GLIMPSES OF HER PERSONALITY
THE Holy Mother was about medium height and quite well-built for an Indian woman. In her early days she was not stout, but towards middle age she showed a tendency to corpulency, as women often do. But as she grew older, she again became slim, and it was in that period that most of the devotees had occasion to meet her. In her complexion and general appearance, too, there was a marked difference between her early and later days. On being questioned about her appearance in her youth, she described it as quite pretty. It is said that when she returned to Calcutta from Kamarpukur for the first time after the Master’s passing away, Swami Pre-mananda’s mother was very much struck by her prepossessing appearance and asked her, ” Mother, wherefrom did you get such exquisite beauty and charm ? ” Surabala. her insane sister-in-law, used to say that when she saw her first, she would appear radiant as she sat in meditation. But this was in her ‘ pre-Radhu ‘ days, when she used to be in highly exalted spiritual states and spend all her time in meditation and devotional practices. After the coming of
Radhu, when, to quote the Mother’s own words, ‘ Maya laid her hands on her ‘,such external expressions of her inner beauty ceased altogether.
When most of her disciples saw her, she was in a declining state of health owing to age and frequent attacks of malaria. Her general appearance had by then deteriorated to a great extent. Her complexion at that time was somewhat dark, but even then there was in it a mellowness and subdued glow, lending an exquisite grace to her form. A monk who saw her at the age of forty describes her as having the delicacy and tenderness of a maiden in her countenance, as speaking only words of sympathy and compassion, as possessing an inexpressible celestial luminosity in her looks, and as conveying to one and all the impression that she was one’s own mother. It was in fact a subtle grace and quiet dignity, rather than any extraordinary physical beauty or awe-inspiring majesty of form, that marked her out from others. But this was evident only on careful scrutiny, and owing to her plain looks and unassuming manners, a superficial observer unacquainted with her could never pick her out from the company of other women. Once, while she was in Banaras, a Marwari woman came to see her. She was then seated with Golap-Ma who had a rather imposing appearance. The woman took Golap-Ma to be the Holy Mother and went towards her to make pros tration. She thereupon pointed out the Mother to her, but the Mother, out of a spirit of mischievous fun, directed her to Golap-Ma as the saintly woman she was seeking. Golap-Ma once more showed the Mother to her, but the Mother was bent on misdirecting her once again. This went on a few times until Golap-Ma called out to the woman in an excited tone, ” Can’t you distinguish between a mere human face and the face of a divine being ? ” These words at once drew the woman’s attention to that subtle and elusive charm in the Mother’s face – to that gentle dignity and incorporeal beauty which we associate with the expression of Gods and Goddesses. Indeed, only comparisons drawn from the conception of divine agencies can adequately convey an idea of the sublime expressiveness in the lines and curves of the face of one, whose whole life had been dedicated to the pursuit of holiness and the practice of forbearance, innocence and loving service.
This combination of gentleness, dignity and grace gave her that maternal pose which no one who went to her failed to notice. It inspired reverence in one’s mind without creating the least sense of inaccessibility. One felt the utmost freedom in her company, but one also got a feeling of elevation and an apprehension that one was before a presence that was something more than merely human. Many a person who went to her with a list of questions felt no inclination to ask them when they were actually before her; for they found their doubts dissolving in the sense of peace and exaltation that her presence conveyed. To restore faith and courage in the wavering, to inspire confidence in the weak, to disperse the clouds of despair and depression, were powers which her personality always carried with it. But all this was not done by any sort of aggressive influence, such as we associate with a militant personality. It was more through that sense of consolation which the loving touch of a mother conveys to an ailing child. For even the most wicked disciple felt that he was near and dear to her, that she had no eye to his failings, that there was no error too grievous for her forgiveness, and that if he would but open his heart, her overflowing sympathy and assurance of divine protection would heal the wounds of his soul. When she was requested not to allow a certain young disciple to come to her presence on account of some misconduct on his part, she remarked, ” If my child gets covered with mud or dust, is it not my duty to cleanse him and take him on my lap ? ” When a woman who had led a bad life went to her in a mood of sincere repentance and made an unreserved confession of her sins, she embraced her with great warmth of feeling, uttering these words of assurance, ” Don’t despair for whatever you have done. You will get over all your sinful tendencies.” She also gave initiation to that woman.
A unique feature of her maternal love was its constitutional disinclination to notice the faults of others. In this respect she combined in herself the nature of a loving mother and that of an innocent child – the mother in her making her too big-hearted to count the errors of her children as of any significance, and the child in her insulating her vision from the perception of evil by her utter innocence. We have already referred to her prayer at Brindavan to have the fault-finding tendency blotted out from her. Her prayer was literally answered. For it is said that even if any action proceeding from the littleness of men happened to meet her eyes as she passed by, her gaze, with its characteristic innocence, as of a little girl, would take no notice of it. Golap-Ma was once scolding a maidservant. When the Holy Mother asked her the reason for it, she said in a pique, ” Mother, what is the good of telling you ? You cannot see the defects of others.” To this the Mother replied in a mild voice, ” Well, Golap, there is no want of people to see the faults of others. The world will not come to a standstill if I am otherwise.” The secret of that tremendous patience and forgiveness which she displayed in her dealings with her kinsfolk and disciples was this combination of motherliness and childlike innocence in her character It has been repeatedly emphasized that the Holy Mother’s life and personality form a striking revelation of the universal principle of Motherhood. The expression of this quality in her was not restricted to her relationship with her disciples and relatives. It extended in a general sense to her attitude towards all. Her heart was very sensitive to the woes and sufferings of those round about her, and, as she herself said, she often lost herself in compassion. No one in distress went to her without being helped with food, clothing or money according to her capacity.
In Jayrambati there was a woman named ‘ Bhavani’s mother ‘ who had none to look after her in her old age and sickness. She found a refuge in the Holy Mother, and it was she who looked after her till death.
There was another woman in her village belonging to the Banerji family, who was suffering from a foul cancer in the ear. Everyone including her kith and kin avoided her. Her pitiable condition came to the Holy Mother’s notice, and when a young disciple from the Koalpara Ashram went to visit her one day, she reported the matter to him with much feeling. At this the disciple suggested that he would like to take the patient to the Koalpara Ashram for nursing. The Holy Mother was thrilled with joy to hear this, but the next moment she controlled herself and told him that he could take her there only with the permission of the president of that Ashram. So the disciple went to Koalpara and came Backnext day with a cart, after getting the necessary permission. He noticed that on seeing his arrival for taking away the woman, the Holy Mother’s face was lit up with an expression of joy and exaltation that he had never seen in any other face. That day he had a glimpse of what is meant by disinterested love.
The Holy Mother also evinced keen interest in the flood and famine relief operations of the Ramakrishna Mission, and always encouraged her disciples to co-operate in such activities. Whenever anyone returned from relief work, she would make detailed enquiries about the sufferings of the people and the extent of the relief given. Her heart was always moved by stories of human suffering.
Her motherly love obliterated every vestige of the vanity of position from her, and endowed her with a readiness to do even menial service to others, and silently forgo her own comforts and conveniences so as to save trouble for others. It has already been seen how self-forgetful she was in the service of her disciples and relatives. Once Akshay Kumar Sen, a disciple of hers and the author of the metrical biography of Sri Ramakrishna, entitled Ramakrishna Punthi, sent some vegetables to Jayrambati with a coolie woman. As it was evening when she arrived, she was allowed to spend the night at the Mother’s house. Being a malarial patient, she got at night high fever with vomiting. Before others had got up, the Holy Mother went into her room early in the morning and saw the place scattered with the vomit. At once she herself removed the dirt and washed the room with water. There were others in the house to do this work, but she knew that they would scold the woman severely and she wanted to save her from it.
At Jayrambati a disciple once noticed that the Holy Mother was removing her bed into the kitchen during nights. On enquiry he learnt from her that she had been doing so for some days past, as she found her room too uncomfortable. Though the Holy Mother asked him not to worry about it, the disciple went into her room and found the cot and other things full of bugs. Immediately he set himself to cleaning them. He was, however, astonished to note that the Holy Mother had never told anybody about it, because she preferred herself to be inconvenienced rather than trouble others for her sake.
It was not only the erring and the sinful that found consolation in her love, but even those who were held in dread by society for their wickedness. None was excluded from her motherly sympathy. When her house at Jayrambati was being built, they employed a number of Mohammedans of a neighbouring village as labourers. Originally their profession was to rear silkworms, but owing to foreign competition they were thrown out of employment, and they turned to robbing and dacoity as their means of livelihood. So when they were employed for the construction of the Holy Mother’s house, there was regular consternation among the villagers. But afterwards they remarked that through the Mother’s grace even these dacoits turned into devotees. Actually, one day one of these Mohammedans brought her some bananas and said.,” Mother, I have brought these for the Master. Would you accept them ? ” The Holy Mother accepted the offering very gladly. A lady devotee who was standing by thereupon told her, ” I know these people are thieves. Why do you accept their things for the Master ? ” She replied to her in a solemn tone, ” I know who is good and who is bad.’
Among these Mohammedans, there was one named Amjed whom the Mother took into her house for a meal. He was seated in the verandah and Nalini, her niece, was serving him. Owing to caste scruples, Nalini was standing at a little distance from him and throwing the various items of food into his plate. At this the Holy Mother remarked, ” If you serve a person in this way, can he eat with relish? You give the things to me, I shall serve him.” After he had finished eating, the Holy Mother herself washed the place where he had taken food. Nalini was shocked at this and exclaimed, ” O aunt, you are going to lose caste.” The Holy Mother snubbed her with the remark, ” Keep quiet. Even this Amjed is my son, exactly in the sense that Sarat (Swami Sarada-nanda) is!”
Even this example does not represent the limit of her all-embracing love. For in spite of her upbringing in a very restricted environment, her maternal instinct led her to a level of thought which would not allow any considerations of race or country to interfere with the free play of her universal love. Once, during the time of the Durga
Puja, she asked a disciple to purchase some cloth for the children of her brothers. He purchased only cloth of Indian make, but the women of the family did not approve of it and made suggestions as to what they wanted. The disciple, out of patriotic feeling, replied in an excited voice, ” But what you want are all foreign cloth. How can I buy them ? ” The Holy Mother was present there. She said with a smile, ” My child, they (the Western people) too are my children. I must accommodate everyone. Can I ever be exclusive ? Buy the things they want.”
1 Later on this disciple noticed that whenever she wanted foreign goods, she would not ask him to procure them. She would send someone else. For she always respected others’ sentiments. Besides, this shows that she approved of the nationalistic spirit: only it was too narrow for her who was the mother of all.
But she did feel terrible indignation at some of the highhanded acts of certain police officers in suppressing the nationalist movement. Once two young women of the District, who were expectant mothers, were arrested on suspicion and made to walk a long distance to the police station. The news agitated the Mother very much, and with great indignation she said, ” Is this due to the Government orders, or to the ingenuity of the police official ? We had never heard of such oppression of innocent women in the times of the good Queen Victoria. (Like many people of the old generation, the Holy Mother seems to have been an admirer of Queen Victoria to whose rule she referred now and then.) If this has been done under the orders of the Government, the sin of this unrighteous act will tell on them. Were there no men near by to rescue the poor girls ? ” Shortly after, she was glad to hear the news that the women were released.
For the information of those who favour the extensive use of home-made cloth, we may also mention here that she wanted some disciples to start a weaving factory instead of merely crying out patriotic slogans. She herself expressed a desire to spin if she could get a spinning wheel.
This was not a mere passing sentiment with her, but a conviction which she used to reiterate whenever occasion arose. When the disciples spoke to her about many people in the West accepting Sri Ramakrishna’s teachings after Swami Viveka-nanda visited those parts, she would remark, ” Those people are also my children. What do you say ? ” In later days Western devotees like Sister Nivedita, Mrs. Ole Bull, Sister Christine, Sister Devamata and others came to India from time to time. In spite of her early training amidst rigidly orthodox surroundings, she mixed with them all very intimately, at times even eating and sleeping with them in the same room.
Indeed, this breaking of the bonds of caste consciousness was another achievement of her maternal consciousness. She was not a breaker of caste in the manner of social reformers. For it was never her intention to give a violent shock to anyone by breaking long-established traditions. What happened was that before her maternal love the impediment of narrow rules and restrictions automatically gave way. We have already seen how in the case of the Mohammedan labourer and Western devotees she broke the rules of caste. Often she would place articles of food from her plate in the hands of disciples of a lower caste and continue to eat without washing her hands. There have been occasions when she offered to the Master rice cooked by non-Brahmin disciples and partook of it herself. Even the so-called untouchable castes were not excluded from the pale of her liberality. Once at Jayrambati a sweeper brought her a straw-ring for supporting water jars. She asked him to keep it in the verandah of the house. But her sister-in-law, who had strong caste prejudices, began to make a fuss and abuse the man for touching things belonging to their house. The Holy Mother, however, consoled the man, saying that he had done nothing wrong, and also gave him some pice for refreshments. Such conduct on the part of a high-class Brahmin lady of her position was in those days considered sacrilegious from the point of view of strict caste etiquette. Her all-embracing heart, however, broke the bonds of these restrictions, but not as a deliberate revolt against established social conventions or in an attitude of contempt towards them.
The spirit of motherhood thus shone through the various phases of her life and character. In fact, her whole life is a revelation of this cosmic principle, wherein humanity and divinity meet, Man s highest conception of God can only be in terms of the noblest sides of his nature. Hence motherhood – which marks the peak of human character in the achievement of love, forgiveness, selflessness and service – has rightly been held as the perfect symbol of Divinity. To those of the present generation, the Holy Mother is the most illustrious example of the expression of this principle in human terms, and as such they may see in her an embodiment of
Divinity. In the light of this explanation one can understand the import of her words, ” Sri Rama-krishna left me behind to manifest the Motherhood of God to the world.” Once a monastic disciple told her, ” Mother, after having seen you, people will no more respect the various Goddesses.” Her significant reply was, ” Why not ? They are all my parts.”
Another very striking feature of her personality was her reverence for what she called the ‘ Master (i.e. Sri Ramakrishna), to her the equivalent of God as man. It has already been mentioned how, during the lifetime of Sri Ramakrishna, he formed the centre of all her thought and activity. Even after his physical disappearance, a sense of his presence as a living, palpitating reality continued to be the groundwork of her earthly consciousness. It has been pointed out before that the Master appeared to her in a vision and told her that death for him meant only passing from one room to another. She had verification of this fact in the visions she had of him and in the help and guidance she received from him at all times of crises in her life.
This experience of hers was not a mere subjective feeling, but a fact guaranteed by other objective considerations. She had heard from the Master himself, as recorded in her conversations, that even after his passing, he would continue to live in his subtle body in the hearts of his devotees for three hundred years to come, after which he would appear on earth once again. This statement has to be understood in the light of the fact that the Master was not an ordinary soul born on earth to reap the fruits of his own Karma, or to attain personal salvation, but a Divine Incarnation come to fulfil the need of humanity for a new guide and helper in its spiritual struggle. An Incarnation therefore does not pass out of the sphere of the cosmic scheme when his physical body perishes, as an ordinary enlightened soul (Mukta-purusha) does at death. The Incarnation survives in his subtle body and continues to serve as a medium for the expression of Divine mercy, of which his personality is an embodiment. He continues to do so until he takes another physical embodiment, inaugurating a new age in the life of mankind. Those who serve the cause of the Incarnation and commune with him in sincere devotion and self-surrender, can contact his personality and receive his protection and guidance in their spiritual strivings. The sense of presence which the Holy Mother had with regard to Sri Ramakrishna is only an illustration of this truth.
The Master’s presence was a reality to her in a very intimate sense. One found this from the way in which she did his daily worship and offering, which had a uniqueness of its own. Her worship looked more like the actual service of the Master and direct communion with him rather than a ritualistic procedure. In fact she employed no rituals at all. The things for offering, such as flowers, sandal paste and fruits were all prepared either by herself or someone else. She was very particular that this was done with scrupulous neatness and precision, exactly as one would do for the reception of a living person. Her actual worship consisted only in placing the flowers before the Master with loving devotion and in meditating for a while, which took in all about half an hour.
It was the way in which she made the food offering that, more than anything else, conveyed a sense of her intimate perception of the Master. After arranging the food, she would address the Master as one would a living person, and say, ” Please come and take your food.” At Jayrambati she was often heard to tell the Master on the Jagaddhatri Puja days, ” O Lord, finish your meal a little quickly today. I have to attend the Jagaddhatri Puja.” This behaviour of hers would be puzzling until it is understood that she actually used to visualize the Master partaking of the food. She used to say that he took it in three ways. Either he actually partook of the offering, or a ray of light from his forehead touched the food, or he only indicated his acceptance without actually partaking of the food. Never would she be satisfied until she found the Master accepting the food, and no food would she herself take unless it was accepted by him.
A remarkable example of this took place when she was once invited by a family of devotees at Calcutta, well-known among the followers of Sri Ramakrishna. Though devoted, the reputation of that family was not all clean. Now, when the Holy Mother went there, she was requested to offer cooked food to the Master in the family shrine. Being very much pressed, she agreed to do so. But as she said later on, she found the Master reluctant to accept the food; for he could accept no food other than what came from pure souls. Finally, after much prayer, he just touched a bit of the Payasa (a kind of porridge) to his tongue. That day the Holy Mother was observed not to eat anything from the rich variety of dishes served to her. With some difficulty she swallowed a little Payasa. For she could not bring herself to eat anything that the Master had not taken.
Even when she travelled long distances, she would not take food without offering it to the Master. She would break the journey at some convenient place, cook the food, offer it to the Master and then partake of it. A striking event, illustrative of her non-ceremonial devotion and living contact with the Master, took place once on her way to Jayrambati. Arrangements had been made for cooking rice in an earthen pot. But in the act of getting the pot down, it dropped from a disciple’s hand and broke, throwing its contents out. All were perplexed as to what they would offer that noon, but not the Holy Mother. She gathered the clean rice from the top layers, and offered it to the Master, saying, ” O Lord, you must be satisfied with this to-day.” She knew that the Lord she worshipped was a living presence, one near and dear to her, who did not stand by any ceremonial consideration.
Another instance, illustrating how the Master was a living presence to her, will not be out of place. In the procedure of worship followed at the Udbodhan Office, it was customary to pick the best of the offered flowers, remove the water from them and decorate the photograph of the Master with them when he was put to sleep. One day, while the Holy Mother was taking rest in the afternoon, she dreamt that the Master had got up from bed and was on the floor. Surprised at this, she woke up, approached the Master’s bed, and saw the photograph covered with ants. Evidently the ants had come from the flowers, and her dream indicated that they disturbed the rest of him who was a living presence to her. Thenceforth she instructed the Swami who assisted in the shrine to dispense with the decoration.
To all those who went to her in a mood of repentance or with true spiritual aspiration, she conveyed a little of her vivid sense of the Master’s presence. She assured the Master’s grace and protection to them, and helped to create in them a conviction of the same. But she claimed no power for herself. To her the Master was everything, and she was his humble instrument. She had obliterated herself in him. So also, never by word or action did she convey the slightest trace of self-assertion with regard to him. She had no idea that her earthly relation with him gave her any special claim on him. He was the same to all, and devotion was the only condition of realizing his presence.
Closely allied to this self-dedication to the Master was another group of qualities which produced in her an utter absence of the ego. In every great spiritual personage there is an inward consciousness of his power, accompanied always by an unaffected feeling of humility. The Holy Mother was a unique combination of these. There were moments when, under the influence of higher moods or by way of confiding some secret to a devoted disciple, she would speak of her higher nature and of her divinity. In such moments she would compare herself to Lakshmi, the divine consort of Narayana, speak of herself as the Mother of all beings, or admit her capacity to confer liberation on any one. But very often, as soon as such statements came out of her mouth, she would change the topic and try to give the impression that they were slips of the tongue. For, unlike ordinary people, who want to appear much bigger than what they are, her tendency was always to hide her own greatness and appear as a common person. When anybody spoke of her, in her presence, as a divine being, she would at once stop such flattering words and say with the utmost sincerity that she was what she was, only because the Master had given her shelter at his feet. The veil with which she always hid her face in public seemed to be symbolic of this more profound veil of modesty with which she loved to hide her own towering greatness. It was for this reason that Sri Ramakrishna in fun likened her to a cat that loved to hide its real colour with ashes.
As in spiritual gifts, so was she great in her intellectual qualities. Though uneducated in the modern sense, she was the heir to a great culture by both birth and training, and her extensive travels, varied contacts and experience in administration, both spiritual and secular, endowed her with a broad outlook refined manners and penetrating intelligence. Thus the stateliness of her courtesy and the openness of her mind were almost as wonderful as her sainthood. Sister Nivedita observed in her an ‘ instant power to penetrate a new religious feeling or idea ,’ which she must have cultivated by her contact with Sri Ramakrishna. When Easter music was sung before her by the Sister and another Western devotee, she evinced swift comprehension and deep sympathy with those resurrection-hymns, unimpeded by any foreignness or unfamiliarity in them. Again when the same disciples described a European wedding to her, she was exceedingly delighted on hearing the marriage vow ” For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health – till death us do part “, and characterized them as ” Dharmic words, righteous words! “
Her intelligence also was equally remarkable. She could grasp complicated situations with the utmost ease and arrive at sound judgments with extreme swiftness. An example of this has already been seen in the way in which she responded when the Master tested her by asking her to accept the ten thousand rupees offered by the devotee, Lakshminarain. The following incident furnishes another example. One day when the Master was going to a religious festival at Panihati, a few miles from Dakshineswar, with some devotees, the Master inquired through Yogin-Ma if the Holy Mother desired to accompany, adding that she might come if she liked. At once she understood that he had some reservation in his mind and did not join the party. Later on the Master spoke highly of her intelligence in having divined his thought; for he feared that if light-hearted people saw them together on the scene of the festival, they would sarcastically remark, “Look there, the ‘ Hamsa ‘ and the ‘ Hamsi (female swan) ‘ are going.”
In later days a disciple who was conducting a charitable dispensary complained to her, ” Even people with means come to our dispensary for medicine, though it is meant only for the poor. Should we give medicine to those who have resources ? ” After a minute’s reflection she replied, ” My child, all are poor in this part of the country. If, even after knowing the object of your dispensary, people go there begging for medicine, you should supply it, provided you have the resources. Any one who begs is poor.”
Once the head of the Koalpara Ashram complained to the Holy Mother that he no longer had control over his workers because they had learnt to think for themselves, and moreover, when they went to her or to Swami Saradananda, they received every attention and nice food. And he requested her to send them Backto him with proper instruction. At this she replied, ” How foolishly you talk ! Our essential point is love. It is through love alone that the spiritual family of Sri Ramakrishna has grown and developed. Besides, I am their mother. So how could you criticize in my presence the way in which they were fed and clothed ? Alas, how much did I weep and pray to the Master for my children ! That is why you find everywhere Ashrams and monasteries through his blessings. After the passing away of the Master his disciples renounced the world, found a temporary shelter and for a few days lived together. Then one by one they went out independently and began to roam hither and thither. That made me very sad. I prayed to the Master, saying, ‘ O Lord, you have been embodied in human form, and you spent the period of your earthly existence with a few disciples. Now has everything ended with your passing away ? In that case, what need was there for your embodiment entailing so much suffering ? I have seen in Brindavan and Banaras so many holy men living on alms and having the shades of trees for shelter. There is no lack of Sadhus (holy men) of that type. I cannot bear to see my children, who have renounced all for your sake, wandering about for a morsel of food. It is my prayer, O Lord, that those who give up the world for your sake may not suffer for want of simple food and coarse clothing. It is also my prayer that my children should live together, clinging to you and your teachings, and people afflicted with the sufferings of the world should come to them and get peace of mind by hearing from them your words. That is why you incarnated yourself in a human form. My mind becomes restless, seeing my children roam about here and there.” This remarkable reply shows what an insight she had into the secret of administering the monastic organization of Sri Ramakrishna, and what important part she played in its formation quite unknown to others. Many more such instances of her intelligence will be found in the ‘ Conversations ‘ forming the second part of this book.
She had also a very large reserve of courage and resourcefulness, which no one would at first credit her with. Her general bashfulness and motherly tenderness hid these qualities of hers, and it was only when critical situations in life faced her that she would allow this side of her nature to show itself. These qualities became manifest in a remarkable manner in connection with the ‘ robber father ‘ episode. To cite another instance: Once when she was staying at Jayrambati, Girish Chandra Ghosh went to see her with the intention of taking Sannyasa with her consent, but the Mother, in very mild terms, refused him permission. Girish, however,would not accept the verdict so easily. He began to argue his case vehemently for about half an hour, and as he was a man of great mental powers and violent emotions, his pleadings were likely to demolish the resolution of any ordinary person. But the Holy Mother, in spite of all her apparent mildness, had the nerve to stand them and stick to her conviction.
Another incident of the same type occurred in connection with a mishap that befell Swami Viveka-nanda. While travelling in Kashmir the Swami was cursed by a Mohammedan fakir who was displeased with him, because a disciple of his had contracted an admiration for the Swami. The curse had its effect. The Swami felt very much mortified at this, especially thinking that Sri Ramakrishna could not protect him from a fakir’s black magic. When he next met the Holy Mother, the Swami told her about these happenings. He was in a fit of pique, and as he represented his grievance against the Master on this account, his face flushed, and he became very excited and vehement. The Holy Mother, however, did not lose her presence of mind. She calmly consoled him, saying, ,’ Well, my child, we read that even Sankaracharya suffered from the effects of a similar curse. It is all the same whether the ailment occurs to your body or to that of the Master. Moreover, the Master did not come to destroy anything; he came only to fulfil. He had respect for all forms of knowledge, and believed even in omens.”
The most remarkable manifestation of her courage and presence of mind, however, took place during her Kamarpukur days, when she was attacked by a devotee of the Master named Harish who had turned-insane. To describe the incident in her own words : ” Harish was then staying at Kamarpukur for a few days. One day, when I was entering the house after visiting a neighbour, he began to chase me. He was then in a distracted state of mind. He had lost his senses on account of his wife. There was then no one else in the house. I did not know where to go and ran quickly behind the barn. He would not, however, leave me. I ran and ran round it seven times till I got exhausted. Then my true self came out. I threw him to the ground, pressed my knee on his chest, drew out his tongue and slapped him hard on the cheeks until my fingers became red with slapping. He began to gasp for breath.’1 Thus her mild and motherly personality had unsuspected potentialities within it.
The Holy Mother was thus endowed with diverse qualities of head and heart which would have made one great in any situation. Her greatness, however, consisted not so much in being so gifted, which many others, too, could be, but in keeping herself above
1 This event is sometimes given a supernatural interpretation. Whatever that. be. the fact is that she defended herself in a very dangerous situation with remarkable presence of mind. Thus her conception of motherliness and womanly modesty did not exclude the cultivation of resourcefulness and power of self-defence by women. This is an object-lesson to modern Indian women in their present state of utter weakness.
the vanity attendant on it. Besides, she was being literally worshipped by hundreds as a veritable embodiment of divinity, and many distinguished monks and citizens of Calcutta were at her beck and call. All the great Sannyasin disciples of Sri Ramakrishna held her in reverence. They were all men of high culture and spiritual attainments. Yet when they were to take any decisive step in their life, or in the management of affairs, they considered the Holy Mother’s opinion to be of the highest importance. Even Swami Vivekananda decided on his visit to the West only after he had ascertained her view. Swami Premananda would regard a word from her as a divine command and obey it implicitly. It was noticed that when Swami Brahmananda went to her, his frame would shiver with a high spiritual emotion.
Even Sannyasins who had no connection with the Ramakrishna Order and were utter strangers to her showed the highest reverence to the Holy Mother. Once a Dandi Sannyasin came to pay his respects to her. Now, Dandi Sannyasins are generally very orthodox. Excepting to their Gurus and men of their own rank, they do not show special regard to any other, much less to a woman. But this man, probably hailing from Western India, had come to Calcutta only to meet the Holy Mother. From some scriptural discussions he had at the Udbodhan Office, it also turned out that he was an erudite scholar who could speak fluently in Sanskrit and had a thorough grasp of the Vedanta and other systems of philosophy. When he was taken to the Mother’s presence, he approached her with great fervour to make prostrations. But she, with her characteristic humility and regard for Sannyasins, felt much embarrassed and requested him not to do so. In spite of it he prostrated himself before her, recited verses from the Saptasati in praise of her with great devotion, and prayed for her blessing here and hereafter. The Mother then asked a disciple to give some mangoes to the Sannyasin. Only three mangoes could be found in the store, and these were presented to him. When the Sannyasin had left her presence, she asked the disciple to search for more ripe mangoes as she wanted to give him more. The disciple got one more and took it to him. As he handed it over to him, he was astonished to hear the Sannyasin remark with great delight, ” Oh, I am very glad to receive this. At first when the Mother gave me three mangoes, I thought she gave me only the Trivargas – the three-fold ends of Dharma (virtue), Artha (wealth) and Kama (desire). Now I find she has given me also the fourth end – Moksha (liberation).”
But no amount of honour, praise, or worship elated her in the least. She was hardly conscious that all this was being done to her. To her spiritualized vision, all that was hers, or was due to her, went to the glorification of the Master and not of herself. Hence she always remained the innocent village maiden that she was when she tramped her way from Jayrambati to Calcutta – simple, unostentatious, guileless and ever ready to serve. But it must be noted that hers was no affected simplicity. For behind her virtues there was no trace of the ego. Just as a perfume manifests its fragrance and a fullblown lotus its beauty without any conscious effort -on their part, so did all her virtues, including her very simplicity, manifest themselves spontaneously.
To sum up, the three main strands that enter into the complex make-up of her personality are her motherliness, her absorption in the Master, and her artless simplicity which overshadowed her many gifts of both head and heart.
No picture of the Holy Mother’s personality can be complete without a brief account of her daily routine and habits. Whether she was at the Ud-bodhan Office or at Jayrambati, she invariably got up at 3 a.m., just as she used to do in her Dakshines-war days. As the first auspicious sight for the day, she would have a look at the Master’s photo in the shrine, which was also her living room wherever she was; for she never liked to be separated from him. She then prayed to the Master for leave to attend to her daily duties, and sat in her bed telling beads till about 6 o’clock when she woke up the Master and made the first offering. After this, if she were at Jayrambati, she would, as the mistress of the house, busy herself with cleaning the rooms and cutting vegetables for the day’s cooking. Devotees
noticed that she appeared specially affectionate and gracious as she sat cutting vegetables and conversing with them on various topics. So long as her health was good, she used also to take part in the more strenuous items of household work like scouring utensils, carrying water from the tank, and husking paddy. The arrangements for worship, such as cutting fruit and collecting flowers, were generally done by her personally, sometimes assisted by her nieces or devotees. Every day she made about a hundred rolls of betel. Between eight and nine she performed the worship and gave initiation to people, if there were any who desired it, and then distributed the offered fruits and sweets among the devotees and members of the house. She was very particular that the worship should be finished by ten at the latest, and she would become impatient if the monastic disciple to whom she entrusted the work at times, caused delay ; for it would then be too late for the devotees to take Prasada (consecrated food). After the worship she took her tiffin, which consisted of sugar-candy water and a little of the offerings, if any were left; for whenever she distributed them, she gave away everything without keeping anything for herself. She then went into the kitchen and relieved the cook who would then go to take tiffin and attend to her personal needs. Thus she would herself cook most of the things for the Master’s food offering. She had no objection to offer whatever was prepared for the day, but she took special delight in making those
dishes which the Master had particularly liked. The distinctive characteristic of her cooking was that she would use salt, spices and red pepper very sparingly. After 11 o’clock she finished her bath, and by half past twelve made the noon offering to the Master. All the members of the house then sat for food. In her earlier days the Holy Mother would serve food to all the devotees, and herself sit for the meal only after they had finished. As this habit delayed her meal-time considerably, she was later on persuaded to desist from it. She would, therefore, see that the devotees were seated and served, and then herself sit down for the meal. After the devotees got up she would send them her Prasada for which many of them would wait. It was generally a mixture of several things taken from her plate, and sometimes of milk and rice. She then conversed with the devotees for a while, and before 2 o’clock retired for her siesta.1
She was supposed to rest till 3 o’clock, after which she woke up the Master at about 4 p.m. Then she sat in a corner of the room doing Japa without rosary and talking with the devotees who went to see her. Towards the evening she came out and sat in the verandah. Sometimes she worked in the kitchen in the evening, too, in order to save the cook from over-work. At dusk, after doing the Aratrika, she took a bit of some offered sweets and reclined on
1 She cleaned her teeth four times a day with her favourite tooth powder made of burnt cocoanut leaves and tobacco leaves.
her bed in an indrawn mood, perhaps doing Japa. The last offering to the Master came off at 9 p.m., and half an hour later the devotees all sat for supper. At night the Mother took two or three pieces of Luchis, a little curry and a pint of milk. Before eleven she retired for the night.
At Calcutta also her routine of life continued to be almost the same. She used to take her bath a little earlier, for which purpose she went to the Ganges on alternate days, accompanied by Golap-Ma. Her physical work, too, was less, as Golap-Ma and Yogin-Ma looked after the household management. Sometimes in later days even the worship, excepting the offering of food, would be entrusted to some monastic disciple. But in spite of relief from regular duties, her life at Calcutta was much more strenuous; for devotees would go to her at all hours of the day for initiation, for getting their doubts cleared, or for unburdening their hearts. Even after 2 p.m., when she rested, quite a number of women devotees would gather round her ; for they had to return home by 4 or 4.30 p.m. The Holy Mother would, therefore, talk to them, lying in bed. In the afternoons, men devotees were allowed to see her after half past five, when the women assembled would be asked to retire to an adjoining room. As the men came in to make obeisance to her, the Holy Mother would be seated on the bedstead, her feet resting on the floor, her face veiled, and her whole body covered with a Chaddar (sheet). If any devotee made enquiries about her health or other matters, she would reply either in low tones or just by the movement of the head or hand. Those who had to ask her any questions waited till the others had gone out. If the devotee was intimately known to the Mother, she would directly answer his questions in a subdued voice. In case he was a stranger or was an elderly person, she would reply indirectly in very low tones, and the disciple attending on her would communicate the reply distinctly to him. On Tuesdays and Saturdays, as well as on special festive occasions, the public at large was allowed to approach her and make obeisance. They were generally very strenuous days for the Holy Mother.
She required very little food and sleep. She went to bed at about 11 p.m. and got up by 3 a.m. Sometimes on moonlit nights she would get up even earlier, thinking that her usual time had come. As mentioned before, she had three meals a day, but her breakfast and supper were very light. Owing to rheumatism, she used curd and cold things of that type very sparingly. Her main condiments consisted of thin soup of black lentil and poppy seeds roasted in a ladle. Among the things she liked were fried vegetables, preparations made of tender leaves of pulses, Sandesh of the less soft variety, and cakes soaked in syrup of sugar. In later days she used to take a kind of greens called Amrul, prescribed by the physicians as a precaution against dysentery. Of all eatables, she had a partiality for mangoes, curiously preferring those that had a tinge of sourness in them. Once a devotee purchased mangoes without tasting them, and when they were served at the dinner time, all found it impossible to take them. But everyone was surprised to hear the Mother remarking,” Ah ! these are fine mangoes. They are a little sour.”
In her dress the Holy Mother was very simple. She draped , her body with one long piece of cloth like all Bengali ladies of the old generation. She never used any frock, stitched garments, or footwear. Once a devotee presented a fine frock to her, but she used it only twice or thrice and then put it aside. As she was simple and guileless in nature, so was she plain and unsophisticated in food, dress and daily habits.