Thursday 11 April 2024

Nava-Ratri Special : Devi Sarada - 1

'THREE Kalis appeared in Dakshineswar'-so begins a Bengali devotional song, 'Tin kalir uday', composed by Shyamapada Basu Ray. The song describes three aspects of the Divine Mother Kali. The first
is Bhavatarini, who lives enshrined in the magnificent temple built by Rani Rasmani. The second is Sri Ramakrishna, who never ceased to call out to the Divine Mother Kali though he himself was Kali,
The third is Ma Sarada, who as the embodiment of Kali, never ceased to serve Kali in the form of Sri Ramakrishna.¹

The song urges its hearers to go to Dakshineswar and see these three Kalis 'with a full heart'. Behind this beautiful devotional spirit lies a great principle of philosophy and religion concerning three
aspects of divinity-three that from another angle appear as two, and two that are ultimately one. The song suggests a triad of the formless Absolute, God with form, and the divine power. These three can be reduced to two: Brahman (nirguna and saguna) and Shakti, or consciousness and its power. Ultimately, even these two are one. An inquiry into the philosophical foundation of this song will help us to understand who Sri Sarada Devi really is.

Who can guide us through our inquiry better than Sri Ramakrishna himself? Let us begin by looking at his understanding of Kali. For him the image of Bhavatarini in the temple represented the Divine Mother of the Universe, who is not different from the formless Absolute. Repeatedly he told his disciples that Kali and Brahman are one. 'One cannot think of Brahman without Sakti, or of Sakti
without Brahman.... Kāli is verily Brahman, and Brahman is verily Käli. It is one and the same reality'2. On one occasion he identified these two aspects of the One as cidātmā and citśakti, consciousness as Self and consciousness as energy (381).

What is the basis for Sri Ramakrishna's teaching? It obviously reflects what India's great spiritual traditions have taught all along, but its authority rests ultimately in his own experience of the divine reality. As a young priest performing the worship of Kali in the Dakshineswar temple, Sri Ramakrishna found himself ever more drawn toward the Mother by an irresistible current of love and longing until the separation became unbearable. Determined to end his life, he grabbed the Mother's sword that was kept in the shrine, and at that moment Kali revealed herself. Everything vanished from sight, and he saw only 'a limitless, infinite, effulgent Ocean of Consciousness. Feeling that it was about to engulf him, he collapsed into a steady flow of undiluted bliss' in which he 'felt the presence of the Divine Mother' (13-14).

Sri Ramakrishna recounted another occasion in the Kali temple when he saw everything as full of consciousness the Mother's image, the altar, the worship vessels, the door-sill, the marble floor.
Everything was consciousness; everything was saturated in bliss; everything vibrated with the Mother's power. Clearly perceiving that it was Kali herself who had be- come everything, he even fed a cat with the food that was to be offered to the Divine Mother (345-6).

For Sri Ramakrishna, Kali was both the infinite ocean of consciousness-bliss and its manifestation as the universal Mother, whose love is boundless and unconditional. His experience reconfirms for the present age a timeless message that the great Shaiva mystic and philosopher Abhinavagupta expressed some nine hundred years earlier. At the beginning of his Para-trishika-vivarana he wrote: 'Sakti surely should not be considered as different from Siva (na hi śaktiḥ śivāt bhedamamarśayet)3.

References :

1. Rachel Fell McDermott, Singing to the Goddess: Poems to Kali and Uma from Bengal (New York: Oxford, 2001), 89, 164-5.

2. M, The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, trans. Swami Ni- khilananda (Chennai: Ramakrishna Math, 2002), 134.

3. See Jaideva Singh, Para-triśikā-Vivarana: The Secret of Tantric Mysticism (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass,2005), 8 (English text) and 2 (Sanskrit text).

-by Devadatta Kali (courtesy : Prabuddha Bharat 2007 April)

To be continued ...

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