Sarada Devi and Her Divine Play - the extended write-up


Sri Sarada Devi (1853-1920) is honored as and affectionately called the “Holy Mother.” She was the wife of Sri Ramakrishna and an essential, founding person in the tradition of the Vedanta movement and the Ramakrishna Order.

She provided necessary continuity to the tradition, living 34 years after her husband's passing away. Her presence and graciousness were more important than her words. We might imagine her role as something like that of the wise and holy Mary, mother of Jesus, who was central to his tradition long after his passing away, although she did not preach his gospel widely. The very title of the work is significant, implying that this work is a “part two” to Swami Saradananda’s Sri Ramakrishna Lilaprasanga (The Great Master), freshly translated in 2003 by Swami Chetanananda as Sri Ramakrishna and His Divine Play. Was it not Ramakrishna's lila that enabled hers to come to fruition? Was it not in her lila that his continued to resonate throughout the world?

 Many have recollected Sarada Devi’s legacy and the meaningfulness of her life, and Swami Chetanananda readily acknowledges his great debt to those who have written before him. Yet Sri Sarada Devi and Her Divine Play has its own unique place: it encompasses, as much as possible, all theprevious biographies, even as it incorporates numerous lesser-known sources, often available only in Bengali.

 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.

There are many ways to read this book: as a meticulous history, giving us the best available account of Sarada Devi’s life, reconstructed in as clear a sequence and as much detail as one might expect.

One can also see it as a modern bringing to life of precious remembrances from the very beginnings of the Vedanta movement for readers familiar with the history and those new to it.

It may also be seen as a continuation of the mission: as Sarada Devi was blessed with a long life, and so could extend the Master’s teachings and spread his message by way of her own compassion and insight, so this book brings that wisdom and love to a new generation here and now.

Of course, some scholars will want to comment further on the historical context and the politics and economics of Bengal in those years. Others will move from here to insights into what it meant to be a woman in that era. Still others will explore how her experience complements the wisdom and insight of Ramakrishna and Vivekananda. But all such scholars will inevitably begin with Sri Sarada Devi and Her Divine Play, a report on and a part of the tradition it recounts.


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. -
Lance E. Nelson, University of San Diego

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.  -
Gerald James Larson, Rabindranath Tagore Professor Emeritus, Indiana University, Bloomington; Professor Emeritus, Religious Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara

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! -
Linda Johnsen, author, Daughters of the Goddess: The Women Saints of India


 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]

  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.”