Sri Anandamayi Ma

Religion

Sri Anandamayi Ma

Sri Anandamayi Ma

(1896-1982)

"Widen your shriveled heart, make the interests of others your Own and serve them as much as you can by sympathy, kindness, presents and so forth. So long as one enjoys the things of this world and has needs and wants, it is necessary to minister to the needs of one's fellow men. Otherwise, one cannot be called a human being. "

 

God is without form, without quality, as well as with form and quality,

 

Watch and see with what endless variety of beautiful forms,

 

He plays the play of his maya with Himself alone,

 

The lila of the all pervading One goes on and on in this way in infinite diversity,

 

He is without beginning and without end.

 

He is the whole and also the part,

 

The whole and part together make up real Perfection.

 

These words sum up the perception and teaching of Sri Anandamayi Ma or Blissful Mother who attained full self-realization without the help of any system or guru and much efforts. She often went into trance and during a deep state of samadhi, she realized the whole universe as her Self and then saw how the One appears as the many. Having hardly any education she perplexed educated people with her profound answers ever since her realization. She was a spiritual guru to the simple as well as the learned, the young and the old. By her gentle ways and inimitable smile, she endeared herself to everyone who came in contact with her. Her devotees came from different walks oflife. Throughout her life, she was the acme of effortless perfection.

 

Sri Anandamayi Ma was born on April 30, 1896 in the village of Kheora, district Tripura, now in Bangladesh. Her father Bipin Bihari Bhattacharya and mother Mokshada Sundari Devi were devout Hindus. Her childhood name was Nirmala Sundari Devi. Even before she was born, Mokhshada started having visions of gods and goddesses in her dreams. She continued to have these visions even after the birth of baby Nirmala. Prior to her birth, Bipin Bihari suddenly left home for about ten months, took to saffron robes and got absorbed in constant chanting of the name of God. He was in a mood of renunciation. When the baby was born, her mother did not experience labour pains and the baby did not cry. When Nirmala was 10-month old and was staying at Vidyakoot, a man clad in saffron appeared. He knelt before her and Nirmala crawled to him as if she knew him for ages. He touched her and fondled her with infinite care. He then made a gesture in the manner of worship. He told her grandmother that "This is the Mother-beyond all bonds, and no one can confine her to a home." As a child, Nirmala was quite sensitive to religious rituals, and the sound of religious chanting would bring about ecstatic feelings in her. At temples, she would see religious figures emerging from religious statues and re-entering them. She was often distracted and would be seen gazing into space, her eyes not focused on outer objects. Her education was limited and writing skills minimal.

 

Nirmala had an unusual relationship with plants and animals. She was found talking to these mute beings. She could hear the call from an old withering mango tree, the fallen fruits of which she collected. She was married at a young age to Ramani Mohan Chakravarthy (Bholanath). Bholanath understood that his wife was an extraordinary person. He never tried to impose himself on her. He realized that his married life would be quite different from that of the common man. On the other hand, she never failed to look after her husband's comforts and tried to manage the household properly. She was advised by her mother to give the same respect and obedience to her husband as she had given to her father. After marriage, Nirmala lived with Raman Mohan's eldest brother, Revati Mohan and his wife Pramoda Devi and remained with them for nearly four years while Ramani Mohan was in Atpara and in Dhaka. As her sister-in-law was often sick, she served her in every possible way and did most of the household work like cooking, cleaning, fetching water, and taking care ofthe children. In spite of all the hard work she remained cheerful, good- humoured and was always willing to undertake responsibilities.

 

At the age of 18, Nirmala came to Ashtagram to stay with her husband where he was working. After sometime, Bholanath was transferred to Bajitpur. At Bijitpur, Nirmala took to intense sadhana. In the evening, she would sweep the house and its precincts, light the incense and make a circumambulation around the house with the burner in her hand. Then she took care of Bholana th' s needs on his return from work. She even prepared the hookah (traditional smoking pipe) for his after-dinner smoke. In her childhood, she had learnt to chant the name of "Hari". She started holding difficult yogic postures (asanas) for long time and spontaneously formed complex tantric hand gestures (mudras). One day, her husband, Bholanath, asked her, ''Why do you say 'Hari'? We are Vaishnavas". Nirmala replied, " I shall then say Shiva, Shiva." Bholanath was happy.

 

While Nirmala was engaged in household chores, she was lost in spiritual ecstasy. Bholanath observed her condition when he returned home. The cooking often got spoiled. Bholanath could not bring her back to normal state. At times, she became quite stiff and even fainted on the ground. Her body occasionally became deformed during such events. Sometimes the body shrank or its limbs went into impossible postures. One evening, she spontaneously performed her own initiation, visualizing both the ritual scene and movements. She remained in meditation one full day repeatedly paying tribute to the Sun God. One night, she felt as if she had entered an unknown world where her whole body turned into an instrument. The next day, she uttered the mantras. For the whole day, she remained in meditation and indifferent to the happenings around her. In the evening, she went into the process of initiation all by herself, completing every single ritual in a perfect manner.

 

Soon after, Bholanath himself accepted the much- coveted initiation from Nirmala. From then on, their relationship was that of guru and disciple. The couple shifted to Dhaka where Bholanath became the manager of Shahbagh Gardens. Here, Anandamayi's fame began to spread. People came to see her out of curiosity and became her devotees. Her spiritual ecstasy became conspicuous. At a kirtan (congregational devotional chanting), as the singing progressed, there was a perceptible change in Ma. Gradually, her eyes closed and her body swayed to the music and rhythm of kirtan. She stood up and her body started vibrating. All her movements were spontaneous. Her eyes were closed but the body responded to the rhythm and mood of the singing. She appeared to be floating in air-falling, regaining balance, and moving all around the room, steeped in an ecstasy. A strange halo radiated from her face and she fell to the ground like a log but did not seem to hurt herself. The body turned and turned in rapid horizontal movements like a paper or a twig before a tornado. After this bhava, she would lie in samadhi for many hours. Her husband roused her. When he called her repeatedly, she would somehow open her eyes and women around her rubbed her hands and feet gently till Sri Anandamayi drew back to the ordinary world.

 

Many devotees saw images of goddesses in Ma. Some of them felt that she was Goddess Saraswati. One day, while in a trance, during kirtan hours, she went out of the house and reached the mazar of a Muslim saint (fakir). She went round the mazar loudly reciting from the Holy Quran. She offered namaz (Muslim prayer) in the fashion of a devout Muslim even though she did not have any knowledge of Islam. When she returned to her house, the Muslim caretaker also followed her and participated in the kirtan.

 

From 1927 onwards, Sri Anandamayi Ma, along with a few close devotees travelled throughout the length and breadth of India. Her devotees built a small ashram for her in Dhaka. In Dhaka, people recognized her spiritual qualities. At the sound of religious chanting, she would become stiff and even fall to the ground. Her body would occasionally become deformed during these events. Sometimes, it would lengthen. At others, it would shrink or its limbs would seemingly go into impossible postures as if the skeletal structure had changed shape beneath her skin. She would hold difficult yogic postures (asanas) for long periods and spontaneously form complex tantric hand gestures (mudras). Sri Anandamayi would also shed profuse tears, and talk fluently in Sanskrit-like language. Other unusual actions included rolling in the dust and dancing for long periods whirling like a leaf in the wind. Such bhavas indicated strong religious emotion. Some of the most respected saints of the past are believed to have had similar trances.

 

In 1929, a number of eminent professors of philosophy visited Dhaka in connection with a session of the Indian Philosophical Congress. Some of the delegates had a discussion with Ma in her house lasting for about three hours. A professor of Wilson College, Bombay (now, Mumbai), asked a series of questions, which she answered. Her answers were to the point, free from metaphysical teaching. The profundity of her wisdom, the fluency of her expression and luminosity of the smile on her face impressed everybody. Once Dr Mahendranath Sarkar asked Ma whether she had read philosophy. Ma wondered why such a question was being asked. The professor said: "The answers that you give to our questions invariably correspond to what books on our philosophy say. Now, how is that possible?" Ma replied: "There is a great book of life. To one who has delved deep into it, all truths of science, philosophy and allied subjects never remain unexplored." Similarly, a French producer of spiritual films, Arnold Desjardins, was impressed with her. She made him understand the meaning of the gospels and the message of Christ. Even during his first visit to Ma at Varanasi, he could discover the life in himself. Some eminent saints also adored Ma even when she was in her thirties. Thakur Ram Chandra Deva, who was regarded as a man of God in East Bengal, offered pranama (obeisance by lying prostrate) before her although he was considerably older than Ma who was like a daughter to him. He called her Divine Mother incarnate.

 

In 1932, accompanied by her husband and others, Sri Anandamayi Ma left Dhaka. Once when she was at Kamakhya in Assam, she had the feeling of being in the company of well-known gods and goddesses as well as saints and hermits. Once standing on the hillock she found the whole atmosphere charged with a divine spirit. Groups of gods and goddesses, like Rama and Krishna, were frolicking around in their childhood forms. During one of her visits to Varanasi, many learned men, scholars and people holding high status came to see her. She interacted with many people and blessed large gatherings. This was a new phase in her life.

 

In March 1934, Anandamayi Ma visited Solan in the Shimla Hills and temporarily lived in a cave attached to the Salogra temple, about four miles away from the town. The then ruling chief of the State of Solan, Raja Durga Singh, heard about the presence of a saintly lady in his State. His Highness, who happened to be a pious man, felt an urge for her darshan, called at Salogra and found Ma seated quite complacently inside the cave with rain-water pouring all around her. Ma asked the Raja to enter the cave, and then burst into hearty laughter. The effect on the Raja was more than magical. The strange and overwhelming experience acted like a sort of spiritual baptism for him and marked a starting point in his new career as a missionary for preaching Ma's message.

 

In a spiritual gathering at a school in Varanasi, Ma was once listening to kirtan. Suddenly she got up from the dais and hurriedly proceeded towards the gate leading to the public road. Two devotees followed her. A motorist, who was driving to the gathering, was encountered at the entrance. Ma asked him to give her a lift to the railway station, which he did. On arrival at the station, he was asked to purchase three railway tickets to Sarnath for herself and two persons. The gentleman pointed out that no train for Sarnath would be available till the next day. Still Ma insisted and the gentleman procured three tickets for Sarnath, knowing fully well that there was no point in doing so. Within minutes a train steamed into the station and Ma with her two companions hurriedly stepped into an empty compartment. The gentleman murmured that the train being a mail train would not stop at Sarnath. But Ma was determined to go. Both her companions had an uncanny experience. Unexpectedly, the train suddenly stopped because there was no clear signal. At once, Ma alighted from the train with her companions. At the place where Ma took both her companions, one lady was waiting for Ma's darshan (glimpse). She had come from a far off place.

 

Anandamayi Ma explained that there were four stages in her spiritual evolution. In the first, the mind was "emptied" of all desires and passions so that it could imbibe the fire of spiritual knowledge easily. Next, the body became still and the mind was drawn inward, as religious emotion flowed in the heart like a stream. Thirdly, an individual deity has some distinction between its forms, it absorbed her personal identity and formlessness still remained. Lastly, there was melting away of all duality. Here the mind was completely free from the movement of thought. There was also full consciousness even in what is normally characterized as the dream state.

 

In 1940, Bholanath passed away. While he was ill, Sri Anandamayi Ma was with him. He died with her hand on his head. There was no sign of visible grief on her. For her, it was like a person going to another room and death an inevitable part of life. The same year, she came in close contact with Sri Prabhu Dattaji Maharaj of Jhansi. She also came in contact with a number of other eminent sadhus. However, the Sadhu Samaj avoided her because she happened to be a woman, but Sri Prabhu Dattaji broke down this artificial barrier. Thereafter, she was given the highest possible honour. The heads of other monastic orders recognized in her the quintessence of the Upanishadic tradition and accepted her word as Shastra itself.

 

In 1943, Professor Haridas Pakrashi of Lucknow and his wife, Punyamayi, were plunged in deep grief at the sudden and premature death of their only child Dhira. Solace came most mysteriously from Anandamayi Ma whose name the couple had never heard. Ma beckoned Punyamayi to come to her, caressed and calmed her. Punyamayi remained at Ma's feet, shedding silent tears. After an hour, the heaviness of her heart was relieved as if by magic, as Punyamayi said. Ma asked Punyamayi to come to her again on the following day and sing with her. Punyamayi sang and Ma heard and joined the singing. Ma drew Punyamayi towards her thus changing her outlook.

 

Ma now lived the life of an ascetic. Often she would go without food for many days. For many years, she used to eat on alternate days. In her late 70s, she was not well and hence not much available to her devotees. Towards the end, she stopped taking food altogether. Those who attended her, gave her a few drops of water at odd moments. On August 28, 1982 at 8 pm she left for her heavenly abode uttering "Sivaya Namah".

 

Anandamayi Ma has left her mundane existence but through her saintliness gestures she has carved out a distinct place among the mankind. Once in December 1924, when the evening was quite cold, she was sitting deeply absorbed in meditation. ''Your sorrow, your pain, your agony are indeed my sorrow," said Anandamayi Ma. She felt that this body understands everything. We may want to leave this body, but this body would not leave us for a single day; it does not and will never leave us. One, who has once been attracted to this body, even though he may make a thousand attempts, will not be able to efface or blot out its memory. It will remain and persist in his memory throughout his life, she said. She radiated a glow on her face and a message of love and peace, so that the eyes automatically closed in silent salutation. She never unveiled to others who or what she was. Nevertheless, the people who came in contact with her found a divine personage living amongst humanity, raising the fundamental vibration of the world around her by her mere presence. Her constant care and awareness of those who were drawn to her were never limited to them but to all humanity. Her influence continues even today on all those who have the faith to invoke her presence in their lives through inner contact. She was always humble and never accepted adulation or worship but only lived to invoke the awareness of the One in everyone she came in contact with.

 

As a true mother, Anandamayi Ma was a source of solace to all those who came in contact with her. She taught that all our sorrows are due to the fact that we keep apart fro in God. Sorrow comes from the sense of "I' and "mine". If somebody's daughter dies he grieves. As long as we are identified with the body, there must be pain. It is inevitable. We feel grieved only when we feel that the child was our own. When we, therefore, think of God, all pain disappears. She said, "Just as some blossoms fall off without bearing fruit so do some human beings die young. For a while, God had entrusted the child to our care and then He took back the child unto Himself. Now, He Himself is looking after the child. One day, we too shall go to Him. Until then, we have to keep our mind on God and we are destined to be with our child."

 

There is no question of birth and death, she said. The same mind that identifies itself with the body can be turned towards the Eternal and then the pain the body experiences would be a matter of indifference. Since the body is bound to get hurt at times, there must be suffering as long as one is identified with it. This world oscillates endlessly between pleasure and pain, there can be no security, no stability here. These are to be found in God alone. She asked, "How can there be both, the world and the One." On the way, there seems to be two, God and the world, but when the goal has been reached, there is only One. According to Anandamayi Ma, it is only our Guru, our Ishta (chosen deity) who can help us to reach our goal. We have to find Him in everything and everyone. Her advice indeed had an impact on her audience and many of them reconciled themselves to their fate.

 

She advised her followers not to be perturbed by joys and sorrows. They are time-born and cannot be there for ever. The greater the difficulties and obstructions, the more intense should be our endeavour to cling to His feet and the more our desire to pray. She said, 'When the time is ripe, you will gain mastery over this power."

 

Anandamayi Ma was a holy person 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 on the importance of detachment from the world and religious devotion. She encouraged her devotees to serve others. While her parents worshipped Vishnu (Krishna), she herself could not be placed in any definite tradition. She influenced the spirituality of thousands of people who came to see her throughout her life. She lived a simple life and had neither possessions nor attachments and called no particular place her home. She was constantly on the move throughout her life, visiting her devotees and attracting all by the magnetism of her presence. She lived her life for the sake of her devotees and the world, ever following the currents of her kheyal, the divine inner prompting that shaped all her movements and activities. People were drawn to her presence and the blissful divine nature of her personality changed them irreversibly and set them on a spiritual course. Though she remained passive, unobtrusive, and mostly silent, ashrams and organizations sprang up in her name, organized by her devotees to provide venues for contact with and care of the multitudes. In her presence, the poor were fed and cared for, social boundaries between castes lowered, and barriers between Hindu and Muslim followers were destroyed. She encouraged and inspired all to go forward to their spiritual destination, whatever the individual's path or religion.

 

 

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