The following reminiscence of Sri Ramakrishna is by his last living disciple. Its touching candor, combined with the revelation of a most extraordinary experience, provides us with a unique addition to the relatively small treasury of writings about Ramakrishna by his household disciples.
The author was only a young girl of eight when she first met Sri Ramakrishna, but this meeting and the few to follow changed her entire life. The mother of Bhavatarini was a relative of Sri Ramakrishna, and it was Ramakrishna himself who arranged the marriage of Bhavatarini to one of his lay disciples—another relative—Upendranath Mukherji. (It was this same Upendranath in whose pressroom Latu Maharaj slept for several months.)
Upendranath was very poor, but he hoped that through the grace of Sri Ramakrishna he would be able to amass a fortune. He later did, becoming a wealthy publisher in Calcutta. Upendranath died in 1915.
According the last report, Bhavatarini is in Benares, still hale and hearty at age 94. Since the death of her husband, she has lived the life of a sannyasini [Hindu nun]. Even at this advanced age, she leads an extremely austere life, her only food being some milk and bananas, which she takes at night after performing the worship and first offering the food to Sri Ramakrishna. Her son passed away more than a decade ago, as well as a grandson.
The following reminiscence was recorded in Bangalore, India on July 26, 1955 soon after the evening worship at the Ramakrishna Ashram. Swami Yatiswarananda, who was head of the Ashrama at that time, translated them into English from Bengali.
These reminiscenses were published in the September-October, 1968 edition of Vedanta and the West.
Once when I was eight years old, Thakur (Sri Ramakrishna) came to our house for a meal. I was playing around, being naughty, and my mother told the servant to catch me. Thakur asked my name. Mother told him: “Hubi.” (“one who speaks late,” meaning a child who took long in learning to speak.) Thakur wanted to change the name. It was the custom then to give a girl the name of a flower, but he named me Bhavatarini, after the Divine Mother at Dakshineswar.
Then once again when I was eight years old, Thakur came to our home for another meal. During his stay he asked my mother how old I was. Mother replied, “Eight years.” Thakur then said, “Your daughter is eight years old: she must marry. [i.e., betrothed]. I have a suitable party for her.” Mother agreed, and then asked who the person was. Thakur said, “He has little education.” Mother then said that it was no good. However Thakur insisted, saying that he would have good luck later on in life as I was a “Lakshmi.” [Lakshmi is the Goddess of wealth and an aspect of the Divine Mother.]
One day Upendranath’s mother went to visit Thakur at Dakshineswar. Thakur told her: “Your son must marry this girl.” She agreed. Naren [Swami Vivekananda] was there. Naren asked who was to be married. Thakur gave him the information. Naren was against the marriage because I was not pretty and too dark-skinned, and asked Thakur to select another girl for Upendranath. Thakur insisted that I was a lucky girl and that Upendranath should accept me, and later he would be rich. Upen’s mother agreed, and she and her husband were happy at the thought that their son would return home from Dakshineswar, where he was staying with Thakur, and they would also have a daughter-in-law.
After the marriage Naren used to visit hour home. Meanwhile, when the marriage was being fixed, I had heard what Naren had said about my being dark and so forth, and was very angry with him. When he would visit the house I would not attend to him, and would not take him nuts and other things to eat. My mother told him that my unwillingness was due to his objections. Then Naren was very good to me and consoled me.
When I was in my father’s house, mother said that I should be kept indoors and fed well so that my complexion might become fair. But my little friends would come and call me; so in order to play with them I used to slip out of the house at noon when all were taking rest after the meal, and would return just before they finished resting. However, one day I was a bit late, and everyone was up. What could I do? Then I found that Thakur had come and was sitting in our drawing room. I thought to myself: “If I sit near him, mother will not notice anything and think that I have been staying with him.” Thakur saw me biting my nails, and told me to stop it. Then he said, “What is your opinion of me? Some say that I am God Himself. What do you think of that?”
I replied, “No, no, no, you are not God; you are the guru of my husband.” Then all of a sudden I began to perceive a sweet smell. It was the smell of an essence used in worshipping deities. I thought that, as Thakur was said by some people to be God Himself, the fragrance might be coming from him. I tried to locate it, and looked around his ears. While I was very close to him, suddenly Thakur’s form disappeared in a brilliant light of the color of the rising sun, and his form appeared as a luminous shadow in that light. I said, “Thakur, Thakur, why are you doing that?” His form practically disappeared. I tried to feel his body, but could not. I called him again and again, but he did not reply; so I sat looking at him wistfully, I do not know how long this lasted. Then, after some time, the light faded gradually, and I could see Thakur clearly again. I called to the others, but nobody seemed to care.
At my in-laws’ house, however, my mother-in-law understood me when I told her about what had happened; they believed it, and my husband was also pleased. My mother-in-law told me: “The next time you see Thakur, ask him to give you a mantra.” I did not understand at the time what a mantra was, and thought that it was a gift like a bracelet or some other ornament.
When Thakur came to our house again one day, I said to him, “Mother-in-law told me to ask you to give me a mantra.” I sat near him and said, “Give me a mantra, give me a mantra.” You must remember that I was then only a little girl of eight years. When I insisted, Thakur said to me, “All right, I shall give you one. Have you seen Shiva?”
I said, “Yes.”
He said, “If you like Him, then love Him.” Than he asked, “Have you seen Kali?”
I replied, “Yes.”
He said, “If you like Her, then love Her.” Then he said, “Have you seen Krishna” . . .Rama? . . .Where have you seen Rama?”
“In my mother’s house,” I replied.
He said, “If you like Him, then love Him.” Then he said, “If you like me, then love me.”
“Yes, I love you,” I replied. “I love you very much; but if you do not give me a mantra I will not return to my mother-in-law’s house.” Then Thakur said, “All right, you go to your mother-in-law’s house and ask her what I must give you. If I have it, I shall give it; otherwise I shall give you money to buy it with. See, I have nothing with me now.” I saw that his pockets were empty. Then I understood that Thakur had nothing with him. I told him, however, “If you don’t give it to me, I will not go to mother-in-law’s house.”
On returning to my mother-in-law’s house, I told her what had happened and she was very pleased and said, “That is the mantra.”
Years passed. I grew older. I still wanted to ask Thakur what had happened to him that day when I saw him in the light. My curiosity had become aroused, but the opportunity to ask him did not present itself. Finally, my father-in-law took me to Dakshineswar one day, and Thakur asked him to leave me with the Holy Mother for a few days. So I made up my mind to seize the opportunity to ask my question. But I could not talk with Thakur because he was continually surrounded by devotees. In the evening he used to go to the Kali Temple and attend the aratrika [evening worship]. One day when he was there, I went and sat down in his room, waiting to ask him my question. On returning from the temple he came in and sat near me. But before I could ask him, I again saw his form disappearing in a blaze of light. I touched him, again and again, but nothing happened. His body was soft, as though no bones were there. Then I lost consciousness and my head fell on his lap. When I came to, I found Thakur passing his hand over my back. I said, “Thakur, Thakur, what are you? Are you Bhagavan [God]? Are you Krishna? Are you Rama? What are you, Thakur?” Then he gave me some water to drink.