Ramprasad Sen and Ramakrishna

All creation is the sport of my mad Mother Kali, Sita Devi, 16 February 1980, Kings Cross

‘Music,’ Swami Ambikananda told his devotees, ‘has the power to telecommunicate sounds to realms in different lokas. First to gross realm, then spirit realm, then finer, until at the end it reaches to Sarasvati, the Goddess of Vak, speech, then beyond mind and speech, Sabda Herself, where Omkara comes, the primal sound.…’ Swamiji also reminded us that ‘MA [Divine Mother] is the first word in spirituality and also the last word. I am born from MA. I live in MA. I die in MA.’

Many songs in the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna are addressed to the Divine Mother as Kali, and also as Shyama, Parvati, Uma and other names. Swamiji always emphasized the spiritual importance of these songs, particularly those of the 18th century poet Ramprasad. ‘Ramprasad has attained divine realization,’ he told us. ‘That is why his songs appeal to me….There is something so powerful, so good, in these songs of Ramprasad and these others. There are so many gems in them! Many times I pass into swoon just by composing music to these songs. Many times there have been requests – God comes and says, “Sing this, sing that.” The practice itself is a full meditation. The minute you sing it, God comes, blesses you, gives you His presence, lets you know He is very pleased because it concerns Him, it’s a treasure, He knows about it, and so many will benefit.’

It was at a kirtan in 1980 at the house of his cousin Suren that Swamiji sang a new melody he had composed to the words of Ramprasad’s poem in the GSR. This song sung by Swamiji is on the website:

Come let us go for a walk, O mind

‘Come let us go for a walk, O mind, to Kali the Wishfulfilling Tree,
And there beneath it gather the four fruits of life.
Of your two wives, Dispassion and worldliness,
Bring along Dispassion only on your way to the Tree,
And ask her son Discrimination about the truth.

‘When will you learn to lie, O mind, in the abode of blessedness,
With cleanliness and defilement on either side of you?
Only when you have found the way
To keep these wives contentedly under a single roof,
Will you behold the matchless form of Mother Shyama.

‘Ego and Ignorance, your parents, instantly banish from your sight;
And should Delusion seek to drag you to its hole,
Manfully cling to the pillar of Patience.
Tie to the post of Unconcern the goats of Vice and Virtue,
Killing them with the sword of knowledge if they rebel.

‘With the children of Worldliness, your first wife, plead from a goodly distance,
And if they will not listen, drown them in Wisdom’s sea.
Says Ramprasad: If you do as I say,
You can submit a good account, O mind, to the King of Death,
And I shall be well pleased with you and call you my darling.’

‘That explains everything more or less,’ Swamiji said at the end.

Sri Ramakrishna, our Guru Dev whose birthday we celebrate today, regarded Ramprasad as his beloved poet, and it is recorded in the GSR that ‘he would spend hours singing the devotional songs of great devotees of the Mother, such as Ramprasad and Kamalakanta – rhapsodic songs that describe direct vision of God.’
‘When Sri Ramakrishna sang these songs he would lose himself in overwhelming love…After the regular service was completed he would continue his worship of the Mother by singing them with exuberant devotion. He thought: “Ramprasad and other devotees had the vision of the divine Mother. One can definitely see Her! Why can’t !?”
‘He would often exclaim piteously, “Mother, You showed Yourself to Ramprasad. Why won’t You show Yourself to me?” …[Vedanta teaches identification with God and seeking nirvana, [but Ramakrishna taught that] a devotee or bhakta always endeavours to enjoy God’s glory and the sweetness of God’s love. “I don’t want to become sugar, Mother; I want to taste sugar” – this well-known saying of Ramprasad is a natural outburst from the devotee’s heart.’

It was Ramprasad who popularized the bhakti Shakta tradition, composing devotional songs to the goddess Kali such as Shyama Sangeet (the term ‘Shyama’ refers to the dusky skin colour of Kali). Ramprasad was the first Shakta poet to address Kali with such intimate devotion, and to sing of her as a tender loving mother or even as a little girl. After him, a school of Shakta poets such as Kamalakanta continued the Kali-bhakti tradition. But Ramprasad was the one who created a new compositional form that combined the Bengali folk style of the Bauls (groups of minstrel mystics mainly consisting of Vaishnava Hindus and Sufi Muslims) with classical melodies and kirtan. His bhakti poems were very popular during his lifetime, as they continue to be to this day. They are still recited regularly in the worship of Kali, and ‘sung on the streets and in the homes and temples of Calcutta by a cross-section of people—children, the elderly, housewives, businessmen, scholars, the illiterate, monks, householders, and the youth of all classes’. The songs have become popular not only for their devotional value, but also for their human appeal. For instance, one song describes the goddess, here called Uma, daughter of Himālaya and Menakā, returning to visit her parents after her marriage to Śiva, the Lord of Varanasi. The goddess is portrayed here as an ordinary girl living far away from her mother and happy to come back home after a long stay at her husband’s place.

Uma My Darling, Yogini

Ramprasad was born in West Bengal around 1718. His father, Ramram Sen, an Ayurvedic doctor, had hoped his son would follow in his profession, but the boy showed no interest in practical pursuits. Believing that marriage would make him more responsible, his parents married him to a girl when he was twenty-two. But during initiation, when the guru whispered the mantra to him, Ramprasad became consumed by intense longing for the goddess Kali and later became the disciple of a Tantric yogi who instructed him in the worship of Kali. This yogi followed the teaching of Krishnananda, the 17th century saint who had popularized Kali Puja in Bengal when it was a complicated form of worshipping requiring a high degree of expertise. Krishnananda reformed the Tantra practice by removing the terrifying parts and establish it as a benevolent, tender and devotional practice for commoners.

Ramram died before he could make provision to support the family so Ramprasad moved to Kolkata and worked as an accountant in the household of Durga Charan Mitra. It is said that during his employment Ramprasad would spend most of his time writing devotional songs to Kali in his account book, which so appalled his fellow employees that they reported him to their employer, but upon reading them Durga Charan Mitra was moved by Ramprasad’s piety and literary skill. Instead of dismissing him, he asked him to return to his village and compose songs to Kali, while continuing to pay his salary. Thereafter, Ramprasad spent most of his time in sadhana, meditation, and prayer. At this time, according to popular stories, he had a vision of Kali in her form of Adyashakti Mahamaya. Swamiji has composed a beautiful melody to the song beginning ‘Who is there that can understand what my mother Kali is…’

Who is there, Swamiji, 10 Februay 1979, Kings Cross

Ramprasad’s hymns came to the ears of Raja Krishnachandra of Nadia, a landlord under the Muslim Nawab Sirajuddaula of Bengal, and he appointed him as his court poet. Ramprasad rarely attended the Maharaja’s court, preferring to spend his time in sadhana and worship, but Krishnachandra nevertheless gave Ramprasad 100 acres of tax-free land. The divine quality of his songs was recognized not only by sufis (Islamic mystics) but also by the Nawab himself, who is said to have eagerly requested Ramprasad to visit his court. In her book Kali the Mother, Sister Nivedita, Vivekananda’s great Western disciple, writes that Nawab Sirajuddaula was traveling in his barge when he first heard Ramprasad singing on the shore. Fascinated by the music, the young Nawab invited him aboard to sing. But Ramprasad was hesitant, claiming he did not know any other songs than the Shyama Sangeet, but the Muslim Nawab was so impressed that he insisted he sang the songs dedicated to the Hindu Divine Mother. Sister Nivedita has compared Ramprasad with the English poet William Blake (This may not seem quite right but reflects her appreciation of their mystical passion).
In Bengal there are many popular stories about Ramprasad, for instance his vision of goddess Annapurna of Varanasi. One day he was heading for the river for his daily ritual bath when a beautiful young woman stopped him, asking if she could hear him sing a song to the Divine Mother. Ramprasad asked her to wait, since it was getting late for his noon worship, but when he returned she had disappeared. Wondering that maybe this was the play of Divine Mother he sat down to meditate and was surrounded by a radiant light. Then he heard a female voice saying, ‘I am Annapurna. I came all the way from Varanasi to hear your songs but, alas, I had to leave disappointed.’ Stricken, Ramprasad immediately left for Varanasi, and after walking many miles took rest under a tree on the bank of the Ganges. Here he saw the same mystical light, and heard the Mother’s voice saying, ‘Stay here and sing for me. Varanasi is not the only place where I live; I pervade the whole universe.’

Ramprasad always took part in Kali puja during Diwali, the festival of lights. On one such night, he performed the puja, singing continuously until the morning, and then carrying the jar of the Divine Mother’s sanctified water on his head to the Ganges. He was followed by devotees carrying the clay image of Kali to be immersed in the Ganges. Ramprasad waded into the holy river until the water was neck deep, and as Kali’s image was immersed he died, all the while singing for Kali.

Here are the first lines of some songs of Ramprasad you can find in the GSR. There are many others sung at kirtans of the Quintessence Universal Independent Ashram and recorded on our website that we have not been able to identify for certain as Ramprasad’s, but they are all dedicated to the Divine Mother ki jai jai ho

Page references for the songs in Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna

P 95 I drink no ordinary wine
P106 Who is there that can understand what Mother Kali is?
P124 Taking the name of Kali, dive deep down, O mind,
P136 Is Kali my Mother really black?
P139 Come let us go for a walk, O mind, to Kali the Wishfulfilling Tree

Come let us go for a walk o mind, Swamiji, 19 July 1980, Kings Cross

P251 O mind you do not know how to farm!
P316 Remember this O mind, nobody is your own
P399 O Mother make me mad with your love

O Mother make me mad with your love, Swamiji, 17 January 1980 Quintessence

P 474 Once for all, this time I have thoroughly understood
P516 This world, O Mother, is Thy madhouse!

This world, O Mother, is Thy madhouse, Swamiji, 23 December 1974

P564 This time I shall devour Thee utterly, Mother Kali!
P619 All creation is the sport of my mad Mother Kali

All creation is the sport of my mad Mother Kali, Sita Devi, 16 February 1980, Kings Cross

One thought on “Ramprasad Sen and Ramakrishna

  1. Jai Narain

    Thankyou Sri Lakshmi. for putting this on the website. We are all indebt to your devotion.
    Jai Narain


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