Sri Sarada Devi

Religion

Sri Sarada Devi

Sri Sarada Devi

 (1853-1919)

"The outstanding virtues of Indian womanhood are courage, serenity, self- control, sweetness, compassion, wisdom, and an intuitive relationship with God. Holy Mother possessed all these virtues. Since the acquisition of such gifts is the dream of all women, Holy Mother may aptly be seen as the symbol of aspiration of women everywhere. "

 

 

Sri Sarada Devi, the Holy Mother, was the Divine Consort and first disciple of Sri Ramakrishna Paramhans. She also became an integral part of his spiritual self. Apart from her spiritual power, the mere human aspects of her life were enough to make her an exemplary character in the eyes of the world. She was indeed the final word in the perfection of Indian womanhood. Her actions always showed the highest dignity and greatest magnanimity. Even in her ordinary dealing she was head and shoulders above all others in refinement and broadness of outlook. But the most dominant trait in her character, overshadowing every other feature, was her motherly love. Even though many erring persons received mother's love from her, yet she never gave them the freedom to err.

 

Sri Sarada Devi's original name was Saradamani. Saradamani was born on December 22, 1853 in a poor family of Bengal in the village of Jayrambati in Bankura district, situated about sixty miles to the west of Calcutta (now, Kolkata). She was the eldest child of Ramachandra Mukherjee and Shyamasundari Devi. Her early childhood was spent, as in the case of most girls of rural upbringing, in various domestic chores like caring for younger children, looking after cattle and carrying food to her father and others engaged in work in the fields She used to take food to the servants in the fields and would cut grass for cows even in the neck-deep water. She would collect grain from the fields in the paddy season.

 

As a young girl, Saradamani was rather serious for her age. None would find in her any childish frivolity, and she had little interest in the games commonly played by children of her age. She was the embodiment of innocence and simplicity. Her love for other children was compelling. That made her the natural mediator when there was any quarrel among other girls. She would prefer to play with the clay images of the deities, Kali and Lakshmi, rather than with ordinary dolls. She used to worship them with great devotion with flowers and sacred leaves. She had a great aptitude for meditation. One day, while the worship of the goddess Jagaddhatri was going on, she sat meditating before the Divine Mother with so much absorption that a bystander was struck with awe at the sight.

 

Saradamani had little formal education. Along with her younger brothers she would now and then go to school, but nobody took her education seriously. On the contrary, she sometimes met with positive discouragement. Later, at Kamarpukur, when she was found reading a Bengali primer, Hriday, a nephew of Sri Ramakrishna, snatched away the book saying that it would develop in her a tendency to read novels and dramas. However, because of her own interest she later learnt in a general way to read books with the help of Lakshmi, a niece of Sri Ramakrishna, and also through another girl at Dakshineswar who would come to see her on her way to the Ganga for bathing. Afterwards, she could read the Ramayana or similar books at leisure, but she was never found writing. In her village home, she had plenty of opportunities to see religious dramas and listen to Pauranic stories. She attended many religious festivals. Above all, she was brought up under the influence of parents who were of the finest character.

 

After Sri Ramakrishna had the first vision of the Divine Mother, he was consumed with a thirst to have it constantly. Seeing his strange actions and behaviour many thought that he was out of his mind. When he came to Kamarpukur, his mother thought that marriage might bring down his mind to worldly things and he might be cured of his divine malady. She sent emissaries here and there to negotiate with various persons but a suitable bride could not be found. Finding his mother in a great predicament about his bride, he himself suggested that the daughter of Chandra Mukhopadhyaya at Jayrambati, only six kilometres away, should be suitable. That was five-year-old Saradamani while Sri Ramakrishna was seventeen-years older than the child. It was found that the girl, beaming with divine effulgence, was not only the pet child of her parents and family but also the idol of the whole village. The marriage was arranged and performed with Sri Ramakrishna's own consent, in spite of the fact that his thought constantly soared high above the earthly region.

 

After the marriage, Sarada, as she was now called, met Sri Ramakrishna at the age of 7 and again at 13 and 14 and had an occasion to 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. At the age of 18, she became upset on hearing the rumour that Sri Ramakrishna's mental condition is not good. Under the guise of a pilgrimage to the holy Ganga, she went with her father to Dakshineswar temple in Calcutta where he was staying. Trudging a distance of 60 miles to Calcutta, she arrived unannounced one night in March 1872, while she had fever. Sri Ramakrishna had then been passing through a mood of intense longing for God. He extended a very warm welcome to his wife, made arrangements for her stay and medical treatment, and treated her as a devoted husband. From now onward, with a short interval, 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 had initiated. 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.

 

Sri Sarada Devi's life, during 1872 to 1885, began every day at 3 am. Being a strict observer of purdah, she finished her ablutions in the Ganges long before daybreak when people began moving about. During the day, much of her time was taken up with cooking for the Master and devotees. 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 spiritual approach. Under his guidance, she practised japa and meditation with great intensity. Thus, she attained an exalted state of spiritual consciousness during this period of her life. 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 ofthe Vedic ideal of the pativrata (devoted wife), according to which man and woman get fused into a common ideal and purpose in life. The man and the woman, brought together as husband and wife, are like the twowheels 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 it. It was because of this mutually complementary nature of their characters that they became perfect ideals of both the married state and the monastic values. 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 was put to the acid test. The Master's mind went only into deep samadhi and never assailed by the bodily passion.

 

A memorable event in the life of this holy couple took place. The Master offered actual ceremonial worship to the Holy Mother, seatingher on the pedestal of the deity. It took place during Sarada'svisit to Dakshineswar when she stayed there continuously from March 1872 to October 1873 for more than a year and a half. It took place on the night of Phalaharini-Kali Pooja day when the Divine Mother is worshipped as the consumer of the karmas of the devotee. Arrangements for worship were made and Sarada was requested to be present at the worship. After the Master had gone through the preliminary rites of worship, he beckoned Sarada to sit 011 the seat set apart for the deity. He then invoked the presence of the Divine Mother in her with the mantra, "0 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. In the course of it, he applied red paint to the soles of Sarada Devi, 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. Sarada received all these acts of adoration without the least feeling of hesitation.

 

The sense of identification with the deity must have come on Sarada. Both the Master and the Mother were in a state of ecstatic and semi-conscious absorption in the course ofthe worship. By the time it came to an end they were in complete samadhi in which the worshipper and the worshipped realized the identity of their being and Existence- Know ledge- Bliss Absolute. The Master gained external consciousness after sufficient time and resigned himself completely to the Divine Mother and offered to the deity manifest before him the fruits of his austerities, his rosary, himself and everything that was his. For the Master 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". 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. Through the performance of this rite of Shodasi Pooja, thus identifying the deity with Sarada, the Master surrendered all his spiritual practices and their fruits to her. He virtually made her a participant of all his austerities and spiritual attainments. It now made her a vital part of Sri Ramakrishna's Mission. After his passing away, his mantle fell on her.

 

In June 1885, Sri Ramakrishna developed cancer of the throat and passed into Mahasamadhi (final resting place). Before this, on August 16, 1886, the Holy Mother got some premonition that the end was near. On the following day, when the Holy Mother was preparing to wear the widow's garments, Sri Ramakrishna appeared before her and said: 'What are you doing? Where have I gone? It is like passing from one room to another." At this, the Holy Mother was a bit consoled and gave up the idea of putting on the widow's dress. But, as a sign of her grief, she tore off a large portion of the wide red border of her sari.

 

On August 30,1886, accompanied by a party of devotees, the Mother started on a pilgrimage to north India to assuage her grief. On her way, she stopped at Deoghar, Varanasi and Ayodhya and went to Vrindavan where she stayed for about a year. While she was witnessing the evening service at the temple of Vishwanath at Varanasi, she fell into an ecstatic mood, which persisted even while she was returning to her place of lodging. At Vrindavan, she practised hard tapasya and her feelings were greatly stirred by the sight of the places associated with Sri Krishna, Radha and his other companions. At Vrindavan, she was so much absorbed in japa and meditation that she was not conscious that flies were making sores on her face. Sometimes in an exalted state she would go alone to the sandy banks of the Yamuna, from where her companions had to bring her back. She visited almost all the important temples in that holy city. During her stay in Vrindavan, she once saw a vision in which the Master was asking her to give initiation to Swami Yogananda who was then staying with her as her attendant and she respected his wishes.

 

After one year, the Mother went to Haridwar and returned to Calcutta after visiting Jaipur, Ajmer and Allahabad on the way. She now felt a void in her heart because of the physical absence of the Master and felt lonely. She was faced with so much poverty that at times she had to eat rice without even salt. The disciples of the Master had been seized with spiritual longing and impelled by that spirit wandered from place to place. In this way, they did not know the sufferings of the Holy Mother nor did it strike any of them that there was a possibility that she might be in such great difficulty. Her mother came to know of this and tried her best to keep her daughter at Jayrambati, but the Holy Mother would not agree to stay. When the devotees in Calcutta heard about it, they became alarmed and grave. Later, with the support of an elderly woman and her own mother, she lived sometimes in Calcutta and sometimes at Jayrambati, as per the exigencies ofthe circumstances.

 

In November 1888, the Holy Mother went to Puri with Yogin-Ma and Swamis Brahmananda, Yogananda and Saradananda. In March 1890, she went to Gaya with Swami Advaitananda, a disciple of the Master. She visited Bodh Gaya, the place where Buddha had enlightenment. In 1895, she visited Varanasi and Vrindavan for the second time, accompanied by her mother and brothers. In 1910, she went on a pilgrimage to south India and on her way she stopped for two months at Kothar, Orissa, where she advised Devendra Nath Chatterjee, who had accepted Christianity, to get reconverted to Hinduism, which he did. Afterwards, she directed one of her monastic followers to give him the sacred thread and the Gayatri Mantra, and she herself gave him spiritual initiation. Next year, in a party of eight, she started for Madras (now, Chennai). There, innumerable women devotees would flock to her every day. In Madurai, she visited the Meenakshi temple and other notable places. She then visited Rameshwar and went to Bangalore where a branch of the Ramakrishna Math had already been established. She returned to Calcutta in April 1911. Her last pilgrimage was in 1912.

 

From the end of 1919, her health declined fast. Her countenance resembled the face of the image of the Goddess Durga at the time of her 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. She breathed her last and 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 deeds. In her, the world found a unique figure in its history , which combined in herself the roles of a perfect wife, nun, mother and teacher at the same time.

 

Five days before the Holy Mother breathed her last, she said to the Mother of Annapurna, "Do not see the faults of others. Rather, see your own faults. Learn to make the whole world your own. No one is a stranger, my child. This whole world is your own." These words form an expression of her own innate nature and a summary of the tenor of her whole life.

 

One of the great contributions of Sri Ramakrishna to Indian religious tradition is that his spiritual experience has identified the Sakti not as a mere female counterpart of the Absolute, but as the Absolute Himself personalized-the SagunaBrahman of the Vedanta who is the origin, support and end of the manifold universe. The Saguna Brahman is, in a devotional sense, Father or Mother, and can be invoked in any other loving relationship as Master, friend, lover, teacher and so on. But the Master described the Saguna Brahman especially by the epithet "Mother" and conceived and invoked Him as the Mother of all beings. In doing so, he did not have in mind the contrast between masculinity and femininity or the bipolarity of a male and female element in the deity. Therefore, when God is called Mother, the implication is not so much to give us a female deity as to remind men that in his function of redemption (Anugraha), motherhood is the most adequate of all humanly understandable concepts to describe. His unconditioned love to those who seek shelter in Him is in abandoning all other support. In our experience, we find that mother's love is unconditioned by any consideration of merit or demerit, excellence or lack of it, in respect of another related as offspring. The capacity to do so is the uniqueness of the mother's heart. There can be a perverse son but there cannot be a bad mother.

 

The Holy Mother, in her revelation of Divine Motherhood, may be understood in this context. She was like goddess Lakshmi or Durga appearing on earth. Whoever went to her, calling her ''Mother'', got kind response from her without any consideration of his nature or attainments. Defect and shortcomings, however grievous and merits, however significant from the worldly point of view, did not obstruct or regulate the even flow of the current of her universal benevolence. Even as a mother's love for her children is not affected by considerations of their merit or demerit she accepted devotees, who went to her for initiation, irrespective of all questions of their fitness.

 

Some consider Sri Sarada Devi a saint, others see in her a manifestation of Divine Motherhood. The two are not contradictory. In the perfected soul of a saint we see the pure reflection of divinity. This divinity found expression in this age through Sri Sarada Devi as an all-embracing Mother's Heart. She had the mother's heart of the universe. Just before she left this mundane world, she said: "Learn to make the world your own. No one is a stranger, my child. The whole world is yours." Without experiencing motherhood, hers was a mother's heart-accepting all, ever open, seeing all as her children. Anyone coming to her felt that she was his or her own mother. Behind this is the truth of Vedanta, the oneness of all. Her relationship to the world around her affirmed the divinity in others and the sacredness of all things. Such a vision has a transforming power, as when trying to see the highest value in another, without personal desire and expectation, we call the divine. The divinity always answers back, sooner or later, depending on the clarity of our vision and sincerity of our call.

 

Her unceasing meditation and prayer, her all-embracing compassion and utter selflessness, endowed her with the delicacy and tenderness of a maiden, a subtle grace and quiet dignity, with all guilelessness and simplicity. Her innate motherliness put visitors at ease. If a person approached her first time, she conveyed him or her the feeling that she had been eagerly waiting for him. She always inspired reverence but never a feeling of remoteness. Though an embodiment of divinity, she identified herself of her own accord with the lives of her relatives, the people 'of her village, and her devotees. She rejoiced at the happiness of others and wept at their suffering. Purposely, she often suppressed her true nature, because, as she said, "The excessive manifestation of divinity creates fear in the minds of devotees; they cannot feel intimate."

 

Sri Ramakrishna used to say that the sergeant's lamp keeps the sergeant himself in darkness but throws light outside. So it was to her relations. Though the Holy Mother was not worth much more than the worldly advantages she could offer, her spiritual influence spread far and wide. People from all quarters would come to her for solace, guidance, spiritual instruction and initiation. Many people got infinite strength from a single utterance from her lips. Vivekananda was emboldened to cross the ocean and go to the West to preach only when he got the blessings of the Holy Mother. Her blessings were enough, he thought, to jump into the uncertainty of whatever might await him in strange lands and still under stranger circumstances. Though she had little book learning, her power to solve the intricate problems of spiritual life was remarkable. Her solutions would always go straight to the heart of the questioner and give him sustenance throughout his whole life. Her advice, her decision, a mere wish of hers, was like a sacred injunction from high to the monks and devotees of the Ramakrishna Mission.

 

As observed earlier, Sri Sarada Devi, in her unique way, fulfilled the duties of wife, mother and nun. Before her, there have been ideal wives, ideal mothers and ideal nuns, but a combination of the three in one person is rare indeed. In spite of her marriage she remained a nun, pure in body and mind, and in uninterrupted communion with God. Though she had no children of her own, she had many of them in spirit. Like an earthly mother she looked after her disciples' physical comfort. But unlike an earthly mother she was totally unattached in her love and expected no return from it. She said, "The women of the world have been giving birth to children and becoming mothers, but they have not mothered a very nice world, mainly because it has been a natural instinct to perpetuate the species. The time has come when women would have to become great Mother-teachers and rishis, so that humanity can get its real purpose back to become human first and then divine. How will the women do it? They have to wake up and become divinely inspired so that they can pass it on."

 

Sri Sarada Devi taught her disciples: "If you want peace of mind, do not find fault with others. Rather see your own faults .... When one realizes God, He grants knowledge and illumination from within .... Continue to pray without losing heart. Everything will happen in time .... If anyone surrenders himself totally at his feet, the Master will see that everything is set right.. .. One's love of God depends entirely upon one's inner feelings. Love of God is the essential thing." She said: "I am the mother of the wicked, as I am the mother of the virtuous. Whenever you are in distress, just say to yourself, 'I have a mother"'. This illustrates the essence of Sri Sarda Devi's infinite compassion for the suffering humanity.

 

 

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