Worship and Sri Ramakrishna
by Swami Sunirmalananda)
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
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.
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.
Worship down the Ages
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.
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.
and Shakti Worship
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).
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)
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.
of Tantra Sadhana
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.’
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
of Mother Worship
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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  the nirguna Purusha
and the threefold Prakriti of the Sankhya;  the viparita-ratatura
idea of the Tantras; and  the supremacy of Shakti. (12)
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.
‘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).
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)
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.
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
Kali’s Unique Lila
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.
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.
Ramakrishna’s Shakti Worship: Salient Features
Sri Ramakrishna’s Shakti worship and supernatural attainments,
here are a few important points:
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:
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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)
Sir John Woodroffe, Shakti and Shakta (Madras: Ganesh
& Co., 1959), 26.
See Swami Prajnanananda, Tantre Tattva o Sadhana (Calcutta:
Ramakrishna Vedanta Math, 1988), 12.
Mahanirvana Tantra, 2.14.
M, The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, trans. Swami Nikhilananda
(Chennai: Sri Ramakrishna Math, 2002), 297.
See Prabuddha Bharata, November 1913, 213.
Ya devi sarvabhuteshu cetanety-abhidhiyate.
Durga Saptashati, 5.17.
Nalinikanta Brahma, Philosophy of Hindu Sadhana (New
Delhi: Deep & Deep Publications, 1988), 83.
Kala yah yah samudbhutah pujitastashca bharate;
gramyadevyashca grame ca nagare mune.
Devi Bhagavata, 1.1.158.
S K Dikshit, The Mother Goddess (New Delhi: S K Dikshit),
Shashi Bhushan Das Gupta, Bharater Shakti Sadhana o Shakta
Sahitya (Calcutta: Sahitya Samsad, 1396 BS), 40.
Camundeti tato loke khyata devi bhavishyasi.
Durga Saptashati, 7.27.
Bharater Shakti Sadhana o Shakta Sahitya, 70.
Saisha prasanna varada nrinam bhavati muktaye.
Durga Saptashati, 1.56.
Devi Bhagavata, 9.1.14.
The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, 9 vols. (Calcutta:
Advaita Ashrama, 1-8, 1989; 9, 1997), 4.384.
Tvam sarva-rupini devi sarvesham janani para;
tvayi deveshi sarvesham toshanam bhavet.
Mahanirvana Tantra, 4.24.