Sri Sarada Devi Biography 3 MARRIAGE

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Sri Sarada Devi Biography 3 MARRIAGEBack



IT is generally said that every girl in India is born for marriage. This is largely true with regard to modern Hindu society. A daughter is often felt a liability and burden, and parents do not finally feel relieved in respect of her until she has been given away in marriage. The feeling of the Indian mind on this point has been beautifully expressed by Kalidasa, the great Sanskrit poet and dramatist, in a verse he puts into the mouth of Rishi Kanva, the foster-father of Sakuntala, when his daughter leaves for her husband’s home : ” Verily, a daughter is the property of another man. Today, having sent her to her husband, my conscience has become quite clear, as if on restoring a deposit after a long time ” 1 (Sakuntala, IV, 151).

It cannot be denied that this way of thinking has often led parents to hurry their daughters into the matrimonial bond even at a premature age. It is
perhaps the very same mentality, buttressed by quasi-religious theories, that has crystallized into such practices as early marriage and child marriage* enforced by social compulsion. That this was not so in the early history of Hindu society is clear from the fact that just like boys, girls also used to be educated in ‘ forest universities ‘ some of which at least were run on co-educational lines. In fact, the theory of compulsory pre-puberty marriage for girls of the higher castes came into popularity only along with a change in the conception of women’s education. In early Aryan society – and it is also recognized by the orthodox Smritis – girls, like boys, were invested with the sacred thread at the proper age and subsequently initiated into Vedic study and Aryan religious life/ How long their education continued, one cannot say, but modern scholars believe that marriage did not come in the way of it in so far as the Vedic hymns chanted and the marriage rituals and practices followed indicate that both the contracting parties were adults.

1 The condition that existed in Aryan society in early days is well reflected in the following verse from the Smriti of Yama.

This verse, however, could not be found in the present editions of Yama’s Smriti that we consulted. But it is quoted by Madhavacharya, an author of great standing in orthodox circles, in his commentary on Parasara Samhita (Cf. p. 83

A time, however, came in later days when the investiture of girls with the sacred thread came to be abandoned. This change of ritual procedure, though apparently simple, was fraught with immense consequences in the educational and matrimonial life of women. The investiture with the sacred thread was, for the Aryan mind, the symbol of the commencement of Brahmacharya, or the period of education. And also, only a person invested with it was entitled to Vedic study and Vedic religious practices. The abandonment of it in the case of

Bombay Sanskrit Series Edition). Madhava’s purpose in quoting it is only to discourage Upanayana at present by pointing out that such concessions were applicable only to the distant ages of the past (Kalpas) according to Puranic computations. But to a mind endowed with a historical sense it is a positive proof of the full educational and religious equality allowed to women. It is also known from ancient literature that women performed Vedic sacrificial rites like men. (See Ramayana II, where Kausalya performs Svasti Yaga alone, and Ibid., II, 88, 18-19 and V, 15, 48 where Sita twice discloses her discharging religious duties in the morning and evening like men.) Even Jaimini quotes Badarayana to show that women could perform Vedic sacrifices. Now the recognition of this automatically presupposed investiture with the sacred thread and Vedic education.

According to Altekar {Vide his Women in Hindu Civilization) women enjoyed these religious privileges more or less till the beginning of the Christian era. But changes were gradually coming in. At 500 B.C., as we may gather from Harita, a few women (Brahmavadinis) made an intensive study of the Vedas after Upanayana while the majority of girls (Sadyo-vadhus) underwent theformality of the ceremony shortly before marriage. The Brahmavadinis did not marry but followed the ascetic life. Many centuries later Manu (Manusmriti, II, 66) favoured women’s Upanayana without the reciting of Vedic Mantras. Still later writers like Yajnavalkya (200 A.D.) advocated the more straightforward course of prohibiting the ceremony altogether. It is interesting to note in this connection that among the Parsis (Zoroastrians), a branch of the ancient Vedic Aryans, the ceremony is still performed for girls.

•woman, therefore, meant her exclusion from the ancient Aryan system of education, the chief characteristics of which were the study of the Vedas and residence in the teacher’s house during one’s educational career.

It may, however, be asked whether the Hindu law-givers of later days totally overlooked the educational needs of girls and wanted to reduce them to the position of ignorant domestic slaves. This was far from their intention. What they contemplated was that for woman marriage would take the place of the ceremony of investiture with the sacred thread (Manu, II, 67), and that instead of going to a Guru for study, she would have her education at the hands of her own husband. As investiture with the sacred thread took place in early boyhood, so too the marriage of girls was to take place before they reached the age of puberty. The idea behind it was this. A boy could absorb the ideals of his teacher and have his character moulded by his influence, only if he was put under him at an impressionable age, that is, in his early •boyhood. So also it was argued that a girl could become one in mind with her husband, and participate whole-heartedly in his ideals and aspirations, only if she was brought under the influence of his personality at a tender age, before her individuality was formed and hardened in its distinctiveness by experiences and contacts of pre-marital life. The husband generally was an adult who had completed his long period of Brahmacharya, or education combined with moral and spiritual training, and the first obligation that marriage placed on him was the education of his wife, that of being the father of her progeny coming only next.

This is the ideal underlying the custom of marrying girls in their childhood. But ideals do not always tally with realities, and the system of child marriage, too, has not been an exception to this. The attainments that the system at its best presupposes in the bridegroom are beyond what we may expect in ordinary social life. A bridegroom, according to it, must practically be a sage who has overcome his animal propensities, and is capable of viewing his wife more as a soul in formation than as a member of the opposite sex. Such men are few and far between, and in consequence the vast majority of marriages contracted under the system seldom produce those ideal conditions presupposed by it. Of course, when the joint family was a living institution, and the young had the advantage of intelligent guidance from their parents and elders, the evils of the system were much mitigated* In spite of all that, in the vast majority of cases, it has stood in the way of women’s education, and driven girls to the ordeal of motherhood at too premature an age.

But the ideal has its possibilities. Given suitable conditions, it is capable of producing results that compel one’s recognition. This is what one finds in the life of the Holy Mother. Here is an example of a girl of five being married to a youth of twenty-three. But the youth was a sage and a great teacher, and the girl a fit recipient of noble teachings. As a consequence we find in their lives a new ideal of conjugal life being evolved – an ideal in which the carnal side of human nature is completely eliminated and the husband plays the part of a spiritual teacher, transferring the richest experiences of his life to the wife, who, in her turn becomes a lifelong disciple, finding the highest fulfilment of her life in serving her husband, in absorbing his teachings, and in continuing his life-work after him..

The study of the Holy Mother’s life is the study of the gradual unfoldrnent of this great principle. The circumstances that led to the singular marriage of the Holy Mother, which facilitated these developments, are given below.

While little Sarada was growing up at Jayrambati assisting her mother in her domestic duties, the great soul whose partner in life she was to become,, was passing through a remarkable period of spiritual development in another part of the country. Born in 1836 as the third son of Khudiram Chatterji of Kamarpukur in the District of Hoogly, Sri Rama-krishna had become the priest of Kali at the temple of Dakshineswar in the year 1855. From his very boyhood he was highly devotional and mystical in temperament. Subsequent to his appointment as priest, his duties in the temple kindled his devotion until it became an irresistible passion for the realization of the Divine. He lost interest in worldly life, and began to spend all his time in a state of absorption and in the practice of austerities. In course of time it became impossible for him even to attend to his duties in the temple, and in the end he had to be relieved from his priestly work, so that he might be left entirely to the pursuit of his divine quest. And he spent his time in constant prayer and contemplation, forgetting even food and sleep and almost unaware of the passing of day and night.

Naturally, people who knew not what longing for God was, interpreted the strange behaviour of Sri Ramakrishna as evidence of madness. This distorted information gradually reached the ears of his mother Chandra and his brother Ramesvar in their village home at Kamarpukur. So in the year 1858 they had him brought to the village, but they were grieved to find that he had developed an indifference to the world, a mood of apathy for external happenings, and a restless hankering for some unseen reality, which expressed itself occasionally in piteous cries of ‘ Mother ! Mother ! ‘ The neighbours began to whisper that he was possessed by an alien spirit. So methods of exorcism were tried, but the spirits invoked denied that he had any physical or mental malady. Probably Sri Ramakrishna had some vivid experiences of the Divine during this period, and as a consequence his relatives soon noticed an abatement of his disquieting symptoms. Even without any remedy, occult or medical, he became quieter and his boyish gaiety and old habit of neighbourliness returned. But his indifference to worldly life and strange habits, such as meditation in the solitude of the cremation ground, persisted. As these habits were natural with him from boyhood, they were not interpreted as being of any serious consequence.

This, no doubt, brought a sense of relief to Chandra and Ramesvar, but they did not feel secure until something was done to render the recovery permanent. After consultations, they decided upon a final and drastic remedy. They would arrange for Sri Ramakrishna’s marriage.1 For it was thought that a loving wife and the responsibility of a family would be the best means to tie his mind to worldly life and its prospects.

So Sri Ramakrishna’s mother and brother set out at once to find out a suitable bride, but this was by no means an easy task. Their family was poor, and the amounts demanded as bridal money by most of the parents with marriageable girls were much beyond the means of Ramesvar Chatterji. They had begun this matrimonial quest without Sri Rama-krishna’s knowledge; for they expected rebellious protests from him if he were informed. But strange to say, when the news reached his ears in course of time, he expressed ready acquiescence. And what was more, on seeing his mother and brother sad at

1 The pre-puberty marriage prevalent among the Hindus •which is a mere betrothal but religiously and legally valid.

the frustration of all their efforts to find a suitable bride, he said to them one day in an inspired mood, ” Vain is your search in this place and that. Go to Jayrambati and there, in the house of Ramachandra Mukherji, you will find her who is marked out for me.”1

Though little relying on it, they took up the suggestion, and made enquiries at Ramachandra’s house. Ramachandra was found willing to give his daughter Sarada in marriage, but the bridegroom’s party at first felt some hesitation, as the girl was only a little child of five, and Sri Ramakrishna was past twenty-three then. Any way, since no better match could be arranged, they had to accept the offer, and before long the marriage of little Sarada with Sri Ramakrishna took place in May, 18592 at the bride’s paternal house in Jayrambati. The bride was then brought to Kamarpukur, four miles to the west of Jayrambati. Ramesvar Chatterji paid a
bridal money of Rs. 300 to Ramachandra on the occasion.

1 There is another tradition regarding the marriage. Once,, when the Holy Mother was only two years old, she was taken by her mother to Sihor to witness a temple festival. Sri Ramakrishna also was present there. In social gatherings, village women sometimes play with little girls, asking them which of the assembled boys they would like to marry. On this occasion, when they put this question to little Sarada, it seems she pointed to Sri Ramakrishna.

2 About the time of her marriage,the Holy Mother used to say, ” I was married at the time when dates ripen. I do not remember the exact month. Within ten days of my marriage when I went to Kamarpukur, I plucked date fruits there. Dharma Das Laha (a neighbour and the landlord of Kamarpukur)came, and on seeing me, asked,’ Is this the newly married girl?’For I was so small that the father of Surju took me to Kamarpukur in his arms.”

The marriage was perforce simple, as the family resources of both the parties did not admit of any elaboration of ceremonials or gifts. Chandra Devi, however, had borrowed a number of jewels from her rich neighbours, the Lahas, so that the bride may not be without some ornaments at the time of the marriage rites. Now after the bride’s coming to Kamarpukur it was time to return the jewels to their owners. Chandra Devi was in a delicate situation. How could she tear away the jewels from the person of her little daughter-in-law who had already found a warm corner in her heart? Sri Ramakrishna, however, understood her difficulty and came to her rescue. While the little girl was sleeping, he cleverly removed all the jewels and sent them to the Laha family. When she woke up, she no doubt made enquiries of the missing jewels, perhaps tearfully; for she loved those bright and sparkling ornaments. And poor Chandra Devi could do no more than clasp her in a warm embrace and console her with the promise that her son would make her much better jewels afterwards.1 To add to the tragedy of the situation, the incident came to the notice of an uncle of the girl who was then present in the house. He was very much enraged at this, and took the girl Backto her paternal home

1 As a matter of fact Sri Ramakrishna had ornaments made for the Holy Mother in later days, and she used to wear some of them till the end. See chap. VIII.

that very day. But Sri Ramakrishna made light of the affair, saying that whatever they might think about the incident, they could not nullify the marriage !

Sri Ramakrishna stayed in his village for one year and seven months. During this period, in December, 1860, his wife attained her seventh year. According to the family custom he went on this occasion to spend a few days at his father-in-law’s house.1 In later days the Holy Mother had a hazy remembrance of this visit. She remembered how, of her own accord, she touched her husband’s feet in salutation and fanned him. Every one present laughed on seeing this. Afterwards Hriday, the Master’s nephew, who accompanied him on this occasion, sought her and worshipped her2 with lotus flowers to her great embarrassment.

Shortly after, Sri Ramakrishna returned to Kamarpukur with his wife, and after spending some days there returned to Calcutta. The Holy Mother also returned to her parental home.

1 Referring to this visit of the Master, the Holy Mother used to say: “The Muster came to Jayrambati when I was seven years old. You know then* is the custom called ‘ going back to the father-in-law’s house in couple That time he said tome, ‘ If anyone asks you at what age you were married, tell him it was at five and not at seven.’ ” He said this, thinking that, being a mere child of five at the time of marriage, she might not remember that occasion and confuse this second ceremony with the marriage.

2 According to scriptures that inculcate Mother-worship, a virgin of tender age may be looked upon as a symbol of the Divine Mother, and worship may be offered to her in that spirit. It is generally done as an item in certain forms of elaborate ceremonial worship but sometimes independently also.

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