Endearingly known as ‘Holy Mother’, Sri Sarada Devi, the spiritual consort of Sri Ramakrishna, was born on 22 December 1853 in a poor Brahmin family in Jayrambati, a village adjoining Kamarpukur in West Bengal. Her father, Ramachandra Mukhopadhyay, was a pious and kind-hearted person, and her mother, Shyama Sundari Devi, was a loving and hard-working woman.
Sarada lived the simple life of an Indian village girl. As a child Sarada—then known as Saradamani—was fascinated by traditional Hindu folklore and narratives. As in the case of most girls of rural upbringing, she did not receive any formal education but learned to serve others as she helped her mother run a large household and looked after her younger brothers. During the terrible famine of 1864, Sarada worked ceaselessly as her family served food to hungry people. She was interested in the clay models of goddesses Kali and Lakshmi, which she worshiped regularly. She is said to have started meditating from her childhood and traditional accounts recount her mystic visions and experiences. According to Sarada Devi, she used to see a bevy of eight girls of her age coming from an unknown place, and escorted her in the chores during her childhood.
As a child Sarada was devoted to God, and spent most of her time helping her mother in various household chores like caring for younger children, looking after cattle and carrying food to her father and others engaged in work in the field. She had no formal schooling, but managed to learn the Bengali alphabet. When she was about six years old, she was married to Sri Ramakrishna, according to the custom prevalent in India in those days. However, after the event, she continued to live with her parents, while Sri Ramakrishna lived a God-intoxicated life at Dakshineshwar.
Visit to Dakshineshwar
At the age of eighteen she walked all the way to Dakshineshwar to meet her husband. Sri Ramakrishna, who had immersed himself in the intense practice of several spiritual disciplines for more than twelve years, had reached the highest state of realization in which he saw God in all beings. He received Sarada Devi with great affection, and allowed her to stay with him. He taught her how to lead a spiritual life while discharging her household dSri Sarada Deviuties. They led absolutely pure lives, and Sarada Devi served Sri Ramakrishna as his devoted wife and disciple, while remaining a virgin nun and following the spiritual path.
Life at Dakshineshwar
Sri Ramakrishna looked upon Sarada Devi as a special manifestation of Divine Mother of the universe. In 1872, on the night of the Phala-harini-Kali-puja, he ritualistically worshipped Sarada Devi as the Divine Mother, thereby awakening universal Motherhood latent in her. When disciples began to gather around Sri Ramakrishna, Sarada Devi learned to look upon them as her own children. The room in which she stayed at Dakshineshwar was too small to live in and had hardly any amenities; and on many days she did not get the opportunity of meeting Sri Ramakrishna. But she bore all difficulties silently and lived in contentment and peace, serving the increasing number of devotees who came to see Sri Ramakrishna.
Leading the Sangha after the Master’s Passing
After Sri Ramakrishna’s passing away in 1886, Sarada Devi spent some months in pilgrimage, and then went to Kamarpukur where she lived in great privation. Coming to know of this, the disciples of Sri Ramakrishna brought her to Kolkata. This marked a turning point in her life. She now began to accept spiritual seekers as her disciples, and became the open portal to immortality for hundreds of people. Her great universal mother-heart, endowed with boundless love and compassion, embraced all people without any distinction, including many who had lived sinful lives. When the Western women disciples of Swami Vivekananda came to Kolkata, the Holy Mother accepted them with open arms as her daughters, ignoring the restrictions of the orthodox society of those days. Although she had grown up in a conservative rural society without any access to modern education, she held progressive views, and whole-heartedly supported Swami Vivekananda in his plans for rejuvenation of India and the uplift of the masses and women. She was closely associated with the school for girls started by Sister Nivedita. She spent her life partly in Kolkata and partly in her native village Jayrambati. During the early years of her stay in Kolkata, her needs were looked after by Swami Yogananda, a disciple of Sri Ramakrishna. In later years her needs were looked after by another disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Saradananda, who built a new house for her in Kolkata.
Simplicity and Forbearance
Although she was highly venerated for her spiritual status, and literally worshipped as the Divine Mother, she continued to live like a simple village mother, washing clothes, sweeping the floor, bringing water from the pond, dressing vegetables, cooking and serving food. At Jayrambati she lived with her brothers and their families. They gave her endless troubles but, established as she was in the awareness of God and in Divine Motherhood, she always remained calm and self-possessed, showering love and blessings on all who came into contact with her. As Sister Nivedita stated, “Her life was one long stillness of prayer.”
Mother of All
In the history of humanity there has never been another woman who looked upon herself as the Mother of all beings, including animals and birds, and spent her whole life in serving them as her children, undergoing unending sacrifice and self-denial. About her role in the mission of Sri Ramakrishna on earth, she stated: “My son, you know the Master had a maternal attitude (matri-bhava) towards every one. He has left me behind to manifest that Divine Motherhood in the world.”
Teachings and quotes
Sarada Devi did not write any books and her utterances and reminiscences have been recorded by her disciples including Swami Nikhilananda, Swami Tapasyananda. Though uneducated Sarada Devi’s spiritual insight and utterances are highly regarded by scholars like Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, who writes, “We have bits and pieces of her exquisite remarks as testimony.”
- Practise meditation, and by and by your mind will be so calm and fixed that you will find it hard to keep away from meditation.
- The mind is everything. It is in the mind alone that one feels pure and impure. A man, first of all, must make his own mind guilty and then alone can he see another man’s guilt.
- “I tell you one thing. If you want peace of mind, do not find fault with others. Rather see your own faults. Learn to make the whole world your own. No one is a stranger, my child; the whole world is your own.”
- One must have devotion towards one’s own guru. Whatever may be the nature of the guru, the disciple gets salvation by dint of his unflinching devotion towards his guru
- God is one’s very own. It is an eternal relationship.
- My child, you have been extremely fortunate in getting this human birth. Have intense devotion to God. One must work hard. Can one achieve anything without effort? You must devote some time for prayer even in the midst of the busiest hours of the day. Do the Master’s work, and along with that practise spiritual disciplines too. Work helps one to keep off idle thoughts. If one is without work, such thoughts rush into one’s mind.
- When a man sees defects in others, his own mind first gets polluted. What does he gain by finding faults in others? He only hurts himself by that.
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