|PAGE AT A GLANCE|
|1) The Appearance of Sarada and Tales from her Childhood||7) The Acharya (Spiritual Guide) & the Mother of the Mission|
|2) In the Presence of Sri Ramakrishna||8) Devotion and Self-Surrender|
|3) Coming to Dakshineswar||9) Japa and Meditation|
|4) An Ideal Life||10) Work and Purity of Mind|
|5) The Goddess in her Human incarnation and the Universal Mother||11) Instructions on Spiritual Practice|
|6) Taking up the Unfinished Work of Sri Ramakrishna|
Sri Ma Sarada Devi was born on the auspicious night of “Krishna- Saptami” on 22nd December 1853 in the village named “Joyrambati” in the District of Bankura in the present Indian state of West Bengal.
She was the first child of Ramachandra Mukhopadhyay and Shyama Sundari Devi, who, before her birth, had a vision that a beautiful girl wearing a red saree was coming to them as their daughter. The poor, simple and devout couple had a premonition of the descent of a goddess in their midst.
Later on when Gadadhar's mother and elder brother were searching for a suitable bride for him, Gadadhar, while in a state of trance, suggested that the match for him was none other than the six year old daughter of Ramachandra Mukhopadhay of the neighbouring Joyrambati village.
The marriage of the 24 year old Gadhadhar to the six year old Saradamoni in the year 1859 was perhaps a divine ordinance that started a new chapter in history.
Since Gadadhar's family was poor, they borrowed the ornaments for the marriage from their neighbors, the Laha-babus. When it came time to return the ornaments, Gadadhar's mother Chandramoni became painfully apprehensive about taking the ornaments away from the beautiful little girl in order to return them to the Lahas. At night, when Sarada was asleep, Gadadhar himself removed the ornaments from her body and handed them over to his mother. When Sarada, on waking up, did not find her ornaments and started crying, Chandramoni consoled the little bride by assuring her that she would get better ornaments for her later.
Sarada returned to her parents' place after the marriage and started growing up amidst her native rural surroundings. Besides helping her mother in her household chores, Sarada kept herself busy with the typical chores of a rural household, like taking her younger siblings to bathe in the river, cooking, de-husking the rice, twisting sacred thread, feeding the cows, carrying food for the labourers, tilling the fields and even collecting the rice from the paddy fields strewn behind by the invading locust swarms.
During the great famine of Bengal from 1864-65, Sarada's father Ramachandra prepared Kichudi—a type of gruel made of rice and lentil cooked together—from the grains stored in his grain silo and distributed it to the hungry. During distribution, little Sarada was ever ready with her hand-fan to cool the hot Khichudi served on the plates of the starving people.
In the Presence of Sri Ramakrishna
While on a visit to Kamarpukur in May 1867, along with his Tantra-Guru Bhairabi Brahmani, Sri Ramakrishna called Sarada to her Kamarpukur and started teaching her various aspects of character-building for the purpose of attaining higher levels of spiritual realization.
He also taught her various aspects of leading a successful family life, like managing the household, attending to the deity at home, caring for the pious and the other guests, showing respect to elders, being affectionate toward young children, and being dedicated to the family.
Spending seven months in close proximity with Sri Ramakrishna in a blissful environment transformed the newly adolescent Sarada into a magically bright personality. A sense of divine contentment engulfed her inner self.
However, in between, distorted accounts of the spiritual pursuits of Sri Ramakrishna started reaching Joyrambati and provided fodder for village gossip and even led some of the villagers to believe that perhaps the husband of Sarada had gone mad.
While a few of her neighbours sorrowfully expressed their sympathy for her by branding her as the wife of a mad man, a few others did not hesitate to loudly announce that Shyama's daughter (i.e., Sarada) had been married to a lunatic.
Sometimes, when such comments about her husband crossed all limits, Sarada would find solace in the company of the devout and soft-hearted Bahanupishi, who was sympathetic to her.
When, during the auspicious Dol-Purnima in March 1872, a large number of devotees from her village were heading for Dakshineswar to take a dip in the holy Ganga, Ramachandra, sensing the desire of Sarada, seized this opportunity and accompanied the devotees, taking his daughter along with him.
On the way, Sarada, not accustomed to such a strenuous journey by foot, fell ill and became unconscious with a high fever, forcing Ramachandra to take refuge in a wayside shelter with his daughter.
It is said that in her dream that night, Sarada saw a beautiful dark lady caressing her gently and curing her of her illness. Sarada recovered from her illness the very next day and finally reached Dakshineswar to see Sri Ramakrishna. Welcoming Sarada affectionately, Sri Ramakrishna also arranged for her treatment.
When Sarada asked him what he thought about her, Sri Ramakrishna replied that she was the part of the same Mother who resided inside the temple. She also created his body and presently stayed at Nahabat (a building at Dakshineswar temple garden) and at that moment massaging his feet. He also said that he always looked upon Sarada as a form of none other than the Mother Anandamoyee. This divine marital relationship between Sri Ramakrishna and Sarada, devoid of any physical or earthly dimension, ascended to the peak of divine spirituality.
On the auspicious day of Falaharini Kali-Puja in June 1872, Sri Ramakrishna worshipped his wife Sarada as an incarnation of the sacred deity "Tripura-sundari” or “Shodashi" by offering his own rosary at her feet.
He worshipped and anointed the deity and prayed to the almighty Tripurasundari for opening the door of divinity and to appear in the self of Sarada for the welfare of all. Being worshipped by Sri Ramakrishna and empowered by the results of his spiritual attainments, the omnipotent divine power installed itself into the human self of Sarada to take forward the great work of Sri Ramakrishna.
Her natural attribute of motherliness evolved into her being the Mother of everyone, not the wife of a Guru or a pseudo mother but the true Universal Mother for all.
An Ideal Life
The small octagonal groundfloor room of the Nahabat at Dakshineswar was the abode of Sarada, who was popularly known as Sri Ma. She had to cook, manage all her household chores and take rest within the small confines of that single tiny room. She had to get up at around three-o-clock each morning and after ablutions, Sri Ma used to get immersed in deep meditation. Sometimes she would look at the moon and think that even the moon has dark spots. She used to pray that her mind should be free from all blemishes.
After her daily meditation, prayer and worship—which lasted about one and a half hours—she had to start cooking not only for Sri Ramakrishna and herself but frequently for their disciples according to their preferences. Sri Ma set the example of an ideal life through caring for Sri Ramakrishna, his mother Chandramani Devi, and later through her care and compassion towards the large number of disciples and admirers who used to come to Sri Ramakrishna in Dakshineswar. While taking care of all, she also rigorously practiced japa, meditation, and other spiritual disciplines. Frequently, the female disciples used to stay back at Dakshineswar and share the room with Sri Ma. They would express their anguish at the fact that such a "faithful, noble and pious lady" lived in that tiny room without a word of complaint.
The divine marital bond between Sri Ramakrishna and Sri Ma was a sweet and pleasant relationship. It is said that once, Sri Ramakrishna mistakenly took her to be his niece Lakkhimoni and addressed Sri Ma the way he used to address his niece. He was so upset afterwards that he could not sleep that night and went to her room at Nahabat the next morning to express his regret.
It is said that once in a state of trance while returning from the Kali temple, Sri Ramakrishna prodded Sri Ma and asked her whether he was behaving like a drunk. She spontaneously replied that he was drunk with the divine nectar of the Goddess Kali. There are many such examples of the spiritual intimacy of Sri Ramakrishna and Sri Ma.
For a period of thirteen to fourteen years, Sri Ma kept on travelling between Kamarpukur and Joyrambati to Dakshineswar. During one such trip, she was going to Dakshineswar from Kamarpukur along with Lakkhi-didi, Shibu-da and a few other villagers. When they reached Arambag, the rest of the group decided to cross the notorious dacoit-infested "Televelor" ground and reach Tarakeswar before the sunset.
As Sri Ma was getting tired, she had trouble keeping up with the rest of the group. They all sensed that with her lagging behind, it would not be possible for them to cross that notorious ground before sunset. Sri Ma told the rest of the group not to worry about her and to proceed towards Tarakeswar.
It is said that just before dusk, a dacoit blocked the path of Sri Ma, who was alone. When asked about her identity and destination she did not get scared and told the dacoit that she was none other than his own daughter and was on her way to his son-in -law's place at Dakshineswar.
The dacoit was so moved by the simplicity and spontaneity of her behaviour that he reassured her and took her to his home where he and his wife took care of her as their own daughter and provided her with food and shelter for the night. The next morning the dacoit couple escorted her safely to Tarakeswar and handed her over to her village companions before bidding her a tearful farewell.
They assured her that they would visit her in Dakshineswar. Indeed, it is said that the couple actually visited her several times in Dakshineswar, and they later revealed to her that they had a vision of Goddess Kali in Sri Ma.
Taking up the Unfinished Work of Sri Ramakrishna
When Sri Ramakrishna was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1885, he was brought from Dakshineswar to Shyampukur and subsequently to the "Udyan-Bati" (Garden House) of Kashipur in Kolkata. Sri Ma sacrificed all her physical discomforts and dedicated herself to taking care of him.
At Shyampukur, for preparing the diet for Sri Ramakrishna, Sri Ma used to get up from bed extremely early in the morning in order to prepare the special food for Sri Ramakrishna. After taking her bath, she would prepare his food in a place next to the staircase on the second floor.
After spending the entire day there, she would return to her room for a little rest around eleven at night when everyone else was asleep. Later on at Kashipur also, Sri Ma took upon herself the duty of taking care of Sri Ramakrishna.
Before his passing away, Sri Ramakrishna once asked Sri Ma whether she would not do anything else than look after his physical needs? When she replied that as a woman what else could she do? Sri Ramakrishna called upon her to dedicate herself to many other duties. He also told her that the people of Kolkata were like worms squirming in darkness and encouraged her to take care of them.
The day after his passing away at Udyan-Bati on 16th of August 1886, Sri Ma started to remove her ornaments—as is customary for a Brahmin widow—but it is said that Sri Ramakrishna suddenly appeared before her and asked her, “Am I no more, that you are removing the symbols of a married woman from yourself?"
The Acharya (Spiritual Guide) & the Mother of the Mission
After the passing away of Sri Ramakrishna, Sri Ma stayed for eight days at the house of Balaram Bose, an ardent disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, and then left for a pilgrimage to Baidyanath-Dham in Deoghar (presently in the state of Jharkhand) and subsequently to Kashi (Benaras), Ayodhya and finally to Vrindavan along with Lakkhi-didi, Gopal-Ma, Jogin Maharaj, Kali Maharaj and Latu Maharaj.
While at Vrindavan, Sri Ma felt agonizing grief over the loss of Sri Ramakrishna. While both she and Jogin-Ma were mourning his loss, Sri Ramakrishna appeared to them one night and consoled them by saying, “Why are you grieving so much? Just see! I am very much present, and have not gone anywhere. I have only moved from one room to the other.”
Sri Ma mind found solace in Sri Ramakrishna’s repeated appearances on a mystical plane, and she remained engrossed in meditation on him. For one long year during that pilgrimage Sri Ma remained immersed in a lofty spiritual state.
During that time, she initiated Swami Jogananda as a monk of the Ramakrishna Order after receiving a command from Sri Ramakrishna. Her role as a spiritual guide formally started with this initiation.
At the end of her pilgrimage, she returned to Kolkata and after a brief stopover at Balaram Bose’s residence, she left for Kamarpukur. While at Kamarpukur she had to endure abject poverty. But she followed Sri Ramakrishna’s advice to the letter—namely, to eat whatever food she could cultivate herself and spend her days meditating on God. While at Kamarpukur, Sri Ma withstood all the hardships and practiced strict austerity in every aspect of her life.
Coming to know about her hardships, the disciples of Sri Ramakrishna took her to rented houses at different places like Ghusury, Belur or Bagbazar and looked after her. On occasion, she also spent time at Joyrambati with her mother and brothers, but even there, she did not have respite from physical labour.
Later on, Sri Ma made a pilgrimage to Puri Jagannath Dham and Bodh-Gaya. After seeing the Buddhist monastery at Bodh-Gaya, she prayed to Sri Ramakrishna that a similar abode for the monks of Sri Ramakrishna’s Order should become a reality.
On 12 November 1893, the day Swami Vivekananda founded the Ramakrishna Math at Belur (presently at West Bengal), Sri Ma set her feet on the newly established Math and herself performed the Puja (worship ritual) of Sri Ramakrishna.
On the very next day, Sri Ma inaugurated the Nivedita School at Bagbazar, Kolkata, in the presence of Swami Vivekananda, Swami Brahmananda and Swami Saradananda. Thus, Sri Ma can be said to have started the Sri Ramakrishna Math, which continues to spread the message of Sri Ramakrishna. She also launched the movement for Womens’ Education in the form of the Nivedita School and also in a way laid the foundations for the future Math for nuns of the Ramakrishna Order.
After establishing the Ramakrishna Mission on 1 May 1897, Swami Vivekananda declared that Sri Ma was its head and proclaimed her to be the Mother of the Mission. When confronted with any problem, the stalwarts of the mission looked upon the advice of Sri Ma as nothing less than the "Verdict of the High Court."
People from all walks of life—including monks, householder disciples, pious people, sinners, the rich and the poor—would come to her, addressing her as "Mother," and she would shower them with blessings.
When Swami Vivekananda brought his western disciples Josephine Macleod, Sara Bull and Sister Nivedita to Sri Ma, she accepted them as her daughters without the slightest hesitation and even had food with them.
A few days before Sri Ma left this world, Annapurna, the mother of one of her disciples, touched her feet and asked her what would happen to them in her absence. In reply Sri Ma advised her not to find fault with others but to try to find out one's own shortcomings. She also told her to take the entire world as her own since no one in this world is a stranger.
On 21 July 1920, at 1.30 in the morning, Sri Ma left her physical body and merged with the Eternal. Her mortal remains were consigned to flames on the banks of the river Ganga at Belur. In that sacred spot a temple dedicated to her was constructed in 1921.
Even today, many people from far and near reverentially seek her guidance when they are confronted with various the problems in life. They always know that even if there is no other help, their "Mother" will always be there to look after them.
Sayings of Ma Sarada
Repeat the name of God always in the innermost core of your heart and in all sincerity take refuge in Sri Ramakrishna. Have faith in the grace of your guru and God.
Why are you so restless, my child? Why don’t you stick on to what you have got? Always remember, “I have at least a Mother, if none else.”
Do you know the significance of japa and other spiritual practices? By these the power of the sense organs is subdued and the ties of past karma are cut asunder. But realization of God cannot be achieved without ecstatic love (prema bhakti) for Him.
He who has really prayed to Sri Ramakrishna, even once, has nothing to fear. By praying to him constantly one gets ecstatic love through his grace. This ecstatic love, my child, is the innermost thing of spiritual life.
What does one become by realizing God? Does one get two horns? No. What happens is, the person develops discrimination between the real and the unreal (illusory), gets spiritual consciousness, and goes beyond life and death.
Continuous meditation will make the mind so steady that you will not feel inclined to give it up.
Realization will come through japa.
A pure mind easily gets concentrated in meditation.
Work and Purity of Mind
One must do some work. Through work alone one can remove the bondage of work, not by avoiding work. Total detachment comes later on. One should not be without work even for a moment.
No doubt, you must do your duties. It keeps one’s mind in good condition. But it is also very necessary to practice japa, meditation and prayer. One must practice these disciplines at least in the morning and the evening. Such practice is like the rudder of a boat.
The rich should serve God and his devotees with money and the poor should worship God by repeating his name.
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, my child; the whole world is your own.
Spiritual practices in a lonely place are very essential. Pray to God with tears in your eyes whenever you want illumination or find yourself faced with any doubt or difficulty. The Lord will remove all your impurities, assuage your mental anguish, and give you enlightenment.
My child, you have been extremely fortunate in getting this human birth. Have intense devotion to God. One must work hard.