Opinions & Histories

‘The Divine & The Earthly’: Reflections On Sri Sarada Devi.

Dr Mala Sharma, Ramakrishnanagar College: The Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi was an epitome of love, pristine glory, compassion, nobility, and generosity. A unique combination of the divine and the earthly, she has remained an enigma and mystery to all even to this day.

And it is for this reason it becomes extremely difficult for mere human beings like us to reflect upon the supreme qualities of ‘The Divine Mother’. In her one sees the perfect amalgamation of modesty, grace, stateliness, and above all a strong integrated personality with a power to forgive all who have erred in life. But what makes her extraordinary and most endearing, is her ever embracing love—be it for human beings, animals, birds, or even insects. A Mother to all, she is ever ready to hold us by the hand and lead us through the maze of life.

As an emblem of divinity, purity, and truth, Mother is truly the essence of Shakti, Prakriti, Mahashakti, and Mahamaya. She is the incarnation of the Divine Power, the Controller of the Universe, and the Creator of all living beings. A perennial source of love, affection, and toleration, Mother’s advent on this earth heralded a new beginning for the millions, toiling under spiritual degeneration. In this context Thakur (Sri Ramakrishna) had once in Cossipore told Sri Ma or the Holy Mother: – “See, the people of Calcutta appear to be crawling about like worms in the dark. Do look after them”. When Mother pleaded that she was a woman, Thakur pointed towards his body and said “What after all has this one done? You’ll have to do much more.” Again he has said to Mother, “Is this my trouble alone? It’s yours too”. (qtd in Holy Motherp120-121). And this became more evident in the later years when as the Universal Mother, her love transcended all barriers of caste, gender, religion, or social set-up and extended over the whole of creation. All who were destitute and failed in life flocked to her for solace and peace.

What endeared her most was her exceptional quality of granting pardon to all who had strayed in life. Her reassuring words “Whenever you are in distress, just say to yourself ‘I have a Mother’”, is a source of great comfort, mental strength, and motivation for us even to this day. It relieves and soothes our troubled mind and at the same time inspires us to accept the challenges of life with self-assertion. Why should we fear when our mother is always with us to guide us even when we falter in life? For she has affirmed: “If my son rolls in dust, even then he is my son”  Indeed she is a mother to all –the good and the evil, the rich and the poor, the wretched, the deprived, downtrodden, the sick and the disabled. And her words, “I am the mother of the wicked, as I am the mother of the virtuous” ignites our mind and helps us to tread on the dreary pathway of life. These words indeed become a constant source of encouragement and inspiration for us all, to face life with grit and determination. All who have taken shelter at her lotus feet have received her love and blessings.

As has always been observed that whenever the Brahman descends on earth to rescue mankind from downfall, he is accompanied by his Shakti, or Mahamaya, and this has been the case with Ram– Sita; Krishna- Radhika; Sri Chaitanya-  Bishnupriya and so on. Similarly, Sri Ramakrishna’s advent on this mortal domain as Avatar, was another phenomenon in the history of the world, and to assist him in his great task The Holy Mother, Sri Sarada Devi, as his Divine Consort made her earthly appearance. But the unique thing about her advent this time was her guise—veiled, and hidden from the ordinary eye.

Beneath her apparent simple and serene appearance lay her divinity which could not be easily deciphered. And the exceptional quality about her was that she had taken upon herself the task of teaching mankind the practical wisdom of life, through her own deeds and actions. Indeed strange are the ways in which God justifies His deeds to mankind! This camouflage of the Holy Mother made it extremely difficult for all to understand her inherent divinity.

Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa had always emphasized upon the fact that Mother was Adya Shakti, Mahamaya, the manifestation of Supreme Energy. This was firmly established in the ‘Shodasi Puja’ on the night of Phalaharini –Kali Puja when Thakur Ramakrishna ceremonially worshiped Sri Ma Sarada. It was indeed a turning point in lives of both Thakur and Ma Sarada as it now placed her on the same spiritual pedestal of the Master, thereby awakening her latent holiness. It opened her up to a state of enlightenment, and she became a co-participant in the spiritual elevation and sacred attainments of Sri Ramakrishna

During his earthly life Thakur again and again made references to the divinity of the Holy Mother. As he once said to Golap-Ma:

She (Mother) is Sarada, Saraswati, she has come to impart knowledge. She has descended by covering up her beauty this time, lest unregenerate people should come to grief by looking at her with impure eyes. (qtd in Holy Mother p 114)

Again on another occasion he said:

She is the communicator of knowledge, she is full of the rarest wisdom. Is she of the common run? She is my Sakti (power) (qtd in Holy Mother p 114)

For Swami Vivekananda Sri Sarada Devi was the divine incarnation of ‘Goddess Durga’, and ‘Maha Shakti’. Whenever he referred to Mother, his expression was full of awe and reverence. Mother’s grace to him was a hundred thousand times more valuable than Father’s, and her blessings were all paramount to him. As he had said: “Of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, you may assert that he was God, man or whatever you like; but fie on him who is not devoted to Mother” (qtd in Holy Mother p 116). In a passionate letter written to his brother – monk Swami Shivananda in 1894 Swami Vivekananda acclaimed Mother as the ‘Living Durga’, an emblem of Adya Shakti, Mahamaya, the Divine source of all existence. As he stated:

“You have not yet understood the wonderful significance of Mother’s life—none of you. But gradually you will know. Without Shakti (Power) there is no regeneration for the world”. (Women Empowerment ‘The Living Durga’)

In Swami Vivekananda’s opinion:

Mother has been born to revive…Shakti in India; and making her the nucleus, once more Gargis and Maitreyis be born into the world… Without the grace of Shakti nothing is to be accomplished.

And it is for this reason that before leaving for America to take part in the historic Parliament of Religions Swamiji sought the blessings of the Holy Mother, for he strongly believed that without Mother’s benediction nothing can be achieved in this world.

The divinity that was manifest in Mother was observed from her early childhood.We see that in Jairambatias a child, when Mother would cut sheaves of grass for the cattle, another girl of the same age would accompany her and help her in her work. This was narrated by Mother in her later life. As she recalled:

Mind you, my dear, as a girl I saw that another girl of my age always accompanied me, helped me in my work, and frolicked with me; but she disappeared at the approach of other people. This continued till I was ten or eleven years old” (Qtd in Holy Mother p 22).

The visions continued in her later life as well and even after the passing away of the Master. These spiritual transcendences were occasional but were carefully masked by her calm outward ordinary appearances. It is for this reason that Thakur humorously referring to Mother had said, “She is a cat under ashes” (qtd in Holy Mother p 115). Numerous such incidents are on records which prove the presence of the divine in Mother, unassuming to the common eye, but which occasionally surfaced to the fore and became evident to those who were with her.

But even though she was an incarnation of the Divine Mother, there was a unique combination of the divine and the earthly in Ma Sarada. Her appearance before all was one of simplicity and ordinariness and it was expressed through her deep love and care for humanity, which continued throughout her lifetime. This was noticeable from her early childhood when we see that during the great famine that ravaged through Bengal, Mother would feed ‘Kichudi’ to the famine-stricken people of the villages in and around Jayrambati, fanning the food with her small hands. In her later years, the selfless service for the welfare of mankind is again seen when at Dakshinswarshe would prepare food for the Master and all his devotees as well as look after their daily needs. Her day would start at 3 am and continue late into the night. Later on as the ‘Sangha Janani’ her love and care extended towards all who came seeking refuge in her. Such long, silent, and sincere dedication towards one and all leaves us wonderstruck and mesmerized. Is it not the rarest of the rare event that The Divine Mother had ascended upon this earth to serve us without any returns! Only because she wanted to bestow her Love and Blessings upon us, and to guide us towards salvation! All other incarnations of The Divine Mother were as Goddesses to be worshipped and paid homage from afar, but in this incarnation, Ma Sarada appeared as the Mother of the Universe,—a bestower of benediction for mankind. A sense of tranquility thus prevails upon us pacifying our storm-tossed and perturbed soul.

Today when the world has been torn apart with the raging of the deadly corona pandemic, and when people are at a loss as to how to strive in life, Mother’s exemplary life and teachings are our guiding force to combat this appalling situation. By standing up for others in this hour of crisis and through love and bonded brotherhood, the frontline fighters have proved that we can extend our helping hand to the needy, the ailing, and the distressed in times of need. At the present moment, standing in the midst of an encircling gloom, Mother’s words “Learn to make the world your own. Nobody is a stranger, my dear; the world is yours” is our guiding star, as we are all bound up by one Bramhan and are all a part of the manifestation of the Supreme Self.

Works Consulted:

  • The Mother As I saw her Reminiscences of Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi : published by The President Sri Ramkrishna Math: Mylapore: Chennai-4, 2003
  • Letters of Swami VivekanandaAdvaita Ashram : Mayabati,1993)
  • Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi,Swami Gambhirananda: Sri Ramakrishna Math, Mylapore, 2004.

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