A Monastic Disciple of Sri Ramakrishna
IN THE INTERVENING YEARS before encountering her guru at Dakshineswar, Mridani went through a great many strange and unimaginable experiences. Over this period she blossomed into Gauri Ma.
Mridani's father was Parvaticharan Chattopadhyaya and her mother, Giribala Devi. Parvaticharan would perform morning worship daily, before he went to work. Seeing a tilak mark on his forehead, his employer frequently ridiculed him. But one day Parvaticharan firmly countered the ridicule, saying that he was prepared to leave his job rather than sacrifice his religious practices. Mridani's mother, Giribala. had many spiritual qualities, too. Of these, perhaps her greatest virtue was to be found in her dedicated service to the poor, the miserable, the afflicted, and the dependent. This mother to the poor and unhappy never let anyone go away from her door in disappointment. She was also well educated. Not only did she know her mother tongue, Bengali, and Sanskrit very well but she knew some English and Persian. She was a good poet. Two collections of her poems entitled Nama Saar and Vairagya Sangeet Mala had been published. In addition, Giribala had a very sweet voice. To such devoted and gifted parents, Mridani was born around the year 1857. Just before Mridani's birth, her mother, Giribala, saw the goddess Mahamaya in a dream. The goddess was handing her a glowing, beautiful baby.
Even as a child, Mridani displayed extraordinary spiritual tendencies. Her favorite form of play was to offer worship to God. She could not bear to see others suffering. A certain sadness and sense of detachment were natural to her. One day while crossing the Ganges by boat, she wondered, Why do women hanker so much for gold and ornaments? Will I not be able to live without them? Will I be unhappy without jewelry? Absorbed in such thoughts, she took off her gold bracelet and cast it into the river. Not only did she not care for jewelry, but she was equally indifferent about the clothes she wore.
In Mridani's neighborhood lived a reputed astrologer and palmist, Chandimama. Once, when looking at Mridani's palm. he is said to have observed, "She will be a great yogini." Chandimama had travelled to numerous places of pilgrimage throughout India. Mridani loved to hear his descriptions of the different places he had visited. He would describe to her which deity is to be found in which holy place, or how difficult it is to climb the Himalayas, or how much natural beauty is to be found in those mountains. She would listen to his stories with rapt attention.
In those days, an Englishwoman, Miss Francis Maria Milman. had started a school for Hindu girls from higher-caste families. For some time Mridani was a student there, and Miss Milman was so impressed with Mridani's talents and qualities that she expressed a desire to take her to England, contrary to custom. Later, however, Mridani had to leave the school because of some religious dif- ferences. Mridani had no further opportunity to attend school because during those days the education of women was sorely neglected. Nevertheless, she was able to learn stotras for the different gods and goddesses: the Bhagavad Gita, the Durga Saptashati, the Ramayana, and the Mahabharat. She memorized a great deal from these books.
One notable incident occurred a few days after Mridani's initiation at Nimteghola. A sannyasini from Brindavan had been staying at Mridani's home for a few days. That sannyasini a great devotee of Sri Krishna, had a beautiful Damodar Shila that she used to worship daily. She was very pleased to see young Mridani's intense devotion. One day the sannyasini had a special vision or spiritual experience, though no one knew its exact nature. She secretly called Mridani to her room. With tears streaming down her face, she emotionally described her experience to Mridani and then said. "You are like my daughter in age, but from now on you are my sister. Child, you are very fortunate. This Shila is an awakened deity and means everything to me. The Lord is pleased by your devotion, so I am going to hand Him over to you. May His wish be fulfilled."
One day, shortly afterwards, the sannyasini slipped away from their home without telling anyone. Ever since then, with firm faith and a steady mind, Mridani regularly worshipped the shaligram with the appropriate rituals. This became an inseparable part of her life. That Damodar Shila whose worship was described earlier was this very shaligram that came to Mridani under special circumstances at such a tender age.