A SHORT LIFE OFTHE HOLY MOTHER SWAMI PAVITRANANDA (Publication Department) 5 DEHI ENTALLY ROAD CALCUTTA 700 014
PREFACE In the following pages will be found the storyof a life which was lived so silently and unosten-tatious that its very simplicity was bewildering.Yet the depth of its richness seemed unfathom-able even to those who were universally re-spected for their spiritual greatness. Indeed sucha life defies analysis, and it is much more diffi-cult to portray it. We may not comprehend great-ness as a whole, but still does not even a partialglimpse of it often bring us infinite good? Thereinlies our justification for making the present at-tempt. In preparing this work we have got consider-able help from the following books: Sri Rama-krishna Lilaprasanga, Mayer Katha, Parts I & II, andSri Sarada Devi. Of these the first two are inBengali, published by the Udbodhan Office,Calcutta, and the last one is in English, publishedby the Ramakrishna Math, Madras.Advaita Ashrama PUBLISHERMayavati, HimalayasSeptember 2, 1942
CAMBRIDGE, MASS., Sunday, December 11, 1910Beloved Mother, This morning, early, I went to church—to prayfor Sara. All the people there were thinking of Mary,the Mother of Jesus, and suddenly I thought of you.Your dear face, and your loving look and your whiteSari and your bracelets. It was all there. And it seemedto me that yours was the Presence that was to sootheand bless poor S. Sara’s sickroom. And—do youknow?—I thought I had been very foolish to sit in yourroom, at the evening service to Sri Ramakrishna, try-ing to meditate. Why did I not understand that it wasquite enough to be a little child at your dear feet? DearMother! You are full of love! And it is not a flushedand violent love, like ours, and like the world’s, but agentle peace that brings good to everyone and wishesill to none. It is a golden radiance, full of play. What ablessed Sunday that was, a few months ago, when Iran in to you, the last thing before I went on theGanges—ran back to you for a moment—as soon as Icame back! I felt such a wonderful freedom in the bless-ing you gave me, and in your welcome home! Dearest
6 THE HOLY MOTHERMother! I wish we could send you a wonderful hymn,or a prayer. But somehow even that would seem tooloud, too full of noise! Surely you are the most won-derful thing of God—Sri Ramakrishna’s own chaliceof His Love for the world—a token left with His chil-dren, in these lonely days, and we should be very stilland quiet before you—except indeed for a little fun!Surely the ‘wonderful things of God’ are all quiet—stealing unnoticed into our lives—the air and the sun-light and the sweetness of gardens and of the Ganges.These are the silent things that are like you! Do send to poor S. Sara the mantle of your peace.Isn’t your thought, now and then, of the high calmthat neither loves nor hates? Isn’t that a sweet bene-diction that trembles in God, like the dewdrop on thelotus-leaf, and touches not the world? Ever, my darling Mother, your foolish KHOOKI(baby), NiveditaA LETTER BY SISTER NIVEDITATO THE HOLY MOTHER
CONTENTSChapter Page I THE DISCOVERY OF SARADAMANI 9 II THE DARLING OF THE VILLAGE 12 III MARRIAGE 15 IV FIRST VISIT TO DAKSHINESWAR 20 V RELATIONSHIP WITH THE MASTER 26 VI FAITH AND INNOCENCE 32VII DAKSHINESWAR DAYS 36VIII FORESHADOWING THE FUTURE 42 IX THE PASSING OF SRI RAMAKRISHNA 48 X TRIALS AND SUFFERINGS 52 XI PILGRIMAGES 57 XII IN CALCUTTA AND AT JAYRAMBATI 62XIII AS A SPIRITUAL FORCE 68XIV THE ALL-LOVING MOTHER 76XV LAST DAYS 86 CULLED FROM STRAY TALKS 89
I THE DISCOVERY OF SARADAMANI After Sri Ramakrishna had the first vision ofthe Divine Mother, he was consumed with a thirstto have it constantly. He was like a man who hadonce had access to an invaluable treasure, butwhich had again been closed to him. So he wasburning with a desire to repeat that experience.His desire was so intense and his longing so se-vere that he could no longer behave like a nor-mal man. Seeing his strange actions and behav-iour many thought that he was out of his mind.The news reached his old mother, who was attheir native village, Kamarpukur. She felt veryanxious for her son and had him brought to her,so that by careful nursing she might cure him. When Sri Ramakrishna came to Kamarpukur,his mother thought that marriage might bringdown his mind to worldly things and he mightbe cured of his divine malady. So she sent emis-saries here and there to negotiate with variouspersons but a suitable bride could not be found.Strangely enough, Sri Ramakrishna took a child-like interest in these proceedings; and finding his
10 THE HOLY MOTHERmother in a great predicament about his bride,he himself suggested that there was a little girlwho might be suitable—the daughter of RamChandra Mukhopadhyaya—at Jayrambati, onlysix kilometers away. His mother, Chandramani, took up this sug-gestion, sent a man to Jayrambati and learnt thatthe girl, beaming with divine effulgence, was notonly the pet child of her parents and family butalso the idol of the whole village. There was some-thing in her which even at that early age dreweverybody to her. Whoever saw this little girlcould not but feel a fascination for her. So ChandraDevi at once agreed to have her as her daughter-in-law. The marriage was arranged and per-formed with Sri Ramakrishna’s own consent, inspite of the fact that his thoughts constantlysoared high above the earthly region. The name of the bride, who was afterwardsknown as the Holy Mother to innumerable dis-ciples and admirers of Sri Ramakrishna, wasSaradamani. Her father, Ram Chandra Mukho-padhyaya, was a very pious Brahmin; her mother,Shyamasundari Devi, was also known for hergreat piety. Being very poor, Ram Chandra hadto struggle very hard for his livelihood and themaintenance of the family. The income from hispriestly duties was too meagre for his needs, sohe had to supplement it by agricultural pursuits
THE DISCOVERY OF SARADAMANI 11and the making of sacred threads. NeverthelessRam Chandra was known for his kindness andgenerosity. He had a very tender heart which feltdistress at the suffering of others. In 1864, whena terrible famine devastated Bengal and the littlevillage of Jayrambati and the neighbourhood didnot escape the ravages of the scourge, RamChandra would daily feed large a number ofstarving people out of his surplus produce of theprevious year, without caring for his own diffi-cult circumstances. No wonder Ram Chandra wasthe object of great reverence and deep affectionof the whole locality.
II THE DARLING OF THE VILLAGE Saradamani was born on 22 December 1853,about seventeen years after the birth of SriRamakrishna. Born in a poor family, though thedarling of all, she had to do many of the hardhousehold duties to help her parents. She wasthe eldest child, and she had to take care of hersix younger brothers and sisters. She would takefood to the servants in the fields, she would cutgrass for the cows in neck-deep water, and shewould collect grain from the fields in the paddyseason. All these have a very touching interestwhen we know that afterwards in her advancedyears she gave spiritual ministration to thousandsof persons who would have been ready to spendliterally everything to fulfil her slightest wish. Buteven in more favourable circumstances she livedthe same simple life—liking her ordinary villagedishes, doing the duties and following a routineof life similar to those of other women of that poorlittle village. Actually her life was more strenu-ous than theirs as her family was very exactingand also because many devotees would flock to
THE DARLING OF THE VILLAGE 13her village home. But in her early age, when shewould be going about in the fields and doing hardlabour, though her presence would invariablylight up joy in the surroundings, who did knowthat here was an almost divine being walking intheir midst! As a young girl, Saradamani was rather gravefor her age. None would find in her any childishfrivolity, and she had little interest in the gamescommonly played by children of her age. But shewas the embodiment of innocence and simplic-ity, and her love for other children was compel-ling. That made her the natural mediator whenthere was any quarrel among other girls. Shewould prefer to play with the clay images of thedeities Kali and Lakshmi rather than with ordi-nary dolls; and would worship them with greatdevotion with flowers and sacred leaves. She hada great aptitude for meditation. One day whilethe worship of the goddess Jagaddhatri was goingon, she sat meditating on the Divine Mother withso much absorption that a bystander was struckwith awe at the sight. Saradamani had little formal education. Alongwith her younger brothers she would now andthen go to school, but nobody took her educationseriously. On the contrary, she sometimes met withpositive discouragement. Later at Kamarpukur,when she was found reading a Bengali primer,
14 THE HOLY MOTHERHriday, a nephew of Sri Ramakrishna, snatchedaway the book saying that it would develop in hera tendency to read novels and dramas. But becauseof her own interest she later learnt in a generalway to read books through the help of Lakshmi, aniece of Sri Ramakrishna, and also through anothergirl at Dakshineswar who would come to see heron her way to the Ganga for bathing. Afterwardsthe Holy Mother would read the Ramayana orsimilar books at leisure, but she was never foundto write. That does not mean, however, that the HolyMother had no education in the real sense of theterm. In her village home she had plenty ofopportunities to see religious dramas and to listento Pauranic stories, and she would attend manyreligious festivals. She was brought up under theinfluence of parents who were of the finest char-acter. And above all, she had the rare privilege ofcoming into the closest contact with one who notonly had the power to transform but actually didtransform many lives by his silent and unconsciousinfluence. As such the Holy Mother embodied theresult of the best education. Her natural dignity,combined with motherly affection for one and all,her tender courtesy along with great broad-mindedness indicating the highest developmentof mind, compelled not only love and reverence,but at times wonder and awe.
15 III MARRIAGE Saradamani was very young, when she wasmarried—so young that she could not clearlyremember the event. She would afterwards say:‘I was married when the dates ripen. Within tendays of the marriage, when I went to Kamar-pukur, I used to gather dates from under thetrees.’ Such a little girl married and Sri Rama-krishna giving consent to the marriage! To thosewho are very critical about it and pretend to beshocked, we may say that this kind of marriage isno more than a mere betrothal after which thegirl usually returns to her parents until sufficien-tly grown up. And in this particular case, thebridegroom lived on such a high plane that hecould give no more serious thought to the mar-riage than a little boy gives to his playthings. This time Sri Ramakrishna stayed atKamarpukur a little over two years. Before hereturned to Dakshineswar he paid a short visit tohis father-in-law’s house in obedience to the fam-ily custom, and brought Saradamani back toKamarpukur with him for a few days. At this time
16 THE HOLY MOTHERSaradamani was only seven—her mind not yetsufficiently developed even to know what mar-riage was. When Sri Ramakrishna returned toDakshineswar, divine longing again seized himin all its intensity, and he forgot all aboutKamarpukur, his friends and relations, andeverything. The one thought which occupied hiswhole mind was how to realize the Divine Motheras a constant presence. A severe spiritual stormseized him. Days and nights were spent inanguish because God was not a living reality tohim: if the Divine Mother was a reality whyshould She not be to him as tangible as the vis-ible objects around? He was consumed with thatone longing. Sleep left him, he forgot all idea offood and drink. Worldly things or any talk aboutworldly affairs he dreaded and shunned as poi-son. While he was passing through this state ofdivine discontent, smaller minds thought that hewas seized with a disease, that his brain wasderanged. Physicians were called in, medicineswere tried, but all to no avail. The news gradu-ally travelled to Kamarpukur that Sri Rama-krishna had gone mad. Chandramani was anx-ious for her beloved son. She began to pray forhim and offered worship to various gods.Jayrambati being so near to Kamarpukur, the
MARRIAGE 17news certainly reached Jayrambati too. But hiswife being so young was perhaps unconcernedabout the happenings at Dakshineswar. Saradamani’s two subsequent visits toKamarpukur were at the ages of thirteen and four-teen years, when both Sri Ramakrishna and hismother were at Dakshineswar. The next time shewent there, in 1867, she was privileged to staywith Sri Ramakrishna. When he arrived atKamarpukur in that year, his anxious relativesand friends found that with all his deep religiousfeeling he was quite a normal man in his ordi-nary dealings. That was a great relief to them. Atthis time Saradamani was brought toKamarpukur from her father ’s house. This mightbe, in a sense, her first meeting with her husband. Sri Ramakrishna lived at Kamarpukur forabout seven months. During this stay he did onegreat thing. Though his mind would constantlysoar to the transcendental level so that he wasgenerally indifferent to anything worldly, whenSaradamani came to Kamarpukur he seriously setabout giving her proper training. Sri Ramakrishnawas by now a sannyasin. 1 When his guru,Totapuri, lear nt that he had married, heremarked: ‘What if you are married! The real test 1. A person who has formally renounced theworld, a monk.
18 THE HOLY MOTHERof love for God is that even if the wife be near,the mind will not gravitate to the thought ofsense-pleasure. If one knows that all is Brahman,what difference can one make between one sexand another? One is above all these ideas.’ Thesesignificant words of the Guru came to be illus-trated in the case of the disciple, as Sri Rama-krishna now met Saradamani and turned hismind to the fulfillment of his educational dutiesto his wife. Whatever Sri Ramakrishna would do, hewould always do with perfect thoroughness. Sowhen he took upon himself the task of trainingSaradamani, he brought to bear upon the work asense of completeness. He talked to her not onlyof high spiritual matters but also taught her howto do ordinary household duties. Saradamani,pure as purity itself, brought up in the innocentand unsophisticated atmosphere of village life,and unsullied by any worldly thought, found inSri Ramakrishna not a husband in the commonsense of the term but one who was the embodi-ment of unspeakable love. Of her experiences ofthis period she used to say afterwards: ‘I felt as ifa vessel full of divine bliss was permanentlyinstalled in my heart. I cannot adequately describethe heavenly joy which filled my heart.’ Sheobviously felt that she had the rare privilege ofreceiving an unearthly treasure.
MARRIAGE 19 With such feelings she went back toJayrambati when Sri Ramakrishna again returnedto Dakshineswar. After Sri Ramakrishna reachedDakshineswar, to all intents and purposes, heagain forgot all about Saradamani. But it was dif-ferent with his wife, who had received suchunalloyed bliss from him. Her constant thoughtwas centered on him. She longed to be with himat Dakshineswar. But she consoled herself withthe thought that one who had shown her suchtender consideration at the very first meetingcould not have forgotten her altogether. Therewould certainly come a time when she would becalled to his side. Patiently and silently she waitedfor that auspicious moment.
IV FIRST VISIT TO DAKSHINESWAR At this period one could find a decidedchange in her conduct and behaviour. She nowbecame more quiet and serious, an embodimentof love and sympathy for all, and ready to adaptherself to any circumstance. Her inward bliss wasso great that no earthly difficulty or sufferingcould affect her. She would have continued in thatexalted state except for the fact that whispers wentround in that small village that her husband hadgone mad. While Sri Ramakrishna passed his daysin divine ecstasy, people interpreted his extra-ordinary behaviour as signs of mental derange-ment. And this news spread to all his relations.People of Jayrambati began to show sympathy forSaradamani’s sad plight , little knowing that theexpression of such sympathy made her sufferingmuch worse. Saradamani avoided socializing andbusied herself with work, so that she might nothave to hear any gossip with reference to herhusband. But the rumour was very strong thatSri Ramakrishna had gone mad, that he wentabout naked and muttered unintelligible words.
FIRST VISIT TO DAKSHINESWAR 21‘Could it be true?’ thought Saradamani to herself,‘Is he then not what I found him to be? If it be so,then it is my duty to be by him at this critical mo-ment.‘ But how could she go to Dakshineswar?The idea was next to impossible for a person likeher—situated as Jayrambati was at such a greatdistance and the communication also so difficult. But the silent prayers of a sincere and devotedheart were heard by God and an unexpectedopportunity presented itself to Saradamani forgoing to Dakshineswar. On an auspicious occa-sion, some women from neighbouring villageswere going to Calcutta for a bath in the Ganga.Saradamani expressed a desire to be in that pil-grim party. When the news reached the ears ofher father, he at once understood the real causebehind her desire. So he readily gave permissionand himself accompanied the party so that hisbeloved Sarada might be well taken care of. Thedistance of about a hundred kilometers had tobe covered on foot. Only the rich could afford togo in a palanquin.1 As that luxury was out of thequestion for poor Ram Chandra, he along withhis daughter started on foot. Saradamani, unac-customed to walking a long distance, found thejourney strenuous. But physical suffering was 1 A type of carriage borne on the shoulders of bear-ers.
22 THE HOLY MOTHERnothing compared to the joy of meeting the Mas-ter. So she altogether ignored any hardship thatcame on the way. But on the third day, before theparty could reach Calcutta, Saradamani had ahigh fever. It was impossible for her to walk inspite of her desire to continue the journey. So ashelter had to be found in a cottage built for trav-ellers. At night the fever rose very high, andSaradamani lost all outward consciousness. TheHoly Mother used to narrate afterwards thatwhile she was in that condition she saw in a visionthat a girl dark in complexion but exquisitelybeautiful in appearance sat by her side caressingand nursing her. When asked who she was, thegirl said that she came from Dakshineswar, thatshe was the Holy Mother ’s sister and had comeall the way to receive her. After that Saradamanifell asleep. Strange to say, the next morning thefever was gone, and she was able to start. On theway she had fever again, but Ram Chandra some-how managed to reach Dakshineswar by night-fall. What was the anxiety of Sri Ramakrishna tosee Saradamani come in that condition! Immedi-ately he busied himself in making all arrange-ments for the patient and set up a bed for her inhis own room. Often he repeated in great sorrow,but with childlike simplicity: ‘You have comewhen dear Mathur is no more. Had he been alive,
FIRST VISIT TO DAKSHINESWAR 23no difficulty whatsoever would arise as to takingcare of you. Now that he is gone, who can takehis place?’ But did Saradamani receive less care?Sri Ramakrishna himself began to nurse andattend to her day and night, and that so carefullythat in the course of three or four days she wasall right. After that Saradamani was shifted to theground floor of the Nahabat,1 where she stayedwith Chandramani, her mother-in-law, who wasat that time at Dakshineswar. Saradamani could hardly believe her eyeswhen she found her husband, who was reportedto have gone mad, feeling so much anxiety at herillness and showing so much kindness andaffection. Was there any woman in this world soblessed as to receive such loving care from herhusband? Saradamani knew for certain that what-ever might be people’s opinion, her divine hus-band was perfectly sane; not only that, but therehad not been the least change in his attitudetoward her. Ram Chandra was glad to see his daughterhappy and comfortable at Dakshineswar. So hereturned to his village home, leaving Saradamaniin the privileged position of serving her husband 1 A very small two-storeyed building, close to SriRamakrishna’s room, the upper storey of which wasintended for temple music.
24 THE HOLY MOTHERand old mother-in-law. It was in March of 1872that the Holy Mother reached Dakshineswar—about five years after she had last seen the Mas-ter at Kamarpukur. Sri Ramakrishna at this time lived in constantdivine communion. The greater part of the dayand night he would remain in an ecstatic condi-tion. Even a slight incident—the singing of adevotional song or the sight of anything whichhad a divine association, however remote—would throw his mind into samadhi, and hewould become oblivious of his surroundings. Hewas more at home on the divine plane than weare on the earthly plane. But when Saradamaniarrived at Dakshineswar he was not forgetful ofhis duties to his wedded wife. If she so desired,Sri Ramakrishna was willing to sacrifice his verymission for her. Saradamani also, on her part, wastoo pure and noble to have the slightest inclina-tion to drag her saintly husband to a life of world-liness. She clearly told him about this and readilyresponded to his ideals and aspirations. All thatshe wanted was to be near him and to have theprivilege of serving him and moulding her ownlife according to his direction. Sri Ramakrishnagave her that favour in abundance. Though theHoly Mother was accommodated at the Nahabatand in the course of the day could not meet theMaster because he had visitors, at night she was
FIRST VISIT TO DAKSHINESWAR 25allowed to stay in his room and share the samebed with him. Saradamani at this time wouldreceive from her divine husband instructions inhigh spiritual matters as well as about mundanethings. It was not a life of conjugal relations butof great spiritual training—so much so that thewife in Saradamani was merged in the disciplein her. Afterwards nobody could perceive in herutterances and behaviour anything that betrayedher special claim on Sri Ramakrishna. She wasonly the humble disciple of the Master, and thiswas to her a matter of supreme joy and privilege.
V RELATIONSHIP WITH THE MASTER And what was the attitude of Sri Ramakrishnatowards her? Never for a moment did he lookupon her as a wife, except for the fact that heowned a duty to her as regards her training inmatters spiritual as well as earthly. His conscious-ness regarding Saradamani swung betweenanxious solicitude for one who needed care, andgreat reverence for one who was the embodimentof the Divine Mother. Though he would give herearnest instructions in all matters, with whatreverence did he look upon her! ‘My very devo-tion to God will take wings, if her feelings are evenslightly hurt,’ Sri Ramakrishna used to say. ‘Howdo you look upon me?’ Saradamani once askedSri Ramakrishna as she was serving him massag-ing his feet. ‘The same Divine Mother who is stay-ing at the temple is now massaging me,’ came theprompt reply from Sri Ramakrishna. To him therewas no difference between Saradamani and theDeity in the Kali temple. But this was not the outcome of mere reli-gious sentimentalism—an artificial attempt to
RELATIONSHIP WITH THE MASTER 27look upon all women as the embodiment of theBlissful Mother. Everything Sri Ramakrishna saidor believed was the result of his personal experi-ence, and he was always bold in his experimen-tation—sometimes dangerously bold. Did he seein the Image in the temple a living presence? Well,he must know for certain whether his vision wasa fact or a hallucination. He placed a piece ofcotton under the nostrils of the Image just to testwhether there was any indication of life. Thus thesimplicity of a child and the courage of a scientistwere combined in him. With the same boldnessand simplicity Sri Ramakrishna asked himself oneday whether he had really forgotten the wife inSaradamani or whether there lurked any carnaldesire in him. Saradamani was by his side in thesame bed. But before he could think of any physi-cal relationship with her, his mind was throwninto deep samadhi and his body-consciousnesswas absolutely gone. And in that state he passedthe rest of the night. ‘The credit for this was no less due to her,’ SriRamakrishna used to remark after wards.Saradamani’s snow-white purity was his shieldand armour. Sri Ramakrishna once prayed to theDivine Mother after his marriage that any leasttrace of carnal desire might be removed from themind of his wife. Sri Ramakrishna would say inlater times, ‘When I lived with her (meaning
28 THE HOLY MOTHERSaradamani) from day to day at this period, Iunderstood that the Divine Mother had reallyheard my prayer.’ One thing which Sri Ramakrishna greatlyemphasized was the need of harmony betweenone’s words and deeds, and this dictum expresseditself in every breath of his life. How literally SriRamakrishna looked upon Saradamani as themanifestation of the Divine Mother in the fleshcan be judged from the following incident whichhappened one night at Dakshineswar during thistime. It was a special day in the month of May forthe worship of the Divine Mother. The temple ofDakshineswar wore an air of festivity. Everybodywas busy with the worship that would beperformed at night. Sri Ramakrishna expresseda desire to have personal worship of the Motherin his own room, and all arrangements were madefor this. Twilight passed into evening, and thedarkness of the new-moon night enveloped thesurroundings. At the end of the first watch of thenight Sri Ramakrishna sat for the worship. Theseat where the Deity was to be installed was infront of him. He performed the preliminaries ofthe worship. Saradamani had previously beeninstructed to come and attend the worship. Shecame and was watching the whole thing. Thespiritual atmosphere which was created by SriRamakrishna’s intense devotion made
RELATIONSHIP WITH THE MASTER 29Saradamani oblivious of the outside world andshe had already entered a mood of partial ecstasy.As he proceeded with the worship, Sri Rama-krishna beckoned to her to sit on the seat arrangedfor the Deity. In that semiconscious state, notknowing what she was doing, Saradamani tookthe seat reserved for the Mother. Sri Ramakrishnawent on with the procedure of the ritual. But itwas not long before he was in complete samadhi,and so also was the one who was beingworshipped. In the stillness of the night bothworshipper and worshipped became merged inthe Absolute. Hours passed before either camedown to the plane of consciousness even in a faintmeasure. After that Sri Ramakrishna finished therest of the ritual, dedicating the fruits of all hispast and present worship to the Deity. This wasthe culmination of the sadhana of Sri Rama-krishna. After this he performed no special formof spiritual practice. The Holy Mother lived at Dakshineswar foranother year after this worship. But what anordeal it was to stay with Sri Ramakrishna! Oftenhe would fall into samadhi and pass the wholenight in that state, and she had an anxious time.One night Sri Ramakrishna was so deep insamadhi that one might take him to be dead. Ingreat anxiety the Holy Mother had to send infor-mation to others for help. It was a long time before
30 THE HOLY MOTHERhe could be brought down to the normal planeby the repeated utterance of sacred mantras. Afterregaining external consciousness, when Sri Rama-krishna knew all that had happened, he under-stood how the Holy Mother was passing nightafter night in sleepless anxiety on his account.Henceforth he arranged that she should stay atnight with his mother at the Nahabat. After staying in all for a little more than a yearat Dakshineswar, the Holy Mother returned toJayrambati via Kamarpukur in the middle of 1873.At Jayrambati she again began her usual work—helping the family in manifold household duties. Within a few months, in March 1874, thishappy family at Jayrambati suffered a great loss:Ram Chandra Mukhopadhyaya, the father of theHoly Mother, died leaving the already poor fam-ily virtually stranded. Shyamasundari, the piouswife of Ram Chandra, was not a soul to bedaunted by any difficulty. With great faith in thegoodness of God she shouldered the responsibil-ity of the family calmly and bravely. To supple-ment the slender resources of the family,Shyamasundari began to husk paddy for aneighbouring family. During this hour of crisisthe Holy Mother stood by her mother and was asource of great strength. She did all that waspossible to relieve her mother’s great burden. Shewould also take care of her younger brothers and
RELATIONSHIP WITH THE MASTER 31help her unsophisticated mother with advice inmany things. Gradually the financial conditionof the family improved and the crisis was tidedover.
VI FAITH AND INNOCENCE In April 1874, the Holy Mother came toDakshineswar again. During this second stay shefell ill of dysentery and suffered terribly. Throughthe devoted services of Shambhu Mallick and themedical care arranged by him she recovered suf-ficiently to go to her village home in September1875. There again she had a severe relapse, somuch so that her life was despaired of. She couldhardly walk and her body was reduced to a skel-eton. She was frightened at seeing her ownreflection in the water—such mere skin and boneshe had become. When the news reachedDakshineswar, Sri Ramakrishna himself wasanxious and remarked to Hriday, his nephew,‘Coming to earth, will she leave it without hav-ing realized the goal of life?’ As all human remedies failed, in great des-peration one night she went with the help of herbrother Umesh to the village temple of the DivineMother, called Simhavahini, where she lay downvow to fast till the goddess cured her. As she laythere, she saw the vision of Simhavahini who
FAITH AND INNOCENCE 33appeared before her and suggested a medicinefor her eyes which when tried had an immediateeffect. The goddess appeared similarly toShyamasundari Devi and suggested anothermedicine for dysentery by taking which the HolyMother completely recovered. As the news of hermiraculous cure spread, the Deity began toreceive the worship of people from far and near.Even now the temple retains this popularity. After about a year the Holy Mother again fellill and suffered this time from an enlargement ofthe spleen. Following the ways of the villagepeople, Shyamasundari took her daughter to aneighbouring Shiva temple where a quack usedto brand the region of the spleen with a piece ofburning jujube wood. This drastic remedy wastried. One cannot say whether it had any effect,but what was noteworthy was that the HolyMother withstood the severe treatment withincredible calm and fortitude, no one even beingrequired to hold her limbs at that time. Gradu-ally she recovered. The Holy Mother went to Dakshineswar forthe third time in January 1877. Perhaps on this(or may be on one of her other visits toDakshineswar), an incident happened whichshowed how spiritual innocence is a great power,and guileless confidence placed even in an evilcharacter can transform a life. On the journey
34 THE HOLY MOTHERfrom Jayrambati to Dakshineswar one had tocross vast fields. Once the Holy Mother was over-taken by darkness in one of those fields. Thewhole of her party had gone ahead quickly asnight was fast approaching, but she could notkeep pace with them. The path had the notorietyof being infested with dacoits and many wayfar-ers are said to have been robbed of their all andeven killed. The Holy Mother was trudging onwearily. At that dark hour she saw a tall figurewith a club on his shoulder approaching her. Ashe came near he sharply asked her where she wasgoing at that hour. In all her innocence the HolyMother said, ‘Father, I am going to Dakshineswarwhere your son-in-law stays. I have been leftbehind by my party.’ Soon she found approach-ing a woman who was presumably the man’swife. Her she accosted as mother and told thesame thing. The man and woman were so movedby the guileless attitude of Saradamani that theytook her to a shop for shelter and fed her withpuffed rice bought from the shopkeeper. As nobedding could be had, the woman spread herown clothes and on that laid her ‘daughter ’ tosleep. The couple belonged to a very low caste,but in their great affection for Saradamani theyaltogether forgot their difference of social posi-tion. The next morning they went with her as faras Tarakeshwar, where she met her companions.
FAITH AND INNOCENCE 35By staying only one night with them, she madethem so dear to her that they actually began toweep when they had to leave her. Before takingleave, the Holy Mother got a promise from themthat they would visit her and their ‘son-in-law’at Dakshineswar. This promise was fulfilled, andSri Ramakrishna treated them as if they wereactually his parents-in-law at Dakshineswar. TheHoly Mother used to say later that however niceand kind her ‘dacoit father ’ had been to her, shehad no doubt that he had committed many actsof robbery. The Holy Mother had to live alone atDakshineswar this time since her mother-in-lawChandramani Devi had passed away on Febru-ary 27, 1876. Meanwhile the great devoteeShambhu Mallick had built a cottage for her onan adjoining piece of land, where she could livea bit more comfortably. There she would stay andcook for the Master. But as Sri Ramakrishna fellill of dysentery, she again shifted to the Nahabatso that she could take better care of him.
VII DAKSHINESWAR DAYS For about thirteen years the Holy Motherlived at Dakshineswar with short intervals nowand then when she would go to Jayrambati. Ather father ’s house she lived a very hard life, buther life at Dakshineswar was even harder.Whereas at Jayrambati she had freedom of move-ment and always enjoyed fresh air, at Dakshines-war she was cooped up in the Nahabat, a smallroom not more than fifty square feet in area. TheMaster himself used to say, ‘When a free bird iskept imprisoned in a cage its health suffers,’ andhe was anxious about her health. So consideratewas he that when there was nobody near theNahabat at noon, he would ask the Holy Motherto visit the ladies of the locality and escort her asfar as the temple gate. She would return in theevening when the service began in the templeand all people would be drawn there. She wasvery shy by nature, and hardly anybody couldsee her though she lived at Dakshineswar for sucha long time. An officer of the temple onceremarked, ‘We have heard she lives there, but
DAKSHINESWAR DAYS 37never have we seen her.’ She would get up veryearly in the morning, at about three or four, attendto her ablutions, including a bath in the Ganga,and enter her tiny room from where she wouldcome out, if there was any necessity, only at nightwhen people were away. This went on day afterday. The door of the room was so low that shehad to bend far down to enter. In the beginningshe had hard knocks on her head while going in,but afterwards, she said, she got accustomed tothe height and avoided injury. This small roomwas her bedroom, kitchen, storeroom, and every-thing else. Even on slings she would hang part ofher store. Sometimes she had to accommodateother companions here too, mainly the womendisciples of Sri Ramakrishna. Ladies from Calcuttawho came to visit Sri Ramakrishna would takepity on the Holy Mother and say: ‘See, our goodgirl has to live in such a small room. She is, as itwere, in exile like Sita.’ In the beginning, she hadto cook only for two or three persons, her mother-in-law, the Master, and the like. But as the num-ber of devotees of Sri Ramakrishna began to swellshe had to cook for more and more persons. On abirthday of the Master, she had to cook for fortyor fifty persons in that room. Sometimes she hadto cook to suit different tastes. Naren (afterwardsSwami Vivekananda) would like thick gram soup,Ramchandra would ask for chapatis, Rakhal
38 THE HOLY MOTHERpreferred khichuri. Sometimes at odd hours shehad to arrange meals for devotees. But the HolyMother was always equal to the occasion. She wasnever ruffled, never annoyed. She was sweetnessitself and all motherliness. With how much care did she attend to theneeds of the Master! She was all attention to him.In external behaviour Sri Ramakrishna was justlike a child. She had to coax and cajole him to takefood. He would be frightened if the quantity ofrice in his plate looked large. She would there-fore press the heap so carefully that it would looksmall. She would thicken the milk by boiling, sothat he could not judge what quantity of milk hewas taking. Sometimes she had to suppress thetruth about the quantity of food he took; she saidthat it was not wrong to take the help of a fib asregards food under such circumstances. Sri Rama-krishna used to say jokingly that there was thisgreat need of having a wife: she can cook for thehusband. When the Holy Mother was away, hewould be in difficulty and feel nervous, fornobody else could take sufficient care of him. TheHoly Mother and Sri Ramakrishna stayed in tworooms about seventy-five feet apart; but some-times they would not meet for months. Still whata great warmth of feeling existed between them!The idea of husband and wife was completelyobliterated between the two, but no married love
DAKSHINESWAR DAYS 39could compare with the great intensity of lovethat they had for each other. A little headache ofthe Holy Mother would make the Master anxiousand he would say: ‘Ramlal (Sri Ramakrishna’snephew), what shall we do? She has a headache.’Some unknown critics raised the question that SriRamakrishna in his quest after the Infinite wasunkind to his wife inasmuch as he did not live amarried life. But no wife on earth has been therecipient of so much love and consideration fromher husband as Saradamani received from SriRamakrishna. The relationship between Sri Ramakrishnaand the Holy Mother was not without humour.Once while she was staying in the cottage builtby Shambhu Mallick, Sri Ramakrishna went toher in the evening, but as it started raining heavilyhe could not again return to his own room thatnight. At this Sri Ramakrishna remarked to her, ‘Iam staying here just as the temple priests go totheir family houses.’ Once a woman came to SriRamakrishna in great agony of mind seekingpeace. Sri Ramakrishna sent her to the Nahabatsaying that in that house lived one who knew theremedy. When the woman approached the HolyMother and repeated what Sri Ramakrishna hadsaid, she understood the joke that was beingplayed upon her. The Holy Mother explained tothe woman that she was nothing and that Sri
40 THE HOLY MOTHERRamakrishna was everything and sent her backto him. This was repeated a couple of times. Atlast the Holy Mother gave the woman a bilva leafused in worship, which had a miraculous effecton her life. Once there was a controversy as to whobetween Sri Ramakrishna and another personwas fairer in complexion, and Sri Ramakrishnaproposed that the Holy Mother should be theumpire. Both the competitors walked side by sidein front of the Nahabat so that she might see andjudge. Observing strict impartiality, she gave theverdict in favour of the other person, and SriRamakrishna lost the contest. In the early hours of the morning Sri Rama-krishna used to rouse from sleep the Holy Motherand his niece Lakshmi Devi, who then lived withher, so that they might sit for meditation. If therewas no response from inside or he suspected thatthey were asleep, he poured water through thedoor and quietly walked away. Above all, her stay in Dakshineswar was aperiod of great spiritual training. As mentionedbefore, she would get up every day between threeand four in the morning and after a bath in theGanga begin her meditation. The whole daywould be spent in devoted service to the Master,and again in the evening she would practisemeditation. In this respect she was mercilessly
DAKSHINESWAR DAYS 41strict with herself. As she narrated afterwards, oneday she was out of sorts and thought it waslegitimate to get up late. This she did, and thenext day also the same action was repeated. Fol-lowing this practice for two or three days, shefound that she had become an unconscious victimof lethargy. After that she would get up at thefixed time whatever might be her health. This shefollowed throughout her whole life. Even in timesof severe illness, unless quite disabled, she wouldget up in the early hours and meditate. To theloving remonstrances of her anxious attendantsat her being so strict with herself even in old age,she would pay no heed. Once at Dakshineswarwhile going to the bathing ghat so early in themorning, she almost stumbled upon a crocodilelying on the steps. It got alarmed by her footstepsand jumped into the river. After that when goingto the Ganga she would carry a lantern. Seeingthe reflection of the moon on the water of theGanga she would pray, ‘There are dark spots evenon the moon, but do Thou, O Lord, make meabsolutely spotless.’ On moonlit nights she wouldfervently pray that she might be as pure as thelight of the moon.
VIII FORESHADOWING THE FUTURE It is needless to say that her innate spirituallonging combined with hard sadhana, and aboveall the guidance of a personality like that of SriRamakrishna, had a tremendous effect on the lifeof Sarada Devi. But she had a great capacity tohide her achievements in that sphere. SwamiPremananda, an intimate disciple of the Master,once remarked that even Sri Ramakrishna hadexternal manifestations of his spiritual powers inthe form of constant samadhi, but the HolyMother had so much control over herself thatnobody knew what a mine of spirituality she pos-sessed. Carefully suppressing all outward mani-festations she lived like an ordinary woman doingthe usual household duties of a poor middle-classhome. Once the Holy Mother asked Yogin-Ma, adevotee and her companion, to request the Mas-ter to see that she (the Holy Mother) might havethe bliss of samadhi. When Yogin-Ma broachedthe subject to Sri Ramakrishna he looked graveand Yogin-Ma dared not say anything further. But
FORESHADOWING THE FUTURE 43as she came to the Nahabat she found the HolyMother seated at her worship, laughing andweeping alternately and tears rolling down hercheeks. Gradually she became quiet and lost inherself. Evidently it was a state of samadhi. After-wards she asked the Holy Mother, ‘How is it,Mother, that you deceived me by saying you hadno experience of samadhi?’ The Mother simplysmiled and did not utter any words. In later dayswhile the Holy Mother, Yogin-Ma and Golap-Ma,another devotee, were meditating on the terraceof a house where they stayed at Belur, the HolyMother was found to have lost all outward con-sciousness, so deep was her meditation. Aftersome time, regaining partial consciousness, shesaid, ‘O Yogin, where are my limbs?’ Yogin-Manarrated afterwards that they began to press herhands and feet to convince her they existed. Itwas long before she came down to the normalplane. Only those who were very intimate with hercould witness one or two incidents whichrevealed her real spiritual stature, but to all oth-ers she was only a mother. Her motherliness, which afterwards like ahuge banyan tree gave shelter and refuge toenumerable weary souls, showed signs of mani-festing even in her early days at Dakshineswar.So much so, that sometimes the mother in her
44 THE HOLY MOTHERgot the better of her devotion even to the Master.There were occasions when impelled by moth-erly feelings she would overrule even the wishesand desires of Sri Ramakrishna. Once a woman came to Dakshineswar. Shewas supposed to be just a crank but afterwardswas found to be practising sadhana according tomadhura bhava, that is, in the attitude of lookingupon God as a husband. She one day said thatshe cherished the same attitude towards SriRamakrishna. The Master got wild at hearingsuch words and began to rebuke her so loudlythat it created a sensation. At this the Holy Mothersent for the woman, treated her lovingly as if shewere her own daughter, and said: ‘If he getsannoyed at your presence, you need not go tohim. Just come to me.’ Another woman was in the habit of comingto the Nahabat to have the pleasure and benefitof the company of the Holy Mother. This womanhad lived an impure life in her younger days, andfor this reason the Master told the Holy Mothernot to associate with her. But the woman wouldcome to the Holy Mother just as to a mother forsolace and consolation. How could a mother rejecther daughter, however bad? The Holy Motherpaid no heed to the protests of the Master, andthe lady continued to come to the Nahabat. TheMaster noticed this, but raised no further
FORESHADOWING THE FUTURE 45objection, presumably understanding the feelingsand attitude of the Holy Mother. Sri Ramakrishna was very strict with hisyoung disciples as regards diet, spiritual practices,etc. One day he learnt that Baburam (afterwardsSwami Premananda) took five or six chapatis atnight. That was too many, he thought, and askedwhy he took such a large quantity at night. Theyoung boy replied that the Holy Mother servedthem to him. Then Sri Ramakrishna went to theHoly Mother and took her to task for thus spoil-ing the spiritual prospects of the boys. At this theHoly Mother replied: ‘You need not worry abouttheir welfare. I will look to that.’ The Master sawthe sentiment behind these words and simplylaughed. Could a mother refuse to give sufficientquantity of food to her children? That was im-possible. Sri Ramakrishna was aware of the spiritualpowers that were hers. Though now and then hewould give her spiritual instructions just as to adisciple, at other times he would consider her ashis peer, or one on whom his spiritual mantlewould fall. ‘People are living like worms in dark-ness; you will have to look after them,’ he oncesaid to her. On another occasion he said to her inan appealing tone, ‘Am I to do everything alone,and will you not do anything?’ ‘What can I do?’asked the Holy Mother. ‘You can do a lot,’ replied
46 THE HOLY MOTHERSri Ramakrishna. One day the Master actually sent a youngboy—Sarada, afterwards Swami Trigunatita-nanda—to the Holy Mother for spiritual initia-tion, quoting a Vaishnava couplet which says thatRadha is infinitely more powerful than SriKrishna. The chief trait in the character of Sri Rama-krishna, according to the Holy Mother, wasrenunciation. People generally say that his great-est achievement was the harmonization of allfaiths. But this paled into insignificance, in theopinion of his life-companion, when comparedwith his spirit of renunciation. But her ownrenunciation was just as great. One day a richMarwari devotee proposed to put a big amountin the bank to the credit of Sri Ramakrishna sothat he might not have any financial worry abouthis needs. Sri Ramakrishna was perturbed at thevery proposal as if it was an abysmal fall fromthe ideal to which he was pledged. When hardpressed by the devotee to accept the money, theMaster, just to test the Holy Mother ’s mind, hadher brought there and proposed that the moneymight be kept in her name if she agreed. She alsoadamantly refused the offer as that would be tan-tamount to the acceptance of the money by theMaster himself. Sri Ramakrishna was so glad tosee her sensitiveness to the ideal!
47 FORESHADOWING THE FUTURE In later days when the Holy Mother went ona pilgrimage to South India, the Raja of Ramnad,a disciple of Swami Vivekananda, ordered thetemple staff to show her his jewelry and requesther to accept anything she liked as that would beconferring a great favour upon him. The HolyMother shuddered at the very idea, but at repeat-ed requests said that Radhu, her niece whoaccompanied her on the pilgrimage, might takesomething she liked. But even then she was pray-ing silently to the Lord that Radhu might notcause embarrassment to her by showing covet-ousness. Radhu, to the Holy Mother ’s great relief,asked only for a lead-pencil to replace one thatshe had lost.
IX THE PASSING OF SRI RAMAKRISHNA A precept which the Holy Mother used toemphasize greatly was that one should learn howto adjust oneself to time and circumstances—fortherein lies the secret of peace and happiness inlife. She herself was the living embodiment of thissaying. Born and brought up in a village atmo-sphere, she was quite at home at Dakshineswar.But harder days were ahead of her. In June 1885, Sri Ramakrishna developed can-cer of the throat, and this necessitated his removalin October to Shyampukur in Calcutta for treat-ment. The devotees arranged for everythingregarding medical care, nursing, and so on. Theyknew that an expert hand would be needed totake charge of his diet. The Holy Mother was atDakshineswar. She would be the best one to beentrusted with that responsibility. But how wouldshe be able to stay in the small crowded housewhere Sri Ramakrishna was accommodated andwhere there was no other woman? This was theirmisgiving. When the proposal reached her
THE PASSING OF SRI RAMAKRISHNA 49however, she at once came to Shyampukur to dothe best she could for the Master. A small shed onthe terrace of the second storey was allotted toher, where she would stay during the day andfar into the night. When all were asleep at night,she would come down a to a room on the firstfloor and sleep for three hours at most there andthen return to her place on the terrace. When itwas necessary to feed or otherwise attend on SriRamakrishna, she would come to him. Thus shelived from day to day, without the slightestthought of any personal suffering, her only prayerbeing that the Master might regain his health, nomatter what might be her inconvenience. As there was no sign of improvement in hisillness, Sri Ramakrishna was shifted to Cossiporein December 1885. The Holy Mother also accom-panied him there, and occupied herself day andnight in attending to his needs. The young dis-ciples also sacrificed all other thoughts and weredoing their utmost to save the life of their belovedMaster. The prolonged illness of Sri Ramakrishnahad a great deal to do with the building up of thefuture Ramakrishna brotherhood; for, while serv-ing the Master in that hour of distress, the youngdisciples felt the bond of love growing amongthem all the more strongly. If that is true, it en-sured also the place of Sarada Devi in the futureOrder. The young disciples, the future builders
50 THE HOLY MOTHERof the Ramakrishna Order, though they had littleopportunity of talking with her, began to lookupon Sarada Devi as their own mother; and theirreverence for her was equalled only by that forthe Master. Sri Ramakrishna was sinking. The HolyMother got some premonition that the end wasnear. Still she was hoping against hope that thedisease might be arrested and the Master mightrecover. But death is no respecter of persons andis not swayed by any human sentiment or feel-ings. Sri Ramakrishna passed into Mahasamadhion 16 August 1886, plunging all his disciples anddevotees into profound grief and gloom. On the following day, when the Holy Motherwas preparing to wear the widow’s garments, SriRamakrishna appeared before her and said:‘What are you doing? Where have I gone? It islike passing from one room to another.’ At thisthe Holy Mother was a bit consoled and gave upthe idea of putting on the widow’s dress. But as asign of her grief she tore off a large portion of thewide red border of her sari. Afterwards sheattempted once or twice to remove the goldornaments she had on her hands, but every timeshe was prevented by the appearance of SriRamakrishna before her. The last time she at-tempted this was at Kamarpukur. There to saveherself from the village gossip, she took off her
THE PASSING OF SRI THE FUTURE FORESHADOWING RAMAKRISHNA 51bracelets. But one day there too she saw the visionof the Master. At this experience she shook off allfear of public criticism, and henceforth she woresimple bracelets on her hands and used a narrow-bordered cloth for her wearing apparel. After the demise of the Master, some devo-tees proposed that the establishment at Cossiporeshould be broken up immediately. But Naren andthe other young disciples objected as that wouldbe an additional shock to the Mother. So theestablishment remained there for some daysmore, till August 21, when the Holy Mother wentto stay at the house of Balaram Bose, the greatdevotee of the Master. There was some troubleand misunderstanding between the sannyasinand householder disciples as regards the posses-sion of the relics of the Master. When the newsreached the Holy Mother she remarked: ‘Such aunique person is gone. But they are quarrellingover his ashes!’
X TRIALS AND SUFFERINGS Shortly after, on 30 August 1886, accompaniedby a party of devotees, the Mother started on apilgrimage to North India to assuage her grief.On the way she stopped at Deoghar, Varanasi,and Ayodhya, and went as far as Vrindavan,where she stayed for about a year. While she waswitnessing the evening service at the temple ofVishwanath at Varanasi, she fell into an ecstaticmood and that mood persisted even while shewas returning to her place of lodging. At Varanasishe met the great saint, Swami Bhaskarananda,and was much impressed by him. At Vrindavan she practised hard tapasya, andher feelings were greatly stirred by the sight ofthe places associated with Sri Krishna, Radha andhis other companions. Was not her case exactlylike that of Radha when she was separated fromher Lord? When she met Yogin-Ma at Vrindavan,where she had gone earlier, she began to weeplike a helpless child. That mood lasted for a fewdays till she was pacified by having a vision ofthe Master. At Vrindavan she would be so much
TRIALS AND SUFFERINGS 53absorbed in japa and meditation that she was notconscious at the time that flies were making soreson her face. Sometimes in an exalted mood shewould go alone to the sandy banks of the Yamuna,from where her companions had to bring herback. It is said that at Kala Babu’s house she wasso absorbed in samadhi that she could be broughtdown to the earthly plane only with considerableeffort, by repeatedly uttering the name of theLord in her ears. These high spiritual moodswould alternate with simple and unsophisticatedbehaviour just like that of an innocent child. Shevisited almost all the important temples in thatholy city, some of them several times. She oncecircumambulated the sacred area associated withSri Krishna’s life on foot, just like the orthodoxVaishnavas, although she was suffering fromrheumatism. Her companions noticed that atmany places sanctified by the memory of SriKrishna she would experience an exalted mood. While staying at Vrindavan, she once saw avision in which the Master was asking her to giveinitiation to Swami Yogananda who was thenstaying with her as her attendant. At first she paidno attention to the vision, but the experiencerecurred on three consecutive days. Out of humil-ity she hesitated to give initiation to anyone, butwhen she learnt that the Master had not givenYogananda any formal initiation and that he too
54 THE HOLY MOTHERhad a vision similar to hers, she agreed andinitiated him. Perhaps this was the first initiationshe gave to anybody, for it is not definitely knownwhether she initiated Sarada (SwamiTrigunatitananda) whom the Master sent to herfor that purpose at Dakshineswar. At the temple of Radharani in Vrindavan shefervently prayed that her eyes might not see faultsin others. That her prayer was answered wasborne out in her life. Just as a mother cannot seeany fault in her child, she was incapable of see-ing any blemish in anyone. Afterwards she wouldadvise everyone to try not to see defects in othersfor, as she would say, one’s own eyes becomeimpure and one absorbs the defects of others. After one year ’s stay at Vrindavan she wentto Hardwar, and returned to Calcutta after visit-ing Jaipur, Ajmere, and Allahabad on the way. After a temporary halt in Calcutta for twodays, she started for Kamarpukur accompaniedby Swami Yogananda and Golap-Ma, both ofwhom came back to Calcutta after a few days. Now began a period of great trial and hard-ship for her. At this time she had no financialresources and almost nobody to take care of her.She felt a void in her heart at the physical absenceof the Master, and she was lonely. She was facedwith so much poverty that at times she had to eatrice without even salt. The disciples of the Master
TRIALS AND SUFFERINGS 55had been seized with spiritual longing andimpelled by that spirit wandered from place toplace; so they did not know the sufferings of theHoly Mother, nor did it strike any of them thatthere was a possibility that she might be in suchgreat difficulty. The Holy Mother also would notspeak of her personal hardships to anybody. Faithin God was her only refuge and support. Once atrepeated invitations of her mother she went toJayrambati. Shyamasundari Devi at once foundout the abject poverty through which she waspassing, but could not extract from her the actualcondition. She tried her best to keep her daugh-ter at Jayrambati, but the Holy Mother would notagree to stay. She returned to her husband’s birth-place just to wait and see how circumstanceswould shape themselves for her. Despite all her attempts to hide the real situ-ation the news leaked out to the outside worldthat she was passing through a period of greatprivation. When the devotees in Calcutta heardabout it they became alarmed and grave. Afterconsulting among themselves they wrote to theHoly Mother earnestly requesting her to come toCalcutta. But there was this difficulty. Whatevermight be her spiritual relation with the disciplesof the Master, what would the villagers think ifshe went to Calcutta to stay among strangers, asthey would say? At last, at the persuasion of an
56 THE HOLY MOTHERelderly woman in Kamarpukur who commandedgreat reverence from all, and also with the sup-port of her mother, she went to Calcutta. Greatrelief and joy was felt by the devotees, especiallythe women disciples. Henceforth she lived sometimes in Calcuttaand sometimes at Jayrambati according toconvenience and circumstances, except in theperiods when she was on pilgrimage.
XI PILGRIMAGES In November 1888, Holy Mother went to Puriin a party including Yogin-Ma and SwamisBrahmananda, Yogananda and Saradananda. Asa mark of honour and respect to her, GovindaShringeri, the priest of Balaram Bose’s family atPuri, wanted to take her to the Jagannath templein a palanquin. But the proposal did not appealto her at all. She preferred to go on foot as ahumble devotee to see Jagannath, the Lord of theUniverse. She stayed for more than two monthsin Puri visiting the temple often in the morningsand evenings and spending much time in medita-tion in the shrine of Lakshmi. As Sri Ramakrishnahad not visited Puri during his lifetime, she oncetook a photograph of the Master to the templeand showed the image of Jagannath to it. TheMaster was such a living reality to her. In March 1890, she went to Gaya with SwamiAdvaitananda, a disciple of the Master. She visitedBodh Gaya, the place where Buddha hadenlightenment. At Bodh Gaya there was a Hindumonastery. Seeing the perfect living arrangements
58 THE HOLY MOTHERin the institution, she prayed to the Master thather children, i.e. the monastic disciples of Sri Rama-krishna, instead of wandering about from place toplace as they were then doing, might find a per-manent place of shelter and that they might nothave to struggle so hard to meet their bare physi-cal requirements. She used to say that through thegrace of the Master the monastery at Belur wasestablished soon afterward. In 1895 she visitedVaranasi and Vrindavan for the second time,accompanied by her mother and brothers. And in1904 she revisited Puri—this time with SwamiPremananda, some devotees of the Master andsome of her relations. In the year 1910 she went on a pilgrimage toSouth India. On the way she stopped for twomonths at Kothar, in Orissa, at the home ofBalaram Bose. At Kothar, Devendra Nath Chatter-jee, the local postmaster, who had accepted Chris-tianity, came repentant to the Holy Mother. TheHoly Mother always knew how to rise equal tothe occasion. She advised him to get reconvertedto Hinduism, which he did. Afterwards shedirected one of her monastic followers to give himthe sacred thread and the Gayatri Mantra, andshe herself gave him spiritual initiation. The following February in a party of eight shestarted for Madras. Swami Ramakrishnananda,the head of the Ramakrishna Math at Madras,
PILGRIMAGES 59made all arrangements for her continuing pil-grimage in the South. She stayed for a month inthe city of Madras. Innumerable women devo-tees would flock to her every day, and thoughshe could not talk to them in their own language,they felt the touch of her affection and the favourof her blessings nonetheless. From Madras shestarted for Madura, Swami Ramakrishnanandahimself conducting the party. After visiting theMinakshi temple and other notable places, theyvisited Rameshwaram where they stayed forthree days. By special order of the Raja of Ramnadshe was given facilities for worship which noother pilgrim was privileged to have. The Raja ofRamnad did all in his power to show her the high-est respect and honour. From Rameshwaram the party went to Ban-galore, where a branch of the Ramakrishna Mathhad already been established. Holy Mother ’spresence at Bangalore created a great stir, andeven without any public announcement a largenumber of people would visit the Ashrama everyday to have her darshan and blessings. The visi-tors showered so many flowers at her feet thatthey often lay in heaps. All these tributes she tookas due to the influence of the Master, which hadby that time spread far and wide and it made hervery happy. She returned to Calcutta in April 1911, halt-
60 THE HOLY MOTHERing for a day at Rajahmundry to have a bath inthe Godavari and for two days at Puri again tohave the darshan of Jagannath. The last pilgrimage she undertook was in1912, when she visited Varanasi for the third timein a large party consisting of some senior monks,devotees, and a few of her relations. On thisoccasion she stayed at Varanasi for about two anda half months and so could visit at leisure all theimportant temples and sacred places around thecity. During her stay at Varanasi she met the well-known saint Chameli Puri. She was so much im-pressed by the spiritual power and withal thechildlike appearance of this holy man that sheremarked she felt no inclination to go to see anyother saint. As a mark of reverence she sent himsome fruits, sweets and a blanket. One day she went to Sarnath, the place whereBuddha preached his first sermon, and which is,as such, a sacred place of pilgrimage to the Bud-dhists. Here she saw many Westerners admiringwith interest the ruins of the ancient city. Sheremarked that the very people who once builtthose buildings were now admiring them in greatwonder. The Ramakrishna Mission Home of Serviceat Varanasi had by that time developed into awell-established institution serving the sick anddistressed. She visited it at the earnest prayers of
PILGRIMAGES 61the workers. As she went round the wards, sheshowed great appreciation and said, ‘The livingpresence of the Master can be felt here.’ The Mother returned to Calcutta in January1913.
XII IN CALCUTTA AND AT JAYRAMBATI Holy Mother during the early period of herlife in Calcutta would stay in rented houses atvarious places. For short visits she would put upat the houses of devotees like Balaram Bose orM., the celebrated author of The Gospel of SriRamakrishna. Sometimes she lived on the west-ern side of the Ganga—once at Ghusuri, andtwice at Nilambar Mukherjee’s garden house.1She used to say that from her younger days shehad a great love for the Ganga. While staying atNilambar Mukherjee’s garden, along with hercompanion Yogin-Ma, she per formed thePanchatapa austerity, which consists in sitting forjapa and meditation amidst five fires—four blaz-ing on four sides and the summer sun above—from morning to evening for seven consecutivedays. The Mother passed through this fiery or-deal successfully. In this house again once she had 1 Where the Ramakrishna Math was located priorto shifting to the new Math grounds at Belur Math.
IN CALCUTTA AND JAYRAMBATI 63a strange vision. She saw that Sri Ramakrishnawas walking into the Ganga. As he was doing sohis body melted into the water and Swami Vivek-ananda began to sprinkle that holy water on in-numerable people. This vision made such a vividimpression on her mind that for many days shecould not bathe in the river considering its holi-ness. It was in 1909 that Swami Saradananda builta permanent home for her in Calcutta at thepresent No. 1, Udbodhan Lane. Now when inCalcutta the Holy Mother would stay here. Thishouse, bearing the sacred memory and associa-tion of the Holy Mother, is known as ‘TheMother’s House’ to innumerable devotees anddisciples of the Ramakrishna Order. To how manyaspiring souls did she give initiation here! Manyare the persons who came weary and heavy-ladento have their lacerated hearts soothed, and gotinfinite solace. When the Mother would be here,all who stayed in the house and all who visitedcould get access, as it were, into a world whichcannot be reached even by hard tapasya. Nowshe is physically absent, but the association of hermemory with the spot is a source of divine inspi-ration to thousands of devotees who did not havethe privilege of seeing her in her lifetime. While in Calcutta, the Holy Mother was thecentre of spiritual attraction to all, but when she
64 THE HOLY MOTHERwould go to her parental home at Jayrambati, shewould adjust herself so well to the home-atmo-sphere that her relations could hardly realizewhat a great spiritual personality she was. Shewas there the familiar sister to her brothers tak-ing anxious care of them, and the same ‘Sarada’to the elderly village women who had known herfrom her childhood. Her adjustment was naturaland spontaneous. It was with reference to thischaracteristic that Sri Ramakrishna once humor-ously remarked that she was like a cat that hid itscolour in ashes. At Jayrambati she would be seenworking very hard just like any other woman ina poor village family. So long as her mother wasalive, she assisted her in everything. When shedied the Holy Mother, being the eldest sister, vir-tually became the guardian of the family. Thismeant not only responsibility but also consider-able annoyance. The youngest of her brothers,who had some education, died prematurely. Thethree other brothers were entirely different fromtheir sister. When one saw them, one wonderedif they could really be relatives of the HolyMother. Without education or culture, narrow-minded and selfish, they judged everything interms of money. Quarrelling among themselveseven over petty things, they made the life of theHoly Mother unbearable and taxed her patienceto the utmost. But she bore everything with
IN CALCUTTA AND JAYRAMBATI 65superhuman calmness. Apart from her spiritualattainments, for the way in which she maintainedher inner peace amidst the volcanic fury thatraged round her at Jayrambati, she should to beconsidered one of the greatest saints. One day twoof her brothers quarrelled most ignominiouslyover some petty property. The Holy Mother cameto pacify them, but when she returned to herroom she began to laugh as if she had witnessedgreat fun and remarked, ‘They fight for such smallthings and do not consider that at death every-thing will be left behind.’ She had not only to take care of her brothers,but also of her brothers’ children whom she hadto bring up with her own hand. Nalini, Maku andRadhu, three of her nieces, were her constantcompanions. And there was Surabala, the widowof her youngest brother, who for her crazinesswas known as the mad aunt, and who was ever asource of trouble to the Holy Mother. Her broth-ers found in her a sister whose affection could beexploited in terms of material advantage, and hernieces found in her an aunt who would tolerateany amount of their pranks and eccentricities andfulfil any of their demands. None of them real-ized that much higher things could be had fromher. Once she remarked: ‘They always ask formoney. Even through mistake they do not ask forknowledge and devotion.’
66 THE HOLY MOTHER After the passing away of the Master, whenthe Holy Mother had been brooding over her lotand feeling that she had no further interest in life,she had a vision of Sri Ramakrishna. She saw alittle girl with a red cloth walking in front of her,and the Master, pointing to the child, said, ‘Clingto her as a support.’ Some years after, once whileshe was seated at Jayrambati, she saw the insanewidow of her youngest brother walking with herneglected infant daughter, Radhu, crawlingbehind. As the Holy Mother witnessed thepathetic sight, she felt a peculiar sensation in herheart. She at once rushed to the spot and tookRadhu in her arms. As she did this she saw thevision of the Master, who appeared before her andsaid: ‘Cling to this child as your mental supporton earth. She is Maya.’ From this time on, the HolyMother showed the utmost interest in this girl,and Radhu found in the Mother the embodimentof all earthly love. But as the girl grew up, sheproved herself hardly worthy of Holy Mother ’slove. She was a queer amalgam of obstinacy andinnocence, craziness and simplicity. Being of poorhealth and debilitated mind, she was the constantsource of anxiety to the Mother. Radhu’s behav-iour and mode of life would often be the cause,not only of trouble, but also of great embarrass-ment; but the Holy Mother’s affection for her was,as it were, a tie that did not allow her mind to
IN CALCUTTA AND JAYRAMBATI 67soar altogether beyond the earthly plane. Towardsthe end, when the Holy Mother lost all interestin Radhu, her attendants feared that she wouldnot live long. Actually she passed away soon after. Girish Chandra Ghosh, the great actor-dra-matist and a staunch devotee of Sri Ramakrishna,once remarked as he saw the brothers and rela-tions of the Holy Mother, ‘These people must havepractised great tapasya in their past lives todeserve so much love and affection from the HolyMother.’ This is true. Where hundreds of personswould consider it a life’s privilege to be of theslightest service to the Holy Mother, her relativesactually received personal service from theMother herself. Sri Ramakrishna, though a prince of monks,never forgot the slightest duty to his wife. Andshe, too, in her turn, though adored and literallyworshipped as the manifestation of Divine Poweron earth, welcomed the drudgery, worries andtroubles involved in fulfilling her duties to herrelatives, however unworthy they might havebeen of her love. Once she actually said to herbrothers, ‘You got me as your sister only becauseof the piety of my father and mother.’
XIII AS A SPIRITUAL FORCE There were some devotees who at first wouldnot give much importance to the Holy Mother.‘Sri Ramakrishna might have been a great saint,but his wife did not necessarily share his great-ness’ was their critical attitude. But gradually asthe spiritual personality of the Holy Motherbegan to unfold, these people had to change theiropinions, and their indifference was transformedinto great reverence. Sri Ramakrishna used to say that thesergeant’s lamp keeps the sergeant himself indarkness but throws light outside. So to her rela-tions, though the Holy Mother was not worthmuch more than the worldly advantages shecould offer, her spiritual influence spread far andwide. People from all quarters would come to herfor solace, guidance, spiritual instruction andinitiation. Sri Ramakrishna knew that she wouldhave to do this work in continuation of what hehad started, so he gave her special training in thatdirection. He taught her some mantras—seeds ofspiritual growth—made living by his sadhana
AS A SPIRITUAL FORCE 69which she might give to her future disciples.These she gave unreservedly. While Sri Rama-krishna himself would be very particular inchoosing a disciple, the Holy Mother, promptedby her motherly heart, could hardly refuse any-one the favour. Swami Premananda, an intimatedisciple of Sri Ramakrishna, once remarked: ‘Thepoison which we cannot assimilate, we send tothe Holy Mother.’ He meant that the peoplewhom they could not control or reform were sentby them to the Holy Mother. And invariably theywould turn over a new leaf after receiving herblessings. For a real guru, to give initiation meansreceiving the sins of the disciple on himself. TheHoly Mother was conscious of this. She had topay dearly for making innumerable disciples byaccepting physical suffering and ailments. But shecould not resist the desire to help others. Anattendant once argued with the Holy Motherabout the desirability of her not giving initiation,as that brought disease on her. At this she re-marked, ‘Did the Master come only to eatrasagolla (a kind of Bengal sweet)?’ Thereby shemeant that she also was not born simply to enjoythe sweet things of life. It was not for nothing that people flocked toher. Innumerable are the persons who got infi-nite strength from a single utterance from her lips.
70 THE HOLY MOTHERMany are the lives which by her influence shesaved from a moral crash or a spiritual downfall.She knew how to be equal to the occasion. Out-wardly her mode of life was almost similar to thatof other women in the village; there was not muchto distinguish her. But at times she would rise toher spiritual height, to the wonder and amaze-ment of the people concerned. ‘One who has gotblessings from me need not worry about finalliberation,’ ‘I and the Master are one.’ ‘If you medi-tate on me and remember me, that will beenough.’—Utterances like these would comefrom her lips when a disciple was found waver-ing or in distress. Such utterances seemed all themore wonderful when one remembers that shewas humility itself and that there was not the leasttrace of egotism in her. In talks and conversationswith her one would always get the impressionthat she felt she was nothing—the Master waseverything. Her unassuming behaviour was sovery natural and spontaneous that at times thosewho were with her felt as if she was no more thana child, even in her advanced age when thou-sands of people looked to her for guidance, notonly in the perplexing situations of this life, butalso to solve the problems of the eternal life. A jewel has different values for different per-sons. What place the Holy Mother occupied inthe spiritual sphere was difficult for ordinary
AS A SPIRITUAL FORCE 71persons to judge. A faint glimpse of that could behad when one saw the attitude to her of somewho were undoubtedly known as spiritualgeniuses. Vivekananda was emboldened to crossthe ocean and go to the West to preach only whenhe got the blessings of the Holy Mother. Her bless-ings were enough, he thought, to jump into theuncertainty of whatever might await him instrange lands and still stranger conditions. SwamiBrahmananda, one of the most towering person-alities of the Ramakrishna Order and the firstPresident of the Ramakrishna Mission, whenapproaching the Holy Mother, would shake withemotion and behave just like a simple and inno-cent child. Swami Saradananda, who was theguiding figure behind the Ramakrishna Math andMission, sincerely felt that the Holy Mother mightsubstitute any other man in his place and thatman would be able to do exactly the work he wasdoing—if not more efficiently. Her blessings werethe source of all strength to him. This devotion ofthe great disciples of Sri Ramakrishna was notmerely a form of reverence shown to the wife oftheir Guru; they literally looked upon her as themanifestation of the Divine Mother incarnate andat times actually worshipped her as such. SwamiBrahmananda, who had a great reputation forcontrolling his spiritual sentiment, once on theoccasion of the Durga Puja festival worshipped
72 THE HOLY MOTHERher with flowers and sacred leaves as one doesthe Divine Mother. Swami Saradananda wouldoffer similar worship to her on special daysreserved for the worship of the Divine Mother.The remarkable thing was that the Holy Motherwas the same unassuming person when shereceived worship from such persons as when shewould undergo the drudgery of duties at herparental home at Jayrambati. A woman devoteeonce remarked: ‘How wonderful are the powersof the Holy Mother! When thousands of personsare literally worshipping her, she is completelyunattached to the honours that are being show-ered on her. This is not possible for any humanbeing. It is enough proof of her divinity.’ Though she had little book-learning, herpower to solve the intricate problems of spirituallife was remarkable. Her solutions would alwaysgo straight to the heart of the questioner and givehim sustenance throughout his whole life. Why there is so much suffering in God’sworld is a problem which agitates the mind ofevery devotee. When the Holy Mother wasapproached with that question, her answer was:‘Creation means a mixture of happiness andmisery. Misery is the symbol of God’s compas-sion. Besides, none suffers for all time. Everyaction brings its inevitable result, and as such theturn for happiness will surely come.’
AS A SPIRITUAL FORCE 73 ‘Was there any use in repeating God’s nameif one did not have love for Him?’ asked a disciple.‘If you fall into water, whether willingly orunwillingly, your cloth will get wet all the same,will it not?’ was her answer that immediatelyquietened him. Why does one not experience God-absorp-tion, though one is constantly repeating God’sname—is a problem that perplexes a spiritualaspirant occasionally. When the Holy Mother wasasked that question, her practical advice was: ‘Itwill come, by and by. But do not give up japa evenif the mind is unwilling and unsteady. You mustgo on with the repetition of the name and youwill find that the mind is gradually gettingsteadier, like a flame in calm air. Any movementin the air disturbs the steady burning of a flame;even so the presence of any thought or desiremakes the mind unsteady. The mantra must becorrectly repeated. As incorrect utterance delaysprogress.’ ‘But, then, a single utterance of the Lord’s nameis as effective as a million repetitions if you do itwith a steady, concentrated mind. What is the useof repeating the mantra a million times with anabsent mind? You must do it whole-heartedly. Thenonly can you deserve his grace,’ was her answer toa similar question on another occasion. ‘God’s grace is shed on all just as the sun’s
74 THE HOLY MOTHERlight is for all. Then what is the use of spiritualpractice?’—asked a devotee trying by logicalargument to prove the uselessness of sadhana.‘Food-stuffs are there. The one who will cookthem earlier will eat earlier; one who does not atall like to cook will go hungry,’ was her simpleanswer forthcoming. ‘We see innumerable creations of God. Werethey created one by one or otherwise?’ was thequestion that arose in the mind of a young disciple,and he put it to the Mother in childlike innocence.‘God is not like a painter who draws the eyes, face,nose of every figure. No, He does not work thatway. He has a unique power. By his mere will theuniverse comes into being and at his wish it goesto naught. All the things of the universe have beencreated all at once and not one by one,’ was heranswer to that difficult philosophical problem. Among the disciples of Sri Ramakrishna, GirishChandra Ghosh had argumentative powers and acombative nature only second to those of SwamiVivekananda. Seized by an impulsive desire toembrace sannyasa, he once went to the HolyMother at Jayrambati to ask for her permission.With all his natural vehemence he began to arguewith the Mother to obtain her approval for hisresolve. But she withstood all his arguments andwith her quiet answers completely broke hisresolution. Her insight into the spiritual nature of
AS A SPIRITUAL FORCE 75persons was very unerring. An important mem-ber of the Ramakrishna Order went to her forinitiation when young. For a long he had been wor-shipping a particular deity as his Chosen Ideal butthe Mother gave him a different Ideal. When hesaid that he had for a long time been worshippinganother Ideal, she replied quietly: ‘No, that is notthe Ideal for you. Follow what I have given.’ Andin a short time the disciple found her words to betrue. The same disciple, some time later, sufferedfrom brain-fag as he had strained too much inspiritual practices. As a remedy he tried variousthings, consulted many physicians, but to no effect.The senior monks of the Order were concernedabout his problem but could not give any effec-tive help. He soon went to Jayrambati to the HolyMother. When he narrated the details of his case,she shuddered to hear of the method which hefollowed in his meditation. Ah, it was dangerousfor him! She corrected his method of meditation,and he was all right in no time. It was not for nothing that Holy Mother ’sword was the final word in everything spiritualand secular concerning the Ramakrishna Mathand Mission. Her advice, her decision, a merewish of hers, was like a sacred injunction fromon high to the monks and devotees of the Order.This attitude of theirs only deepened as timepassed.
XIV THE ALL-LOVING MOTHER In her life was found a wonderful mixture ofthe human and the divine. Apart from her spiri-tual power, the mere human aspects of her lifewere enough to make her an exemplary charac-ter in the eyes of the world. She was indeed thefinal word in the perfection of Indian woman-hood. Her actions always showed the highestdignity and greatest magnanimity. Not eventhrough mistake could she associate herself withanything small or narrow. Even in her ordinarydealings she was head and shoulders above allothers in refinement and broadness of outlook.Her life was always a model for others to follow,and it was difficult to find the least trace ofimperfection in her actions and behaviour. But the most dominant trait in her character,overshadowing every other feature, was hermotherly love. She might be anything else, buteverybody found in her a mother—only her lovewas stronger than that of one’s own mother.Many young men who had lost their mothersearly in life, and did not know what a mother ’s
THE ALL-LOVING MOTHER 77love was, had their loss more than compensatedwhen they came in touch with her. Many, afterfinding a mother in her, did not hanker after any-thing else in this life or in the life to come. Herlove was enough to give them security here andsalvation hereafter. They did not even care toknow of her spiritual powers. They did not careto see the highest of the Himalayan peaks whenthey felt themselves sufficiently blessed by touch-ing the foot of that great mountain. There wassomething in her attitude which soon disarmedall fear and awe. While she was giving initiation,perhaps the disciple was struck with awe andoverwhelmed with a feeling of reverence; butonce the initiation was over, when she would feedhim with sweets just like his own mother, hewould at once be just as free with her as he wasat his own home. There were instances when shegave her own clothes or blankets to young dis-ciples for their use. Perhaps these disciples wouldthink it sacrilegious to use things which theMother had used. But her spontaneous motherlyattitude would at once remove any such feelings.Does a son hesitate to use anything which hismother gives him? At Jayrambati she would cookfor the devotees, wash their plates and cleansethe place they ate. Devotees would sometimescome from a distance, and after staying only twoor three days with her would feel so much drawn
78 THE HOLY MOTHERto her that they would shed tears while leavingthe place. Sometimes as they departed the Motherwould watch them, as far as they could be seen,with eyes moistened with the tears of a mother ’slove. Once a young monk who stayed with herwent out on some business. It was almost eveningwhen he returned. But the Mother would not takeher meal before he came. How could a mothertake her food when the son had not had his!1When the disciple saw this, he was overwhelmedwith emotion. Even one’s own mother is notalways so considerate! She was the mother of all.Every soul born of the womb of a woman wouldfind in her a mother. Her love knew no distinc-tion of caste, creed or geographical boundaries.People from the East and West, from the Southand the North would come to her to receive herblessings. She might not even be able to speaktheir language. But the unspoken language of herlove was more than enough for them—theywould feel blessed. When Sister Nivedita came to India, SwamiVivekananda was a bit anxious about how tomake a place for her in Hindu society. But theHoly Mother accommodated her in her ownroom. It took tremendous courage and extreme 1 Typical behaviour of a traditional Hindu mother.
THE ALL-LOVING MOTHER 79broad-mindedness on the part of the Mother, forif the news reached her relations she might haveto face social persecution. Was it not remarkable,even for herself, that although she belonged toan orthodox Brahmin family and lacked moderneducation, she could allow an European lady tostay with her? And that too, in the last century ata time when Hindu society was uncompromis-ing in its rigidity as regards social rules! Though she belonged to an old world, as itwere, hers was an extremely modern mind. See-ing this trait in her, Sister Nivedita very aptlyremarked, ‘Is she the last of an old order or thebeginning of a new?’ Many a non-Bengali or non-Indian devotee would go to the Holy Mother, butso great was the breadth of her innate culture thateveryone would feel quite at home with her. Oncewhile listening to Easter music at Sister Nivedita’splace she became so absorbed that one wonderedhow, without knowing any western language, shecould enter so much into the spirit of the resur-rection hymns. Similarly, when the Englishmarriage ritual was being described to her once,her face lit up with joy as she heard the marriagevow, ‘For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer,in sickness and in health—till death us do part,’and she exclaimed, ‘Oh, the dharmi words! therighteous words!’ Her mental penetration was so very keen and
80 THE HOLY MOTHERher common sense so strong that even in thingssupposedly outside her sphere she could give avery sound opinion. During the first World War,a disciple told the Mother how President Wilsonwas trying to ensure the peace of the whole worldand prevent war in the future. The Mother’s quietremark was, ‘They all speak through the lips andnot from the heart.’ Once a disciple was tellingher of the many facilities of life which the Britishrule had given to India. Her reply, however, was,‘But is it not a fact that the poverty of the peopleis increasing more and more?’ Sometimes people belonging to inferior casteswould come to her at Jayrambati, but her same-sighted attitude towards them would always beunchanged. Only, she would see that theyobserved the usual caste restrictions in thepresence of others, as otherwise there could be asensation in the village where orthodoxy pre-vailed. A coolie-woman came to her one eveningwith some vegetables sent by a devotee, and hadto stop for the night at the house. The womanhad fever at night and vomited. Next morningbefore others awakened the Holy Mother washedthe soiled bedding so that the poor woman mightnot be scolded by anyone. A Mohammedan, engaged as a labourer, wasone day taking a meal in her house. He sat on the
THE ALL-LOVING MOTHER 81verandah of the house. Nalini, a niece of theMother, was serving him. Owing to caste preju-dices Nalini remained at a distance and began tothrow the food on the plate of the man. At thisthe Holy Mother reprimanded her niece and her-self served him the meal. After he had finished,the Mother cleansed the spot where he had takenhis food. Nalini was shocked and exclaimed:‘What are you doing? Will you not lose caste bythis?’ In Calcutta, Radhu fell ill, and two famousphysicians treated her. The Holy Mother directedRadhu to take the dust of the feet of the physi-cians as a mark of respect, though they belongedto a lower caste. Instances are not uncommon when people ofextremely low caste received initiation from herand afterwards sat for their meals in her ownroom and Mother herself washed their plates.According to social custom it would be consid-ered sinful for them to receive such services froma brahmin. Under ordinary circumstances theythemselves would not have stood that. But theyfelt that she was their very mother, and so whatharm if she rendered them such services! It wasbut natural. She felt very intensely the poverty and suf-fering of people in general. She would take greatinterest in the social service activities of the Rama-
82 THE HOLY MOTHERkrishna Mission. If a monk came to her with acomplaint that such work interfered with hismeditative life, she would pay no attention tohim. ‘These are also the Master ’s works,’ shewould say. While at Jayrambati she would take asympathetic interest in the affairs of all theneighbours and was a source of great strength tothem. Her compassion and timely help wouldlighten their burden of sufferings. Though kindness itself, she was not slow toshow indignation when occasion demanded it.When two young women, one of whom was anexpectant mother, were made on political suspi-cion to walk a long distance by the local policeand the news reached the Holy Mother, she gotextremely upset. ‘Is this due to Governmentorders or the over-zeal of the police officials? Werethere no men near by to rescue the poor girls?’shesaid, greatly agitated in mind. Afterwards she wasglad to hear that the women were released. Even persons who had gone astray did not failto receive her love and blessings, sometimes eveninspite of the meek protests of other devotees.Once she bluntly said, ‘If my son rolls in the dust,even then he is my child.’ On another occasion shesaid, ‘I am as much the mother of the good as ofthe bad.’ Once a woman who felt guilty of moralturpitude came to see her in Calcutta but darednot enter her room. The Mother understood the
THE ALL-LOVING MOTHER 83whole thing. She herself brought her into herroom, caressed her and gave her initiation. ‘Whatif you have done anything wrong? When you arerepentant your guilt has been washed away,’ saidthe Mother to give her courage and consolation.The life of the woman was afterwards transformed. Although many erring persons received amother ’s love from her, her love would not givethem the freedom to err. The slightest error inconduct would receive her notice. She might notalways express it, but if it was needed, the delin-quent was sure to get a reprimand from her. Thesannyasin who developed pride because of hisochre robe, or the householder who showed scantcourtesy to a monk because he was much youngerin age, would equally get a warning from herabout the dangers that lay ahead. If necessary shecould be very stern too. If a person thought thattaking shelter under her love, he could afford todo anything he liked, he was mistaken. Occasionwould come when she would even order such aperson to leave the place immediately. Of course,such occasions were very very rare. A disciple might feel that her love was asufficient guarantee against the ills of the presentand the future life. But how much the Mother hadto think for those whose responsibility she hadtaken! Even in her old age and even in her ill-ness, she would be found to devote much time to