Sri Sarada Devi
Endearingly known as 'Holy Mother', Sri Sarada Devi, was born on Thursday, the 22nd December, 1853, in a sequestered corner of a small wayside village of Bengal named Joyrambati. It is situated in the District of Bankura and is three miles to the west of Kamarpkur where Sri Ramakrishna had already taken birth seventeen years back (i.e. in 1836). The nativity of Holy Mother who was none other than the Goddess Lakshmi, took place on the auspicious evening when the womenfolk of the village were carrying on their worship of Mother Lakshmi (the Goddess of Fortune) in their respective houses to the accompaniment of blowing of conchs.
As years rolled on, Sri Sarada grew up amidst the peaceful environs of her village home under the loving care of her parents Sri Ramchandra Mukhopadhyaya and Srimati Shyamasundari Devi who were well known for their inborn piety, large-hearted charity, devotion to truth and also for their profound sympathy for the poor and the helpless. Hardly had she reached the sixth year of her age when she was married to Sri Ramakrishna in 1859.
The Holy Mother said in later years to the devotees, 'When I was only eleven years old, famine broke out in this part of the country. My pious father, who had only a small stock of rice at his disposal, opened a free kitchen in the house to feed without even considering how the members of the family would make the two ends meet. I would cool the extremely hot khichuri (a kind of Indian preparation composed of rice, split pulse, spices, etc.) with the help of fans.' Needless to point out, this indicates her inborn love and kindness irrespective of caste or creed.
From her early age, Sarada got herself engaged in variety of domestic duties to mitigate the troubles and difficulties of her beloved parents. She used to cook food for the family when her mother was unable to do so for some reason or other, and her father helped her in removing the cooking vessel from the oven. As regards her others activities in younger days, she said. 'I cut aquatic grass for cows in neck-deep water carried fried rice to the labourers working in the fields and also collected grains from different paddy fields when locusts seriously damaged the crops. Besides, I made sacred threads with the cotton gathered from nearby cotton plants.' Sarada was simplicity and innocence personified and, as a young girl, was rather grave for her years and did not indulge in any kind of childish frivolity. She did never quarrel with her playmates even in her girlhood. On the other hand, she acted as a go-between when there was any dispute among other girls.
She liked to play with various kinds of earthen dolls. She particularly preferred to worship with flowers and sacred leaves the clay models which she made with her own hands. Sarada endeared herself so much to her mother by rendering valuable help to her in the various domestic duties that the affectionate mother Shyamasundari once remarked, 'Darling Sarada! May God bless me with a daughter like you from birth to birth.'
Sarada Devi had a special fascination and reverence for Ganga (the river Ganges) from her early age. The rivulet Amador that flows in a zigzag course to the south washing the northern and eastern borders of the village Joyrambati, was looked upon by her as veritable Ganga where she used to go for bath in the company of her younger brothers. After bath, she partook of fried rice on the bank of the rivulet along with others and then returned home with her companions.
In the course of conversation, the Holy Mother once said, 'One must work always as body and mind remain healthy thereby. I used to work day and night during my stay at Joyrambati. I did not even go to meet the inmates of any other house; for they very often pitied me, saying ' Ah ! the daughter of Shyamasundari has been married to a mad man!' Frankly speaking, 'I avoided them lest I should have to hear from them any such uncharitable and uncalled-for remarks which cut me to the quick.'
Wild rumours that her husband had become insane at Dakshineswar, soon reached her ears and she became so disconcerted thereat that she inwardly felt a strong desire to see him at the temple-garden of Dakshineswar to personally ascertain the truth thereof. Her father Sri Ramachandra Mukhopadhyaya, sensing the intention of her daughter accompanied her to Dakshineswar in March 1872, when she was eighteen years old. Her happiness knew no bounds when after her arrival there, she was most affectionately received by Sri Ramakrishna and she also found her God-intoxicated husband quite hale and hearty. Sarada Devi was accommodated on the ground floor of the Nahavat (the concert-room) where she stayed with Chandramoni Devi, the mother of Sri Ramakrishna. Ramachandra was glad to see his daughter happy and comfortable at Dakshineswar and soon returned to his village home.
During this first visit of the Holy Mother to Dakshineswar, Sri Ramakrishna once asked her 'Have you come here to drag me to worldly life?' She emphatically said, 'Why should I do it? I have come only to help you in the path of religious life.'
Sri Sarada Devi, one day asked Sri Ramakrishna, as she was stroking his feet, 'How do you regard me?' He replied, 'The Mother who is worshipped in the temple, and the mother who gave birth to this (pointing to his body) and is now living in the Nahabat' the same mother is now stroking my feet. Really and truly I always regard you as the embodiment of the blissful Mother of the Universe.
During this period of her stay at the temple garden of Dakshineswar, Sri Ramakrishna felt a strong desire to worship the Goddess Shodashi, the Divine Mother of the universe. It was the new moon of June 5, 1872, an auspicious night for the worship of the Goddess Kali. Sri Ramakrishna made all the arrangements for it in his own room and instructed the Holy Mother to be present there at 9 pm. As desired by him, she appeared in time and occupied the seat which was reserved for the Goddess Shodashi. Sri Ramakrishna went through all the appropriate rites and formalities of worship in which the Holy Mother took the place of the Deity. In the stillness of night both the worshipper and the worshipped passed into spiritual ecstasy and were joined in a transcendental union in the Self. At the end of this worship he surrendered himself and the fruits of his lifelong Sadhana (spiritual practices) together with his rosary at the feet of the Holy Mother and saluted her. With this sacred ceremony, called in the scriptures the Shodashi-Puja or the worship of the Divine Mother Tripurasundari, was finished the long course of his spiritual practices. Thus the ultimate objective of a marital life was revealed and demonstrated in this twin personality in a manner unprecedented in the annals of mankind. It is a luminous instance of how the conjugal relation between the husband and the wife can be spiritualized and be the means to realization of the highest end of human existence.
After staying at Dakshineswar for a little more than a year, the Holy Mother returned to Joyrambati in the middle of 1873. During her second visit to Dakshineswar in April 1874, she suffered terribly from dysentery. After her recovery she went back to her village home where she once again fell ill of dysentery and her body became so much reduced that every one despaired of her life. However, when all human remedies failed to cure her, she went to the village temple of the Divine Mother called Simhavahini, where she lay down under a vow of fasting to receive the blessings of the Deity. Very soon, the Goddess appeared before her and her mother Shyamasundari and suggested remedies for her cure. Wonder of wonders! She was completely cured thereby. Since then the Deity Simhavahini began to receive the worships of the people coming from far and near.
At Joyrambati it was the time-honoured custom to celebrate the Sarvajanin-Puja (the common worship) of the Goddess Kali with the combined help and cooperation of the residents of the village. On one occasion when the narrow-minded bigoted organizers of this Kali-Puja refused to accept the offerings of Sri Shyamasundari, she became greatly wounded at heart and shed bitter tears. The Goddess moved by her excruciating mental agony appeared before her in a dream and said, 'You begin the worship of Goddess Jagaddhatri at your house and I shall accept you offerings to Kali in that form'. Shyamasundari after receiving the consent of her son-in-law Sri Ramakrishna, solemnized the worship of the Goddess Jagaddhatri at her house in a befitting manner. The Holy Mother also worshipped this Goddess almost till the very last days of her life. The Goddess is still being worshipped every year at Matri Mandir with due clat and solemnity.
During her third visit to Dakshineswar in January 1877, a very interesting incident occurred in the course her journey from Joyrambati in the company of some persons of the village. On the way people are to cross a vast field called Telo-Bhelo which had the notoriety of being infested with dacoits. The Holy Mother being unable to keep pace with her companions lagged behind and was overtaken by night. At that dark hour, a shaggy-haired robust dacoit accompanied by his wife suddenly appeared before her with a big club on his shoulder and asked her very rough and peremptory voice where she had been going alone. Holy Mother in her usual innocence addressed the dacoit as 'father' and the woman as 'mother' in the appealing tone as though she were their daughter, and apprised them of her present predicament and also of her destination. The dacoit and his wife had perceived in the pure countenance of the Holy Mother a reflection of their chosen Deity Kali who was their object of worship; they instantly became so much drawn towards her by her simplicity and utter resignation as also by innocence and Divine personality that they both began to look after the Holy Mother as their own daughter, took personal care of her, sheltered her in a nearby inn for the night and helped her in the next morning to rejoin her companions at Tarakeswar where they had already arrived. This episode unmistakably shows how innocence coupled with confidence placed in an evil character can transform his life.
As already stated, the Holy Mother was in the eyes of Sri Ramakrishna, no other than the embodiment of the Mother Divine. He once said : 'She is Sarada, Saraswati; She has come to impart knowledge. She has descended by covering up her beauty this time. She is full of the rarest wisdom. Is she of the common run? She is my Shakti.' Two very small incidents as mentioned below would further show what a reverential attitude Sri Ramakrishna maintained towards her: One day when the Holy Mother after supplying food to him was about to leave the room, Sri Ramakrishna, who was at that time a little absorbed in the thought of the Divine Mother mistook her for his niece Laskhmi Devi and asked her to close the door in a language which he never used before in the case of the Holy Mother. But when, after coming down to the normal plane of consciousness, he heard the voice of the Holy Mother, he felt so much abashed and embarrassed that he asked her in an apologetic tone not to mind it as he had inadvertently addressed her in that language, mistaking her for Laskhmi. On another occasion, he warned his nephew Hriday by saying that he would tolerate all sorts of harsh and undesirable remarks he (Hriday) might make about him: but if he showed any kind of disrespect to her (Sri Sarada Devi) or treated her slightingly, Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva would not be able to save him if she got angry.
Immediately after the passing away of Sri Ramakrishna, the holy Mother became so disconsolate that she wanted to give up her body. But the Master appeared before her in a vision and asked her not to do as she would have to carry on the works which still remained unfinished. Moreover, when she was preparing to remove her ornaments from her body and to wear the window's garments, as Hindu widows do after the death of their husbands, Sri Ramakrishna again appeared in a vision and said, 'What are you doing? I have not gone away. I have only passed from one door to another'. At this the Holy Mother was a bit consoled and gave up the putting on the widow's dress. Thenceforth she wore simple bracelets on her hands and used a narrow-bordered cloth as her wearing apparel. Shortly after, the Holy Mother accompanied by a group of devotees visited various places of pilgrimage in India and practised severe austerities also to assuage her mental agony and regained peace of mind.
Swami Vivekananda and other disciples of the Master also looked upon the Holy Mother as the Goddess incarnate and sought her guidance in all matters of importance. Swamiji wrote to Swami Shivananda, one of his brother disciples, from America in 1894, 'Without Shakti, there is no regeneration for the world. .. Mother has been born to revive that wonderful Shakti in India, and making her the nucleus, once more will Gargis and Matreyis be born into this world.' He further said, 'Brother! I shall show you the worship of Goddess Durga incarnated in flesh and blood. When I think of the Holy Mother, I forget all about the Great Master. Indeed, herein lies my bigotry. 'fie upon those who are not devoted to the Holy Mother!' Swami Saradananda, another monastic disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, collected money with great difficulty and built at Baghbazar in Calcutta a suitable residence called 'Mother's House' for her stay, where he served her with extreme devotion till she passed away.
The Holy Mother upon whom the mantle of spiritual ministry and the responsibility of conducting the Ramakrishna- brotherhood fell after the Mahasamadhi (demise) of the Great Master, always prayed for and looked after the well-being of her spiritual children. The Mother did not make any distinction between the rich and the poor, the high and the low, the learned ad the ignorant, the monks and the householders, not even between the pure and the impure. Once addressed as a mother, she became a veritable mother to them. Needles to say, those who had the good fortune of receiving her unalloyed love and care even for a single day, could feel in their heart of hearts the profundity of her love and width of her vision. In all her works and conversations, one could find a beautiful mixture of the human and Divine. Rare is indeed such a luminous instance of a harmonious blending of life and actions in the annals of mankind.
Sarada Devi's life, as such, was not an accident in the cultural history of India, but a natural outcome of centuries of silent working of India's manifold creative forces. She stands silhouetted today on the canvas of time as a triune personality wherein the wife, the nun and the mother have been beautifully blended. Her life has conclusively shown once again that Truth knows no limits of land, caste or creed and that spirituality is not the monopoly of men alone. It reveals itself in women as in men, when the moral stature of an individual is fully developed.
Writes Sister Nivedita, 'To me it has always appeared that she (Sri Sarada Devi) is Sri Ramakrishna's final word as to the ideal of Indian womanhood. In her one sees realized that wisdom and sweetness to which the simplest of women may attain. And yet, to myself the stateliness of her courtesy and her great open mind are almost as wonderful as her sainthood.'
In pursuance of the behest of the Sri Ramakrishna she worked unceasingly for the good of all, irrespective of caste or creed, till she passed away on the 20th July 1920, leaving behind the hallowed memories of a dedicated life as inspiration for others to follow the ideal of renunciation and service.
Chronology of Main Events related to Sri Sarada Devi's Life- Please Click here.