THE ASCENT TO MOTHERHOOD
IT was the 5th of June, 1872,1 the day for the special worship of Phalaharini-Kalika, or the Deity as Mother Kali destroying the effects of the past deeds of beings. The Kali temple of Dakshineswar was en fete with ceremonial decorations. By night, when the worship of the Divine Mother was to take place, a good crowd had gathered in the temple, and everywhere there was singing and excitement characteristic of temple festivities.
1 Regarding the exact date of this event there are two versions. The Holy Mother arrived at Dakshineswar for the first time in March, 1872. According to the version of Swarni Saradananda in his biography of Sri Ramakrishna, the worship took place about one year after this, i.e. on the Phalaharini-Kali Puja of 1873, the date of it being 25th May. In the Bengali book entitled Mayer Katha, Vol. II, the Holy Mother is reported to have said that it took place about a month and a half after her arrival at Dakshineswar. In that case it would be on the occasion of the Phalaharini-Kali Puja of June, 1872.
Sj. Ramachandra Datta in his Bengali life of Sri Ramakrishna has mentioned that this worship took place at Jayrambati. Contradicting this, the Holy Mother says in Mayer Katha, Vol. II: ” Ram Babu has written in his book that this worship was performed at Jayrambati. Ah me! People in that part of the country are so gossipy. They always used to cut jokes, saying, ” Who is it that has married the poor girl? A crazy man ! ‘ Worshipping a woman there ! That would have finished .both of us ! “
The doors of the Master’s room remained closed. The noisy crowd had not invaded its precincts; for people were busy with many things outside, and besides, the Master had not yet become very widely known. Within the room, too, preparations were being made for the Master to perform the worship of the Divine Mother that day. A boy named Dinu, a distant nephew of his, brought the Bilva leaves, while Hriday made the necessary arrangements for the rite. The Master had asked the Holy Mother beforehand to be present in the room at the time of worship. At 9 p.m. she arrived. The others had by that time finished the arrangements and left the room, leaving the Master and the Holy Mother alone within.
Now the worship began. The Master sat near the western door of his room facing the east. After he had finished the purification of materials and other preliminary ceremonies, he beckoned to the Holy Mother to take her place on the seat set apart for the Deity. It was a low stool with ritualistic drawings on it, kept towards the right of the worshipper, and she sat on it facing the west. She was already in a mood of spiritual fervour, and obeyed the Master’s directions as one under hypnosis. The Master now sprinkled her several times with holy water, and then addressed the following prayer of invocation : ” O Divine Mother, Thou eternal Virgin, the mistress of all powers and the abode of all beauty, deign to unlock for me the gate of perfection. Sanctifying the body and mind of this woman, do thou manifest Thyself through her and do what is auspicious.”
Then he identified the Holy Mother with the Deity through the ceremony of Nyasa, which consists in touching the different parts of the body with appropriate Mantras and identifying them in mind with the different parts of the Deity. After that, he offered her worship with sixteen items, as one does before the divine image. In the course of it he applied red paint to the sides of her soles, put the vermilion mark on her forehead, dressed her with a new cloth, and gave a little of sweets and beteMeaf in her mouth. Knowing that she was naturally of a very bashful disposition, a disciple once asked her whether she did not feel any hesitation or shyness when the Master did all this to her. She replied, ” No. I saw him, no doubt, doing all this, but I had no inclination to utter a word even.”
In fact, all through the worship the Holy Mother was in a state of semi-absorption, and at the close of it, in deep Samadhi. The Master too was in an ecstatic mood while doing the worship, and by the time it came to an end, he was also absorbed in Samadhi. Thus in that transcendental union of the spirit, the worshipper and the worshipped realized their identity of being as Existence-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute.
A long time passed in that state of spiritual absorption. It was only when the second watch of the night had fairly advanced that the Master regained a little of physical consciousness. Then he resigned himself completely to the Divine Mother, and in a supreme act of consecration, offered to the Deity manifest before him, the fruits of his austerities, his rosary, himself and everything that was his. He then uttered the following Mantra : ” O Goddess,I prostrate myself before Thee again and again – before Thee, eternal consort of Siva, the three-eyed,the golden-hued, the indwelling Spirit in all, the giver of refuge, the accomplisher of every end, and the most auspicious among all auspicious objects.”
The worship1 was now over. Towards the close of it Hriday came into the room. After regaining, normal consciousness, the Holy Mother saluted the Master mentally, and walked away to her room in the Nahabat.
The significance of this great rite on the lives of these two souls can hardly be over-estimated. For
Sri Ramakrishna it signified the final triumph of the spirit over the body, the destruction of all that is animal in man, the recognition of Divinity even where the ordinary man is least disposed to see it. It marked the successful conclusion of his spiritual strivings, and his establishment in the status of a divine man.
1 The form of worship Sri Ramakrishna performed is technically called Shodasi Puja. The term requires a little explanation. It does not mean, as is sometimes interpreted, ‘ the worship of a girl of sixteen ” For the matter of that, the Holy Mother was eighteen or more at the time of this worship. It really means the worship of the Divine Mother as Shodasi – the third of the ten Mahavidyas known as Kali, Tara, Shodasi, Bhuvanesvari, Bhairavi, Chhinnamasta, Dhumavati, Bagala* Matangi and Kamala. The Divine Mother is called Shodasi in this aspect because she is conceived as a wonderfully beautiful girl always aged sixteen. In this worship one can use as the emblem of worship either a picture, a pitcher, an earthen image, a Yantra (i.e. a ritualistic drawing), or a young woman of great beauty. In the case of the last emblem, which was the one adopted by Sri Ramakrishna, the woman need not necessarily be sixteen years of age. What is required is that she must be beautiful and in the heyday of youth.
In the life of the Holy Mother, too, it had a significance of equal importance. It symbolized her participation in Sri Ramakrishna’s life in a twofold sense. It has already been stated how the Master, at the very time of his marriage, gave a powerful stimulus to his wife’s spiritual growth by the prayer he addressed to the Divine Mother. That had brought about a gradual transformation in her, obliterating from her mind even the last vestiges of the lower nature, so that when she again reappeared in the concluding act of the drama of his spiritual endeavours, he found in her a fitting partner in life, well-matched with him in every respect. And so by the performance of that great rite, in which he surrendered all his spiritual practices and their fruits before the Deity whom he identified with the Holy Mother, he virtually made her a participant of all his austerities and spiritual attainments. It is sometimes asked, with an insinuation of a difference in the spiritual status of the Master and the Holy Mother, why the latter did not perform various forms of devotional practices like the Master. The answer to this apparently puzzling question is to be found in the Shodasi Puja, by virtue of which the Holy Mother became a full sharer in the spiritual glory of the Master. Indeed, as we shall see, she did practise a good deal of austerities afterwards, but they were not so much for mental purification or for spiritual attainment; they were mainly intended as an example to others or as vicarious practices for the benefit of her disciples. To use an analogy of the Master, she resembles in this respect the type of plant that bears fruits first, and then the flowers. As the spiritual counterpart of the great world-teacher Sri Rama-krishna, she had no need to re-enact the same scenes of the one common drama which they were together staging before mankind. She had other parts to play by way of fulfilling and supplementing the Master’s work.
In another sense also the Shodasi Puja is a landmark in her life. It made her a vital part of Sri Ramakrishna’s mission. In that rite the Master invoked in her the presence of the Divine Mother – the same Supreme Energy that was manifesting Itself through his own personality. Henceforth, just as in the case of the Master, her body and mind became the venue of expression for that Energy. Her future actions were all, therefore, devoid of any personal object, but meant to fulfil the great mission that was being worked out through the Master. She and the Master could henceforth be described as two bodies actuated by the same spirit – the Divine Mother. As we shall see, for the rest of her life she helped the Master in his work through personal service. After his passing away, his mantle fell on her, and through a long period of spiritual ministry she fulfilled what he had left unfinished.