India is a land of saints and god-men.Ma Anandamayi occupied a position of great authority as an upholder of the traditions of India. Ma Anandamayi was born in the year 1896 and reared in that part of rural Bengal which is now Bangladesh. Her early years were spent in Kheora (District Tripura), where she was born. Ma Anandamayi’s incomparable charming smile and her gentle enquiries regarding the welfare of the visitors, kept them enthralled. Ma greeted all such chance-met strangers in her own inimitable style of familiarity which at once overcame all barriers of language, creed or social status.
Nirmala Sundari ..was born to Mokshada Devi and Bipin Bihari on 30th April, 1896 in Kheora (district of rural Bengal which is now in Bangladesh) who later became well-known as Sri Ma Anandamayi.
One day, Mokshada Devi saw an extraordinary looking person, with an air of luminosity about him ; approach the playful infant, who was about ten months old at this time, and squat in front of her as if paying homage. Glancing at the mother, he said, “ You have a very special child. You will not make an ordinary housewife of her .. She is the Mother .. She belongs to the world ”.
“ An Extra-ordinary Ethereal being ”
What was really extraordinary about little Nirmala was a sudden change from the ordinary playful child into an extra-ordinary ethereal being. In the midst of some mundane activity, she would suddenly seem not to be with her playmates or with her elders.
Her expression was always serene and beautiful, would be as if shot with an inner luminosity. How did they behave with the child after they had seen her as an ethereal being with the spark of divinity in her ? The same people hastened to recall her, as it were, to their stratum of life ; they would seek to draw her attention toward play and make her talk and laugh in her usual way.
Later in life, when Sri Ma was questioned on these recollections of her family and neighbours she said :
“ You are using the words ‘ ordinary ’, and ‘ extra-ordinary. ’ But, to me there is no difference ; it is like the blinking of the eye. ”
“ Commitment and Aloof detachment ”
The playmates of Nirmala were many. Firstly, her little brothers .. she played with them, took care of them, tended them when they were ill. They would be trailing round with her wherever she went. Their attachment to their little sister was quite touching.
Once, Nirmala was invited to Sultanpur for some festival or other. Her brother “ Kaliprasanna ” said to her ‘ Sister, don’t go or I shall never see you again. ’ In fact, he did become seriously ill and passed away shortly thereafter.
She had been very attached to her brothers, but she was not seen to cry or mourn their loss.
This conjunction of total commitment and aloof detachment remained with her all along causing surprise to newcomers.
Nirmala had some cousins to play with when she visited Sultanpur. One such cousin, “ Sushila ”, later came to the Ashram and became a permanent inmate. She used to narrate that even animals were attracted to Nirmala. Cows returning from the pasture would stop near her and nudge her gently.
Sushila also said that sometimes they would find Nirmala as if talking to trees and plants ; this used to scare the other children because they could almost imagine that it was a conversation and that the plants were bending forth a little.
“ Child bride ”
The carefree days of childhood for Nirmala drew to a close when she was barely thirteen years old. A marriage was arranged between Nirmala and “ Ramani Mohan Chakravarty ” (Bholanath) of Atpara.
Ramani Mohan’s father was old and not in good health. His eldest son-in-law Seetanath Kushari on his behalf came to see Nirmala in Kheora and to finalize the arrangements. He also headed the bridegroom’s party when they arrived for the ceremony on 7th February, 1909.
The entire village of Kheora participated in the festivities. At the time of the ceremony Lakshmi Charan Bhattacharya one of the elders, said to the bridegroom, “ Son, you don’t know what a treasure you are taking home today ! ”
After being married to Nirmala, Ramani Mohan could not continue in his job. He remained without one for some time. He left his village and went to Dhaka to look for work.
In Dhaka, he stayed with his sister and her husband Rajendra Kushari doing something or other till he found a permanent job as Law Clerk in the Settlement Department of the Estates of the Nawab of Dhaka, at Ashtagram (1913) after almost four years of his marriage.
Bholanath visited Vidyakut for the first time, after his marriage. He himself brought Sri Ma to their new rented suite of rooms in Ashtagram. Sri Ma and Bholanath came to Ashtagram in the year 1914 from Vidyakut.They occupied rooms in the big house of Jaishankar Sen.
“ Spiritual Experiences ”
Bholanath’s fellow-worker Madhu Babu and a friend Ksetra mohan along with their families lived in the same house. All these people were eye-witnesses of the beginnings of the display of the satvic bhavas which manifested themselves on Sri Ma’s body. There is an aura of luminosity around Sri Ma which is extra-ordinary .. she was like a glowing flame inside a lantern !
Very soon, all the neighbouring women developed an admiration for Sri Ma’s neat and clean rooms, a high standard of cooking skill and her exemplary spirit of service toward Bholanath.
Sri Ma’s propensity toward identifying with the elements became more marked, but as before, the eye-witnesses mistook the states for a sudden onslaught of sleep or just absent mindedness. There was a large lake in Ashtagram. During the rainy season it seemed almost like the ocean because the other shore became invisible. One day, Bholanath and some of his friends and their wives went out on a boating expedition. Sri Ma recalls :
“ I had never before seen the ocean. The huge expanse of water seemed my own self. I felt a kheyala (whim or sudden impulse) towards integrating with it. Sometimes these sudden spurts of movement towards boundlessness became visible to onlookers like flashes of light. Lest people should see me in this state now, I covered myself with my wrapper and lay down in the bottom of the boat. ”
Madhu Babu, who had noted this, said “ Thakrun (madam) is sleepy ! ” Someone from the audience asked, “ Why did such trans-natural things happen ? ” Sri Ma answered with a smile :
“ For this body there is no distinction between what you call ‘ natural ’ and that which would be considered ‘ trans-natural ’. ”
“ State of Samadhi ”
Bholanath also took his turn and a kirtan was arranged in the courtyard. Sri Ma sat with the wife of Madhu Babu who was ill at the time. Sri Ma recalled :
“ I was sitting on her cot and watching the kirtan-party through the gaps in the fencing. Suddenly, I saw the whole house illuminated by a bright light and this body at the centre of the kirtan mingling in with the effulgence and the joyousness. At that moment the body slipped down from the cot onto the floor. It rolled a little and then became still and inert. I was not unconscious. I heard the invalid cry out in alarm. ”
Bholanath was fetched. He was told that Khusir Ma is in a fit. They sprinkled water on my face and raised the body to a sitting position. Bholanath helped me to walk back to my room. On being asked by him, I explained to him a little of the true state of my experience :
“ This was the first time that I saw how it was that a person may be affected by the strains of devotional music. ”
The entire village was affected by the atmosphere of spiritual influence, but Sri Ma herself diffused, as always, any attempt to raise her above the ordinary. She was again the same friendly young girl not claiming any special recognition for her state of Samadhi.
There was a person in Ashtagram who had the distinction of penetrating the veil of anonymity with which Sri Ma surrounded herself. This was Hara kumar, the brother of Srimati Sen, then living at his sister’s place. He was educated and well employed, but at times would be carried away by religious fervour and during these spells it became impossible for him to work normally.
Hara Kumara’s mother had died in the room which was given to Bholanath and Sri Ma when they came to Ashtagram. Either because of this or for some other reason best known to himself, he prostrated himself before Sri Ma and addressed her as ‘ Mother ’. He would look for opportunities to render her some little service and was transported with joy when he received any hint of recognition from her. Village customs prevailed in Ashtagram.
Sri Ma would not speak to menfolk who were not members of her family or very close friends of Bholanath. But Bholanath himself developed a kindness for Hara kumar and allowed him the privileges of belonging to the family. Hara kumar used to declare, “ Now it is only I who call you ‘ Mother ’. The day will come when the world will recognize you and call you so. ”
One night, after the day’s work was done and Bholanath had lain down to his rest, Sri Ma said :
“ Shall I sit up for a while? You go to sleep. ”
Bholanath acquiesced. Sri Ma sat quietly repeating the sacred word. She watched her limbs arrange themselves in a yogic posture which was called the ‘ siddhasana ’. There was a feeling of joyousness within. Every day she had new experiences. Her body would undergo other transformation, sometimes it become heavy and inert .. at other times very light as if it had no contact with the earth.
One day, she saw herself assume the ‘ padmasana ’. Her back straightened ; she felt a tremor near the base of the spine and to the accompaniment of a slight rhythmic sound the spinal column seemed to get locked in an upright position block by block. It came to her kheyala that it was almost like what she had seen in Narundi when a derailed train had been hoisted up on the rails piece by piece making a rhythmic noise. She described it by using another image, that of the placing of smaller and smaller pots on the firm base of a big pot like the topmost spire of a temple.
She envisioned a cluster of nerves at each centre which looked like lotus flowers in bloom. At this time she said she had a feeling of utter ease and freedom. The body was itself a help rather than an obstacle to meditation and nama-japa. She felt a tremendous power inside her. Then, suddenly she would think that it was very late and she should sleep so at once the whole phenomenon seemed as if switched off. She lay down and went to sleep.
Sri Ma from time to time has described many such experiences which in their range and variety defy an exhaustive compilation. Moreover, she has said that she has not disclosed even one hundredth of the entirety of her spiritual adventures. It is however clear from the description that she was aware of what was taking place and she was also not helplessly given over to the surging tides of this spiritual lila of shakti.
After a stay of almost four years at Ashtagram, Bholanath was transferred to Bajitpur. Before joining his service there they decided to pay a short visit to Vidyakut. Madhu Babu and his wife were very friendly with Bholanath and Sri Ma. They were invited to come with them on a visit. There were scenes of rejoicing at this homecoming ! Madhu Babu and his family were entertained to a feast and then bidden an affectionate farewell by Bholanath and Sri Ma. The whole village of Vidyakut assumed a festive look with the coming of their beloved Nirmala.
“ Continued Sadhana ”
For some months, afterwards, Sri Ma continued to practice her sadhana. Her body became as if an instrument for the play of this profound music. With the sounds of the letters her limbs, her entire body moved as if in vibrant dance-forms, trembling and responding to an exhilarating choreography of inner Sakti. Her body assumed a variety of yogic postures while she sat in meditation, the hands and fingers assuming appropriate positions.
Bholanath watched her, amazed and awed. Some of the ‘ asanas ’ he recognized for what they were, but many were beyond his comprehension.
Sometimes he watched her, fascinated by the beautiful spectacle, and sometimes overcome by tiredness after the day’s work .. he fell asleep while Sri Ma sat in her corner absorbed in an universe not of this world. He knew that Sri Ma had no previous knowledge of yogic ‘asanas’. Moreover, it was obvious to him that these motions were being gone through automatically, as if her limbs were being arranged in these postures. Sri Ma has said that she was merely an onlooker to these proceedings.
Bholanath, although completely convinced that whatever was happening to Sri Ma was of great spiritual significance and not a travesty of it, occasionally felt some misgivings because he believed in the tradition which said that nothing can be achieved in this trans-natural sphere without help from one’s Guru. Perhaps in response to this perplexity in him Sri Ma had the kheyala for a spiritual initiation which was fulfilled on 3rd August, 1922.
For the next five months her sadhana assumed a more concrete form. After the lila of diksa (spiritual initiation) hymn like compositions in Sanskrit would at times flow from her lips, generally preceded by the single syllable ‘ OM ’. The spontaneity of these utterances was all too obvious because she had no previous knowledge of Sanskrit let alone the ancient form of it used in the Vedas.
During this time the normal functions of her body were suspended for hours and even days. She did not feel hungry or in need of rest. Her days were not divided into mornings, evenings or nights .. there was only one prolonged period of indescribable bliss. She has said that her mouth would have the flavor of a honey-like substance which came from within and which became too profuse at times that she would swallow it down.
Sri Ma herself remained unchanged in her attitude toward him. She would ask his permission for all suggestions regarding her movements, render Bholanath service if he so required it of her, like rubbing his feet when he was tired ; she treated him like a close friend, with honour and understanding, coaxing him back into good humour if he were annoyed with anything. She herself never said or did anything to diminish his position as the head of the ever expanding family which began to collect round her as soon as she emerged into the limelight of public acclaim.
The time of emergence was approaching fast but in Bajitpur all was quiet and serene. After Sri Ma’s own Initiation she followed an intensive course of one-pointed, relentless, all encompassing sadhana for approximately five and a half months. It culminated in an experience of fulfillment which is described in the Upanishads as :
‘ On gaining which everything is attained. ’ ( Taittiriya II.1 )
Sri Ma has said that the sadhana by which man endeavours to attain self-realization are of endless variety, and each has innumerable aspects. All these became a living experience to her when she became a sadhaka.
The end of Sri Ma’s period of sadhana coincided with Bholanath’s diksha as well as the beginning of her own period of maunam for almost three years ( 1922-1925 ). She became silent as if the inner blessedness had found expression in outer stillness.
“ Sri Ma in Dhaka ”
Bholanath lost his post of Law Clerk in April 1924. His employers, for reasons of economy, were winding up their business in Bajitpur. Hoping for better employment in a bigger town, he came to Dhaka with his wife on 10th April, 1924. Inspite of his best efforts he was unable to find work immediately. He decided to send Sri Ma to his village home and stay on alone. Sri Ma was still observing silence. She indicated to him that he should wait for three more days. Bholanath thankfully, found work on the third day. On 17th April, he was appointed as Manager of the extensive Shahbagh Gardens belonging to the daughter of the Nawab of Dhaka, Nawabzadi Pyari Bano.
Many families in Dhaka became very attached to Sri Ma. Whoever came first wanted friends and relations to share in the same joy. Sri Ma and Bholanath became the nucleus of an ever expanding clan of devotees. By and by Bholanath came to be known as Baba ( father ).
Sri Ma began to be more widely known after the day of the solar eclipse on 26th January, 1926. The devotees had wanted to arrange for a kirtan on a large scale. Bholanath welcomed the suggestion and enthusiastically set about making arrangements with the help of Baaul, Atal Bihari and others. The dance hall was made available to them for this purpose. A large number of people were invited. Everyone who came to the kirtan would partake of the prasada ( sacred meal ) at night.
On occasions Sri Ma would herself go out to visit people. One day as she was strolling about near the gates of Shahbagh, a cab drove by. She signalled to the driver ; when he drew near she climbed in. The cab man said
“ Where will you go ? ” Sri Ma said : “ To your house ”.
The cab man, a mohammedan, without another word drove home. On arrival, they found an old man lying on his death bed. His relations were weeping. Sri Ma asked Bhaiji (who had accompanied her) to fetch some sweets. These were distributed amongst the family and neighbours. Sri Ma then came away. Bhaiji later on was interested enough to find out the outcome of this visit. The old man did recover from what had appeared to be his last illness.
At times, Sri Ma would take upon herself the illness of others. Didi, one day came to Shahbagh to find Sri Ma suffering from a sudden cold and cough. On enquiry, she discovered that Pratul ( Pramatha Nath’s young son ) who was due to appear at an examination, had felt a severe cold coming on and had prayed to Sri Ma to prevent this. Sri Ma recovered after a while.
“ Teachings of Sri Ma ”
Such incidents taught Bholanath and others not to ask Sri Ma to cure sick people. They found that to her, life and death were same. She would say :
“ Don’t ask me to cure anybody. Everybody must work out his destiny. If obstructions are deliberately placed in his path, the results may be anything but beneficial. ”
When she came to Dhaka in April 1924 she was taking three mouthfuls of food inclusive of water, twice a day. When Didi first met Sri Ma she was eating even less. On Mondays and Thursdays, she would take the three mouthfuls and on the other five days nothing but nine grains of rice.
In later years, when she was questioned by scholars regarding all these phases, she spoke like this :
“ Once this body lived on three grains of rice daily, for four or five months. Nobody can live for so long a time on such a meager diet. It looks like a miracle ! But it has been so with this body. It has been so, because it can be so !
“ The reason for this is that what we eat is not at all necessary for us. The body takes in only them quintessence of the food, the rest is thrown out. As a result of sadhana, the body becomes so constituted that, although no food is taken physically, it can imbibe from the surroundings whatever is necessary for its maintenance.
“ In three ways, the body can be maintained without food :
“One way has just been referred to, namely, that the body can take from the environment the necessary nourishment. Secondly, it can live on air alone, for I have just said that everything exists in all things, so that the properties of all things are in the air in some measure. Therefore, by taking in air alone we get the essence of other things.
“ Again, it may so happen that the body is not taking anything at all, yet it is being maintained unimpaired as in a state of Samadhi. Thus you find that, as a consequence of sadhana, it is quite possible to live without what we call ‘ food ’. ”
On odd occasions, Sri Ma could consume large quantities of food also. Didi relates that once acceding to a request that she should eat more ; she began to swallow the food given to her at double her normal rate. She remarked to Didi, “ You are not quick enough ; call somebody else to help you ”. But even two people could not keep pace with her speed of eating. The man who had made the request was now thoroughly frightened ; he now prayed to her to desist. Sri Ma spoke plaintively :
“ First you ask me to eat, but no sooner do I start than you tell me to stop. Now, what am I to do? ”
“ First journey .. out of East Bengal ”
Pran Gopal Mukhopadhyaya after his retirement had planned to settle in Deoghar to be near the Ashram of his Guru Sri Balananda Brahmachari Maharaj. In answer to his repeated invitations Sri Ma undertook a journey to Deoghar sometime in May 1926. Sri Ma and Bholanath, accompanied by Shashanka Mohan, Didi, Atal Bihari and his wife and a few others, set out for Deoghar via Calcutta. This was Sri Ma’s first visit to the Capital of Undivided Bengal.
On their return to Calcutta, they put up at Surendra Mohan Mukherjee’s place. He had not seen Sri Ma before but had agreed to receive the party as guests. This was the beginning of a long association and also a pattern of coming together which was repeated many times.
Ma and Bholanath sometimes visited the neighbouring villages and township at the invitation of their friends and devotees. In the first week of April 1927 Sri Ma, Bholanath and a big party left Dhaka to attend the purna-kumbha at Haridwar.
One evening, in July 1927, Sri Ma of her own accord visited a number of houses in the town. From her manner, Didi, her father, Bhaiji and others apprehended that these were farewell visits and that she would be leaving Dhaka again. This premonition turned out to be true.
Next day, Sri Ma and Bholanath had left before any one of the devotees had come to Shahbagh. Sri Ma visited Narayanaganj, Rajshahi, Calcutta, Deoghar and Vindhyachala. This was her first visit to the hill top resort which subsequently became one of her major halting stations. She returned to Dhaka but very soon was on the move again, this time to her village homes Vidyakut and Kheora. She came to Kheora on 3rd August, 1927 accompanied by a big crowd of devotees who wished to see her in her place of birth.
Sri Ma’s Birthday was celebrated with elaborate arrangements at Siddheswari, by the devotees. Bholanath performed the tithipuja. This was the second puja ; the first had been celebrated in Shahbagh in the year 1927.
The rented house was given up as it was not too conveniently placed ; another house Uttama-kutir was rented for Sri Ma and Bholanath. All devotees were trying hard to acquire a piece of land on which they could build an Ashram so that Sri Ma and Bholanath would be ensured of a suitable place of residence.
Sri Ma, in the meantime had been travelling almost ceaselessly. She would come to Dhaka for a few days and then leave for distant towns. In late 1928, she came to Varanasi. During this visit she met Mahamahopadhyaya Sri Gopinath Kaviraj, who was at the time the Principal of Queen’s College which is now “ The Sampurnananda University of Sanskrit ”. From morning till night there would be a constant stream of men and women passing in and out of the house where Sri Ma and Bholanath were staying.
Pandit Gopinath Kaviraj was much impressed by her handling of difficult questions, her in-depth answers to all queries and her wit and humour. The satsang sessions were not only enlightening but also delightfully entertaining. This was the beginning of Sri Ma’s ‘ talks ’. The pattern of questions from the audience and Sri Ma’s answers to them became a regular feature of her sojourn in any town.
She never spoke at length (like an oration) nor did she volunteer to speak unasked. Her utter stillness in the midst of a crowd was no less remarkable than the hours of untiring replies to unending questions.
In August 1930, Sri Ma and Bholanath accompanied by Shashanka Mohan, Didi, Jogesh, Ashu and a few others started on a tour of South India. This was Sri Ma’s first visit to the South.
The party returned to Vindhyachala in October. A small building on top of the Ashtabhuja Hills had been purchased by Shashanka Mohan. This may be called the third Ashram dedicated to Sri Ma’s service. With her presence, the lonely surroundings came to life Devotees arrived from nearby Varanasi. For a few days all was joy and festivity. Sri Ma continued to travel. She went to Jamshedpur and then to Calcutta.
In the evening, Sri Ma would stroll in the extensive green fields of the polo grounds surrounding the Ashram. There was always a crowd round her. One day one gentleman said,
“ You were lying in a state of Samadhi. You were evidently in communion with God. Now you have to descend to our level to talk to us for our benefit ”. Sri Ma smiled and replied :
“Are you apart from God ? I do not feel any ascending or descending. To me it is all the same. Only the bodily reactions are different.”
“ Visit to Raipur .. Dehra Dun ”
On 8th June, 1932 Sri Ma, Bholanath and Bhaiji took up residence at Raipur. Raipur in those days was a remote little village. Some distance from the village the ground rose sharply ; on top of this hillock was situated a small Shiva temple. The temple was surrounded by an open and big paved courtyard. There was a mango tree in one corner with a raised platform around it. Everything was almost in ruins. From the courtyard or terrace on top of the hill one could command a view of high mountains across valleys glistening with wide and shallow streams flowing over their rocky beds.
In time, the people of Dehra Dun heard from chance visitors to Raipur that a Bengali Mataji of great spiritual eminence was living in the dharmasala of the Shiva temple. A few venturesome spirits made the journey of four and a half miles through dense jungle and over shallow streams or dry river-beds to Raipur to have darsan of Sri Ma. They saw a young woman of striking appearance, not so much in her physical aspect as in her expression of radiant and serene joy. Bholanath received the visitors and made them welcome ; he introduced Bhaiji as his ‘ spiritual son ’( dharma-puta ).
Very soon Bhaiji won a place in the hearts of the new-comers, because it was he who communicated with them in English. It was always his endeavour to bring people to a greater understanding of Sri Ma. He would encourage the visitors to ask her questions and helped them to articulate the yearning for spiritual solace which was experienced by so many. He would interpret for them Sri Ma’s words. To a great extent, he was able to bridge the gap between what Sri Ma was and what people could make of her.
The devotees of Dehra Dun conferred on him the sobriquet of “ Bhaiji ” ( respected brother ). Bholanath became known as Pitaji ( father ). Bholanath and Sri Ma picked up Hindi very quickly and very soon the visitors would talk to them directly.
In the meantime, Sir Ma became conversant with Hindi and talked to the men, women and children who flocked to crowd round her. Sri Ma continued to move around. She, Bholanath and Kamalakanta walked up to Mussorie and then on to Uttarakashi.
Sri Ma always gave the highest respect to sadhus and mahatmas, that is, the various orders of ascetics. However, she did not encourage people to give up their duties In the name of religion.
“ Advice to a Sadhu ”
Once, while Sri Ma was strolling near the gates of the newly built Ashram at Kishanpur, she saw a sadhu standing near them. She spoke to him in Bengali. He answered in Bengali although he did not look like one. She invited him in and asked him to have his evening meal at the Ashram. After the meal he came and sat near Ma, she asked him :
Ma : “ Are you a sannyasi ? ”
Sadhu : “ No ”
Ma : “ Then why are you dressed like one ? ”
Sadhu : “ For all practical purposes I am ; I have renounced the world. ”
Ma : “ In order to carry on your tapasya for Self – Realization ? ”
Sadhu : “ I have not thought of it. For the present I wish to have nothing to do with the world. ”
Ma : “ Does it mean that you have left home for personal reasons and do not wish to go back ? ”
Sadhu : “ Yes ”
Ma : “ In that case you are practicing a grave deception on the public and doing no good to yourself either ! ”
Sadhu : “ I have nothing to do with anybody ; it is nobody’s business .. what I do with my life. ”
Ma : “ That is not correct. Your appearance, as an ascetic, means something to the people. It is our tradition to support a man engaged in intensive sadhana because he has no other means of support. He has given up his own will toward self-support, depending solely on the Divine Will.
“ The people choose to support him as they would any other who is selflessly engaged in some activity for the benefit of the entire society.
“ This garb is not to be adopted to solve personal problems .. or to escape from difficult situations. If you are not engaged in sadhana to the exclusion of all other concerns, you have no right to accept food and shelter from the lay public .. who seeing your robes, will give automatically without judging your bonafides. ”
The young man, who looked to be cultured and educated, kept quiet.
Sri Ma said to him that he could stay in the Ashram as long as he liked, but it would be better for him to go home and face whatever situation he had run away from. The next morning the young man was not to be seen, so probably he had chosen to follow Sri Ma’s advice.
Sri Ma continued to travel. She met hosts of new people. She visited Baijnath near Jogendranagar, Almora, Esawah, Ayodhya, Faizabad and other places too. In October 1935, on her way to and from Almora, she went to see Kamala Nehru at Bhowali where she was staying for treatment.
Sri Ma and Bholanath with their companions came to Tarapeeth in January 1936.
“ Pilgrimage to Kailash – Manas Sarovar ”
In the beginning of June 1937, Sri Ma and her party arrived in Almora to begin on the trek to the sacred Mount Kailasa. The journey, ordinarily, would not have entered the consideration of Sri Ma’s companions, but for the coincidence of her visit to Almora and Nainital earlier in the year. Many young people from the villages and townships in the Himalayas came to Almora for their studies. Some of these students had become very attached to Sri Ma and Bholanath.
One such student, a married young woman, “ Parvati ”, was specially devoted and had broached the idea of a journey to Kailasa, promising to guide them on the way since her own home was not distant from the Holy Mountain.
At that time Kailasa ( 22,000 ft. above sea level ) was still accessible from India. It is approximately 240 miles from Almora. Kailasa itself towers over the most sacred lake Manas Sarovar (Apprx. 15,000ft.) The details of this remarkable journey, made especially memorable for the devotees by the event of Bhaiji’s death at the end of it, have been preserved in Didi’s diary. A few excerpts from the Didi’s diary :
“ Ma sat on a rock and sang a few lines of an old Bengali song which begins :
‘ Let us go back ..
let us go back to our Home ! ’
“ Was she saying that Mount Kailasa was home to her ? ! These words in Ma’s voice evoked in one an indescribable joy. Even without Ma’s presence to increase the effect a thousand times, the majestic grandeur of these mountains is over-whelming. This panorama of high mountain ranges exercises such a strange attraction that I am sure every pilgrim is gripped by a feeling of home-coming . The world left behind seems shadowy and unreal. Here one knows the meaning of peace and tranquility.
“ Father and Bhaiji are not too well. The air is so thin that all of us are suffering from varying degrees of breathlessness. Tomorrow we are to cross Lipu, a climb upto 17,000 ft and a descent to 16,000 ft to Taklakote. We have heard fearful stories of this part of the journey. It is too late to think of the hazards now ; besides Ma is with us, nothing can go wrong. Inspite of many drawbacks, all of us are under the magic spell of the Himalayas. We feel an uplifting of the spirit and an inner joy quite unrelated to our physical condition.
“ Ma, like the others, had no previous experience of climbing to this height but with amazing forethought she had made me bring the exact items which we find so useful now, like camphor, lemon pickles etc. It is a constant source of surprise to me as to how she can anticipate our needs and provide for them. She herself seems her usual self, very much at home in these, to us, novel surroundings.
“ Father is suffering a little from breathlessness. Ma persuaded him to sit in her dandee, while she rode his pony.
“ We quite suddenly got a glimpse of the Manas Sarovar. The immense sheet of water was the colour of the blue sky overhead ; the two blues merging together at the horizon made us feel as if we had stepped into a world where sky and earth were one. An unforgettable experience !
“ As I sit and write I can see swans of many colours gracefully riding the rippling waves of the lake. The encircling august mountains are crested by the silver dome of the sacred mountain, truly the presiding deity of this beautiful scene. Ma has spent most of the day near the shore of the lake.
“ Today we start on the Parikrama. It is now snowing quite often, a novel experience for us. We have to climb another 2500 ft to reach Gaurikund which is 18,000 ft. By Ma’s grace and Bholanath’s unfailing encouragement we have indeed accomplished a most difficult pilgrimage.
“ I can only say that it is not all surprising that people from all over our country come to this site, for it is truly a most fulfilling experience ! ”
“ Passing away of Bhaiji ”
“ The return journey in a way was more difficult than the ascent. Bhaiji especially was very quiet and seemed not to be too well. From Taklakote the path ascended to the Pass and was negotiated with some difficulty. After crossing Lipu, they were on easier ground. Garbyang was reached on Tuesday, July 20th.
“ Bhaiji’s condition fluctuated. One day, while the attendants and visitors were sitting in a dejected group round Bhaiji’s bed they were startled by the most unexpected sound of Sri Ma’s ringing joyous laughter. It is impossible to describe Sri Ma’s attahasa ; a reverberating peal of sound which sets at naught all expressions of human predicaments. Divine laughter in the face of human tragedy ?
“Bhaiji knew he was dying. Sri Ma sat quietly by the bedside of the patient occasionally wiping his forehead with a cool cloth. Bhaiji spoke aloud a few Names of God and then just went on repeating ‘ Ma, Ma, Ma ..’ After a short period of silence he suddenly remarked, ‘ How beautiful ’ ( ki sundara ! ) Then again in a tone of great conviction he said, ‘ There is One only. There is naught except the One.’
“ A few minutes before his death he was alone with Sri Ma for a minute or so. When Didi and the others came into his room he said in a clear voice and in a very calm and composed manner, ‘ Ma has asked me to sleep now. I shall go to sleep. ’ He breathed his last soon after, at 3.30 p.m. on 17th August, 1937. ”
“ Passing away of Bholanath ”
On 13th April, 1938, the final day of the Kumbha, Bholanath accompanied by a great crowd of devotees went to Brahma-Kund for the ceremony of the bath. On the occasion of Holi in Haridwar the crowd of devotees was in a festive mood. They wanted to take photographs of Sri Ma and also of Bholanath.
At the conclusion of the Kumbha the pilgrims are always in a great hurry to leave the town, creating difficulties with travelling arrangements. Bholanath stayed back to escort all those who had come to be near Sri Ma and travelled with them to Dehra Dun by bus. He returned again to Haridwar on 24th April to attend the sanyasa ceremony of Didi’s uncle Kunja Mohan. Bholanath was feeling indisposed but did not regard it seriously. Sri Ma said to Didi, “ Bholanath is going to be very seriously ill. ” Didi, alarmed at these words, wished to persuade Bholanath not to undertake the trip, but Sri Ma said again :
“ You may try, but he will insist on going and the illness is also inevitable. ”
Bholoanath returned from Haridwar with high fever and complaining of pain in the stomach. The fever persisted. Doctors diagnosed as chicken-pox. Sri Ma said quietly to Didi :
“ It does not appear to me to be chicken-pox. You see, diseases also reveal themselves to me just like persons. The personification seen by me I have heard described by all of you as being much more fearful than chickenpox. ”
Sitting by his bedside, on the last day of his life, Sri Ma asked him : “ Are you in great pain ? ”
Bholanath answered that he was but that he could not quite locate where the pain was. His entire body was under the influence of the dreadful disease and his suffering was great. He was lying on his side, facing Sri Ma. She got up and was seen to pass her hands over his entire body from head to toe, thrice .. she was also seen to perform some kriyas with her hands. She sat in her seat once more. Bholanath seemed to relax. In answer to a question, he said, he did not feel any pain anymore and that he was quite at ease. Since the beginning of the illness this was the first time, he was at peace. Everyone heard his murmur quite clearly, ‘ananda, ananda.’ (Bliss, Bliss !)
Sometime later, he said, ‘ I am going. ’ Sri Ma responded by saying :
Why do you think so ? There are no comings and goings but just the one totality of being in which there is no scope for any separation.
Bholanath seemed to agree and said quietly :
“ Yes, so you have always said. ”
Sri Ma’s hand was on Bholanath’s head when he breathed his last on the night of 7th May, 1938. His death was so calm and peaceful that the brahmacharis who were attending on him, and a kaviraj (doctor of Indian medicine) who had come from Varanasi and was in the room, were not aware of the passing away of a great soul.
“ Sri Ma with Sadhu-Samaja ”
In the last week of April, 1943, travelling through Bareilly and Haldwani, Sri Ma came to Almora. Yogibhai (Raja Durga Singh of Solon) had financed the construction of a beautiful samadhi-mandira over Bhaiji’s grave at Patal Devi and also a small cottage nearby. It was a secluded place, nestling at the foot of high mountain ranges. Another house was taken on rent in case Sri Ma remained for some time and there was an overflow of visitors. Sometime she sat surrounded by visitors answering their questions :
Q : “ How is it that no sooner one attempts to sit in meditation than sundry thoughts begin to impinge themselves on the mind ? ”
Sri Ma said :
“ Don’t you know why one cannot concentrate ? Desires act as repellents. Just as when you enter the sea, the waves keep on throwing you back to the beach ; if you persevere and attain a deeper level then the waves cease to hinder. ”
Sri Ma paused for a while and then added :
“ It is necessary to realize that there is nothing but One alone. Desires are the return-tickets that ensure one’s comings and goings in the world of duality. If you perceive Shiva, you do not see a stone. And if you see a stone, you do not perceive Shiva. Further, just as he is known by the name ‘ Shiva ’, he, and no other is indicated by the word ‘ stone ’. Neither can be extraneous since all expressions and manifestations are His only. ”
“ Savitri-Mahayajna : 1947 to 1950 ”
A series of fortuitous circumstances so arranged themselves near Sri Ma, that there was serious talk about performing a yajna at Varanasi. One devotee promised the supply of fire-wood, another, the ghee (rarefied butter) for the purpose. The war had just ended.. conditions regarding food and other necessities were far from normal.
A temporary building came up in the middle of the courtyard of the Ashram. Nepal Chandra Chakravarty (later Narayana Swami) was chosen as the main priest for the yajna.The yagna continued for three years, finishing on 14th January, 1950.
“ Mahayajna conclusion ”
The best years for the new Ashram at Varanasi began with the concluding function ( purnahuti ) of the Akhanda Mahayajna on 14th January, 1950. Around 5,000 devotees from all corners of India flocked to Varanasi. The concourse of ordinary people mingled with the princely families from the Independent States of India. Above all, the mammoth gathering came in touch with eminent Sadhus and Mahatmas some of them from their remote retreats in the Himalayas.
This splendid function brought the family of devotees together in an unprecedented manner. The need for a central body or committee was felt keenly which resulted in the creation of the “ Sri Sri Anandamayi Sangha ” in the year 1950.
Later, a quarterly magazine called “ Ananda Varta ” came into being in 1952, in order that news about Sri Ma’s travels and other information could reach all concerned.
“ Second visit to South India ”
Sri Ma and party went on to Vijayawada and from there to Guntur. The devotion of the reception committees was heart-warming although language became a barrier for conversational exchanges.
Sri Ma and Sri Haribabaji arrived in Madras on 27th October 1952. Talyarkhan has taken it upon herself to look after this phase of Sri Ma’s journey. She had given thought to every detail of it. Sri Ma was received at the Railway Station to the sound of a band and the attendance of the elite of the town. The well-known scholar, Professor T.M.P. Mahadevan had written an article about Sri Ma and her visit which had been published in the Sunday Times, so that Madras in a way was ready for her darsan.
On 29th October they went to Kanchipuram a distance of about sixty miles. Sri Ma and her attendants had darsan of the Shiva and Vishnu Temples.
A disciple of Sri Ramana Maharshi .. Sri Rama Rao (A judge of Madras High Court) .. had invited Sri Ma to grace the monthly meeting of Raman-Bhajanas at his house. Sri Ma sat on a sofa in a flower-decked marquee which had been put up in the extensive gardens of the house. Scores of Brahmins recited Vedic verses and “ Upadesa Saram ”, a composition by the saint himself. It was a very beautiful function.
On 7th November Sri Ma arrived at Kumbhakonam. From there they came to Sri Rangam, Visiting enroute the Samadhi of the famous saint-poet Tyagaraja. The devout believe that he had the darasan of Rama, the presence being invoked by his devotional music.
They stopped again to visit the Temple at Tanjore. The massive Nandi of nearly twelve feet in height was appreciated by Didi very much. Nowhere else in India such an impressive Image is seen. The temple of Sri Rangam is the pride of South India.
“ Further travels in North India ”
Sri Ma, on leaving Almora visited many towns. She came to Ranchi where a new Ashram was established. The house being a gift from Dr.P.R. Ghosh (Priyaranjanda of the Ashram), Sri Ma travelled all the way back to Hoshiarpur at the invitation of Haribaba. Mahatma Triveni Puri more popularly known as Khanna Baba was no more, but his disciples and devotees made suitable arrangements for Sri Ma’s reception and the Birthday Celebrations of 1954.
The summer of the year 1955 was spent in Solan. Jogibhai had constructed a very spacious Ashram on a flat piece of land just below the Palace. The views over mountains and valleys were marvelous. The satsangs were well attended It was a restful interlude in Sri Ma’s busy programme.
In the year 1956, Sri Ma was sixty years old. The Birthday Celebrations were held in Varanasi. In spite of the heat of the plains, the function was fully attended by all devotees.
“ With visitors from Abroad ”
Sri Ma easily made a transition to a quiet contemplative interlude for people who did not quite feel happy with the sound and lights of exuberant pageants. The main groups for these occasional retreats consisted of Europeans who very often spent Christmas with Sri Ma in Vindhyachala, Rajgir or Bhimpura and other such remote places.
Other Europeans who came and became members of the family of devotees were Swami Vijayananda (Dr.A. Weintrob from Alsace-Lorraine), Jayananda (Jack Unger from America), Premananda (Colin Turnbul from England), Satyananda (Henti Petit from France) and many more. Sri Ma was as spontaneous with her answers to them as she was to anyone who could communicate directly with her.
At Ranchi, she was invited to visit a plan of heavy industries being set up in collaboration with a foreign country.
An engineer from Czekoslovakia said to her.
Q : “ I do not believe in re-birth. ”
Ma : “ You believe in this life don’t you ? There is only one genuine life .the one that is dedicated to the search for God ; only one genuine death .. which is the annihilation of death itself. After that there are no more births and deaths. ”
Q : “ How can I avoid saying the wrong thing at the wrong time ? ”
Ma : “ By pausing before you speak .. if you wait for a little while .. you may think better of it and never say it at all. ”
“ With national and Spiritual leaders ”
All men and women in positions of power came close to Sri Ma at one time or another. Her busy schedule with ordinary people and the Mahatmas did not prevent her from allocating time for them.
India’s first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, his daughter, Indira Gandhi and her entire family became very devoted to her. They were initially drawn to her by their memories of Kamala Nehru’s association with her.
In June, 1982, the Jagadguru Sankaracharya the Head of the Sringeri Peetham, Sri Abhinava Bharati Tirtha and his chief companion Chhote Maharaj came to Kankhal to visit Sri Ma. The entire Ashram turned out in force to accord him the welcome suited to his exalted position in the hierarchy of our sadhu-samaj.
“ Ma’s last days ”
By the Seventies, Sri Ma was fully recognized as a uniquely attractive personality of great spiritual power. People waited hours just to get a glimpse of her. They formed long queues to be able to approach her, perhaps to exchange a few words, or make a little offering of flowers.
That Sri Ma, during the years 1981-82, adopted a one-track course toward the final dissolution of ties, becomes very clear when we examine the concurrence of events as they unfolded during this time.
Sri Ma’s last positive kheyala was for the celebration of the atirudra yajna at Kankhal. This was symbolic in many ways. As with all other manifestation of sakti in Sri Ma, the beginning of this yajna also originated in a very unobtrusive manner ; some of the young women companions of Sri Ma happened to be watching the performance of a yajna being performed by one of her devotees.
The project, however, seemed to snowball drawing together resources and manpower or rather human power, to an unprecedented degree. Money came from unexpected sources ; an architect of great repute agreed to design the Hall for the yajna, in accordance with the Vedic stipulations ; skilled engineers and competent overseers appeared of their own free will, eager to be of service.
Sri Ma always gave greatest heed to the requests of Mahatmas. To the Jagadguru Sri Sankaracharya’s request for her presence at Sringeri during the Durga Puja Festival, she gently made her excuses. To his repeated pleas that she should get well, she reiterated.
“ This body has no illness, Pitaji. It is being recalled toward the Unmanifest. Whatever, you see happening now is conductive toward that event. ”
This was his second visit to Sri Ma on his way down from the pilgrimage to the Himalayan Temples.
Sri Ma stayed in Kalyanvan from 5th July to 24th July, where she seemed to withdraw behind an impenetrable wall of unapproachability. Darsan was restricted. Sri Ma had no kheyala to listen to letters or messages.
Bhaskarananda with some persistence obtained a message for the devotees who were not able to see her at all :
“ Strive to become an aspirant toward the fulfillment of the Grace of your Guru. ”
On 24th July morning around 9 o’clock Patun and Udasi obeying her kheyala of leaving Kalyanvan brought her to Kishenpur Ashram in a car. Sri Ma came to the same Ashram which had witnessed the depature of Bholanath nearly forty four years ago.
“ Sri Ma’s final message ”
Sri Ma had stopped taking food for about three months. The attending girls could give her a few drops of water at infrequent intervals . The atmosphere of despair reigned supreme.
The Desperate question in every heart was “ Why should beloved Mother suffer at all and why could they ( doctors ) not do anything to recall her to her usual way of being in the world with them ? ”
Sri Ma perhaps responded to this cry from so many anguished hearts ; she spoke once, clearly, apparently to the girls surrounding her bedside ;
“ Wherever you are, immerse yourself totally in one-pointed sadhana. ”
This vani, being her last, radiates out to embrace all those who derive (and will derive) their courage and sustenance from her to proceed on the path shown by her to be the most worthwhile goal for all human beings.
“ Towards the Dissolution ”
Sri Ma was heard to pronounce mantras very softly from time to time. On the night of the 25th August, 1982 she pronounced the sacred panchakshara-mantra in its reversed from “ Shivaya namah ”. In the Shaiva tradition, it is exegeted to mean .. an indication toward the dissolution of all worldly ties.
The yogin is ready to dissolve the last worldly tie of the body. The Reality of Sri Ma’s presence came to an end on 27th August, 1982 around 8 p.m. in the evening.