9. THE PASSING OF SRI RAMAKRISHNA

A precept which the Holy Mother used to emphasize greatly was that one should learn how to adjust oneself to time and circumstances—for therein lies the secret of peace and happiness in life. She herself was the living embodiment of this saying. Born and brought up in a village atmosphere, she was quite at home at Dakshineswar. But harder days were ahead of her.

In June 1885, Sri Ramakrishna developed cancer of the throat, and this necessitated his removal in October to Shyampukur in Calcutta for treatment. The devotees arranged for everything regarding medical care, nursing, and so on. They knew that an expert hand would be needed to take charge of his diet. The Holy Mother was at Dakshineswar. She would be the best one to be entrusted with that responsibility. But how would she be able to stay in the small crowded house where Sri Ramakrishna was accommodated and where there was no other woman? This was their misgiving. When the proposal reached her however, she at once came to Shyampukur to do the best she could for the Master. A small shed on the terrace of the second storey was allotted to her, where she would stay during the day and far into the night. When all were asleep at night, she would come down a to a room on the first floor and sleep for three hours at most there and then return to her place on the terrace. When it was necessary to feed or otherwise attend on Sri Ramakrishna, she would come to him. Thus she lived from day to day, without the slightest thought of any personal suffering, her only prayer being that the Master might regain his health, no matter what might be her inconvenience.

As there was no sign of improvement in his illness, Sri Ramakrishna was shifted to Cossipore in December 1885. The Holy Mother also accompanied him there, and occupied herself day and night in attending to his needs. The young disciples also sacrificed all other thoughts and were doing their utmost to save the life of their beloved Master. The prolonged illness of Sri Ramakrishna had a great deal to do with the building up of the future Ramakrishna brotherhood; for, while serving the Master in that hour of distress, the young disciples felt the bond of love growing among them all the more strongly. If that is true, it ensured also the place of Sarada Devi in the future Order. The young disciples, the future builders of the Ramakrishna Order, though they had little opportunity of talking with her, began to look upon Sarada Devi as their own mother; and their reverence for her was equalled only by that for the Master.

Sri Ramakrishna was sinking. The Holy Mother got some premonition that the end was near. Still she was hoping against hope that the disease might be arrested and the Master might recover. But death is no respecter of persons and is not swayed by any human sentiment or feelings. Sri Ramakrishna passed into Mahasamadhi on 16 August 1886, plunging all his disciples and devotees into profound grief and gloom.

On the following day, when the Holy Mother was preparing to wear the widow's garments, Sri Ramakrishna appeared before her and said: 'What are you doing? Where have I gone? It is like passing from one room to another.' At this the Holy Mother was a bit consoled and gave up the idea of putting on the widow's dress. But as a sign of her grief she tore off a large portion of the wide red border of her sari. Afterwards she attempted once or twice to remove the gold ornaments she had on her hands, but every time she was prevented by the appearance of Sri Ramakrishna before her. The last time she attempted this was at Kamarpukur. There to save herself from the village gossip, she took off her bracelets. But one day there too she saw the vision of the Master. At this experience she shook off all fear of public criticism, and henceforth she wore simple bracelets on her hands and used a narrow-bordered cloth for her wearing apparel.

After the demise of the Master, some devotees proposed that the establishment at Cossipore should be broken up immediately. But Naren and the other young disciples objected as that would be an additional shock to the Mother. So the establishment remained there for some days more, till August 21, when the Holy Mother went to stay at the house of Balaram Bose, the great devotee of the Master. There was some trouble and misunderstanding between the sannyasin and householder disciples as regards the possession of the relics of the Master. When the news reached the Holy Mother she remarked: 'Such a unique person is gone. But they are quarrelling over his ashes!'