Sri Sarada Devi(1853–1920)is known as the Holy Mother among the devotees and admirers and was the spiritual consort of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa who is worshiped as an God incarnate all over the world. Sri Ramakrishna revealed her as an incarnation of Goddess Sarasvati who came to remove ignorance of the suffering humanity.
It is generally said that every girl in India is born for marriage. At least this idea was universal some two generations back, although in this latter half of the 20th century, the growing number of professional women remaining single and of orders of Sanyasinis, is making this belief rather antiquated. It was however universally widespread in the days of the Holy Mother's infancy. A daughter, though loved and cherished, was often felt a liability and a burden, and parents did not finally feel relieved until she had been given away in marriage. The feeling of the Indian mind on this point in ancient days has been beautifully expressed by Kalidasa, the great Sanskrit poet and dramatist, in a verse he puts in the mouth of Rishi Kanva, the foster-father of Sakuntala, when his daughter leaves for her husband's home: 'Verily, a daughter is the property of another man. Today, having sent her to her husband, my conscience has become quite clear, as on restoring a deposit after a long time'1 (Sakuntalam, 4, 151).
It cannot be denied that this way of thinking has often led parents to hurry their daughters into thematrimonial bond even at a premature age. It is perhaps the very same mentality, buttressed by quasi-religious theories, that has crystallized into such practices as early marriage and child marriage, enforced by social compulsion. That this was not so in the early history of Hindu society is clear from the fact that just like boys, girls also used to be educated in 'forest universities,' some of which at least were run on co-educational lines. In fact, the theory of compulsory pre-puberty marriage for girls of the higher castes came into popularity only along with a change in the conception of women's education. In early Aryan society - and it is also recognized by the orthodox Smritis - girls, like boys, were invested with the sacred thread at the proper age and subsequently initiated into Vedic study and Aryan religious life.2 How long their education continued, one cannot say, but modern scholars believe that marriage did not come in the way of it in so far as the Vedic hymns chanted and the marriage rituals and practices followed indicate that both the contracting parties were adults.
A time, however, came in later days when the investiture of girls with the sacred thread came to be abandoned. This change of ritual procedure, though apparently simple, was fraught with immense consequences in the educational and matrimonial life of women. The investiture with the sacred thread was, for the Aryan mind, the symbol of the commencement of Brahmacharya, or the period of education. And also, only a person invested with it was entitled to Vedic study and Vedic religious practices. The abandonment of it in the case of woman, therefore, meant herexclusion from the ancient Aryan system of education, the chief characteristics of which were the study of the Vedas and residence in the teacher's house during one's educational career.
It may, however, be asked whether the Hindu lawgivers of later days totally overlooked the educational needs of girls and wanted to reduce them to the position of ignorant domestic slaves. This was far from their intention. What they contemplated was that for woman marriage, which was in effect only a betrothal, would take the place of the ceremony of investiture with the sacred thread (Manu, 2.67), and that instead of going to a Guru for study, she would have her education at the hands of her own husband. As investiture with the sacred thread took place in early boyhood, so too the marriage of girls was to take place before they reached the age of puberty. The idea behind it was this. A boy could absorb the ideals of his teacher and have his character moulded by his influence, only if he was put under him at an impressionable age, that is, in his early boyhood. So also it was argued that a girl could become one in mind with her husband, and participate wholeheartedly in his ideals and aspirations only if she was brought under the influence of his personality at a tender age, before her individuality was formed and hardened in its distinctiveness by experiences and contacts of pre-marital life. The husband generally was an adult who had completed his long period of Brahmacharya, or education combined with moral and spiritual training, and the first obligation that marriage placed on him was the education of his wife, that of being the father of her progeny coming only next.
This is the ideal underlying the custom of marrying girls in their childhood. But ideals do not always tally with realities, and the system of child marriage, too, has not been an exception to this. The attainments that the system at its best pre-supposes in the bridegroom are beyond what we may expect in ordinary social life. A bridegroom, according to it, must practically be a sage who has overcome his animal propensities, and is capable of viewing his wife more as a soul in formation than as a member of the opposite sex. Such men are few and far between, and in consequence the vast majority of marriages contracted under the system seldom produce those ideal conditions pre-supposed by it. Of course, when the joint family was a living institution, and the young had the advantage of intelligent guidance from their parents and elders, the evils of the system were much mitigated. In spite of all that, in the vast majority of cases, it has stood in the way of women's education, and has driven girls to the ordeal of motherhood at too premature an age.
But the ideal has its possibilities. Given suitable conditions, it is capable of producing results that compel one's recognition. This is what one finds in the life of the Holy Mother. Here is an example of a girl of five being married to a youth of twenty-three. But the youth was a sage and a great teacher, and the girl a fit recipient of noble teachings. As a consequence we find in their lives a new ideal of conjugal life being evolved - an ideal in which the carnal side of humannature is completely eliminated and the husband plays the part of a spiritual teacher, transferring the richest experiences of his life to the wife, who in her turn becomes a lifelong disciple, finding the highest fulfilment of her life in serving her husband, in absorbing his teachings, and in continuing his life-work after him.
The study of the Holy Mother's life is the study of the gradual unfoldment of this great purpose. The circumstances that led to the singular marriage of the Holy Mother, which facilitated these developments, are given below.
PART: 2 5. "One suffers as a result of one's own actions. So, instead of blaming others for such sufferings, one should pray to the Lord and depending entirely on His grace, try to bear them patiently and with forbearance under all circumstances.
6. "My son, forbearance is a great virtue; there's no other like it.
7. "One must be patient like the earth. What iniquities are being perpetrated on her! Yet she quietly endures them all. Man, too, should be like that."
8. "There is no treasure equal to contentment and no virtue equal to fortitude."
9. "You see, my son, it is not a fact that you will never face dangers. Difficulties always come, but they do not last forever. You will see that they pass away like water under a bridge."
10. "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 the body and mind. Even Avataras, saints, and sages have to undergo the ordeal of suffering, for they take upon themselves the burden of sins of omission and commission of ordinary human beings and thereby sacrifice themselves for the good of humanity." .
No sooner had I prostrated myself before the Holy Mother today than she said, "It is fine that you have come. I was thinking all the time about you. Why did you not come all these days?"
Devotee: I was not in Calcutta. I was at my father's house.
Mother: What is the matter with Sumati? She has not come here for a long time. Is she very busy with her studies?
Devotee: Her husband was not here.
Mother: Well, she goes to school. Do they follow the duties of the world?
Devotee: We do not know, Mother, what the world is and what our duty is. You alone know that.
The Mother smiled. "What a warm day!" she said, and gave me a fan. "Ah dear, you took a hurried meal and ran up here. Now lie down by my side."
A mat was spread on the floor. I hesitated to lie on her bed. But she said, "Why do you hesitate? . Lie down! Listen to my words!" I could not help lying down. The Mother became drowsy and I lay silent. A few women devotees and two nuns arrived. One of the nuns was middle-aged while the other was young: The Mother said, with her eyes closed, "Who is there? Is it Gaurdasi?" The young nun said, "How did you know it, Mother?" The Mother said that she felt so. After a few moments she sat up. The young nun then said: "We had been to the Belur Math. Swami Premananda fed us sumptuously. When he is there, one cannot return from the Math without being fed thus." The Mother gently reprimanded some one of the party for not having put the vermilion mark on her forehead, such a mark being obligatory on every married woman if her husband is alive.
Gauri-Ma learnt about me from the Holy Mother and invited me to her girls' school. About sixty girls were attending the school. She asked me if I knew how to sew. I said that I could sew a little, and she requested me to teach that much to the students of the Ashrama.
With the permission of the Holy Mother, I visited the school of Gauri-Ma one day. Gauri-Ma was very loving to me, and requested me to go there every day for an hour or two and give the girls some lessons. I said, "It is absurd for me to be a teacher with my little training. If you insist, I can just teach them the simple alphabet." But Gauri-Ma was inexorable. I had to yield.
One day, after leaving the school of Gauri-Ma, I went to see the Holy Mother. It was then summer and I was quite tired. The Mother was seated in her room, surrounded by a group of women devotees. As soon as I prostrated myself before her, she looked at me and at once took a small fan from the top of the mosquito-curtain. She began to fan me so that I might be refreshed. Then she said anxiously, "Take off your blouse quickly so that the body may be cool" What an unprecedented love! She began to caress me before many devotees. I felt ashamed. All eyes were fixed upon me. Seeing her eagerness, I had to take off the blouse. The more I requested her to hand over the fan to me, the more she insisted with great tenderness, "That is all right! Be a little refreshed!" She brought a tumbler of water and some sweets. Watching me partake of them, she became happy. The carriage from the school had been waiting for me. So I had to take leave soon.
SRI SARADA DEVI, the Holy Mother, was born the eldest child of her devoted parents on the 22nd of December, 1853. (A Note: It is customary in Bengal to give two names to a baby—one from astrological considerations and the other for calling in daily life. It is said that the astrological name given to the Holy Mother was Thakurmani, and the common name, Kshemankari. At the request of her aunt who had lost a daughter named Sarada, her common name was changed into Sarada, so that the bereaved mother could feel her child's presence in her niece.) Born and brought up in the rural atmosphere of Jayrambati, her early training was just like that of any poor village girl of India belonging to the higher castes. Even as a little girl, she helped her mother in cooking, and often when the latter could not attend to it for unavoidable reasons, she used to take her place in the kitchen. Referring to these experiences of her early days, the Holy Mother used to say, 'I cooked and my father helped me to take down the big rice pot from the oven.' As to the other types of work she was accustomed to do, she said, 'In my childhood I sometimes used to go into neck-deep water and cut grass for the cows." I carried tiffin to the labourers in the field. During one season the paddy was destroyed by pests, and I had to collect the grain from one field after another.'
As a girl she was too serious and self-composed to give herself up to childish games like others of her age. Aghormani, a companion and playmate of her girlhood, used to say of her, 'Mother was very simple in her habits. She would never quarrel with anybody, while playing. When others fell out, she would mediate and establish cordial relations. In play she used to personate herself either as the mistress or governess of the house. Among her playthings there were some dolls, but she was more interested in the clay images of Kali and Lakshmi which she devoutly worshipped with flowers and Bilva leaves. Once on the occasion of the Jagaddhatri Puja, she was meditating on the Goddess with such deep concentration and sense of identification with Her, that the sight of it struck awe in the mind of Ramhriday Ghoshal of Haldepukur.'
Much of her time was taken up with looking after her own younger brothers. Sometimes she went with them to the village school, but since a literary education was not considered quite a necessary accomplishment for a village girl in those days, no one seems to have taken any trouble to teach her or ensure her regular attendance at school. She had, however, a keen desire to study, and in later days learned to read by her own efforts. Referring to this, she said, 'Lakshmi (A niece of Sri Ramakrishna) and I used to read the Bengali primer a little at Kamarpukur. My nephew Hriday (A nephew of Sri Ramakrishna and a constant companion and attendant of his for a long time) snatched the book away from me. He said, 'Women should not learn to read and write. Are you preparing yourself in this way to read novels and dramas later on?' But Lakshmi did not give up the book. She belonged to the family; therefore she held on to her book. I too secretly had a copy bought for one anna. Lakshmi used to attend the village school. On returning home she would teach me. But I really improved my capacity to read only long after at Dakshineswar. The Master (ie Sri Ramakrishna) was staying then at Syampukur for treatment. I was all alone. A girl belonging to the family of Bhava Mukherji used to come to the temple-garden to bathe in the Ganges. Now and then she would spend a long time with me. She used to give me lessons and afterwards examine me. And in return, I would give her a large quantity of greens, vegetables and other articles of food that were sent to me from the temple-gardens.'
Though she could read quite well, she never mastered the art of writing. In later days a disciple wanted to have an autograph from her, and she agreed in a way. But the effort to write her own name was in vain, she scrawled and scrawled, and being unable to produce anything readable, gave up the attempt..
This does not mean that the rural surroundings of her early days did not provide her with any facilities for education. In India, culture has never been identified with literacy. The Indian mind has devised methods of its own for the training of the head and the heart and for an unconscious assimilation of the nations's highest ideals, without unduly emphasizing the pedagogue's art. The religious life of the family, the atmosphere of self-abnegation and service in which girls grow up, the temple festivals, the recitals of epics, village dramas, devotional narratives, - these and several other factors of like nature provide even women who live a comparatively isolated life with facilities for developing a unified character undistracted by the conflicting thoughts and ideals that flow into the minds of the literate that commercial publishing houses produce.
The Holy Mother had plenty of opportunity to receive the training that such an environmentprovided. As we have seen, Jayrambati and its neighbourhood were not without religious festivals. Yatra performances (a form of devotional drama) were frequent in those times, and she had occasion to attend many of them. In her instructions to disciples the Holy Mother used to quote verses and aphorisms that had been imprinted on her memory by attending such performances in her early days. What was more, the care and contact of her poor but cultured and devoted parents were an educational facility of no mean importance. That the Holy Mother was powerfully impressed by them is plain from the great regard and appreciation with which she always spoke of them in later days.
And above all, she had, in her early girlhood, the rare good fortune of coming in contact with a great soul in the most intimate relationship of a woman's life - a contact which in time helped her to understand and realize the purpose of education in the highest sense.
S.NO. NAME OF THE BOOK AUTHOR[S] LINK
1. THE GOSPEL OF THE HM, SRI SARADA DEVI Disciples & Devotees Click here
2. SRI SARADA DEVI, THE HOLY MOTHER[LIFE] Tapasyananda, Swami Click here
3. TEACHINGS OF THE HOLY MOTHER Compilation Click here
4. REMINISCENCES OF ,, Disciples & Devotees -------
5. HOLY MOTHER SRI SARADA DEVIGambhirananda, Swami -------
6. THE MOTHER AS I SAW HER Saradeshananda, Swami -------
7. HOLY MOTHER Nikhilananda, Swami -------
8. SRI SARADA DEVI, A BIOGRAPHY IN PICTURES Photograph Collections -------
9. IN THE COMPANY OF THE HOLY MOTHER Compilation -------
1. Mother: "The world is the Lord's. He created it for His own play. We are mere pawns in His game. Wherever He keeps us and in whatever way He does so, we have to abide by it contentedly. We suffer as a result of our own actions; it is unfair to blame anybody for it. We have to surrender ourselves completely to the Lord with faith and devotion in Him, serve others to the best of our capacity, and never be a source of sorrow to anybody."
2. Disciple: "If there is a God, why is there so much misery in this world? Does He not see? Or hasn't He the power to remove these evils?"
Mother: "The creation itself is full of griefs. How can one understand joy if there is no sorrow? And how can everyone be happy at the same time? There is a story that once Sita said to Rama, 'Why do you not remove everybody's miseries? Make everyone in your kingdom—all your subjects—happy. You can do it if you like.' Rama answered, 'Can everyone be happy at the same time?' 'Well, they can, if you so desire. Why not satisfy all their needs from the royal treasury?' 'Just as you wish.'
"Then Rama called Lakshmana and said, 'Go and tell everyone in my kingdom that all their needs will be supplied from my treasury.' When the people heard this, they came and explained their needs. The treasury was laid open. Everyone lived in happiness. But such was the dispensation of Rama that soon the roof of the royal palace showed cracks and water seeped through. Masons were sent for to repair the crack. But there were none tobe found. Where was any labourer to be found? The subjects also came and complained that because there were no masons or workmen, their houses and buildings were falling to pieces. Then, seeing no other way, Sita said to Rama, 'We cannot suffer in the wet like this! Let everything be as it was. Then we can get workmen again. Everybody cannot be happy at the same time.' 'So be it,' answered Rama. Inthe twinkling of an eye everything was as it used to be. One could get workmen again. 'Lord, it is true that this life is only a game of yours!' said Sita.
"No one can suffer for all time. No one will spend all his days on this earth in suffering. Every action brings its own result, and one gets one's opportunities accordingly."
Disciple: "Then is everything the fruit of Karma?"
Mother: "What else, if not Karma?"
3. "Each has to get the results of the actions he earned for this life. A pin at least must prick where a wound from a sword was due."
4. "Such is life, here today, gone tomorrow! Nothing goes with one, except one's merit and demerit; good and evil deeds follow one even after death."