IV

IN THE TEMPLE-GARDEN OF DAKSHINESWAR

At that time there was living in Calcutta a rich widow of great piety named Rani Rasmani. In 1847 she spent a fortune to found a temple to the great goddess Kali on the eastern bank of the Ganga at Dakshineswar, which is four miles to the north of Calcutta. In the midst of a rectangular paved courtyard stood the vast temple of Kali, the sovereign Deity, and another dedicated to Krishna and Radha. Both were connected by an open terrace above the Ganga between a double row of twelve Shiva temples. In addition to the temples there were a spacious music hall, rooms for the temple-staff, two 'concert-rooms', and quarters for the Rani's family. There was, besides, a beautiful garden with two tanks and a large banyan tree which played a great part in Sri Ramakrishna's life.

The date for the installation of the image of the goddess Kali was fixed for May 31, 1855. The Rani was eager to spend any amount to make this function a splendid success; but, unfortunately, she being a Shudra by caste, no orthodox Brahmin could be procured to officiate as her priest or partake of the sacramental food in her temple; for, according to the orthodox custom of the time, it was derogatory to a Brahmin to worship for a Shudra or to accept gifts from such. The Rani made frantic efforts to collect the opinions of renowned Pandits in her favour on this matter, but none of the answers were acceptable, except that which came from the Tol of Jhamapukur. Ramkumar informed the Rani that if she made a gift of the Kali temple to a Brahmin, endowing it with adequate funds for maintenance, it would be quite in keeping with the injunctions of the scriptures, and no Brahmin would be considered degraded by acting as a priest or partaking of the food offered there. The solution came to the Rani as a godsend in the hours of her greatest mental agony and despair, and she eventually succeeded in getting Ramkumar himself as the priest in the temple of the goddess Kali. The temple was consecrated with great pomp to the unbounded joy and relief of the pious-hearted Rani. After a few days, Gadadhar also began to live with his brother in the sacred temple-garden of Dakshineswar, in the calm and congenial atmosphere where he felt quite at home and found greater opportunities to pursue his spiritual practices.

It was at this time that Hriday, a young man destined to be a close companion of Sri Rama-krishna for twenty-five years and a faithful attendant during the stormy days of his Sadhana appeared on the scene. He was the nephew of Gadadhar. His presence at Dakshineswar delighted Gadadhar's heart beyond measure as he found in him a trustworthy associate to whom he could open his heart in moments of trouble and difficulty.

Soon the eyes of Mathuranath Biswas, the son-in-law of Rani Rasmani, fell on young Gadadhar, whom he persuaded to take charge of decorating the image of Kali with flowers, leaves and sandal paste in the morning, and costly jewellery and clothes in the evening. Thus entrusted with work quite suitable to his temperament, Gadadhar gave himself heart and soul to the task, and in leisure hours entertained the goddess with devotional songs which kept everybody enthralled and spellbound.

Shortly after his appointment in the Kali temple, an incident occurred which enhanced the worth of Sri Ramakrishna in the eyes of Rani Rasmani and Mathur. One day the priest of the Radha-kanta temple, while taking the image of Krishna to the retiring room, suddenly slipped, and one leg of the image was broken. This gave rise to a great commotion in the temple, and the priest was summarily dismissed from service for his carelessness. The Pandits, who were called to advise the Rani as to what should be done under the circumstances, unanimously came to the decision that the image should be thrown into the Ganga and a new one installed in its place, as it was contrary to the scriptures to worship the Lord in a broken image. This decision did not appeal to the pious Rani, who, at the suggestion of Mathur, sought the opinion of Sri Ramakrishna on the matter. After hearing the whole story, he exclaimed in an exalted mood, 'Their solution is ridiculous. If a son-in-law of the Rani fractured his leg, would she discard him and put another in his stead? Would she not rather arrange for his treatment? Why not do the same thing here? Let the image be repaired and worshipped as before.' The Pandits were puzzled to learn the ruling of the young priest. It did not satisfy the scholars at first, but they finally had to accept it. The joy of the Rani knew no bounds. Sri Ramakrishna, who was an adept in modelling, undertook to repair the limb at the request of the Rani and did it so adroitly that even careful scrutiny did not reveal where the break had been.

Sri Ramakrishna was now made the priest of the Radha-kanta temple, and Hriday was appointed to assist Ramkumar in dressing and decorating the image of Kali.