12. IN CALCUTTA AND AT JAYRAMBATI
Holy Mother during the early period of her life in Calcutta would stay in rented houses at various places. For short visits she would put up at the houses of devotees like Balaram Bose or M., the celebrated author of The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. Sometimes she lived on the western side of the Ganga – once at Ghusuri, and twice at Nilambar Mukherjee’s garden house.1 She used to say that from her younger days she had a great love for the Ganga. While staying at Nilambar Mukherjee’s garden, along with her companion Yogin-Ma, she performed the Panchatapa austerity, which consists in sitting for japa and meditation amidst five fires – four blazing on four sides and the summer sun above – from morning to evening for seven consecutive days. The Mother passed through this fiery ordeal successfully. In this house again once she had
a strange vision. She saw that Sri Ramakrishna was walking into the Ganga. As he was doing so his body melted into the water and Swami Vivek-ananda began to sprinkle that holy water on innumerable people. This vision made such a vivid impression on her mind that for many days she could not bathe in the river considering its holiness.
It was in 1909 that Swami Saradananda built a permanent home for her in Calcutta at the present No. 1, Udbodhan Lane. Now when in Calcutta the Holy Mother would stay here. This house, bearing the sacred memory and association of the Holy Mother, is known as ‘The Mother’s House’ to innumerable devotees and disciples of the Ramakrishna Order. To how many aspiring souls did she give initiation here! Many are the persons who came weary and heavy-laden to have their lacerated hearts soothed, and got infinite solace. When the Mother would be here, all who stayed in the house and all who visited could get access, as it were, into a world which cannot be reached even by hard tapasya. Now she is physically absent, but the association of her memory with the spot is a source of divine inspiration to thousands of devotees who did not have the privilege of seeing her in her lifetime.
While in Calcutta, the Holy Mother was the centre of spiritual attraction to all, but when she would go to her parental home at Jayrambati, she would adjust herself so well to the home-atmosphere that her relations could hardly realize what a great spiritual personality she was. She was there the familiar sister to her brothers taking anxious care of them, and the same ‘Sarada’ to the elderly village women who had known her from her childhood. Her adjustment was natural and spontaneous. It was with reference to this characteristic that Sri Ramakrishna once humorously remarked that she was like a cat that hid its colour in ashes. At Jayrambati she would be seen working very hard just like any other woman in a poor village family. So long as her mother was alive, she assisted her in everything. When she died the Holy Mother, being the eldest sister, virtually became the guardian of the family. This meant not only responsibility but also considerable annoyance. The youngest of her brothers, who had some education, died prematurely. The three other brothers were entirely different from their sister. When one saw them, one wondered if they could really be relatives of the Holy Mother. Without education or culture, narrowminded and selfish, they judged everything in terms of money. Quarrelling among themselves even over petty things, they made the life of the Holy Mother unbearable and taxed her patience to the utmost. But she bore everything with superhuman calmness. Apart from her spiritual attainments, for the way in which she maintained her inner peace amidst the volcanic fury that raged round her at Jayrambati, she should to be considered one of the greatest saints. One day two of her brothers quarrelled most ignominiously over some petty property. The Holy Mother came to pacify them, but when she returned to her room she began to laugh as if she had witnessed great fun and remarked, ‘They fight for such small things and do not consider that at death everything will be left behind.’
She had not only to take care of her brothers, but also of her brothers’ children whom she had to bring up with her own hand. Nalini, Maku and Radhu, three of her nieces, were her constant companions. And there was Surabala, the widow of her youngest brother, who for her craziness was known as the mad aunt, and who was ever a source of trouble to the Holy Mother. Her brothers found in her a sister whose affection could be exploited in terms of material advantage, and her nieces found in her an aunt who would tolerate any amount of their pranks and eccentricities and fulfil any of their demands. None of them realized that much higher things could be had from her. Once she remarked: ‘They always ask for money. Even through mistake they do not ask for knowledge and devotion.’
After the passing away of the Master, when the Holy Mother had been brooding over her lot and feeling that she had no further interest in life, she had a vision of Sri Ramakrishna. She saw a little girl with a red cloth walking in front of her, and the Master, pointing to the child, said, ‘Cling to her as a support.’ Some years after, once while she was seated at Jayrambati, she saw the insane widow of her youngest brother walking with her neglected infant daughter, Radhu, crawling behind. As the Holy Mother witnessed the pathetic sight, she felt a peculiar sensation in her heart. She at once rushed to the spot and took Radhu in her arms. As she did this she saw the vision of the Master, who appeared before her and said: ‘Cling to this child as your mental support on earth. She is Maya.’ From this time on, the Holy Mother showed the utmost interest in this girl, and Radhu found in the Mother the embodiment of all earthly love. But as the girl grew up, she proved herself hardly worthy of Holy Mother’s love. She was a queer amalgam of obstinacy and innocence, craziness and simplicity. Being of poor health and debilitated mind, she was the constant source of anxiety to the Mother. Radhu’s behaviour and mode of life would often be the cause, not only of trouble, but also of great embarrassment; but the Holy Mother’s affection for her was, as it were, a tie that did not allow her mind to soar altogether beyond the earthly plane. Towards the end, when the Holy Mother lost all interest in Radhu, her attendants feared that she would not live long. Actually she passed away soon after.
Girish Chandra Ghosh, the great actor-dramatist and a staunch devotee of Sri Ramakrishna, once remarked as he saw the brothers and relations of the Holy Mother, ‘These people must have practised great tapasya in their past lives to deserve so much love and affection from the Holy Mother.’ This is true. Where hundreds of persons would consider it a life’s privilege to be of the slightest service to the Holy Mother, her relatives actually received personal service from the Mother herself.
Sri Ramakrishna, though a prince of monks, never forgot the slightest duty to his wife. And she, too, in her turn, though adored and literally worshipped as the manifestation of Divine Power on earth, welcomed the drudgery, worries and troubles involved in fulfilling her duties to her relatives, however unworthy they might have been of her love. Once she actually said to her brothers, ‘You got me as your sister only because of the piety of my father and mother.’
Where the Ramakrishna Math was located prior to shifting to the new Math grounds at Belur Math.