Sri Anandamayi Ma : The Enigmatic Mystic of India
Sri Anandamayi Ma as a Girl
The Early Life of Sri Ma
The Divine Life Society described Sri Anandamayi Ma as “the most perfect flower the Indian soil has ever produced.” Born in a small village in Bengal on April 30, 1896, her parents named her Nirmala Sundari Devi, which means ‘immaculate beauty’. She came to be recognized as a powerful expression of the Divine and throughout India was regarded with great affection and reverence by people of all faiths. In the 1920s, her devotees began to refer to her as Anandamayi Ma, meaning ‘Joy Permeated Mother’, a name that acknowledged the bliss and unattached love that was her natural and constant state. Over the course of her life she attracted many thousands of devotees; among them Mahatma Gandhi, and Kamala Nehru.
As a child, Sri Ma’s parents observed their daughter experiencing states of apparent ecstasy, especially on hearing devotional songs sung by her Brahman father. In her village she was known to be a cheerful child who never complained about the work assigned to her and was always willing to help others in any way she could. Nirmala attended the local village school for just two years.
In keeping with tradition, Nirmala’s marriage was arranged when she was just 13. She went to live in her brother-in-laws home where life was more disciplined and a good deal of domestic work was expected of her. Despite this, she remained good-humored and never complained. In fact, her uninterrupted state of serenity and often withdrawn meditative states gave her new family cause to wonder if she may be a bit simple minded. It was some time before those around her began to appreciate that her lack of self-concern and limitless compassion for others was an outward expression of her spiritual maturity and not a mental defect. A devout neighbor named Harakumar, in recognizing this divine quality, made a habit of visiting her morning and night to pay his respect. He began to address her as Ma, or mother.
Sri Anandamayi Ma - The Indian Saint
Celibacy and Spiritual Practice
When Nirmala was 18 she went to live with her husband in Ashtagram. Her husband, who she came later to call Bholanath, soon realized that their marriage was to be a celibate one. Whenever he began to feel amorous towards his wife, Sri Ma would grow faint and her beautiful face assumed a deathly pallor. Accounts from friends and neighbors indicate that Bholanath accepted this situation without bitterness and came to consider his role as one of guardian of a remarkable treasure rather than husband in the traditional sense.
In August, 1922, at midnight during a full moon, Nirmala, at age 26, began spiritual practice in full earnestness. Without guru, she initiated herself, following her own inner guru, or sadguru. Bholanath witnessed Nirmala become absorbed in a world of inner joy, assume yogic postures, repeat mantras and move rhythmically in a vibrant dance that seemed directed by an other-worldly power. Onlookers noted a distinct radiance that emanated from her body. It was suggested by Bholanath’s family that he remarry, but instead he asked for initiation. A friend of Bholanath’s demanded evidence that she was qualified to provide spiritual initiation at which point she touched Bholanath on the head. In his words, at the touch of her finger, he experienced a state of ineffable, divine bliss that lasted for several hours.
For nearly six years Nirmala continued her sadhana or spiritual practices, her Divine presence growing stronger all the while. In later years when questioned by scholars, seekers of the truth and those curious to know how she had attained so much knowledge of the spiritual practices of every faith, Nirmala indicated that all was revealed to her as part of herself. She said that she had not yet revealed one thousandth part of what was shown to her during those years of intense spiritual practice. After this period of sadhana, Nirmala remained completely silent for three years, marking the fulfillment of spiritual knowledge.
Sri Ma at Shahbagh Gardens
Sri Ma Attracts Devotees
In 1924, Nirmala moved with her husband to Dhaka where he worked as manager of the Shahbagh Gardens. It was soon observed that the young wife of the manager of the gardens was gifted with spiritual powers and had the countenance of one who has merged with the Divine. It was here that she first attracted life-long devotees. Soon crowds began to swell around her and a close disciple, Bhaiji, conferred the title Anandamayi Ma upon her. Bhaiji was responsible for the first ashram built in her name at Ramna in 1929. Twenty-four more ashrams were to follow.
Sri Ma, as she was affectionately called by her devotees, moved to Dehradun in 1932, accompanied by her husband. From this point until her death, aged 86, she traveled extensively throughout India, rarely staying in the same place longer than two weeks, despite the efforts of devotees to keep her there by constructing ashrams and making their heartfelt appeals. What is remarkable about Sri Ma is the adoration felt for her by people of every religious faith. She was as at home in a Hindu temple as a Muslim mosque or a Christian church. One Christian devotee is noted to have said upon meeting her, “Now we have a face to put on God”.
A visiting Irish journalist asked her, “Am I right to believe that you are God?” to which Sri Ma replied, “There is nothing save He alone; everyone and everything is a form of God. In your person also He has come here to give darshana (to merge consciousness with a holy person).” His curiosity peaked, the journalist asked, “Why are you in this world?” Sri Ma responded, “I am not anywhere. I am reposing in myself. What I was before, I am now, and shall be hereafter. I am also whatever you or anybody may think I am; why don’t you look at it this way – the yearnings of truth seekers have brought about this body. All of you have wanted it and so you have found it. That is all you need to know.”
A devotee of many years named Richard Lannoy spoke of Sri Ma, “Yet there is a strangeness, a particularity, an indefinable quality which comes so near the limits of the definably human as to make an adjective like ‘human’ quite inadequate when applied to Her case, and Divine paltry. She was unique and remained throughout her life, the acme of effortless perfection.”
Paramahansa Yogananda Meets Sri Ma
Paramahansa Yogananda Meets Sri Ma
In Autobiography of a Yogi, the Indian spiritual master, Paramahansa Yogananda recounts his meeting with Sri Ma in the chapter titled, ‘The Bengali “Joy Permeated Mother”’. When asked by Yogananda about her life she at first replied, “Father knows all about it; why repeat it?” When Yogananda gently asked again, she explained, “Father there is little to tell. My consciousness has never associated with this temporary body. Before I came on this earth, Father I was the same. As a little girl, I was the same. I grew into womanhood, but still I was the same. When the family in which I had been born made arrangements for this body to be married, I was the same. And when passion-drunk, my husband came to me and murmured endearing words, lightly touching my body, he received a violent electric shock, as if struck by lightening, for even then I was the same. ….And Father, in front of you now, I am the same. Ever afterward, though the dance of creation changes around me in the hall of eternity, I shall be the same.”
Sri Ma with Indira Gandhi and J. Nehru
Books About Sri Anandamayi Ma
Sri Ma's Teaching
Sri Ma’s teachings were simple and took on a musicality as she spoke spontaneously of the spiritual quest and answered the questions of seekers thirsty for liberation. Her guidance manifested in an endless variety of forms and she subscribed to no particular path of spirituality, regarding all as valid. “How can one impose limitations on the infinite by declaring this is the only path – and why should there be so many different religions and sects? Because through every one of them He gives Himself to Himself, so that each person may advance according to his own inborn nature.”
Sri Ma advocated spiritual equality for women in a world where at the time women throughout all religions were regarded as lesser. Her teachings counseled on a life of doing good and refraining from doing bad. She provided instruction on meditation, made jokes, sang songs of devotion and read from sacred scriptures. The following quote is said to capture much of Sri Ma’s message, “Who is it that loves and who that suffers? He alone stages a play with Himself. Who exists, save him? The individual suffers because he perceives duality. It is duality that causes all sorrow and grief. Find the One everywhere and in everything and there will be an end to pain and suffering. The Supreme calling of every human being is to aspire to self-realization. All other obligations are secondary.”
When her husband died in 1938 with Sri Ma at his side, devotees were struck by the totality of Sri Ma’s acceptance – there was a complete absence of grief and her great serenity remained unbroken. Seeing their shock, Sri Ma remarked, “Do you start to wail and cry if a person goes into another room in the house? This death is inevitably connected with this life. In the sphere of Immortality, where is the question of death and loss? Nobody is lost to me”.
Throughout her life Sri Ma met with many mahatmas, political dignitaries, and ascetics - all were touched by the compassion she radiated as well as her ability to effortlessly converse on any aspect of spirituality. In 1982 Sri Ma began to withdraw from her busy schedule of meeting with devotees and her health began to deteriorate. Devotees beseeched her to make herself well again but she replied, “This body has no illness. It is being recalled toward the Unmanifest. Whatever you see happening now is conducive toward that event. As the Atma, I shall ever abide with you.” She left her body at around 8 P.M on August 27, 1982 and her funeral procession was given the highest honor with all the Mahatmas coming together to assume charge of Sri Ma’s physical remains.
"I find one vast garden spread out all over the universe.
All plants, all human beings, all higher mind bodies
are about in this garden in various ways ,
each has his own uniqueness and beauty.
Their presence and variety give me great delight.
Every one of you adds with his special feature to the glory of the garden."
Sri Anandamayi Ma
Sri Anandamayi Ma
Ramasamy chidambaram on August 11, 2020:
Ma is one of the great woman Saint s. I came to know about this amma when I read the Autobiography of a yogi. Shortly after that I started to read more about her. She is god herself incarnated. I love to read more.chidambaram, a seeker of Truth.
S P Austen from Qualicum Beach, BC, Canada on August 24, 2018:
I have recently read about this female guru in Paramahansa's "Autobiography of a Yogi." A fascinating book all round. Thanks for posting this one, Shimla. Best wishes, Steve.
Frenchy on January 12, 2015:
Your's is the intgllieent approach to this issue.
Durga Ma on September 27, 2014:
Anandamayi Ma's pictures are all around my house. Divine Mother is beautifully honored in this site. Keeping her memory alive is very important. We should never forget her.
Niraj on September 24, 2014:
Happy to see we are both on the same space.
I have built an iPhone/iPad app about Adi Shankara and would love to hear your thoughts on it. Check it out: http://bit.ly/1s16YES
Keep up the great blog! :)
ocoy from Cedar Crest, New Mexico on September 30, 2012:
Those who saw her in person were impressed by her unique and supernatural character. While in her later years she hid some of her glories, she could never be mistaken for an ordinary, or even a run-of-the-mill exceptional person. As St. John wrote of Jesus, books could not contain the fullness of her story. Thanks for posting this article.
Daniel Peebles on June 05, 2012:
What a beautiful, wonderful, inspiring, well-written hub about the life of a beautiful saint. One deep look into Her eyes -- and we can all get lost in the inner paradise of love!
Scott M (author) on August 12, 2011:
Many thanks DurgaMa - I don't know of any other being who has graced our planet who didn't require a teacher to transition from ego self to liberated Self. Sri Ramamana Maharshi transitioned at 16 I believe. Namaste
Durga Ma from Phoenix on August 11, 2011:
Thank you for this video. I am an ardent devotee of Anandamayi Ma. I will be sending the URL of this video to my students. Bless you. Jai Jai Ma!
Denise Handlon from North Carolina on May 19, 2011:
Shimla-thanks for reading the 'journey'. I agree. It is an amazing thing to be aware of 'all possibilities' that are available to each of us as manifested beings. I love the photo of Ramana with his piercing eyes filled with Truth and Holy Consciousness. Nice meeting you.
Scott M (author) on May 19, 2011:
Thanks Denise, I read and enjoyed your hub very much, as I did learning of your spiritual dream. We have a picture of Anandamayi Ma in our bedroom with a quote about kindling one's divine nature - she is truly beautiful and it seems that she was born without subject-object duality which is the only case I have heard of - Ramana Maharshi was 16 I think when he lost his ego forever, which is very young- but I guess that's not so relevant for some given their level of consciousness when they entered the world again. I feel lucky to live in a world where the truth has been fully manifest in humans from us to learn from. Namaste.
Denise Handlon from North Carolina on May 19, 2011:
I was led to you via a comment you left on 'Jo's' hub: Three steps to No Fear. I myself could have written those words. (see my hub: My spiritual Journey, 4 teachers I have met).
This is a well written and informative hub. I have only known about Sri Anandamayi Ma through a photograph that belongs to a friend of mine. She is a beautiful soul and this hub reminds me of a dream I once had of entering a room in India that was filled with men. It was the room of prayer and meditation. My heart had a yearning to enter and be part of this great meditation room, but the men were behaving as if a woman should not join them. I went in despite my fears and concerns. It brought me great peace and, as I realized that is where I belonged, the men were accepting of this. I remember walking through the room and seeing beautiful ornate statues of elephants of all different sizes. ( I now have one on a shelf in my home). As I came up to the Master in the front of the room I could feel the power of this Mystic transmitted to me. I was filled with great peace.
The photos in this hub remind me of that peace and the fact that we are all deserving of this beauty, love and Divine Presence.
Thanks for sharing-voted 'up' and awesome.
Scott M (author) on February 26, 2011:
Thank you so much for your comment C.V - a divine gift indeed. I am glad to have shared my interest and love of Sri Ma
Disillusioned from Kerala, India on February 26, 2011:
Thank you for sharing the wonderful life history of Shri Ma. She is another divine gift to the world from Bengal that gave Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Sarada Devi. There is so much of similarity between the lives of Sri Ramakrishna and Sri Ma! It is no wonder that the experiences and core teachings of realized souls are so alike!
I am glad and lucky to stumble upon this to read this, before retiring to bed today.
Scott M (author) on September 14, 2010:
Glad to hear that you enjoyed it- Autobiography of a Yogi is a great read. I also enjoy Nisargadatta's 'I Am That' - its a really trip into another dimension. Thanks for your comment.
datahound from USA on September 14, 2010:
Fascinating hub. I remember reading about her in Autobiography of a Yogi. You have inspired me to both reread that and search for her works.
Scott M (author) on August 27, 2010:
I feel the same - inspirational - it is not often that the world is graced with a being who enters the world without a trace of karma nor with some unresolved aspect to their consciousness. Peace
SpiritualNetwork on August 02, 2010:
Anandamyi Ma is no doubt a great inspiration. Particularly for all women spiritual practitioners, who may feel more empathy with her, than with the "tiger" Nisargadatta Maharaj.