Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi
Indian Prime Minister Narendra ModiReuters

Swami Athmasthanandaji Maharaj, the president of the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission, Belur Math, passed away at a hospital in Kolkata on Sunday after prolonged illness. The 98-year-old monk was being treated for age-related ailments from February 2015.

An official statement from the Math read: "Despite the best medical attention, his condition deteriorated over the last few days and he passed away around 5.30 PM today at Ramakrishna Mission Seva Pratishthan hospital."

His body will be cremated at the Belur Math on Monday at 9.30 pm. The Math gates will remain open until the last rites are complete.

Born in May 1919 at Sabajpur near Dhaka, Athmasthanandaji had received "mantra diksha" from Swami Vijananandaji Maharaj (a monastic disciple of Ramakrishna) in 1938 and joined the Ramakrishna Order at Belur Math in 1941. He was only 22 years old then.

In 1945, Swami Virajanandaji Maharaj, the sixth president of the Order, gave him Brahmacharya vows, and in 1949, Sanyasa vows and the name Swami Atmasthananda.

He was elected president of the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission in December 2007. Swamiji had travelled to various parts across the globe and visited many branches of the Order and some unaffiliated centres spreading messages of Ramakrishna, Sarada Devi, Swami Vivekananda and Vedanta, besides giving mantra diksha to many spiritual seekers.

He acted as one of the key members to organise Pallimangal (integrated rural development) activities in Kamarpukur and Jayrambati. It is a youth training centre at Saradapitha (Belur) and runs many social service programmes.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had paid a visit to the ailing Maharaj earlier that afternoon. She called his passing away "an irreparable loss to mankind".

"I paid my last visit to him this afternoon. A life of outstanding social & religious service. This is an irreparable loss to mankind," Banerjee said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi condoled his death and called it his "personal loss".

When young, Modi had visited the Belur Math in an attempt to join the Order, but his request was turned down and he was told that his calling was elsewhere. Reports say that he later got guidance from Swamiji at Rajkot in Gujarat. He also said that whenever he visited Kolkata, he would make it a point to visit him to seek his blessings.