THE DARLING OF THE VILLAGE

Saradamani was born on 22 December 1853, about seventeen years after the birth of Sri Ramakrishna. Born in a poor family, though the darling of all, she had to do many of the hard household duties to help her parents. She was the eldest child, and she had to take care of her six younger brothers and sisters. She would take food to the servants in the fields, she would cut grass for the cows in neck-deep water, and she would collect grain from the fields in the paddy season. All these have a very touching interest when we know that afterwards in her advanced years she gave spiritual ministration to thousands of persons who would have been ready to spend literally everything to fulfil her slightest wish. But even in more favourable circumstances she lived the same simple life—liking her ordinary village dishes, doing the duties and following a routine of life similar to those of other women of that poor little village. Actually her life was more strenuous than theirs as her family was very exacting and also because many devotees would flock to

her village home. But in her early age, when she would be going about in the fields and doing hard labour, though her presence would invariably light up joy in the surroundings, who did know that here was an almost divine being walking in their midst!

As a young girl, Saradamani was rather grave for her age. None would find in her any childish frivolity, and she had little interest in the games commonly played by children of her age. But she was the embodiment of innocence and simplicity, and her love for other children was compelling. That made her the natural mediator when there was any quarrel among other girls. She would prefer to play with the clay images of the deities Kali and Lakshmi rather than with ordinary dolls; and would worship them with great devotion with flowers and sacred leaves. She had a great aptitude for meditation. One day while the worship of the goddess Jagaddhatri was going on, she sat meditating on the Divine Mother with so much absorption that a bystander was struck with awe at the sight.

Saradamani had little formal education. Along with her younger brothers she would now and then go to school, but nobody took her education seriously. On the contrary, she sometimes met with positive discouragement. Later at Kamarpukur, when she was found reading a Bengali primer,

Hriday, a nephew of Sri Ramakrishna, snatched away the book saying that it would develop in her a tendency to read novels and dramas. But because of her own interest she later learnt in a general way to read books through the help of Lakshmi, a niece of Sri Ramakrishna, and also through another girl at Dakshineswar who would come to see her on her way to the Ganga for bathing. Afterwards the Holy Mother would read the Ramayana or similar books at leisure, but she was never found to write.

That does not mean, however, that the Holy Mother had no education in the real sense of the term. In her village home she had plenty of opportunities to see religious dramas and to listen to Pauranic stories, and she would attend many religious festivals. She was brought up under the influence of parents who were of the finest character. And above all, she had the rare privilege of coming into the closest contact with one who not only had the power to transform but actually did transform many lives by his silent and unconscious influence. As such the Holy Mother embodied the result of the best education. Her natural dignity, combined with motherly affection for one and all, her tender courtesy along with great broadmindedness indicating the highest development of mind, compelled not only love and reverence, but at times wonder and awe.