Some poets live, compose poems and then when they die, sadly their poetry dies with them. There are very few poets whose poems and songs remain fresh long after they are gone. Ramprasad Sen was one such mystic Bengali poet whose devotional songs on Mother Kali, called Ramprasadi, are sung to this day at Durga puja, centuries after he died. His songs to Kali were filled with so much pathos that it they have continued to touch people’s hearts even today.
Ramprasad Sen’s father was an Ayurvedic vaidya (physician) and a Sanskrit scholar in the town of Halisahar, in Bengal, where Ramprasad was born. As a youth, Ramprasad showed promise in poetry and learning new languages. He learnt Persian, Sanskrit and Hindi. However, he seemed very detached from worldly pursuits and his father realized that Ramprasad was not inclined to train in the family profession. Moreover, Ramprasad was always immersed in longing to see his real cosmic mother Kali. This was a cause of immense anxiety to his parents and they soon concluded that marriage would wake up Ramprasad to the real world and therefore, he was married.
After the wedding, by tradition, the newly married couple was initiated into the family’s method of worship and records indicate that when the guru whispered a mantra into Ramprasad’s ears, he became consumed with intense feeling of love and longing for Ma Kali. After this, Ramprasad took up tantric study with Krishnananda Agamavagisha, who incidentally happened to be a tantric himself, and the author of the Bengali book by name Tantrasara. He was initiated into sadhana (spritual practices). Ramprasad spent most of his time practicing and perfecting these sadhanas and was always drowned in a deep and meditative mood. One day, all of a sudden, his father died before having set the affairs of the house in order. Soon, the entire family was dragged into poverty and responsibilities finally forced Ramprasad to go to work as an accountant in Calcutta.
In between his routine work, Ramprasad would scribble a song or two to the goddess at the back of his account ledger. Some colleagues found this objectionable and immediately complained to the boss. Ramprasad was summoned into the boss’s room immediately. Angrily, the boss grabbed the ledger from Ramprasad’s hand and turned over to the last page. But the songs moved him so much, that instead of dismissing Ramprasad from duty, he requested Ramprasad to go home and worship his Ma Kali day and night, while he agreed to continue to pay him the thirty rupees salary every month.
Ramprasad happily went back home to his village and continued to sing for Kali. One day, while Ramprasad was reprimanding his daughter for not painting the fence properly, mother Kali is believed to have come in the form of his daughter and the fence was painted well before sunset. Even though he doubted why his daughter was looking extremely beautiful and radiant that day despite receiving scoldings, he did not recognize it was Ma Kali herself. When he praised his daughter that night for the job completed, she denied having completed the job. In fact she even confessed that she sneaked away to play with her friends after getting scolded by her father. This is when Ramprasad realized that Ma Kali had herself come to complete the job and he repented for having failed to recognize her.
Through his later years, Ramprasad immersed himself in sadhana and got many visions of the Goddess through out his life. Even though he continued to remain aloof from wordly matters, it seemed as if Mother Kali herself was taking care of the rest of his family. They were never in deep poverty again and somehow magically they always seemed to have everything they needed. Ramprasad always participated in the Durga puja festivities every year. Once, Ramprasad went into a trance as he was singing and dancing in the Kali procession that was taking the idol to the Ganges for immersion, that he followed the idol into the river. And there, when the water was neck deep, he just gave up his body. And just like that, when Kali merged into the Ganges, Ramprasad Sen’s soul merged into the infinite Kali herself.
Ramprasad’s poems are so touching that they act as windows to his soul. His relationship with Ma Kali is so beautifully depicted in his poems. In some poems, he considers her as his child, while in others Kali is his mother, his wife or his sister. While Ma Kali merely remains a concept in many people’s mind, to read about Ramprasad’s actual relationship with her is indeed soul-filling. Before I end this post, here is a translation of a beautiful song that Ramprasad wrote –
Who in this world
can understand what
Mother Kali really is?
The six systems of philosophy
remain powerless to describe Her.
She is the inmost awareness
of the sage who realizes
that Consciousness alone exists.
She is the life blossoming within
the creatures of the universe.
Both macrocosm and microcosm
are lost within Mother’s Womb.
Now can you sense
how indescribable She is?
The yogi meditates upon Her
in the six subtle nerve centers
as She sports with delight
through the lotus wilderness
of the pristine human body,
playing with Her Consort,
Shiva, the Great Swan.
When anyone attempts to know Her,
the singer of this song laughs.
Can you swim across
a shoreless ocean?
Yet the child in me still
reaches out to touch the moon.