"After our youngest son had seen Star Wars for the twelfth or thirteenth time, I said, "Why do you go so often?" He said, "For the same reason you have been reading the Old Testament all of your life." He was in a new world of myth." Bill Moyers, interview with Joseph Campbell












PRABUDDHA BHARATAPrabuddha Bharata | September 2004  





                Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi: Her Glory and Divinity




                   Dr. Umesh Gulati




     Without Shakti (Power) there is no regeneration for the world. Why is it that our country is the weakest and the most backward of all countries? Because Shakti is held in dishonour there. Mother [Sri Sarada Devi] has been born to revive that wonderful Shakti in India; and making her the nucleus, once more will Gargis and Maitreyis be born into the world, wrote Swami Vivekananda in a letter to Swami Shivananda from the US in 1894. (1)


     Since Swamiji wrote these lines, Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi has become a household name. One wonders, however, what prompted Swamiji to stress the glory and divinity of Holy Mother to his brother disciples. Perhaps Swamiji wanted to reinforce in them two ideas: One, to emphasize that Holy Mother was an equal of Sri Ramakrishna in divine treasures and his true spiritual successor. Second, and more important, he wanted his brother disciples to know the role Sri Ramakrishna had envisioned for her in the spiritual revival of Indian society in general, and the social rejuvenation of women everywhere in particular.




     Mother in Sri Ramakrishnas Eyes




     About the first idea, Sri Ramakrishna himself had indicated in so many ways that Holy Mother, who could only barely read, was indeed Sarasvati, the Goddess of Wisdom, who had come to impart spiritual knowledge to the world. (2) While the Master was like an unsheathed sword in projecting his divinity and kept many great intellectuals of the time spellbound by his eloquence, Mothers divinity was, however, hidden behind the veil of ordinariness and commonness of an Indian housewife. (3) The Master therefore wanted to change that impression and set the stage for her future role in continuing his spiritual ministry and spreading his message.


     One day in Dakshineswar the Master told some listeners, which included Narendra and Mahendranath Gupta (M), that God cannot be attained by reasoning; He is beyond scriptures. He went on to say, If I see a man with even one book in his hand, I call him a rajarshi (or a seer who appears with outer splendour, like a king), though he is a jnani (or a man of knowledge). But the brahmarshi (or a seer who dwells in Brahman-Consciousness) has no outer sign whatsoever. (4) It wont be an exaggeration to say that the Master regarded Mother as a true brahmarshi; her very ordinariness gave away her hidden spiritual excellence.




     One in Spirit with the Master




     He confirmed this impression about Sarada Devi as an acme of spiritual realization when one day she asked him how he regarded her. He replied, Really and truly I always regard you as the embodiment of the blissful Mother of the Universe. (5) The Master even formalized it by worshipping her as the Divine Mother in her aspect of Shodashi in the summer of 1872. After the worship both the worshipper and the worshipped merged into each other and became one in spirit. No wonder all the direct disciples of Sri Ramakrishna looked upon Holy Mother as one in spirit with the Master. Swami Abhedananda summarized his brother disciples sentiments in his hymn to Sri Sarada Devi that begins with Prakritim paramam: Your essence is one with Ramakrishna. His name brings you great joy. O Embodiment of his thought alone, I salute you again and again.


     There are many examples by which Holy Mother showed how she had become one with the thought current of the Master. For instance, no sooner did the he say to Narendra (later Swamiji) to eat in his room, seventy-five feet away from Mothers, than she began to cook Narendras favourite dishes. Another time the Master asked Sarada Prasanna (later Swami Trigunatitananda) to get his carriage fare from Mother. Before the boy even reached there, his carriage money was on the steps of the nahabat. We would like to mention just one more incident. Once the Master had decided to take a number of his men and women devotees to attend the great Vaishnava festival at Panihati. Just before the departure of the party for the festival, Mother inquired through a woman devotee if she too could join the party. The Master told the devotee, She may go if she wishes. Hearing these words, Holy Mother said to the devotee, Quite a number of persons are going with him; besides, the place will be filled with people. So I wont go. As it turned out, the Master was pleased with that decision. He said after returning from the festival, If people had seen her with me, they would have made fun of us and teasingly said, There go the hamsa and the hamsi [a pair of swans]. She is very intelligent. (70) Informed about the Masters reaction, Mother said, I realized he was not wholeheartedly giving me permission to go. Instead of saying, Yes, of course she will go, he merely said, She may go if she wishes. He left the decision to me. So I gave up the idea of going. (71)




     Mother of the Ramakrishna Movement




     In the letter mentioned above, Swamiji also revealed to his brother disciples that before he went to America he had sought Mothers permission and blessings, which she readily granted and prayed for the success of his mission to the West. Swamiji noticed in America how the women there were free and self-confident and were the real shakti (power) behind enterprising men. Yet they worship Her [Shakti] ignorantly through sense gratification. Imagine then what a lot of good they will achieve who will worship Her with all purity, in Sattvika spirit, looking upon Her as their Mother! That explains why Swamiji wanted to set up Sarada Math even before Ramakrishna Math and to make Holy Mother its central figure. Once back in India, however, Swamiji changed his mind about Sarada Math. (6) No one was more pleased than Mother herself for bringing into being Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission first, for she had earnestly prayed to the Master for her monastic children to have a place of their own. In the words of Swami Tapasyananda, She is, in a very real sense, the Mother [and the de facto leader] who gave birth to the spiritual movement associated with Sri Ramakrishnas name. (7)


     Swami Saradananda says that one of the attributes of incarnations is their omniscience; (8) they always live in the present. Being omniscient means that an incarnation has the awareness of the origin, middle and end of all objects of the world. For example, Sri Ramakrishna, an incarnation of this age, knew very well the inner world of each and every one of his disciples as one sees an object in a glass case. He also knew who he himself was, his mission in this world, and how each one of his disciples and devotees fitted into the broader picture. Of course, an incarnation doesnt get this knowledge by discursive reasoning, as you and I would do, but by immediate and direct perception. That is how Sri Ramakrishna knew Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devis place in his overall life and mission. True, he never verbalized it, and no incarnation ever does that. Unlike an ordinary person, an incarnation doesnt consider all the pros and cons before making a decision. And yet whatever he does is right. In other words, Sri Ramakrishna had anticipated Holy Mothers role in his future spiritual ministry. That, after all, is the significance of the Masters marriage - not to satisfy any worldly desire but to make his wife as an equal partner in his divine play and mission. He foresaw in Sarada, then only five years old, a perfect instrument to teach humanity, especially householders, the meaning and purpose of life and how to live it. Only a few days before his mahasamadhi at the Cossipore garden house he finally told her that she had to do a lot more than what he had done.


     All the brother disciples of Swamiji held Holy Mother in a very high esteem. In fact, they all thought her to be a living Durga. Such adoration and even supplication from such jewels of sons, however, would have turned the head of a lesser person. But Mother was divinity incarnate, with humility as its identical twin. Though conscious of it, she very rarely expressed it. For example, she told her cousin Shibu, a small boy then, Yes, I am Kali. She once said, In the fullness of spiritual realization, a person finds that the God who resides in his heart resides in the hearts of all - the oppressed, the lowly, and the untouchable. This realization makes one truly humble. (9) As a corollary one also becomes more loving, caring and serves everyone as the manifestation of God.




     Love Was Her Gospel




     Holy Mother once remarked that renunciation was Sri Ramakrishnas special message. Love is synonymous with renunciation, and it is love that was Mothers gospel. For love without renunciation becomes maya, but renunciation in action is karma yoga. If Sri Ramakrishnas message of renunciation, of woman and gold and I and mine, has to be actualized, it must get its bone and flesh in love and selfless service. That is where Mother Sarada comes in, who began her spiritual ministry of service from the very day she moved into the nahabat, the fifty-square-foot room that became the base of her operations. This small room served as her bedroom and the supplies room as well. It is from here that she served Sri Ramakrishna and his increasing number of disciples, working for more than twelve hours a day. Although the Master himself called this cramped room a cage, she herself had no complaints. On the contrary, she often remarked in reference to her days in Dakshineswar, How happy I was then! Mother was happy because she loved the Master and his mission, not for the sake of the husband but for the Self, intuitively hearing the voice of Sage Yajnavalkya. The Master gave sermons on God and renunciation of woman and gold, but it was left to Mother to clarify their meaning by her own example.


     One may not agree with Sister Niveditas implied remark that without Rani Rasmani there would have been no Ramakrishna. (10) But just as without Radha, there could be no Krishna or Vrindaban, the same way without Mother there would have been no Ramakrishna, or the Ramakrishna Order with God-realization and service as its twin objectives. Even Sri Ramakrishna acknowledged his indebtedness to her. He once said that if she were not that pure, who knew if he himself might not have lost self-control. As Swami Budhananda has put it:


     Sri Ramakrishna could not have been the Kapala-mochana that he is, unless Sri Saradamani had been the Holy Mother that she is. Think for instance, what would have happened if Sri Ramakrishna were to turn an ordinary householder! There was no law under the sun which could have barred Sri Sarada from claiming her right according to Dharma. But how very easily she transcended the urge of becoming the mother of a few, for was she not the Mother of all? Thus in one sense Sri Ramakrishna is the gift of Sri Sarada to humanity. (11) (Emphasis added)




     Mother above Anything Else




     Although Holy Mother regarded the Master her guru, once in a while she turned the tables on him. One day Mother, as usual, carried a plate of food for the Master to his room when a woman devotee standing outside his room said, Mother, please let me carry the plate. Mother agreed, and the woman carried the plate, and placing the plate before the Master, hurriedly left the room. Since the Master knew that the woman had led an impure life, he refused to eat from out of those defiled hands until Mother promised that she would not let anyone else, especially that woman, carry the plate. Sarada Devi said firmly, with folded hands:


     I cannot give any such promise, but I shall try to bring your food myself. If someone addresses me as Mother and wishes to carry the plate, I shall not be able to refuse. You must not forget that you are not my Lord alone; you are the Lord of all. (12)


     What woman would show such indifference to her exclusive right on her husbands attention! What a wonderful lesson on spirituality, divine love and detachment, from a disciple of a doyen of spirituality! Only a sage of equal standing could dare speak like that.




     Her Compassion for the Fallen




     There were other times when Holy Mother expressed her compassion and forgiveness for the so-called fallen women. A certain lady of ill repute used to visit Mother at Udbodhan House in Calcutta. One day Balaram Babus wife informed her through someone that if that woman continued visiting Mother, she and her friends would stop coming. Holy Mother replied that anyone who had taken refuge in her would come regardless of whether anyone else liked it or not. In fact, she even accepted food from that devotee, and others fell in line. Unlike the Master, who was very selective in accepting his devotees, Mother was same-sighted and accepted all regardless of their purity and lifted them up from there. She even did japa on their behalf and often told them, When you are in distress, just say to yourself, I have a Mother. True to her words, Mother told another woman who, in a sincere mood of repentance, made a confession of her past sins: Come in, I shall initiate you. Offer everything at the feet of the Master. What is there to fear? (13) Truly, she spoke in the manner of Jesus to Mary Magdalene!




     Conferred Prestige on Womanhood




     Her empathy, compassion and forgiveness not only revealed the best of Motherhood, but also redeemed womanhood from eternal damnation since the Fall of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, for which women have been blamed for every evil in man. One day in great privacy Sri Ramakrishna asked Mother if she had come to Dakshineswar to drag him to the path of samsara. Mothers reply was spontaneous and direct. No. On the contrary, I have come to help you on your chosen path. Here we quote Swami Budhananda again:


     The prestige which Sri Saradamani conferred on the entire womanhood by this act of supreme renunciation, has yet to be understood and assumed by the womenfolk of the world. This was not only a great event in the lives of Sri Ramakrishna and Sri Sarada Devi; correctly understood, it is one of the greatest events in human history. This was virtually opening the gates of liberation for the millions [of women throughout the world]. (14)




     Concern for Her Childrens Welfare




     As the number of devotees visiting her began to increase, their physical comfort became her personal concern. She not only waited on them, but also often cleaned their plates and washed their laundry; indeed no work was too menial for her. She gave this loving care to everyone without any distinction of creed or caste. If a devotee protested that it was a sin to receive service from a brahmin, and a guru at that, she would say that devotees have no caste. She served Amjad, a Muslim worker, with the same loving care as she did for Sarat (Swami Saradananda).


     Holy Mother kept a keen eye especially on the health of her monastic children, as she knew that the monastery couldnt provide them nourishing food. In 1891, nineteen-year- old Kalikrishna, later known as Swami Virajananda, accompanied Swami Saradananda and others to visit Mother at her village in Jayrambati. When the time for them to leave arrived, they fell sick. So Mother did not allow them to leave until they recovered and gained strength. During their stay at her house she cooked for them nourishing food and went from door to door to procure milk for them. Many years later, ailing Gangadhar Maharaj (Swami Akhandananda) came to Calcutta to get medical treatment. When his brother disciple Baburam Maharaj (Swami Premananda) met him and asked why he had not visited his brothers at Belur Math, he said:


     Mother compelled me to come from Sargachi for my treatment. She has appointed a Kaviraj (doctor). Here I take medicine regularly; Im on a diet. Now if I go elsewhere, Mother will scold me. Besides, (smiling) you are all renunciates; can you serve me a protein diet there? (15)


     However, after Swami Premananda insisted and promised to do everything to make him comfortable, Swami Akhandananda left with him for Belur Math. Before anyone regards it as an insult to Mother, one must bear in mind that it is in the nature of a child to do exactly the things that its mother has forbidden it. One must also not forget that regardless of how much we might consider those swamis as spiritual giants, for Holy Mother they were her gems of children! And, it is this very playfulness of these saints that authenticated their Mother-child relationship.


     Of course, everyone in the Ramakrishna Order, from Swami Vivekananda down to the last servant, respected Mother for that and went to her for advice or to lodge a complaint. In every case her word was taken as final. She based all her decisions on the criteria of the strength they would engender in forging a solid foundation for the infant Order and leading it into a fraternity of brothers. An incident that occurred at the Koalpara ashrama is worth mentioning. The head of this ashrama was very stern and authoritarian in his dealings with workers. So these workers liked to spend more time with Mother at her village in Jayrambati. The leader mentioned to her about their disobedience and requested her not to encourage them by giving them good food. Mother was outraged by what the man said and remarked, What is the matter with you? What do you mean? Love alone is the essential thing. Our organization is growing only through love. I am their Mother. How impudent you are to mention to me their food. (16)




     Needed: Reorientation of Relationships




     According to Aristotle, man is essentially a political animal. As such, we live in a relationship with one another in this world. The life of Holy Mother is a profound message in the art of living in a society of people, at home, workplace, organization and community; the secret is to live and work for others. Mother once said that the Master had left her to demonstrate to the world the Motherhood of God. What it means is that one should serve and work for others like a mother does for her own children. Working and serving out of love is called karma yoga, and for householders it is one of the best ways to realize God and attain moksha; it is also a therapy for leading a happy life.


     Today the whole world is living in fear and insecurity. That is because we identify ourselves with the externals, our body forms, religions and nationalities. These are the breeding grounds for jealousy, hatred and fanaticism. Holy Mother wanted us to turn our gaze inside and awaken to the fact that the Self in us is the Self in all. By doing so, all differences separating us will vanish, and we will become one family of brothers and sisters, helping and serving one another. In order to make this a reality, Mother wanted us not to find fault with others, but be aware of our own faults. For no one is perfect, not even devas. If they were, they would have attained their liberation already. After all, morality or righteousness is not absolute; considering it so causes all the conflicts and unhappiness in the world. So Mother wanted us to choose, in the words of Rabbi Kushner, happiness over our own standards of righteousness. (17) We should accept others as they are by cultivating virtues of forbearance and forgiveness. What a profound lesson in practical Vedanta! Reorienting relationships on these lines, and meditating on Holy Mother, will help us subdue our passions of lust, jealousy, hatred and pride, and release so much of our dormant energy for constructive purposes like removing poverty, ending violence and securing world peace.










     1. The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, 9 vols. (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1-8, 1989; 9, 1997), 7.484.

     2. Swami Gambhirananda, Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi (Madras: Sri Ramakrishna Math, 1977), 114.

     3. See T M P Mahadevan, Sri Sarada Devi and the Mission of India in Sri Sarada Devi: The Great Wonder (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1994), 234.

     4. M, The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, trans. Swami Nikhilananda (Chennai: Sri Ramakrishna Math, 2002), 882.

     5. Swami Nikhilananda, Holy Mother (New York: Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center, 1982), 40.

     6. Kumud Bandhu Sen, Sarada Math: Why Not during Mothers Time? in Prabuddha Bharata, January 2004, 68-70.

     7. Great Wonder, 165.

     8. Swami Saradananda, Sri Ramakrishna and His Divine Play, trans. Swami Chetanananda (St Louis: Vedanta Society of St Louis, 2003), 166.

     9. Holy Mother, 225.

     10. The Complete Works of Sister Nivedita, 5 vols. (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1995), 1.190.

     11. Great Wonder, 417.

     12. Holy Mother, 72.

     13. Ibid., 174.

     14. Great Wonder, 417.

     15. Swami Sambuddhananda, Meeting Holy Mother and Baburam Maharaj: One Days Experience in Vedanta Kesari, January 2004, 8-9.

     16. Holy Mother, 251.

     17. Harold S Kushner, How Good Do We Have to Be? (New York: Little Brown, 1996), Chapter 5.

International Yoga Day 21 June 2015
International Yoga Day 21 June 2015






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