This is a short and accessible biography of Sarada Devi (1853–1920), the widow of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and a cultic leader in her own right. It is the work of a historian of modern Bengal and meant to serve as a corrective to the hagiographic slant that has hitherto permeated writings on the subject.
This book is about understanding religious charisma associated with an unschooled but dynamic woman who had ample courage, common sense and conviction, deftly combining in her person the roles of a social counsellor, a spiritual preceptor and a popular cultic leader. Though an orthodox Brahmin widow, Sarada Devi reveals an extraordinary openness and liberality in her everyday relationships, not hesitating to share food with her Western disciples or socialize with men and women from the marginalized castes and classes. Though never a mother herself, she played a tender motherly role towards many that eventually contributed to ascriptions of Divine Motherhood in her person. She was also a feminist who encouraged women to be free and self-reliant.
Sarada Devi has been the inspiration behind the Sarada Math and Mission that, quite uniquely, combines the world of feminine spirituality and active social work for Indian women. This work is a study in the social and historical processes that made this possible.