Sarada Devi: the woman behind Ramakrishna and Vivekananda’s greatness
Sunday,18 September 2022 09:28 PM IST
As a woman, freedom and empowerment of women is a topic close to my heart. I remember Rousseau’s famous statement during the French Revolution, “man is born free, but he is everywhere in chains”. But for men a lot changed but what has not changed is for women. So, we can correctly say “women are born free, but she is everywhere in chains”. Even in the 21st century there is not much change anywhere in the world. She is a victim of domestic violence, rape and many horrors. The US has the most cases of domestic violence in the world. To add to misery, religions play a huge part in their condition. Today I am going to write about the wife of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. Sarada Devi was a ‘spiritual giant’ like her husband and Naren who was like a son to her.
Sarada Devi was born on December 22, 1853 in Bengal. She was born as Saradamani Mukhopadhyaya, and was lovingly and reverentially addressed as the Holy Mother by the followers of the Ramakrishna Mission. She held an important role in the growth of the Ramakrishna Movement. Even though she was uneducated herself, she advocated education for women and entrusted Sister Nivedita to open a girls school so that they could study.
It is said that from an early age she prayed to Mother Goddess to have ‘purity in abundance’. Looking at the full moon, she would always say: “O God, there are dark spots even on the moon. But make my character spotless.” Sarada Devi was born in Jayrambati, a small village near Calcutta. At the age of five, she was engaged to Sri Ramakrishna, whom she joined at Dakshineswar when she was eighteen years old. Even though married, both lived a life of unbroken celibacy, which was the ideal of the combination of a proper householder and the monastic ways of life. Ramakrishna’s frequent ‘spiritual ecstacies’ and unorthodox ways of worship led some people to doubt his mental stability, while others regarded him as a great saint. Sarada found Ramakrishna to be a kind and caring person. As a priest, Ramakrishna performed the ritual ceremony, the ‘Shodashi Puja’ where Sarada Devi was made to sit in the seat of goddess Kali and to Sri Ramakrishna Sarada Devi was the incarnation of Divine Mother, addressing her as Sri Maa and it was by this name that she was known to his disciples.
She woke up at 3 AM. After bathing in the Ganges river, she would practice japa (meditative repetition of a mantra or name of God) and meditation until daybreak. “Ramakrishna had taught her the sacred mantras, and instructed her how to initiate people and guide them in spiritual life”. Most of her time was spent in cooking for Ramakrishna and the growing number of his devotees. “While Sarada Devi remained completely in the background, her unassuming but warm personality attracted some female devotees to become her lifelong companions. Her life was very simple and, characterized by humility, modesty and a loving spiritual disposition”.
During Ramakrishna’s last days, when he suffered from throat cancer, Sarada Devi played an important role in nursing him and preparing suitable food for him and his disciples. It is said that after Ramakrishna’s death in August 1886, when Sarada Devi tried to remove her bracelets as the widows do, she had a vision of Ramakrishna in which he said, “I have not passed away, I have just gone from one room to another.” According to her, whenever 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 was deeply respected by Swami Vivekanda and other monks of the Ramakrishna Mission, and she continued to play an important role in the emerging religious movement. She remained the spiritual guide of the movement for the next three decades. Ramakrishna had asked her to continue his mission after his death and wanted his disciples not to make any distinction between himself and her.
Before Mother Sarada’s death in 1920, she gave a long-remembered advice to her 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!”.
There is a story told about her. When the young Sarada was walking through the meadows with several companions for the journey to the river Ganga for a holy bath, she could not keep pace with the sturdier men and women, and she was left to trail behind. A bandit appeared from nowhere and asked her threatening questions. With a smile she said “father I am going to take bath in the Ganga, but my companions have gone ahead.” The sweet and gentle words softened the hard-hearted robber whose childless wife then appeared on the scene. With great affection, Sarada was taken into a humble wayside shop where they rendered her their sweet and sincere service. The next day, the bandit “father” took his adopted daughter to Dakshineswar with great care. The “son-in-law”, Sri Ramakrishna, on hearing the story, paid great respect to this strange “father-in-law”. Such a great woman she was!