At five she decided whom she was going to marry.
But when he did not come to fetch her even after she reached puberty, she went out to be with him.
This despite the fact that she had heard that he had gone mad.
When on the first night together, instead of erotic love being expressed, her husband prepared to worship her as “jagat janani” or Devine Mother, she accepted his devotion gracefully.
Their marriage was bereft of any romantic physical intimacy.
They bore no children, therefore.
And when he died, she did not throw away the symbol of a married Bengali woman. She continued to wear her shakha, pola, bala.
Not only that, she took on another role, giving “diksha” or the mantra to the many followers of her husband, most of whom were men.
He left her nothing, not even a pension and yet, she had no word of complaint when she went back to her home in Joyrambati and had nothing to eat or wear, that could hide her shame. The same torn sari, tied up wherever there was a tear, is all she had.
Suffering did not tell on her face, but broke the heart of many of her ‘sons’ who volunteered to look after her till she died.
Sarada Devi, or what she is better known as Ma Sarada Devi, has been uplifted to the status of the spiritual mother by the religious order which sprouted out of Bengal, The Ramakrishna Mission. Indeed, she was the wedded wife of the temple priest, Sri Ramakrishna, at Dakshineswar, in the mid-1800. Ever since his passing away, and over some time, the order of sannyasins, started by no other than our own Swami Vivekananda, made a quick move - they placed her on a pedestal which perhaps she well deserved for the kind of person she was and appeared to be, in the eyes of the Order as well as many others across the world.
This write is not to analyse the devotion she might have had towards her husband. Rather, it attempts to look critically at Sarada Devi, from the three states of being – the body, the mind and the spirit in order in the hope of coming to some conclusions vis-a-vis her and these states of being.
Women’s bodies have been looked at for centuries as property belonging to the parents or the husbands, sons of the woman. It has been taken for granted that because, she may be physically weaker she needed protection. But really the hidden story is different. Indeed, it is her sexual self, her child bearing capacities, which have been clothed in the garb of protection, and taken custody of, to ensure that she moves from the hands of her father, to the hands of her husband and then to the hands of her sons, as if she were a commodity wearing a chastity belt over her whole being, mostly her physical body.
Yet, that body is hers only - Its language, expression, desires, longings, pains, the celebration are only hers to experience, because that body belongs to her.
In the light of the above, can we say that Sarada Devi had none of these factors that defined her body too? Had she no requirement to fulfil its needs as all of us do? Or are we to say that she was beyond these temporal dimensions that mark a ‘common’ woman? We can’t say that, because, she had shown some mental indications which show us that albeit at a tender age of five, she did choose whom she is going to marry, when he did not return to fetch her, she went to meet her husband. She was grown up and like other women may also have had the desires that are common to all of us, as also a sense of duty to be with her husband. This serves as an indicator that she ‘knew’ there was more to being a wife. And she was willing, or else why would she have gone, knowing or having heard that he had gone mad? But, we are always wrapped in a haze of lack of information on this quarter. Rather, the strategy used is what has been used frequently on women, time and again, the plan, never to talk of those desires and thus, perforce, push her to a status which is more comfortable for men to associate her with, by forcing upon her a state of a demigoddess and add a prefix, Ma, before the name, so she is also safely clothed in another over rated ‘motherhood’ state. By doing this, the male bastion, and in connivance with them, society and other women, who have got used to being looked at through the eyes of one half of society, stamps out two things immediately – (a) not acknowledging that she was human (b) discounting the body of a woman with desires and a voice of its own.
This is the first conclusion. It has been the habit of men to discount the body of a woman and thereby overrule any desires attached to it, by pushing it into the domain of “motherhood” and idolising it to the extent that the woman may herself forget that her body has any other desire, except that of motherhood. Her duty now is to bring up the next generation of men and women, the latter to again follow her example. In the absence of motherhood, she is either cast as barren or made to wear the garb of a demigod in order that she may never be looked at as a woman in the first place with desires.
The same connivance ails Sarada Devi too, although as we move ahead we will realise that her own sense of being, was far higher than what she could be comfortable boxed into - What shall we then say about her, when we see that she is willing to accept her husbands’ engagement with her, as if she were a goddess? Did she receive some kind of ego message from such an act? I think not! For after the puja and the private ceremony was over, she had quickly settled to a life of a wife, as they existed in poor homes of a temple priest of those times in 1800, especially this one, who at one level the elite in Bengal dismissed as a schizophrenic, and others adored as a spiritual and godly man. Was it not hard on herself to live in a small room, with a mother in law on the top floor, cooking all day long for a line of men or followers who came to visit her husband? Was it not a difficult time for her to manage a life, so close to her husband and yet so far away? Here again, what were her feelings, is it possible to get all her happiness from the world, and be only in close proximity of her beloved?
We are not aware of what went on in the mind except that she seemed to be a perennial flow of good feeling and love for all. I question this, because, I don’t hear her own voice but I read what others want to say of her. Has history obliterated even a simple cudgel between husband and wife, or her dissatisfaction with the hoards of young boys who came at all times and expected that they would be fed by the ‘mother’? Was the kitchen fire her only companion and if so, what were the conversations between them? Again, you feel the desperation, an uneasy unrest at how to keep up an image, society can and will delete all information that prove otherwise. In doing so, they wipe out an entire human being, who is gendered female, and force a ghost of an image, they can deal with.
In protest, I draw my second conclusion: (a) either history has wiped out Sarada Devi’s feelings and her right to her own body and its expression in whatever language or voice it so wanted to speak out in or, (b) she had the enormous capacity to bear the circumstances of her life and that brings us to the realisation that perhaps she was in a state of acceptance at all times about the goings-on in her life, nevertheless.
The ability to bear and accept the circumstances of one’s life is beyond psychology. As long as we are in the body or the mind, dissatisfaction dogs us at every twist and turn, sometimes doing a fox trot, at other times, locked in confusion and at still others deliberating the need to ‘trust’ existence, etc. Etc, but once it moves beyond these two domains, all the argument dissolve in ‘just Being’. This is a heightened state of being, whose path of arrival is through the dense jungle of mind and body dynamics. It belongs to the domain of the spirit, which ensures that one is already empowered within and therefore can generate the skills required to bear and yet, go beyond the normal hubbub of life and its happenings. ‘To be of the world, but not of it’, is often quoted at the closest resemblance to that state of being. The person is so fortified; they rise above it all and enjoy a state of autonomous existence, although, for the rest of the individuals around, externally they see the person as the same. I believe that Sarada Devi, was in this heightened state of being, already, even before she chose her husband. Her trials and tribulations, her forbearance, only play out once she is with her husband and thereafter, after he is no more in his body.
Ma, the term used to describe a woman who has borne a progeny or one who is forced into that box is too normal a state of being, indeed, too ordinary, for an autonomous being.
We see the world and all around us, in exactly the capacity we have in your vision of the world. Therefore, I question again as I arrive at the last conclusion, has history been unjust to a woman, who far exceeded their vision of her? Do we need to relook at Sarada Devi, in a different light? Is there no need to enquire further on who she really was, beyond what we are told already? Must we also join and silence the voices of a mind and body and submit with mute devotion, the written word, without trying to re-write a history that has been obliterated?
Granted the assumption then, Sarada Devi was indeed an autonomous being, yet, this conclusion has not been arrived at by a thorough study of a life, intricately hidden, in a mesh or words that push the bar up over her existence and force her to be seated on a pedestal she probably never wanted to be on. And if she were as I draw an empowered being herself, the footpath would as clearly be as good as a golden pedestal.
Justice must be done and not denied any more.
This article expresses my thoughts on the subject. On 12th September, 2012, I attended the Opening Ceremony of Ma Sarada Kutir, in Vrindavan, India. The history of this place known as Kala Kamli Kunj, marks the beginning of Sarada Devi, giving diksha or matra to Jogen maharaj in 1886. Thereafter, she went on to initiate many others. The present Kutir, has broken the taboo associated with the Ramakrishna Mission, that being, the path of a spiritual life is only ordained to those who have taken a vow to sannyas. In this Kutir, there are rooms available for ‘travellers on the Path’ who can take a booking on single occupancy only basis, to spend time alone, for spiritual practices of their own. This is a breakthrough because, it now goes on to express that the Order has accepted, that the normal householder can be a highly spiritual person, just like Sarada Devi herself. To make further enquiries or to book for a stay, write to: firstname.lastname@example.org,
To know more on the ceremony and the history of the Kala Babu Kunj which it what Ma Sarada Kutir was known formerly, read: Conecration of Ma Sarada Kutir
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To know more on Sarada Devi refer to Wikipedia