LIFE AT KAMARPUKUR AND AFTER
THE year following the Holy Mother’s return from Brindavan witnessed many adverse turns in her worldly circumstances, and formed perhaps the darkest period of her life, at least judged from the material point of view. About a week after her arrival in Calcutta she started for Kamarpukur via Burdwan accompanied by Golap-Ma and Swami Yogananda. On the way itself the life of privation that was in store for her at Kamarpukur began to cast its shadow on her. For want of money 1 she had to walk from Burdwan to Uchalan, a distance of sixteen miles. And after reaching Uchalan, while
1 The special reason for the pecuniary difficulties of the Holy Mother at this time was the withdrawal of the allowance of rupees seven that she used to get from the temple management. This amount was what used to be given to Sri Ramakrishna according to the settlement made by Rani Rasmani. and after the Master’s demise, Trailokya Nath, the then proprietor of the temple, continued to pay the amount to the Holy Mother for a time. But now owing to the conspiracy of Dinanath, the chief manager of the temple, and some of Holy Mother’s own relatives who had become offended with her for petty reasons, the allowance was stopped, and she was left in her widowhood without any independent income, apart from the charity of others. Narendranath (later Swami Vivekananda) pleaded vehemently with the authorities of the temple to continue the allowance, but his pleadings were unheeded.
-she was partaking of a little of Khichuri that Golap-Ma had prepared for her, she remarked again and again, ” Golap, your preparation tastes like nectar.” So hungry and fatigued she was.
After escorting her to Kamarpukur, Swami Yoga-nanda came away at the end of three days while Golap-Ma stayed with her for about a month. As soon as the Holy Mother reached the village, there was an uproar of criticism among the village women, who felt scandalized at the sight of a young widow wearing bracelets and a red-bordered cloth. So long as Golap-Ma was there, she shielded her from their uncharitable remarks, but after she left the place, the scandal-mongers got busy again. To her great relief Prasannamayi, the aged sister of the Lahas of Kamarpukur and an intimate friend of Sri Rama-icrishna’s boyhood days, now came to her rescue. She silenced the critics partly by declaring, ” The wife of Gadai1 is a veritable goddess. She is not an ordinary type of woman.”
The Holy Mother herself now decided to disarm all criticism by removing the bracelets from her wrists, but she was prevented from doing so by a vision she had of the Master. To describe it in her own words, ” While staying at Kamarpukur after my return from Brindavan, I took off my bracelets for fear of public criticism. In fact, people were already talking about it. I also wished to go for
1 The pet name (the shortened form of ‘ Gadadhar ‘) by which Sri Ramakrishna was known in his boyhood.
bath in the Ganges, for which I have always had a special devotion. But the river is far away from Kamarpukur. Now one day I saw, to my great surprise, that the Master was coming towards the house from the direction of Bhuti’s canal. He was followed by Naren, Baburam, Rakhal and many other devotees. Further I saw that from his feet sprang a stream of water which flowed in front of him in waves. I said to myself, ‘ see he is everything. The Ganges has sprung from his lotus feet. Quickly I plucked flowers from the side of the Raghuvir temple and offered handfuls of them into the stream. The Master then said to me, ‘ Don’t take off the bracelets. Do you know the Vaishnava Tantras ? ‘ I said, ‘ What arc they ? I do not know anything about them.’ Thereupon he said, ‘ Gauri-mani (the same as Gauri-Ma) will come here this afternoon. She will tell you about them.’ That very afternoon Gaurdasi arrived, and I learned from her that to a woman her husband is Chinmaya (Pure Spirit).”
A still greater difficulty which the Holy Mother faced at this time was the utter poverty and loneliness in which she was, as it were, condemned to live. Towards the end of his life, Sri Ramakrishna had said to her,” After my time you go to Kamarpukur, live upon whatever you get – be it mere boiled rice and greens – and spend your time in repeating the name of Hari.” These words came to be fulfilled to the very letter during this period of the Holy Mother’s life. She had no cash in hand. She had to take a spade and dig the earth in order to cultivate some greens to go with her daily food. Until these were fit for use, she made rice out of the paddy in the granary, offered it to the Master, and partook of it herself without any condiments. She did not have even a few pice for purchasing salt, an article which is not ordinarily denied even to the poorest of the poor.
Being ever resigned to the divine will, she never spoke of her wretched condition to anyone, not even to her own mother. On hearing of her return to Kamarpukur, Syamasundari Devi had asked her to come to Jayrambati. So she w-ent there one day to meet her mother. Syamasundari Devi wept to see her dressed almost like a beggar woman. She asked her repeatedly to stay with her at Jayrambati, but the Holy Mother would not agree to it, nor disclose the miserable condition of her life. She only said, ” I am now going Backto Kamarpukur. Let things shape themselves as He wills.”
That the story of her sufferings remained hidden from the outside world, was as much due to the utter loneliness of her life at Kamarpukur as due to her own silence regarding it. For there was no one else in the house either to keep her company or to share her woes. Ramlal, Sivaram and Lakshmi Devi, the children of Rameswar (Sri Ramakrishna’s elder brother) were the other members of her family. Of these, Ramlal, who occupied the post of the chief priest of Kali at Dakshineswar, was the eldest, and it was his duty, according to the Hindu family system, to have taken care of the Holy Mother in her widowhood. But he was hostile to her and was chiefly responsible for the conspiracy that stopped the small pension she used to be given from the Kali temple. Sivaram, though affectionate, was of no practical use. Both of them stayed at Dakshineswar, and Lakshmi Devi, their sister, who often used to keep company with the Holy Mother in her Dakshineswar days, now preferred to live with her brothers at Calcutta. Thus the Holy Mother was practically left alone in a hut at Kamarpukur. Whenever her solitariness was broken by occasional visits of Ramlal and others, it was only to be pestered with family quarrels over property, and with unpleasant talks of relatives who looked upon her as a burden. During one of these visits, Ramlal abruptly left for Calcutta with the others, after making some arrangements for the worship of the family deity Raghuvir and effecting a family partition according to which the Master’s small cottage was assigned to the Holy Mother as her share. The Holy Mother was thus left alone in utter poverty without even any relative to help or guide her.
Poverty and loneliness at times drove her mind to brood anxiously over her future, and it was only the vivid consciousness of the Master’s guidance and protection that helped her to stand the ordeal. ” While staying alone at Kamarpukur,” she said in later days, ” I thought within myself, ‘ I have no child. There is no one in this world whom I can call my own. What will happen to me ? ‘ Then the Master appeared to me and said, ‘ Well, you want a son. I have given you so many jewels of sons. And in course of time you will hear many many more people addressing you as Mother.’ ” Experiences of this type, giving her a sense of the palpable reality of the Master and of the work which he intended to do through her, alone sustained her in these hours of trial.
This state of affairs did not, however, continue very long. For, in spite of the Holy Mother’s silence about her sufferings, the news leaked out through other sources and reached the ears of the Master’s disciples. Sometimes, at the request of the Holy Mother, Prasannamayi of the Laha family used to send an old maidservant to stay with her at nights in that lonely house. This woman carried the news regarding her life to the outside world. It soon reached the ears of Syamasundari Devi, who was very much aggrieved at her daughter’s misfortune. She passed the information to her son, Prasanna Kumar, who was earning his livelihood in Calcutta as a priest. He in turn went to Ramlal, Sri Rama-krishna’s nephew and the head of the family at the time, and remonstrated with him over the neglect of his sister. He also met Golap-Ma and told her how the Holy Mother was taking food even without salt while they, the disciples of Sri Ramakrishna, were still alive. Golap-Ma at once took the matter up seriously, carried on a vigorous propaganda among the disciples of the Master – both lay and monastic, men as well as women – raised subscriptions from among them, and in the name of the followers of Sri Ramakrishna sent an earnest letter of invitation to the Holy Mother, requesting her to come over to Calcutta.
The Holy Mother was now in a fix. She was after all a widow of only thirty-four or so, and what would people think of her if she went to Calcutta at the invitation of people who were not her relations ? Just to know the reaction of public opinion in the village, she made the fact of invitation from Calcutta known to her co-villagers. Of course, the village conservatives all shook their heads over it, but Prasannamayi again came to her rescue. She said, ” What do these villagers know of the wife of Gadai ? Gadai’s disciples are her children. It will be quite right for her to accept their invitation.” Encouraged by this venerable lady’s opinion, she went to ascertain the view of her own mother at Jayrambati. Syama-sundari Devi was not at first decisive, but after feeling the pulse of the village, gladly agreed to her daughter’s departure to Calcutta.
So after a stay of about nine months at Kamar-pukur, the Holy Mother was once again in Calcutta in April 1888 to the infinite joy of the devotees, especially of the women disciples of Sri Ramakrishna, who were feeling the need for the fostering care of some one to help the growth of their devotional life.
The disciples of the Master now began to feel that the responsibility of looking after the Holy Mother s comforts thereafter rested on them. It must, however, be pointed out that among the householder devotees of the Master, there were some who did not think very highly of the Holy Mother at first and held that women devotees were making too much of her because she was of their own sex. One of them is actually said to have remarked, ” I know Sri Rama-krishna, but I know nothing of his wife” But hearing from Swami Yogananda, Golap-Ma and Yogin-Ma about the high spiritual moods they witnessed in her at Brindavan and other places, most of them changed their view. They now did their best to keep her in comfort, but the main responsibility of looking after her fell on Swami Yogananda and Golap-Ma until finally Swami Saradananda, by his single-handed exertion, made permanent arrangement for her comfortable stay and maintenance.
The Holy Mother’s life from now (1888) till her final exit from the world in 1920 centres round the series of journeys she periodically undertook from Calcutta to her native village of Jayrambati and back, and her time, it would appear, was almost equally divided between these two places. Until 1909, when the Udbodhan Office at Baghbazar, Calcutta, was constructed by Swami Saradananda for her residence, she used to be accommodated in rented houses whenever her stay in Calcutta was long, and in the houses of devotees like Balaram Babu and Master Mahashay when it was of short duration. It was during this period, probably in 1893, when she was staying in Nilambar Mukherji’s garden* that she performed the austerity known as the Panchatapa.1
This period of her life was also the time of her active spiritual ministry. No doubt it had in a sense begun with the initiation of Swami Yogananda in Brindavan, but it grew into the most important function of her life only after her return from Kamarpukur.
Indeed, her own spiritual genius had by this time reached its fullest manifestation, thus fitting her to continue the Master’s work of awakening the spiritual
1 Panchatapa means ‘ austerity of the five fires ‘ The aspirant lights four fires on four sides, and with the sun burning overhead, he practises prayer and meditation.
The Holy Mother seems to have performed this in order ro get rid of some kind of psychic disturbance. During her days at Kamarpukur she used to see the figure of a girl of eleven or twelve years moving about her constantly. Sometimes the figure was of a Sannyasin wdth a beard, who insisted that she should perform Panchatapa. Whatever the exact nature of the vision, she consulted Yogin-Ma about it and both of them together decided to perform Panchatapa. About her practice of this austerity, the Holy Mother said, ” Fires were made on four sides with cow-dung cakes, and there was the intense heat of the sun above. After finishing bath in the morning I came near the fire and saw it burning brightly. I was seized with much fear. I wondered how I could enter the place and sit there until sunset. Then as I sat there repeating the name of the Master. I found that the fire had no heat. I practised it for seven days. It made my complexion dark like ash. After that I did not again see that figure of the little girl or of the Sannyasin
consciousness of others. On her return from Kamar-pukur. her intimate companions like Yogin-Ma noticed that she had become remarkably indrawn, and that a rare loveliness that was not of this earth was radiating from her face. They had occasion to witness even more tangible signs of her spiritual power during her stay at Calcutta in 1888. Yogin-Ma records that she found her in the state of Samadhi while meditating on the roof of Balaram Babu’s house. Describing her experience in that state, the Holy Mother said to Yogin-Ma, ” I found in that state that I had travelled into a distant country. Everybody there was very affectionate to me. My beauty was beyond description. Sri Ramakrishna also was there. With great tenderness they made me sit by his side. I cannot describe to you the nature of that ecstatic joy. When my mind came down from that exalted mood, I found my body lying there. I thought, ‘ How could I possibly enter into this ugly body ? ‘ I could not at all persuade my mind to do so. After a long while, it did, and the body became conscious again.”
Another day she was meditating in the house of Nilambar Mukherji along with Yogin-Ma and Golap-Ma. After finishing her meditation, Yogin-Ma looked at the Mother and found her seated motionless as before, absorbed in deep meditation. It took a long time for her mind to come down to physical consciousness, and when it actually regained traces of it, she began to say, ” O Yogin, where are my hands? Where are my feet? ” Yogin~Ma pressed her limbs and said to her, ” Why, Mother, here are your hands and here your feet.” Still it took her considerable time to become conscious of her whole body.
These experiences of hers show how her mind could at will transcend the body-consciousness. The second experience described above is interpreted by many as the Nirvikalpa Samadhi.
She had also another unique vision about this time. She saw Sri Ramakrishna getting down into the Ganges and his whole body dissolving into the sacred waters of that river. Nurendra (Swami Vivekananda) was taking that water and sprinkling it on innumerable people with the cry, ” Glory unto Ramakrishna!” The vision created so vivid an impression on her mind that for long she felt hesitation in stepping into the Ganges with which the Master’s body had become one. It also helped to fill her mind with a sense of purpose in life, which she seemed to have lost after the Master’s demise. She now felt convinced that physical death did not mean discontinuity of life for the Master. He lived in his mission and he worked through tiiose whom he made his instruments in its fulfilment. As one of the principal persons whom he had commissioned with the responsibilities of the future, she felt her life was meant to serve a great purpose.
This vision of hers synchronized more or less with the inauguration of the great preaching activities of Swami Vivekananda, and was symbolic of the wide dissemination in future of the spiritual power that the Master had brought into this world. It may also be noted in passing that with this impetus given by Swami Vivekananda to the spread of the Master’s message, her own part in the propagation of it became increasingly patent; for large numbers of people began to flock to her for initiation and advice, and she became the centre of attraction for spiritual aspirants hailing from different parts of the world. But before taking up the subject of her spiritual ministry, it is necessary to consider another phase of her life that runs parallel to it, namely, .her dealings with the members of her family.