A Short Biography of Holy Mother Sarada Devi
“I tell you one thing my child — if you want peace, do not find fault with others. Rather, see your own faults. Learn to make the world your own. No one is a stranger, my child; the whole world is your own.
I am the mother of the wicked, as I am the mother of the virtuous. Never fear. Whenever you are in distress, say to yourself, ‘I have a mother.’
Sri Sarada Devi the Holy Mother was the Divine Consort and first disciple of Bhagavan Sri Ramakrishna and thus an integral part of his spiritual self and of the saving message he delivered unto mankind. Unlike the spiritual counterparts of the past incarnations like Rama, Krishna and Buddha and some others. Sri Sarada Devi was born in a poor but cultured Brahmana family of Bengal in the village of Jayrambati in the Bankura District, situated about sixty miles to the west of Calcutta. Born on 22nd December 1853, as the eldest daughter of Ramachandra Mukherjee and Shyamasundari Devi, her early girlhood was spent, as in the case of most girls of rural upbringing, in various domestic chores like caring for the younger children, looking after cattle and carrying food to her father and others engaged in work in the field. She had absolutely no schooling, though she learnt the Bengali alphabet and practised a little of reading and writing in later days by herself. But the domestic environment of a pious Brahmana family supplemented by the holy associations she had in later days imparted to her- to one with such high natural endowments as she-an education that was far more enlightening than instruction in the three R’s.
She entered into Sri Ramakrishna’s life as his partner in it when she was aged only five. The strange marriage of Gadadhar of twenty three years of age with Sarada of five was part of a divine dispensation, and took place in a way that can only be described as Providential. When Gadadhar, as Sri Ramakrishna the Great Master used to be known in those days, was passing through the early phase of his spiritual adventure, his near and dear ones thought that marriage would have a resettling and stabilising effect on his mind, which had lost all interest in worldly affairs. But their search for a suitable bride met with failure every time they started on it, until Gadadhar himself came to their rescue. The relatives had kept their plans unknown to Gadadhar, as they feared a vehement protest from him; but upsetting all their worldly-wise calculations, Gadadhar himself came to the rescue of his disconcerted relatives. In an ecstatic mood, he declared: “Why are you searching for a bride here and there? She who is ‘ marked ‘ for me is awaiting at the house of Ramachandra Mukherjee at Jayrambati.” And that ‘marked one’ they found, was none other than Sarada Devi, the five year old daughter of Ramachandra Mukherjee and Shyamasundari Devi of Jayrambati.
There is a tradition of an incident of an earlier day indicative of the divinely ordained nature of this alliance. It was the occasion of a temple festival in the neighborhood where quite a number of families from Kamarpukur and Jayrambati had gathered. Among them were young Gadadhar and infant Sarada. Some women folk on such occasions indulge in the pastime of pre-planning possible marriage alliances for the future. It seems when infant Sarada was asked whom she would marry, she pointed to the boy Gadadhar.
After the marriage, Sarada had occasion, when she was seven and again at thirteen and fourteen, to meet Gadadhar and be with him for a few days each time. Though on these occasions she had the happy experience of serving him, a really meaningful meeting between them took place only later, when she went to Dakshineswar to meet him under strange circumstances. Hearing the rampant rumour that the village gossips bandied about regarding Sri Ramakrishna’s mental condition, young Sarada, now eighteen, felt much upset, and a sense of her duty to be by her husband’s side to serve him in his ailment began to dominate her mind. So under the guise of a pilgrimage to the holy Ganga, she went with her father to Dakshineswar Temple at Calcutta, where the Master was then staying. Trudging most of the sixty miles to Calcutta, she ved unannounced at Dakshineswar one night in March 1872, stricken with fever on the way, to boot.
The Mother at Dakshineswar
It was in every way a very strange meeting. Sri Ramakrishna had been passing through a mood of intense longing for God, and his spirit of renunciation of what he called ‘Woman and Gold’ was raging in his mind with the tempo of a whirl-wind. An ascetic in that mood is the last man one can expect to meet a situation of this type with composure. We expect him to flee the place or put on a very rude and cruel attitude of disregard. But the Master’s response now was as unexpected as when the proposal for marriage was made. He extended a very warm welcome to his wife, made arrangements for her stay and medical treatment, and in every way behaved towards her as a devoted husband should do.
This great event took place in March, 1872. From now onward, with breaks of short intervals for visits to her mother at Jayrambati, Sarada Devi was by the side of Sri Ramakrishna at Dakshineswar and later at Cossipore till 1886 when death separated them in a physical sense. It was a period of training and discipleship, during which the Mother in her became more and more manifest making her ready to take up the leadership of the spiritual Movement that the Master inaugurated. She became the first and foremost of his disciples. This transformation was effected through her service of the Master and the practice of devotional disciplines he prescribed for her. It was a silent and profound process, about the details of which the world knows so little. The type of personality into which she was shaped through that training was one characterised by inexhaustible patience and peace, extreme simplicity combined with dignity, a non-turbulent but compelling spiritual fervour, a loving temperament that knew no distinction between friend and foe, and a maternal attitude of a spontaneous type towards all, that charmed and brought under her influence everyone who came near her.
She spent nearly the whole of the Dakshineswar period of her life of thirteen years, extending from 1872 to 1885, except when she went to Jayrambati periodically, in a small room in the northern side of the temple compound, called the Nahabat, from where she could get a view of the room in which the Master lived.
The ground floor of the Nahabat or Concert House was a small low-roofed octagonal room of less than 50 sq. feet in area, with a verandah four and a quarter feet wide surrounding it. Besides being her living room it served as her provision store, kitchen and reception room too-a surprising combination of functions for such a small enclosure. But so patient and long-suffering she was that what would have been impossible for others, was no problem to her. Several aristocratic women of Calcutta, fat and plumpy, would stand at the door of the Nahabat, and leaning forward, holding the door frame, would say: “Ah! what a tiny room for our good girl! She is, as it were in exile, like Sita.” In later days the Holy Mother would, while recounting the experiences of her early days, tell her nieces, “You won’t be able to live in such a room even for a day.”
Appreciating the extreme inadequacy of her accommodation, a devotee by name Sambhu Mallick built in April 1874 a small house on a plot very near the temple for her to stay. She stayed there for about one year, but left it for the Nahabat when the Great Master fell ill with dysentery, as she wanted to be by his side for nursing him. After that, however, she never went back to that house.
Her life began every day at three a.m., and being a strict observer of the Purdah, she finished her ablutions in the Ganges long before daybreak when people began moving about. Till it was broad daylight, she spent her time in meditation and Japa. She never came out till about one p.m., when there would be no one round about. She would then sit out drying her long and luxuriant locks in the sun. In fact she lived so quietly and unobserved there that the temple Manager said once, “We have heard that she lives here, but we have never seen her.” The Master appreciated her extreme reserve, but none the less felt anxious for her health, as continuous stay in that small room carried with it grave health hazards. The verandah round the room was also screened for making the place fit for a strict Purdah lady to live in. She used to stand behind the screen on the damp floor of her house and watch through holes in the screen the Master singing and dancing in ecstasy beyond the open northern door of the room. All this brought rheumatic pain in her legs. Afterwards, on the Master’s advice, she began to go out of the room and meet the ladies of some known houses in the neighbourhood.
During the day much of her time was taken up with cooking for the Master and devotees. Sri Ramakrishna’s stomach was very delicate and could not stand the temple food. So Sri Sarada Devi prepared the diet for him and personally served it to him, coaxing him to take sufficient quantities of it. She also did the other personal services for the Master like cleaning his room, washing clothes, etc. The Master’s mother was also staying at Dakshineswar in her last days, and Sarada Devi attended on her as well with meticulous care. Although in the earlier years her cooking work was limited, it gradually swelled to enormous proportions, as the number of the Master’s devotees began to increase. Many of them stayed overnight or sometimes for a whole day with him. They had to be fed, and the Mother took upon herself that duty too. It is said that daily she made chapatis out of seven pounds of wheat flour, and prepared the condiments required for them. Besides, betel rolls for the Master and devotees were required, and countless were the rolls she prepared every day.
All through the day quite a large number of women devotees, who came to see the Master, made the Nahabat their first place of halt and spent much time in conversation. Some of them also stayed overnight with her in that small room. Besides attending to her household duties, she also spent hours in watching from the Nahabat the scenes of devotional fervour that went on in the Master’s room. During nights she spent long hours in meditation. Her whole time was thus occupied with acts of service of the Master and his devotees and with the practice of devotional disciplines. It was an ideal way of living in which work and worship went hand in hand, and led to a harmonious development of personality.
Spiritual and Secular Training
The Master took great care to help her in the development of her talents both in the secular and the spiritual fields of life. He taught her how to conduct herself with dignity and success in everyday life. While the Master gave her an all-round education, the emphasis of course was on the spiritual side. We do not know of the details of the spiritual practices she underwent, but we know that under the guidance of the Master she practised Japa and meditation with great intensity every day in the morning and at night. In an admonition given to her niece Nalini, she once gave a hint about the intensity of her practices amidst the discharge of the heavy duties of life. She said to Nalini, “What a lot of work I did when I was of your age! And yet I could find time to repeat my Mantra a hundred thousand times every day.” That is indeed a tremendous performance by any exacting ascetic standard.
Beyond a few glimpses of this kind, we have little record of the Master’s spiritual instructions to her and the way in which he imparted them. The Holy Mother seldom spoke on this subject to others. But we know for certain that the Master’s teachings had a tremendous effect on her pure mind. To a disciple she gave a glimpse of her inner life in the following words: “During my days at Dakshineswar, I used to get up at 3 o’clock in the morning and sit in meditation. Often I used to be totally absorbed in it. Once, on a moonlit night, I was performing Japa, sitting near the steps of the Nahabat. Everything was quiet. I did not even know when the Master passed that way. On other days I would hear the sound of his slippers, but on this night, I did not. I was totally absorbed in meditation. In those days I looked different. I used to put on ornaments and had a cloth with red border. On this day the cloth had slipped off from my back owing to a breeze, but I was unconscious of it. It seems ‘ son Yogen ‘ went that way to give the water-jug to the Master and saw me in that condition. Ah! the ecstasy of those days! On moonlit nights I would look at the moon and pray with folded hands, ‘May my heart be as pure as the rays of the yonder moon !’ Or ‘O Lord, there is stain even in the moon, but let there not be the least trace of stain in my mind !’ If one is steady in meditation, one will clearly see the Lord in one’s heart and hear His voice. The moment an idea flashes in the mind of such a one, it will be fulfilled then and there. You will be bathed in peace. Ah! what a mind I had at that time! Brinde, the maid servant, one day dropped a metal plate in front of me with a bang. The sound penetrated into my heart. In the fullness of one’s spiritual realization, one will find that He who resides in one’s heart, resides in the heart of others as well-the oppressed, the persecuted, the untouchable and the out-caste. This realization makes one truly humble.”
There is ample evidence to make one believe that she attained to exalted states of spiritual consciousness during this period of her life. But she was by nature so modest and unassuming that she would seldom speak to others of such facts of her life as might glorify her in their eyes. Sometimes certain happenings leaked out when any of her companions happened to be by her side. One such instance we come across in the account left by Yogin-Ma, of an exalted spiritual mood she witnessed personally in the Holy Mother. We give below her own words, a little abridged:
“When the Mother first came to Dakshineswar, she had not experienced Samadhi. Though she practised meditation and Japa every day with utmost devotion, we did not hear of her going into Samadhi at that time. On the other hand she even felt frightened at the sight of the Master’s Samadhi in the days when she slept near him. After I had been acquainted with her for some time, she said to me one day, ‘Please speak to the Master that through his grace I may experience Samadhi. On account of the constant presence of devotees, I hardly get any opportunity to speak to him about it myself.’ I thought it was quite right that I should convey to him her request.
“Next morning Sri Ramakrishna was seated on his bed alone when I went to his room and, after saluting him in the usual way, I communicated the Mother’s prayer to him. He listened to it, but did not give any reply. Suddenly he became very serious. When he was in that mood, no one dared to utter a word before him. So I left the room after sitting there silently for a while. Coming to the Nahabat, I found the Mother seated for her daily worship. I opened the door a little and peeped in. Strange to say, she was now giggling and the next moment weeping. This went on alternately for some time. Tears were rolling down her cheeks in an unceasing stream. Gradually she became very much withdrawn into herself. I knew she was in Samadhi. So I closed the door and came away.
“A long while after, I went again to her room. She asked me. ‘Are you just returning from the Master’s room?’ I replied, ‘How is it Mother, that you say you never experience Samadhi and other high spiritual moods?’ She was abashed and smiled.
“After that event sometimes I used to spend the night with her at Dakshineswar. Though I wanted to sleep on a separate bed, she would never listen to it. She would drag me to her side. One night somebody was playing the flute outside. That brought on her a high spiritual mood. She was laughing at intervals. With great hesitation I sat in one corner of the bed. I thought that, ‘being a worldly person, I should not touch her at that time. After long while, her mind came to the ordinary state.”
In later days, after the passing away of the Master, she had more frequent experiences of this exalted state. This will be dealt with in detail in the proper place. Suffice it to say here that soon after her contact with the Master, her mind, pure and disciplined as it was, attained to great heights of concentration and illumination. Ecstasies and visions are only the by-products of spiritual realization. They may or may not appear according to an aspirant’s temperament. The essence of realization, however, consists in a transformation of the inner life, and not in any external manifestation. The Holy Mother was speaking from experience when she put this idea so beautifully in the following words: “What else does one obtain by realization of God? Does one grow a pair of horns? No, our mind becomes pure, and through that pure mind, comes enlightenment.”
In conclusion it may be stated here that the training that the Master imparted to her did not exclude secular matters, especially the way of conducting oneself in everyday life, He instructed her that in arranging articles of domestic use, one must think out beforehand where particular things were to be kept. Those that were frequently required must be kept near at hand and the others at a distance. When a thing was temporarily removed from a place, particular care should be taken to see that it was put back exactly in the same place, so that one might not fail to locate it even in darkness. He taught her also the way of rolling wicks, dressing vegetables, making betel rolls, cooking, and doing other items of domestic work. He instructed her that while travelling in a boat or a carriage she should always be the first to get in and the last to get out; for then only one could properly check whether all the luggage had been taken in or taken out. The secret of one’s success in social relationships, he told her, depended entirely on one’s capacity to adjust one’s conduct according to time, place, circumstances and the nature of the people one had to deal with. Physically everyone was made of flesh and bones, but the mind within was constituted in entirely different ways. So one should be very careful in selecting one’s friends and associates. With some, one might mix freely, with others only a nodding acquaintance was advisable, and with still others it was better not to talk at all.
Thus, the Master took pains to make the Holy Mother efficient in both spiritual and secular matters, and prepared her for the great mission that he was to entrust to her at the close of his life.
The Mother as a true Sahadharmini
By careful education he helped to make her a true Sahadharmini, a fellow-seeker in the quest for the higher values of life. It was the resuscitation of the Vedic ideal of the Pativrata, according to which man and woman got fused into a common ideal and purpose in life. The man and the woman, brought together as husband and wife, are like the two wheels of a vehicle moving together on a common track towards a common ideal. Dharma is that path of higher evolution, and the discharge of one’s social and spiritual duties in the scripture-ordained way is the way of progress along at. The Sahadharmini of a spiritually oriented personage like Sri Ramakrishna must necessarily be one with that same outlook, if the objective of that ideal is to be fulfilled. It was because of this mutually complementary nature of their characters, that they have become perfect ideals of both the married state and the monastic values.
An examination of several incidents of the Master’s life would amply prove that this idea was always in his mind. The extraordinary way in which their marriage was arranged has already been narrated. It is known from the Master’s own statement that he had prayed to the Divine Mother to free Sarada from all bodily passions and make her a suitable mate for himself. It was found that this prayer was amply answered when, after Sarada’s arrival at Dakshineswar, the Master pointedly put her a question: “Do you want to drag me down into Maya?” Sarada Devi’s answer was equally prompt and to the point. She replied: “Why should I do so? I have come only to help you in the path of religious life.” A noble answer indeed by a Pativrata and a true Sahadharmini! Only a woman of immaculate purity of mind could have given such a reply. There was no artifice in it, no hypocrisy or attempt to please anybody. It was the spontaneous expression of her lofty nature, of the lofty ideal of life that had unconsciously become hers as much as her husband’s.
The seriousness and sincerity behind this challenging reply she proved before long when Sri Ramakrishna decided to subject himself to what may be called a fiery ordeal. His teacher Totapuri had told him, on knowing him to be married, that this was not much of a risk for him. For a sincere Sadhaka, an earnest aspirant struggling in the spiritual path, it is highly necessary to keep aloof from the company of women. But if and when he attains to realization, his moral purity will not be of the cloistered type based on difference, but on the apprehension of the one Self in man and woman alike-an apprehension which helps one to surmount the identification of the self with the body.
The Master therefore utilized the presence of Sarada Devi at Dakshineswar to allow her the right of a wife in the fullest sense as well as to test how far his Brahman-knowledge had raised him above the bodily sense. For a period of about six months this ascetic of ascetics had his wife sleep in his own room and the spiritual awareness of them both put to the acid test. They stood it wonderfully well. The Master’s mind went only into deep Samadhi and was never assaulted by bodily passion. He also gave equal credit to Sarada Devi when he said: “Had she not been so pure, who knows whether I would not have lost my self-control? After marriage I had prayed to the Divine Mother, ‘ O Mother! Remove even the least trace of carnality from the mind of my wife.’ When I lived with her, I understood that the Mother had really granted my prayer.”
And as for the Holy Mother herself, we have her statement regarding her experiences of those memorable nights: “The divine state in which the Master used to be absorbed, passes all description. In an ecstatic mood, he would smile or weep, or at times remain perfectly still in Samadhi. This would sometimes continue throughout the night. In that divine presence, my whole body would tremble with awe and I would anxiously await the dawn. For I knew nothing of ecstasy in those days. One night his Samadhi continued for a very long time. Greatly frightened, I sent for Hriday. He came and began to repeat the name of the Lord in the Master’s ears. When he had done this for a little while, external consciousness reappeared. After this incident, the Master came to know of my difficulty, and taught me the appropriate names that should be uttered in the ear in particular states of Samadhi. Thenceforth my fear was very much lessened, as he would invariably come to earthly consciousness on the utterance of the particular divine names. But even after this I sometimes kept awake the whole night, as there was no knowing when he would fall into Samadhi. In course of time he came to know of my difficulty. He learnt that even after the lapse of a considerable length of time I could not adjust myself to his Samadhi temperament. So he asked me to sleep separately at the Nahabat.”
The Shodasi Pooja
Another memorable event in the life of this holy couple that took place about this time was the Shodasi Puja, in which the Master offered actual ceremonial worship to the Holy Mother, seating her on the pedestal of the Deity. It took place during her first visit to Dakshineswar when she stayed there continuously from March 1872 to October 1873, for more than a year and a half. Authorities differ about the exact date of this incident. According to some it was about a month and a half after the Mother’s arrival at Dakshineswar; according to others it was one and a half years later. The latter is more likely. It took place on the night of Phalaharini-Kali Puja day, when the Divine Mother is worshipped as the consumer of the Karmas of the devotee. Arrangements for worship were made in the Master’s room, and Sarada was requested to be present at the worship. After the Master had gone through the preliminary rites of worship, he beckoned to Sarada Devi to sit on the seat set apart for the Deity. He then invoked the presence of the Divine Mother in her with the Mantra: ” O Divine Mother! Thou eternal virgin, the mistress of all powers, and the abode of all beauty! Deign to unlock for me the gate to perfection. Sanctifying the body and mind of this woman, do Thou manifest Thyself through her and do what is auspicious.”
Then he went through all the procedures of a full ritualistic worship with sixteen ingredients. He first performed the Nyasa, which consists in touching the different parts of one’s body with appropriate Mantras and identifying them in meditation with the corresponding parts of the Deity. After that he offered worship with sixteen items with appropriate Mantras. In the course of it he applied a red paint to the soles of Sarada Devi, put a vermilion mark on her forehead, put on her a new cloth, put a little of sweets and betel-leaf in her mouth, and performed the Arati (light-waving ceremony) before her. The bashful Sarada received all these acts of adoration without the least feeling of hesitation. The sense of identification with the Deity must have come on her. Both the Master and the Mother were in a state of ecstatic and semi-conscious absorption in the course of the worship, and by the time it came to an end they were in complete Samadhi in which the worshipper and the worshipped realised the identity of their being as Existence-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute. After a considerable length of time, when the second watch of the night had fairly advanced, the Master regained external consciousness. Then he resigned himself completely to the Divine Mother, and in a supreme act of consecration, offered to the Deity manifest before him, the fruits of his austerities, his rosary, himself and everything that was his. He then uttered the following Mantra: “O Goddess, I prostrate myself before Thee again and again-before Thee, the eternal consort of Siva, the three-eyed, the golden-hued, the indwelling spirit in all, the giver of refuge, the accomplisher of every end, and the most auspicious among all auspicious objects.”
The significance of this rite in the lives of these two great personages can hardly be over-estimated. For Sri Ramakrishna it signified the final triumph of the spirit over the body, and the recognition of Divinity in all. It marked the successful conclusion of his spiritual strivings, and his establishment in the state of the ‘divine man.’ In the life of Sri Sarada Devi the Holy Mother, too, it had a deep significance. When Sri Ramakrishna, the Divine Incarnation of the age, invoked the presence of the Divine Mother in her, and worshipped her as such, she was elevated in truth and in reality from Sarada, the daughter of Ramachandra, to Sarada, the Holy Mother, the manifestation of the Eternal Mother of the Universe, for all humanity to worship. It has been already stated how the Master had from the time of his marriage been praying to the Mother of the Universe to divinise the person of his wife, and how her answer to a leading question he put to her as a test proved that the transformation was largely effected, and how she was a partner in life well-matched with him in all respects. And now by the performance of this rite of Shodasi Puja in which he identified the Deity with Sarada, and surrendered all his spiritual practices and their fruits to her, he virtually made her a participant of all his austerities and spiritual attainments. It is sometimes asked why the Holy Mother did not perform Sadhanas like the Master. She did perform much in this field, but the real answer is in the Shodasi Puja, by virtue of which the Holy Mother became a full sharer in the spiritual glory of the Master. As the spiritual counterpart of the great world-teacher Sri Ramakrishna, she had no need to re-enact the same scenes of the one common drama which they were together staging before mankind. She had other parts to play by way of fulfilling and supplementing the Master’s work.
In another sense also the Shodasi Puja was a landmark in her life. It made her a vital part of Sri Ramakrishna’s Mission. In that rite the Master invoked in her the presence of the Divine Mother- the same Supreme Energy that was manifesting in him. Henceforth, just as in the Master’s case, her body and mind became the venue of expression for that Energy. For the rest of her life she served the Master and helped in his Mission, and after his passing away, his mantle fell on her, and through a long period of spiritual ministry, she completed what he had left unfinished.
Relationship of Mutual Love and Respect
The Master’s life combined in itself the highest ideals of the monastic life and those of the householders. The Master always taught men the gospel of renunciation of Kamini-Kanchana (translated literally as ‘Woman and Gold’, but meaning ‘lust and greed’) and had it not been for the advent of the Holy Mother into his life, he would have been taken to be only a hard-baked ascetic and nothing more. But his very cordial and affectionate relationship with the Mother, treating her as the first and foremost of his disciples and attendants, has lifted married life above the level of sex and made it a potent spiritual relationship. The crusader against ‘Kamini-Kanchana’, showed the highest consideration and respect to the Holy Mother. The welcome he extended to her on her first appearance was in itself an unexpected mark of cordiality. Not only was he particular about keeping her in comfort, he even thought of providing something for her future. Calculating the minimum amount required monthly for her maintenance as Rupees six, he had six hundred rupees deposited with the Zamindari Office of Balaram Bose, the interest of which was to go for her maintenance. He divined her liking to wear ornaments and spent three hundred rupees to have a pair of bracelets made for her. There is a tradition according to which Sri Ramakrishna had a vision of Sita at the Panchavati. He found her wearing a pair of bracelets with many tiny facets like diamonds. It was in imitation of these that he made for her gold bracelets which she wore till the last. Yogin-Ma, describing her appearance in those early days, says: “She wore a piece of cloth with broad red borders and put vermilion at the parting of her hair. Her thick black tresses almost touched her knees. She wore a gold necklace, a big nose ring, earrings and bracelets. Most of these were what Mathur Babu made for the Master when he practised spiritual disciplines assuming the role of a handmaid of the Divine Mother.” It seems Manomohan’s wife criticised her for wearing these ornaments while being the wife of a man of such great renunciation. Thenceforth she put aside most of them.
While receiving all her loving services, and moving with her in all frankness and child-like innocence, the Master always maintained an attitude of profound respect towards her as his spiritual counterpart and fulfiller of his life’s Mission. This attitude was generally implicit, but sometimes expressed itself in striking little actions. One day the Holy Mother entered the Master’s room with his meal. He thought it was his niece Lakshmi, and asked her casually to shut the door, addressing her as ‘tui’, an expression meaning ‘thou’, but used with reference to juniors or inferior persons. When the Holy Mother responded, the Master felt very much embarrassed and said, “Ah! is it you? I thought it was Lakshmi. Please pardon me.” But the Holy Mother tried to pacify him, saying there was nothing wrong in his addressing her like that. But the Master was not satisfied. Next morning he went to the Nahabat and said to the Holy Mother: “Well, I could not sleep all the night. I was so worried because I spoke to you rudely.” Referring to this incident, she often said in later times, especially when some of her senseless relations behaved disrespectfully, “I was married to a husband who never addressed me as ‘tui’. Ah! how he I treated me! Not even once did he tell me a harsh word or wound my feelings. He did not strike me even with a bunch of flowers !”
It will thus be seen that Sri Sarada Devi received from her husband all that a Hindu wife expects. But some may perhaps object, that she had no issue. Her own mother Shyamasundari Devi once lamented: “My Sarada has been married to an ascetic. She will never know the happiness of being addressed as ‘mother’. The Master, who happened to hear it, remarked: “Your daughter will have so many children that she will be tired of being addressed day and night as ‘Mother’. And countless indeed were her spiritual ‘sons’ and ‘daughters’. She was the Sahadharmini, a companion in life, not of an ordinary man, but of the Incarnation of the age, who came to generate Bhakti and Jnana among men, and whose main teaching inculcated renunciation of lust and possessions. In conformity with his ideal, which was hers too, the children born of her were not physical, but spiritual, and of these she had a countless number.
In the Passing of Events
The period of thirteen years that the Mother served the Great Master was inwardly characterised by her absorption in the Master’s ideal and fusion of her life with his, and outwardly by her periodic migration from Dakshineswar to Jayrambati and back. During this period she went seven times to Jayrambati and back to Calcutta, a journey of about sixty miles, which she had often to make on foot. These visits were generally occasioned by ill health or for rendering assistance to her mother during the Jagaddhatri Puja. But as her services were very much needed by the Master, her stay at Jayrambati was perforce not very long. In 1874 her father died and her mother and brothers were reduced to poverty. The family had to be supported by her mother with wages earned by husking paddy, in which she was helped by her daughter Sarada also whenever she was at Jayrambati. After the performance of Jagaddhatri Puja was instituted in the family, their condition improved.
It was during one of these journeys to Calcutta that the Mother had to run the risk of facing some brigands after dusk. As she could not walk fast enough, the party she was accompanying had gone in advance, and she was left alone at about dusk half way across a solitary wilderness. A man who looked like a brigand and his wife converged on her path and halted her. In that precarious situation, the Mother, then a young woman of about twenty-four, did not lose her presence of mind. . She addressed the couple as ‘father’ and ‘mother’ in a tone that roused the parental instinct in them and she narrated to them how she had been left in that helpless condition. The ‘brigand’ couple, reciprocated the filial confidence she put in them, and behaved in a very tender manner towards her. They took good care of her for the night, and enabled her to join her party in the morning.
During this period she once fell seriously ill. In 1875 she had a severe attack of dysentery, so severe that she was given up for lost. When all human remedies failed, as a last and desperate act of prayer and supplication for divine intervention, she resolved to perform the rite of Hatya before the Deity Simhavahini, according to which one observes the vow of starving unto death if no divine assistance comes. Within a few days of her fast, the Goddess is said to have revealed the name of some simple medicines, taking which she was cured. Some time after, she had a severe attack of malaria, with enlargement of the spleen, for which she was subjected to the curious countryside treatment of branding with a red hot iron in the region of the spleen-with what effect, no one knows.
It was on her fourth visit to Dakshineswar along with her mother in 1881 that she had to return the very next day owing to the rude behaviour of Hriday, nephew and care-taker of the Master. But the injured feeling of the Mother had instantaneous repercussion on Hriday. A few days after this, he indiscreetly worshipped with flowers the feet of a young daughter of Trailokyanath, the proprietor of the temple. As such an act of worship was supposed to be very harmful to the girl concerned, her father dismissed Hriday from the temple service, with the order that he should no more enter the temple precincts. This was a corroboration of the warning that the Master had given to Hriday, who had been for sometime past behaving discourteously towards him. He had told him that one might insult him (the Master) with impunity, but “dire consequences” would follow, if the Holy Mother were so treated.
The Mother stayed at Dakshineswar till about September 1885, when her happy days there ended with the transfer of the Master for treatment, first to Shyampukur in Calcutta, and after-wards to Cossipore, where he passed away in August 1886. While the men disciples arranged for the nursing and general treatment of the Master, the Holy Mother took upon herself the duty of preparing the diet of the Master and feeding him. Though for a Purdah lady like herself it was very inconvenient to stay in those places, she put up with everything with a sense of satisfaction derived from the feeling that she was of service to the Master, and she threw herself heart and soul into the work.
There are two incidents of importance recorded about the Holy Mother’s experiences during her attendance on the Master at Cossipore. The Master was then lying in a weak and exhausted condition, unable to move without the assistance of others. But one day the Holy Mother saw him running out of the room. Startled, the Mother went inside the room to verify her observation, and she found the Master’s cot empty. Shortly after, she found him returning. She made enquiries of him about this the next day. The Master at first made light of it, saying it was all the result of her heated brain. But when she pressed for an explanation, he informed her that Niranjan and some other disciples had gone to make palm juice from a date palm, that there was then a cobra on the palm, and that he went there in advance, using his higher powers, to drive away the cobra and protect them. This event, looking strange and miraculous, has to be accepted as it comes from the Mother’s lips. It also raises interesting issues regarding the Master’s ailment.
Another occurrence was her experience at Tarakeswar Siva Temple where she had gone to pray and seek Divine remedy for the Master’s illness, which had been declared incurable by medical men. For two days she lay before the Deity without food or drink, supplicating for some remedy. During the night of the second day she was startled to hear a sound resembling the breaking of a pile of earthen pots at one blow. She woke up from her torpor, and the idea flashed in her mind: “Who is husband and who is wife? Who is my relative in this world? Why am I about to kill myself?” Freed from all personal attachments, her mind was full of an intense spirit of renunciation. She had another vision in which she saw that the image of Mother Kali was bent to one side. When she asked the Deity, “Mother, why do you stand like that?” she got the reply, “It is because of this (pointing to the Master’s diseased throat). I also have it in my throat” All such experiences prepared her mind for the exit of the Master from his earthly sojourn, which took place on the 16th August, 1886. With the passing of the Master, this phase of the Mother’s life came to a close.
After the Master’s Passing: Pilgrimage to Vrindaban
The Master’s demise brought about a drastic change in the Holy Mother’s life. She reacted to his passing with extreme fortitude, exclaiming, “O Mother Kali! Have you left me!’ She shed no tears, though her heart was heavy with the sorrow of separation. Soon after the cremation, she was removing her gold bracelets and tearing off the red border of her wearing cloth in order to be dressed in the pattern of a Hindu widow. Immediately she had a vision of the Master, telling her, “What are you doing? I have not gone away. I have only passed from one room to another.” A reassuring experience indeed for her grief-stricken heart! All through life she wore her bracelets and a thin-bordered cloth in acceptance of the assurance of her experience that her Lord and Master is the Eternal Being, who never dies.
About a fortnight after the Master’s Mahasamadhi, the Cossipore establishment was disbanded, and the Holy Mother had to shift to the house of Balaram Bose. As a measure for assuaging er grief and as a holy act in itself, she started, about two weeks later, on a pilgrimage with a party consisting of several disciples of the Master including Lakshmi-Didi and Golap-Ma. After visiting Banaras and Ayodhya, they halted at Vrindaban where they stayed for about a year. The stay was a very highly rewarding experience from the spiritual standpoint for the Holy Mother. The association of the place with the story of Radha’s passionate grief in separation from her beloved Krishna brought home to her the similarity of her own situation after the Master’s passing, and added a spiritual poignancy to the sorrow she was feeling in her heart from the bereavement. All her pent up feelings found expression as an upsurge of passionate longing for the Divine and in a torrential flow of tears that continued almost unremittingly during the early part of her life at Vrindaban. This mood in which love and grief blend in full harmony bringing about a gradual transformation of personality, continued for several days with her until she had a wonderful vision in which the Master appeared to her and said: “Why are you weeping so much? Here I am. Where have I after all gone? Only from one room to another.” The experience assuaged her grief very much, as she began to feel the nearness of the Master more and more. The anguish of separation gradually turned into a sense of utter peace and radiant joy. Often she began to fall into exalted moods in which she would walk away over the sandy banks until her companions went after her and brought her back. Her temperament changed from that of an adult into that of a little girl of seven or eight.
Her life at Vrindaban was one of constant worship, meditation and spiritual experiences. She and Yogin-Ma would sit in meditation with such absorption that they ceased to be disturbed by flies that produced sores on their faces. She visited all the numerous temples in the place and also undertook the circumambulation of the whole area of Vrindaban involving a walk of several miles. At Radharamana’s temple she prayed to the Deity: “O Lord, remove from me the habit of finding fault with others. May I never find fault with anybody.” Her prayer was answered to the letter, and in later life one of the distinguishing features of her character was the complete absence of the fault-finding tendency. She maintained that this tendency only corrupted one without improving others.
She had several spiritual experiences during this time, though she never revealed them to anyone. But some of them could not escape the notice of her companions. Thus Yogin-Ma one day found her absorbed in Samadhi. Even repeating the Divine name in her ears several times had not the effect of bringing her to the body-consciousness. Then Swami Yogananda tried the same technique for some time, which brought her to a semi-conscious state in which she said, “I must eat something’-even as Sri Ramakrishna used to mutter in order to bring his mind to the worldly plane. She then partook of a little sweet as the Master would do. Even in taking betel rolls, she threw away the tip in the manner of the Master. Swami Yogananda put to her several questions in that mood, and received replies from her as if the Master himself were answering him. Afterwards she told her companions that the consciousness of the Master was upon her during that state. During this period she gave initiation to Swami Yogananda under the express command of the Master both to her and to the Swami. She gave the initiation in a highly exalted mood bordering on Samadhi. After visiting Haridwar and some other places, she along with the party returned to Calcutta by August 1887.
Life at Kamarpukur and after
The nine months following 1887 may be described as the dark period in the Holy Mother’s life from the material point of view, although spiritually she was in an exalted mood. Now that the Master was no more, the Holy Mother could not stay on in Calcutta. She was a young widow of about thirty-three. Though the Sannyasin disciples of the Master and a few of the lay ones respected her, men at large had not yet come to recognise her spiritual status. She had therefore to go through all the difficulties which a young widow in her situation was bound to face. A few days after her return to Calcutta from her pilgrimage, she had to go to Kamarpukur to take her permanent residence there. The Master too had told her towards the close of his life: “After my time, you go to Kamarpukur and live upon whatever you get, be it mere boiled rice and greens, and spend your time in repeating the name of Hari.” These words of his came to be literally fulfilled. She took her residence in the small cottage that had been assigned to the Master in the family campus. For her maintenance she had only some paddy which she could process into rice and eat without any condiments. For something to eat with rice, she had herself to dig the ground and grow some greens. She had absolutely no cash even to procure some salt. Ramlal, Sri Ramakrishna’s nephew, who was legally her guardian, left her in utter neglect. It is said that he even positively contributed to her sufferings. The temple authorities had set apart a monthly pension of ten rupees to the Master which used to be paid to the Mother. But Ramlal, for reasons of his own, is supposed to have interfered and got it stopped. He even effected a partition, and assigning the Master’s cottage to her, rid himself of all responsibilities. The other members of the family like Sivaram and Lakshmi-Didi were of no help to her, as they stayed at Calcutta with their uncle Ramlal who was the officiating priest at Dakshineswar. She had therefore to live alone in that hut. To add to the misery that neglect and loneliness caused, she became the butt of criticism of the village die-hards who vilified her as a ‘merry widow’ because she put on a red bordered cloth which custom strictly prohibited for widows. In the midst of, these depressing influences, there were two factors that sustained “her. One was the sympathy and support she got from Prasannamayi, an aged lady of the Laha family and a friend of Sri Ramakrishna when he was the boy Gadadhar of Kamarpukur. The other was the vision of the Great Master which she got now and then in difficult situations and the mood of spiritual exaltation in which she lived.
This state of affairs did not, however, continue for long. Her mother Shyamasundari Devi came to know of it, and through her son Prasanna Kumar, she remonstrated with Ramlal for the neglect of her daughter and also informed Golap-Ma of it. Golap-Ma at once took up the matter seriously, carried on a vigorous propaganda among the disciples of the Master, raised some funds, and invited the Holy Mother in the name of all the devotees of the Master to come to Calcutta and stay there. After some hesitation, arising from fear of public opinion attributing impropriety to a young widow staying amidst strangers, she finally arrived in Calcutta in April 1888 to the great joy of all the disciples and devotees.
It has to be pointed out that in the early days, several of the lay disciples attached no more importance to the Holy Mother than as the ‘Wife of the Guru’. One is said to have actually remarked: “I know Sri Ramakrishna, but I know nothing of his wife.” But hearing much from Yogin-Ma, Golap-Ma and Swami Yogananda about the highly exalted states of the Mother at Vrindaban, most of them veered round in their estimate of the Mother, and fully co-operated in the efforts made to provide for her stay at Calcutta.
From now (1888) onwards till her exit in 1920, the Mother stayed at Calcutta and Jayrambati alternately. She went to Kamarpukur also a few times in the early part of this period. At Calcutta she used to be accommodated at the houses of the devotees Balaram Bose or Mahendranath Gupta whenever her stay was short, and at rented houses when the stay was long. This arrangement went on until Swami Saradananda built the Udbodhan House as her Calcutta residence in 1909. She was attended upon by Swami Yogananda and Swami Trigunatita at first, and after Swami Trigunatita left India, Swami Saradananda took full charge of her responsibility. The lady disciples of the Master like Yogin-Ma and Golap-Ma kept company with her often.
It was a few months after her coming to Calcutta, that she went on another pilgrimage in April 1888 to Gaya accompanied by Swami Advaitananda. On this occasion she also visited Bodh Gaya, the place of the Buddha’s enlightenment, where an event of great future significance took place. She saw there the well established monastery of Hindu Sannyasins, which provided the monks with good accommodation and food. The contrast between this and the poverty-stricken condition of her own ‘children’, the monastic disciples of the Master, evoked strong sentiments in her mind. About this incident she said as follows: “Ah! for this have I shed tears and prayed to the Master! And only through that this Math (Belur Math) came into existence now. When the Master left the body, the boys gave up the world and gathered together in a rented shelter for some days. Then they scattered about independently and went on roaming about here and there. Then I felt intensely sad and prayed to the Master, ‘O Lord! You came, disported with a few and then went away. Should everything end with that? If so, what was the need for coming down and undergoing so many travails? I have seen in Banaras and Vrindaban many holy men who get their food by alms and move about from one place to another. There is no dearth of holy men of that type. I shall not be able to bear the sight of my ‘sons’, who have come out in your name, moving about begging for food. My prayer is, that those who leave the world in your name may never be in need of bare sustenance. They will all live together holding to your ideas and ideals, and the people afflicted by the worries of the world will resort to them and be solaced by hearing from them about you.
That is why you came. My heart is pained at seeing them wandering about’ ” Indeed a remarkable prayer for the monks, while she herself was in utter poverty and neglect! Her insight into the implications of the Master’s advent too is profound and prophetic.
The Exalted State of the Mother’s Mind
From the time of her return to Calcutta from Kamarpukur in 1888, her visits to that place were few, although she took care to see that the house that stood in the Master’s name was kept in good condition. Her time was taken up by frequent visits to, and stay at, her paternal home at Jayrambati, and with disciples at Calcutta. Her companions Yogin-Ma and Golap-Ma noticed a great spiritual transformation in her after the Master’s lifetime. Yogin-Ma noticed that she had become remarkably indrawn and was radiating an unearthly loveliness. During her stay at Calcutta in 1888, she saw the Mother in a state of Samadhi while meditating on the roof of Balaram Babu’s house. About her experience in that state, the Mother said: “I found in that state that I had travelled into a distant country. I cannot describe the nature of the ecstatic joy I felt. When my mind came down from that exalted mood, I found my body lying there. I thought, ‘How can I possibly enter into this ugly body?’ I could not at all persuade my mind to do so. After a long while it did, and the body became conscious again.”
Another day she was meditating in the house of Nilambar Mukherjee along with Yogin-Ma and Golap-Ma. After finishing her meditation, Yogin-Ma looked at the Mother and found her seated motionless as before, absorbed in meditation. It took a long time for her mind to come down to physical consciousness, and when it actually regained traces of it, she began to say, “O Yogin! Where are my hands and feet?” Yogin-Ma pressed her limbs and directed her attention to them in a loud voice, but it took much time for her to be conscious of the whole body.
Another vision she had was of Sri Ramakrishna getting down into the Ganga and his body dissolving into its sacred waters She found Narendra taking that water and sprinkling it everywhere. This was a prophetic vision of what was to take place soon-of Narendra as Swami Vivekananda spreading the Master’s universal message broadcast. The vision created a very vivid impression on her, for it filled her mind with a sense of purpose. She began to see that the Master lived in his Mission and that he worked through those whom he made his instruments in its fulfilment. Her own part in it began to dawn on her mind little by little.
It would thus be seen that after the Master’s demise, in spite of various worldly difficulties, her mind was getting more and more detached from worldly concerns and was drifting towards Samadhi. So long as the Master was alive, serving him in every way filled her life with a meaning. But once he was no more, there was no other definite worldly purpose to hold her consciousness to the body, and Samadhi became a more frequent experience with her. Thus, it was the firm view of her close associates like Yogin-Ma that she would have given up her body soon in the absence of a worldly purpose, and her services in the great work of propagation of the Master’s message would not have been available, had it not been for certain domestic entanglements that forced her mind back to the world.
Radhu and her significance in the Mother’s Life
The force that diverted her mind to the world was the entry of Radhu or Radhi, a niece of hers, into her life. To understand the nature of this connection, it is necessary to have some acquaintance with the domestic set up in the Holy Mother’s paternal home at Jayrambati, with which she became intimately connected after she left Kamarpukur. That family consisted of her mother Shyamasundari Devi and her four sons – Prasanna Kumar, Barada Prasad, Kali Kumar and Abhay Charan, who were all called ‘uncles’ (Mamas) by the devotees. Being the eldest of the family, the Holy Mother had much to do in her early days in the upbringing of these brothers of hers, and therefore there was a strong tie of affection uniting her with them. None of these brothers had any of the great spiritual qualities that distinguished the Holy Mother, but grew into just the ordinary men of the world, and some of them even represented an extreme type of worldliness. None of them except the last had enough talents to prosper in life. All of them and their children looked to the Mother for help, and on account of this, there was bitter rivalry among them for the Mother’s favour. So in her later days at Jayrambati she was in the midst of this not very pleasant domestic environment on the one hand, and on the other, in the midst of her all-renouncing monastic attendants and highly devoted lay disciples. The picture of the Holy Mother in the midst of this contrasting environment is that of one living a life of utter detachment and renunciation, discharging at the same time whatever duties she had to perform to her kith and kin.
Among her brothers, the youngest Abhay Charan was the most talented, but in the end he became the cause of the devolution of heavy responsibilities on the Mother. He passed out of the Medical School, but died all of a sudden, leaving behind him his expectant widow who was a little unbalanced in mind. The brother made a dying request to the sister that she should take complete charge of his weak wife and her expected child, and she agreed. The child born of this ‘mad aunt’ was Radhu or Radhi, on whom the Mother pinned her affection, and who thus became that prop spoken of earlier, for sustaining her life in this world.
This interpretation of the Radhu episode is not any fanciful exaggeration by devotees. Antecedent events amply justify it. It was also the Mother’s conviction. To quote her own words: “How the Master has entangled me through Radhu! After the passing away of the Master, I did not at all relish anything in life. I became utterly indifferent to worldly things and kept on praying, ‘What shall I achieve by remaining in this world?’ At that time I saw a girl ten or twelve years old walking in front of me dressed in red cloth. The Master pointed her out to me and said: ‘Cling to her as a support. Many children (disciples) seeking instruction will come to you.’ The next moment he disappeared. I did not see the girl anymore. Later on I was seated in this very place. At that time Radhu’s mother was stark mad. She was dragging some rags tucked under her arms. I said to myself, ‘Well if I do not look after this child, who else will take care of her? She has no father, and her mother is an insane woman.’ No sooner had I taken the child in my arms than I saw the Master. He said ‘This is the girl, cling to her as your support. She is Yoga-maya, the illusive power.’ ”
Radhu was born in 1900. From that time till 1920, the year of the Holy Mother’s demise, she was the fulcrum on which the worldly life of the Holy Mother rested. After the above-mentioned vision the Holy Mother took charge of Radhu. She never allowed Radhu to be parted from her till a few days before her demise in 1920. She could neither eat nor sleep without Radhu, so strong was the bond of affection with which she came to be tied to this girl all of a sudden. She practically assumed the role of her mother, ousting the girl’s own insane mother, the Chota-Mami, who made it the ground of her tirades against the Mother in later days. She became jealous of the Holy Mother when she found her daughter loving the Mother more than herself, and her insane imagination began to find various evil motives in the Mother’s love for Radhu, as a result of which she began to behave to the Mother with a rudeness verging on persecution.
Radhu, too, proved, as she grew up, to be somewhat abnormal like her mother. Physically she was weak and mentally a moron. Though there was a simplicity and innocence about her, -she was utterly lacking in understanding and discrimination. The Mother arranged for her marriage in 1911, but even after that she and her husband continued to be with the Mother. Her first confinement was a period of great anxiety for the Mother, as the girl was practically insane before and after the event.
The Mother in domestic and devotional setting
Besides Radhu and her insane mother, there were also Nalini and Maku, the two daughter of her brother Prasanna Kumar, who were also dependent on the Holy Mother. They stayed with her at the Jayrambati house, and often moved with her to Calcutta also, after Swami Saradananda built Udbodhan House in 1909 as the Calcutta residence of the Mother.
So in the scenario of the latter part of her life, which is meticulously depicted in these memoirs, one will find the Holy Mother amidst the circle of these relatives-her brothers described here as Mamas (uncles), their wives as Mamis (aunts), her nieces Nalini and Maku as Didis (elder sisters), and above all Radhu who is the central figure in this whole domestic set up. The selfishness of the brothers, the mutual jealousy of the nieces, Nalini’s mania for ceremonial purity, the perversity of Radhu, and the insanity of Radhu’s mother, all these together combine to produce a tangled domestic situation, in the intolerable atmosphere of which the Mother had to carry on her self-chosen duty without demur, sustained by her matchless patience, insight and power of detachment.
It is not that even some of her intimate associates did not feel the contradiction between her attachment to Radhu and other relatives, and the state of renunciation inculcated by the Master. Her very close friend Yogin-Ma was one such She thought: “The Master was a man of such high renunciation and we see the Holy Mother behaving like a typical worldly-minded woman.
Day and night she is restless about her brothers, nephews and nieces. I don’t understand it” Shortly after this doubt had arisen in her mind, she was one day meditating on the bank of the Ganges, when she saw in a vision the Master standing before her and saying, “Look there! Don’t you see something floating on the Ganges?” She saw a new-born baby, entangled in its entrails, being carried along by the current. The Master then said to her, “Can anything ever make the Ganges impure? Can anything defile its waters? Regard her (the Holy Mother) too in the same way. Never have any doubt about her. Know that she and this (referring to himself) are identical.”
In striking contrast to this domestic circle around her, were the numerous spiritual aspirants who had been gathering about her. Originally consisting of Golap-Ma, Yogin-Ma and some of the other women devotees of the Master, their numbers swelled with the addition of her own disciples whose number increased as her spiritual ministry gained momentum. Very senior Sannyasins of the older generation like Swami Yogananda, Swami Trigunatita and Swami Saradananda attended on her, besides several monastic disciples of her own. Countless numbers of initiation-seeking devotees also went to her both at Calcutta and at Jayrambati. They were all spiritual seekers who sought no worldly advantage from the Mother, but only an opportunity to offer her their service and whatever resources they had. It is a remarkable thing that the Holy Mother was able to satisfy both these types-her exacting and quarrelsome relatives on the one hand, and the devoted spiritual seekers on the other. In this sense she was really a Bhukti-mukti-pradayini-a descriptive epithet for the Divine Mother, meaning granter of both worldly goods and spiritual emancipation. The unique spirituality of the Mother can be recognised only when one comprehends the inherent contradictions of the demands that these two situations made on her. One who is doting on an eccentric niece-how could such a person bestow unrestricted and absolute maternal love even on utter strangers, not to speak of one’s disciples, and overwhelm them with the power and sincerity of it? This looks an insoluble mystery. But it is also a pointer to the lofty spiritual status of the Mother. None but one who is established in what is called Bhavamukha in the great Master’s teaching, is capable of it. For it is the nature of worldly love that the more one loves one’s kith and kin, the less becomes one’s concern for others. But here the Mother’s universal love stands undiminished even when it is diverted through diverse and contrary channels. The comprehensiveness and intensity of it is not at all affected by its bestowal on certain restricted circles also. These precious reminiscences about her vividly portray in variegated colours the scenes of the Mother pouring her astounding love on strangers, on criminals, on the rich, on the poor, on the sick and the suffering, on spiritual aspirants and on saints all alike, even while living amidst relatives with their exacting demands for worldly advantages.
Important Events of later Life
Let us resume the thread of the events of her life. During this period of her life from 1888 to 1920, her time was mostly divided between Jayrambati and Calcutta besides what she spent on short pilgrimages. Thus, in April 1888 itself she went to Gaya and in November 1888 to the temples of Puri, both being places which the Master had not visited and to which he had advised her to go. In 1893 she performed the Panchatapa, an austere practice in which one has to subject oneself to the heat of five fires, these being four fires on the four sides with the hot sun above. In 1894 she again went to Banaras and Vrindaban. In November 1898 the first of her monastic attendants Swami Yogananda, a disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, as also her own youngest brother Abhay Charan passed away, to the great sorrow of the Holy Mother. In 1900 was born Radhu or Radharani who became the prop of her life thenceforth. In 1906 her mother Shyamasundari Devi passed away.
The year 1909 was a great landmark in the Holy Mother’s life, because that year saw the opening of the Udbodhan House Ever since Swami Saradananda took up the responsibility of the Holy Mother after the demise of Swami Yogananda, he was feeling the great inconvenience the Mother felt in being lodged in Calcutta in rented houses or in devotees residences, especially because with the passing of time, her entourage increased in number. So, raising a loan, the Swami built a city house for her in the Baghbazar area. It was called Udbodhan Office, because the Udbodhan, the Bengali magazine of the Ramakrishna Order was published from there. In the upper storeys of the house the Mother and the ladies of her party stayed, while on the ground floor her monastic attendants and other disciples stayed. Swami Saradananda stayed in a room at the entrance as the ‘gate keeper’ of the Mother. While the Mother stayed at Calcutta, Swami Saradananda met all the expenses of her and her party. When she went to her village home with the ladies, Swami Saradananda put one monastic in charge of her to look after her safety and convenience. He also sent substantial contributions of money, though the Mother herself was supposed to meet the expenses of her household in the village with contributions from disciples and devotees.
At Jayrambati she stayed at the houses of one or the other of her brothers, until Swami Saradananda built a separate cottage-for her. The city folk could meet her at Calcutta easily, but such meetings could be very formal only. On the other hand when she was at her village home, she was readily accessible and mixed freely with the devotees. So, many preferred to meet her in the village. As their numbers increased, a separate establishment for her became necessary. The Ashrama at Koalpara, situated about five or six miles from Jayrambati, provided a mid-way resting place for the Mother on her journey to Jayrambati. The monastic disciples of the Mother who stayed there looked upon themselves as the out-post to guard and serve the Mother through manual labour, shopping, going on errands etc.
Pilgrimage to Rameswaram
Towards the end of February 1911, the Holy Mother started on a pilgrimage to Rameswaram, the trip being organised by Swami Ramakrishnananda, a direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna and head of the Madras Centre. In spite of the language difficulty, she freely communicated with people and during her stay of a month in the city of Madras, gave initiation to several devotees. From Madras she went to Rameswaram where she was allowed the unusual privilege of entering the sanctum sanctorum and worshipping the Deity with her own hands. Returning from Rameswaram, she visited Bangalore towards the end of March, where also the President of that Ashrama Swami Nirmalananda, extended a very hearty and respectful reception to her. Her stay at Bangalore created a great enthusiasm among the people. On her way back to Calcutta she halted at Rajahmundry for a holy bath in the Godavari. She reached Calcutta back on 11th April, 1911. One more pilgrimage she undertook, and that was her third visit to Banaras, extending from November 1912 to January 1913. She went with a fairly big party consisting of monks, devotees and some relatives.
Her life from 1888 up to her demise in 1920 was one of active spiritual ministry. The Master had commanded her to carry on the work he had started. Speaking on this point, she said: “I have received all these Mantras from the Master himself. Through these, one is sure to achieve perfection.” In his last days at Cossipore, Sri Ramakrishna said to her feelingly: “Well, won’t you do something? Am I to do all?” To this the Holy Mother replied, “I am but a woman. What can I do?” But the Master replied: “No, no, you have much to do.” The Master’s vision, in this respect was prophetic. She was his partner in life and in ideals, and he left her in this world to continue and add momentum to the work of spiritual regeneration of man that he had started.
Her spiritual ministry had begun, in a way, even during the life-time of the Master. Many of the women, who flocked to the Master, gathered round her and felt inspired by her. It is known that the Master himself asked his would-be Sannyasin disciple Sarada (Swami Trigunatita) to take initiation from her. But it is doubtful whether the initiation actually took place: but Swami Trigunatita was one of her earliest caretakers and attendants till he left for work in the West. Yogen, Swami Yogananda, another disciple of the Master, was initiated by her at Vrindaban according to the instruction given to her and Yogen by the Master himself in dreams.
During her stay at Jayrambati and Calcutta, the stream of initiation-seeking disciples increased from a trickle to a voluminous flow as time went on and the Master’s name and message began to spread far and wide. She was very liberal in accepting disciples, without insisting too much on their competency, not because she could not assess the same, but because her motherly heart responded with sympathy and affection to whoever went to her calling ‘Mother’ and seeking refuge. In the ocean of her universal love, the relative statures of individual seekers had no meaning as far as their fitness to receive her blessings was concerned. Consequently the number of her disciples increased and many of them were not of any high standard of excellence. Referring to this, her companion Yogin-Ma once said: “Look at the Master’s disciples. Each one of them is a spiritual giant. And look at your disciples, Mother.” To this the Mother replied: “Is it to be wondered at? He picked up the best type, and with what care he selected them! And towards me he has pushed all this small fry, coming in their hundreds like ants! Don’t compare his disciples with mine,” Further she spoke to one disciple about the significance of her initiation: “Whatever I have to give, I give at the time of initiation. If you want peace immediately, practise the spiritual discipline prescribed. Otherwise you will achieve it only after the fall of the body.” Another disciple protested against her liberality, saying that she was giving initiation sometimes even to boys of ten and twelve who might not even remember the Mantra, and that the number of these was so many that she hardly remembered them. Her reply to this was: “My child, the Master never forbade me to do so. He instructed me on many matters. Could he not have told me something about this as well? I give the responsibility of my disciples to the Master. Every day pray to him, saying, ‘Please look after the disciples wherever they may be.’ Further I received these Mantras from the Master himself. Through them one is sure to achieve perfection.'”
Once when she was badly ill a disciple noticed her getting up at 2.00 a.m. So he asked her whether she was not sleeping well. Her reply was, “How can I, my child’! All these children come to me with much earnestness and take initiation, but most of them do not practise Japa regularly. Why regularly’? They do not do anything at all. But since I have taken their responsibility, should I not see to their welfare? Therefore I do Japa for their sake and pray to the Master constantly, saying, ‘Oh Lord! Awaken their consciousness. Give them liberation. There is a great deal of suffering in the world. May they not be born again!’ ”
How seriously she looked on her spiritual ministry, especially her work of initiation, is evident from her words quoted above. She practically assumed the spiritual responsibility of the disciple whom she initiated. Besides, it is believed that she took upon herself the sins of the disciples and vicariously suffered for them. Every disciple was a ‘son’ or a ‘daughter’ to her.
She was not very particular to observe any formal rituals when she gave initiation, although she generally gave it after her daily worship of the Master to previously fixed candidates. But often she overlooked all these conventions and initiated disciples at any hour and under any condition. There are instances of her initiating a lady, who was her intimate friend in her girlhood, while both were resting on a bed after lunch: of initiating another during the time of mourning which is considered as one of defilement; of still others on a verandah, beneath the eaves of a house, on an open meadow, or even in a railway yard with an umbrella to serve as roof and the rain water from a pit as purificatory water. It would look that she sometimes gave initiation as the result of an instantaneous impulse, as when she imparted a Mantra occasionally while standing, or when some one held her feet weeping with a heart yearning for initiation. Further there have been cases of devotees who had never seen even a picture of hers before, but on seeing her afterwards had recognised her as the ‘human goddess’ whom they had seen in dream affording them protection in critical situations of life. Some received initiation from her in dream, and found the Mantra given them tallying exactly with what she gave afterwards in the waking state.
An initiation took her only a very short time a minute or two. This was so, not because she did it casually, but because her spiritual insight was so quick and unerring, resembling an inspiration. On this point she said once, “As soon as I want to impart a Mantra to some people, there arise in the mind such thoughts as, ‘Give this’ or ‘Give that’, whereas in other cases, it appears as though I know nothing, and nothing seems to come up. I keep on sitting. Then after some cogitation I visualise the Mantra. In the case of good aspirants, the Mantra springs up instantaneously.”
It is said that the Great Master left the Holy Mother on earth to demonstrate the Motherhood of God. If one prefers, one can understand it in a theological sense, but it will be evident that if universal love is the nature of God, then that trait is amply exhibited by the Holy Mother in her remarkable life on earth. Her spiritual ministry too exemplifies this. Just as a mother’s affection for an offspring is never inhibited by any weakness he may have, so the Mother too accepted all devotees who went to her for protection, irrespective of their merits. All were alike in the infinitude of her love their comparative status in the moral and spiritual scales being obliterated in the very immensity of it.
Her Exit from the World
After her pilgrimages in 1911 and 1912, there are no major incidents to record in her life. She spent her days partly in Calcutta and partly at Jayrambati, engaging herself in active spiritual ministry. From the end of 1919 her health declined fast. She was getting an intermittent fever, the seriousness of which was not at first recognised. All local treatment was at first tried, but as it had little effect, she was brought to Calcutta in a very emaciated condition. It was diagonised as Kala-Azaar (Black-water Fever) by doctors. There was no effective treatment for it in those days and she succumbed to it on 20th July 1920. Two remarkable happenings have to be recorded in connection with her last days. It has been mentioned that her attachment for Radhu was the main prop for her to sustain her physical life. Now it was noticed that a few days before her demise, she became entirely free from her strong bond of affection for Radhu. She, who could not till then remain in a place without Radhu by her side, now asked her not to come near her. On the other hand she wanted her to go to Jayrambati immediately. When Radhu’s infant child went near her, she asked it to be carried away. When disciples and devotees pleaded with her on behalf of Radhu, she openly declared that she had completely taken her mind away from her. For Swami Saradananda and others, who knew the esoteric side of the Mother’s personality, it was an indication that she was leaving her physical frame soon.
She was now fast sinking. Five days before her passing, an old devotee named ‘Mother of Annapurna’ was called into her room. When the lady expressed her fears about the future, the Mother remarked: “Why do you fear? You have seen the Master. But I tell you one thing-if you want peace of mind, do not find fault with others. Rather see your own faults. Learn to make the whole world your own. No one is a stranger. The whole world is your own.” Perhaps this embodies her last message to the world also.
During the last three days she practically spoke nothing beyond calling Swami Saradananda to her side and saying: “Sarat, I am going. Yogin, Golap and the rest are here. You look after them.”
Just before passing away, her face and body became dark and shrivelled, but to the astonishment of all, a great change took place after life was extinct. Her shrivelled form was found to relax, and her face swelled up and assumed a radiant hue. Her countenance seemed to resemble the face of the image of the Goddess Durga used in worship-mellow and golden in colour, with the expression of calmness and serenity writ large on it. This expression lingered on her face for a long time…
The body was taken in procession to the Belur Math compound where it was cremated on the bank of the Ganga. A small beautiful temple now stands on the site. Another temple with a monastery attached stands at Jayrambati, the place of her birth, to commemorate her life and doings.
In her the world found a unique figure in its history, who combined in herself the roles of a perfect wife, nun, mother and teacher at the same time. In the endless procession of the members of the human species on this planet of ours, the Holy Mother stands out as a unique example, whose utter innocence could melt even the hardest of hearts, who never looked at the fault of others, whose love never made any distinction between the deserving and the undeserving, in whose eyes the saint and the sinner were alike her precious children, whose wide heart held all humanity in its maternal embrace, and who considered it a privilege to labour and to suffer for even the least of them. If we cannot see here the face of the all-loving Universal Mother, of God the Redeemer, where else can we? Only we should have the sensitiveness to recognise that the subtle potency of love transcends the obtrusive display of power.