal: to create a band of Sannyasin teachers of Vedanta as propounded by Sri Ramakrishna and practically illustrated by his own life; and in conjunction with the lay disciples to carry on missionary and philanthropic work, looking upon all, irrespective of caste, creed or colour, as veritable manifestations of the Divine. For some time the latter work was carried on through an association called the Ramakrishna Mission Association, started by Swami Vivekananda in May 1897, shortly after his return from the West.
In 1899 he shifted the Math, which had changed places by then, to its present site at Belur, across the River Ganga, about six kilometers north of Howrah railway station, where it set itself more vigorously to the task of training a band of monks inspired with the twin ideals of Self-realization and service to the world. Soon after this, the Math authorities took upon themselves the work of the Mission Association.
The Ramakrishna Math was registered as a trust in 1901. To facilitate the work of the Mission Association and for giving it a legal status, a society named the Ramakrishna Mission was registered in 1909 under Act XXI of 1860. Its management was vested in a Governing Body. Both the Math and the Mission gradually extended their spheres of activity as a result of which a number of branches in different parts of the country and abroad came into existence.