Here in these pages is given a vivid and realistic pen-picture of a unique personality-unique because she was nun, wife and mother at the same time. The Holy Mother Sri Ramakrishna is here presented, in all her rustic simplicity, which breaks the barriers of commonality by its artless naturalness inspired by a universal love which made no distinction between friend and foe, the small and the great, the ignorant and the charming fragrance of motherliness that her personality exuded.
Swami Saradeshananda, the recorder of these precious reminiscences, is a disciple of the Mother, who had opportunities to serve her very intimately and thus hear those conversations and witness those small events that took place in the Mother with wealth of details, thus concept of Universal Motherhood in human terms.
'The Mother as I saw her' by Swami Saradeshananda is a new addition to the several books that have already come out on the Holy Mother in English and in several Indian languages. It supplements the existing literature by the vivid portrayal of the Mother’s personality through the little incidents that took place in the seclusion of her village home at Jayrambati and at the Udbodhan House, her Calcutta residence. Being one of her closest and dearest 'disciple-sons' and attendants, Swami Saradeshananda had the rare opportunity of carefully observing how the Mother lived, dealt with people, taught disciples, behaved in various situations of life, and elicited the love and affection of all those who came in contact with her. Posterity will be thankful to the Swami for giving in these pages such a vivid and fervent portrayal of his impressions of the Holy Mother, bearing ample evidence of his loving devotion, close observation, and rare capacity 'of weaving small but significant incidents into a thrilling narrative.
These reminiscences, however, presuppose on the part of the reader a fair knowledge of the Holy Mother's life. Otherwise the great significance of the incidents narrated here will be incomprehensible to a reader whose acquaintance with the Holy Mother starts with these reminiscences. It is therefore hoped that a short account of her life can form a fitting introduction to the study of these precious memoirs.
Sri Sarada Devi the Holy Mother was the Divine Consort and first disciple of Bhagavan Sri Ramakrishna and thus an integral part of his spiritual self and of the saving message he delivered unto mankind: Unlike the spiritual counterparts of the past incarnations like Rama, Krishna and Buddha and some others, Sri Sarada Devi was born in a poor but cultured Brahmana family of Bengal in the village of Jayrambati in the Bankura District, situated about sixty, miles to the west of Calcutta. Born on 22nd December, 1853, as the eldest daughter of Ramachandra Mukherjee and Shyamasundari
Devi, her early girlhood was spent, as in the case of most girls of rural upbringing, in various domestic chores like caring for younger children, looking after cattle and carrying food to her father and others engaged in work in the field. She had absolutely no schooling, though she learnt the Bengali alphabet and practised a little of reading and writing in later days by herself. But the domestic environment of a pious Brahmana family, supplemented by the holy associations she had in later days, gave her an education that was far more relevant than instruction in the three R's, to one with such high natural endowments as she.
She entered Sri Ramakrishna's life as his partner in life when she was aged only five. The strange marriage of Gadadhar of twenty three years of age with Sarada of five was a part of a divine dispensation, and took place in a way that can only be described as Providential. When Gadadhar, as Sri Ramakrishna the Great Master used to be known in those days, was passing through the early phase of his spiritual adventure, his near and dear ones thought that marriage-would have a resettling and stabilizing effect on his mind, which had lost all interest in worldly affairs. But their search for a suitable bride met with failure every time they started on it, until Gadadhar himself carne to their rescue. The relatives had kept their plans unknown to Gadadhar, as they feared a vehement protest from him, but upsetting all their worldly-wise calculations, Gadadhar himself came to the rescue of his disconcerted relatives. In an ecstatic mood, he declared: "Why are you searching for a bride here and there? She who is 'marked' for me is waiting at the house of Ramachandra Mukherjee at Jayrambati". And that 'marked one' they found was none other than Sarada Devi, the five year old daughter of Ram Chandra Mukherjee and Shyama- sundari Devi of Jayrambati.
There is a tradition of an incident of an earlier day indicative of the divinely ordained nature of this alliance. It was the occasion of a temple festival in the neighborhood where quite a number of families from Kamarpukur and Jayrambati had gathered. Among them were young Gadadhar and infant Sarada, one womenfolk on such occasions indulge in the pastime of preplanning possible marriage alliances for the future. It seems when infant Sarada was asked whom she would marry, she pointed to the boy Gadadhar.
After the marriage, Sarada had occasion, when she was seven and again at thirteen and fourteen, to meet Gadadhar and be with him for a few days each time. Though on these occasions she had the happy experience of serving him, a really meaningful meeting between them took place only later, when she went to Dakshineswar to meet him under strange circumstances. Hearing the rampant rumor that the village gossips bandied about regarding Sri Ramakrishna's mental condition, young Sarada, now eighteen, felt much upset, and a sense of her duty to be by her husband's side to serve him in his ailment began. to dominate her mind. So under the guise of a pilgrimage to the holy Ganga, she went with her father to Dakshineswar Temple at Calcutta where the Master was then staying. Trudging most of the sixty miles to Calcutta, she arrived unannounced at Dakshineswar one night in March, 1872, stricken with fever on the way, to boot.
The mother at Dakshinewar
After the marriage, Sarada had occasion, when she was seven and again at thirteen and fourteen, to meet Gadadhar and be with bum for a few days each time. Though on these occasions she had the happy experience of serving him, a really meaningful meeting between them took place only later, when she went to Dakshineswar to meet him under strange circumstances. Hearing the rampant numour that the village gossips bandied about regarding Sri Ramakrishna's mental condition, young Sarada, now eighteen, felt much upset, and a sense of her duty to be by her husband's side to serve him in his ailment began to dominate her mind. So under the guise of a pilgrimage to the holy Ganga, she went with her father to Dakshineswar Temple at Calcutta where the Master was then staying. Trudging most of the sixty miles to Calcutta, she arrived unannounced at Dakshineswar one night in March, 1872, stricken with fever on the way, to boot.
This great even took place in March 1872. From now onward with breaks of short intervals for visit to her mother at jayrambati Sarada Devi was by the side of Sri Ramakrishna at Dakshinewar and later at Cossipore till 1886 when death separated them in a physical sense. It was a period of training and discipleship during which the mother in her became more and more manifest making her ready to take up the leadership of the spiritual movement that the master inaugurated. She become the first and foremost of his disciples. This transformation was effected through her service of the master and the practice of devotional disciplines he' prescribed for her. It was a" silent and profound process, the details of which the world knows so little about. The type of personality into which she" as shaped through that training Characterized inexhaustible patience and peace, extreme simplicity combined with dignity, a non-turbulent but compelling spiritual fervour, a loving temperament that knew no distinction between friend and foe, and a maternal attitude of a spontaneous type towards all, that charmed and brought under her influence everyone who came near her.
She spent nearly the whole of the Dakshineswar period of her life of thirteen years, extending from 1872 to 1885, except when she went to Jayrambati periodically, in a small room in the northern side of the temple compound called the Nahabat, from where she could get a view of the room in which the Master lived.
The ground floor of the Nahabat or Concert House was a small low-roofed room of about nine and a half feet by eight; with a four and a quarter feet wide surrounding it. Besides being her living room, it served as her provision store kitchen and reception room too-a surprising combination of functions for such, a small enclosure. But so patient and long-suffering she was that what would have been impossible for others, was no problem to her. Several aristocratic women of Calcutta, fat and plump, would stand at the door of the Nahabat, and leaning forward, holding the door frame, would say: "Ah! what a tiny room for our good .girl! She is, as it were in exile, like Sita." In later days the Holy Mother would, while recounting the experiences of her early days, tell her nieces, "You won't be able to live in such a room even for a day."
Appreciating the extreme inadequacy of her accommodation a devotee by name Sambhu Mallick, built in April 1874 a small house on a plot very near the temple for her to stay. She stayed there for about one year, but left it for the Nahabat when the Great Master fell ill with dysentery, as she wanted to be by his side tor nursing him. After that, however, she never went back to that house.
Her life began every day at three a.m., and being a strict observer of the Purdah, she finished her ablutions in the Ganges long before daybreak when people began moving about. Till it was broad daylight, she spent her time in meditation and Japa. She never came out till about one p.m., when there would be no one round about. She would then sit out, drying her long and luxuriant locks in the sun, In fact she lived so quietly and unobserved there that the temple Manager said once, "We have heard that she lives here, but we have never seen her." The Master appreciated her extreme reserve, but none the less felt anxious for her health, as continuous stay in that small room carried with it grave health hazards. The verandab round the room was also screened for making the place fit for a strict Purdah lady to live in. She used to stand behind the screen on the damp floor of her house and watch through holes in the screen the Master singing and dancing in ecstasy beyond the open northern door of the room. All this brought rheumatic pain in her legs. Afterwards, on the Master's advice, she began to go. out of the room and meet ladies in some known houses in the neighborhood.
During the day much of her time was taken up with cooking for the Master and devotees. Sri Ramakrishna's stomach was very delicate and could not stand the temple food. So Sri Sarada Devi cooked the diet for him and personally served it to him, coaxing him to take sufficient quantities of it. She also did the other personal services for the Master like cleaning .his room, washing clothes, etc. The Master's mother was also staying at Dakshineswar in her last days, and Sarada Devi attended on her as well with meticulous care. Although in the earlier years her cooking work was limited, it gradually swelled to enormous proportions as the number of the Master's devotees began to increase. Many of them stayed overnight or sometimes for a whole day with him. They had to be fed, and the Mother took upon herself that duty too. It is said that daily she made Chapathies out of seven pounds of wheat flour, and the condiments required for it. Be- sides betel rolls for the Master and devotees were required, and countless were such rolls she prepared every day.
All through the day quite a large number of women devotees who came to see the Master, made the Nahabat their first place of halt and spent much time in conversation. Some of them also lived overnight 'With her in that small room. Besides attending to her household duties, she also spent hours in watching from the Nahabat the scenes of devotional fervour that went on in the Master's room. During nights she spent' long hours in meditation. Her whole time was thus occupied with acts of service of the Master and his devotees and with the practice of devotional disciplines.
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