Sri Sarada Devi (1853 - 1920)

Sri Sarada Devi Of the divine incarnations of Shakti, Durga personifies protection, Sita sacrifice, Radha divine love – all manifested on an epic and glorious scale. In our era, the Holy Mother, Sri Sarada Devi is the divine incarnation and personification of the Universal Mother.

For, is not a mother about compassion, forbearance, forgiveness and fortitude? In the Holy Mother, there is that and far more.

There is same-sighted love for all - not just for those related by ties of blood, community, caste, or religion.

There is her intense spirituality and renunciation.

Underlying it all is her outward ordinariness and her unassuming, modest nature that kept her divine powers hidden so she appears less distant, more accessible.

As numerous instances in her life show, the Holy Mother was Mother of all and, as Swami Vivekananda said, is the ideal of womanhood for this age.

The Holy Mother was born on the 22nd of December 1853 in Jayrambati, a village near Sri Ramakrishna’s village of Kamarpukur in West Bengal, India. Her father, Ramachandra Mukhopadhyay, poor but pious and her mother, Shyama Sundari Devi, loving and hardworking, named her Saradamani. At about five years of age, in accordance with the customs prevalent in India of that time, the Holy Mother was married to Sri Ramakrishna. It was more in the nature of a betrothal. After the event, she continued to live with her parents while Sri Ramakrishna lived a God-intoxicated life at the Dakshineshwar Kali Temple.

At eighteen, hearing of Sri Ramakrishna’s reported insanity, the Holy Mother asked her father to take her to Dakshineshwar to see if this was really so and to be able to serve him. There were no trains at that time. Even the hiring of palanquins – a common mode of transportation - was beyond her father’s means. So, they walked a good distance but were forced to hire a palanquin after she went down with fever. They reached Dakshineswar and were welcomed by Sri Ramakrishna. The Holy Mother was relieved to see his ‘insanity’ was nothing but the idle gossip of worldly minds that could not understand his exalted spiritual state.

But, what of Sri Ramakrishna?

As the fear rose in his mind that his young wife would pull him into a worldly married life, he asked her directly: “Do you want to drag me into Maya?”

Prompt came the Holy Mother’s reply: “Why should I do that?’ she said. “I have come only to help you in the path of religious life.”

When she in turn asked how he looked at her, Sri Ramakrishna said:“I look upon you … as the embodiment of Motherhood.”

Re-assured of her innate spirituality and renunciation, Sri Ramakrishna proceeded to instruct her in every aspect of religious life. This culminated in his worship of her as Shodashi – a form of Mother Kali - thus awakening the Universal Motherhood latent in her.

Indeed, as devotees and disciples began to gather in increasing numbers around Sri Ramakrishna, Sri Sarada Devi looked after them as if she was their own mother. She could be found content - cooking at all hours of the day when required - even as she lived, slept and made meals in a single room so small she often knocked her head entering it! Keeping in mind their personal likes, she would prepare khichuri for Rakhal (the future Swami Brahmananda); thick gram daal and thick chapattis for Naren (the future Swami Vivekananda) and see that Baburam (the future Swami Premananda) got extra chapattis!

Years later, when she saw Amjad, a Muslim laborer being fed discourteously by her niece, the Holy Mother rebuked her saying: “If you serve a person in this way, can he eat with relish? You give the things to me and I will serve him.” With her same-sighted love for all, she continued: “Amjad is my son, exactly in the sense that Sarat (Swami Saradananda) is.”

And just as mothers do, the Holy Mother often stood, in rain and shine, on the banks of the Ganges or at the doorway of her home in Jayrambati to get a last glimpse of a devotee who had taken leave of her. That her compassion extended to anyone who came to her was obvious. She said: “I cannot refuse anyone who calls on me as mother.” So much so, Swami Premananda said she would initiate people regardless of the physical difficulties they caused her to bear: ‘We are sending the Holy Mother the poison we could not ourselves take. She is giving refuge to everybody, accepting the sins of all and digesting the same.” But, this did not mean she would overlook or accept any laxity on the part of devotees when it came to their spiritual practices.

As the Universal Mother, she stressed in no uncertain terms, the need for japa and meditation on a regular and sustained basis: “Have your mind fixed on God.” “Don’t relax, practice.” “You must at least sit down once in the morning and again in the evening.” “Repeat the mantra at least 10,000 to 15,000 times a day… it is only through struggle that you will get what you seek.”

Though she was divinity herself, the Holy Mother’s own spiritual practices were intense and rigorous. When asked why she got up as early as 2 am, she said: “All these children come to me with great longing and take initiation but most do not practice japa regularly… I do japa for their sake.”
“What a lot of work I did when I was your age,” she once told her niece, Nalini, “ yet I could find the time to repeat the mantra a hundred thousand times a day.”

As Sister Nivedita said: “Her life was one long stillness of prayer.” After Sri Ramakrishna passed away in 1886, she was grief-stricken and spent the next few months on pilgrimages. Then proceeded to Kamarpukur where she lived in near poverty.

But, remembering Sri Ramakrishna’s advice to her to not ‘stretch’ her hand out and ask for help, the Holy Mother kept quiet about her circumstances, showing, once again, her renunciation and adaptability to circumstances. News, however, did reach the disciples of Sri Ramakrishna who brought her to Kolkata. Hereafter, she divided her time between Calcutta and Jayrambati. These years saw the growth in the numbers of her disciples and at the same time she became the Sangha-janani – the mother of the Ramakrishna movement.

Though her needs were looked after by Swami Yogananda and after his passing away by Swami Saradananda and Sarala Devi (the future Pravarajika Bharatiprana) and was seen by both monastic and householder devotees as the Mother of the Universe, she continued to live simply, washing clothes, sweeping the floor, dressing vegetables, cooking and serving food. 

But under the strain of constant physical work, self-denial, intense spiritual practices and repeated attacks of malaria, her health deteriorated and she left the mortal world on the 21st July 1920. Even as she lay ill, the Holy Mother continued to guide her devotees. Just five days before the end, she put in immortal words what she had always practiced: “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.”

Read Online: Gospel of The Holy Mother