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Anandamayi Ma - The Bliss Permeated Mother

Sri Ma Anandamayi today is widely recognized as a personality of great spiritual eminence. She was born in a small village called Kheora, in what is now Bangladesh, on April 30, 1896. She was born into a pious, prestigious but non-affluent brahmin household. Her given name was Nirmala Sundari Devi. It is translated as ‘Immaculate Beauty’ which seemed appropriate as the infant grew up to be a lovely child. She was the embodiment of a joyous self-sufficiency, which enraptured the hearts of all who came near her.

In 1908 at the age of twelve years, 10 months, in keeping with the rural custom at the time, she was married to Ramani Mohan Chakrabarti of Bikrampur (now Munshiganj District) whom she would later rename Bholanath. She spent five years after her marriage at her brother-in-law's home, attending to housework in a withdrawn meditative state much of the time. It was at Ashtagram that a devout neighbour, Harakumar, recognised and announced her spiritual eminence, developed a habit of addressing her as "Ma", and prostrated before her morning and evening in reverence.

On the full moon night of August 1922, at midnight, twenty-six-year-old Nirmala enacted her own spiritual initiation. She explained that the ceremony and its rites were being revealed to her spontaneously as and when they were called for. Although she was uneducated in the matter, the complex rites corresponded to those of traditional, ancient Hinduism, including the offerings of flowers, the mystical diagrams (yantra) and the fire ceremony (yajna). She later stated, "As the master (guru) I revealed the mantra; as the disciple. I accepted it and started to recite it."

Nirmala moved to Shahbag with her husband in 1924, where he had been appointed as the caretaker of the gardens of the Nawab of Dhaka. During this period Nirmala went into ecstasies at public kirtans. Jyotiscandra Ray, known as "Bhaiji", was an early and close disciple. He was the first to suggest that Nirmala be called Anandamayi Ma, meaning "Joy Permeated Mother", or "Bliss Permeated Mother". In 1926, she reinstated a formerly abandoned ancient Kali temple in the Siddheshwari area. During the time in Shahbag, more and more people began to be drawn to what they saw to be a living embodiment of the divine.

Although she travelled incessantly, it was seen that she was at home everywhere and no one was a stranger to her. Throughout the length and breadth of India and also beyond its shores people found her to be, as if the personification of their own inner vision of the Adored one who is most dear to their hearts.

In Dhaka where she first gained recognition, She was known as “Manush Kali”, that is, the ‘living Kali’. Kali is the presiding Deity of Bengal so that was quite understandable.

When she moved out of Bengal and visited other provinces, her presence elicited the same type of response, even at her first appearance. On the shores of the Holy Narmada, she was greeted as “Devi Narmada”. In Madurai she was hailed as the Goddess Minakshi by surging crowds who waited hours for a glimpse of her. In the Punjab she was given the same place of honour as the Holy Granth Sahab. In Vrindavan, the much-respected Mahatma, Sri Haribabaji Maharaj saw in her his adored Deity, the Lord Gauranga. The Sindhi devotees of Sri Udiyababaji Maharaj paid her homage as the visible Form of their Deity Jhoolelal. One Muslim devotee used to a see a vision of her with a Taj on her head during his meditations. A Christian devotee remarked quite spontaneously “Now we have a Face to put on God”. The simple highland women of Almora would say to her, “Now that we have you with us, we do not need to visit the Temple”

The mysterious aloofness of her personality was totally beyond human understanding and yet it was so tempered by her compassionate love for all living creatures that she seemed closer than the most indulgent friend ever could be.

Sri Ma’s followers began to understand the meaning of her total detachment and yet an over-flowing compassion for her people. As the years passed the enigma of her personality deepened; from the very moment of her birth she had been fully self-conscious; she was not a sadhika, yet the stages of various sadhanas were revealed through her body and reached their culmination without her being engaged as a doer, in a very short time span. This might have taken aeons for an ordinary sadhak, even for a single path of sadhana. She was not a teacher yet people learned from her lucid explanations of various complex spiritual queries put forward even by erudite scholars and contemporary authorities on those subjects.

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. In fact she had never retired from the world to become a recluse, neither did she withdraw herself from her kith and kin. She had not performed sadhana as it is generally understood in the tradition, yet she could speak with authority on all aspects of the life of a religious quest for enlightenment. Such are the facts why the word ‘unique’ is applied for describing her.

This interplay of the dimensions of normalcy and transcendence was a constant and inalienable feature of Sri Ma’s behaviour. Sometimes it was likened to a sudden play of lightning in the skies. One description is, “It was like simultaneously experiencing sunlight and moonlight. Before one could be dazzled and overwhelmed by the rays of the sun, one would be soothed and reassured by the gentle moonbeams”.

These states were frequent and visible to all at this time but they had happened in her childhood and while she was with Revati Mohan’s family as well. They had not been understood by her companions of those times and been dismissed as some mild kind of fits which would pass away as she grew older. Sri Ma’s overall deportment was so radiant and cheerful that it was easy to discount a few signs of sudden withdrawals into an inner world of mystery.

She taught how to live a God-centered life in the world and provided the living inspiration to enable thousands to aspire to this most noble ideal. She also advocated spiritual equality for women; for example, she opened up to women the sacred thread ritual, which had been performed by men only for centuries, but only those who met the moral and personal requirements. Her style of teaching included jokes, songs and instructions on everyday life along with long discourses, silent meditation and recommended reading of scriptures.

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