4.6 SRI RAMAKRISHNA IN THE
THE STORY OF GOPALA’S MOTHER1 - I
I worship Sri Krishna, the milk-woman’s son in the form of the cowherd, black like a newly formed cloud, having eyes like blue lotuses and blue curly hair tied up (on the head) along with the glittering feathers of a peacock tail.
the bee drinking the honey of the lotus of the
— Hymn to Gopala
firm that faith of devotees with which they seek to
worship any Form whatever (of Mine).
— Gita VII. 21
shall receive one such little child in my name
— Matthew XVIII. 6
We cannot accurately say when Gopala’s mother met the Master for the first time. But it is certain that when we saw her first with the Master at Dakshineswar in the month of March or April in 1885, she had been visiting the Master for about six months and the extraordinary sport of the divine Lord as Gopala, i.e., the cowherd boy of Vrindavan, had also been going on with her. On that occasion Gopala’s mother, we remember distinctly, sat facing southeast (that is facing the Master) near the large jar containing the water of the Ganga in the northwest corner of the Master’s room. Though she was about sixty years old, one could not guess it; for in the face of the old lady there shone the joy and happiness of a girl. When we were introduced to her, she said, “Are you G—’s son? You are ours indeed! G—’s son has become a devotee! This time Gopala will not make a single exception; he will attract all, one by one. That’s very good. I had previously been related to you in a worldly sense; now I am related in another, closer manner.” And so on.
It was the month of December of 1884. The sky was as clear as possible. Again, there was, we remember, a little touch of cold, quite crisp, from the beginning of the month of November that year. It was perhaps in that season of Hemanta2, neither very hot nor very cold, that Gopala’s mother had the blessing of meeting the Master for the first time. They came by boat to see the Master from the temple garden on the bank of the Ganga at Kamarhati, belonging to Govinda Chandra Datta of Pataldanga. We say “they” because Gopala’s mother did not come alone on that occasion; the widow of the said owner of the garden and a distant relation of hers, named Kamini, came with Gopala’s mother. The name of Sri Ramakrishna was then known to many in Calcutta. So, they also were eager to see that extraordinary devotee ever since they had heard of him. The special service of the holy image had to be performed in the month of Kartik (November). Therefore, Govinda Babu’s wife, the mistress of the house, as she was called, lived at Kamarhati this time every year and looked after the said service personally. Again, Dakshineswar was only two or three miles from Kamarhati; so, it was very convenient to come from there to Dakshineswar. The mistress of Kamarhati and Gopala’s mother took that opportunity and came to the Kali temple of Rani Rasmani at Dakshineswar.
That day the Master respectfully made them sit in his own room and gave them such instruction about devotion, sang devotional songs for them and bade bood-bye to them, asking them to come again. While they were taking leave, the mistress invited the Master to grace her temple at Kamarhati. The Master also agreed to go some day at his convenience. He highly praised the mistress and Gopala’s mother that day. He said, “Ah, how beautiful is the expression of their faces and eyes! They are, as it were, floating on the current of the love of God; their eyes are full of the intense love of God. Even the Tilaka on the nose is beautiful.” That is to say, the feeling of devotion within was, as it were, bubbling out through their dress, deportment, etc., and there was no attempt at display.
Govinda Chandra Datta of Pataldanga was a broker to a famous European house in Calcutta. He became very rich on account of his efficiency and perseverance. But owing to an attack of paralysis, he became unfit for service. Prior to this, his only son had died and he followed the son. Among those who survived him were his two daughters Bhuta and Naran3 and their children. But as he had considerable property the latter part of his life had been spent in religious discussions and virtuous activities. Virtuous acts such as arrangements for discourses on the Ramayana and the Mahabharata in his house, installation of the holy images of Radha and Krishna with great pomp in the Kamarhati garden, recital of the whole of the Bhagavata and other Sastras, a ceremonial gift of valuables of the weight of himself and his wife to the Brahmins, the poor and others, had all been performed by him before he passed away. Besides, there was no lack of festivals, or, as they would call it, no cessation of “thirteen festivals in twelve months”, in connection with the worship of Radha-Krishna in the Kamarhati garden and Prasada was distributed unstintedly to guests and others, the poor and the indigent.
Afer the death of Govinda Babu, his virtuous wife also conducted for a long time the service of the holy images with the same sort of pomp. Aferwards, the greater part of the property was lost for various reasons. Therefore, in order that there might not be any falling off in the service of the holy images, Govinda Babu’s wife herself lived there and engaged herself in looking after it. The mistress belonged to the old school of thought and life and underwent much grief and suffering in her life. So her very bones, as it were, felt that there was peace in the practice of religion only. But the cursed worldly entanglement was not to be easily shaken off. She had to take care of her daughters, sons-in-law, society, position, honour etc. But she observed with the strictest rigidity the vow of Brahmacharya from the day her husband died. She used to sleep on the floor, bathe at the three junctures of the day, take food once only in twenty-four hours, and she spent her time in practising the vows of gifts, fasts, Japa, meditation, and other religious observances, and above all in the service of the holy images.
The family of Govinda Babu’s priests lived very near the Kamarhati temple. Nilamadhav Bandyopadhyaya, the priest, was a respectable person. Gopala’s mother, previously named Aghoramani Devi, was his sister. As she had become a widow in her childhood, she had been a member of her father’s family all her life. Aghoramani began to spend her time in the service of the images in the temple ever since she became very intimate with Govinda Babu’s wife, the mistress, as she was called. As her love for God increased, she had a strong desire to live in the temple itself on the Ganga. So, she took the permission of the mistress and began to live in one of the rooms in the women’s apartment. She visited her father’s family once or twice a day; that was all.
Aghoramani loved to practise strict penance and Brahmacharya like the mistress. There was, therefore, much similarity of thoughts and feelings between them. The mistress, a rich lady possessing much property, had outwardly to take notice of her honour, social position, etc. But as Aghoramani had none of them, she was comparatively free. Again, as there was not a single child born to her, there was nothing to bother her. What she possessed was perhaps a sum of six or seven hundred rupees, the sale proceeds of her ornaments etc. That also was deposited with the mistress in government security papers. Aghoramani used to live on the interest of this money and when in great want, she drew from the capital a little. Of course, the mistress also helped her and her brother in all matters.
Being a child-widow, Aghoramani never knew the happiness of the company of a husband. Women say, “The child-widows are extremely meticulous (about the observances of established rites and ceremonies), so much so, that they wash even salt before using it!” Aghoramani too was such a one when she grew up. One day, we know, she cooked rice and was serving it from the cooking pot on the plate of Sri Ramakrishna, when somehow or other the tiny stick with which rice is stirred in the pot, was touched by him Aghoramani did not eat the remaining rice in the pot and threw even the stick into the Ganga. This happened when she had just begun visiting the Master.
There were two or three hearths in the music room (Nahavat) at Dakshineswar. It was late on many occasions before the offering of cooked rice and other services to Kali the Mother were completed; sometimes it would be half past one. When the Master was unwell — and he had alimentary troubles etc., almost daily — the supremely revered Holy Mother cooked for him a little rice and soup at an early hour. Dal and Chapati were also prepared over these hearths for those devotees who spent their nights now and then with the Master. The Holy Mother cooked food over those hearths for those ladies also who came from Calcutta and other places to see the Master and spent with her in that Nahavat the whole day and sometimes the night also. On the day when Aghoramani or “the Brahmani of Kamarhati”, as the Master called her in the beginning, came to visit him, the Holy Mother had to purify the hearth thrice with cow-dung, Ganga water, etc., before the Brahmani would condescend to put her cooking pot over it. So great was her observance of purity and cleanliness!
The Brahmani of Kamarhati, again, was very sensitive from her childhood. She could not at all put up with any uncharitable remark by anybody, let alone her supplicating anybody for pecuniary help.
Besides, as soon as she saw anybody doing anything wrong, she felt no hesitation in telling him of it to his very face. So, she could not get on well with any one. The room, given her by the mistress to live in, was situated in the extreme south of the garden. One could have a good view of the Ganga through the three southern windows of the room which had two doors in the north and the west. The Brahmani sat in that room, observed the Ganga flow by, and performed Japa night and day. She thus spent thirty years in that room in weal and woe before she met Sri Ramakrishna for the first time.
The Brahmani’s father’s family were perhaps Sakta (i.e., worshippers of God as the Mother of the universe). We do not know what the faith of her father-in-law’s family was. But she was herself a follower of Vishnu and was initiated by her Guru in the Mantra of Gopala, God in the form of the child Krishna. Her close relation with the mistress also perhaps was responsible for it; for, the Guru family of Govinda Babu were the Goswamis of Malpara who were worshippers of Krishna, and one or two of them very often lived at Kamarhati since the temple had been built there. But it is difficult to decide how Aghoramani had such unswerving motherly love for God and how she had the desire of worshipping Him as her son in the form of Gopala, though she, being a child-widow, had no experience whatever in this life of how a mother felt for her child. Many will say, “It was due to her previous birth and past impressions.” Anyway her devotion was a fact.
Whenever there arises an urge for religion in the women of England or America as a result of suffering in the world or for some other reason, it gets manifested through gifts, doing good to others or the service of the poor, and the suffering humanity. It becomes their only aim to do good to people day and night. The reverse is the case in our country. Here this piety gets manifested through the observance of strict continence, the practice of austerities, the observance of established rites and ceremonies, the counting of beads, etc., which, at last becoming the end and aim of their lives, lead them on to ever greater inwardness and renunciation of the world. The idea that the realization of God is the end and aim of human life and that therein lies real abiding peace has surcharged the atmosphere of India and has entered the very marrow of men and women here. Therefore, the life in solitude together with the practice of austerities on the part of the Brahmani of Kamarhati, though a matter of surprise for the people of other countries, is nothing unusual in this country.
The Brahmani of Kamarhati felt great attraction for Sri Ramakrishna, since the day she had first met him But why it was so and how far-reaching it was to be, she had no idea. She felt an indescribable attraction for him but her conception of him did not go beyond what she said then, “He is a very good man, a real monk and devotee. I will come to him again as soon as I get time.” The mistress also felt similarly, but perhaps she never came again, lest society should speak ill of her. Besides, she had to spend much time at her Pataldanga house on account of her daughters and sons-in-law. Dakshineswar was far from there and if she were to come, she had to inform all and make necessary arrangements. So there was not much possibility of her coming to Dakshineswar again.
The Brahmani had no such difficulty. Therefore, a few days after her first visit, as soon as a desire to come to the Master arose in her while she was performing Japa, she suddenly came to Dakshineswar with two or three pice worth of Sandesh of inferior quality. No sooner had the Master seen her than he cried out saying, “Oh, you have come! Give me what you have brought for me.” Gopala’s mother says, “I shrank within myself at having to bring out that bad Sandesh, seeing that so many people brought so many good things and fed him Besides, imagine, scarcely had I arrived when he wanted to eat that worthless stuff!” As she could not say anything out of fear and shame, she brought out that Sandesh and gave it to him The Master also ate it with great pleasure and said while eating it, “Why do you spend money and bring Sandesh? Prepare and keep cocoanut balls and bring one or two when you come. Or bring whatever you cook with your own hand, be it Chachchari of the creepers and leaves of bottle-gourd or the curry prepared with legume of drum-sticks mixed with potato, brinjals and balls of the paste of pulses. I feel a great desire to eat things cooked by you.” Gopala’s mother says, “There was no talk of religion and pious topics, but only of eating. I thought, ‘I have come to see a strange Sadhu who talks of eating and eating only; I am a poor indigent person, how can I feed him so much? Leave him alone. I won’t come again.’ But as soon as I crossed the door frame of the gate of the Dakshineswar garden, he was, as it were, pulling me from behind. I could proceed no farther. I consoled my mind in various ways and dragged it back, so to say, to Kamarhati. Just a few days after, the Brahmani walked three miles with Chachchari in her hand to see Paramahamsa Deva. As soon as she came, the Master asked for it as before, ate it and expressed joy saying, “Ah, how beautifully cooked! It is, as it were, nectar, the very nectar.” Gopala’s mother’s eyes were filled with tears to see that joy of the Master. She thought that as she was a poor, indigent woman, the Master was praising that ordinary stuff of hers.
In this way her visits to Dakshineswar became more and more frequent for two or three months. Thenceforward, she used to bring whatever of the dishes cooked by her was found tasty, all the way from Kamarhati to Dakshineswar. The Master also ate it with relish. Again he asked her to bring some ordinary thing, such as a preparation of Sushni herb or Chachchari of bindweed and so on. Troubled with the request, “Bring this, bring that” and the frequent repetition of “I want to eat this, I want to eat that”, Gopala’s mother would think now and then, “Gopala, is this the result of my meditation on you? You have brought me to a Sadhu who wants only to eat. I’ll never come any more.” But there, that irresistible attraction again! “When and how soon shall I go again!”
In the meantime Sri Ramakrishna came once to Govinda Babu’s garden at Kamarhati and expressed great joy to see the service etc., of the holy images there. On that occasion he sang songs before the images there. He then took food and returned to Dakshineswar. Seeing his wonderful ecstasy at the time of singing, the mistress and others were greatly charmed. But it is very difficult to say whether the venerable Goswamis did not feel a little jealousy and hatred lest they should lose their influence. We are told that this was what actually happened.
It was a long-standing practice with the Brahmani of Kamarhati, to rise at two in the morning, finish her ablutions and sit down for Japa at three. She finished performing Japa by eight or nine, when she bathed, paid a visit to the holy images and joined in the service of the temple according to her capacity. Afterwards, when the food offering to the holy images was over, she engaged herself in cooking her own food at twelve noon. As soon as she had taken a little rest after her meal, she sat for Japa again. She witnessed the evening Arati, spent much of the night in Japa, and took a little milk before going to bed for a few hours. The humour of wind was prevalent in her constitution by nature; so, she had only a little sleep. Sometimes she had palpitation of heart and an indescribable uneasy sensation. When the Master was told of it, he said, “That humour of wind of yours is due to your meditation on Hari; if that be cured what will be the support of your life? Please eat something whenever you feel like that.”
It was 1884. The winter was over and the pleasant spring, abounding in flowers, arrived. Full of leaves, flowers and songs, the earth was experiencing an awakening; a sort of madness and hilarity was there in the air. In that joy and inebriation of nature there was no difference of good and bad, which was observable in the propensities of Jivas, according to their impressions. Expressions of nature are the same though in common parlance we say, the virtuous are awake to the good suggestions of nature and the vicious, to the vile. That is the difference.
During this time of the year, one morning at three, the Brahmani of Kamarhati sat for Japa. Japa finished, she began to perform Pranayama before offering the result of the Japa to her chosen Ideal, when she saw that Sri Ramakrishna was sitting near her to the left and the palm of his right hand looked half clenched. She saw him now as live and distinct as she usually saw him at Dakshineswar. She thought, “What is this? How and whence has he come here at such an hour?” Gopala’s mother says, “I was looking at him with astonishment and thinking thus while Gopala (as she called Sri Ramakrishna) sat and smiled. Then, with a beating heart, as soon as I caught hold of Gopala’s (Sri Ramakrishna’s) left hand with mine, that figure vanished into the void and a ten-month-old real Gopala, as though of flesh and blood as big as that (indicating the size with her hands) came out of that figure. And Oh, the beauty of it! Crawling, with one of his hands raised, he looked at my face and said to me, ‘Mother, give me butter.’ I was overwhelmed with that experience. That was a strange affair. I cried out loudly, and that was not an ordinary cry. There were no people in the house; they would have otherwise assembled there. I wept and said, ‘My child, I am a miserable, indigent woman. What should I feed you with? Where shall I get butter and milk, my child?’ But did that strange Gopala give ear to that? He only went on saying, ‘Give me something to eat.’ What could I do? I got up weeping, took down a dry ball of cocoanut from a hanging rope-loop and, placing it on his hand, said, ‘Gopala, my child, though I give you this worthless thing to eat, don’t you give me such food to eat. ’
“Then as regards Japa? How could I perform that? Gopala came, sat on my lap and snatched away the rosary. He rode on my shoulder and crawled all round the room As soon as it was dawn I started for Dakshineswar, running like one mad; Gopala climbed on my lap and rested his head on my shoulder. I caught hold of him on my breast with one hand on his buttocks and the other on his back and covered the whole journey. The two purple feet of Gopala, I saw clearly, were dangling on my breast.”
Inebriated with an intense love of God on account of the attainment of the vision of her own chosen Ideal, Aghoramani came walking from the Kamarhati garden to the Master at Dakshineswar early in the morning, when another woman devotee known to us was also present there. We shall now tell the reader what we heard from her. She said:
“I was then sweeping and cleaning the Master’s room It was morning, about 7 or 7-30, when I heard some one outside crying, ‘Gopala, Gopala’, and coming towards the Master’s room The voice was a known one and it began gradually to come nearer. I looked and found it was Gopala’s mother. She was not properly dressed, and looked like one mad with the two eyes gone up to the forehead, as it were, sweeping the ground with the skirt of the cloth she was wearing — as if she took notice of nothing. She entered the Master’s room in that state through the eastern door. The Master was then sitting on his small bedstead within the room
“Seeing Gopala’s mother in that condition I was completely surprised; the Master entered into ecstasy on seeing her. Gopala’s mother in the meantime came and sat down near him, and like a boy, the Master went and sat on her lap. Both her eyes were then shedding tears copiously; and she fed the Master with her own hand with the cream, butter and thickened milk she had brought with her. I was flabbergasted to see it; for, I never before saw the Master in Bhava touch any woman, though I heard that the Brahmani, the Master’s Guru, assumed sometimes the attitude of Yasoda and the Master in the attitude of Gopala sat on her lap. I was, however, completely astounded to see that state of Gopala’s mother and the Master’s mood. A little later, that mood of the Master came to an end and he got up and sat on his bedstead. But that mental attitude of Gopala’s mother would not come to an end. Beside herself with joy, she stood up and walked dancing round the whole room, saying like one mad, ‘Brahma dances, Vishnu dances’ and so on. The Master saw it, smiled and said to me, ‘Just see, she is completely filled with Bliss; her mind has now gone to the sphere of Gopala.’ Gopala’s mother had indeed such visions while in Bhava and she became a different person, as it were. On another occasion, at the time of taking her meal, overwhelmed with spiritual emotions, and thinking that we were so many Gopalas, she fed us with rice with her own hand. As I had not married my daughter to a person of a family equal in rank with ours, she hated me a little in her mind. Ah, how much humility she expressed for that on that occasion! She said, ‘Did I know before that you have so much faith and devotion in you? Gopala can touch almost none at the time of Bhava and today he sat while in Bhava on your back! Are you an ordinary person’?” The Master in fact was suddenly in Bhava to see Gopala’s mother that day and at first sat on the back of that lady and afterwards on the lap of Gopala’s mother for sometime.
She arrived at Dakshineswar that day in that state and said many things to Sri Ramakrishna, shedding profuse tears in the exuberance of Bhava. She said, “There is Gopala here on my lap, there it enters into your body (Sri Ramakrishna’s) ... there it comes out again. Come, my child, come to the lap of your miserable mother”, and so on. She saw the restless Gopala sometimes vanishing into the person of the Master and sometimes again coming to her in the bright form of a boy. There was no end to his childish play and pranks. She was drowned in that surge of emotion; she forgot all her austere rules and regulations; all her regard for the established, rites and ceremonies was washed away. Who can control oneself when submerged in the tidal waves of Bhava?
From that day Aghoramani became “Gopala’s Mother” in the real sense of the term, and the Master began to call her by that name. Sri Ramakrishna expressed great joy to see that extraordinary state of Gopala’s mother. He passed his hand over her heart in order to pacify her. He fed her with whatever good things were available there. Even while eating, the Brahmani, under the influence of Bhava, said, “Gopala, my child, your miserable mother has spent her time in this life in great misery; she earned a miserable living by selling sacred thread spun by her with the help of a spindle. Is this why you are taking so much care of her today?” and so on.
The Master made her stay for the whole day with him She took her bath and food there. He pacified her a little and sent her to Kamarhati a little before sunset. Gopala, seen in Bhava, was on her lap and accompanied her as before on her way back to Kamarhati. When she returned home, Gopala’s mother sat for Japa according to her previous habit. But could she perform it? For, He, the very object for whose sake she prayed, counted beads, and passed days and nights in meditation, was before her, playing, frolicking, importuning. At last the Brahmani got up and lay on her bedstead with Gopala beside her. The Brahmani had for her bed whatever she could get; she had not got even a pillow to rest her head on. But she had no peace even though she lay, for Gopala was grumbling. Having no other course left open, the Brahmani placed Gopala’s head on her left arm and making him lie near her bosom, consoled him thus, “My child, sleep this way tonight; as soon as it is morning, I’ll go to Calcutta and ask Bhuta (the eldest daughter of the mistress) to make for you a soft pillow with cotton cleared of seeds”, and so on.
We have already said that Gopala’s mother cooked her food with her own hand and feeding Gopala mentally, used to take Prasada herself. The following day she went to the garden to collect dry wood to cook early and feed Gopala’s person. She saw Gopala also coming with her, collecting wood and piling it in the kitchen. Thus did mother and son collect wood and then the cooking began. At the time of cooking also, the naughty Gopala began to see everything, sometimes sitting beside her and sometimes riding on her back. It said many things and importuned her for many things. The Brahmani now pacified it with sweet words, now scolded it.
Gopala’s mother came to Dakshineswar once, a few days after the aforesaid event had happened. She saw the Master and went to the Nahavat, where the Holy Mother lived, and sat for Japa. Finishing the usual number of Japa and making salutation, she was going to get up when she found that the Master had come there from the Panchavati. When the Master saw Gopala’s mother, he said, “Why do you perform so much Japa now? You have achieved much (of visions etc.) indeed.”
Gopala’s mother: “Shall I not perform Japa? Have I attained everything?”
The Master: “Yes, you have attained everything.”
Gopala’s mother: “Everything?”
The Master: “Yes, everything.”
Gopala’s mother: “What do you say? Have I attained everything?”
The Master: “Yes, everything. Performance of Japa, practising penance, etc., for yourself have been finished. But you may do these things, if you like, for this body (showing himself), so that it may keep well.”
Gopala’s mother: “Then whatever I’ll do from now on, is yours, yours, yours.”
Mentioning this event, Gopala’s mother said to us now and then, “Hearing these words of Gopala that day, I threw into the Ganga everything, the rosary, the rosary-bag, etc. I then performed Japa on the fingers for the good of Gopala. Long afterwards, I began to use a rosary. I thought, ‘Must I not do something? What shall I be doing all the twenty-four hours?’ I, therefore, count the beads for Gopala’s good.”
From now on, Gopala’s mother’s Japa, penance, etc., came to an end. Visits to Sri Ramakrishna at Dakshineswar became more frequent. The established practices and religious rites also which she had observed so long in respect of her food etc., were washed away gradually by that wave of Bhava. Gopala occupied her mind and heart completely and there was no limit to the ways how he taught her. And how could she preserve intact that unswerving routine of hers? For, Gopala wanted to eat at any time, and he thrust into his mother’s mouth whatever he ate. Could that be rejected? Moreover, he wept if that were rejected. Since she was incessantly floating on that extraordinary wave of Bhava, the Brahmani knew that it was the play of none else but Sri Ramakrishna, and that it was none but he, who was her “Sri Krishna in the form of Gopala, black like a newly-formed cloud and having eyes like the petals of a blue lotus”. She, therefore, cooked for him, fed him and had no hesitation in eating his Prasada.
Thus did the Brahmani of Kamarhati live continuously for two months with Sri Krishna in the form of Gopala, whom she placed now on her breast, now on her back. It indeed falls to the lot of rare, fortunate ones to enjoy such an unbroken surge of Bhava for such a long period, and the realization and vision of pure Consciousness condensed and vivified into the divine name (Nama), divine abode (Dhama) and the divine Lord (Shyama). Motherly love for God is in itself rare in the world — the birth of such love is impossible so long as there is the slightest consciousness of the powers of God in one’s mind — how much more rare, it may be easily inferred, is the vision of the divine Lord through that love condensed, as it were, with the help of unprecedented devotion. There is the saying, “Mother Kali is awake in Kaliyuga, Gopala is awake in Kaliyuga.” This is perhaps why the vivid and glowing realization of these two forms of the divine Lord are sometimes met with even now.
Sri Ramakrishna said to Gopala’s mother, “You have achieved much. The body cannot continue in the Kaliyuga if such a state persists for a long time.” It was, it seems, the Master’s wish that the body, purified by Bhava, of this poor Brahmani, a bright example of motherly love for God, might live for some time more in this world for the good of humanity. After the lapse of the two months mentioned above, the vision etc., experienced by Gopala’s mother became a great deal rarer than before. But she was having that vision as before whenever she sat quiet a little and meditated on Gopala.