Monday 15 April 2024

Nava-Ratri Special : Devi Sarada - 5

Devi Saraswati, Durga, Lakshmi

The Shodashi Puja belongs to the Tantric tradition known as Srividya, which has a surprising connection to Shankaracharya, the great exponent of Advaita Vedanta, and to the Ramakrishna Order. The connection goes all the way back to Shankara's famous debate with Mandana Mishra, an adherent of the Mimamsa school. In the debate, Shankara upheld the superiority of knowledge over Vedic ritualism; Mandana defended the supremacy of Vedic ritual; and Mandana's wife, Ubhayabharati, by virtue of her superior wisdom, acted as the moderator. When Mandana was defeated, his wife, who was regarded as an incarnation of the goddess Saraswati, revealed her intention to leave her body. Shankara tried to dissuade her, saying that if she were to withdraw from the world, the knowledge of Brahman would leave with her. Ubhayabharati then instructed Shankara to install a Srichakra, the yantra of Tripurasundari, in his math at Sringeri, saying that her presence would abide there to protect the knowledge of Brahman."14

Because Sri Ramakrishna achieved nirvikalpa samadhi under the tutelage of Totapuri, a sannyasin of the Puri tradition of Shankara's monastic orders, the Ramakrishna Order belongs to the Puri lineage at Sringeri. The presiding deity there is the Divine Mother Sharadamba, also called Saraswati. And the Srichakra represents that same aspect of the Divine Mother called variously Srividya, Tripurasundari, Shodashi, Kamakshi, and Rajarajeshwari. In accordance with this long line of tradition, we can determine that in performing the Shodashi Puja, Sri Ramakrishna installed the knowledge of Brahman in the human form of Sarada Devi (34) and made her the presiding deity of the future Ramakrishna Order."15

Although the goddess Saraswati figures in the story of Shankara's debate and therefore in the Shodashi Puja, Sri Ramakrishna had already identified his wife with Saraswati long before. When Sarada was five years old and about to be married to the young priest from Dakshineswar, the groom's family could not afford to purchase the traditional bride's bangles. The immediate solution was to borrow the bangles from the Laha family and to return them after the marriage ceremony. Apparently no one took into account that little Sarada would not want to relinquish the beautiful ornaments, which had to be given back to the rightful owners. That night, while the girl slept peacefully, Ramakrishna carefully removed the bangles, which were then re- turned to the Lahas. Imagine the little girl's distress on waking the next morning and finding them gone. Her mother-in-law consoled her with the promise that some day Gadai (Ramakrishna) would give her more precious ornaments than those.

Thirteen years later, when Sarada went to live with her husband at Dakshineswar, the promise was fulfilled. Considering Sri Ramakrishna's aversion to money and his inability to store up anything for future use, the fact that he made good on his mother's pledge illustrates its great importance. With funds that had been saved for him from his priestly salary, Sri Ramakrishna instructed his nephew Hriday to have a pair of gold bangles made for Sarada. And not just any gold bangles. Ramakrishna remarked to Hriday that Sarada was none other than the goddess Saraswati, and that the bangles should be incised to resemble the many tiny facets of a diamond. The importance of the bangles' appearance harks back to a vision of Sita that Sri Ramakrishna had had sometime around 1859. She was the first aspect of the Divine Mother to appear before him. As she was about to merge into his own body, he noticed her diamond-cut bangles, and in his mind they came to symbolize his relationship with his wife. As Rama had his Sita, so had he his Sarada, and the diamond-cut bangles he had made for her became a symbol of his recognition of her divinity.

References :

14. 'Sarada Shodashi', 33-4.

15. Pravrajika Amalaprana, 'The Spiritual Legacy of Indian Women', in Eternal Mother, 54.

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

To be continued ...

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