By Nandita Sarkar March 2012 Sri Ramakrishna’s shakti, Sri Sarada Devi’s, teachings and personal example continue to be a light unto all women, says Nandini Sarkar In the cycle of the yugas, the role of women in India has gone through periodic upswings and downswings. From the empowered Ghosha, Lopamudra, Sulabha, Maitreyi, and Gargi of the Vedic Age to the women behind their veils in the colonial era, women have long been subject to societal dictates. In the present times, the rise of Indian women is traced to the 19th century, to the efforts of social reformers like Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar and Raja Ram Mohan Roy. But a fact often overlooked by historians is the stellar role played by Sri Ramakrishna for women’s emancipation. After the mahasamadhi of Sri Ramakrishna, Sri Sarada Devi, the Holy Mother, quietly took over his spiritual mantle. The Holy Mother guided the fledging Ramakrishna Mission from behind the scenes, while Swami Vivekananda led the outward charge. One of my treasured possessions is an autographed book, Gospel of the Holy Mother, presented by the Late Swami Gokulanandaji of the Ramakrishna Mission, Delhi. Gokulanandaji was a spiritual dynamo, and the Delhi Mission’s activities grew a thousand-fold under his charismatic leadership. ‘As wind removes a cloud, so does the name of God disperse the cloud of worldliness.’– Holy Mother So, it intrigued me that he should present me with a book on the Holy Mother, about whom I knew little, rather than on the Master or Swami Vivekananda. After reading the book, I remember phoning Maharajji and blurting out: “Thank you! This is even better than the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna!” However much we may love our earthly mother, as we grow older, we sometimes judge her or find that she does not have the answers to doubts that plague us. Here, in the life of the Holy Mother, we have the Divine Mother incarnate, who enacts the human drama and shows us how we must live through sorrow and disappointment, how we must conduct ourselves as leaders, how we must balance work, sadhana and family. To make her life a model for the New Age woman, the Holy Mother herself went through the vicissitudes of life, maintaining perfect calm and faith in all situations: marital neglect, widowhood, discrimination, abuse from relatives, an adopted daughter who became mentally unbalanced, grinding poverty, spiritual leadership, counsellor to millions and finally recognition of her divinity. Sri Ramakrishna, like other avatars, remained before the public gaze for a very short time, becoming widely known only in his 40s and departing from the world when he was 51 years old. In contrast, Holy Mother’s mission stretched over several, painstaking years. Her life was meant to signal the upliftment of women to positions of leadership in society – a portend of the times to come. Women and marriage The Holy Mother has inspired whole generations of modern Bengali women on the art of living. After their marriage, the Master and Holy Mother lived apart till she was 18. Sri Ramakrishna’s frequent samadhis led to rumours of his mental instability. The shy Sarada, showing great courage, unusual for her times, decided to join the Master at Dakshineshwar and take care of him. She was relieved to find the Master to be a normal, kind and caring person. Their marriage, though never consummated, was based on mutual love, respect and consideration. She supported the Master’s ministry whole-heartedly, ensconced in a tiny room in the nahabat (music tower) at Dakshineshwar. ‘You see, my son, it is not a fact that you will never face danger. Difficulties always come, but they do not last forever. You will see that they pass away like water under a bridge.’ - Holy Mother It was so cramped that she barely had room to stretch. The Master, busy in training disciples, hardly had time for her and lived separately in his room. Holy Mother would watch the Master’s blissful sankirtans from behind her purdah, not being able to be in his physical presence for days, because she was very shy of appearing in public. Uncomplaining despite the hardships, Sarada Devi’s days began at 3 am with a daily bath in the Ganges and with japa and meditation until daybreak. Sri Ramakrishna taught her the sacred mantras, and instructed her how to initiate people. First disciple The Holy Mother is regarded as Sri Ramakrishna’s first disciple. Except for her hours of meditation, most of her time was spent in cooking for the Master and the growing number of his devotees. -After the Master’s death, the Holy Mother remained the spiritual mentor of the Ramakrishna movement for the next 34 years! Modern career women today often face family discontent. Financial independence is perceived to have made them haughty and inconsiderate. Infidelity is also on the rise. It is disturbing to find that many successful career women are increasingly getting separated or divorced. Mother’s life is an eye opener. ‘Each has to get the result of the actions one has earned for this life. A pin at least must prick where a wound from a sword was due.’-Holy Mother She asks women to let go of the little self in service of the family, to work hard to nurture precious family bonds. She shows we can do this without being doormats. Such is the power of Her dignity and divinity, that the Master never speaks to Her harshly or shows an ugly temper. Once, when an insane nephew chases Mother, the gentle Mother is transformed into a fiery Durga: out comes Shakti, to throw the villain to the ground and makes him plead for mercy. Holy Mother advises us to be patient and forbearing because these qualities develop a saintly character. This, in turn, brings peace, universal respect and abundance. She unhesitatingly eschews immodesty and asks women at the workplace to be dignified, modest and uncompromising. The Master too has a lesson for the modern man: ego must not come in the way of marital bonds; a woman’s place in the home is equal to the man’s and she must be given respect, equal opportunity and leadership. Poverty and forbearance After the Master’s passing, Holy Mother stayed alone in Kamarpukur, Sri Ramakrishna’s native village. There, she endured poverty, verging on starvation, for a year. She saw this period as a divine test, a time for tapasya. No appeal for help or donations went out from her. She lived on boiled grass and roots, trusting the Master to take care of Her. In 1888, when the news reached the lay and monastic disciples of Sri Ramakrishna that she needed their care and attention, they invited her to Calcutta and arranged for her stay. Swami Saradananda built a permanent house for the Holy Mother in Calcutta, the Udbodhan House. Speaking of her experiences, Mother said, “Don’t be afraid. Human birth is full of suffering and one has to endure everything patiently, taking the name of God. None, not even God in human form, can escape the sufferings of body and mind.” Spiritual leadership At Udbodhan House, her spiritual ministry began. An increasing number of people began to flock for guidance and spiritual initiation. Other Western women followers including Sister Nivedita and Sister Devamata formed close bonds with her. Swami Nikhilananda, her direct disciple, writes, “Though she had no children of the flesh, she had many of the spirit.” Traditional accounts extol the mystical experiences of her devotees. Some dreamt of her as a goddess in human form though they had never seen her picture before. Girish Chandra Ghosh, the father of Bengali drama, reportedly saw Sarada Devi in a dream when he was 19 years old and received a mantra. When he met her many years later, to his astonishment she was the same person in the dream. She also initiated several prominent monks into the Ramakrishna Order. Swami Nikhilananda, who was a freedom fighter and a follower of Mahatma Gandhi, accepted Sarada Devi as his guru and joined the Ramakrishna Order. Though uneducated herself, Sarada Devi advocated education for women. She entrusted Devamata with the implementation of her dream—a girl’s school on the Ganges, where Eastern and Western pupils could study together. In 1954, Sri Sarada Math and Ramakrishna Sarada Mission, a monastic order for women, was founded in the honour of Sri Sarada Devi. Annapurna Nandini Sarkar is co-founder, C-Quel,a management services company.She is a lover of the spiritualmasters and follower in the KriyaYoga tradition. After the Master’s passing, his penniless disciples had no resources to start the work and suffered great deprivation. It is said that Holy Mother’s constant prayers to the Master slowly put the RK Mission on a firm financial footing and ensured that the dedicated monks had at least a roof over their heads and simple food, to keep body and soul together. For me, the biggest takeaway from Holy Mother’s life, is her firm refusal to criticise or judge anyone. When on pilgrimage, her only prayer at the holy shrines would be – bless me that I may never find fault with others. Said Mother, “I tell you one thing, my child – if you want peace, do not find fault with others. Learn to make the world your own. No one is a stranger, my child; Do not look for faults in others, or your own eyes will become faulty.” How useful this teaching has been for me in handling human resources at the workplace. I would be a bundle of nerves or a patient of depression if I judged people by what they said or did. I have found a great cleansing of the heart, a sublime peace by learning to forgive others just as I forgive myself for my many mistakes. Mother would often laughingly say t
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