Thursday, March 6, 2014

Mothering God - Gopal Ma

Given below is a brief information on Gopal Ma, the saint who Mothered God and from whose life i got a better understanding of the Life of Harbans Ma.

Early Years

Aghormani was born in 1822 in Kamarhati, a northern suburb of Calcutta. As per the prevalent social custom, she was married at the age of nine. Her wedding was the first and the last time she saw her husband - he died before the marriage was consummated, leaving her a widow of fourteen years of age. However, she was initiated by her husband’s family guru and was given the ‘Gopala mantra’, establishing the child Krishna as her Chosen Deity. Since Aghormani was born with natural spiritual tendencies; she plunged whole-heartedly into intense austerities and worship in order to have the vision of her Ishta. Thus, the love and attention that Aghormani would have given to her husband and children were diverted towards her beloved Gopala.

Aghormani lived a sheltered life of a typical Brahmin widow, in the tiny room located in a corner of a temple-complex of Govinda Datta in Kamarhati, on the bank of the Ganga. Her elder brother was a priest of the Radha-Madhav temple. The holy atmosphere of the beautiful temple fascinated her pure mind. This tiny room with bare necessities, where she did intense spiritual practices, was her abode for almost her entire life. She hardly moved from that room - except for a pilgrimage with her landlady. Sister Nivedita wrote about her room, "Her little room was absolutely without comforts. The handful of parched rice and sugarcandy formed her only store. But the place was spotlessly clean, washed constantly by the Ganga water of her own sturdy carrying. And in a niche in near hand, lay an old copy of the Ramayana, and her great horn spectacles, and the little white bag containing her beads. On those beads Gopaler Ma had become a saint! Hour after hour, day after day, for how many years, had she sat, day and night, absorbed in them!"

Spititual Practices

Thus, placed in an environment which was extremely conducive for leading a life devoted to spiritual pursuits, undisturbed by the din and bustle of the world, her latent devotional sentiments gradually blossomed forth and she plunged into repeating Gopala’s name oblivious of day and night. That tender love, which had so long remained dormant within and had not found any suitable outlet for expression, now welled up in torrents of tears and made her almost sleepless. Her daily routine was a uniform round of prayer and service which she followed with unabated zeal for thirty long years in the solitude of her room. She used to get up at two in the morning and ceaselessly did her japa throughout the day and night with small intervals for meals and rest as well as for the morning and midday services of Sri Radha- Madhava in the temple. She had to face many pecuniary difficulties; so much so that she had to weave sacred threads and sell them to support herself. But no hardships could dissuade her from maintaining the strict routine of her daily spiritual practices. Writes one biographer of Sri Ramakrishna, "Lest her telling of beads get disrupted, she used to use her left hand for cooking while her right hand remained busy with her rosary." Suffering and tenderness, aches and ecstasies of her motherly loving heart were her only companions over all these years.

Meeting with Ramakrishna

The fame of Sri Ramakrishna as a God-intoxicated saint had by 1880’s spread far and wide; hence Aghormani Devi felt an urge to meet him. One autumn afternoon in 1884, accompanied by the devoted widow of Govinda Datta, she went to Dakshineshwar. She was now about sixtytwo, fourteen years older than the Master and had already done severe austerities; therefore, her mind was completely occupied by Gopala, the child Krishna. Sri Ramakrishna welcomed them cordially, made them seated in his room and sang a few devotional songs for them. He could easily gauge the depth of devotion of the two ladies. Later he remarked about them, "Ah! How beautiful is the expression of their face and eyes! They are, as if were floating on the current of the love of God. Their eyes are full of the intense love of God." He saw them off in his characteristic affectionate manner and asked them to come again. It was not a routine courteous invitation. The magnet was pulling the iron to itself. Aghormani felt a strong desire to visit the Master at the earliest opportunity. A few days later she again visited Dakshineshwar with some stale sweets purchased from a wayside shop. With great hesitation, she offered the sweets to the Master who savored them and said, "Well, you need not spend money for sweets. Prepare sweetened coconut balls and vegetable curries cooked by your own hand." Aghormani’s visits to Dakshineshwar now became very frequent. Her fascination for the Master, however, was a little shadowed by the puzzle why the Master talked to her mostly about food and not on spiritual matters. Sometime, she resolved not to go to him again but every time she found herself automatically dragged in the direction of Dakshineshwar. Thus, during the next three or four months she regularly visited Sri Ramakrishna, always carrying some of her culinary preparations, and the Master ate them praising, "Ah, how deliciously cooked! It is, as it were, very nectar." She always returned to Kamarhati with a tingle of joy lingering in her heart with an irresistible yearning for the next visit.

Was Sri Ramakrishna her beloved Gopal?

Time thus rolled on and Aghormani was basking in the soothing presence of the Master. Her ardent longings brought about a spirit of complete self-surrender in her. Slowly, the time to reap the fruits of her intense tapasya was approaching. 

It was the beautiful morning of the spring of 1885. Following her regular routine, she had just completed her japam, and to her great astonishment, she found Sri Ramakrisha sitting to her left side, smiling sweetly, with his right hand clenched. In utter curiosity, she tried to touch him but found that Sri Ramakrishna’s form had disappeared and in its place appeared the real Gopala - a child ten months old crawling towards her and begging for butter while fixing his bewitching gaze on her! In the words of Aghormani, "I was so surprised! I cried in excess of joy and said to him, ‘Alas! I am a poor widow. Where shall I get butter for you, my child?’ But Gopala would not listen. ‘Give me something to eat,’ he

said to me again and again. With tears in my eyes, I got up and brought for him some dry sweetened coconut balls I had. Gopala sat on my lap, snatched my rosary, jumped on my shoulders and moved about in the room, so that all my efforts to carry on further repetition of the mantra were baffled." With the first streak of light the next morning, an inebriated Aghormani started for Dakshineshwar, with Gopala clasped to her bosom, his tiny rosy feet dangling gracefully.

What a blissful experience! She was clasping her Chosen Ideal in flesh and blood! She realized that Sri Ramakishna had granted her this boon, and he was none other than the Gopala she had been meditating upon for the last three decades. Ecstatic, completely oblivious of the outer surroundings, totally absorbed in the thoughts of the Master, she reached his room, crying frantically "Gopala, Gopala." As soon as Aghormani sat down in the Master’s room, the Master, over-powered by Samadhi, readily sat on her lap like an infant. Tears rolled down her cheeks, and she began to feed the Master with the delicacies she had brought with her. After a while the Master regained normal consciousness and returned to his bedstead. The blessed Aghormani began to dance in joy, since she was transported into the realm of Gopala. In that state she said, "Gopala is now on my lap. Oh! Now he has entered your body. Ah! He has come out again. Come my darling; come to your poor mother." Sri Ramakrishna expressed great joy at this wonderful state of Gopaler-Ma, stroked her body and brought her to normal consciousness. He fed her sumptuously and in the evening sent her back to Kamarhati. After this incident, she was addressed by Sri Ramakrishna and others as Gopaler-Ma (Gopala’s mother), as, she actually became the blessed mother of Gopala and enjoyed perennial bliss in mystic communion with the child Krishna.

Sri Ramakrishna used to praise Gopaler-Ma for her devotion. Once, pointing to her, he said to those present in his room, "Ah! There is nothing inside this body but God. He fills it through and through." On another occasion he commented, "During Krishna’s incarnation she was a fruit-seller of Vrindavan and she would feed Gopala the sweet fruits."

Visions of Gopala

On her return journey too, she visualized baby Krishna resting in her arms. Reaching her room, she started telling her beads, but her Chosen Deity, for whom she had practised japa and meditation all her life, was playing besides her, pestering and demanding various things and snatching her rosary. To calm him down, she tried to make him sleep by caressing him, but he complained that the pillow was too hard! Gopala also assisted her in collecting the firewood. The mother with a heart overflowing with love, sometimes fondled the child and sometimes rebuked him for his naughtiness. Thus a divine sport continued in the sacred temple- garden of Kamarhati - a phenomenon so rare in this age! Gopaler-Ma’s life is the verification of the Hindu scriptural truth that God can be attained by Vatsalya Bhava, worshiping Him as a child. With a pure mind and one-pointed devotion, she could raise her consciousness to such a state that she could actually feel the living presence of her object of worship. She was convinced and the Master too assented that he was none other than her Gopala.

For about two months Gopaler-Ma had unbroken communion with her Gopala, after which the frequency of her visions decreased. She complained to the Master, who consoled her by assuring that in Kaliyuga, it would be impossible for a person to sustain the body with one’s mind attuned to the highest plane of superconsciousness. Gradually she felt the presence of Gopala in everything and a radical change was observed in this orthodox woman. All the distinction between high and low, the touchable and untouchable and all the scrupulousness in the matter of food and rituals vanished altogether from her mind. Later she could receive a ‘foreigner’ like Nivedita without the least hesitation and even lived with her till her end. Gopaler-Ma was thus transformed into a saint radiating bliss and joy, and she continued to inspire people with her devotion, purity, sweetness and simplicity.

Modern man, inclined to be skeptical and scientific, has great difficulty in accepting as real such experiences as Gopaler-ma's. However, from the traditional Hindu point of view, there are much finer states of consciousness than the one in which we experience the sense world, and this has been substantiated again and again by the experiences of saints and seers. When the mind is pure and saturated with Spirit, such high states of consciousness are possible. Gopaler-ma meditated on her beloved Gopala so much that her mind became very pure. As a result, she entered the superconscious realm, and wherever her eyes fell, she saw Gopala. In this realm of mystical experience, verbal expression, mental cognition, and intellectual reasoning do not function. The only consciousness is the direct consciousness of God.

Sri Ramakrishna once shared "The Brahmani of Kamarhati (Gopal Ma) sees many visions. She lives all by herself in a lonely room in a garden on the bank of the Ganga. She spends her time in Japa. Gopala sleeps with her. It is not imagination, but fact. She saw that Gopala's palms were red. He walks with her. She suckles Him at her breast. They talk to each other." When Narendra (later Swami Vivekananda) heard this story, he wept.

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