Sri Anandamayi Ma (1896-1982) was one of the great Hindu saints of the 20th Century.
As a person of remarkable piety, sanctity, and wisdom, she came to the notice of both simple people and famous figures of India. She did not have an outer guru, and emphasized the importance of detachment from the world and religious devotion, encouraging her devotees to serve others.
An ecstatic child of ecstatic parents, she became a famous saint who like many other female Indian saints stood on
the edge of several religious traditions, and in the midst of none.
The central theme of all her words and expressions is: Life and religion are one.
All that you do to maintain your life, your everyday work and play, all your attempts to earn a living, should be done with sincerity, love and devotion, with a firm conviction that true living means virtually perfecting one’s spiritual existence in tune with the universe. To bring about this synthesis, religious culture should be made as natural and easy as taking our food and drink when we are hungry and thirsty.
Birth & Childhood:
Sri Ma Anandamayi was born on 30th April, 1896 at small village ‘Kheora’ of East Bengal (now Bangladesh). Her given name was ‘Nirmala Sundari Devi’.
Her father was a devout Vaishnava. He was well known for his beautiful rendering of devotional songs; his melodious voice never failed to touch the hearts of his audience. Her mother was a gentle woman of upright nature totally dedicated to the welfare of her family.
Little Nirmala was favourite to everyone. The village Kheora had major population of Muslim families. And Even now the Muslim of Kheora refers to her as “Our own Ma.”
At the age of thirteen, Sri Ma was married to Sri Ramani Mohan Chakravarty, belongs to family having tradition of Shakti-upasana, at Atpar. As a child-bride, Sri Ma lived at house of Ramani Mohan’s eldest brother Sri Revati Mohan and his wife Pramoda Devi for four years. She cooked, cleaned, fetched water, took care of the children and served her sister-in-law in every way possible.
She was a hard worker but sometimes had a difficult time concentrating on housework. Her relatives assumed that the trances were due to overwork.
At the age of 18, she went to live with her husband at Ashtagram.
It was a celibate marriage though not by her husband’s choice. She later said that she had given her husband spontaneous electrical shocks when he touched her the wrong way. Her husband thought the situation was temporary but it proved to be permanent. His relatives said he should remarry but he did not follow their advice. Later, Her husband took initiation from her and accepted Sri Anandamayi Ma as his guru. And in later years Sri Ma used the name ‘Bholanath’ to refer her husband.
Sri Ma’s husband transferred from Ashtagram to Bajitpur. Bhajitpur is a significant place where Sri Ma went through the various processes of intensive sadhana.
From Sri Ma’s words, “One day in Bajitpur I had as usual gone to the pond near the house where we lived, for my daily bath. While pouring the water over my head, the kheyala (a spontaneous thought) came to me, ‘how would it be to play the role of a Sadhaka? And so the lila (sportive play) began”
In one evening she again swept out her room and its precincts. She lit incense and made a circumambulation round the cottage with the burner in her hand. She took care of her husband’s needs on his return from work. Even to the detail of preparing a hookka for his after-dinner smoke. After her husband had settled down, she asked his permission to engage in a little sadhana. This, he readily granted.
So Sri Ma sat on the floor in a corner of their room and orally began to repeat the word ‘Hari, Hari, Hari … ’.
Her husband saw her becoming gradually absorbed in a world of inner joy. After a few days of this routine, he saw her assuming some yogic postures or asanas. He knew that she had no previous knowledge of Yoga or Yogic asanas; they were happening to her.
He said one day, “Why do you say ‘Hari’? We are not Vaishnavas”.
Sri Ma asked, “Shall I then say Siva, Siva?”
Her husband was satisfied.
In Bajitpur, her husband was the eyewitness to Ma’s Sadhana Leela, the leelas that stunned as well as delighted him. He never questioned about these actions but his interest grew. With times as Sri Ma’s superb power became a public talk and the curious crowd swelled at their home her husband (Bholanath ji) remained unperturbed and calm.
Bholanath faced objections from his own relatives and friends. But never did he stop Ma in Her Leela. Rarely, as a human being he got excited on some trivial matters Ma Herself beautifully use to manage the situation. Instead, at times he got worried when Ma went into samadhi, for long hours, he would then do kirtan and japa to bring Her back to worldly self. At that time nobody was allowed to touch Ma’s body without Baba’s permission. He was definitely an outstanding soul with a lot of verve in his character.
Sri Ma has said, “Sadhanas by which man endeavours to attain self-realization are of endless variety, and each variety has innumerable aspects. All these revealed themselves to me as a part of myself.”
In 1922 she became “maunam” that is silent. This silence came as a mark of the fulfillment of sadhana. After the period of maunam, she began to converse with visitors on religious topics.
Bholanathji realized that he was in the presence of a very special embodiment of Divine Power. In 1922, Bholanath became Her formal disciple. He remained Her faithful guardian till his last (1938).
Sri Ma was his spiritual Guru on one hand, and loving, obedient wife on the other.
On April 10, 1924, Bholanath became the Manager of the Shahbagh Gardens, a part of the Estates of the Nawabzadi Pyari Bano in Dhaka. In Dhaka, Sri Ma lived amidst an atmosphere of the miraculous. Her healing touch was sought by strangers from far and near. She was seen in ecstatic states of samadhi and mahabhava during kirtans.
During the Dhaka religious congress in 1927, many delegates came to Ma for serious philosophical discussions. Aware of Ma’s samadhi and Her divine experiences, the delegates were stunned to hear quick, simple and straight answers from Ma who could hardly read or write.
Bholanath started his sadhana in a shack near the Siddheshwari Kali temple, while Ma lived in the only room in Ashram premises to help him in his sadhana. She had restricted the meetings with devotees to ten minutes each, for this sake. For two months, Bholanath’s sadhana continued during which he went through several spiritual exercises and moods. During this period, he initiated many Ashram Brahmacharis and others.
When he was doing his sadhana at Siddheshvari, he had seen the headless image of Kali. When he disclosed this to Ma, she suggested him to visit Tarapeeth and continue his sadhana. Bholanath went there and put himself up in the verandah of the temple. There, despite houseflies and mosquitos, Bholanath did his sadhana at a stretch for several days without leaving his seat even once. It’s in Tarapeeth, he stopped his habit of chewing tobacco. In just seven days he attained a very high state of spiritual bliss. Bholanath noticed that, Tara Ma’s jewellery were taken off in the night, and again in the morning she was redecorated with them. Now he remembered the headless figure of Kali, which he had seen, resembles Tarama.
After the Ramana ashram was opened in 1929, daily functions were held with Ma being the cynosure. Yet, without the slightest hesitation she left Dhaka in 1932.
She left all – Her established Ashram, thousands of followers, all facilities – for destination unknown!
They went to Raipur Dehradun which was liked very much by Bholanath. Bholanath went on a pilgrimage to Gangotri and other places and then stopped at Uttarkashi for his sadhana’. He lived there in an open verandah facing the north flowing Ganges. Here he-practised severe austerity in food habits during the two years of his very serious mediations. Ma came once in between to see him. He attained to spiritual heights.
Jyotiscandra Ray, later known as “Bhaiji” was very famous and close devotee of Sri Ma. Bhaiji leave his mortal coil in 1937.
In 1938, it was the turn of Haridwar to host Kumbha. The main Kumbha bath was on 14 April 1938. On that day, when Bholanath and his disciples went to Brahmakunda for the holy bath, Naga Sanyasis present there bathed him with great interest and devotion.
Sri Ma returned to Dehradun after the holy bath, Bholanath stayed there for ten more days. He returned to Dehradun on 24 April with high fever and stomach-ache. Soon the symptoms of small pox appeared and he turned seriously ill.
Ma took upon Herself the entire care of Bholanath ji, which befuddled even the doctors attending on him. During this time, Bholanath started calling Her Ma, Ma, like a child.
Ma said, “somehow proper care was being taken… Why does it happen, do you know? Everything is same, the disease, the patient, and the medicine. One must not think about consequences of the patient when nursing him. The care should be aimed towards the satisfaction, and contentment of the patient. That’s why everything happened spontaneously when it was required.”
Sometime back, when Bholanath taking sanyas was discussed, Baba said to Ma, “I have considered you as my Mother, but I can not make this feeling public. When I will take Sannyas, the first alms I will ask from you, calling you Ma in public.”
Ma asked him, “Do. you remember sanyas mantra?” Yes, he said. The mantras were found uttered inside Bholanath.
Ultimately, realising Ma’s real form, Bholanath addressed Her as ‘Ma’ and attained Nirvana. At that moment of his ‘Mahanirvana’, Ma’s palm was placed on his ‘Brahma randhra’. Bholanath left his mortal coil, pronouncing the sanyas mantra amidst kirtan recital at the Kishanpur ashram on 7th May 1938.
Smt. Kamala Nehru’s one-pointed devotion to Sri Ma was remarkable in its depth and strength. She carried her memories to Switzerland and so influenced some of her friends, that they came to India to see Sri Ma. Mahatma Gandhi came to know a lot about Sri Ma from Kamalaji. He was so impressed by all that he heard that he sent his trusted right-hand man Sri Jamnalal Bajaj to Sri Ma. He in his turn became so dedicated a devotee that Sri Ma had the kheyala to travel to Wardha after his unexpected death and so met Gandhiji himself. Sri Jawaharlal Nehru and Indiraji came to Sri Ma drawn to her inevitably by their memories of the last days of Kamalaji.
The Raja Sahab of Solon, He became one of the foremost devotees and was known to all as Jogibhai.
She seemed fully aware of all doctrinal differences, never confusing one with the other in her conversations with the learned pandits; yet she had not been initiated into any particular religious order or trained by any yogic instructor. She had not encountered any Guru who could have exerted any influence on her life.
Devotees would arrange for Bhagavat Saptah, Durga Puja, Chandipath etc. in their towns. They would pray for her presence at these functions. Wherever Sri Ma stayed, it immediately became the centre for a gathering of thousands. Sri Ma in her compassionate regard for the organisers moved out as soon as things began to get out of hand. There was no central management in Sri Ma’s vicinity; whoever was able, took charge for as long as he could. Matters arranged themselves as it were.
Sadhu Samaj had avoided Sri Ma because she happened to be in the form of a woman. Sri Prabhu Dattaji broke down this artificial barrier by inviting her to join council of sadhus at Jhunsi in 1944.
Thereafter Haribabaji Maharaj gave her the highest honour by accepting her word as Shastra itself.
Later on other Sant Mahatmas like Sri Chakrapaniji and Sri Sharananandaji etc also came to know and respect her.
“Matri Satsang” was the great time when Sri Ma answered the devotee’s questions to all audience.
In her time she met with nearly all the political dignitaries who rose to power after Independence. They did not talk about state affairs with her. She only spoke about God and the religious asprirations of man.
In retrospect it now seems that Sri Ma started the process of withdrawing herself much ahead of time. She became increasingly unavailable because it was said she was not well. All her devotees know that illness happened to her because it was not her kheyala to deny them access to her.
Many times she had said, “Why do you feel so antagonistic to illnesses? They also come to this body like you do. Do I tell you to go away?”
Her last kheyala seemed to have been for the performance of the ati Rudra Yajna at Kankhal. This was the greatest of the Vedic Yajnas. Under Sri Ma’s Guidance it was celebrated with such splendour and scrupulous adherence to every detail of scriptural injunctions that the Savants said Sri Ma had initiated the Satya Yuga in the fron Age of Kali.
Sri Jagadguru Sankaracharya of Shringeri, Sarada Peetham, wanted to invite her to Shringeri on the occasion of the Annual Durga Puja and urged that she should get rid of her illness speedily. She replied in her usual gentle tones, “This body has no illness, Pitaji. It is being recalled toward the Unmanifest. Whatever you see happening now is conducive toward that event”.
At the moment of bidding him farewell next day she again reiterated her inability to accede to his wishes, saying “As the Atma, I shall ever abide with you”.
Sri Ma spent her last days at Kishenpur Ashram. She made no farewells apart from saying “Sivaya namah” on the night of the 25th; this mantra is indicative of the final dissolution of worldly bondages. She became Unmanifest on Friday evening of August 27th, 1982 around 8 P.M. Kankhal at the foothill of the Himalayas is holy land. All monastic orders have their Head Quarters at Hardwar.
Anandamayi Ma was a holy woman without formal religious training or initiation whose status was based entirely on her ecstatic states. She did not have an outer guru, though she did hear voices that told her what religious and meditative practices to perform. She emphasized the importance of detachment from the world and religious devotion. She also encouraged her devotees to serve others. She did much traveling and wandering, at times refusing to stay at the ashrams her devotees provided for her.
The highest honour was given to her; a procession of thousands escorted the vehicle carrying her body from Dehra Dun to Kankhal. The Mahanirvani Akhadha arranged for the last rites of Samadhi. As Sri Ma had said she did belong to everybody and so everybody participated in bidding farewell to the human body which had sustained their beloved Ma for 86 years.
Sri Ma came at a time when India as well as the world passed through many crises. She remained as one of the people, throughout it, imparting hope and solace and upholding the age old ideals of our tradition through overwhelming impacts of alien influences. She fully understood the existential implications of the present age of technology and by her way of being in the world put it in a correct perspective for those who wished to see beyond it.
We think the soil of Bharatvarsha is holy. Once in a while we see in India, not merely a teacher, or just a saint but an exemplar of the way of life which is the quintessence of her spirit. India cherishes a coming together of heaven and earth, a commingling of the timeless order and the order of time; a meeting of horizons of the eternal yearning in man and the descent of Grace. Once in a while such a dream is realized. We find a Teacher, a Jagadguru, who not only awakens the longing for the quest for Truth but enkindles and sustains faith in its ultimate fulfillment.
“As you love your own body, so regard everyone as equal to your own body. When the Supreme Experience supervenes, everyone’s service is revealed as one’s own service. Call it a bird, an insect, an animal or a man, call it by any name you please, one serves one’s own Self in every one of them.”
“…this body has lived with father, mother, husband, and all. This body has served the husband so you may call it wife. It has prepared dishes for all so you may call it cook. It has done all sorts of scrubbing and menial work, so you may call it a servant. But if you look at the thing from another standpoint you will realize that this body has served God, for when I serve my father, mother, husband, and others, I simply considered them as different manifestations of the Almighty, and served them as such. When I sat down and prepared food, I did so as if it were in a ritual, for the food cooked was, after all, meant for God. Whatever I did, I did in the spirit of the divine service. Hence, I was not quite worldly, though always engaged in household affairs. I had but one ideal, to serve all as God, to do everything for the sake of God.”
Once Paramahansa Yogananda met Anandamayi Ma and asked her about her life. She replied,
“…My consciousness has never associated itself with this temporary body. Before I came on this earth Father, I was the same. I grew into womanhood but still I was the same. When the family in which I had been born made arrangements to have this body married, I was the same. And Father, in front of you now, I am the same. Even afterwards, though the dance of creation changed around me in the halls of eternity, I shall be the same.”