Two Reminiscences of Sarada Devi, the Holy Mother

This month our reading will include two short reminiscences of Sri Sarada Devi, the Holy Mother.

In the Mother’s Company

By Swami Nirvanananda

Swami Nirvanananda (often referred to as “Surya Swami Brahmananda” or “Sujji Swami Brahmananda”) was deeply loved and respected for his saintly qualities. An initiated disciple of Swami Brahmananda, Swami Nirvanananda was Vice-President of the Ramakrishna Order. This article was translated from original Bengali by Ms. Maloti Sengupta of Kolkata from Sri Sri Mayer Padaprante published by Udbodhan Karyalaya, Kolkata. This article first appeared in the October, 2002 Vedanta Kesari.

I first saw Mother at the Sevashrama (the Ramakrishna Mission Home of Service which does extensive medical service to the community) at Varanasi. As far as I remember that was in early November, 1912 when Mother had visited the Sevashrama on the day after Kali Puja. I had arrived just a few days before that with the intention of joining the Ramakrishna Order. I had already learned about Mother from Sri Sri Ramakrishna Kathamrita (the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna) and other sources. At that time Swami Brahmananda, too, was residing at the Sevashrama.

Mother stayed at Laxmi Nivas, a house belonging to Kiran Datta of Calcutta near Advaita Ashrama. During this visit to the Sevashrama, Mother had gone round making a thorough survey of the place. She was very pleased to see the sadhus at the Sevashrama serving the patients, regarding them as images of Narayana himself. She remarked, “I find Thakur (Sri Ramakrishna) himself present here and my sons who are doing their utmost to serve the patients are but worshipping him.”

After spending quite a long time there Mother returned to Laxmi Nivas. A little later she sent a ten rupee note to Charu Maharaj (Swami Shubhananda). Charu Maharaj was one of the founders of the Varanasi Sevashrama, though he had not yet joined the Order. At that time he was just Charu Chandra Das, known as Charu Babu. The person who had brought the note said, “Mother is so pleased with the work being done at the Sevashrama that she has sent this money.” Mother has also remarked, “I liked the Sevashrama so much that I would like to settle there for good.” On hearing this, Swami Brahmananda, Swami Shivananda, Swami Turiyananda, Kedar Baba (Swami Achalananda), Charu Maharaj and all others were beside themselves with joy.

M (the author of the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna) was also at Varanasi then. He had not approved of the work being done at the Sevashrama. He considered that such work as attending to patients and running hospitals was not only not fitting for monks but was also contrary to the spirit of Sri Ramakrishna’s teachings. In his opinion monks should devote themselves whole-heartedly to spiritual practices only. Referring to Mother’s remarks after visiting the Sevashrama and the gift of ten rupees, Swami Brahmananda said to M, “You have heardeverything, haven’t you?” M replied, “Well, when Mother has spoken thus, what more is there to say? All this work is certainly work done to serve Thakur—there is no getting away from admitting it.”

On that occasion Mother spent a considerable length of time at Varanasi. Now and then Advaita Ashrama and Sevashrama were blessed by her visits. Swami Brahmananda used to go to Laxmi Nivas every morning to offer pranam to Mother and we too often accompanied him. Though Mother exchanged very few words with me I was aware of her special affection for me.

Towards the end of December, 1914, Swami Brahmananda asked me to return to Belur Math. Mother was then at Udbodhan. On my return to the Math I went there for her blessings. Prior to that I had been engaged in flood relief operations in West Bengal for about two months. Over-exertion and irregular hours had perhaps affected my health. This did not escape Mother’s eyes. As soon as she saw me she exclaimed, her voice expressing great concern, “What have you done to yourself?” I replied, “For some time I have been engaged in flood relief work and lack of regular meals there might have affected my health just a little.” Mother said, “Not just a little, your health has been gravely affected. Take care now to eat properly long enough to restore your health. Such a great deal of Thakur’s work has got to be accomplished by you people, how can it be done if you are not physically fit?” At the time of my returning to the Math she reminded me of this again.

This time I spent a few months at the Math serving Swami Brahmananda as his attendant. While thus engaged I experienced an intense desire to undertake austere spiritual practices in the Himalayas. Mother was at Udbodhan. I went there and prayed for her permission to go for tapasya.

At first Mother was firmly against it. Expressing great anxiety she said, “No, son, you are still too young, you need not go for tapasya (spiritual austerities) now. Where will you live, how will you manage to get food?” But I, too, was persistent. I kept pleading with her for permission. Mother repeated, “No, son, you will have to face much hardship, there is no need for you to go for tapasya.” Her voice seemed charged with anxiety and concern. But I remained adamant. I kept on pressing her for permission. At last she said, “Well, son, since you are so eager to go for tapasya, I suggest you go to Varanasi. There you will put up at the Sevashrama and live only on alms obtained outside. Don’t go elsewhere.”

Upon this I said to her, “If that be so, Mother, then I shall go to Varanasi on foot.” At first she did not agree but finally she gave in to my entreaties. Before I took leave she placed her hands on my head and said, “You have my heartfelt blessings, son, may you attain spiritual salvation!” One fine day I set out for Varanasi bearing Mother’s blessings on my head. This time I spent about seven or eight months at the Sevashrama and on returning to the Math I resumed my service of Swami Brahmananda as his attendant.

Swami Brahmananda was fond of staying at Balaram Mandir and used to go there often from the Math. Being with him, I had the opportunity to visit Udbodhan frequently and consequently had the good fortune of having Mother’s darshan (blessings) and offering pranam to her almost daily. At times I also spoke to her. She had a very sweet voice. Though she usually kept her head and face completely veiled before others by drawing her sari over her head, I don’t recall having ever seen her like that. Whenever I saw her I was fortunate enough to see her divine face.

During Mother’s last illness Swami Brahmananda was at Bhubaneswar. I used to attend on him there. At about 1.30 a.m. on the night of Mother’s Mahasamadhi (Tuesday, July 20, 1920) I entered Swami Brahmananda’s room and found him sitting in an armchair with a shawl wrapped round his body. He looked very grave. He asked me, “What time of night is it, Sujju? [an affectionate form of “Surya”] Can’t say why, my heart is aching for Mother. Heaven knows how she is!” I asked him, “Won’t you go to bed?” He did not reply. Noticing his grave mood and learning about his anxiety for Mother, I tried to cheer him up saying, “Shall I bring your hooka for smoking, Maharaj?” He ignored my offer and continued to sit in the same manner. Seeing him in such a mood I did not dare to ask him anything further and quietly left the room.

The next morning Swami Brahmananda seemed somewhat restless. He used to go for a walk in the mornings but that day he did not go out. He was pacing the front verandah. That very day the postman delivered a telegram from Swami Saradananda saying that Mother had left her mortal body at Udbodhan on the previous night at 1:30 a.m. I recalled that on the previous night almost at that very hour Swami Brahmananda had woken up and said that his heart was aching for Mother. On hearing the news Swami Brahmananda’s face grew somber with suppressed grief. He lay down on his bed. A little later he sat up again and announced, “I shall observe hobishyee [mourning]. All disciples of Mother shall observe hobishyee for three days and shall not wear shoes during this period.” For three days he did not speak to anyone. He ate only food as prescribed during mourning for twelve days and did not use shoes. One day he remarked, “All this time we had been sheltered by a mountain.”

It is said that after Mother’s mortal remains had been cremated Swami Shivananda declared before the assembled monks and devotees, “All over India 51 pilgrimage centers came up, each one hallowed by the presence of one single part of Sati’s body. [Referring to the story of Sati, the wife of Shiva, whose body fell in 51 different areas of India, which became pilgrimage sites.] Today the entire body of Sati has mingled with the dust of Belur Math. Just consider then, how sacred Belur Math is as a center for pilgrimage!”

Of the three temples on the river front at the Math (those of Swami Brahmananda, the Mother and Swami Vivekananda), that of Mother alone faces the Ganges. Mother had an deep love for the Ganges. She loved to bathe in it, to gaze at it and to dwell on its bank. That is why her temple faces the Ganges. She is looking upon the Ganges all the time.

Swami Brahmananda used to say, “It is very difficult to know Mother. She conducts herself as an ordinary woman with her head and face covered by her sari but she is the Mother of the Universe in person. Had Sri Ramakrishna not revealed her true identity to us, there was little chance of even our knowing her.”

A devotee once told me that Mother herself had said to him, “I myself am Sita.”

Reminiscences of the Holy Mother

By Sudhir Chandra Samui

Sudhir Chandra Samui, an Ex-Headmaster of Deopara Champamoni High School, was a resident of Jayrambati and passed away in 1994 at the age of 87. This article was translated from original Bengali by Ms. Maloti Sengupta of Kolkata from Sri Sri Mayer Pada-prante published by Udbodhan Karyalaya, Kolkata 700 003. (Udbodhan, Vol.94, No.9, Pous 1399.) This article was originally published in the November, 2002 Vedanta Kesari.

I had the opportunity to come in close contact with the Holy Mother Sarada Devi since my early childhood. I shall relate here some incidents from my memory. My father’s name was Satish Samui. My paternal grandmother was known to Mother as “Satu’s Mother” and after Mother’s new house was built she used to serve there as a maid, smearing the earthen floors of the rooms with fresh coats of earth every morning and washing Mother’s clothes. I thus got the chance to visit Mother almost daily with my grandmother. Mother, too, was fond of me. On her instructions, some of Thakur’s [Sri Ramakrishna’s] prasad of the previous night used to be kept aside for me. It was the lure of that which made me accompany my grandmother to Mother’s house very frequently.

My father was illiterate, but he was known in the village as a skilled farmer. Occasionally Mother would visit our house, being often in need of green vegetables. She used to say, “Some of my children have come. What vegetables are available for purchase?” Then stating her requirement of vegetables she used to conclude, “Satu’s mother, send the vegetables to my house with your grandson.” I would gladly carry them to her house. My father being illiterate could not always calculate the correct price of the goods he sold. People often cheated him. On account of that Mother used to tell my grandmother, “Satu’s mother, have your grandson educated. He will do well in studies.” With these words she had placed her hand on my head and blessed me. It is my firm belief that had it not been for the boundless strength of her blessings, it would never have been possible for me, the son of an illiterate farmer, to gain the distinction of being the first resident of Jayrambati to become a graduate of Calcutta University.

One of Mother’s legs being rheumatic, she could not sit cross-legged on the floor. Whenever she came to our house, a rug was spread on the verandah and she used to sit on it with her legs hanging down. I have seen her seated on her bed in her room in the new house with her legs hanging down and Swami Saradananda worshipping her feet with lotuses. In childlike awe, I used to wonder who she was, why Swami Brahmananda being a monk was worshipping her. I did not have the maturity or the intelligence to understand things at that time.

In those days there was no primary school in the village. So Mother had a primary school set up in the village for the children. She also arranged to have the teacher of the school paid a salary. Bibhuti Ghose of Bankura used to visit Mother at Jayrambati very often. Mother used to call him “Kalo Manik” (Black Jewel) affectionately. He had a deep concern for the poor peasants of the village. I have heard Mother say to him: “Bibhuti, if the Amodar could be dammed and the water channelled to the tank, it would benefit the poor peasants greatly. Crops often fail due to drought. If you try and see to it that there is a regular supply of water it will benefit many.”

At that time Probodh Chattopadhyay, the Head Master of Badarganj School, used to visit Mother almost every Saturday and return to the school on Sunday evening. I have seen many of his pupils accompanying him. Among them there was a young boy named “Rammoy” whom Mother came to love dearly. It was he who later became Swami Gaurishwarananda. When he came to Mother resolved to renounce the world, his parents and other relatives came to Mother, pleading with him tearfully to return home. Mother consoled them and sent them back after many words of comfort. All this took place in my presence.

The dacoit Amjad used to come sometimes to meet Mother. We were terrified of him. But Mother would receive him warmly and calling him inside the house she would fill the end of his dhoti with prasad. I have seen this many times.

In those times the supply of drinking water in the village was not satisfactory. The pond in which one bathed also served as the source of drinking water. Mother spoke to Saradanandaji and had a brick-built well sunk in the village.

On the occasion of Jagaddhatri puja every year Mother held a grand feast for all the villagers. She used to supervise all the preparations personally. Her love for each and everyone in the village was immeasurable.

At the time when Mother lived with her brothers I was just a little boy and therefore had little occasion to go there. But whenever I did go there, I invariably noticed Kshepi Thakurani (Radhu’s mother) quarrelling with Mother. She was slightly deranged mentally, so people called her “Kshepi” (mad woman). She used to abuse Mother and reproach her bitterly. Mother bore it all with good humor. But once her patience gave way. That day Kshepi Thakurani was about to hit Mother with a large piece of wood. Inadvertently a curse escaped from Mother’s mouth. She said: “That hand of yours will fall off one day.” The very next moment with deep remorse she exclaimed, “What have I done!” I do not have personal knowledge of this incident, I heard about it from Revered Indubala Devi (the wife of Mother’s third brother). In after times I saw Kshepi Thakurani suffer acutely from leprosy.

In the meanwhile, the number of visiting monks and devotees having increased considerably, it was most inconvenient for Mother to continue to live with her brothers. Sensing the need for a separate dwelling for her, Swami Saradananda bought the deserted homestead of Ramsharan Karmakar nearby and set about constructing a mud house there. Rasbehari Maharaj and Jnan Maharaj (both brahmacharins at the time) were entrusted with the supervision of the work. On completion of the house, Mother, Radhu and Nalini began to live in the new house. It was since then that my grandmother began serving there as a maid and I got into the habit of going there almost daily.

Mother used to suffer from frequent attacks of malaria. Whenever the news reached the ears of Sarat Maharaj [Swami Saradananda] at Udbodhan, he used to come down from Calcutta with Dr. Kanjilal. She had been so weakened by chronic illness that milk was considered an essential diet for her and a milch cow was bought for this purpose. My younger maternal uncle Ramendra Ghose was appointed to tend the cow. One day in the month of Bhadra when he had gone to the field to bring grass, the forefinger of his left hand was bitten by a bora snake. Bibhuti Babu of Bankura and a doctor, tying a tourniquet in his hand, made his finger bleed by making an incision in it. On being informed, Mother arrived there and exclaimed, “O Bibhuti, why are you doing all this? Take him to the grounds of Simhabahini’s temple and leave him there. Let him take some bathwater of Simhabahini and smear the wound with earth from the temple. He will be well.” The directions were followed. In a few days my uncle was well and returned home.

It is not in my power to describe Mother’s deep love for Radhu and Nalini. Radhu’s husband, Manmatha Chattopadhyay of the zamindar family of Tajpur, was also very dear to her. At that time he used to visit Jayrambati frequently and used to stay at Mother’s new house. He had some bad habits. He used to take ganja and in the evenings he would assemble people and entertain them by playing a gramophone. One night the music went on till very late. Mother herself came with a lantern calling out, “O Manmatha, it’s so late; I am waiting with your food.” Hearing this Manmatha Babu left quickly. I was present there.

Nalini used to behave like a bigoted Brahmin widow. She was intolerant of Mother’s liberal ideas and often objected to Mother’s practices. Mother used to answer, “Look, my children are all alike to me. I can’t treat one differently from the other.”

In the new house the infant son of Maku, another niece of Mother, suddenly died of diphtheria, there being hardly any opportunity for medical treatment. When we heard the news we hurried there. We found Maku’s father, Nalini and other relatives weeping bitterly. Mother was very fond of the child. She too seemed sad and grief-stricken. However, in a moment she started to console the others and comfort them. Her forbearance impressed me deeply.

My account will remain incomplete without a mention of the mutual affection and friendship of Mother and Bhanu, a child widow of the Biswas family of Jayrambati. I used to notice how the two of them enjoyed each other’s company. Everyday they went together to bathe in the pond belonging to the Banerjees. On festive occasions they would lead the neighboring women to the Amodar for a bath, trudging along the earthen ridges that separated the plots of cultivated land. On the way, seeing the peasants at work in the fields, Mother would comment, “How hard they toil, still they do not have enough to eat!” The ghat in which she used to bathe has been built with brick and stone and is now known as “Mayer Ghat” (Mother’s ghat).

In their leisure the two friends would sit together and chat. I didn’t quite understand what they used to say. But from the snatches of their conversations that still remain in my memory I realized subsequently that their discussions centered around Sri Ramakrishna and spiritual matters.

At present I have reached the twilight of my life, I am awaiting the call from the other world. But I believe firmly that since my life has been graced by the darshan of Mother, the blessed touch of her feet, salvation is certain after my death. None can prevent it.

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Two Reminiscences of Sarada Devi, the Holy Mother