By Sri M.
Excerpt from The Condensed Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna.
It is Sunday. The devotees are free from work, and they have come in numbers to the Temple garden to see Sri Ramakrishna. His door is open to everybody. The Master freely talks with all regardless of creed or color, sect or age. Holy men, be they novices or those who have attained the highest stages of spirituality; orthodox Hindus, Christians and members of the Brahmo Samaj; men and women; all alike are coming to see the Master.
Blessed are thou, O Rani Rashmani, for it is thy religious merit that has caused this beautiful Temple to be raised up! To thee also is due that we are able to meet and worship this Prince amongst men, this Holy Image of the Divinity which, unlike marble or clay, does move about to the delight of all who love the Lord.
The Temple garden is situated about four miles north of Calcutta on the banks of the holy river Ganges. Going there by boat one lands on the broad brick-built steps of the ghat leading to the Temple. East of the landing is the Chandni or the Porch. Its roof resembles an awning supported on pillars. The Chandni is especially used at night by the Temple watchmen on duty. Their chests of mango-wood and one or two water vessels or lotas, made of brass, are often found there lying about. The gentlemen of the neighborhood often come here and take their seats before stepping down to bathe in the Holy Waters. They amuse themselves with gossip as they rub themselves with oil. Many holy men and women belonging to various sects of the Hindus come to the Temple and wait here until the hour for morning offerings to the Gods is over and they have partaken of the accepted offerings—the consecrated food (prasad). Not infrequently, a woman worshipper (Bhairavi) of the Mother will be found sitting there. She has given up the world, is dressed in ochre-colored clothes and holds in her hands the trident, the symbol of her order. She, too, will come into the guesthouse and wait until the morning offerings have been presented.
The Chandni is exactly in the middle of a long row of Temples dedicated to Siva who symbolizes God the Father. These Temples are twelve in number. Eastwards within this row of Temples and the Chandni is the courtyard. The yard is paved with tiles set in concrete. In the middle are two Temples, one facing west and the other south. The Temple (facing west) is dedicated to Radha and Krishna—God manifesting Himself as the Incarnation of Divine Love.
In the Temple facing south is the beautiful image of the Divine Mother. She is called here the Savior of the World (Bhavatarini). The floor of the temple is paved with marble. The image stands on a dais of stone with steps to the south. The stone platform has upon it a silver “lotus of a thousand petals.” On this lotus lies Siva, the Symbol of the Absolute, with His head to the south and His feet to the north. This Image is made of white marble. Upon Him stands the Mother of the Universe with one foot on His breast and the other on His thigh. She is appareled in a gorgeous Benares sari and Her Person is decorated with jewels of many kinds. On Her lotus feet are, amongst others, the tinkling anklets called nupur and the scarlet jaba (hibiscus) with fresh leaves of the bael tree [made]fragrant with sandal paste. One of these anklets is the panjeb used by our up-country women. This ornament was procured by Mathur, son-in-law of the foundress Rani Rashmani, at the special desire of Sri Ramakrishna.
The Mother’s arms are adorned with various ornaments made of gold set with jewels. Round Her neck She wears the golden cheke, a pearl necklace of seven strings, a golden necklace of thirty-two strings, a “chain of stars” and a garland made of human skulls. On Her head She wears a crown of gold and Her ears are adorned with golden earrings that look like flowers.
The beauty of Her aquiline nose is set off by a golden nose ring with a pearl-drop attached to it. She has three eyes, the third being the Eye of Divine Vision. She has four arms. In one of the two left hands, She holds a freshly severed human head and, in the other, a sword. With one of Her right hands She offers boons to Her devotees, and with the other uplifted one, She says, “Fear not.” The head and the sword symbolize Death and the terrible side of the Divinity, even as Her offer of boons and Her assurance of help to Her devotees bring out the loving side and put them in mind of Her boundless Love and Mercy.
In the north-east corner of the shrine is a bed on which the Mother takes Her rest. Near this hangs on the wall a chamar (made of the white-haired tail of a yak) used for fanning the Mother. On the steps stand vessels which hold Her drinking water. On the silver lotus is a small image of a lion made of eight metals, an image of an iguana and a trident. At the south-east corner of the dais stands the image of a jackal. On one of the steps of the dais, the image of Narayana, God the Preserver, is installed on a small silver throne. On the same step is a small emblem of Siva called Baneswar. The Divine Mother stands with Her face to the south.
Within the shrine and close to the northern wall is the sacred pitcher made of copper, filled with the holy water of the Ganges for the Mother to wash Her face with. Above the Holy Image is a beautiful canopy, and the background is a piece of Benares silk, embroidered with flowers of many colors. Twelve columns, inner and outer, made apparently of silver, stand at the corners of the dais round about the Holy Image.
The entrance to this shrine is by a pillared verandah and is protected by strong doors. Close to the threshold is a small cylindrical brass vessel containing the Nectar of the Mother’s Feet. The top of the Temple is adorned with nine pinnacles.
Just before the break of day, the sweet sound of bells comes from the Temple to the ear of the devotee. They herald the morning service with the Waving of Lights (arati) which brings the tidings of Love and Joy to all God’s creatures, for the Mother of the Universe is up again and will continue to bless Her own, Her beloved children.
The Temple garden has become an abode of joy and gladness. The Deity is worshipped night and day in His various aspects as Father (Siva), as the Incarnation of Divine Love (Krishna), and again, as the Mother (Kali) of the Universe, Savior of the world.
Verily, here goes on a perennial festival in honor of the Ever-joyful Mother. The music from the Concert room celebrates this never-ending festival, pouring out melodies that send a thrill of joy through the soul of the lover of God and very often put him in a state of ecstasy.
The sacred music never tires of proclaiming night and day to the world the glad tidings of joy that our Mother has not only created us but always looks after us, Her own children. It begins the song at early dawn, repeats it at about nine in the morning at the time of Divine worship, and again at about noon when the Deity retires to rest. The song is again taken up at about four in the afternoon when the Mother rises once more, sits in state, and is ready to receive the worship offered by Her devotees. The festive song is yet once more repeated at candlelight when it calls upon the world to be ready for evening worship. The closing strains of this soul-stirring music reach the ear at about 9 o’clock at night when the Mother retires to rest–music sweet in the solemn stillness that reigns in the Temple garden at that solemn hour–in the midst of the gathering Darkness–the garment which the Mother now puts on to remind her children of the eternity when nothing was–neither Man nor Woman, neither the Sun nor the Moon, neither the Earth nor the Starry Firmament.