Pilgrimage and Solace
KNOWING THAT SHE would not see Sri Ramakrishna in the body anymore or hear his nectar-filled voice, Gauri Ma was grief stricken. Drawn to the Himalayas, she left Brindavan and once more went on pilgrimage, visiting Jamnotri, Uttar Kashi, Gangotri, Gomukhi, and Badrikedar. At Uttar Kashi there is an ancient temple dedicated to Vishveshwara. Sri Jaladhar Sen saw her at that temple. Describing the event, Sri Sen said, "The road to Uttar Kashi is formidable, treacherous, and full of dangers. At some places there is no visible path. One has to make one's way over rocks and through ravines. If perchance a person's foot should slip, then he will fall through dark, deep valleys to certain death. There was no end to my astonishment when I saw a woman alone in this dangerous and lonely place. At that time Gauri Ma was singing hymns with intense concentration. She looked the embodiment of intense sadhana, glowing with purity – a statue of incomparable inner beauty."
After completing this pilgrimage to the Himalayas, Gauri Ma returned to Calcutta, still grieving over the physical absence of her Master. To console her mind, Gauri Ma went to Kalighat. the long-renowned Kali Temple of Calcutta. Seeing the image of the Divine Mother, she began to cry. Suddenly, she saw Sri Ramakrishna appear in the image of the Divine Mother. He raised his right hand and gently touched her head, thus consoling his spiritual daughter.
During this visit to Calcutta, in which she was staying at Balaram Bose's home, Gauri Ma fell seriously ill. When she was partly recovered, her mother brought her home, where she stayed until she was completely well. Being a true sannyasini, however, Gauri Ma could not be happy remaining with family and relatives. Driven by her desire for the Lord, as soon as she was able to move around, she left the house without telling anyone and proceeded toward the holy town of Rameshwar.
This time she went south – south of the Narmada River – to that part of the country made fertile by the Godavari, Krishna, and Kaveri rivers. It was truly a land of temples distinctive in style! There were many different places of pilgrimage and many different temples – but everywhere the same truth: Satchidananda was worshipped through different names and forms. Experiencing this all-encompassing, noble truth, Gauri Ma travelled at will throughout South India. On the way she visited Vidyanagar, Madura, Sri Rangakshetra, Pakshitirtha, Shivakanchi, Vishnukanchi, and other places. Finally, she reached Rameshwar. She felt great joy at worshipping Lord Rameshwar with the Ganges water that, despite many difficulties, she had brought all the way from Gangotri, the origin of the Ganges.
Except for the temple priests, nobody was allowed to enter the inner sanctum sanctorum of the temple at Rameshwar. Attracted by her unusual personality, however, the Brahmin priest at the temple, with respect and joy. permitted her to enter the inner shrine and personally offer worship to Shiva.
After seeing Rameshwar, Gauri Ma went to Kanyakumari, the southernmost tip of India – to a temple where the holy feet of Parvati are constantly washed by the waves of the ocean. This was the temple of that very Parvati who is always immersed in meditation on Shiva! Attracted by the solitude of the place and devoted to the worship of Parvati, Gauri Ma spent several days there. During that time she read the Durga Saptashati, and her mind remained ever absorbed in thoughts of the Divine Mother.
Gauri Ma visited several other holy places, as well. At the time, Sri Ramakrislma's disciple Swami Vivekananda, now a monk, was also travelling through India. (This was before his first visit to the West.) At some places they met unexpectedly. Or Gauri Ma would hear that a sannyasin of royal appearance, very regal and eloquent, had visited there just a few days before. Other times Swami Vivekananda would hear that a sannyosini, glowing with devotion, had been there a few days earlier. Each realized who the person being praised was.
Gauri Ma travelled through the many holy places of Central India, after having been on her first long pilgrimage to South India. Several years later, after she had begun her work serving women in accordance with the teachings and instructions of Sri Ramakrishna, Gauri Ma went on a second tour of the South. On this second visit, she went to Sholapur as a guest of Sri Haripada and Srimati Indumati Mitra, disciples of Swami Vivekananda. From there she went to Pandharpur, Poona, Belgaum, and Bombay. At Poona she visited a girls' high school and a home for widows that had been founded by Professor Karve, where she had discussions with Professor Karve about the lives of widows in India. During the same trip Gauri Ma met and had several discussions with the renowned and highly respected Lady Ramabai Ranade. It should come as no surprise that she also met the famous political leader Lokmanya Tilak and discussed the ancient political heritage of the Hindus with him.
- www.vivekananda.net edited by Frank Parlato Jr.