V

THE DIVINE MOTHER

Sri Ramakrishna adapted himself to his new station and forgot everything else. Ramkumar, being troubled by Sri Ramakrishna's love for solitude and growing indifference to the world, resolved to teach him the elaborate procedure of the worship of Kali, so that, later, he might assume the task quite efficiently. As it is not considered advisable to undertake the worship of Shakti, or Kali, without being properly initiated, Sri Ramakrishna, at the advice of his elder brother, got the necessary initiation from a Brahmin in Calcutta named Kenaram Bhattacharya who was noted for his devotion and experience. It is said that as soon as the sacred Mantra was uttered in his ears, Sri Ramakrishna, overwhelmed with religious fervour, gave a shout and plunged into deep concentration, which greatly astonished the Guru.

From this time forward Ramakumar asked his brother now and then to take over the worship of the Divine Mother, while he himself worshipped at the altar of Radha-kanta instead. Ramkumar was now aged and decided to go home for a change. Sri Ramakrishna was therefore permanently put in charge of the worship of Kali. But Ramkumar was not destined to see his home again for he breathed his last at a place a few miles north of Calcutta. His death came to the young priest as a great shock and a revelation. It occurred at a time when he was fast realizing the transitoriness of the world, and all his energies were now given to the search for something that was real and imperishable. While those about him were wasting time in all sorts of frivolity, he was burning day and night with a consuming thirst for God.

To Sri Ramakrishna the image of Kali was not an inert stone but the Mother Herself. The Goddess wears a gorgeous Varanasi Sari and is decorated with precious ornaments from head to foot. From Her neck hangs a garland of skulls and round Her waist a girdle of human arms—made of gold. In Her lower left hand She holds a decapitated human head, also made of gold, and in the upper one a sword. With Her lower right hand She offers boons to Her devotees; with the upper one is symbolized, 'Fear nothing'. The skulls and the sword represent Her terrible aspect, and Her right hands—offering boons and assuring fearlessness—the benignant aspect. She is both terrible and sweet—like Nature alternately destroying and creating. This is the Deity whom Sri Ramakrishna worshipped, the Preserver as well as the Destroyer. But to him She was ever the affectionate Mother—the Repository of all blessedness and power—sweet, tender, and full of motherly solicitude, the Mother who with loving care protects Her devotees from harm. To Her he offered his whole-souled devotion, regarding Her as the only true guide in darkness and confusion.

From now on he began to shun the company of the worldly people. At night, when everybody was asleep, he would arise and repair to the adjoining dense jungle, returning after day-break, with eyes swollen as though with much weeping, or showing the effects of prolonged meditation. The realization of God became the one absorbing passion of the young aspirant. He would shed profuse tears like a child at being denied the vision of the Mother and would burst out crying, 'O Mother! where art Thou? Reveal Thyself to me. Ramprasad saw Thee and obtained Thy divine grace. Am I a wretch that Thou dost not come to me? Pleasure, wealth, friends, enjoyments—I do not want any of these. I only desire to see Thee, Mother.' When the peal of evening bells in the temple announced the close of the day, he would grow disconsolate and cry in the agony of his heart, Another day is spent in vain, Mother, for I have not seen Thee! Another day of this short life has passed, and I have not realized the Truth!'

Owing to this intensity of religious fervour he could no longer conduct the worship regularly. He would sit before the image like a statue. While meditating in the course of worship, he would put a flower on his head and sit silent for a couple of hours, or while offering the food he would gaze at the Mother as if She were actually partaking of it. He was ridiculed at first for such strange acts, but his steady devotion ended by commanding respect and admiration, though some still regarded him as unbalanced. Mathur was charmed to see the God-intoxication of the young priest and his ecstatic absorption in the divine service. Sri Ramakrishna was perfectly indifferent to what people thought, and directed all his energies to the realization of the goal he had set for himself. At last, when he was at the limit of physical endurance, the veil was lifted, and he was blessed with the vision of the Divine Mother. Sri Ramakrishna described his first experience to his disciples afterwards as follows: 'I was then suffering from excruciating pain, because I had not been blessed with a vision of the Mother. I felt as if my heart were being wrung like a wet towel. I was overpowered by a great restlessness and a fear that it might not be my lot to realize Her in this life. I could not bear the separation any longer; life did not seem worth living. Suddenly my eyes fell on the sword that was kept in the Mother's temple. Determined to put an end to my life, I jumped up like a madman and seized it, when suddenly the blessed Mother revealed Herself to me, and I fell unconscious on the floor. What exactly happened after that, or how that day or the next passed, I do not know, but within me there was a steady flow of undiluted bliss altogether new, and I felt the presence of the Divine Mother.'

Since then, his constant prayer was to have a repetition of this divine vision. He would cry so bitterly that people gathered about him to watch. 'I scarcely realized their presence,' the Master afterwards said, 'they looked more like shadows or painted pictures than real objects, and I did not feel the least abashed at displaying my feelings before them. But the moment I lost outward consciousness in a paroxysm of pain at separation from the Mother, I would find Her sanding before me in her matchless radiant form, granting boons to her devotees and bidding them be of good cheer! I used to see Her smiling, talking, consoling, or teaching me in various ways.'

From this time onward his attitude towards the Mother changed. He became like a child, confident that his inability to see Her whenever he wished was because She, in a playful mood was purposely hiding Herself. His self-surrender was now complete. 'O Mother,' he would pray day and night, 'I have taken refuge in Thee; teach me what to do or say. Thy will is paramount everywhere and is for the benefit of Thy children. Merge my ego in Thy will and make me Thy instrument.' As his realization deepened, the vision of the Mother became luminous. Formerly he regarded the stone image of Kali as possessed of consciousness, now the image disappeared, and in its stead there stood the Living Mother Herself, smiling and blessing him. 'I actually felt Her breath on my hand,' the Master used to say later. 'At night when the room was lighted, I never saw Her divine form cast any shadow on the walls, even though I looked closely. From my own room I could hear Her going to the upper storey of the temple, with the delight of a girl, Her anklets jingling. To see if I were not mistaken, I would follow and find Her standing with flowing hair on the balcony of the first floor, looking either at Calcutta or out over the Ganga.'

Hriday was able to give many interesting details of these days. He used to say: 'Whenever one entered the temple, a thrill would be felt, specially when my uncle was worshipping, as though there were a living Presence there. I could never resist the temptation of watching him. His strange manner of worship filled me with wonder and reverence; at the same time I often questioned his sanity, for his actions were contrary to the injunctions of the Shastras (scriptures). I was much afraid of what Rani Rasmani and Mathur Babu would do if the news of his conduct reached them.' Of Sri Ramakrishna's method of worship, he would say: 'I noticed that my uncle, taking flowers and Bel leaves in his hand would touch his own head, chest, in fact, the whole body, including the feet, and then offer them at the feet of Kali. At other times, with eyes and chest flushed, he would move like a drunkard with tottering steps from his seat to the throne of the goddess, touch her chin as a sign of endearment, and begin to sing, talk, joke, or laugh, or even dance, taking the image by the hand!! Sometimes he would approach the throne with a morsel of food in his hand and putting it to Her lips, entreat Her to eat... .Again, at the time of worship he would become so deeply absorbed in meditation that there would be no sign of external consciousness. Every morning, as he picked the flowers for the Divine Mother's garlands, I saw him speaking to somebody, or loughing, or indulging in merriment! He never closed his eyes during the night; whenever I awoke I found him in an exalted mood, talking to some one, singing, or sitting in deep meditation where the Panchavati1 is now.'

1

Meaning a cluster of the five sacred trees, namely, Ashwattha, Bel, Amalaka, Ashoka, and Vata or Banyan. Such a place is considered very holy and helpful to meditation.