In November 1898 Mrs. Ole Bull, an American devotee of Swami Vivekananda, persuaded Holy Mother to have her photograph taken. On this occasion three pictures were taken, and the second is the one most often worshipped by her devotees. Holy Mother said of it: “Yes this is a good picture. But before it was taken I was a little stouter. Then Yogen [Swami Yogananda] fell ill. Worrying about him day and night, I lost some weight. I was happy when he felt better, but very unhappy when he was worse. Often I wept for him. At first I refused to be photographed. But Sara [referring to Mrs. Ole Bull] pressed me and said, ‘I shall take the picture to America and worship it.’ In the end I had to agree.” (Holy Mother by Swami Nikhilananda, p. 114).
This picture of Holy Mother when she was forty-five was taken at 10/2 Bosepara Lane, Baghbazar, Calcutta, by Mr. Harrington, an English photographer.
Swami Gambhirananda wrote in Sri Ma Sarada Devi (p. 335):
“When Mrs. Ole Bull approached Holy Mother for her photograph, she declined because she was too shy to go to a studio and unveil her face in front of an unknown photographer. But when Mrs. Ole Bull fervently requested, Holy Mother asked her to bring a woman photographer. As no woman photographer was available, she then asked her to bring a European photographer. When the photographer arrived, Holy Mother, controlling her bashfulness, sat for a photo session. Sister Nivedita and Golap-ma arranged her cloth and hair according to their taste.”
On March 9, 1899, Sister Nivedita wrote to Mrs. Eric Hammond: “You know that photograph meant the first time she [Holy Mother] had ever looked straight at a grownup man outside her own family, or been seen by one. Yet what self-consciousness was there? Not a grain! Neither Swami [Vivekananda] nor Sri Ramakrishna himself ever saw her unveiled – after her marriage, that is, when she was a little girl of five!” (Letters of Sister Nivedita, Vol. 1, p. 76).
About the first photo of this series, Pravrajika Atmaprana wrote in Sister Nivedita (p. 69): “When the photographer came, the Mother cast down her eyes and went into an ecstatic state. She regained her natural state after some time and her second photo was then taken, which is now seen worshipped everywhere.” Brahmachari Akshay Chaitanya supplied further information about the second photo in Sri Sri Sarada Devi (p. 96), which he had heard from Golap-ma: “When the first photo was taken, Holy Mother’s feet were covered with her cloth. For the second photo, her attendants rearranged her cloth in such a way that her feet would be visible for worship purpose.”
About the third picture of this series, Swami Vidyatmananda (then John Yale) wrote in his book A Yankee and the Swamis (p. 223): “This is a picture of Sri Sarada Devi, the Holy Mother, with the English disciple of Swami Vivekananda, Margaret Noble, known as Sister Nivedita. The original of this photo, whose existence had been previously unsuspected, was discovered in the home of the Earl of Sandwich, who was related by marriage to Tantine [Josephine MacLeod]. I carried it to India [in 1952] with me and gave it to the seniors of the Order, who were astonished and delighted that it should have come to light. A picture taken of Holy Mother on what must have been the same occasion was well known; but that she and this large, energetic Western woman had also posed together was an interesting surprise.”
In 1970, when Swami Chetanananda was at Advaita Ashrama in Calcutta, Swami Ishanananda (a disciple of Holy Mother and an attendant of hers for eleven years) stayed there for some days. One day he showed Swami Chetanananda an original print of Holy Mother’s shrine pose (the second photo) which had belonged to Sister Nivedita. Swami Chetanananda asked the swami to let him have the photo for the archives of Advaita Ashrama, and the swami gave it to him. It is still there. During Swami Chetanananda’s trip to India in 1982, he made several negatives from that beautiful, original print and brought them to America so that the Western devotees could have a clear (second generation) photo of Holy Mother.