Reminiscences of Sarada Devi by Swami Nirvananda
In the Mother's Company
Swami Nirvanananda (often referred to as "Surya Swami Brahmananda" or "Sujji Swami Brahmananda") was a disciple of Swami Brahmananda. Nirvanananda was Vice-President of the Ramakrishna Order.
Translated from the original Bengali by Ms. Maloti Sengupta of Kolkata from Sri Sri Mayer Padaprante published by Udbodhan Karyalaya, Kolkata. This article appeared in the October, 2002 Vedanta Kesari.
I first saw Mother at the Sevashrama (the Ramakrishna Mission Home of Service which does extensive medical service to the community) at Varanasi. As far as I remember that was in early November, 1912 when Mother had visited the Sevashrama on the day after Kali Puja. I had arrived just a few days before that with the intention of joining the Ramakrishna Order. I had already learned about Mother from Sri Sri Ramakrishna Kathamrita (the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna) and other sources. At that time Swami Brahmananda, too, was residing at the Sevashrama.
Mother stayed at Laxmi Nivas, a house belonging to Kiran Datta of Calcutta near Advaita Ashrama. During this visit to the Sevashrama, Mother had gone round making a thorough survey of the place. She was very pleased to see the sadhus at the Sevashrama serving the patients, regarding them as images of Narayana himself. She remarked, "I find Thakur (Sri Ramakrishna) himself present here and my sons who are doing their utmost to serve the patients are but worshipping him."
After spending quite a long time there Mother returned to Laxmi Nivas. A little later she sent a ten rupee note to Charu Maharaj (Swami Shubhananda). Charu Maharaj was one of the founders of the Varanasi Sevashrama, though he had not yet joined the Order. At that time he was just Charu Chandra Das, known as Charu Babu. The person who had brought the note said, "Mother is so pleased with the work being done at the Sevashrama that she has sent this money." Mother has also remarked, "I liked the Sevashrama so much that I would like to settle there for good." On hearing this, Swami Brahmananda, Swami Shivananda, Swami Turiyananda, Kedar Baba (Swami Achalananda), Charu Maharaj and all others were beside themselves with joy.
M (the author of the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna) was also at Varanasi then. He had not approved of the work being done at the Sevashrama. He considered that such work as attending to patients and running hospitals was not only not fitting for monks but was also contrary to the spirit of Sri Ramakrishna's teachings. In his opinion monks should devote themselves whole-heartedly to spiritual practices only. Referring to Mother's remarks after visiting the Sevashrama and the gift of ten rupees, Swami Brahmananda said to M, "You have heardeverything, haven't you?" M replied, "Well, when Mother has spoken thus, what more is there to say? All this work is certainly work done to serve Thakur—there is no getting away from admitting it."
On that occasion Mother spent a considerable length of time at Varanasi. Now and then Advaita Ashrama and Sevashrama were blessed by her visits. Swami Brahmananda used to go to Laxmi Nivas every morning to offer pranam to Mother and we too often accompanied him. Though Mother exchanged very few words with me I was aware of her special affection for me.
Towards the end of December, 1914, Swami Brahmananda asked me to return to Belur Math. Mother was then at Udbodhan. On my return to the Math I went there for her blessings. Prior to that I had been engaged in flood relief operations in West Bengal for about two months. Over-exertion and irregular hours had perhaps affected my health. This did not escape Mother's eyes. As soon as she saw me she exclaimed, her voice expressing great concern, "What have you done to yourself?" I replied, "For some time I have been engaged in flood relief work and lack of regular meals there might have affected my health just a little." Mother said, "Not just a little, your health has been gravely affected. Take care now to eat properly long enough to restore your health. Such a great deal of Thakur's work has got to be accomplished by you people, how can it be done if you are not physically fit?" At the time of my returning to the Math she reminded me of this again.
This time I spent a few months at the Math serving Swami Brahmananda as his attendant. While thus engaged I experienced an intense desire to undertake austere spiritual practices in the Himalayas. Mother was at Udbodhan. I went there and prayed for her permission to go for tapasya.
At first Mother was firmly against it. Expressing great anxiety she said, "No, son, you are still too young, you need not go for tapasya (spiritual austerities)now. Where will you live, how will you manage to get food?" But I, too, was persistent. I kept pleading with her for permission. Mother repeated, "No, son, you will have to face much hardship, there is no need for you to go for tapasya." Her voice seemed charged with anxiety and concern. But I remained adamant. I kept on pressing her for permission. At last she said, "Well, son, since you are so eager to go for tapasya, I suggest you go to Varanasi. There you will put up at the Sevashrama and live only on alms obtained outside. Don't go elsewhere."
Upon this I said to her, "If that be so, Mother, then I shall go to Varanasi on foot." At first she did not agree but finally she gave in to my entreaties. Before I took leave she placed her hands on my head and said, "You have my heartfelt blessings, son, may you attain spiritual salvation!" One fine day I set out for Varanasi bearing Mother's blessings on my head. This time I spent about seven or eight months at the Sevashrama and on returning to the Math I resumed my service of Swami Brahmananda as his attendant.
Swami Brahmananda was fond of staying at Balaram Mandir and used to go there often from the Math. Being with him, I had the opportunity to visit Udbodhan frequently and consequently had the good fortune of having Mother's darshan (blessings) and offering pranam to her almost daily. At times I also spoke to her. She had a very sweet voice. Though she usually kept her head and face completely veiled before others by drawing her sari over her head, I don't recall having ever seen her like that. Whenever I saw her I was fortunate enough to see her divine face.
During Mother's last illness Swami Brahmananda was at Bhubaneswar. I used to attend on him there. At about 1.30 a.m. on the night of Mother's Mahasamadhi (Tuesday, July 20, 1920) I entered Swami Brahmananda's room and found him sitting in an armchair with a shawl wrapped round his body. He looked very grave. He asked me, "What time of night is it, Sujju? [an affectionate form of "Surya"] Can't say why, my heart is aching for Mother. Heaven knows how she is!" I asked him, "Won't you go to bed?" He did not reply. Noticing his grave mood and learning about his anxiety for Mother, I tried to cheer him up saying, "Shall I bring your hooka for smoking, Maharaj?" He ignored my offer and continued to sit in the same manner. Seeing him in such a mood I did not dare to ask him anything further and quietly left the room.
The next morning Swami Brahmananda seemed somewhat restless. He used to go for a walk in the mornings but that day he did not go out. He was pacing the front verandah. That very day the postman delivered a telegram from Swami Saradananda saying that Mother had left her mortal body at Udbodhan on the previous night at 1:30 a.m. I recalled that on the previous night almost at that very hour Swami Brahmananda had woken up and said that his heart was aching for Mother. On hearing the news Swami Brahmananda's face grew somber with suppressed grief. He lay down on his bed. A little later he sat up again and announced, "I shall observe hobishyee [mourning]. All disciples of Mother shall observe hobishyee for three days and shall not wear shoes during this period." For three days he did not speak to anyone. He ate only food as prescribed during mourning for twelve days and did not use shoes. One day he remarked, "All this time we had been sheltered by a mountain."
It is said that after Mother's mortal remains had been cremated Swami Shivananda declared before the assembled monks and devotees, "All over India 51 pilgrimage centers came up, each one hallowed by the presence of one single part of Sati's body. [Referring to the story of Sati, the wife of Shiva, whose body fell in 51 different areas of India, which became pilgrimage sites.] Today the entire body of Sati has mingled with the dust of Belur Math. Just consider then, how sacred Belur Math is as a center for pilgrimage!"
Of the three temples on the river front at the Math (those of Swami Brahmananda, the Mother and Swami Vivekananda), that of Mother alone faces the Ganges. Mother had an deep love for the Ganges. She loved to bathe in it, to gaze at it and to dwell on its bank. That is why her temple faces the Ganges. She is looking upon the Ganges all the time.
Swami Brahmananda used to say, "It is very difficult to know Mother. She conducts herself as an ordinary woman with her head and face covered by her sari but she is the Mother of the Universe in person. Had Sri Ramakrishna not revealed her true identity to us, there was little chance of even our knowing her."
A devotee once told me that Mother herself had said to him, "I myself am Sita."
- www.vivekananda.net edited by Frank Parlato Jr.