7. DAKSHINESWAR DAYS

For about thirteen years the Holy Mother lived at Dakshineswar with short intervals now and then when she would go to Jayrambati. At her father's house she lived a very hard life, but her life at Dakshineswar was even harder. Whereas at Jayrambati she had freedom of movement and always enjoyed fresh air, at Dakshines-war she was cooped up in the Nahabat, a small room not more than fifty square feet in area. The Master himself used to say, 'When a free bird is kept imprisoned in a cage its health suffers,' and he was anxious about her health. So considerate was he that when there was nobody near the Nahabat at noon, he would ask the Holy Mother to visit the ladies of the locality and escort her as far as the temple gate. She would return in the evening when the service began in the temple and all people would be drawn there. She was very shy by nature, and hardly anybody could see her though she lived at Dakshineswar for such a long time. An officer of the temple once remarked, 'We have heard she lives there, but never have we seen her.' She would get up very early in the morning, at about three or four, attend to her ablutions, including a bath in the Ganga, and enter her tiny room from where she would come out, if there was any necessity, only at night when people were away. This went on day after day. The door of the room was so low that she had to bend far down to enter. In the beginning she had hard knocks on her head while going in, but afterwards, she said, she got accustomed to the height and avoided injury. This small room was her bedroom, kitchen, storeroom, and everything else. Even on slings she would hang part of her store. Sometimes she had to accommodate other companions here too, mainly the women disciples of Sri Ramakrishna. Ladies from Calcutta who came to visit Sri Ramakrishna would take pity on the Holy Mother and say: 'See, our good girl has to live in such a small room. She is, as it were, in exile like Sita.' In the beginning, she had to cook only for two or three persons, her mother-in-law, the Master, and the like. But as the number of devotees of Sri Ramakrishna began to swell she had to cook for more and more persons. On a birthday of the Master, she had to cook for forty or fifty persons in that room. Sometimes she had to cook to suit different tastes. Naren (afterwards Swami Vivekananda) would like thick gram soup, Ramchandra would ask for chapatis, Rakhal preferred khichuri. Sometimes at odd hours she had to arrange meals for devotees. But the Holy Mother was always equal to the occasion. She was never ruffled, never annoyed. She was sweetness itself and all motherliness.

With how much care did she attend to the needs of the Master! She was all attention to him. In external behaviour Sri Ramakrishna was just like a child. She had to coax and cajole him to take food. He would be frightened if the quantity of rice in his plate looked large. She would therefore press the heap so carefully that it would look small. She would thicken the milk by boiling, so that he could not judge what quantity of milk he was taking. Sometimes she had to suppress the truth about the quantity of food he took; she said that it was not wrong to take the help of a fib as regards food under such circumstances. Sri Rama-krishna used to say jokingly that there was this great need of having a wife: she can cook for the husband. When the Holy Mother was away, he would be in difficulty and feel nervous, for nobody else could take sufficient care of him. The Holy Mother and Sri Ramakrishna stayed in two rooms about seventy-five feet apart; but sometimes they would not meet for months. Still what a great warmth of feeling existed between them! The idea of husband and wife was completely obliterated between the two, but no married love

could compare with the great intensity of love that they had for each other. A little headache of the Holy Mother would make the Master anxious and he would say: 'Ramlal (Sri Ramakrishna's nephew), what shall we do? She has a headache.' Some unknown critics raised the question that Sri Ramakrishna in his quest after the Infinite was unkind to his wife inasmuch as he did not live a married life. But no wife on earth has been the recipient of so much love and consideration from her husband as Saradamani received from Sri Ramakrishna.

The relationship between Sri Ramakrishna and the Holy Mother was not without humour. Once while she was staying in the cottage built by Shambhu Mallick, Sri Ramakrishna went to her in the evening, but as it started raining heavily he could not again return to his own room that night. At this Sri Ramakrishna remarked to her, 'I am staying here just as the temple priests go to their family houses.' Once a woman came to Sri Ramakrishna in great agony of mind seeking peace. Sri Ramakrishna sent her to the Nahabat saying that in that house lived one who knew the remedy. When the woman approached the Holy Mother and repeated what Sri Ramakrishna had said, she understood the joke that was being played upon her. The Holy Mother explained to the woman that she was nothing and that Sri

Ramakrishna was everything and sent her back to him. This was repeated a couple of times. At last the Holy Mother gave the woman a bilva leaf used in worship, which had a miraculous effect on her life.

Once there was a controversy as to who between Sri Ramakrishna and another person was fairer in complexion, and Sri Ramakrishna proposed that the Holy Mother should be the umpire. Both the competitors walked side by side in front of the Nahabat so that she might see and judge. Observing strict impartiality, she gave the verdict in favour of the other person, and Sri Ramakrishna lost the contest.

In the early hours of the morning Sri Rama-krishna used to rouse from sleep the Holy Mother and his niece Lakshmi Devi, who then lived with her, so that they might sit for meditation. If there was no response from inside or he suspected that they were asleep, he poured water through the door and quietly walked away.

Above all, her stay in Dakshineswar was a period of great spiritual training. As mentioned before, she would get up every day between three and four in the morning and after a bath in the Ganga begin her meditation. The whole day would be spent in devoted service to the Master, and again in the evening she would practise meditation. In this respect she was mercilessly strict with herself. As she narrated afterwards, one day she was out of sorts and thought it was legitimate to get up late. This she did, and the next day also the same action was repeated. Following this practice for two or three days, she found that she had become an unconscious victim of lethargy. After that she would get up at the fixed time whatever might be her health. This she followed throughout her whole life. Even in times of severe illness, unless quite disabled, she would get up in the early hours and meditate. To the loving remonstrances of her anxious attendants at her being so strict with herself even in old age, she would pay no heed. Once at Dakshineswar while going to the bathing ghat so early in the morning, she almost stumbled upon a crocodile lying on the steps. It got alarmed by her footsteps and jumped into the river. After that when going to the Ganga she would carry a lantern. Seeing the reflection of the moon on the water of the Ganga she would pray, 'There are dark spots even on the moon, but do Thou, O Lord, make me absolutely spotless.' On moonlit nights she would fervently pray that she might be as pure as the light of the moon.