HER LATER LIFE
IT remains now to take a rapid survey of the main incidents of the Holy Mother’s life since she began to stay among the devotees in Calcutta from 1888. Her pilgrimages falling in this period, as also the several small incidents of her daily life revealing phases of her character and personality, have already been dealt with, and only a few noteworthy events of her later life remain to be recorded.
On the 12th of November, 1898, the day of the annual Kali Puja, she paid her first visit 1 to the monastery at Belur that was being built by Swami Vivckananda after his return from the West. The buildings were probably nearing completion then, but the installation in the monastic shrine had not yet taken place. It has already’ been mentioned how the Holy Mother’s heart felt very sorry that her monastic children had neither a fixed abode nor sufficient food, and how she prayed to the Master that they might be provided with both. The sight
of the new monastery must, therefore, have gladdened her beyond measure. On the day of her visit, she herself swept and washed a room in the Math and performed the worship, installing her own picture of the Master.
The new buildings of the Math were completed by December, 1898. On the 9th December Swami Vivekananda carried the relics of the Master on his own head to the new Math at Belur, where he installed them and performed worship and Homa for solemnizing the occasion. The new monastery came to be occupied by the monks early next year, and in. the October of 1901 Swami Vivekananda had the Durga Puja celebrated on a grand scale at the new Math. The occasion was memorable in the annals of the Math, both because it was the first worship of that type to be done there, and because the Holy Mother was present on all the five days of worship, which was done in her name.
The year 1898 and 1899 were in certain respects years of joy for the Holy Mother, for these marked the construction of the permanent Math building for her monastic children at Belur. But this period was also noted for the sad bereavements she had to suffer in quick succession. As noted before it was towards the middle of 1899 that the youngest and most beloved of her brothers, Abhay Charan, met with premature death, leaving behind tremendous domestic responsibilities for the Holy Mother to shoulder. A little earlier, on the 28th March of the same year, had passed away Swami Yogananda, one of the most illustrious of Sri Rama-krishna’s monastic disciples and the Holy Mother’s attendant and guardian for the past twelve years. His death left the Holy Mother so disconsolate that it affected even her health.
In fact, the Swami, as already mentioned, was among the earliest of her disciples, and had accompanied her to Brindavan and to Kamarpukur. After his return from those places, he subjected himself to austerities at Banaras. In those days he took a vow of possessing no money, and all his time, except two or three hours of sleep, was devoted to meditation. To reduce the time spent on procuring food, he would collect a number of Chapatis by begging once in three or four days, keep them tied up in a cloth, and take a portion of them powdered every day. This rigorousness told upon his delicate health. He got a severe attack of dysentery and had to return to the Math. He was very emaciated, but his face looked healthy and luminous. His eyes, indrawn and reddish in tinge, resembled the ‘ divine eye ‘ described by Sri Ramakrishna, and in spite of his physical ailments, he remained always witty and jovial. At Calcutta he generally stayed in Balaram Babu’s house, as he got better facilities for diet there. Whenever the Holy Mother came to Calcutta, he attended on her. He then stayed in a room at the entrance of her house, did all the outdoor work connected with her establishment, received gifts from the devotees for her, admitted visitors according to her convenience, and did everything to make her stay comfortable. Even when he was seriously ill, he continued to do this service to the Mother. He passed away prematurely, leaving the Holy Mother to bemoan his death with an intensity of sorrow which few earthly mothers are capable of.2 She is said to have remarked in her sorrow, ” Now one brick has fallen from the building ; the others will follow’
In later days the Holy Mother used to speak of him thus: ” No one loved me like Yogen. If any one gave him eight annas, he would put it aside, saying,
‘ Mother may need it for a pilgrimage.’ He attended on me constantly. The other disciples of the Master therefore used to tease him for staying among women.”
Again the years 1905 and 1906 were rendered unhappy for the Holy Mother by the sad loss of several close relatives and the consequent devolution of more heavy family responsibilities on her. In April 1905 her uncle Nilmadhav who was living under her care in his old age, passed away. She engaged herself unsparingly in nursing this uncle who was very dear to her. Nilmadhav’s death was followed very shortly by that of a sister-in-law, the wife of her brother Prasanna. The lady, who was staying with the Holy Mother at Jayrambati, had a sudden attack of what looked like cholera. There was no medical aid available in the village and she died in a few hours, attended only by the Holy Mother. She left behind two very young girls, Nalini and Maku, who had thenceforth to be looked after by the Holy Mother. Along with Radhu they became the Holy Mother’s charge, and we find them always as members of her household.
Crowning all these bereavements came the death of her own dear mother, Syamasundari Devi, endearingly called ‘ grandmother ‘ by devotees. Aged about seventy, she had seen all the ups and downs of life, and had played her part heroically even when faced with utter poverty and destitution. She had lived to see her daughter Sarada rising in people’s estimation, from the wife of an eccentric man to a goddess worshipped by people occupying the highest position in life. From the head of an unknown village family, she (Syamasundari) was now the mistress of what she called ‘ a household of God and godly people ‘, and the ‘ grandmother of the innumerable spiritual children of her divine daughter. Simple, diligent, hardworking and kindly, she engaged herself all through day in spite of age, in every kind of household work – tending cattle, feeding labourers, husking paddy and entertaining the many devotees who either visited, or camped in, their house to meet the Holy Mother. Even on the last day of her life, some time in February, 1906, she had helped in husking paddy and had made some purchases for the house. After that she felt very weak, lay down in the veranda, and called out: ” I am dying, I feel my head reeling.” All the occupants of the house, including the Holy Mother, hurried to her side. As a last sacrament the Holy Mother gave her the sacred waters of the Ganges to drink, and performed Japa touching her head and chest. The lady quietly passed away, leaving the Holy Mother and a host of grandchildren, both spiritual and secular, to bemoan her death. Swami Saradananda made very grand arrangements for her funeral obsequies.
In 1907 the Holy Mother attended the Durga Puja celebration held at the house of Girish Chandra Ghosh, the great Bengali dramatist and a prominent householder disciple of Sri Ramakrishna. She was then in bad health owing to malaria, and it was only the earnestness of the great devotee Girish and his sister that brought her from Jayram-bati to Calcutta to attend the festival. Ever since his mystic experiences connected with the Holy Mother’s spiritual identity, Girish looked upon her as the veritable embodiment of the Mother of the universe, and the prospect of her presence at his worship therefore filled him with ecstatic joy. The Mother was accommodated at Balaram Babu’s house and visited Girish’s place to attend worship. The first two days of the ceremony passed smoothly. The worship in fact took a twofold form. While the worship of the image was going on, streams of devotees who went to see her at her residence and: at the place of Girish Ghosh, continuously offered flowers for long hours at the feet of the living. Mother in the shape of the Holy Mother. The strain of the first two days’ experiences told upon her declining health, and she had to announce her incapacity to attend on the third day which was the most important day of worship. This was a terribly depressing news for Girish and he felt that without the Holy Mother’s presence, the worship of the Goddess which he had organized with great effort and at great expense, would be nothing more than a pageantry. When the clouds of disappointment were thus gathering in the devotee’s mind, the Holy Mother, by divine intuition as it were, changed her mind and, just when the most auspicious moment of the worship was to begin, announced herself at the entrance of Girish’s house. The news of the Holy Mother’s arrival revived the drooping spirit of devotees and poured new enthusiasm and fervour into their hearts. On the third day also the Mother received the flower offerings of her innumerable devotees, including the actors and actresses of the theatre conducted by Girish Chandra Ghosh.
The same scenes of spiritual fervour and enthusiasm as on the occasion described above, were
witnessed whenever the Holy Mother graced the Durga Puja celebrations held at the Belur Math by her presence. To attend the Puja at Belur in 1912, she camped there for about a week. When she arrived at the gate of the Math at the close of the Bodhan ceremony (awakening of the Deity), the monks and devotees headed by the great Swami Premananda unhorsed the carriage and drew it through the Math grounds. On successive days hundreds of devotees made flower offerings at her feet. Swami Brahmananda worshipped her with one hundred and eight full-blown lotuses, and her devotee and disciple, Dr. Kanjilal, danced before the image of the Deity with gestures and postures like a mischievous imp, to entertain the Divine Mother, as it were. She was again present at the worship of Durga held in 1916. We get an impression of the exaltation she created by her presence, in the following extract from a letter of Swami Shiva-nanda: ” Owing to the presence of the blessed Holy Mother amongst us, this year’s Puja has been a direct worship of the Divine Mother unlike the usual one through the consecrated image. Although there was continuous rain and wind on all the three days, no part of the celebration suffered, thanks to the Mother’s grace. We were astonished to note how even the rain stopped whenever it was time for devotees to take Prasad (consecrated food), sitting in the unprotected courtyard. Afterwards we learnt from Yogin-Ma that whenever rain seemed imminent at about the meal time, the Holy Mother would sit down to make Japa of Durga’s holy name, praying, ‘ Mother, save us. How can these devotees take Thy holy Prasad in this pouring rain! ‘ And Mother Durga did, indeed, save us.”
The 23rd of May, 1909, was an important date in the Holy Mother’s life. For that was the day on which she stepped into her newly built Calcutta residence, generally known as the Udbodhan Office. Ever since she began to visit Calcutta in 1888, she was being accommodated either in the houses of devotees or in rented buildings. Evidently this was inconvenient both to herself and to those who went to see her in increasing numbers. Besides, with the passing of years her entourage of dependent relatives, devotee companions and disciple attendants increased in number, making it too inconvenient and expensive for any individual devotee to accommodate. Taking all this into consideration, Swami Saradananda, who had taken up the Holy Mother’s charge some time after Swami Yogananda’s demise raised a loan and constructed this new building as the Holy Mother’s Calcutta house. It is also called the Udbodhan Office, because the Udbodhan, the Bengali organ of the Ramakrishna Movement, is being published from there since its opening. For the remaining eleven years of her life, the Holy Mother lived in this house whenever she was in Calcutta. The northern hall on the second storey of it formed her living room as well as the shrine. She lived3 in this house along with a few of her inseparable relatives, her monastic followers and some of Sri Ramakrishna’s great disciples who formed her attendants and companions.
During this long period of eleven years, the Holy Mother’s time was divided between her Calcutta residence and her rural home. It was the period during which the vast majority of her disciples met her and received her blessings. It was also the period when she found herself burdened with the responsibilities of several indigent relatives. The devotees found in her a veritable goddess and went to serve her and receive her benediction, while the relatives, as we have already seen, surrounded her either because they were helpless in the world without her protection or because they could utilize her presence for deriving financial advantages. In the chapters depicting her dealing with both these groups of people, it has been shown how the demands of these conflicting relationships lost their disharmony under the sanctifying influence of her sense of universal motherhood.
Her life in her village home was a strenuous one. She had to shoulder the main responsibilities of the household herself, and that was rendered onerous because it consisted not only of her inseparable relatives, but also of several others who camped in her village home. In Calcutta her movements were very restricted and she was inaccessible to men devotees except at fixed times. In the village, however, she moved in and out of the house very freely, and devotees could see her almost always. So, many devotees flocked to Jayrambati, and the Holy Mother used to feed and accommodate them in her own house. Being aware of the higher standards of comforts accustomed to by her Calcutta visitors, she strove her best to provide them with every possible amenity, though it often meant very heavy physical strain on her. She went about collecting milk and vegetables for them, often cooked special dishes to feed them, and attended on those that happened to fall ill. As the welcome she gave to these spiritual children was whole-hearted and spontaneous, she went through all this strenuous experience with the utmost joy and satisfaction, although the devotees themselves felt embarrassed at the trouble they were giving her unknowingly. It was indeed a sad day for her when the house was without any devotee-visitor, and she considered such days as days spent in vain.
Among the devotees and disciples who served the Mother in her village home, special mention has to be made of the inmates of the Koalpara Ashrama. Koalpara was a village on the way from Jayrambati to Vishnupur, the railway station from which one has to take train to Calcutta. The Ashrama practically sprang into existence as a midway house for the Holy Mother to halt on her way to and from Jayrambati, and the inmates of that Ashrama looked upon themselves as an outpost to guard and serve the Mother in her village home. Often the young Brahmacharins did a lot of manual labour in the Mother s household whenever there was construction work or a religious festival there. They procured vegetables for her, ran errands, and were always at her beck and call. The Mother too had a very soft corner in her heart for them. She did her best to give a spiritual turn to the life of these young men who were at that time moved powerfully by the nationalist movement. She called Koalpara her ‘ parlour ‘, and had a cottage built for her in the Ashrama premises. She also spent some days in that cottage when Radhu’s health required a retreat in an absolutely quiet place.
Besides the visiting disciples and devotees, the Mother s household in her village home consisted mostly of her relatives – brothers, their wives, nephews, nieces and their husbands, all of whom looked upon her from an angle of vision totally different from that of the devotees. The brothers teased her with their quarrels for money, the nieces worried her with their freaks and eccentricities, and their husbands taxed her with their demands for ceremonious attention which their relationship as sons-in-law in the family entitled them to Drawing attention to this marked contrast between the attitudes and behaviour of these groups, the Mother once remarked : ” See, I have many children (disciples). When they come, one can serve them food in hand or on leaves, as one finds convenient. But should any of them (the relatives and the sons-in-law) come, what a number of cups and dishes one will have to get! If you don’t, there will be bitter complaints.”
The peace of her village home was in these days occasionally disturbed by another type of people. These were officers of the Police Department who were on the look out everywhere for people implicated in the nationalist (Swadeshi) movement. Those were days when the political life of Bengal was lashed into violent activity owing to the partition of the province. An important feature of this phase of the national movement was the boycott of foreign goods, especially cloth, and vigorous propaganda for Swadeshi or indigenous goods. The wearing of indigenous cloth thus became a symbol of political agitation in the eye of the police. A strict watch was therefore kept on all sympathizers of the movement. Among the Mother’s disciples there were several who were under internment for being deeply implicated in the movement. The frequent visits of such persons made the Mother’s place suspect in the eye of the police. Very often police parties began to visit the house, causing great unpleasantness to her, and take note of men and things there. She was however relieved of much of this trouble after a high police officer was brought to her house to study the real state of affairs. Thenceforth the police vigilance was slackened into mere noting of names of persons who came to and went from the place.
The quietness, the freedom and the unconventionality of village life was very much to the Mother’s liking, and she often spent there long periods, sometimes extending over a year. But ill health arising from the strain of household work and the malarial tendencies of rural Bengal, as also the necessity of expert medical consultation for Radhu’s frequent ailments, often forced her to migrate to Calcutta and spend long periods at the Udbodhan Office, the city residence built for her by Swami Saradananda. In Calcutta her movements were considerably restricted, but she was free from financial responsibilities and the burden of domestic duties. Swami Saradananda shouldered the former and Golap-Ma the latter. Nonetheless her days were busily occupied with the service of the Master and the reception of devotees. On all days and at all times she was accessible to women devotees, and there was a constant stream of them, some seeking help and inspiration in spiritual life, others with prayers for attainment of worldly goods, and still others for confessions and consolations to relieve their distressed hearts. Men devotees too were admitted, but only at particular times of the day, and they probably had not the same freedom of association with the Mother in Calcutta as in her village home. That was why many of the intimate men devotees flocked in large numbers to Jayrambati in spite of the difficulties of journey and stay.
Though the rural surroundings of Jayrambati were more to her liking, life in Calcutta had its own attraction for her. Calcutta offered her the opportunity of living with some of her old associates – the great monastic disciples and women devotees of Sri Ramakrishna, some of whom took upon themselves the duty of being her attendants and companions whenever she was in Calcutta. A life of the Holy Mother will be incomplete without at least a brief account of these attendants and companions who played so important a part in her life. Frequent references have been made to them in the course of this narrative, and one of them, Swami Yogananda, the great monastic disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, who attended on the Holy Mother for
twelve years, has already been dealt with. Among the other disciples of the Master, Swami Adbhuta-nanda, known also as Latu, had served her in earlier days, and in later times Swami Trigunatita took for a short period the place left vacant by Swami Yoga-nanda. After that the responsibility of the Holy Mother was taken up by Swami Saradananda, otherwise known as Sarat Maharaj, who played a very important part in her life.
He was one of the twelve young disciples of Sri Ramakrishna who left their home and studies with a view to serving their great Master in his last illness. After Sri Ramakrishna’s demise, he, like his fellow-disciples, devoted himself to severe austerities. Swami Vivekananda had great confidence in him for his deep spirituality, his intellectual powers and his administrative capacity. So he was first sent as the Swami’s successor to preach the Vedanta in England and America (1895), and a few years later (1898) he was recalled and appointed Secretary of the Ramakrishna Math and Mission, a position which he retained till the end.
Some time after Swami Yogananda’s passing away, he took up the responsibility of looking after the Holy Mother, besides attending to his onerous duties as the Secretary. The work of attending on the Holy Mother was not a light one. As she herself put it, ” I shall have no difficulty so long as Sarat lives. I do not see anybody else who can shoulder my burden.” For it involved a good deal of expense
besides looking after the eccentric and infirm relatives of the Holy Mother, for whom she had a responsibility. In spite of many difficulties, the Swami discharged this task so much to the satisfaction of the Holy Mother that he won her wholehearted love and confidence. If anyone spoke of her going to Calcutta when the Swami was not there, she would say, ” There can be no question of my going to Calcutta when Sarat is not there. To whom shall I go ? Suppose I am in Calcutta and Sarat says that he wants to go elsewhere for a few days. Then I tell him, ‘ Wait a little, my child. First of all let me leave this place, and then you may go/ ” She used to speak of him as her Vasuki, the mythical snake, who protected her with a thousand hoods. In her last days she was heard to remark, ” I am tired of this life. I shall now depart, taking Sarat in my arms and carrying him wherever I go.” It is said that the Swami wept like a child on hearing this.
The Swami’s devotion to the Holy Mother found expression in his reverential attitude towards all womankind, and in his active interest in the working and progress of the Nivedita Girls’ School. Besides, it has found embodiment in architectural form as the Udbodhan Office, which he constructed for the Holy Mother’s residence at Calcutta,1 and later on as the Holy Mother’s
1 He spent his days in a front room of this house as the Mother’s gate-keeper
temple at Jayrambati, which he built after her passing away. His devotion has also received literary commemoration in his book Mother Worship in India, which he has dedicated to the Holy Mother with the noble and significant words, ” By whose gracious look the author has been able to realize the revelation of Divine Motherhood in every female form, – to the lotus feet of her, this work is dedicated in all humility and devotion.”
In addition to these Sannyasin disciples of Sri Ramakrishna, the great women disciples of the Master also formed the lifelong companions of the Holy Mother. There were several of them – Golap-Ma, Yogin-Ma, Lakshmi Devi and Gauri-Ma being the most important. All of them except the last were widows, and they all lived a holy life of contemplation and service.
Of these, Golap-Ma was the closest of the Holy Mother’s companions, and acted also as something of a gendarme to her in her later days. She was a widow belonging to a poor but aristocratic Brahmin family. She took shelter at the feet of the Master when she was stricken with grief owing to the death of her only daughter who was married into a rich family. Ever since, she was intimate with the Holy Mother, and had constantly stayed with her except for brief periods, safeguarding her interests in all matters and rendering devoted and loving service to her in her daily life. Referring to her, the Master had said to the Holy Mother, “Take care of this Brahmin woman. She will stay with you all along.” True to this, she followed the Holy Mother like a shadow for full thirty-six years after the Master’s passing away. As we have seen, she was with the Holy Mother during most of her pilgrimages and often formed one of her escort party when she went to visit any place. Whenever the Mother was at Calcutta, Golap-Ma invariably stayed with her, looked after the internal management of her household, and often protected her from the importunities of indiscreet devotees. As the Holy Mother did not generally speak directly with men devotees, it was Golap-Ma who often conveyed her blessings to them or interpreted what she said in very low tones by way of reply to their questions. She helped the Mother to get in and out of a carriage, and whenever the Mother had to go on foot, she would walk only behind Golap-Ma. When she went on a visit to any devotee’s house, she would invariably take Golap-Ma with her, saying, ” Unless she goes, how can I go ? I feel bold in her company.”
Golap-Ma was also a woman of great spiritual attainments. She used to spend several hours in the morning and evening in meditation. The Holy Mother always spoke highly of the purity of her mind, and considered her as having attained perfection in Japa. She was free from any exaggerated feminine shyness, and therefore eminently fit to play the part of an intermediary between the Holy Mother and the devotees. Being very outspoken by nature, she would speak the plain truth to anybody’s face. As a result, though she looked upon the Holy Mother with great reverence, she would not hesitate to take even her to task whenever any occasion arose. The Mother often corrected her, telling her that in the name of truth she was losing sensitiveness to others’ feelings, and that sometimes it would be no sin not to speak an unpleasant truth.
But everyone knew that in spite of her curt speech and impulsive nature, Golap-Ma had a very sound and loving heart. Indeed, her spirit of service was wonderful. When she found dirt anywhere on the bathing ghat, she would remove it with rags and wash the place with water. Once at Brindavan she found that somebody’s child had dirtied the precincts of the temple. As she found no one coming forward to clean the spot, she did the work herself, whereupon some of the assembled devotees began to say that it must have been done by her child. They were, however, silenced by others who pointed out that she was a holy woman and had no child of her own.
She used to receive a small allowance from her daughter’s son, half of which she would pay at the Udbodhan Office for her maintenance and the remaining half, in helping indigent people. She used to induce some of the Mother’s doctor devotees to visit the homes of poor patients free of charge. Her daily life at the Udbodhan Office was one of tireless-service. She supervised all departments of the household, distributed Prasada among the devotees, and in various ways served the monks like a mother. She passed away in December, 1924, about four years after the Holy Mother’s demise.
Yogin-Ma (Yogendra Mohini Biswas) was another intimate companion of the Holy Mother. She, as also Golap-Ma, had spent so much time in her company from early days that the Holy Mother used to say, ” Yogin and Golap know all about every phase of my life.” Yogin-Ma was the most impressive among the Mother’s companions and was highly spiritual too. Sri Ramakrishna used to speak of her, “Among women, Yogin is the Jnani “; and also ” She is not an ordinary flower bud that opens in a short time. She is a thousand-petalled lotus which will open only in course of time.” Her later life fully corroborated this estimate. While she was in Brindavan with the Holy Mother, she often experienced Samadhi. One day she was found in that state at the temple of Lala Babu, and could not be roused from it even when the priest was about to close the temple at night. Later, speaking about her experience, she said, ” In that state I felt that the world did not exist.” Referring to an experience of another period of her life, she said, ” I passed through a stage in which I saw my Ishtam (chosen deity) in all objects around. This lasted for three days.”
She was the wife of a rich Zemindar, but owing to certain unhappy domestic circumstances she generally lived in her paternal home from her early days. She was taken to the Master by Balaram Bose, and since then became the most confidential friend of the Holy Mother, whose equal she was in age. In her days at Dakshineswar the Holy Mother used to have her hair braided by Yogin-Ma, and so much did she like her braiding that she would not disturb it even at the time of bathing, until Yogin-Ma visited her a week after. We have already seen how she accompanied the Holy Mother during many of her pilgrimages. After the Holy Mother began to live in Calcutta, she would contribute her share in the management and upkeep of her household. She stayed in her own house at Baghbazar, where she had to look after her old mother and her grandchildren. But she would visit the Holy Mother in the morning, dress vegetables for the day’s cooking, then return home, cook for her old mother, and again go to the Holy Mother and serve her in all possible ways till night.
Though Yogin-Ma continued to stay in her home, she had performed the Purnabhisheka of the Tantras, as well as the Viraja Homa of the Vedas, both indicative of one’s having renounced the worldly life. Every day, after bath in the Ganges, she spent a couple of hours at the bathing ghat of the holy river, doing Japa with perfect absorption, irrespective of the inclemencies of weather. She was well versed in ceremonial worship, but to this she added a temperament full of ecstatic devotion. She was never seen to waste her time, all her leisure being devoted to the study of the Gitaf the Bhagavata, the Chaitanya Charitamrita and books on the Master. Her memory was keen, and she could narrate the Puranic stories with great accuracy and repeat verbatim passages from the Chaitanya Charitamrita. She passed away at the age of seventy-three, in 1924, the same year as Golap-Ma.
Still another woman disciple of the Master who lived in close association with the Holy Mother, was Gauri-Ma. Besides being deeply spiritual, she possessed great learning, intrepidity and organizing power. She had felt the call of the higher life from her very girlhood and had therefore resisted all the attempts of her relatives to get her married. Having come into contact with Sri Ramakrishna early in life, she renounced hearth and home and is reported to have performed austerities in the Himalayas as a Sannyasini. After 1882 she stayed mostly at the Nahabat with the Holy Mother, serving her and the Master to the best of her capacity. Sri Ramakrishna, who had full appreciation of her capacities, often sent her to disseminate religious ideas among women, and commissioned her to devote her life to the uplift of women. So, after the Master’s passing, she spent some years in hard austerities at Brindavan, and then started an educational institution for girls, which she named Sri Saradeswari Ashrama and School, as a token of her reverence for the Holy Mother. This institution, at present situated at 26 Maharani Hemanta Kumari Street, Calcutta, is one of the noted women’s educational institutions in that city. Besides imparting general education to girls, it gives them a sound home training based on the great Hindu ideals of purity, service and devotion. It is run by a band of capable women who have dedicated their lives to asceticism and service under the inspiring influence of Gauri-Ma.
The relationship between Gauri-Ma and the Holy Mother was characterized by deep love and regard for each other. Once Gauri-Ma expressed her unbounded reverence for the Holy Mother in the following terms : ” Sri Sarada Devi was not only the Master’s partner in his life-work but also the object wherein he worshipped the Cosmic Mother. The worship of one’s own wife as the Divine Mother is indeed a phenomenon which no other age had witnessed. . . People have not yet been able to
know the Holy Mother. A full appreciation of the significance of her life is bound to have a liberalizing influence upon the whole world.”
Her deep regard for the Holy Mother found expression once on the occasion of the Durga Puja. She was reading the Chandi (Saptasati) in the presence of the Holy Mother on all the days of the worship. On the final day she worshipped the Mother with a hundred and eight crimson lotuses and said, Mother, having read the Chandi (the book on the
Divine Mother) in the living presence of Chandi (the Divine Mother) Herself, I complete today my vow of the study of this great book. Hereafter the study of it during the Durga Puja will not be compulsory for me, but will be determined by your will.”
The Holy Mother on her part loved Gauri-Ma like a daughter, and the deep reverence that the latter had for her was not therefore without frequent exchange of fun between them. She used to call her endearingly as Gaurdasi. There were occasions when the Holy Mother nursed Gauri-Ma all through night in her illness. Though she herself was not learned in the Scriptures, the Holy Mother admired Gauri-Ma’s erudition and many-sided talents. Once she remarked, ” A great soul is always a rarity, having hardly any parallel. Gaurdasi is one such rare soul.” Again when, during her visit to Madras she was requested by the ladies there to deliver a speech, she said, ” I cannot deliver public speeches. Had Gaurdasi come with me, she would have delivered one.”
In all her public activities Gauri-Ma had the hearty approval and encouragement of the Holy Mother. She started her educational institution with the Holy Mother’s blessings, and the latter often visited it and expressed her warm approval of the lines on which it was run. After the starting of the Ashrama and School, Gauri-Ma could not live with the Holy Mother as before, since she had to attend to the work connected with it. Yet she visited her
frequently and brought many of her students and devotees to her for initiation.’1
The Holy Mother’s close association with these women companions, some of whom were so unlike her in habits and disposition, brings us to the question as to what her ideal of womanhood was. For we
1 There were also several others among the Master’s women devotees who moved closely with the Holy Mother. Important among them was Lakshmi-Didi (Sister Lakshmi), the niece of Sri Ramakrishna, whose name has been frequently mentioned in this narrative. She was a virgin widow, junior to the Holy Mother in age. She used to stay with her for long periods in the Nahabat in her Dakshineswar days, sharing her work and undergoing spiritual practices with her. In later days, after the Holy Mother began to live in Calcutta, she mostly stayed with her relatives at Dakshineswar or at her village or in places of pilgrimage. She was a talented conversationalist, and could hold her devotees spell-bound by her thrilling narration of the incidents of Sri Ramakrishna’s life and her realistic imitation of his manners and speech. She could also sing devotional songs and perform devotional dances with great charm, and in later days she often used to pass into ecstasy while doing so. She was noted for her prodigious memory and her mastery of Indian mythology. In the last period of her life she gave initiation to many disciples. She passed away at Puri, where she spent most of her time towards the end of her life.
Gopaler-Ma (‘ mother of Gopal ‘) was another ascetic woman who was closely associated with the Holy Mother. She was a child-widow and senior to the Holy Mother by many years. She worshipped Gopala or child Krishna as her chosen deity, and as we learn from The Life of Sri Ramakrishna, had attained great realizations. She looked upon the Master as her ‘child Gopala ‘ and therefore considered herself his mother. For this reason she treated the Holy Mother as her daughter-in-law. She used to live at Kamarhati, a few miles from Calcutta, and stayed for a few days with the Holy Mother whenever she visited Dakshineswar. After the Holy Mother settled down in Calcutta, she frequently visited her. In her last days she was taken care of by Sister Nivedita.
The Holy Mother was on intimate terms not only with these devoted ladies, but also with the wives of several of Sri Ramakrishna’s great householder disciples, like Balaram Bose. Mahendra Nath Gupta and others.
have seen how she ever retained the temperament of a bashful maiden, kept herself aloof from all public activities, did not appear before men without a veil, and would not even talk directly to them, barring a select few. Yet how could she approve of a Gauri-Ma doing just the opposite of it ? Not only that, there were several other women who also took part in public activities with her approval She blessed Sister Nivedita in her great efforts for the education of women. She encouraged Sister Sudhira to continue Nivedita’s work and even allowed her to finance her boarding home for girls by undertaking tuition in families. She permitted a girl disciple of hers to study midwifery on the ground that she would thus be useful to many, although conservative women like •Golap-Ma objected to the idea of a high-caste Hindu ijirl working in a hospital, however noble the motives behind might be. How are all these facts to be reconciled with her own habits of life, so contrary to them in every respect ?
Then again the Holy Mother herself was not educated. She was married early in life. When she is spoken of as ‘ the last word of Sri Ramakrishna on the ideal of Indian womanhood ‘, does it mean that Indian women should follow her in these respects also ? These are questions that naturally suggest themselves to a student of the Holy Mother’s life.
The difficulty that one feels in this respect can be solved if one clarifies one’s idea as to what constitutes the essence of the feminine ideal. It is an undeniable fact that women’s habits and mode of living, their upbringing and the part played by them in social life, have varied from country to country and from time to time. But in this world, even change is a relative phenomenon ; it is felt only in relation to something that is comparatively stationary. Thus, behind the great variations in the pattern of womanhood, one can discover an essential unchanging principle that is uniquely feminine and quite distinct from every phase of the masculine ideal of character. We may describe this distinctively feminine principle as the Eternal Feminine. It is a cosmic principle which expresses itself concretely at our physical level through women in their capacity as mothers. In other words, the Eternal Feminine can be equated with motherhood with all its implications, and motherhood, it must be remembered, is the special privilege of woman, in both the physiological and -the psychological sense.
It may be questioned why the Eternal Feminine -should be identified with motherhood. Why should it not be equated with wifehood, which after all precedes motherhood and also constitutes a special function of woman ? The answer is that a woman is a wife, or rather a successful wife, to the extent that she is a mother. The biological function of sex is not the essence of wifehood. In the life of the average individual, sex may be an indispensable part of one’s role as wife, but the Holy Mother’s example has at least shown us that a great woman can be a successful wife even if the whole of the biological value of sex is eliminated from her life. Then again a woman in her purely sexual role is outside the pale of wifehood – nay, she then eschews every one of those sacred functions, responsibilities and privileges that we always associate with wifehood. Thus the essence of wifehood lies in a ‘ more ‘ than mere sex life, and if we investigate what that ‘ more ‘ is, we shall find that it lies in motherhood.
For one thing, the position of a woman as wife depends on the home and home life, and whenever these disappear, wifehood, too, is bound to disappear. A home is an institution in which a man, his wife, his children and other dependents share a common life, held together by a cementing force – that force being the influence of the wife over all the other members. Now a wife is able to exercise this influence only to the extent that she embodies in herself the principle of motherhood – the quality by which a woman is able to love disinterestedly, have infinite patience and forgiveness in dealing with the failings of others, and serve others heart and soul without any thought of return. No doubt she reveals these qualities in the first instance in relation to her own offspring, but unless she expresses this unique side of her nature in her dealings with her husband and other members of the family – of course with modifications suited to the needs of different forms of relationship – she will not be fulfilling her position as the wife, the mistress of the family. In any society where, for some reason or other, women lack this precious quality, the art of wifehood is forgotten, and as a consequence homes break up and family life becomes an impossibility; or even if it continues nominally owing to the conservatism of law, it loses all its sanctity and fails to breed those great racial virtues of which it is the custodian. Such a state of affairs always marks the decline of a culture.
It is, therefore, appropriate to characterize the Eternal Feminine as the principle of motherhood. It forms the central core in woman, whose integrity has to be preserved in the midst of all her changing modes of life, if she is not to lose her soul in the pursuit of aggressive masculine standards. She may be a mere housewife, or become an air-minded or business-minded woman; she may remain behind the Purdah, or take part in public life ; she may put on the skirt, or wear the Sari; she may live a married life, or prefer to remain single. All these varying modes and avocations of life are but the cultural garb of womanhood, their differences being dictated by the changing social needs. She does no violence to her nature by following them, provided she remains true to the ideal of motherhood, the eternal feminine principle, and tries to express the love, the forgiveness and the spirit of service characterizing it, in all the spheres of her activity, whatever they may be.
In the light of this explanation the Holy Mother’s conduct in encouraging several of her women companions and disciples to follow ways of living quite -different from her own, becomes understandable. In fact she liked to see that Indian women were married a little later in life than was often the case, that they were better educated, that they developed qualities •of leadership and self-reliance, and that they were not forced into the married state if some of them preferred to live a life of continence and service in a wider circle than the family. But whatever their mode of life, she wanted them always to remain true to the Eternal Feminine in them – the principle of motherhood – and thus bring into existence a true feminine culture, which is not a mere copy of purely masculine creations. The way in which she remained aloof from the society of men is suggestive of that purely feminine culture, the true expression of the woman’s soul.
Her own life was meant to be an example of the pure feminine type. There are many examples of great women from whom one may seek guidance in the lesser accomplishments of womanhood that change with time and country. But one may turn the pages of the world’s history and yet not come across another instance like the Holy Mother in embodying the Eternal Feminine in all its purity. She has sometimes been spoken of as Sri Rama-krishna’s last word on Indian womanhood. It will be better to amend it as ‘ his last word on womanhood of all times and countries’. For wife, nun and mother in one, she stands as the fulfilment of the ideal of a Madonna – not the hazy figure of a distant time and place, like the mother of Christ depicted in the Christian scriptures, but a personality of flesh and blood, boldly imprinted on the canvas of recent history and having a spiritual content that is not dependent on the pious imagination of the faithful. In the light of this idea one can understand the meaning of the Holy Mother’s significant words, that the Master left her on this earth to reveal the Motherhood of God.
She had visited the site earlier in the year probably in April, when the construction of the building started.
We may mention here an incident that reveals the depth of the Holy Mother’s affection for Swami Yogananda. The Swami had once presented her with a quilt which became worn out after some years. So she at first made arrangement to get it stuffed with new cotton but afterwards desisted from the course, because she thought that it would change the thing presented by her beloved Yogen beyond all recognition. She had the habit of preserving even trifling presents as mementos of loved ones.
Whenever the Holy Mother lived in Calcutta at the Udbodhan Office, Swami Saradananda met all her expenses. At Jayrambati she herself met the expenses of her household, although Swami Saradananda used to send her remittances now and then when she was in need. Her income consisted of the gifts made by disciples at the time of initiation, and of the small contributions made by her intimate devotees. Most of her disciples being students and middle classmen, their contribution was neither large nor very steady, so much so that when Mrs. Ole Bull, a great American devotee of Swami Vivekananda, began to send her a regular donation of twenty-five rupees a month, she felt it as a substantial addition to her financial resources. In later days, whenever she stayed at Jayrambati, she had to spend nothing less than rupees one hundred a month. As a rule very little of this amount was spent on herself personally. It was used mainly for the entertainment of devotee-visitors, whose number came to ten or fifteen at times, for the maintenance of her dependents like Radhu and her mother, and for helping her indigent relatives and covillagers. Especially in her last years, her expenses increased very much owing to the protracted illness of Radhu.