David Nelson (Devadatta) is a longstanding devotee. He gave this retreat on October 25, 2014. Devadatta is an authority on Kali. He has masterfully retranslated the Chandi, and has written several books on the Divine Mother. This retreat will be published in two parts.
KĀLĪ: IN OUR HEARTS AND MINDS
Retreat, Vedanta Society, Santa Barbara
25 October 2014
Devadatta Kālī (David Nelson)
PART I: THE VIEW FROM DAKṢIṆEŚVAR
The name of this retreat is “Kālī: In Our Hearts and Minds,” and this title will be like a thread that runs through the three sessions. It’s more than just a theme for today’s retreat, however. In fact, it is a theme that runs through every moment of our lives, a theme that reveals who we are, who we think we are, how we got here, and where we are headed. This will become clear in many ways as we proceed. To begin, let’s just look at those two words: mind and heart.
When we think of the mind, we think of jñāna yoga, the path of using our intellectual power as the primary instrument to take us toward the goal of Self-realization or enlightenment. This is called the path of knowledge, the jñāna mārga. It is all about proper discernment—about cultivating the ability to see things for what they are, to cut through the veils of illusion that distort and obscure the truth. The path of knowledge is, in fact, all about a proper use of the mind.
When we think of the heart, the path of love suggests itself. In Hindu tradition this is called bhakti yoga or bhakti mārga. This path of love is all about directing our emotions Godward with selfless dedication.
It is often taught that one person is by disposition a jñānin and another is a bhakta. It might be good to rethink this. To say I am one or the other is to define myself, and to define is to limit. If the goal of spiritual life is to know that I am the limitless Self—capital S—then how can defining myself and limiting the options of my practice be of any help? The highest knowledge, the highest experience, is simply I AM—not “I am this” or “I am that.” The highest knowledge is the experience of wholeness, and the whole has no parts. Here in our ordinary, unenlightened state there is this distinction of heart and mind, but for one who is enlightened, there is only Oneness.
So, that is a practical view. Let’s look at this matter of the mind and heart more philosophically. To begin with, both words, mind and heart, seem to stand for something that we take to be a thing, an object. We speak of “my mind” and “my heart” as if they are something that we possess, something that we can observe, something that we can judge, something that we can manipulate, for better or worse. But as we proceed and delve ever deeper into the realm of spiritual knowledge, things begin to change. We discover that at a higher phase of spiritual understanding these words appear to us in a somewhat different light. The mind, in jñāna yoga, is an instrument of spiritual practice. But from another point of view the mind, when not used as an instrument of spiritual practice, proves to be obstructive. It has a way of getting in the way—of complicating matters and keeping us in a state of confusion or delusion. This sort of mind is the problem and not the solution, because it is the mind that, through all its processes of perceiving and thinking, keeps us bound to this world of the here and now, with all its joys and sorrows, pleasures and miseries. It is the mind, in this sense, that divides the wholeness of divine reality into the many parts of ordinary existence. It must be properly directed and used as an instrument for liberation. Śrī Rāmakṛṣṇa used to say that it is the mind that binds and the mind that sets us free.
In contrast, the heart is something entirely different. We may think of the heart as the physical organ that pumps the blood that keeps us alive. We may think of the heart as the seat of our emotions, and that understanding provides the basis for bhakti yoga. But neither of those ideas gives a full understanding of what Hindu spiritual teaching means by heart. In the highest philosophical sense, going all the way back to the beginning of Hindu tradition, heart is a metaphor for the very heart or core or essence of our being. And what is that? It is consciousness—Brahman, also called cit or saṁvid—that shining light of Self-awareness that makes everything possible. The heart is that light by which all else is known—it is infinite, ever-free, and blissful. The heart is the supreme Self, and that is our essence.
So, from this point of view the word mind denotes that which divides and separates, keeping us in the bondage of our unique personalities in the midst of this diverse, multifaceted world with its confounding array of joys and miseries. The word heart stands for our true being as the infinite, changeless, and ever-perfect Self. From this understanding of mind and heart arises the foundation for a thoroughgoing spiritual practice. It is summed up in this simple but profound instruction: “Watch your mind, but listen to your heart.”
This practical advice will eventually reveal that the highest purpose of our spiritual striving is to go beyond the distinction of mind and heart and to reach the knowledge that the two are in fact one. This is a path of integration, leading us to the ultimate wholeness. As we shall see, the religion of Kālī is well suited to take us there.
Just who is Kālī? Perhaps many of us, not born into the Hindu tradition, first learned of her through the popular media—through the movies or adventure stories or maybe even by word of mouth. In all likelihood our initial impressions of Kālī were way off the mark. We must recognize that we may carry lingering misunderstandings about Kālī. Anyone who saw the 1984 movie Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom will remember her followers as a bunch of murderous fanatics. This same impression comes through in the 1988 film The Deceivers, starring Pierce Brosnan, who played a British captain, William Savage, who worked to eradicate the bands of murderous robbers known as Thugs, portrayed as devotees of Kālī, to whom they sacrifice their victims. Where did such an idea come from?
The earliest written account to mention the Thugs in India is History of Fīrūz Shāh, dating from c1356. It reports that in the year 1290 the Sultan of Delhi had about a thousand of them captured and deported. The Thugs themselves traced their origin to seven Muslim tribes, and similar groups were reported earlier in eleventh-century Persia and thirteenth-century Egypt. All of them preyed on unsuspecting travelers. The Thugs would join groups of travelers, gain their confidence, then take their victims by surprise, strangle them, rob them, and either bury the bodies or throw them down the nearest well. In India Hindus seemed to have taken part in the Thuggee movement early on.
But how did Kālī come to be associated with all this? While James Forbes’s Oriental Memoirs, published in 1813, reported on India’s gangs of stranglers, there is no mention of Kālī or human sacrifice. The British began to suppress the Thugs in the 1830s, and after the initial round of arrests and trials, an official report was written in 1832 by F. C. Smith, agent to the Governor-General. The picture that emerges from interviews with imprisoned Thugs shows that their motive was profit. The Thugs were a diverse group. They were Muslims as well as Hindus of all castes and no caste. They came from all walks of life; they were peasant farmers, tradesmen, officials. One gang leader was even a renegade British soldier. There is no mention here of Kālī.
That appears four years later. The character that Pierce Brosnan played in The Deceivers was loosely based on the real-life Captain William Henry Sleeman, whose mission it was to eradicate Thuggee in India. In 1836 Sleeman published a book entitled Ramaseeana, in which he described blood sacrifices to Kālī. This information is clearly at odds with Smith’s official report. It appears that the association of Kālī with India’s murderous bandits was the work of Sleeman and like-minded evangelicals in service of the British administration. In 1813 the British Parliament had lifted the ban on evangelizing in India, and by the 1830s the missionary movement was in full swing, and it saw in the Hindu religion the worst enemy of all. The year after Ramaseeana was published, Charles Trevelyan (who became the governor of Madras in 1859) observed, “If we were to form a graduated scale of religions, that of Christ and Kalee would be at the opposite extremes” (Quarterly Review, 1837).
Three years after William Henry Sleeman published Ramaseeana, Colonel Philip Meadows Taylor wrote a novel entitled Confessions of a Thug. When the book was about to published in 1839, Queen Victoria couldn’t wait. She insisted on reading the page proofs as they were prepared. Confessions of a Thug was the first successful novel set in India, and it reinforced in the British imagination the idea of “Hindoostan” as a place of exotic passion and savage criminality. It also established the word thug in the English language. Borrowed from the Hindi term, which originally meant “deceiver,” thug came to mean a ruffian, cutthroat, or assassin. The novel’s charismatic anti-hero, Ameer Ali, is a Thug, fanatically devoted to Kālī, here called Bhowanee. As a result of the novel’s success, this fictional murderous cult of Kālī became one of the most pressing issues in the governance of British India. Public opinion began to solidify against the Hindu goddess.
Such ideas persisted, and as late as 1909 we find a damning assessment of Śākta religion from John Campbell Oman, an Indian-born educator. Here is how he interpreted Indian religion for his British readers:
The total absence of beauty, either sentimental or artistic, from the legends and the ritual of Kali-ism, is not compensated by anything ennobling in the religion of the dread goddess in whom robbers and cut-throats recognize a congenial patroness. … As for the battles these warrior goddesses fought with their giant opponents, they are such as only the wildest imagination could possibly have conceived. In Hindu legends one looks in vain for ordinary men and women. Only gods, superhuman monsters, and perhaps ascetic saints as fierce, unscrupulous, and powerful as the others, figure in the troubled pictures and dark creations of the mythmakers of India (The Brahmans, Theists and Muslims of India, p. 271).
It’s a bit ironic that he should talk about the wild Hindu imagination. It certainly pales alongside the imagination of certain British novelists of the period. In fact the success of Confessions of a Thug spawned a host of imitations. Producing fictional accounts of exotic India for the avid appetites of properly repressed English Victorians became a whole industry. The stories were lurid mélanges of sensuality, violence, and bloodthirsty killings, often involving religion. The most egregious of the novelists was Flora Annie Steel (1847-1929), who lived in India for more than twenty years. Even so, her novels and short stories lack any sense of authenticity and instead exhibit the wildest sort of imagination. As the years passed her fantasies only grew more sensational. One of her later short stories, “A Maiden’s Prayer,” appeared in her collection entitled The Mercy of the Lord, published in 1914. The story centers on a young woman, Parbutti, who is about to be married. Before the marriage, certain rites typical of a high-caste Bengali family are performed. The writer describes them as “enervating” and “depraving” because of the secret sensual delights they insinuate. The ceremony culminates in the sacrifice of a goat and “a jet of red, red bubbling blood spurting into the dim light.” After the ceremony Parbutti goes down to the basement of the family home to pray in the Kālī shrine, and here is the prayer she utters:
Om! Om! Kâli Ma! –
Ruler, Thou, of blackest night –
Dark, Dark, not a Star –
In Thy Heaven, Kâli Ma!–
Thou who lovest the flesh of man –
By this blood I pray thee ban –
Aliens in Hindustan –
Kill them, Kâli Ma! –
Drink their blood and eat their flesh –
Thou shalt have it fresh and fresh –
Lo! devour it! lick thy lips –
Flesh in lumps and blood in sips –
Stain thyself with sacred red –
Make them lifeless, dead! dead! dead!
Blessed Kâli Ma!
Oh yes, Parbutti’s father is a nationalist who rejects both foreign domination and the superstition of the Śākta religion, and her brother is an anarchist, intent on driving the British out of India. While Parbutti is in the shrine, her brother Govinda, her fiancé, and two fellow students sneak in. They don’t see her in the darkness as she watches them plant explosives in the hollow image of Kālī, after which they exclaim, “Jai Kālī! Jai Bhairavī! Jai anarchy!” Well, the wedding day comes, and along with it news that Parbutti’s brother and fiancé have been arrested, that the brother has already died in prison of a recurrence of autumnal fever, and the fiancé has performed the honorable duty of killing himself. What’s a girl to do? Dressed in her bridal finery, Parbutti goes downstairs to the shrine and utters the same maiden’s prayer we’ve heard before. Then she ignites the explosives, and sacrifices herself to her beloved Goddess. After a description of the blown-up image of Kālī in her blown-up shrine, strewn with the blown-up body parts and splintered bones of her devotee, the author leaves us with a final thought: after the maiden’s sacrifice, whether Kālī will keep her part of the bargain is another matter.
Flora Annie Steel expressed her strongest disapproval of Hindu culture in a late novel entitled The Law of the Threshold, from 1924. Very briefly, at the center of the story is Professor Anderson, who aims to penetrate India’s darkest secrets. Another character is an idealistic young American with the typically American name of Nigel Blennerhasset. He is a convert to the Tantric religion who sets out on a mission to India to convert the native population to the sect. Go figure. Accompanying him is the lovely young Maya Day. Once in India neither Nigel nor Maya realizes that they are being used as pawns by Jewish Bolsheviks who are working against British colonial interests. At the end of the novel Professor Anderson comes to a secret valley where Tantric rites are performed. The Tantrics believe that the self and the all-pervading godhead are one—”Thou art That” is their teaching—which of course leads to their practice of ritual cannibalism. There in the valley the Professor discovers the severed head of Maya Day, smiling in testimony that she had willingly offered herself in sacrifice. Armed with this knowledge, Professor Anderson is able to advise the British how to counter the Bolshevik insurgents, and the colonial enterprise is saved for yet another day.
The sensationalized image of Kālī persists in the popular imagination, but we devotees of the Divine Mother should not take this personally. Why not? Because this whole pattern of vilification did not arise only with the British in response to Kālī. It has far deeper roots in the human psyche. The earliest Christians were accused by pagans of similar atrocities, and when Christianity became established in the Roman Empire, the Christians leveled the same charges at the Gnostics. In the Middle Ages, the Jewish mystics who practiced Kabbalah were in turn accused of obscene rites that involved the sacrifice and consumption of Christian babies. These same sick fantasies come up time and again.
To understand who Kālī really is, let’s now turn to those who are intimately acquainted with her. Let’s turn to “the view from Dakṣiṇeśvar.”
We’ll begin in 1847, just eight years after Confessions of a Thug took the British reading public by storm. For several years a devout Calcutta widow named Rāṇī Rāsmaṇī had cherished a desire to make a pilgrimage to the holy city of Kāśī, or Vārāṇasī, but the responsibilities of managing her vast inherited wealth had prevented her from doing so. Now the Rāṇī felt that the time for pilgrimage had come. On the night before her planned departure, her chosen goddess, Kālī, appeared to her in a dream and said that there was no need to go to Kāśī. Instead the Rāṇī was to install an image of the Divine Mother in a beautiful spot along the Gaṅgā. In her new shrine Kālī would be worshiped daily—awakened, bathed, fed, adored by her devotees, and prayed to from before dawn until evening.
Soon a magnificent temple complex began to rise up at Dakṣiṇeśvar. Eight years later, as it was nearing completion, an auspicious day was decided upon for the installation of the black basalt image of Kālī, an image showing her in the beneficent form of Bhavatāriṇī, who takes her devotees across the ocean of worldly existence. The image was formally installed in the temple on 31 May 1855. The head priest who officiated was named Rāmkumār Chatterjee. A year later he was dead, and his twenty-year-old brother Gadadhar became the chief priest, responsible for the worship of Kālī. We know him as Śrī Rāmakṛṣṇa.
We’ll skip ahead a few years to the time when Śrī Rāmakṛṣṇa was widely respected as a holy man and visitors flocked to Dakṣiṇeśvar to be in his presence and to receive his insights. The teachings quoted here were all recorded by the disciple Mahendranath Gupta and published as Śrī Śrī Rāmakṛṣṇa Kaṭhāmṛta, known in Swami Nikhilananda’s English translation as The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna.
On one occasion Keshab Sen, the leader of a Hindu reform group known as the Brahmo Samāj, asked Śrī Rāmakṛṣṇa to describe how Kālī sports in the world. Rāmakṛṣṇa smiled and replied:
Oh, she plays in different ways. It is She alone who is known as Mahā-Kāli, Nitya-Kālī, Śmaśāna-Kālī, Rakshā-Kālī, and Śyāma-Kālī. … When there were neither the creation nor the sun, the moon, the planets, and the earth, and when darkness was enveloped in darkness, then the Mother, the Formless One, Mahā-Kālī, the Great Power, was one with Mahā-Kāla, the Absolute [135c]. … One cannot think of Brahman without Śakti, or of Śakti without Brahman. One cannot think of the Absolute without the Relative, or of the Relative without the Absolute [134i].
On another occasion Śrī Rāmakṛṣṇa introduced the idea of spontaneity and freedom in the creation:
The Primordial Power is ever at play. She is creating, preserving, and destroying in play, as it were. This Power is called Kālī. Kālī is verily Brahman, and Brahman is verily Kālī. It is one and the same reality. When we think of It as inactive, that is to say, not engaged in the acts of creation, preservation, and destruction, then we call It Brahman. But when It engages in these activities, then we call It Kālī or Śakti. The reality is one and the same; the difference is in name and form [134j].
Another time Rāmakṛṣṇa elaborated:
Brahman and Kālī are not different. They are like fire and its power to burn: if one thinks of fire one must think of its power to burn. If one recognizes Kālī one must also recognize Brahman; again, if one recognizes Brahman one must recognize Kālī. Brahman and Its power are identical. It is Brahman whom I address as Śakti or Kālī [734h].
Still water is an illustration of Brahman. The same water, moving in waves, may be compared to Śakti [634h].
The word śakti contains a wealth of meaning. As a proper noun—capital Ś—it is the name of the Divine Mother. It represents the personification of divine power, the power of consciousness itself. As a common noun with a broader range of use, śakti means “power,” “energy,” “force,” and “potency.” It derives from a verbal root, śak, which means “to be able.” So the word śakti carries within itself the idea of potentiality and infinite possibility. And that manifests as the created universe, emerging out of a single, dimensionless point called the bindu—śakti concentrated at the timeless instant before what today’s physicists call the Big Bang.
How do we reconcile form with the formless? It is a question that is bound to arise, and in that connection Śrī Rāmakṛṣṇa once spoke these words softly to a devotee:
That which is formless again has form. One should believe in the forms of God also. By meditating on Kālī the aspirant realizes God as Kālī. Next he finds that the form merges in the Indivisible Absolute. That which is the Indivisible Satchidānanda is verily Kālī [412n].
As for the forms in which Kālī reveals herself as a goddess, Śrī Rāmakṛṣṇa said:
Śyāma-Kālī has a somewhat tender aspect and is worshipped in the Hindu households. She is the Dispenser of boons and the dispeller of fear. People worship Raksha-Kālī, the Protectress, in times of epidemic, famine, earthquake, drought, and flood. Śmaśāna-Kālī is the embodiment of the power of destruction. She resides in the cremation ground, surrounded by corpses, jackals, and terrible female spirits. From her mouth flows a stream of blood, from her neck hangs a garland of human heads, and around her waist is a girdle made of human hands [135d].
On another occasion when the conversation turned to this dark and terrifying form of Kālī, Rāmakṛṣṇa exclaimed, “Kālī, the Embodiment of Destruction! No, Nitya-Kālī, my eternal Divine Mother!” [750p]. Unfortunately this conversation was interrupted by the arrival of a devotee, and we have to imagine what would have followed, based on what is recorded of other conversations. Basically Śrī Rāmakṛṣṇa taught that the Divine is wholeness. The Tantra instructs that whether expressing its creative power as the dynamic realm of becoming or remaining at rest in the supreme Selfhood of pure being, there is a single and singular divine reality. Both aspects of it are true. We can know this by reconciling the mind and the heart.
Toward the end of his earthly life, when Rāmakṛṣṇa was being treated by Dr. Sarkar, a conversation took place between the doctor and M., the recorder of the Gospel:
Doctor: “I find that he is a worshipper of the Goddess Kālī.”
M: “But with him the meaning of Kālī is different. What the Vedas call the Supreme Brahman, he calls Kālī. What the Mussalmāns call Āllāh and the Christians call God, he calls Kālī. He does not see many gods; he sees only one God. What the Brahmajnānis of olden times called Brahman, what the yogis call Ātman and the bhaktas call the Bhagavān, he calls Kālī” [888lm].
The basis of Śrī Rāmakṛṣṇa’s teaching is his own experience of Kālī. As a young priest performing the worship in the Dakṣineśvar temple, Śrī Rāmakṛṣṇa found himself ever more drawn toward the Mother by an irresistible current of love and longing until the separation became unbearable. According to his own account, recorded in the Līlaprasaṅga by Swami Saradananda, [p. 212, Swami Chetanananda’s translation] he felt he was dying of despair at not having seen the Mother. In a mad agony, determined to end his life, he seized the sword that hung on the wall in the Kālī shrine, and at that moment Kālī revealed herself. On regaining consciousness of the outer world, Rāmakṛṣṇa plaintively and repeatedly cried out, “Mother, Mother.” Describing the vision later, he said that it was as if everything familiar had vanished from sight. All that remained was an infinite, shoreless ocean of light, an ocean of consciousness whose roaring, effulgent waves engulfed him in unknown depths.
That first vision left Śrī Rāmakṛṣṇa with a constant, intense longing for the Mother to reveal herself again. Whenever the agony grew unbearable, he would lose outer consciousness, and her luminous form would appear. He described her as smiling, talking, consoling, or teaching him in countless ways. His own statements confirm that he experienced Kālī both as the Absolute and as the personal goddess.
Another incident, which Rāmakṛṣṇa confided to M. is recorded in the Gospel. One afternoon some visitors, including a pundit well versed in the scriptures, had come to Dakṣiṇeśvar, and their conversation had left M. perplexed. After they had left, M. thought to himself, According to the Vedānta all is like a dream. Are all these—the ego, the universe, and the living beings—unreal then? [344o]. Later, when he and Rāmakṛṣṇa were alone, M. asked, “Is the world unreal?” [345b].
Śrī Rāmakṛṣṇa replied, “Why should it be unreal? What you are asking is a matter for philosophical discussion.” Later that evening their conversation again turned to that question, and Rāmakṛṣṇa shared a wonderful revelation with M.:
Why should the universe be unreal? That is a speculation of the philosophers. After realizing God, one sees that it is God Himself who has become the universe and all living beings.
The Divine Mother revealed to me in the Kālī temple that it was She who had become everything. She showed me that everything was full of Consciousness. The Image was Consciousness, the altar was Consciousness, the water-vessels were Consciousness, the door-sill was Consciousness, the marble floor was Conscious-ness—all was Consciousness.
I found everything inside the room soaked, as it were, in Bliss—the Bliss of Satchidānanda. I saw a wicked man in the front of the Kālī temple; but in him also I saw the Power of the Divine Mother vibrating.
That is why I fed a cat with the food that was to be offered to the Divine Mother. I clearly perceived that the Divine Mother Herself had become everything—even the cat [345klm, 346a].
So we might ask, if the Divine Mother has become everything, was Rāmakṛṣṇa also Kālī? We find a clue in the Gospel:
Surendra: (looking at M. and the others): “I have come after finishing my office work. I thought, ‘What is the good of standing on two boats at the same time?’ So I finished my duties first and then came here. Today is the first day of the year; it is also Tuesday, an auspicious day to worship the Divine Mother. But I didn’t go to Kālīghāt. I said to myself, ‘It will be enough if I see him who is Kālī Herself, and who has rightly understood Kālī.’”
Śrī Rāmakṛṣṇa smiled [954c].
We may not know what Rāmakṛṣṇa was thinking, but it is helpful here to consider a devotional song composed by Śyāmapāda Basu Ray. The title is “Three Kālīs Appeared in Dakṣiṇeśvar” (Tin Kālīr Uday). The song describes three aspects of the Divine Mother Kālī. The first is Bhavatāriṇī, who lives enshrined in the magnificent temple built by Rāṇī Rāṣmaṇī. The second is Śrī Rāmakṛṣṇa, who never ceased to call out to the Divine Mother Kālī though he himself was Kālī. The third is Mā Sāradā, who as the embodiment of Kālī, never ceased to serve Kālī in the form of Śrī Rāmakṛṣṇa. The song urges its hearers to go to Dakṣiṇeśvar and see these three Kālīs with a full heart. Let’s consider them one by one.
Who can guide us through our inquiry better than Śrī Rāmakṛṣṇa himself? We’ve already learned about his understanding of Kālī. For him the image of Bhavatāriṇī in the temple represented the Divine Mother of the Universe, who is not different from the formless Absolute. Repeatedly he told his disciples that Kālī and Brahman are one. On one occasion he identified these two aspects of the One as cidātmā and cicchakti, consciousness as Self and consciousness as energy [381a]. For Śrī Rāmakṛṣṇa, Kālī was both the infinite ocean of consciousness-bliss and its manifestation as the universal Mother, whose love is boundless and unconditional.
The second Kālī of the song is Śrī Rāmakṛṣṇa. Swami Vivekananda expressed the same idea in 1898 while traveling in the Himalayas with Sister Nivedita, Sara Bull, and Josephine MacLeod. He told them that there was “a feminine something somewhere, that wanted to manifest: and that it had manifested in male form as Śrī Rāmakṛṣṇa, who spoke of himself as “My Divine Mother.” The following year Sister Nivedita told Vivekananda that she always looked upon Śrī Rāmakṛṣṇa as an incarnation of Kālī. She asked if the future would call him that. “Yes,” Swamiji replied, “I think there is no doubt that Kālī worked up the body of Rāmakṛṣṇa for Her Own Ends.” Concerning this same question, we also have Śrī Rāmakṛṣṇa’s own words. On 15 March 1886, five months before his mahāsamādhi, he told Narendra and the other devotees present, “There are two persons in this [his own] body—one is the Divine Mother—yes, the Mother is one of them—the other is her devotee.”
Śrī Sāradā Devī, known also as Holy Mother, is the third Kālī of Śyāmapāda’s song. It should not be surprising that the same great power that expressed itself through the form of Śrī Rāmakṛṣṇa also embodied itself as Śrī Sāradā Devī. Customarily a divine incarnation comes accompanied by his Śakti. Rāma had his devoted wife Sītā, and Krishna had his beloved Rādhā. Śrī Rāmakṛṣṇa, equated Rādhā with cicchakti, the energy of consciousness. Where God is present, so is his Śakti. What did Sāradā Devī herself have to say about this? Once while she was staying with Balarām’s family at Kothar in Orissa, she confided to a disciple, “Wherever is Śiva there is Śakti. They are always together. It is the same Śiva again and again, and the same Śakti too.” Naturally reticent, Sāradā Devī was reluctant to reveal her true nature, but occasionally a hint of it would slip out from behind her veil of humility. A particularly charming incident took place soon after Śrī Rāmakṛṣṇa’s death in 1886. Holy Mother was travelling on foot from her native village of Jayrambati to Kamarpukur, accompanied by her young nephew Śivaram, known affectionately as Sibu. The boy was carrying her bundle of clothes, and when they came near to Jayrambati, he suddenly stopped. When Holy Mother urged him on, he replied that he would continue only if she told him something. She asked what he wanted to know, and Sibu said, “Will you tell me who you are?” She replied that she was his aunt. Who else could she be? At this response, the nephew told her that in that case she could go on by herself. She reasserted that she was his aunt and a mere human being, and he told her again that she could go on alone. At his unwillingness to budge from the spot, Holy Mother said at last, “People say I am Kālī.”
“Are you really Kālī? Is it true?” Sibu asked.
“Yes,” Holy Mother replied, and then the two continued on to Jayrambati, the delighted young Sibu contentedly following the Mother of the Universe.