“Each type of soil specializes in producing certain type of crop. The Indian soil produces Mahans!”
— Sri Sri Swamiji
Since time immemorial Mother India has been giving birth to Jivan Muktas. Not only has she produced countless such sons but also daughters. Devahuti, Gargi, Maitreyi, Chudala, Madalasa, Akka Mahadevi, Mirabai, Sarada Devi, Aavudayakkal, Aandavan pitchai, Janaki Mata are but few of several women Saints. Their lives illustrate that a woman is no weakling but has the capability to reach the highest state. These women saints have been from various walks of life. Some of them were unmarried while others have been wives and mothers. Neither their marital status nor their responsibilities in the society as a woman has in any way obstructed their spiritual blooming.
Aanandamayi Ma is yet another star in the spiritual horizon.
Anandamayi Ma was born to Bipin Behari Bhattaachaarya and Mokshada Sundari Devi on 30th April 1896 in village Kheora in East Bengal [which is now Bangladesh]. She was named Nirmala Sundari Devi. Her father was a devout Vaishavite singer. Once, while he was singing the roof of the house was blown out in the torrential rains but he continued to sing being unaware of it. This incident brings out his deep devotion. About ten months prior to the birth of this extraordinary child, Bipin Behari Bhattaachaarya took to the ochre robe and remained in solitude, constantly chanting the Divine Name of the Lord. Her mother Mokshada Sundari Devi was also spiritually inclined. The mother experienced several visions of Sages when Nirmala was in her womb and also after her birth; and, during the delivery of the child the mother did not experience labour pain.
Even as a child Nirmala was attracted to divine chanting. She saw the deities emerge from their idols when she visited Temples. When she was about ten months old a man in ochre robe appeared near her and she crawled up to him as if she knew him well. He fondled her and worshipped her. He remarked to the grandmother who stood close by that she was the Mother and could not be confined to this home. The man then disappeared.
Nirmala had very little education. Even as a child she had an amazing relationship with plants and animals. She could hear the call of a young mango tree; she could hear the fruits speak. There is a popular incident in the life of Anandamayi Ma. She once ordered her disciples to dig up the pathway in the ashram because she heard a plant that was buried under calling for help. When the disciples carried out her order they found a young pepper plant and saved it from suffocation.
In 1908, at the young age of 13 she was married to Ramani Mohan Chakraborti of Vikrampura. He later came to be known as Bholanaath. The marriage was never consummated, as most of the time she was in a trance-like state. Her husband soon realized that this was no ordinary marriage and later became her disciple. Nirmala, however, served her husband with all care and concern. Soon after her marriage she spent about four years in her husband’s elder brother’s home while her husband was in Atpara and in Dhaka. She served the household – cooking, cleaning and caring for the children – as her sister-in-law was quite often sick. She did all these cheerfully.
Later, she moved to live with her husband when he was at Ashtagram. When they later moved to Bajitpur, Nirmala began to practice intense sadhana. At the same time she took care of her husband’s needs, even preparing his ‘hookka’ that he smoked after dinner. Having learnt to chant ‘Hari!Hari!’ from her father as a child she used to chant this Divine Name of the Lord. She began to sit in Yogic aasanaas and at the same time hold her hands in ‘mudraas’. One day, Bholanath questioned her about chanting ‘Hari!’ while they were not Vaishnavaas. She asked him if she could chant ‘Siva! Siva!’ and began to chant this Divine Name of the Lord which pleased her husband. However, this change did not affect her in anyway. Nirmala was lost in spiritual ecstasy even while engaged in household duties. Many a time her husband Bholanath found her in this state on return home from his office. On hearing religious chanting she would fall in a faint. Ma has said that sadhanas for self-realisation are many and each has several features; that all these were revealed to her as a part of herself.
Nirmala did not undergo formal initiation through a Guru. She performed her own initiation. The day prior to this her face held peculiar expressions and the tongue experienced rapid movement. The whole day she was in deep meditation. That night she had the strange experience of her body being an instrument and she herself the player. The next day she uttered the Mantras and was lost in deep meditation unaware of the happenings around her. In the evening she underwent the process of initiation by herself. She underwent several spiritual experiences after this. After this occurrence, Bholanath accepted initiation from Ma and from that day their relationship changed to that of a Guru and Sishya.
Ma and Bholanath then moved to Dhaka where the latter took up the position of the Manager of Shanbagh Gardens. This was part of the estate of Nawabzadi Pyari Bano. Ma’s fame began to spread here and crowds began to gather for her darshan. When she went into spiritual ecstasy during kirtans her body would sway to the rhythm of the kirtan. She would enter into deep samadhi for long hours after this. It was her husband Bholanath who would try to bring her out of this state by calling to her. When she responded, he advised the lady devotees to rub her hands and feet and keep talking to her so that it would bring her back to the worldly plane. She would roll on the ground; shed profuse tears. She would sometimes dance for a long period. Sometimes she would talk rapidly. Her smiling countenance earned her the name ‘Kushir Maa’ [Mother of Bliss].
Ma lived like an ascetic. She would fast for many days; some times she would eat food meant for eight or nine people. Once, for nearly six months she ate only a few grains of rice daily and two ripe fruits that had fallen from the tree. To the complaint that she did not eat sufficiently, Ma explained that food was not at all essential to preserve the body; she ate only to show normal behaviour so that those around her did not feel uncomfortable with her.
She accepted all faiths as paths leading to the Lord. Once, during a kirtan she walked out in trance to the mazhar of a Fakir [Muslim Saint]. When the Muslim caretaker there opened the doors she went round the mazhar chanting from the Koran. Though she had no knowledge of the Muslim way of worship she offered namaaz just as Muslims do. The Muslim caretaker accompanied her on her return home and participated in the Kirtan and even fed Ma with a piece of candy.
Ma’s devotees built an ashram for her in Dhaka. But she was always on the move not staying put in the ashram. She traveled throughout India. It is said that once Mahatma Gandhi questioned her on her continuous wanderings and she replied that she was really only in one place; that there is only one garden and she was really moving within its premises only.
Ma said that considering ourselves as separate entity was a disease [‘bhava roga’].
Once, on a hillock she experienced the whole atmosphere charged with divinity. Many gods and goddesses including Rama and Krishna were there in the form of children. There were also Saints there and the whole hillock was filled with them.
Ma said that many great souls visited her in the form of snakes, etc. Learned men and men holding high positions came for her darshan and blessings. Devotees in need were permitted to speak to her in private. She spent long hours giving darshan and talking to devotees. Ma blessed large gatherings.
There have been several incidents in her life to show the love and compassion she had for her devotees. Here is one such interesting incident in her life—Once, Ma along with two attendants of hers went to the railway station in a devotee’s car. There she requested that devotee to buy three train tickets to Saranath but the devotee hesitated, for, there was no train to Saranath for the next twenty-four hours. But Ma as adamant and the tickets were bought. A train arrived and Ma boarded the train with her two attendants though informed that it would not stop at Saranath. After a time the train suddenly stopped as there was no clear signal. At once Ma got down asking her two attendants also to get down. She began to walk away from the station with quick strides. They could not comprehend what was happening. The two attendants soon realized that they were in Saranath! Ma took them through the path that led to Birla Dharamsala. She entered the Dharamsala and walked straight into a particular room within. Here, a female devotee of Ma sat crying out for Ma! This Maratti devotee had come from a long distance to Saranath as she had been [mis]informed that Ma was there. On reaching Saranath she was terribly disappointed on learning that Mas was at Vaaraanasi. The Dharamsala was huge and in a remote area of Saranath. This devotee was unnerved to spend the night all alone there. Further, she was suffering from high fever. She began to desperately cry out to Ma for help, ‘Ma! Ma!’ Ma stood before her and said that everything was fine as she had come. Ma then spent the night talking and joking with her.
Ma was constantly at the bedside of her husband Bholanth when he fell ill. She served him until his death in May 1938. She held her hand on his head at the time of his death. Of death itself Ma said that it was akin to moving from one room to another and none was lost to her.
Anandamayi Ma was not initially recognized by the Sadhu Samaj as she was a woman. However, Sri Prabhu Dattaji Maharaj came in close contact with her. In 1944 he invited her to the council of Sadhus at Jhunsi. Sadhus came to know her and accepted her greatness. The heads of Monastic Orders also recognized her divinity.
During her meeting with Paramahamsa Yogaananda she said that her spiritual identity did not undergo any change since her childhood. It has always been the same. Any change found in her life was only for the benefit of the devotees. As for the huge crowd that followed her she said that just as one did not feel the weight of his head, hands and feet, so too, did she feel that all the people following her were only part of that body. Their joys and sorrows were experienced as her own.
Ma encouraged women to lead the life of celibates. She revived Naimishaaranya as a place of pilgrimage. Here, she built a Temple where kirtans and religious rites were performed.
Speaking of Namasankirtan, Ma has said that there was no need to renounce the world and run away. One could be with the world keeping a fire burning – the ‘FIRE OF HIS NAME’. She said that the ‘Fire of the Divine Name of the Lord’ will burn down all impurities and lead the purified soul to Him. She said, “Live your life in this world but keep Him along.”
With her health deteriorating her darshan became rare. Food intake came to a stop towards the end. She attained mahasamaadhi at Dehradun on 27th August, 1982 at 8 p.m. Her Divine body was taken to Kankhal and a Samadhi was built there.