Sarada Devi, (1853—1920), born Saradamani Mukhopadhyaya, was the wife and spiritual counterpart of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, a nineteenth century mystic of Bengal. Sarad Devi is also reverentially addressed as the Holy Mother. Sarada Devi played an important role in the growth of the Ramakrishna Movement.
Sarada Devi was born in Jayrambati. At the age of five she was bethrothed to Ramakrishna, whom she joined at Dakshineswar when she was in her late teens. According to her biographers, both lived lives of unbroken continence, showing the the ideals of the householder and of the monastic ways of life. After Ramakrishna's passing away, Sarada Devi stayed most of the time either at Jayrambati or at the Udbodhan office, Calcutta. Her whole life is regarded as one of service, self-sacrifice—to her husband, to her brothers and their faimiles, and to her spiritual children. The disciples of Ramakrishna regarded her as their own mother, and after their guru's passing looked to her for advice and encouragement. Although Sarada Devi led the life of a simple rustic woman, she is accorded worship—and was, even during her lifetime—considered an incarnation of the Divine Mother.
Birth and Parentage
Sarada Devi's house at Jayrambati (centre) where she lived for the majority of her lifeSaradamani Devi, was born of Brahmin parents as the eldest daughter on December 22, 1853, in the quiet village of Jayrambati. Her parents, Ramchandra Mukhopadhyaya and Syamasundari Devi, were poor but pious. Ramchandra's earned his living as a farmer and through the performance of priestly duties and was considered generous. It is reported that Ramachandra and Syamasundari had a vision foretelling the birth of a diving being as their daughter.
Sarada lived the simple life of an Indian village girl. Her early childhood 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 practiced a little of reading and writing in later days by herself. It is reported that she was interested in the clay models of Kali and Lakshmi, which she worshiped regularly. She is said to have started meditating on the Divine Mother from her childhood and is reported that she had mystic visions and experiences. Recalling her childhood days, Sarada Devi says that she used to see a bevy of eight girls of her age coming from she knew not where, and escorting her in the chores.
In accordance with the then prevailing custom, Sarada was betrothed at the age of five to Ramakrishna, who was then twenty-three in May 1859. Ramakrishna was then practicing sever austerities at that time and his mother and brother thought that this marriage would be a good steadying effect on him. It is reported that Ramakrishna himself indicated the bride to his mother—"Vain is your search in this place and that. Go to Jayrambati, and there in the house of Ramachandra Mukhopadhyaya, you will find her who is marked out for me." After the betrothal, Sarada was left to the care of her parents and Ramakrishna returned to Dakshineswar.
Sarada next met Ramakrishna when she was fourteen years old, and she spent three months with him at Kamarpukur. She received instructions on meditation, spiritual life by Ramakrishna. At the age of eighteen, she heard rumors that Ramakrishna had become insane, but at the same time she also heard that he had become a great mystic. She decided to go to Dakshineswar and meet Ramakrishna. During the journey on foot to Dakshineswar, Sarada Devi fell gravely ill and she describes a vision in which a "woman, pitch dark in complexion" resembling Kali said that her health would improve soon and said that "she was her sister".
Kali Temple of Dakshineswar
At Dakshineswar Kali Temple
The south side of the Nahabat (Musical tower), where Sarada Devi lived in a small room on the ground floor.
Sarada Devi's tiny room on the ground floor of the Nahabat, now a shrineAfter arriving at Dakshineswar, her worst fears and doubts were allayed, as she could see for herself that the rumor was only the "idle gossip of worldly-minded people". She looked upon Ramakrishna as a mystic with spiritual greatness. At Dakshineswar, she stayed in a tiny room in the nahabat (musical tower). Sarada Devi stayed at Dakshineswar until 1885, except for short periods when she visited her village Jayrambati.
As a priest Ramakrishna performed the ritual ceremonies—the Shodashi Puja (the adoration of womanhood)—and considered Sarada Devi as the Divine Mother. Sarada Devi was made to sit in the seat of Kali, and worshiped with flowers and incense. Ramakrishna looked on her, as on every woman, as an incarnation of his Divine Mother, Kali. Their Marriage remained always a purely spiritual partnership. The marriage was never consummated because Ramakrishna regarded Sarada as the Divine Mother in person. According to Saradananda, Ramakrishna "married in order to show the world an ideal," the ideal of a sexless marriage.
Regarding Ramakrishna's treatment of her, Sarada Devi said, "I was married to a husband who never addressed me as 'tui.'(you) Ah! How he treated me! Not even once did he tell me a harsh word or wound my feelings." Sarada Devi is considered as his first disciple.
Sarada Devi practiced spiritual disciplines according to the instructions of Ramakrishna; of these, japa and meditation formed an important part. Her life began every day at three a.m. and being a observer of purdah, she finished her ablutions in the Ganges before daybreak when people began moving about. Sarada Devi was absorbed in japa and meditation until daybreak. She never came out till about one p.m., when there would be no one round about. 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." It is reported that Ramakrishna foresaw that Sarada Devi was destined to continue his spiritual mission. He taught her mantras, and instructed her how to initiate people and guide them in spiritual life. During Ramakrishna's last days, during which he suffered from throat cancer, Sarada Devi played a important role in nursing him and preparing suitable food for him and his disciples. It is reported that after Ramakrishna's passing away in August 1886, when Sarada Devi tried to remove her bracelets as the customs dictated for a widow, she had a vision of Ramakrishna in which he said, "I have not passed away, I have gone from one room to another." According to her, when ever she thought of dressing like a widow, she had a vision of Ramakrishna asking her not to do so. After Ramakrishna's death, Sarada Devi continued to play an important role in the nascent religious movement.
Two weeks after Ramakrishna's passing away Sarada Devi began her pilgrimage through North India and was accompanied by a party of women disciples including Lakshmi Didi, Gopal Ma, and Ramakrishna's householder and monastic disciples. The party visited the Vishwanath Temple at Banaras, Ayodhya associated with life of Rama. Later she visited Vrindavan which is associated with Krishna . It is reported that at Vrindavan, she experienced nirvikalpa samadhi and it was here that she began her role as guru. She initiated several of the Ramakrishna's disciples including Mahendranath Gupta, Yogen with a mantra.
Sarada Devi worshipping at her Udbodhan residence in Calcutta.After the pilgrimage, she stayed alone in Kamarpukur for a few months. She was encountering difficulties in meeting her ends and was lonely. In 1888, when the news reached the lay and monastic disciples of Ramakrishna that she needed their care and attention, they invited her to Calcutta and arranged for her stay. Swami Saradananda built a permanent house for Holy Mother in Calcutta. This is the Udbodhan House, named after the Bengali monthly magazine conducted by the Ramakrishna Math. It is also appropriately called Mayerbati or "Holy Mother's House", where she spent the longest period of her life outside Jayrambati. Here an increasing number of people began to flock for guidance, instructions and spiritual initiation.
After Sarada Devi's mother, Syamasundari Devi, passed away in 1906, Sarada Devi virtually became the head of her family. She took care of her brother's widowed mother Surabala, who gave birth to a daughter called Radharani, or more familiarly Radhu. Radhu grew up to be stubborn and mentally deficient and was a constant source of anxiety and trouble to Sarada Devi. Sarada Devi played the part of a mother towards Radhu and patiently put up with her.
The Holy Mother received the highest reverence from the Ramakrishna Order and its devotees. Ramakrishna had bade her continue his mission after his passing away and wanted his disciples not to make any distinction between himself and her. According to her devotees and biographers, the hospitality of the Holy Mother was unique and was characterized by motherly care and solicitude. It is reported that a few of the devotees had mystical experiences after their contact with the Holy Mother. Some dreamt of her as a goddess in human form though they had never seen her picture before. Others reportedly received their initiation from her in their dream. One such example is of Girish Chandra Ghosh, the father of the Bengali drama, who reportedly saw the Holy Mother in a dream when he was nineteen years old and received a mantra, and when he met her many years after, he found to his astonishment that it was the same person that he had seen in the dream.
At her Udbodhan residence, Sarada Devi was accompanied by other women disciples of Ramakrishna, Gopal Ma, Yogin Ma, Lakshmi Didi and Gauri Ma being the best known. People continued to visit her for spiritual instructions. According to her biographers, her innate motherliness put visitors at ease. Though she had no children of the flesh, she had many of the spirit. She regarded all her disciples as her own children.
Ramakrishna temple of Belur Math
In January 1919, the Holy Mother went to Jayrambati and stayed there for over a year. During the last three months of her stay her health seriously declined. Her strength was greatly impaired and she was brought back to Calcutta on February 27, 1920. For the next five months she continued to suffer. Before her passing away, she gave the last advice to the grief stricken devotees, "But I tell you one thing—if you want peace of mind, do not find fault with others. Rather see your own faults. Learn to make the whole world your own. No one is a stranger my child: this whole world is your own!". This is considered as her last message to the world. She passed away at 1.30 a.m on July 20, 1920. Her body was creamated at the Belur Math.
"I tell you one thing. If you want peace of mind, do not find fault with others. Rather see your own faults. Learn to make the whole world your own. No one is a stranger, my child; the whole world is your own."
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