Why did Sri Ramakrishna choose Maa Kali As his Ishta Devi?
Sri Ramakrishna’s family was a devout follower of Raghuveer, (another name of Sri Ramachandra) and worshipped Ram for generations, but hisfather also worshipped the goddess Sitala and Shiva in Kamarpukur.Ramakrishna’s Tantrik guru was Bhairavi Brahmani, a Vaishnavite Tantrika. And Ramakrishna bridged the gap when he worshipped both Krishna and Kali. Among the vast pantheon of gods and goddesses in Hindu religion, why did Sri Ramakrishna, choose to worship and invoke Goddess Kali as his Ishta Devi (his chosen deity)?
In the initial years of his life, he had no special inclination towards Maa Kali, the Divine Mother. It was after he accompanied his elder sibling Ramkumar to Jhamapukur in Calcutta, he began spending hours in the Siddheshwari Kali Temple at Thanthania. He worked as a priest in the house of Raja Digambar Mitra and spent the rest of the time sitting in front of the Siddheshwari temple. Local people knew about his mellifluous voice and often requested him to sing. He was always too happy to oblige.
Meanwhile, Ramkumar was drawn to the worship of the Divine Mother after reading the scriptures and later sought a spiritual guru who initiated him to Shakti Puja. When Ramkumar and Sri Ramakrishna were living at Dakshineswar temple, Ramkumar asked Sri Ramakrishna to formally take diksha from a guru and get initiated to Shakti mantra. An enthused Ramakrishna decided to take initiation from Kenaram Bhattacharya, who often came to the Dakshineswar temple and was respected as a devout spiritual aspirant. Swami Saradananda writes: ‘We have heard that as soon as the Master was initiated he went into ecstasy and that Kenaram was amazed by his extraordinary devotion.’ He would often sit on the banks of the Ganga spending hours to the Divine Mother to reveal herself to him.
He cared only for Kali, and his heart ached for her vision. So great was his longing, that one day he ran blindly towards a sword on the wall to kill himself. But before the blade pierced his body he collapsed, and his consciousness was flooded by wave upon wave of crystal clear blissful light. Thus, the divine mother became alive within him. One evening Rani Rashmoni’s son-in-law, Mathur, watched Ramakrishna pacing up and down outside his room. As he walked one way, he took the form of Kali. As he turned and walked back, he assumed the form of Shiva. Mathur fell at Ramakrishna's feet in awe.
Sri Ramakrishna himself would not easily refer to it as ‘his’ mission. Generally, when he was on a normal plane of consciousness, he considered himself to be a child of the Mother. He often said that he was simply an instrument in the hands of the Mother, and that it was She who blessed the devotees through him, and it was She who laid out the plan for his life such as practicing sadhanas of various religious paths. As Swami Saradananda writes: ‘The Mother had made him understand clearly that it was She who had put that desire into his mind (to see Her in various forms and by different spiritual paths) on many occasions.’
But there are instances when Sri Ramakrishna told devotees that they should meditate on him, or give him ‘the power of attorney’—that is, surrender to him. Again, he told many of the devotees, ‘He who came as Rama and as Krishna has come now in this body (pointing to himself)’. All these indicate that he was very much aware of himself as a divine incarnation with a mission.
This contradiction can be resolved when we understand that Sri Ramakrishna regarded himself and Mother Kali as one. One day at the Cossipore garden house, when Sri Ramakrishna was dying from throat cancer, he said: ‘There are two people residing here. One, the Divine Mother … Yes, one is She. And the other is Her devotee. It is the devotee who broke his arm, and it is the devotee who is now ill. Do you understand?’