Golap Ma

The highlights of her life

(This life-story has been excerpted from the book ‘They Lived With God’ by Swami Chetanananda, published by the Vedanta Society of St. Lois. To read the entire studied life, and lives of 27 other intimate disciples, please read this book. )

  1. Born probably in the late 1840s.
  1. Married when she was young to a poor Brahmin, who died after a few years, leaving her with two small children, a son and a daughter.
  2. Son also died when he was still very young, and her mainstay in life then became her daughter, Chandi.
  3. Chandi was married to an eminent and wealthy landlord of Calcutta, but again fate was cruel to Golap-ma, and Chandi died prematurely, creating a tremendous void in her mother’s life.
  4. Visited Sri Ramakrishna at Dakshineswar, one day in 1855, and felt all grief removed from her heart as soon as he touched her head

Her relationship with Thakur and Ma

  1. Sri Ramakrishna knew that when he was gone Holy Mother would need a companion, so one day he said to her about Golap-ma: ‘Keep your eyes on this brahmin woman. She will live with you permanently’. Holy Mother gave shelter to Golap-ma, who thenceforth began to stay with her off and on in the nahabat.
  1. One important trait of Golap-ma’s character was that she did not have a sensitive ego. Because of her outspokenness she was often misunderstood, criticized, and humiliated by other devotees, but she never left the Master or Holy Mother. When the Master was at Shyampukur a few devotees sometimes complained about her to Sri Ramakrishna. He would not say anything to her about it directly, but he would caution her through a dream. Golap-ma later said: ‘What a wonder! At the time if anybody would complain against me to the Master he would tell me in a dream: “This person said this against you. You said that woman [mentioning her name] loves you very much, but she also said this about you”. The whole night would see the Master in my dream, so the criticisms of people would not enter my ears’.
    Holy Mother later related an incident concerning Golap-ma that happened when they were in Vrindaban:
    Our Golap’s mind is perfectly pure. In Madhavji’s [Krishna’s] temple at Vrindaban somebody’s baby had soiled the floor. Everyone remarked about it, but no one made a move to clean up the place. When Golap noticed this, she tore a strip from her fine cloth and cleaned the spot with it. The other woman said, ‘Since she is cleaning it up, it must have been her baby’. I said to myself, ‘Listen to what they say, O Madhavji!’ Some others said: ‘No, these are holy women. They are doing it for the convenience of others’.
  2. Golap-ma was Holy Mother’s Vijaya (a companion of Goddess Durga) and followed her like a shadow for thirty-six years. She went on several pilgrimages with Holy Mother to different holy places of India.
    Holy Mother used to say: ‘I cannot go anywhere without Golap. I feel secure when she is with me’. While going somewhere by carriage, Golap-ma like a new bashful bride. In the Mother’s household in Calcutta, Golap-ma acted as a supervisor and also guarded Holy Mother from emotional, temperamental devotees. One day a devotee began to worship Holy Mother, who was seated in front of him completely covered with a Chadar (shawl). Golap-ma noticed it, but it was not unusual she went on with her work. After quite some time she returned to the Mother and saw that the man was still at it, and she realized that he was going to extremes. Pulling the man up, she said to him in her loud voice: `Is this a wooden image that you should infuse consciousness into it with all your gesticulations and pranayama? Don’t you have any sense that the Mother is perspiring and feeling uncomfortable?

Some aspects of her personality

  1. Golap-ma loved orderliness and cleanliness. If any of the members of the household left any used cloth where it did not belong, she would have it cleaned and pit in its proper place. She also kept track of the utensils and worship vessels. She could not stand waste. Holy Mother also disapproved of it. If there were any old, unusable utensils, Golap-ma exchanged them for new ones. Vegetable peelings and leftovers from the plates were fed to the cows. Even the stems from the betel leaves she saved for the guineas pigs in the house, since they were fond of them. She also dried the orange peels and sugarcane peels for use as fuel in the kitchen.
  1. Besides being very frugal, Golap-ma was also kind-hearted and charitable. She received ten rupees (less than a dollar) a month from her grandson as an allowance. Half of this she gave to the Udbodhan Office for her food, and the other half she gave in charity. No beggar would go away empty-handed from the Udbodhan. Golap-ma always responded to their calls, even late at night. Sometimes she would ask those devotees who were doctors to give free treatment to the poor, sick neighbours. She got joy in serving others, but she would not accept any service herself unless she was in great difficulty.

More details of her life story

Invariably the death of a loved one becomes a turning point in a person’s life. At that time, seeing only darkness and hopelessness all around, a person begins to think deeply about life. He realizes its emptiness and transitoriness-that life ends in death and union ends in separation. Still, the tears flow as grief consumes the heart. Yet, such is the law of nature that eventually the heart becomes filled by another loved one and the eras stop.
Golap-ma’s unbearable grief was actually God’s grace, for in her affliction she turned to Sri Ramakrishna and her life was transformed.

Golap Sundari Devi, known as Golap-ma, was born in a Brahmin family of North Calcutta, probably in the late 1840s. Her parents arranged her marriage when she was young to a poor Brahmin, but he died after a few years, leaving her with two small children, a son and a daughter. When Golap-ma’s son was still very young, he also died, and her mainstay in life then became her daughter, Chandi. Chandi was a charming, well-mannered girl. When she grew up, Golap-ma arranged her marriage with Saurindra Mohan Tagore, an eminent and wealthy landlord of Calcutta. But again fate was cruel to Golap-ma, Chandi died prematurely, creating a tremendous void in her mother’s life.

Golap-ma cried and crushed herself but could not find any cure for her grief. Just then Yogin-ma, neighbour, came to her help. Seeing Golap-ma’s terrible suffering, Yogin-ma had compassion on her and one day in 1855 took her to Sri Ramakrishna at Dakshineswar. Golap-ma later described her first meeting with the Master: ‘When I first went to the Master I was tormented with grief for my daughter, Chandi. Yogin took me to him. He touched me head and removed all grief from my heart. It was amazing. In a moment my mind became calm and serene. I immediately laughed like a jnani(a person endowed with spiritual knowledge). I felt that I had come to this world to act in a play. Who is whose mother and who is whose daughter? In my childhood I had played with cloth dolls, and after that I played with flesh and blood dolls. This world is nothing but a play with dolls, so why should I cry for my daughter? It is glorious thing to cry for God. Such was the power of the Master!’.

After Golap-ma had unburdened her heart to Sri Ramakrishna by narrating the sad story of her life, he said in an ecstatic mood: ‘You are fortunate. God helps those who have no one to call their own’.

Greatly moved by her first meeting with the master, Golap-ma visited him frequently thereafter. On June 13, 1885, she arrived at Dakshineswar while the Master was talking with some devotees. She stood quietly by the north door and listened. The Master noticed her and started talking about human grief. Narrating the bereavement of his boyhood friend, Ram Mallik, he said: ‘Ram said he had no children; he brought up his nephew, but the boy died. He told me this with a sigh; his eyes filled with tears; he was grief stricken for his nephew’. Then the Master said: ‘A man came here the other day. He sat a few minutes and then said, “Let me go and see the ‘moon-face’ of my child”. I couldn’t control myself and said: “So you prefer your son’s ‘moon-face’ to God’s ‘moon-face’! Get out, you fool!” The truth is that God alone is real and all else unreal. Men, universe, house, children-all these are like the magic of the magician…. The magician alone is real and his magic unreal. God is like an ocean, and living beings are its bubbles. They are born there and they die there. Children are like the few small bubbles around a big one. God alone is real. Make an effort to cultivate love for him and find out the means to realize him. What will you gain by grieving?’ Golap-ma understood. She wanted to return home then in the hot sun, but the Master said to her tenderly: It is very hot. Why now? You can go later in a carriage with the devotees.’

After Sri Ramakrishna passed away on August 16, 1886, Balaram handed over a white, borderless sari to Golap-ma to give to Holy Mother, since orthodox widows do not wear coloured saris or saris with borders. Golap-ma shuddered at the thought and said: ‘Good God! Who can give her this white cloth?’ But when she went to Holy Mother’s room, she found that Holy Mother had torn off the wide red border on her sari.

Towards the end of August 1886, Balaram arranged for Holy Mother to go on a pilgrimage along with Golap-ma, Lakshmi, M.’s wife, Yogen (Swami Yogananda), Latu (Swami Aadbhutananda), and Kali (Swami Abhedananda). They first went to Varanasi and then to Vrindaban, where they stayed for a year.

It is very important for spiritual aspirants to know the daily routines of illumined souls. Holy Mother once said, ‘Golap-has attained perfection through japam’. Golap-ma’s routine at the Udbodhan house was as follows: She would get up before 4:00 A.M. and after washing would sit for three hours in her room for japam and meditation. Then she would go to the shrine to salute the Master and Holy Mother. After that she would go to the kitchen storeroom and pick out the vegetables to give to the cook. She then started to cut some vegetables so that the cook could begin his work. Later in the morning she would accompany Holy Mother to the Ganges for a bath, bringing back with her a brass jar of Ganga water for the worship. Again she would go to the kitchen and, along with Yogin-ma, cut more vegetables. She also used to make about a hundred betel rolls every day. When the worship was over and the food had been offered, she would set aside some prasad for the Mother and then distribute the rest to the monks, devotees, and workers of the household. After lunch Golap-ma would take a little rest and then read the Mahabharat, the Gita, or a book on Sri Ramakrishna or Swami Vivekananda. She spent her afternoons either cutting more vegetables for supper or sewing torn pillowcases or mosquito curtains for the monks. Later she would talk to ‘Holy Mother or visit Balaram’s house, which was nearby. When the vesper service was over she would again salute the Master and Holy Mother and then sit in her room for spiritual practices till 9:P.M. During supper she would distribute the offered sweets and fruits to everyone. If anyone was out, Golap-ma would save his food. Her eyes were everywhere in Holy Mother’s household.

Golap-ma was kind-hearted and charitable. Once a blind beggar stood outside the Udbodhan calling: ‘Radha Govinda! Mother Nandarani (a name of Krishna’s foster-mother), have pity on the blind!’ Hearing his call, Holy Mother said to a devotee: ‘That beggar passes this way almost every night. Formerly he would say, “have pity on the blind, Mother”. One day Golap said to him: “Look here, along with your prayer for help, why don’t you take the name of Radha and Krishna? It will be good for those who hear the Lord’s name and for you who chant it. What a pity that you are only harping on your blindness!” Since then he comes here with the name of Radha-Govinda on his lips. Golap gave him a cloth, and he gets money from time to time.

Holy Mother passed away on July 21, 1920, and Golap-ma lived for four years after that. She continued her service as usual, but she missed the Mother. She had a little heart trouble and some minor complications and gradually her health began to fail. One day Golap-ma told some women devotees, ‘Yogin died in the bright fortnight, and I shall go in the dark one’. A few days before her death she said to a monk: ‘It seems to me that this body will not last long. Quite often I see a girl, wearing an ochre cloth and a rudraksha garland and carrying a trident, come out of my body. Then I look at this body and it seems to be dead’. She died at Udbodhan, Holy Mother’s house at 4:08 P.M on December 19, 1924. Her body was cremated on the bank of the Ganga.

Soon after her death Dr. Bipin came to see her, no knowing that she had passed away Swami Saradananda said to him, ‘The bird has flown away’. ‘Could you tell me where the soul has gone?’ The doctor asked. ‘To the Master’, replied Swami Saradananda. During her last visit to Varanasi with Holy Mother Golap-ma had said to the Mother: ‘I do not want liberation. I want you’. Holy Mother had then replied: ‘You are foolish! Don’t you know that liberation is the Master’s real nature?’ Golap-ma was a rare soul-full of love, devotion, purity simplicity, and unselfishness and nonattachment. It is truly amazing how Sri Ramakrishna’s touch transformed a poor, grief-stricken widow into a dedicated saint.