01:02:00 - This is not a date but a time. The sun set over Cassipore, Kolkata at this time as at this hour deep in the night or the first dawn, of 16th August 1886, a life, which shook Bengal for many years, attained mahasamadhi. The name, Sri Sri Ramakrishna. But what is important to me is the stirrings of woman’s empowerment and the spirit of reforms that marked the twelfth day ceremony when, the wife breaks all her bangles and strips her body of the jewels and wipes out the sindoor on her forehead and the parting of her hair, to signify widowhood. Also, she must give up wearing red coloured/bordered saris. But, this lady, Sri Sarada Devi, wife of Sri Sri Ramakrishna did not do it because just as she sat by herself at the banks of the Ganges in Dakshineshwar, a suburb of Kolkata, a voice interrupted her. It was the voice of Sri Sri Ramakrishna- “ You cannot be widowed. Keep those bangles on.”
And so it was that despite social ostracism in conservative Bengal of those days, the first stir of reforms were born. Sri Sarada Devi never removed her bangles nor did she stop to wear red-bordered saris.
Indeed, her’s was an extraordinary life. Born on December 22, 1853, in Joyrambati, she was married at the tender age of 5 years to the temple priest Sri Ramakrishna. But, neither was her’s a life of a wife as we may think it to be nor was her husband a priest for that matter, although in both cases, they performed their duties in the respective roles.
Sri Sarada Devi is marked by other acts that break the ‘normal’ cast as both woman and wife. Her relationship with her husband was not a physical one. She had therefore no children. Sri Ramakrishna worshiped her as the Goddess herself, a practice that could be thought to be difficult to bear in those days, when even today, it is the women who are supposed to worship their husbands. On his death, she was left with no pensions and was sent back to her maternal home. For days on end she had nothing to eat except rice with salt. Yet, she never had any complaint on her lips. For, to me she did not only stand as an exemplary example of women’s empowerment in those days but also a tyagi – a person so detached from the needs of the body, she could do without even the basics.
Sri Sarada Devi, known as Ma, passed away in Kolkata in a house now called Udbhodan in Bagbazar area in 1920.
Today in Dakshineswar is the temple where she lived with her renowned husband and avatar, Sri Sri Ramakrishna, lovingly called Thakur, is the room she spent her days in called Nahabat. And at some distance from Dakshineshwar temple, is also the Sri Sarada Math. Across the river Ganges is Belur Math, which was established after Thakur’s mahasamadhi, by his closest followers, best known among them, Swami Vivekananda. Photography inside any Math or temple is prohibited. But I have captured pictures that delight my heart from its outskirts and from the ferry crossing over from Dakshineshwar to Belur. They are reminders of the path of renunciation, in the midst of being a sansarik - the one who lives in the middle of the world, but is not of it.
From Kolkata you can go by Local train to Dakshineshwar from Sealdah Station or just drive to it. From Dakshineshwar you can ferry across to Belur Math across the river Ganga. This service is closed during the monsoons when to go to Belur you can take the local train from Howrah Station or again drive to the place. There are also buses available to go to both Dakshineshwar and Belur.
To know more on Sri Sri Ramakrishna
And more about Sri Sarada Devi
Bally Bridge as seen from Dakshineshwar