June 13, 1900. The day had not yet dawned. Jaminiranjan was winding his way through one of the narrow dingy lanes of Varanasi leading to the bathing ghat. A feeble groan caught his ear. Many had already passed that way, but no one had stopped to investigate. But Jaminiranjan did and found an old lady, ill and starved, lying on the road side. As he approached her, she said feebly: “I have not taken anything for four days, my son. Give me some food.”Jaminiranjan lifted the lady and laid her carefully on the verandah of the nearby house, rushed to the bathing ghat, and begged four annas from the first gentleman he met. He purchased some cooked food and fed the old lady and thus saved her life. Thus was sown the seed of dedicated service to God in the form of the poor and the suffering, which was to grow into a mighty banyan tree of a large institution that would render service to thousands of needy.
This old lady was one of the many religious persons who come to spend their last days in the holy city of Kashi — the muktikshetra — and who are reduced to a state of dire poverty and helplessness due to the ruthlessness of man and the irony of fate.
After rendering this emergency help to her, Jaminiranjan went to his friends Haridas, Charuchandra (later Swami Shubhananda), Kedarnath (later Swami Achalananda), and others, and gave them an account of what had happened. A band of young men with Charuchandra as the leader had already formed a study circle with the aim of realising God in the light of the teachings of Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda. They collected donations and managed to admit the lady to the hospital. The new group now decided upon future action: service to the poor, the needy, the destitute, and the sick. They organised themselves into an association and named it ‘Home of Relief’. They searched for the needy on the roadside, in lanes and by-lanes, and arranged for their relief by sending some to the hospital, and giving food and clothing to others. A patient of typhoid fever was the first patient to be accommodated in Kedarnath’s house and nursed by them. Soon the need for more spacious accommodation for patients was felt and a small house was rented for five rupees a month. A small out-patient homoeopathic dispensary was also started. One room was for hospital patients, and the dispensary was also the office and the bedroom of two full-time workers — Charuchandra and Jaminiranjan.
Soon the enthusiasm, dedication, and indefatigable labour of the young men attracted the attention and sympathy of prominent citizens, on whose advice the first general meeting of the association was held on 5 September 1900, at which it was renamed ‘The Poor Men’s Relief Association.’ Within six months the hospital and out-patient relief work increased so much that a more spacious house at Dashaswamedha Road had to be rented, which was later shifted to a bigger house in Ramapura in 1901. Within eighteen months 330 men and 334 women received treatment.
In February 1902, when Swami Vivekananda visited Varanasi, he was highly pleased by the work done by the association. However, he advised them to change the name to ‘Home of Service’, for, as he said:
Who are you to render relief? You can only serve. The pride of rendering relief leads to ruin… How arrogant it is on the part of a man to think another lower and humbler than himself ? Service and not mercy should be your guiding principle — service to man, the image of God.
He turned to Charuchandra and said:
Regard every pice collected for the poor as your life-blood. Such noble work can be carried on properly and permanently only by those who have renounced everything.
Swamiji wrote an appeal to the public on behalf of the Home of Service, which accompanied the first report of the Home in 1902. Swamiji also instructed Swami Brahmananda to keep a watch on the organisation. With the latter’s approval and by a resolution of the managing committee of the Home of Service, the association was affiliated to the Ramakrishna Mission and came to be known by its present name, ‘Ramakrishna Mission Home of Service’, on 23 September 1903.