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SARADA MA (1853–1920)

Sarada Ma was a spiritual leader, prominent in the cult of her husband Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. She was born on 22nd December in 1853 at Jayrambati in the district of Bankura in West Bengal, the daughter of Ramchandra Mukhopadhyay and Shyamasundari. Though she had no formal education, her perseverance and zeal enabled her to read the Hindu epics in later life, even though she never learned to write her own name. She was married in 1859 at the age of six, to Gadadhar Chattopadhyay, who later became known as Ramakrishna Paramahansa, after which she went back to her parental home where she stayed till she was 14. Gadadhar, who had taken the vows of a Hindu monk, practised celibacy. In 1867 when he met her again, her mind was touched by his spiritual love. In 1872 she visited Dakshineshwar, and during her stay her husband asked her whether she had come there to drag him down to the worldly plane. She answered with dignity and assurance, ‘Why should I pull you down? I am here to serve you, that you may go ahead on your chosen path.’ She stuck to her pledge till the very end of Sri Ramakrishna’s life. He recognised and appreciated this great sacrifice, admitting to one of his devotees that ‘had she been of a different nature I don’t know how far I would have drifted’. Sarada was capable on occasion even of reproving him. She was in the habit of bringing his lunch to him every noon; one day a prostitute begged her to allow her to take the food to him instead. The woman took the food, but Ramkrishna did not touch it; he called Sarada and tried to make her promise to give him food only with her own hands. She promised, but said, ‘If anyone calls me "Mother" and asks for this privilege, I shall not be able to refuse, whoever they may be. Besides, you should remember that you are not just my Lord, but everyone’s Lord.’

In 1886 Sri Ramakrishna passed away after a long illness. While in mourning Sarada Devi had a vision of her husband who forbade her to dress and behave like a widow. Orthodox as she was, she obeyed her husband’s wish and till the end of her own life she never discarded her red-bordered sari and golden bangles, signs of the wedded state in a Bengali woman. In a celebrated incident, she allowed a Muslim, Amjad, who had also been a highway robber, to eat in her house, and when the other widows who lived with her expressed horror at such a transgression, she took up the leftovers and tidied his place with her own hands. After Ramkrishna’s death she lived at Kamarpukur for a year but moved to the city at the insistence of her devotees. Even during the inauspicious mourning period after a death, she did not prohibit a disciple from taking initiation, saying, ‘there is no connection between the spirit and body. The talk of defilement due to a death is meaningless’. She preached the teachings of Ramakrishna along with her own practical philosophy. In 1898, she met Sister Nivedita (q.v.) for the first time and opened the Nivedita school. In 1901 she started the practice of Durga Puja at Belur Math.

Rita Dalmiya
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