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PRABUDDHA BHARATA Shakti Worship and Sri Ramakrishna| Swami Prabhananda  





               Shakti Worship and Sri Ramakrishna


               Swami Prabhananda




     (Translated by Swami Sunirmalananda)


     Drawing our attention to the deep significance of the word shakti, Sir John Wood­roffe says, ‘There is no word of a wider content in any language than this Sanskrit term, meaning “Power”.’ (1) There is some supreme Power behind this universe who expresses Herself in diverse ways. But what is noteworthy is the glory of Her oneness behind this multiplicity. Heat, light, lightning - all these are expressions of just that Power. Everything in this universe is a conglomeration of power and nothing else.


     The concept of shakti is indivisibly connected with Mother worship (shakti sadhana). Generally the worship of Durga, Kali, Sarasvati and other goddesses is considered Shakti worship. But the worship of Narayana, Shiva, Ganesha and other gods, too, is the worship of Shakti Herself. Whatever the means - image, symbol or yantra - the worship is only of Shakti. This is because, in the use of all these means there is a superimposition of the creation - preservation - destruction aspects of Shakti either fully or partially. So in a wider sense all worshippers are Shakti worshippers.


     Both Vedic and Tantric sadhanas were prevalent in society once. Kulluka Bhata, the commentator on the Manu Smriti, says, ‘Vaidiki tantriki caiva dvividha shrutih; Vedic and Tantric are the two types of shrutis.’ But there is no end to the debate amongst pundits regarding the following questions: whether the Tantras originated from the Vedas or independently, in the Vedic age or after it; whether it is indigenous or has come from outside; whether Hindu and Buddhist Tantras are different; and which of the two Tantras is ancient. We don’t think scholars like Swami Pratyagatmananda Sarasvati, John Woodroffe, Haraprasad Shastri, Prabodh Chandra Bagchi, Dinesh Chandra Sen, Nagendranath Basu, Binaytosh Bhattacharya, Gopinath Kaviraj and others have arrived at answers to these questions beyond doubt and acceptable to all.



     Shakti Worship down the Ages



     History says that Shakti worship was prevalent all over the world in some form or other, but it was in India alone that an unbroken tradition has been set up, which has influenced the Indian mind permanently and deeply. Having made a deep study of the different religious ages, like those of the Vedas, the Upanishads, the philosophies, the epics and the subsequent religions, Swami Saradananda remarks, ‘Shakti worship, especially the worship of God as Mother, is a personal property of India.’ The great scholar and illumined soul Swami Abhedananda also says, ‘India is in fact the only place in the world where God is worshipped as Mother.’ By and large, their conclusions have been accepted by the scholarly world. The theme of the present discussion is this adoration of God as Mother.


     The idea of the Great Goddess (Mahadevi) was known amongst both Aryans and non-Aryans. Though both Aryan and non-Aryan races were indirectly responsible for the growth of the ideal of the Great Goddess, the contribution of the Aryans to this field is great. Some say that the deities like Vak, Sarasvati, Ratri and Shridevi of the ‘Vak Sukta,’ ‘Ratri Sukta,’ and the Rig Vedic ‘Shri Sukta’ became Mahakali, Mahalakshmi and Mahasarasvati in due course. (2) Again, some pundits feel that in the ‘Devi Sukta’ and ‘Ratri Sukta’ of the Rig Veda, the worship of Shakti is not at all the point. However, one cannot deny the appearance of the Goddess-idea in the Yajur Veda, Atharva Veda, and in some Brahmanas, Aranyakas and Upanishads. The special point here is this: though the Goddess (Shakti) mentioned in all these is the Great Goddess (Mahadevi), She is more of a Mother than a deity. Her maternal love is naturally evident everywhere. It is known that everyone has a natural attraction for his mother. The aspirant believes that Mother can be worshipped easily; She easily responds to the child’s call. However, it took quite some time for Shakti worship to become transformed into the purest form of Mother worship.



     Tantras and Shakti Worship



     One can never reject the importance of the Tantras in Shakti worship. ‘Tanyate vistaryate jnanam anena iti tantram; That which broadens and widens the horizons of knowledge is called tantra.’ Tantras are generally known as Agamas. Three forms of Agamas - Shakta, Shaiva and Vaishnava - are very popular. The vital topic of the Shakta agamas is the shiva­shakti-tattva-rahasya (the secret of the philosophy of Shiva and Shakti) or tattva sadhana (the practice of truths or realities or elements). It is in this context that the following spiritual practices are discussed: yantras (technical drawings), mantras (hymns and mystic syllables), devatas (deities mentioned in the mantras), mudras (signs made by the hands during worship), nyasa (purifying various parts of the body by touching them while uttering sacred syllables), upasana, yoga, panca-tattva samiksha (analysis of the five ingredients of worship) and shatcakra sadhana (spiritual practice related to the six plexuses).


     Spiritual practice (sadhana) is given the utmost importance in the Tantras. Sadhana comes from the root sadh (’to be able to achieve’). Through sadhana, the individual will be able to manifest his innate divinity. The Mahanirvana Tantra says that in the Kaliyuga all the mantras are awakened mantras, and bear fruit quickly.3 Sri Ramakrishna also says, ‘The fact is that in the Kaliyuga one cannot wholly follow the path laid down in the Vedas. … In the Kaliyuga the discipline of the Tantra is very efficacious.’ (4)


     In subsequent times, though philosophical literature entered the scene, Shakti sadhana has remained popular because of the belief that through spiritual practices alone can one attain mundane and other-worldly objects. Before Shakta philosophy became an independent school of thought, Shaiva philosophy was the philosophical basis of the Shakti cult. Surprisingly enough, in the Sarva-darshana-sanggraha of Madhavacarya or any other work, there is no mention of Shakta philosophy. From the aspirant’s viewpoint, in the field of sadhana too the correct use of realities (God, soul and the like) makes philosophical conclusions effective. In his Guptavati commentary on Shakta philosophy, Bhaskara Raya writes that the one indivisible Consciousness, Brahman, being enveloped by the eternal maya appears to be the signifier (dharma) and the signified (dharmi). The signifier is essentially non­different from the signified, like fire and its power to burn. We can see the image of a red hibiscus in a crystal, but the crystal is not red. So also, the qualities of the signifier (creation and so on) are superimposed on the signified.



     Specialities of Tantra Sadhana



     The principal deity of the Shakti sadhana as well as Tantric sadhana is the Divine Mother Kali. She has various forms as represented by the Dasha-mahavidyas. In order to understand the Tantric form of sadhana, which has had a very long history and got the form it had during Ramakrishna’s time, we should know some of its specialities:


     1. The doors of this system are open to all, irrespective of caste, colour or race. Of course, like in other scriptures, in the Tantric scriptures too there is the shadow of adhikara-vada, or the question of fitness of aspirants. He who is not initiated cannot practise the Tantras.


     2. This system can confer both worldly prosperity and spiritual emancipation. The Tantras have shown how one can convert pravritti, or involvement in the world, into spirituality. This system too has one ideal: liberation.


     3. The body is highly esteemed in the Tantras. To torture the body is not permitted. Our body is the home of great spiritual power. To develop and express this power is the goal.


     4. The conclusion of all the Tantras is this: ‘Brahmande ye gunah santi te tishthanti kalevare; Whatever qualities are present in the universe are also present in the body.’ Whatever is in the body is in the universe. In the body and in the universe alike there are different powers functioning in diverse ways. If a spiritual aspirant can manifest the powers within the body, all the powers in the universe become favourable to him.


     5. Shakti sadhana can be freely called the sadhana of Advaita. Swami Saradanandaji says, ‘The enlightened Tantric, like the Advaitin, sees no difference between mud and sandal [paste], friend and foe, a dwelling house and the cremation ground.’ (5)


     6. According to Advaita, Brahman is beyond qualities, without power, one, and non­dual. But without the influence of Shakti, the world cannot go on. The Advaitin says that the world is unreal, mithya. By ‘unreal’ is not meant something impossible. What is meant is this: Just as the snake is superimposed on the rope when we mistake a rope for a snake, unreality is superimposed on Reality. Brahman alone is real; Shakti is nothing but maya.


     7. The primal power of the universe is one and non-dual. Western science says that power is unconscious, or jada. The Tantras, on the other hand, say that Power, or Shakti, is not unconscious, but is full of consciousness. According to the Durga Saptashati, the Goddess is called Consciousness in all beings. (6) That Power which is in all beings as Consciousness is called Mahadevi. This great Power is what is adored by all Shakti worshippers.


     8. Tantra sadhana is harmony-oriented. Professor Nalinikanta Brahma has summarized this idea thus: ‘The Tantric method of sadhana combines elements of yoga, prayer, worship and meditation on the identity of the individual and the Absolute, and thus shows evident signs of eclecticism.’ (7) In tune with the spirit of the Upanishads, the Tantras bring about a union of the soul and Shiva. But the Puranas and other devotional scriptures say that the soul and God are different.


     9. Shakti worship is predominantly a householder’s sadhana. The scriptures too say that the devout householder has been called grihavadhuta, a householder-mendicant. In this respect too the sages of the Upanishads have been followed.


     10. The mainstay of Shakti worship is acara, or rites, and bhava, or mood. The acaras are principally seven in number: vedacara, vaishnavacara, shaivacara, dakshinacara, vamacara, siddhantacara and kaulacara. Each of these acaras depend on a particular bhava. The bhavas are three: pashubhava, virabhava, and divyabhava. Sri Ramakrishna has said no to vamacara, and in his Calcutta Address, Swami Vivekananda has come down heavily upon Vamacarins.



     Aspects of Mother Worship



     Those interested in knowing how the little stream called Mother worship in the Shakti system became such a strong current in later times will find that there were two aspects of Motherhood: (1) the Mother of plants and the Protector of animals; and (2) the mountain-dwelling, lion-riding Mother. In time, the second aspect became powerful. The mountain-dwelling Mother, who rode the lion, subsequently became Parvati, Girija, Adrija and so on. She is also the Uma Haimavati of the Kena Upanishad. In different ages, this same Mother has been receiving worship in different names and forms. The worship of this Mother, who has countless names and forms, does not mean polytheism; each image of Mother takes the aspirant straight to the supreme goal of life. Max Mueller, the famous German Indologist, coined a new term to explain this phenomenon: henotheism. Though names and forms are different, the philosopher says that the Goddess is one and non-dual. And the aspirant says, ‘It is the splendorous sport of the one Mother.’ The sages have sung in the Devi Bhagavata: ‘Whatever be the number of goddesses accepting worship in the cities and villages of Bharata, they are all aspects of the one Mahadevi, because they are not different from the primordial Mother, but different aspects of the same Mother.’ (8) What a wonderful concept has come to us down the steps of time! It is certainly born of experience. This spiritual history only eulogizes the glory of the Divine Mother.


     Coming to poets, the poet Kalidasa has endeared Uma, the daughter of Himalaya, to the heart of every Indian, in the form of an ideal daughter or wife; through his works Uma has become enlivened in the soul of the people. She is an ideal in beauty, sweetness and love. In subsequent times, however, this ancient Parvati has, through the Puranas, become united with Chandi or Durga, and thus her gentle, loving form has become a bit hidden, as it were.


     Surprising as it may appear, the name Uma was known in other parts of the ancient world too. S K Dikshit writes, ‘The Babylonian word for Mother is Ummu or Umma, the Accadian Ummi, and the Dravidian is Umma. These words can be connected with each other, and with Uma, the Mother-Goddess.’ (9) This apart, in one of the coins of the Hittites, the image of the Goddess seen was also called Ummo. (10) It is evident that our Parvati, or Uma, has similarities in name and form with the goddesses of other races. In our own country, we read in the Upanishads that She gives the supreme Knowledge to the gods; we again see that She is the daughter of the Mountain King and the daughter of Sage Jahnu. Again, it is She who has adorned Bengali hearts as the daughter of the poet Ramprasad. In the Chandi She is called Durga. She is the loving wife of Shiva and She is the mother of Ganesha, Kartikeya, Lakshmi and Sarasvati. Mother Durga descends to the mortal realm every year to enjoy the love and affection of Bengali mothers. She is not only the dear goddess of Bengalis, but all people of India experience her love and affection. So the one Divine Mother has become so diverse with the flow of time.


     A different form is that of the demon-destroying Candika. Perhaps these two forms became one in later times. Here, in the stream of the development of the worship of the Great Goddess, another stream too came and merged. That was the worship of Kalika, or Kali. Thus there are three: the lion-riding Durga or Uma, Candika and Kali. In the field of the Shakti worship of the Bengali people, Mother Kali has assumed the highest position, leaving behind all the other goddesses. Whereas in Durga worship importance is given to festivities, in the worship of Kali and other deities, including the Dasha-mahavidyas, sadhana has become important.


     Some say that the Ratri Devi of the Vedic ‘Ratri Sukta’ became the terrible Mother later. The Nirriti Devi of the Shatapatha Brahmana and the Aitareya Brahmana are considered the origins of Mother Kali by some others. The Mundaka Upanishad mentions several names for Kali. Kali is mentioned in several places in the Mahabharata. The Puranas, Upapuranas and the Tantric literature are filled with Mother Kali.


     Coming down the steps of history, we see that Camunda Devi becomes one with the blood-tasting, terrible Kali. The early form of such a unification is indicated in the Chandi of Markandeya. Defeated by Shumbha and Nishumbha and driven out of heaven, the gods sang hymns in praise of the goddess. Kaushiki Devi came out of the person of the goddess and thus became black in colour. She also came to be called Kalika, whose abode is the Himalaya: ‘Kaliketi samakhyata himacalakritashraya.’ There is another story in this book. Seeing Chanda and Munda coming near her, the Divine Mother’s face became dark in colour due to anger. And from her forehead emerged the black goddess Kali, with weapons in her hands. She destroyed the demon army. She held Chanda by the hair and beheaded him. At that moment, Munda ran towards her. The Devi slew him also. She then gave the two heads as a gift to Candika. Being pleased with her, Candika told her, ‘You will be known as Camunda in the world.’ (11) Again, during the killing of the demon Raktabija too, we see the important role Kali played. She consumed the blood that fell from the body of Raktabija. When she did this, Raktabija became helpless, and then the Devi killed him. The Goddess has been called Kali, and the killer of Chanda and Munda has been called Camunda. Thus the Puranas have unified the two: Camunda and Kali.



     Kali Worship



     In the Tantrasara of Krishnananda Agama-vagisha there is a description of Mother Kali, which was originally mentioned in the Kali Tantra. This has come to be the meditation verse of Kali during her worship. Lord Shiva lies supine at Mother’s feet, and one of her feet is placed on his chest. In ancient descriptions, however, Kali does not stand on Shiva; she stands on a shava, or dead body. She has destroyed the demons and is stamping their bodies underfoot; hence this form. Some factors helped in bringing about such a change from shava to Shiva. According to Dr Sashi Bhushan Dasgupta, these are [1] the nirguna Purusha and the threefold Prakriti of the Sankhya; [2] the viparita-ratatura idea of the Tantras; and [3] the supremacy of Shakti. (12)


     In the first volume of his Bharatiya Shakti­sadhana, Upendranath Das says that Kali worship was prevalent from ancient times in Gujarat, Rajputana, Mysore, Tanjore, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. But it is in Bengal alone that the tradition of spiritual aspirants has been strong.


     The ‘Adya Stotra’ from the Brahma-yamala Tantra says, ‘Kalika vangadeshe ca; and Kali in Bengal.’ Among the Tantric works prevalent in Bengal, one is the Mahanirvana Tantra. In that too we can clearly notice the description of Kali. The Bengali’s love for Kali is not something new. Seen in this background, we can notice how in different Puranas and Upapuranas there is a clear attempt to unify the concepts of Kali and Parvati. Because this attempt has succeeded, Kali has become the Great Goddess (Mahadevi).


     One more attempt has gained weight in this way of thinking: Kali is the original Devi, and Parvati Devi has, along with her diverse forms like Uma, Gauri, Durga and Chandi, originated from Kali. Gauri, Durga and others are different forms of that one goddess alone. One more thing. Numerous stories have found place in the Puranas and Upapuranas regarding how Mother Kali attained this Gaurihood. In the Kalika Purana, the daughter of Daksha was ‘Simhastha Kalika Krishna’. She gave up her body and took birth in the house of Himalaya, and got the name Kali. Parvati-Kali’s marriage took place with Shiva. One day, they were moving about in Mount Kailas. In front of the fair-complexioned Urvashi and other nymphs who were present, Shiva addressed Kali as ‘Kali bhinnanjana-shyama, Kali of dark complexion.’ Mistaking this to be Shiva’s teasing her for her black colour, Kali felt insulted. She went away to perform austerities. She adored Vrishabha­dhvaja for hundreds of years. By his grace, she gave up her black colour and attained the fair colour. Then she returned to Shiva. (13)


     From the end of the sixteenth century onwards, there was a reawakening amongst the worshippers of Kali and Mahavidya. Their only aim was the attainment of the feet of the Divine Mother. All their efforts, eagerness and struggle were to attain that goal. The efforts of Krishnananda, Brahmananda, Purnananda, Raja Ramakrishna of Natore, Sharvananda Thakur, Bamakhepa, Ramprasad, Kamalakanta and others culminated in the attainments of Sri Ramakrishna. Holding on to the divine form, these aspirants reached the Formless; they held on to the image of the Divine Mother and attained the Divine Mother Herself. Thus they practised broad and universal ideals and have made sadhana easy of approach and useful for the age. The perfection Sri Ramakrishna attained through this Shakti sadhana will be discussed later.


     At the time of his advent, Ramprasad had seen two streams of Mother worship: (1) secret sadhana and (2) worship of the Divine Mother in Her image with all pomp and show. In the aspirants who followed the second worship were seen the exhibition of splendour, awareness of cult and hatred for Vaishnavism. Combining both streams, Ramprasad lifted Kali worship above the limits of cult and gave it a universal appeal. The Tantras stress internal purification, and Ramprasad stressed bhavas. He says, ‘It is a matter of bhava; without emotion can She be attained?’ Mother, who is the repository of all bhavas, is the culmination of emotions (bhavi). Ramprasad sings, ‘I learnt bhava from a bhavi.’ He learnt that one should hold on to devotion and bring out the pearl called Shakti from the depths of the ocean of Knowledge. Holding on to the Divine Mother Shyama, Ramprasad tried to attain the supreme Brahman. He would say, ‘My Tara is formless.’ And when the heart-lotus opened, he saw that ‘My Mother is all-pervasive.’



     Mother Kali’s Unique Lila



     Sri Ramakrishna’s life was a unique field of Mother Kali’s sport. The extensive, diverse and meaningful way in which Shakti sadhana expressed itself in Sri Ramakrishna’s life was never before seen in any other aspirant. When he was young, he fell into a trance on the way while visiting Vishalakshi of Anur. He had a unique vision then. From then on his life took a different turn. From the day he began worshipping Mother Kali at Dakshineswar, the deeper, expansive and intensive sides of his Mother worship came to the fore. He had heard that ‘When pleased, She is the giver of liberation to human beings.’ (14) He understood that unless the Divine Mother cleared the way, there could be no God-realization. Thus he pleased the Divine Mother with his purity and intense aspiration, and attained Her vision. He did not rest with the Divine Mother’s vision; he also practised other Shakti disciplines through various moods. He moved about freely in the world of sadhana, becoming an instrument in the hands of the Divine Mother.


     Under the directions of Yogeshvari Brahmani, Sri Ramakrishna practised all the sixty-four Tantric disciplines. There is a subtle intermingling of moods in these sixty-four methods. Gradually, he scaled the highest pinnacle of these methods of sadhana. Thereafter, he undertook Advaita sadhana under the tutelage of Totapuri. Being established in Advaitic knowledge, Sri Ramakrishna entered into the mood of the vijnani and remained a child of the Divine Mother. Coming down from nirvikalpa samadhi, he began enjoying the attitudes of devotee and devotion. The Brahmo leader Pratap Chandra Mazumdar wrote about Sri Ramakrishna: ‘He worships Shiva, he worships Kali, he worships Rama, he worships Krishna, and is a confirmed advocate of Vedantist doctrines. He is an idolater and is yet a faithful and most devoted meditator of the perfections of the one, formless, infinite Deity, whom he terms Akhanda Satchidananda.’ According to Sri Ramakrishna, there is no difference between Kali, Krishna and Shiva. According to the Sammohana Tantra, he who distinguishes between Rama and Shiva is an idiot.



     Sri Ramakrishna’s Shakti Worship: Salient Features



     Regarding Sri Ramakrishna’s Shakti worship and supernatural attainments, here are a few important points:


     1. All of Sri Ramakrishna’s sadhanas are tinged with the ideal of harmony. With the permission of the Divine Mother he practised the sadhanas of the different modes of Hinduism and those of other faiths. This effort of his was to know how people worshipped the Lord in all those faiths, and to know their truth and validity. Regarding the sadhanas of the vast religion called Hinduism, his opinion was this: ‘He who is spoken of in the Vedas, He who is spoken of in the Tantras, is also spoken of in the Puranas.’ He would say:


     Do you know what the truth is? God has made different religions to suit different aspirants, times, and countries. All doctrines are only so many paths; but a path is by no means God Himself. Indeed, one can reach God if one follows any of the paths with wholehearted devotion. Suppose there are errors in the religion that one has accepted; if one is sincere and earnest, then God Himself will correct those errors. (15)


     2. The Kularnava Tantra says, ‘Sadhakanam hitarthaya brahmano rupa-kalpana; Forms of Brahman are assumptions to help spiritual aspirants.’ The Supreme presents Itself before the aspirant assuming forms like Kali, Durga and Shiva. However, these forms are not imagined according to the whims of aspirants. Behind these forms is the secret of the aspirants’ attainments. And it is to be remembered that ‘secret’ does not mean magic of any sort. The Divine Mother revealed to Sri Ramakrishna that just as She is of the form of the blissful Mother, She is also of the nature of the formless pure Consciousness. She is both with form and without form; She is both with attributes and without attributes; and much more.


     Sri Ramakrishna used to say that Kali is Brahman and Brahman is Kali. So long as the ‘I’-consciousness of the aspirant remains, there are Kali, Krishna and so on. When that ‘I’ goes, the ‘form merges into the formless’. This self-revealing (svasamvedya) Truth should be understood at every step.


     3. In the Tantras, the position of Shakti is supreme. According to Advaita, Shakti is called maya. Brahman alone is real. Maya is inexplicable; it is neither existent nor non-existent. In one word, the Advaita school ignores Shakti. In the Devi Bhagavata there is a harmonization between the two streams: ‘Shakti is always one with Brahman. Their mutual connection is like fire and its power to burn.’ (16) Sri Ramakrishna went a step further. He said that Brahman and Shakti are the same. He said, ‘He whom you address as Brahman is none other than She whom I call Shakti, the Primal Energy. It is called Brahman in the Vedas when it transcends speech and thought and is without attributes and action. I call it Shakti, Adyashakti, and so forth, when I find it creating, preserving, and destroying the universe.’ (17) Still water is the example for Brahman, while the wavy waters are the example of Shakti. This attitude was evident in Sri Ramakrishna’s everyday life. He did not want to be in samadhi and remain ‘unconscious’ with the knowledge of Brahman. He wanted to become a vijnani and come down to the plane of duality to enjoy the company of devotees.


     4. Even though there is the manifestation of Shakti in everything that has name and form, in women there is the greatest expression of the sandhini, or creative and protective, and hladini aspects. It is due to this speciality that women are worshipped as sources of the universe and as symbols of the Divine Mother. Sri Ramakrishna did that. He worshipped his wife as the Divine Mother Tripurasundari and offered all the fruits of his sadhana at her feet. He considered all women as the representations of some or other form of the Divine Mother. He would say that he had the attitude of ‘mother and child’. In Shakti sadhana, the attitude of a child towards its mother is very pure. In the attitude of the hero, there is a fall in most cases.


     5. The mansion of sadhana has seven storeys. Sri Ramakrishna had free access to all of them. His spiritual practices too were nothing but sport. To cite one of the numerous instances: Though he followed the child attitude towards the Divine Mother, he had become filled with the Divine Mother once and had accepted the worship of the devotees. This happened on the evening of Kali Puja in 1885. An eyewitness writes, ‘Who Kali is or who he is, I can’t understand. In Kali he alone is and in him She alone lives.’ During the worship, the devotees saw his divine smile and hands bestowing blessings, and were assured that they were always protected by the Lord. They were freed from fear.


     6. Sri Ramakrishna would say, ‘Both the Vedas and the Puranas describe pure food and conduct. But what the Vedas and the Puranas ask people to shun as impure is extolled by the Tantra as good.’ (18) Knowing everything, he accepted that which was good. He objected to the sadhana of the hero mood. He stressed purity. He rejected the hero attitude and stressed the ‘mother and child’ path.


     7. During the nineteenth century, the worship of Shakti (shakta-dharma) had developed into a religion, as it were. Sri Ramakrishna’s sadhanas had ended with his practice of Advaita Vedanta. In reality, whatever sadhana he undertook - Shakta, Vaishnava and Shaiva - all were with the ideal of Oneness or Advaita in mind. The author of Sri Ramakrishna the Great Master has discussed all this in detail. On the other hand, Swamiji saw that Vedanta in its three forms is the source of all religions; it is scientific, modern and also the unifier of human beings. Thus the Shakta and Vedanta ideals were seen by the teacher and disciple as universal and broad. Therefore Swamiji did not preach Shakti sadhana but preached Vedanta, and said that we should understand Vedanta in the light of the life and teachings of Sri Ramakrishna.


     8. Though the teacher and disciple were one in this respect, to the sadhana-oriented Sri Ramakrishna the Divine Mother was extreme­ly gentle and loving, and to the vision-oriented Swamiji She was a combination of the terrible and the benevolent. He wrote:


Of Death begrimed and black -
Scattering plagues and sorrows,
Dancing mad with joy,
Come, Mother, come!
For Terror is Thy name,
Death is in Thy breath,
And every shaking step
Destroys a world for e’er.
Thou ‘Time’, the All-Destroyer!
Come, O Mother, come!
Who dares misery love,
And hug the form of Death,
Dance in Destruction’s dance,
To him the Mother comes. (19)


     Above all, in Sri Ramakrishna’s Shakti sadhana - where he accepted a woman as his teacher, worshipped his own wife as the Divine Mother and saw all women as representations of the Divine Mother - Swamiji saw a new meaning and mission of social awakening. He also saw the initiation of women’s awakening in this sadhana of Sri Ramakrishna. Therefore Swamiji thought of starting a women’s monastery.


     9. The Shakti worship of Sri Ramakrishna, tending towards Advaita, had finally established him in the pinnacle of Advaitic vijnana. His disciple Narendranath had been blessed with the attainment of nirvikalpa samadhi. But neither of these two remained aloof after tasting this divine nectar. The taste of the nectar of spiritual illumination never made them turn away from humanity. The whole universe is Brahman itself. Since the living being is Brahman itself, ‘Nara’ became ‘Narayana’ for them. Love of the living being is love for Shiva, and service to the living being is service to God, they announced.


     10. That Divine Mother-Power whom Sri Ramakrishna worshipped as Tripurasundari, and at whose feet he offered everything he had attained, and that very Power whom Swamiji considered ‘the living Durga’ - that Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi also performed Shakti sadhana. Expressing the Motherhood of God fully in her, she added strength to Sri Ramakrishna’s Shakti sadhana. The Divine Mother Herself came as a human being this time and showed unsurpassing love towards all - irrespective of caste, creed or station of life - and served everyone, thereby establishing a very high ideal of motherhood.


     If one wishes to understand the Shakti worship of Sri Ramakrishna, one has to look deeply into the Shakti worship of Sri Sarada Devi and Swamiji, whose vital role we have hinted already. To Sri Ramakrishna, the Divine Mother is basically full of benevolence and bliss. To Swamiji, She is both benevolent and terrible. He saw behind the blissful, benevolent form of the Divine Mother Her terrible form, which human beings don’t wish to look at, because of fear. Swamiji’s vision was fundamentally that of a philosopher, and Sri Ramakrishna’s, of an aspirant who had offered his everything to Mother.



          ~ ~ ~



     In earlier times, attempts were made to understand Shakti worship more or less through the lenses of spiritual striving and philosophy. Apart from these, modern minds want something more: concrete examples. They want to know the utility of this sadhana; they want to know how social good could be achieved through this. Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi’s sadhana and life have fulfilled these needs. The Divine Mother Herself came in the form of Sri Sarada Devi and lived amidst us. Sri Sarada Devi accepted all human beings as her own children. In her presence both ordinary souls and great spiritual aspirants understand the completeness and glory of Shakti worship, and achieve tremendous inspiration. Through the holy trio, the worship of the Divine Mother has attained completeness, and all those sadhanas that were hidden in secrecy and darkness have been released from such stigmas and have become complete now.


     The breadth of vision, expansiveness and all-pervasiveness, and social utility that the Shakti worship of this holy trio under the leadership of Sri Ramakrishna has achieved is something novel and unheard of in the world of Mother worship. True, like in earlier times, the goal of Shakti worship is liberation of the individual. But owing to the needs of the times, it has also become an instrument of social good, and has also become easily accessible to all types of people.


     The Ramakrishna movement has come up by centring on the collective ideal of Shakti worship. If we compare this movement with the flow of the Ganga, we could say that Dakshineswar is its Gomukh and Belur Math its Gangotri. We may remember a statement of Swamiji regarding the speciality of this movement. He wrote to his brother disciples: ‘Now we have a new India, with its new God, new religion, and new Vedas.’ (20) From image worship to the worship of the supreme Truth; from individual liberation to collective liberation; from Kali worship to Advaita Vedanta sadhana - all have been freed of boundaries and limitations. At the heart of all these is the dear child of the Divine Mother, Sri Ramakrishna. Monks and devotees of the Ramakrishna Mission, who are part of the great movement, feel that they are eager children of the Divine Mother seeking Her grace, and pray to Her earnestly: ‘O Great Goddess, You are all-pervasive, the Mother of all. We know, O Mother, that if You are pleased, everyone is pleased.‘ (21)






     1. Sir John Woodroffe, Shakti and Shakta (Madras: Ganesh & Co., 1959), 26.

     2. See Swami Prajnanananda, Tantre Tattva o Sadhana (Calcutta: Ramakrishna Vedanta Math, 1988), 12.

     3. Mahanirvana Tantra, 2.14.

     4. M, The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, trans. Swami Nikhilananda (Chennai: Sri Ramakrishna Math, 2002), 297.

     5. See Prabuddha Bharata, November 1913, 213.

     6. Ya devi sarva­bhuteshu cetanety-abhidhiyate.

          - Durga Saptashati, 5.17.

     7. Nalinikanta Brahma, Philosophy of Hindu Sadhana (New Delhi: Deep & Deep Publications, 1988), 83.

     8. Kala yah yah samudbhutah pujitastashca bharate;
          Pujita gramyadevyashca grame ca nagare mune.

          - Devi Bhagavata, 1.1.158.

     9. S K Dikshit, The Mother Goddess (New Delhi: S K Dikshit), 59.

     10. Shashi Bhushan Das Gupta, Bharater Shakti Sadhana o Shakta Sahitya (Calcutta: Sahitya Samsad, 1396 BS), 40.

     11. Camundeti tato loke khyata devi bhavishyasi.

          - Durga Saptashati, 7.27.

     12. Bharater Shakti Sadhana o Shakta Sahitya, 70.

     13. Ibid., 80-6.

     14. Saisha prasanna varada nrinam bhavati muktaye.

          - Durga Saptashati, 1.56.

     15. Gospel, 559.

     16. Devi Bhagavata, 9.1.14.

     17. Gospel, 434.

     18. Ibid., 564.

     19. The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, 9 vols. (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, 1-8, 1989; 9, 1997), 4.384.

     20. CW, 7.496.

     21. Tvam sarva-rupini devi sarvesham janani para;
          Tushtayam tvayi deveshi sarvesham toshanam bhavet.

          - Mahanirvana Tantra, 4.24.

International Yoga Day 21 June 2015
International Yoga Day 21 June 2015








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