Sri Saradha Devi (Sri Maa)

 (22 December 1853 – 20 July 1920)


She was born on the 22nd of December 1853 and named Saradamani Mukhopadhyaya by Ramchandra Mukhopadhyaya and Syamasundari Devi. Saradamani Devi was born of Brahmin parents as the eldest daughter in a quiet village of Jayrambati in present day West Bengal, India. They were poor and pious. Her father Ramchandra earned his living as a farmer and through the performance of priestly duties. According to traditional accounts, Ramachandra and Syamasundari had visions and supernatural events foretelling the birth of a divine being as their daughter. Sarada lived the simple life of an Indian village girl. As a child Sarada—then known as Saradamani—was fascinated by traditional Hindu folklore and narratives. As in the case of most girls of rural upbringing, she did not receive any formal education but learned to serve others as she helped her mother run a large household and looked after her younger brothers.

When Saradamani was five she was betrothed to Ramakrishna, whom she joined at Dakshineswar when she was in her late teens. Ramakrishna—then known as Gadadhar Chattopadhaya and a priest of the Dakshineswar Kali Temple since 1855—was practicing spiritual austerities. His mother and brother thought that a marriage would be a good steadying effect on him, by diverting his attention away from spiritual austerities and visions. It is reported that Ramakrishna himself indicated Saradamani as the bride. In May 1859, Sarada was betrothed to Ramakrishna. Sarada was 5 years old and Ramakrishna was 23; the age difference was typical for 19th century rural Bengal. Saradha next met Ramakrishna when she was fourteen years old, and she spent three months with him at Kamarpukur. There, Ramakrishna imparted Sarada instructions on meditation, spiritual life. Ramakrishna's frequent samadhi (ecstasy) and unorthodox ways of worship led some onlookers to doubt his mental stability, while others regarded him as a great saint. Sarada joined Ramakrishna at Dakshineswar in 1872 on her own accord when she was eighteen, after hearing these rumors about his mental health. She found Ramakrishna to be a kind and caring person.

Year 1885, at Dakshineswar, Sarada Devi stayed in a tiny room in the nahabat (music tower). By this time Ramakrishna had already embraced the monastic life of a sannyasin; as a result, the marriage was never consummated.As a priest, Ramakrishna performed the ritual ceremony—the Shodashi Puja where Sarada Devi was made to sit in the seat of goddess Kali, and worshiped as the divine mother. According to Saradananda a direct disciple of Ramakrishna, Ramakrishna married to show the world an ideal of a sexless marriage. Ramakrishna regarded Sarada as the incarnation of Divine Mother, addressing her as Sree Maa (Holy Mother) and it was by this name that she was known to Ramakrishna's disciples.

Sarada Devi's days began at 3 am. After finishing her ablutions in the Bhāgirathi-Hooghly, she would practice japa and meditation until daybreak. Ramakrishna taught her the sacred mantras, and instructed her how to initiate people and guide them in spiritual life. Sarada Devi is regarded as Ramakrishna's first disciple. Except for her hours of meditation, most of her time was spent in cooking for Ramakrishna and the growing number of his devotees. While Sarada Devi remained completely in the background, her unassuming, warm personality attracted some female devotees to become her lifelong companions.

During Ramakrishna's last days, during which he suffered from throat cancer, Sarada Devi played an important role in nursing him and preparing suitable food for him and his disciples. It is reported that after Ramakrishna's death in August 1886, when Sarada Devi tried to remove her bracelets as the customs dictated for a widow, she had a vision of Ramakrishna in which he said, "I have not passed away, I have gone from one room to another. According to her, whenever she thought of dressing like a widow, she had a vision of Ramakrishna asking her not to do so. After Ramakrishna's death, Saradha Devi continued to play an important role in the nascent religious movement. She remained the spiritual guide of the movement for the next 34 years.

Sarada Devi spent her final years moving back and forth between Jayrambati and Calcutta. In January 1919, Sarada Devi went to Jayrambati and stayed there for over a year. During the last three months of her stay, her health seriously declined. Her strength was greatly impaired and she was brought back to Calcutta on February 27, 1920. For the next five months she continued to suffer. Before her death, she gave the last advice to the grief-stricken devotees, "But I tell you one thing—if you want peace of mind, do not find fault with others. Rather see your own faults. Learn to make the whole world your own. No one is a stranger my child: this whole world is your own!" This is considered as her last message to the world. She died at 1.30 am on July 20, 1920. Her body was cremated at the Belur Math.

Sarada Devi played an important role as the advisory head of a nascent organization that became a monastic order devoted to social work—the Ramakrishna Mission. Gayatri Spivak writes that Sarada Devi "performed her role with tact and wisdom, always remaining in the background. She also initiated several prominent monks into the Ramakrishna Order. Swami Nikhilananda, who was a freedom fighter and a follower of Mahatma Gandhi, accepted Sarada Devi as his guru and joined the Ramakrishna Order. He eventually founded the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center in New York.Though uneducated herself, Sarada Devi advocated education for women. She entrusted Devamata with the implementation of her dream—a girl's school on the Ganges, where Eastern and Western pupils could study together. In 1954, Sri Sarada Math and Ramakrishna Sarada Mission, a monastic order for women was founded in the honor of Sarada Devi.