Saturday 13 April 2024

Nava-Ratri Special : Devi Sarada - 3

Although we speak of her all-embracing love, it will be instructive to remember that throughout the long span of Indian religious history, and even back in prehistoric times, the Divine Mother has been known to have two faces, the gentle (saumya) and the fierce (ugra). Neolithic images portray her as life-giving, nurturing, and benevolent or, alternatively, as hooded, grim-faced, and presiding over death. It is easy to imagine these figurines as the antecedents of the benevolent Lakshmi and Saraswati or of the sometimes frightening Durga and Kali. Because Indian religion has always portrayed the Mother in gracious and formidable forms, the obvious conclusion is that both aspects represent an underlying spiritual reality. That reality is the all-encompassing nature of the Divine Mother, in whose supreme oneness all the opposing characteristics of duality are reconciled and resolved. That sublime truth is patently manifest in the powerful iconography of Kali.

Naturally reticent, Sarada Devi was reluctant to reveal her true nature, but occasionally a hint of it would slip out from behind her veil of humility. Many incidents in her life afford a brief glimpse of one of her Devi aspects, most often a saumya manifestation, but occasionally an ugra form as well. From the time of her early childhood and continuing through every phase of her life, she would give signs to suggest that she was an earthly manifestation of Lakshmi, Saraswati, Durga, and Kali. We shall consider three incidents that illustrate some of these Devi aspects.

Devi Awakened

Sri Sarada Devi assumed human form to serve Sri Ramakrishna, and he, in turn, worshipped her as the Divine Mother, losing his sense of 'I' in her (21). Nowhere is this more dramatically illustrated than in a pivotal event that took place either on 5 June 1872 (according to Sarada Devi's own account found in Sri Sri Mayer Katha) or on 25 May 1873 (as recorded by Swami Saradananda in
Sri Sri Ramakrishna Lilaprasanga)9. On the night when the Phalaharini Kali Puja was to be celebrated in the main temple at Dakshineswar, Sri Ramakrishna ordered preparations made for a private puja in his room. His nephew Hriday and Dinu, the priest of the Radha-Govinda temple, assisted in procuring the necessary items: flowers, bel leaves, food offerings, and all the rest. To the right of the
worshipper's seat was placed a beautifully decorated wooden seat, intended for the image of the goddess. When the preparations were completed, Sri Ramakrishna remained alone in his room. At his request, his young wife Sarada arrived at 9 p. m. After he had carried out the preliminary steps of the worship, he indicated for her to take the seat reserved for the image. Already in a high spiritual mood, she complied. Sprinkling sanctified water on her, Sri Ramakrishna then invoked the deity, saying: 'O Divine Mother Tripura-sundari! O Eternal Virgin, possessor of all power! Please open the gate of perfection. Purify her body and mind, and manifest Yourself through her for the welfare of all' (352).

References :

9. See Swami Saradananda, Sri Ramakrishna and His Divine Play, trans. Swami Chetanananda (St Louis: Vedanta Society, 2003), 350, note 3.

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

To be continued ...

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