By Swami Chetanananda
Hardback; 876 pages. 125 illustrations.
Sri Sarada Devi and Her Divine Play is the story of Sarada Devi (1853–1920), the wife of the Indian sage Ramakrishna. The God-man of the nineteenth century, Ramakrishna is known worldwide for demonstrating religious tolerance and respect for all traditions. He was truly a spiritual phenomenon, and his disciple Swami Vivekananda was among the first to bring the wisdom of yoga and Vedanta to the West. This book describes how Sarada Devi, known affectionately as “Holy Mother,” carried out her husband’s spiritual ministry for 34 years after his passing. Her life is a glowing example of Vedanta in practice, as exemplified by her final message: “My child, if you want peace of mind, do not find fault with others. See your own faults. Learn to make the world your own. No one is a stranger, my child; the whole world is your own.”
In this volume we find reverent, lovely recollections from those who knew Sarada Devi intimately as her companions and disciples. We experience the panorama of a human life, a woman’s life, fully lived a century and more ago,and also the story of a spiritual journey and realization that can edify readers even today. Sarada Devi’s life can be taken to demonstrate practical Vedanta: how to balance contemplative and active life, the ideals of monastics and householders.
This is an account of one of the most extraordinary spiritual lives of modern
India. Swami Chetanananda has gathered materials from a wide range of
sources and woven them together in a compelling, highly readable biography of
Sri Sarada Devi. This book combines authentic scholarship with deep spiritual
understanding of the events. Readers from the East and the West will be gripped
and transformed by the narrative.
Sri Sarada Devi and Her Divine Play is a massive undertaking of nearly five
years of careful research, based on many past biographies in English and Bengali,
eyewitness accounts, and reminiscences. Swami Chetanananda has not
simply written a biography of Sarada Devi. This book is also a hagiography that
devotees of the Ramakrishna movement will treasure for many years to come,
and rightly so.
Sarada Devi was one of India’s most unlikely saints, an unassuming Bengali
village girl who blossomed into an epitome of spirit. This is the remarkable story
of Sarada’s transformation and her extraordinary contributions. Superb!
1. Jayrambati: An Idyllic Village in Bengal
2. Birth and Early Life of Sarada Devi
3. Marriage and Early Years
4. Journey to Dakshineswar
5. Awakening of Divinity
6. With Ramakrishna in Dakshineswar
7. Holy Mother’s Reminiscences of the Master
8. Farewell to Dakshineswar
9. In Shyampukur and Cossipore
10. Pilgrimage (August 1886 – August 1887)
11. Ordeals in Kamarpukur
12. In and Around Calcutta
13. Holy Mother and Vivekananda
14. Holy Mother and Western Women
15. Holy Mother and Girish Chandra Ghosh
16. Holy Mother and Mahendra Nath Gupta (M.)
17. Holy Mother’s Caretakers
18. Mahamaya’s Maya
20. Holy Mother in the Midst of Her Family
21. Pilgrimage in South India
22. Last Visit to Varanasi
23. At Belur Math and with Disciples
24. Mother of the Ramakrishna Order
25. Mother of All
26. Holy Mother as a Guru
27. Ministry through Correspondence
28. Untold Stories of Jayrambati
29. Udbodhan: The Mother’s House
30. The Divinity of Holy Mother
31. The Human Aspects of Holy Mother
32. Two Flowers on One Stem
33. Further Glimpses of Holy Mother
34. Farewell to Jayrambati(27 January 1919 – 27 February 1920)
35. The Return to Her True Abode(27 February 1920 – 21 July 1920)
Appendix 1: First Three Photographs of Holy Mother
Appendix 2: Swami Saradananda’s Diary
Appendix 3: Swami Nirlepananda’s Diary
Appendix 4: Journeys of Ramakrishna and Holy Mother
Appendix 5: The Family Tree of Holy Mother
Sri Sarada Devi: A Chronology
Mother of the Ramakrishna Order
Holy Mother tied the monks to her with unfathomable love and affection. She watched over their physical needs as well as their spiritual welfare. Swami Virajananda recalled:
Towards the end of the summer of 1893, Holy Mother was staying at Nilambar’s garden house in Belur. She lived on the second floor with Golap-ma and Yogin-ma. Swamis Yogananda and Trigunatitananda lived downstairs as her attendants and they did all her errands. The Ramakrishna Math was then at Alambazar. I joined there and went to visit the Mother, which was my second meeting with her.* I prostrated at her feet and she asked me to stay there that night. The next morning when I was about to take leave, she said to me affectionately: “My son, this time I am very much pained to see you. What a nice plump body you had previously. Repeated attacks of malarial fever have now brought your health to such an emaciated condition. Well, you have joined the monastery, but you know those people there are penniless fakirs. How can they procure the requisite nutritious food for you? What necessary care for your health is possible there? So I suggest that you go back to your home and stay there till you regain your health with proper diet and medicine.”
I was least prepared for these words of the Mother. Astounded, I couldn’t utter anything for some time. After a while I said: “Mother, you are asking me to go home. What shall I do there?” She replied: “You spend your time practising meditation, japa, worship, and studying the scriptures.” Coming downstairs I could not hold back my tears. I went to a secluded corner of the garden and wept bitterly. Swami Yogananda heard the whole story from Golap-ma about me. He consoled me and asked, “Have you received any initiation?” “No, I have not,” I replied. “Then why did you not ask the Mother what meditation and japa you were to do at home?” said Yogananda. “Well, ask her tomorrow after your bath.”
Those words of the swami were to me a revelation. I did not know till then that the Mother gave initiation to anybody. However, as per the instructions of Yogananda, I went to the Mother the next morning after she had finished her worship and put to her the tutored question. The Mother then initiated me formally. The mantra that she gave me for japa and meditation was not in tune with the particular aspect of sadhana I had been following. So I was a little confused and asked her openly, “Mother, I have been meditating on God in such and such a manner and that gives me great satisfaction.” “No, my son, what you have received from me is better for you,” was her short reply. How strange! I felt within myself an instantaneous transformation of my outlook on sadhana.
I spent the whole day at the Mother’s place before my evening departure for the Alambazar Math. It was July — right in the middle of the rains in Bengal. The Ganges was full to the brim. A thick mist had enveloped the atmosphere and the evening darkness was to follow soon. It was drizzling. Suddenly I felt a sob deep in my heart. The gloomy inclement weather outside represented my state of mind. With a heavy heart I went to the Mother and said, “Mother, I will take leave of you now.” “Yes, my son,” she said, “it is time. Well, come here now and then. See that the body gets strong.” She then touched my chin by way of motherly blessing. I went out of the house and got on the boat at the ferry ghat close by. The boat plying northwards passed in front of the garden house. In that background of twilight I looked at the Mother’s room on the terrace. She was standing on the open terrace with her gaze fixed towards the Ganges on the boat. As long as the house was visible from the boat I saw her in the same position. My heart surged with emotion and tears came in profusion. Later I learned that Golap-ma had protested her standing that way in the drizzling rain, but she said with tearful eyes: “Oh, I am thinking how very sad the boy must be feeling. So I am looking at him”.
Written on 28 July 1910 in Baghbazar, Calcutta, to Sara Bull, United States
Hearing that you are very ill, I am very anxious about you! I heard from your daughter Nivedita that you are a little better. I am praying to Thakur, the Lord, for your speedy recovery. Your recovery will cause me great joy.
I have come here [to Calcutta], and all my children here are well, except Yogin, who is not quite well, about which I am a little anxious, and very, very sorry.
I have offered on your behalf, to the feet of Ramakrishna, a tulsi and a bel leaf, and three evenings sitting before him I have prayed for you. Also I want to know if Jaya [Josephine MacLeod] is going to you. Please give her my warm blessings, and do not forget Christine if you see her. I am so sorry to hear that your daughter is not at present with you, in this time of illness.
And now from our Lord I am sending you a flower and sandal dust, which I offered to him with worship. My deep love and blessing you will realize. I love you very much and bless you from my heart. We are far away from you, but I always feel as if you were quite near.
Your Ma [Mother]
Holy Mother as Guru
Swami Vishweswarananda was a disciple of the Mother and lived in Udbodhan House. One day he candidly said to her: “Mother, you initiate so many people, but you never enquire about them. You don’t even give a thought about what is happening to them. A guru keeps a keen eye on his disciples, seeing whether they are developing spiritually. It would be better if you did not give initiation to so many people. You should initiate only as many as you can keep in touch with.”
Holy Mother replied: “But the Master never forbade me to do so. He instructed me about so many things; would he not have told me something about what you have said? I give the responsibility for my disciples to the Master. Every day I pray to him: ‘Please look after the disciples, wherever they may be.’ Further, I received these mantras from the Master himself. These are siddha mantras — very potent. One is sure to attain liberation through them.”
Once in Jayrambati, Vishweswarananda asked: “Mother, how does one realize God? Worship, japa, meditation — do these help?”
“None of these helps,” replied the Mother.
“Then how does one get the vision of God?”
“It is only through God’s grace. But one must practise meditation and japa. They remove the impurities of the mind. One must practise spiritual disciplines, such as worship, japa, and meditation. As one gets the fragrance of a flower by handling it, or as one gets the smell of sandalwood by rubbing it against a stone, in the same way one gets spiritual awakening by constantly thinking of God. But you can realize God right now if you become desireless.”