About sixty miles to the west of Calcutta, on the south-eastern border of the Bankura District, is situated the little hamlet of Jayrambati, the native village of the Holy Mother. The rivulet Amodar, a perennial stream of transparent waters, meanders its way along the northern boundary of the village. Today, thanks to railroad and motor traffic, a night’s journey is enough to reach Jayrambati from Calcutta. But at the time to which our narrative refers, it was much more inaccessible, since one had to travel for more than two days either on foot or in a palanquin, passing through fields and wildernesses infested by robbers.
Compared with some of the adjoining villages, Jayrambati, with not more than a hundred little mud houses in it, must be considered small. Its soil, however, was fairly rich, and an industrious peasantry raised in it a variety of crops, consisting chiefly of paddy, potatoes and vegetables of various kinds. While self-sufficient in the matter of staple foodstuffs, the village had no bazaar or fairs, and its inhabitants had, therefore, to depend on bigger villages of the neighborhood like KotalpurKoyapet and Kamarpukur – all within six miles of it – for the purchase of several necessaries of life like cloth, and for the marketing of the surplus products of their fields. In spite of its backwardness, life in it was fairly happy before the ravages of malaria carried misery into its homes in the latter half of the nineteenth century. The monotony of the villagers’ life was frequently relieved by the public celebrations of the great Hindu festivals like Durga Puja, Kali Puja, Dol Purnima and the rest, and by the special worship of various deities, be it of Sitala or of Dharma, of Santinath, the Siva image of the neighbouring village of Sihor or of Simhavahini, the Mother deity of Jayrambati itself.
In a population consisting mainly of agriculturists and artisans, the village had only two Brahmin families, the Banerjis and the Mukherjis, The Holy Mother was a daughter of the Mukherji family. Her father Ramachandra Mukherji had three younger brothers – Trailokya Nath, a scholar well-versed in Sanskrit, who met with premature death, and Isvar Chandra, and Nilmadhav who remained lifelong celibate. All the brothers lived as a joint family.
Ramachandra was a poor man, but he was virtuous, upright, and an example of the Brahmanical ideal. ‘My father,’ said the Holy Mother in later days, ‘was a very good man. He was a great devotee of Rama. He had unswerving devotion to the idea of a Brahmin’s life. He could not accept gifts indiscriminately. He loved to smoke, and as he smoked – he was so simple and humble – he would address in a friendly way every passer-by that crossed his door and said cordially, “Come in, brother. Have a smoke.”‘ We come across a remarkable instance of Ramachandra’s generosity and goodness when Bengal was in the grip of a terrible famine in 1864. Ramachandra was himself a poor man, making a meager living from the cultivation of a few acres of paddy fields, the performance of priestly duties, and the making of sacred threads. He had none the less a good stock of paddy from the surplus of the previous year’s produce, and without any consideration for his own worldly circumstances, he spent it all in feeding the famine-stricken.
Recounting her impression of this event, which took place in her tenth year, the Holy Mother said to her disciple in later days: ‘At one time a terrible famine devastated Jayrambati. People without number would come to our house for food. We had a store of rice from the previous year’s produce. My father made Khichuri, cooking that rice and pulse together. The Khichuri used to be kept in a number of pots. All the members of the family would take only that Khichuri. The starving people would also eat the same. He would, however, say, ‘A little plain rice of good variety shall be cooked for my daughter (Sarada, the Holy Mother herself). She will eat that.’ Sometimes the starving people would come in such large numbers that the food would not be sufficient for them. Then new Khichuri would be cooked, and when the hot stuff was poured in large earthen pots, I would fan and make it cool. Hungry people would be waiting for it. One day a low class girl came there. She had shaggy hair and blood-shot eyes like those of a lunatic. She saw the rice bran soaking in a tub for the cattle and started eating it. We said to her, “There is Khichuri inside the house, go and eat it,” but she was too impatient to wait. Is it a joke to bear the agony of an empty stomach?’
Ramachandra had for his partner in life a woman fully worthy of him. His wife Syamasundari Devi – the daughter of Hari Prasad Mazumdar of Sihor-, besides being a strongly-built and industrious woman and an able housewife, was also imbued with the same high ideals as her husband. ‘She was,’ according to the Holy Mother, ‘very simple, guileless and compassionate.’ She was devoted to the Deity, and it was her nature always to feel delighted in feeding people and working for their good. In later days when her daughter’s circle of devotees increased, she used to love and welcome them with great affection. ‘My mother,’ said the Holy Mother, ‘used to be so pleased when anyone of the devotees came to our place. She would look after them with great attention. She looked upon this family of devotees as her own flesh and blood.’
Written by DASSANA SHARMA