I am reminded of one of the Goddess’ greatest devotees – Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa. In the initial phase of his sadhana, not only did he have a woman, Bhairavi Brahmani, as his guru, he worshipped Ultimate Truth as feminine in the form of Kali. Though he would eventually move towards a non–dualistic, and therefore un-gendered, perception of reality, Truth would never lose its femininity for Sri Ramakrishna.
In a radical, and feministic, interpretation of the Advaita perspective, he said, ‘When I think of the Supreme Being as inactive — neither creating nor preserving nor destroying — I call Him Brahman or Purusha, the Impersonal God. When I think of Him as active — creating, preserving, and destroying — I call Him Shakti or Maya or Prakriti, the Personal God. But the distinction between them does not mean a difference. The Personal and the Impersonal is the same thing, like milk and its whiteness, the diamond and its lustre, the snake and its wriggling motion. It is impossible to conceive of the one without the other. The Divine Mother and Brahman are one.’
While worshipping ‘the Supreme Being’ as feminine, so deep was his absorption that he would see Her everywhere, even in his own wife, Sarada. Once, on the night of the ritual worship of Kali as Phalaharini, one who ‘destroys the fruits of actions’, Sri Ramakrishna conducted a secret puja where he asked Sarada to take the place of the deity and worshipped her in the form of Shodashi, the Devi as a sixteen-year-old, also known as Tripura Sundari.
‘During the Shodashi Puja, Sri Ramakrishna consecrated Sri Sarada Devi’s body by placing mantras on various parts of it, making it mantramayi, encasing the Goddess in human form. Was it because he wanted to manifest the special characteristics of Tripura Sundari in the Mother of this age?’ writes Pravrajika Vedantaprana in her essay ‘Sarada Shodashi’ (Eternal Mother, Ramakrishna Sarada Mission 2004).
A way of looking at Sarada’s Shodashi Puja is how it acted as a trigger for her own inner transformation. Once Sri Ramakrishna invoked the Goddess in her, she felt inspired to grow into her role by consciously cultivating the qualities of the Devi within herself. It is said that we all have enlightened nature, the pure atman – the point of spiritual practice is not to create it, but uncover it and bring it into conscious being. The essence is present, but it has to be roused and set in motion. This is what I believe happened with Sarada, under the watchful guidance of Sri Ramakrishna.
When we conduct the ritual puja, it might be useful to keep in mind the powerful psycho-spiritual trigger such an event can be. If done with complete absorption and inner connection, it might well present us with a precious opportunity to expand the boundaries of divinity by igniting the Goddess’ spark in the human feminine.