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Gauri Ma
A Monastic Disciple of Sri Ramakrishna

CAPTIVE BIRD

MRIDANI WAS NOW getting older, and her parents felt it was time for her to be married. But Mridani had already decided she would marry only someone who was immortal. She was not prepared to accept anyone but the Lord as her master.

Friends and relatives of prospective grooms who came to meet her were always impressed by her beauty and her other excellent qualities, but upon hearing about this determination of hers, none would dare accept her as their daughter-in-law. Regarding her as a devi, they would praise her but could not imagine how anyone could marry her.

Giribala became perplexed. She was not entirely willing to see Mridani forced to marry against her wishes, but the relatives decided that she must be married. (Poor, misguided relatives!) They wondered. How could such a noble daughter disobey her parents?

Finally, after all family members conferred and discussed the matter at great length, it was decided that Mridani must marry Bholanath Mukhopadhyaya, her elder sister's husband. At that time Mridani was already thirteen, old enough to be married.

Lavish preparations for the wedding were made. Everything was done, except for obtaining Mridani's consent. The wedding day dawned. In the family home was a room used for storing all sorts of old and unwanted things. Taking her Damodar Shila, which she worshipped daily, Mridani ran to that storage room and locked herself inside. Everybody tried to persuade her to come out, but she refused, and finally they had to give up in exhaustion. Mridani had assumed the terrible aspect of the goddess Durga when she is known as Chandi, and she was ready for battle. They had tried everything from threats to sweet words of persuasion. Finally, they induced Giribala to go reason with her daughter. Hearing her mother's pathetic voice, Mridani's heart melted and she opened the door. She fell into her mother's arms and began sobbing, "Mother, I do not want to marry any man!"

Moved by Mridani's commitment, Giribala decided to support her daughter and strengthen her resolve. "My daughter, if you really have detachment. I will not be an obstacle in your path. I offer you at the feet of the Lord. Let Him protect you through life's ups and downs. But for now, it is not possible for you to remain at home. You should leave immediately and take refuge at your aunt's house. Otherwise, these people will come here to threaten you."

Holding closely her Damodar Shila and aided by her mother, Mridani therefore escaped through the window and secretly made her way to her aunt's house. Mean- while, at home panic and confusion reigned. Where had the girl gone? Nobody knew.

Mridani considered even running away from her new abode, but her aunt's alertness prevented this. After a few days, things had settled down, and she convinced Mridani it was best to return home.

Mridani now became unceasingly absorbed in worship. Although the family allowed her greater freedom to worship, they kept a close watch on her. Soon Mridani became unhappy about continuing her spiritual practices in such a worldly atmosphere. She recalled Chandimama's accounts of many sadhus and sannyasins performing

tapasya in the Himalayas. Such memories made her increasingly restless. She became convinced she could not obtain a vision of God unless she performed austerities in the Himalayas, the veritable abode of the gods.

Accordingly, early one morning Mridani stole away from the house. The sleepy doorman allowed her to go, but when he saw that she was not heading toward the Ganges but instead was setting off in a different direction, he became alert and notified her family. Once more there was a great commotion and much running about. The family caught Mridani, brought her home, and this time locked her up and kept a constant watch over her.

Finally, her parents realized it was not possible or desirable to keep her a prisoner in this manner. They decided it would be best to take her often on pilgrimages and to visit sadhus. Hence Mridani was able to visit places like Kalna and Navadwip.

Many months passed thus, but Mridani was still not at peace. She thirsted for something she could not obtain. Where could she get it? How could she get it? And from whom? The answer to all the questions welling up within her came to her intuitively: Only when you are able to give up everything for the sake of your Ishta will you be able to find the path to realization. Mridani made a firm resolve and waited for a suitable opportunity.

Soon the opportunity presented itself. Seeing Mridanl's continued restlessness. Giribala decided to take her on another pilgrimage. But unexpected illness kept her mother home, and Mridani went to Gangasagar with her aunt, uncle, and other relatives. There were almost thirty people in the group.

Everyone felt relieved when they saw how happy and joyful Mridani became once they reached Gangasagar. Then one day, Mridani suddenly disappeared. When her relatives discovered the Damodar Shila also missing, they immediately realized what had happened. Although they did everything possible to find her, they finally had to return to Calcutta in disappointment. Giribala took to her bed in shock.

While the search for her was going on, Mridani hid herself in one spot. As soon as she was sure the group had returned to Calcutta, she disguised herself as a tribal woman and joined a band of sannyasins and sannyasinis. They left Gangasagar and proceeded toward Hardwar. At this time Mridani was eighteen years old.