Endearingly known as ‘Holy Mother’, Sri Sarada Devi, the spiritual consort of Sri Ramakrishna, was born on 22 December 1853 in a poor Brahmin family in Jayrambati, a village adjoining Kamarpukur in West Bengal. Her father, Ramachandra Mukhopadhyay, was a pious and kind-hearted person, and her mother, Shyama Sundari Devi, was a loving and hard-working woman.
As a child Sarada was devoted to God, and spent most of her time helping her mother in various household chores like caring for younger children, looking after cattle and carrying food to her father and others engaged in work in the field. She had no formal schooling, but managed to learnthe Bengali alphabet. When she was about six years old, she was married to Sri Ramakrishna, according to the custom prevalent in India in those days. However, after the event, she continued to live with her parents, while Sri Ramakrishna lived a God-intoxicated life at Dakshineshwar.
Visit to Dakshineshwar
At the age of eighteen she walked all the way to Dakshineshwar to meet her husband. Sri Ramakrishna, who had immersed himself in the intense practice of several spiritual disciplines for more than twelve years, had reached the highest state of realization in which he saw God in all beings. He received Sarada Devi with great affection, and allowed her to stay with him. He taught her how to lead a spiritual life while discharging her household duties. They led absolutely pure lives, and Sarada Devi served Sri Ramakrishna as his devoted wife and disciple, while remaining a virgin nun and following the spiritual path.
Life at Dakshineshwar
Sri Ramakrishna looked upon Sarada Devi as a special manifestation of Divine Mother of the universe. In 1872, on the night of the Phala-harini-Kali-puja, he ritualistically worshipped Sarada Devi as the Divine Mother, thereby awakening universal Motherhood latent in her. When disciples began to gather around Sri Ramakrishna, Sarada Devi learned to look upon them as her own children. The room in which she stayed at Dakshineshwar was too small to live in and had hardly any amenities; and on many days she did not get the opportunity of meeting Sri Ramakrishna. But she bore all difficulties silently and lived in contentment and peace, serving the increasing number of devotees who came to see Sri Ramakrishna.
Leading the Sangha after the Master’s Passing
After Sri Ramakrishna’s passing away in 1886, Sarada Devi spent some months in pilgrimage, and then went to Kamarpukur where she lived in great privation. Coming to know of this, the disciples of Sri Ramakrishna brought her to Kolkata. This marked a turning point in her life. She now began to accept spiritual seekers as her disciples, and became the open portal to immortality for hundreds of people. Her great universal mother-heart, endowed with boundless love and compassion, embraced all people without any distinction, including many who had lived sinful lives.When the Western women disciples of Swami Vivekananda came to Kolkata, the Holy Mother accepted them with open arms as her daughters, ignoring the restrictions of the orthodox society of those days. Although she had grown up in a conservative rural society without any access to modern education, she held progressive views, and whole-heartedly supported Swami Vivekananda in his plans for rejuvenation of India and the uplift of the masses and women. She was closely associated with the school for girls started by Sister Nivedita.She spent her life partly in Kolkata and partly in her native village Jayrambati. During the early years of her stay in Kolkata, her needs were looked after by Swami Yogananda, a disciple of Sri Ramakrishna. In later years her needs were looked after by another disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Saradananda, who built a new house for her in Kolkata.
Simplicity and Forbearance
Although she was highly venerated for her spiritual status, and literally worshipped as the Divine Mother, she continued to live like a simple village mother, washing clothes, sweeping the floor, bringing water from the pond, dressing vegetables, cooking and serving food. At Jayrambati she lived with her brothers and their families. They gave her endless troubles but, established as she was in the awareness of God and in Divine Motherhood, she always remained calm and self-possessed, showering love and blessings on all who came into contact with her. As Sister Nivedita stated, “Her life was one long stillness of prayer.”
Mother of All
In the history of humanity there has never been another woman who looked upon herself as the Mother of all beings, including animals and birds, and spent her whole life in serving them as her children, undergoing unending sacrifice and self-denial. About her role in the mission of Sri Ramakrishna on earth, she stated: “My son, you know the Master had a maternal attitude (matri-bhava) towards every one. He has left me behind to manifest that Divine Motherhood in the world.”
On account of her immaculate purity, extraordinary forbearance, selfless service, unconditional love, wisdom and spiritual illumination, Swami Vivekananda regarded Sri Sarada Devi as the ideal for women in the modern age. He believed that with the advent of Holy Mother, the spiritual awakening of women in modern times had begun.
Under the strain of constant physical work and self-denial and repeated attacks of malaria, her health deteriorated in the closing years of her life, and she left the mortal world on 21 July 1920.At the age of six, he experienced the first ecstasy while watching a flight of white cranes moving against the background of black clouds. This tendency to enter into ecstasy intensified with age. His father’s death when he was seven years old served only to deepen his introspection and increase his detachment from the world.
As a Priest at Dakshineswar Temple
When Sri Ramakrishna was sixteen, his brother Ramkumar took him to Kolkata to assist him in his priestly profession. In 1855 the Kali Temple at Dakshineswar built by Rani Rasmani was consecrated and Ramkumar became the chief priest in that temple. When he died a few months later, Ramakrishna was appointed the priest. Ramakrishna developed intense devotion to Mother Kali and spent hours in loving adoration of her image, forgetting the rituals of priestly duties. His intense longing culminated in the vision of Mother Kali as boundless effulgence engulfing everything around him.
Intense Spiritual Practices
Sri Ramakrishna’s God-intoxicated state alarmed his relatives in Kamarpukur and they got him married to Saradamani, a girl from the neighbouring village of Jayrambati. Unaffected by the marriage, Sri Ramakrishna plunged into even more intense spiritual practices. Impelled by a strong inner urge to experience different aspects of God he followed, with the help of a series of Gurus, the various paths described in the Hindu scriptures, and realized God through each of them. The first teacher to appear at Dakshineswar (in 1861) was a remarkable woman known as Bhairavi Brahmani who was an advanced spiritual adept, well versed in scriptures. With her help Sri Ramakrishna practised various difficult disciplines of the Tantrik path, and attained success in all of them. Three years later came a wandering monk by name Totapuri, under whose guidance Sri Ramakrishna attained Nirvikalpa Samadhi, the highest spiritual experience mentioned in the Hindu scriptures. He remained in that state of non-dual existence for six months without the least awareness of even his own body. In this way, Sri Ramakrishna relived the entire range of spiritual experiences of more than three thousand years of Hindu religion.Following Other FaithsWith his unquenchable thirst for God, Sri Ramakrishna broke the frontiers of Hinduism, glided through the paths of Islam and Christianity, and attained the highest realization through each of them in a short span of time. He looked upon Jesus and Buddha as incarnations of God, and venerated the ten Sikh Gurus. He expressed the quintessence of his twelve-year-long spiritual realizations in a simple dictum: Yato mat, tato path “As many faiths, so many paths.” He now habitually lived in an exalted state of consciousness in which he saw God in all beings.
Worshipping His Wife
In 1872, his wife Sarada, now nineteen years old, came from the village to meet him. He received her cordially, and taught her how to attend to household duties and at the same time lead an intensely spiritual life. One night he worshipped her as the Divine Mother in his room at the Dakshineswar temple. Although Sarada continued to stay with him, they lived immaculately pure lives, and their marital relationship was purely spiritual. It should be mentioned here that Sri Ramakrishna had been ordained a Sannyasin (Hindu monk), and he observed the basic vows of a monk to perfection. But outwardly he lived like a lay man, humble, loving and with childlike simplicity. During Sri Ramakrishna’s stay at Dakshineswar, Rani Rasmani first acted as his patron. After her death, her son-in-law Mathur Nath Biswas took care of his needs.
Contact with Some Notables
Sri Ramakrishna’s name as an illumined saint began to spread. Mathur once convened an assembly of scholars, and they declared him to be not an ordinary human being but the Avatar of the Modern Age. In those days the socio-religious movement known as Brahmo Samaj, founded by Raja Ram Mohan Roy, was at the height of popularity in Bengal. Sri Ramakrishna came into contact with several leaders and members of Brahmo Samaj and exerted much influence on them. His teaching on harmony of religions attracted people belonging to different denominations, and Dakshineswar became a veritable Parliament of Religions.
Coming of the Devotees
As bees swarm around a fully blossomed flower, devotees now started coming to Sri Ramakrishna. He divided them into two categories. The first one consisted of householders. He taught them how to realize God while living in the world and discharging their family duties. The other more important category was a band of educated youths, mostly from the middle class families of Bengal, whom he trained to become monks and to be the torchbearers of his message to mankind. The foremost among them was Narendranath, who years later, as Swami Vivekananda, carried the universal message of Vedanta to different parts of the world, revitalized Hinduism, and awakened the soul of India.
The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna
Sri Ramakrishna did not write any book, nor did he deliver public lectures. Instead, he chose to speak in a simple language using parables and metaphors by way of illustration, drawn from the observation of nature and ordinary things of daily use. His conversations were charming and attracted the cultural elite of Bengal. These conversations were noted down by his disciple Mahendranath Gupta who published them in the form of a book, Sri Sri Ramakrishna Kathamrita in Bengali. Its English rendering, The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, was released in 1942; it continues to be increasingly popular to this day on account of its universal appeal and relevance.
The intensity of his spiritual life and untiring spiritual ministration to the endless stream of seekers told on Sri Ramakrishna's health. He developed cancer of the throat in 1885. He was shifted to a spacious suburban villa where his young disciples nursed him day and night. He instilled in them love for one another, and thus laid the foundation for the future monastic brotherhood known as Ramakrishna Math. In the small hours of 16 August 1886 Sri Ramakrishna gave up his physical body, uttering the name of the Divine Mother, and passed into Eternity.
Some Saying of Holy Mother: