Embodiments of Mother Divine
Where there is respect for women, there will be the presence of the Divine. ~ Vedas
“Behold, now and always one with the Eternal, ‘I am ever the same." - Anandamayi Ma
Anandamayi Ma, the Bliss Permeated Mother, lived her entire life for the sole benefit of serving others. She was an avatar of Mahakali. A pure manifestation of God Consciousness in the body of a human woman. She was a complete mystery to those around her and every person’s most intimate confidant at the same time. The compassion she held for others knew no bounds. Anandamayi Ma said that her birth was not the result of karma as it is for souls caught in the cycle of birth and death. She was a “free being” whose every movement reflected a deeper truth pointing towards the reality of God.
Born on April 30, 1869 in Kheora villiage in East Bengal now Bangladesh, Anandamayi Ma was given the birth name of Nirmala Sundari Devi, ‘Goddess of Flawless Beauty’. From a very early age she exhibited signs of extraordinary divinity. Constantly on hand to assist men and women of all castes in the village it appeared that she never had any motive other than to help others. Anandamayi Ma could often be found sitting silently in deep states of meditation and inner contentment. Her favorite playmate was her grandmother with whom she would recite in perfect Sanskrit complicated slokas (phrases), often teaching her grandmother the correct mudras (gestures) to preform during pujas.
As was customary for the time, Anandamayi Ma was married at the young age of thirteen. While her life evolved normally for a young Indian woman, her inner experience was supernatural. As she would later tell Yogananda, “My consciousness has never associated itself with this temporary body. Before I came on this earth, Father, I was the name. As a little girl, I was the same. I grew into womanhood, but still, I was the same. When the family in which I was born made arrangements to have this body married, I was the same. And father, in front of you now, I am the same.”
The magnitude of Anandamayi Ma’s energy and love became steadily more apparent to everybody around her. When she went to the river at night without a lantern onlookers declared they could see her form emanating a soft glow. The children of the village where she lived began to affectionately refer to her as “Ma”. Anandamayi Ma described her life as being guided by an “inner movement of divine will”. As pure consciousness in form, this “will” was responsible for all her interactions with the world. One morning in the pond where she went to bathe, Anandamayi Ma experienced such an act of will spurring the question, “What would it be like to play the part of a sadhaka?” A sadhaka is one who seeks the ultimate reality through sadhana. Anandamayi Ma then experienced that the perfect enlightenment she was born with had a “slight veil drawn over it, simply to see how it would be pierced.”
For two years she sat silently in meditation every night while her husband Bholanath witnessed the highest embodiments of asana and kriya yoga manifest in her body. She initiated herself into the sacred bond with the Guru, later teaching that while the Guru takes form to benefit the student there is only one Guru. “God Himself as the in-dweller of the heart.” When spiritual seekers from different faiths would approach her, Anandamayi Ma always had precise knowledge pertaining to every person’s individual practice. She would say later of this knowing that during her time of sadhana she experienced the endless ways in which people approach self-realization, ultimately seeing all paths as being one with herself.
After six years of intense meditation and practice Anandamayi Ma had the experience of herself merging with the entire creation. The veils of illusion were lifted. She said in regard to this time that “whatever happened was for all of you only.” Although aspects of her sadhana are public she shared that in reality only one-one thousandth of her process is known. Following this final enlightenment experience Anandamayi Ma entered into three years of complete silence.
From this time onward more people began to experience Anandamayi Ma as the Divine Mother. People were drawn by her magnetism and the news that a ‘Mataji’ immersed in God Consciousness was living among them. The simple life Anandamayi Ma had shared with Bholanath began to quickly evolve. The mission of her life began to reveal itself as devotees and students of all kinds where drawn to her like bees to a flower. At an annual Kali Puja Anandamayi Ma attended, she immediately entered into a deep state of samadhi, identifying completely with the Goddess. As she placed flowers on her own head many people had darshan of Kali. Living in a state of union her vision was constantly fixated on the supreme reality of God. The bliss of that state and the ecstatic joy she channeled in recognizing God everywhere inspired one close devotee, Bhaiji, to give her the name “Anandamayi Ma”, Bliss Permeated Mother. Throughout her life Anandamayi Ma would continue to give darshan to devotees of whomever they worshiped in the hearts.
Those who came to live and travel with her became used to behavior that reflected the energy of an avadhut, one whose consciousness is completely merged with the five elements. Her actions where often difficult for the mind to understand. One student wanting to test her worldly indifference asked if it were possible to place a burning coal on her foot. Anandamayi Ma quickly responded to his request by doing just that, watching as the coal burned through her own skin. Afterwards it was only in response to her student’s love and dismay at seeing her body hurt that Anandamayi Ma took interest in her herself and healed the burn.
Anandamayi Ma’s eating habits also held deep significance and meaning. She held no attachment to her physical form and told those around her that in order for her body to remain they would have to take care of it. She was often fed from the hands of her devotees, other times abstaining from food completely. For months on end she ate nothing other than exactly nine grains of rice each day. In another instance a concerned devotee set aside a large portion of food against Anandamayi Ma’s wishes that food should never be stored. Upon hearing of this Anandamayi Ma demanded that all the food be prepared immediately. She then sat down and consumed the entire quantity herself saying, “Don’t think of setting aside a stock of food for my use, nor be concerned about my eating. If I did truly begin to eat, you people would never be able to provide for me.”
Like other great saints Anandamayi Ma would become known for recognizing all religions and beings as one. She saw no hierarchy in religion, nor did she consider distinction of faith as being fundamental to God realization. Within the grounds of the home she shared with Bholanath and her devotees was the Samadhi of a Muslim fakir and his disciple. One evening a Muslim man approached the hall where kirtans were being sung. Although he had heard of Anandamayi Ma and was curious to meet her, the rules of his faith inhibited him from entering the hall. Andandamayi Ma came out to meet him herself, leading the man to the Samadhi of the Muslim fakir. There she led a complete service of the Namaaz, Muslim prayers of devotion, in faultless Arabic. The man was so moved by her actions he would later share his awe at seeing the prayers of his faith performed with such immaculate beauty and precision.
Anandamayi Ma would often provide those around her with the opportunity to witness and be blessed by the highest forms of trance and samadhi. In Kirtan she would become enveloped by spiritual emotion. Her body seemed to become weightless, swaying and rolling gracefully around as if moved by a divine hand. Once Anandaymayi Ma’s niece ran up to touch her during such a trance. The little girl was flung onto the ground by the force of Anandamayi Ma’s energy and left behind while the kirtan party continued singing through the village. She was found afterwards laying in the mud and repeating the name ‘Hari’, saying “I see the whole universe as being filled with this name.” Eventually Anandamayi Ma brought her niece back to her normal consciousness. She laughingly said that yogis practice japa for many lifetimes to reach such a state.
Yogananda wrote in his autobiography about Anandamayi Ma. His first glimpse of her was amidst a hundred devotees as she gave blessings and darshan. When Anandamayi Ma saw Yogananda approach she immediately walked towards him joyously exclaiming, “Father, you have come!” She was in a state of bliss to see his soul for the first time in many ages. Yogananda could see immediately that she was in an advanced state of samadhi. Her consciousness embodied in the female form was unprecedented. Yogananda describes it like this, “Oblivious to her outward garb as a woman, she knew herself as the changeless soul, from that plane she was joyously greeting another devotee of God.” Anandamayi Ma went to visit Yogananda at his home in Ranchi where he had to coax her into talking about her own life. She evidently found the facts of one incarnation to be of little importance. “…though the dance of creation changes around me in the hall of eternity, I shall be the same.” Yogananda saw her one more time as she waited to board a train to the Himalayas. Marveling, he wrote about the experience of seeing that, “whether amidst a throng of people in the train station, eating with others, or sitting in silence, her eyes never looked away from God.”
Every aspect of Anandamayi Ma’s life inspired reflection on the mysterious meaning behind God’s will. One night after a day spent begging food from the local village, Anandamayi Ma announced unexpectedly that she was leaving Bengal. Taking only Bholanath and one other student with her the three travelers departed for the train station without any funds or luggage. For the remaining fifty years of her life Anandamayi Ma wandered throughout India, never staying in one place for very long. She meditated in caves in the foothills of the Himalayas, spending most of her time in samadhi or wandering through the nature. Everywhere she went people where drawn to her. Anandamayi Ma in turn blessed every soul who approached her with the unconditional love and blessings of the Divine Mother incarnate. Her love was so contagious that even in the harsh circumstances that presented themselves to Anandamayi Ma and her pilgrim devotees, no one ever experienced a lack of access to the pure divine happiness that radiated through her being. Her presence effortlessly connected people to their own source of consciousness and bliss.
On August 27th, 1982 Anandamayi Ma left her body in an ashram she started in Dehradun, Northern India. Her body was placed sitting up in a marble mausoleum now known as the Jyoti Peeth or Center of Light.
“Your sorrow, your pain, your agony is indeed my sorrow. This body understands everything. You may want to leave this body. But this body won't leave you for a single day - it does not and never will leave you. 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 the memory of this body. It will remain and persist in his memory for all time.”
Anandamayi shares with one of her close disciples her experience of coming into form as a female avadhut and living in universal consciousness her entire life.
Yogananda calls her the Bliss Mother and says, "I had instantly seen that the saint was in a high state of samadhi. Utterly oblivious to her outward garb as a woman, she knew herself as the changeless soul; from that plane she was joyously greeting another devotee of God. She led me by the hand into her automobile... I had found many men of God-realization in India, but never before had I met such an exalted woman saint. Her gentle face was burnished with the ineffable joy that had given her the name of Blissful Mother. Long black tresses lay loosely behind her unveiled head. A red dot of sandalwood paste on her forehead symbolized the spiritual eye, ever open within her. Tiny face, tiny hands, tiny feet - a contrast to her spiritual magnitude!" ...read more