By Swami Prabhavananda
Swami Prabhavananda was the founder and head of the Vedanta Society of Southern California from 1930 until his death in 1976. He was the author of The Sermon on the Mount According to Vedanta, The Eternal Companion, Religion in Practice and The Spiritual Heritage of India. In addition, he translated the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads, Shankara’s Crest-Jewel of Discrimination and How to Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali. “The Holy Mother as a Disciple Saw Her” appeared in the book Sarada Devi: The Great Wonder.
The Holy Mother’s native village, Jayrambati, is about twenty miles from the place where I was born. In order to go from Calcutta to her village, she had to pass through our little town. One afternoon, two of us boys, about 14 and 15 years old, went for a walk. Near an inn we saw a monk in orange robes, with a number of women standing around him. We began to criticize the monk to ourselves for being surrounded by so many women, and walked on.
But I was curious to find out more about him, and after my friend went home, I turned back and prostrated myself before the holy man. He asked me, “Would you like to see the Holy Mother?” I had read the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. So I became quite excited and said, “You mean the wife of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa?” The Holy Mother was seated within a few feet of me. The Swami laughed and said. “There is the Holy Mother, bow down to her!” So I prostrated myself and touched her feet, and she kissed me (the way Bengali mothers kiss their children). Then she said, “Child, haven’t I seen you before?” And I answered, “No, Mother.” That was our first meeting. Who knew then that she was the Mother of the Universe and knows all her children?
When I went to the Calcutta University, I used to go and bow down to the Holy Mother every Saturday, when men were permitted to prostrate themselves before her. People would line up in long queues just to go and touch her feet. I did not have much reverence for her yet and did not realize her greatness, but I went because every time I bowed down and touched her feet with my two fingers I invariably had the same peculiar experience. It was like getting an electric shock. Of course, when you touch a live wire you will recoil from the shock, but this was a most pleasant sensation, and afterwards I used to feel great peace. I was only a boy of 16 or 17, and I did not know at the time what that peaceful feeling really was.
I had been told that when one went to the Holy Mother’s village one could talk freely with her. One day, after I was initiated by Swami Brahmananda, I went to Jayrambati with a friend of mine who also later became a Swami. We were boys of about 19 or 20 years, and it did not occur to us that we should let the Holy Mother know in advance about our visit. But she did not have to be written to. When we arrived her attendant informed us that she had told him to make room for two of Rakhal’s children (Swami Brahmananda’s disciples) who were coming. We happened to reachJayrambati just after lunch time, but the Holy Mother had kept some food for us. We were served lunch on leaf plates, and she sat by us and we talked. Afterwards, we wanted to clean the place but the Holy Mother asked, “What are you doing?” My friend was shy in her presence, but I answered boldly, “We must not leave these plates, Mother!” She simply said, “What would you do in your home if your mother were sitting by you?” That settled it, she cleaned the place after we rose.
There was a peculiarity about the Holy Mother. She seemed to many who met her like a duplicate of their own mother. I felt that way about her, and I have asked many others who confirmed my experience. I thought that the Holy Mother was a simple county-woman, normal and natural, just like my own mother. Although that was my impression, unaware as I was then of her spiritual greatness, something happened within me, which I did not realize at the time. Now I would say that I received the grace of Swami Brahmananda and of the Ramakrishna Order because I received the Mother’s grace first.
The Holy Mother’s life was not one of external achievement or outward glamour. Yet, perhaps, there was some glamour. But this was not only because she was the divine consort of Sri Ramakrishna. No other individual while in the human body, neither Buddha, nor Christ nor Ramakrishna, was ever literally worshipped by multitudes just as God is worshipped in the temple. Yet I have seen hundreds and thousands worshipping the Holy Mother as the Mother of the Universe. She remained completely unconcerned. Of course, her great power was revealed to many, and they were liberated by her mere touch. She was the embodiment of God, the Mother.