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|Sri Anandamayi Maa|
Studio photo of Anandamayi Maa
30 April 1896
Kheora, Brahmanbaria, Bengal, British India
|Died||27 August 1982
Kishanpur, Dehradun, Uttar Pradesh, India
|Quotation||"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 which causes all sorrow and grief. Find the One everywhere and in everything and there will be an end to pain and suffering."|
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Anandamayi Ma (Bengali: শ্রী আনন্দময়ী মা) (30 April 1896 – 27 August 1982), from Bengal, was regarded as an Indian saint. Sivananda Saraswati of the Divine Life Society described her as "the most perfect flower the Indian soil has produced." Precognition, faith healing and other miracles were attributed to her by her followers. Paramhansa Yogananda translates Anandamayi as "joy-permeated". This name was given to her by her devotees in the 1920s to describe what they saw as her habitual state of divine joy and bliss.
Anandamayi was born Nirmala Sundari (নির্মলা সুন্দরী; Nirmôla Shundori, English: "Immaculate, Beautiful") on 30 April 1896 to Bipinbihari Bhattacharya and Mokshada Sundari Devi in Kheora, Brahmanbaria District, British India, in what is now Bangladesh. Her father, originally from Vidyakut in Tripura, was a Vaishnavite singer known for his devotion. They lived in poverty. Nirmala attended the village school for approximately two years. Although her teachers were pleased with her ability, her family thought she was dullminded because of her indifference and constantly happy demeanor. When her mother once fell seriously ill, relatives remarked with puzzlement about the child remaining apparently unaffected.
In 1908 at the age of thirteen, in keeping with the rural custom at the time, she was married to Ramani Mohan Chakrabarti of Vikramapura, whom she would later rename Bholanath. She spent five years after her marriage at her brother-in-law's home, where she was in a withdrawn meditative state much of the time. It was here that a devout neighbor considered insane, Harakumar, developed a habit of addressing her as "Maa", and prostrated before her morning and evening in reverence. When Nirmala was about seventeen, she went to live with her husband in Ashtagram. In 1918, she moved to Bajitpur, where she stayed until 1924. It was a celibate marriage—whenever thoughts of sexuality occurred to Ramani, Nirmala's body would take on the qualities of death. 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. She later stated, "As the master (guru) I revealed the mantra; as the disciple (shishya) I accepted it and started to recite it."
Nirmala moved to Shahbag with her husband in 1924, where he had been appointed caretaker of the gardens of the Nawab of Dhaka. During this period Nirmala went into ecstasies at kirtans in a manner similar to that of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Nirmala continued to perform household tasks, and also continued to practice silence, and was in a withdrawn state of ecstasy much of the time. These states began to interfere with her daily work. In 1926, she set up a Kali temple in the Siddheshwari area and devoted herself to spiritual practices. Nirmala underwent a mystic experience while praying in the temple one day. In a deep meditative state, she held difficult yogic positions for long periods and spontaneously formed complex tantric hand positions and gestures.
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. Jyotiscandra Ray, known as "Bhaiji," was an early and close disciple. He was the first to suggest that Nirmala be called Anandamayi Maa, meaning "Joy Permeated Mother", or "Bliss Permeated Mother". He was chiefly responsible for the first ashram built for Anandamayi Maa in 1929 at Ramna, within the precinct of the Ramna Kali Mandir.
Scholars were attracted to Anandamayi Maa's spirituality and teaching, though she called herself "a little unlettered child". Mahamahopadhyay Gopinath Kaviraj, Sanskrit scholar, philosopher, and principal of Sanskrit College in Kolkata and Triguna Sen were among her early followers. Uday Shankar, the famous dance artist, was impressed by Anandamayi Maa's analysis of dance, which she used as a metaphor for the relationship between people and God.
Ma went into mahasamadhi ( a Self / God realized being's conscious entry into bodily death) on 27 August 1982 in Dehradun, and subsequently on 29 August 1982 was interred in the courtyard of her Kankhal ashram, situated in Haridwar in North India, a shrine was later erected over the samadhi, now known as the "Ananda Jyoti Peetham".
|“||As you love your own body, so regard everyone as equal to your own body. When the Supreme Experience supervenes, everyone's service is revealed as one's own service. Call it a bird, an insect, an animal or a man, call it by any name you please, one serves one's own Self in every one of them.||”|
|— Anandamayi Maa, Ananda Varta Quarterly|
Anandamayi never prepared discourses, wrote down, or revised what she had said. People had difficulty transcribing her often informal talks because of their conversational speed, further the Bengali manner of alliterative wordplay was often lost in translation. A devotee, Brahmachari Kamal Bhattacharjee, however made attempts to transcribe her speech before audio recording equipment became widely available in India.
A central theme of her teaching is "the supreme calling of every human being is to aspire to self realization. All other obligations are secondary" and "only actions that kindle man's divine nature are worthy of the name of actions". However she did not ask everyone to become a renunciate. "Everyone is right from his own standpoint," she would say. She did not give formal initiations and refused to be called a guru, as she maintained that "all paths are my paths" and kept saying "I have no particular path".
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She did not advocate the same method for all. "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 inborn nature." As she herself has said (ref. Mother Reveals Herself), all forms of sadhana, known and unknown just occurred to her in the form of a lila ( play) without any conscious effort on her part. Thus her Sadhana can not be slotted into a specific area, for to do so would mean that she was somehow limited to that area and her mastery was also limited. This was the case as many illustrious spiritual masters and thought leaders from various school of thought be it Shaivaite, Tantric, Vaishnav, or from Islam, Christianity, Zoroastrianism had found in their interactions with her. Everyone was welcome and she was equally at ease while giving advises to all practitioners of different faiths. Even now, the Muslim population of Kheora still refer to her as "our own Ma". 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 the sacred thread ritual, which had been performed by men only for centuries, to women. Her style of teaching included jokes, songs and instructions on everyday life along with long discourses, meditation and reading of scriptures.
"Father, there is little to tell." She spread her graceful hands in a deprecatory gesture. "My consciousness has never associated itself 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 to have this body married, 'I was the same... And, Father, in front of you now, I am the same. Ever afterward, though the dance of creation change around me in the hall of eternity, I shall be the same."
The Publication Department of the Shree Shree Anandamayee Charitable Society in Kolkata regularly publishes her teaching in the periodical Anandavarta Quarterly. The Sri Sri Anandamayi Sangha in Haridwar organizes the annual Samyam Mahavrata congregation to devote a week to collective meditation, religious discourse and devotional music.
Question of sadhana
This section reads more like a story than an encyclopedia entry.(March 2012)
At the age of fifteen, whilst sitting by a lake in Bajitpur, Nirmala had the inspiration to inquire as to what it would be like to be a religious aspirant (sadhaka). She then began what she would later describe as a 'game' (Hindi "khel") of investigating the path of the sadhaka. When Nirmala sit for worship, she would witness her body perform yogic asanas and mudras hit her unknown to her and Romani. She described these forms as arising automatically as in the manner of factory machinery when talking to devotees in later years. To the puzzlement of those around her, whilst in Shahbagh she became unable to feed herself. She would find that she could not bring her hand to carry food to her mouth. Consequently, Bholenath or female renunciates used to feed her in the manner of an infant child. Unable to comprehend the meaning and origin of Nirmala's religious practices at the time, Romani consulted priests, exorcists and medical doctors about Nirmala's condition, until a medical doctor reassured him that she was not insane.
After her marriage to Romani, Nirmala would also fall into ecstacies or trances at public kirtans, in a manner reminiscent of the Vaishnava spiritual personality Chaitanya. This led locals to accuse her of hysteria. Nirmala told Yogananda that when Romani once made physical advances to her, he received an intense electric shock. From then on they lived as wandering ascetics rather than householders.
Identity and state
According to what she later related to devotees: after completing her domestic chores and cooking, Nirmala would withdraw into her religious practices, where she felt there was a distinct inner guide instructing her in which religious actions to perform. When she would pose a question about the religious actions, instantly an answer would appear. She once questioned her guide on who it was, on which the instant response came "Your Shakti" (your power). The voice then prohibited her from paying obeisance to anyone in the customary or religious Hindu manner (by bowing or touching an elders feet). This would cause offense to her orthodox father when he visited her (seeming as a snub); however as she was observing strict silence (mauna), she was unable to explain the significance to him at the time. Nirmala was also until then in the habit of bowing to the forms that surrounded her as manifestations of God. When she questioned the rule against her paying such obeisance, the voice responded "to whom do you want to make obesaince? you yourself are everything". At that point, she came to realize her identity with the physical universe.
Anandamayi often described her presence as that of an infant child ("chhotee bachee"), and referred to her body as "yeh shorir" (this body). She described her state as immutable. She once explained to Amulya Gupta, a devotee and chronicalist, that her enlightened state preceded and was present at her "birth" (or in her description what the worldly viewpoint perceived as her birth). She differentiated this from the philosophical doctrine that describes one as always enlightened only one does not realize it until one's self-realization.
In "Mother as Revealed to Me", Jyotish Chandra Roy noted that when asked who she was she would respond something akin to "whatever is said, that". Roy also noted her utterances in what became known in English translation as "Mother Reveals Herself", in which she stated she was able to see the future with the ease in which people look in a mirror and could also recall the exact events at her birth from memory.
Other devotees noted that when asked who she was, she responded that because she had no Aham-Buddhi (literal existence-experience of 'I-am') she could not say who or what she was, therefore was whatever the questioner thought she was.
She denied having any personal mission or motives, stating she travelled about on kheyal or where ever devotees invited her. When people would ask her questions, she either explained that the answer would come according to kheyal (sudden inclination or inspiration) if at all, or else compared her body to a musical instrument such as a drum or bell, stating "as you play the instrument so shall you hear". When people argued with what she said or asked questions with an ulterior motive, she would remain silent.
However, she also explained to devotees that all her actions, insights and revelations had been for "you all".
The thoughts of the Maa
This section reads like an editorial or opinion piece. (March 2012)
Her public utterances seem to teach a kind of absolute theism, i.e. that only God exists, that all names and forms are His names and forms. "Vah he hai." ("He/That only is"). That He is identical with the Supreme Essence of everything (Atma). She often said "Hari katha he katha, aur sab vritha vyatha" ("exposition of God is the only exposition, everything else is futility and pain"). Anandamayi stated that God was self revealed, and that religious practices were only a means to remove the veil of ignorance that concealed him from the devotee.
She explained that the way to realize God was to become restless for Him (His Revelation). She accepted traditional modes of worship as well as philosophical enquiry. She encouraged people to follow their Gurus/religions instructions, or else to take whichever name of God was most appealing to their hearts and mind and to call out to Him with it constantly and unceasingly. She once advised a young woman who said she was an atheist to sit down in a calm state and meditate on her breath.
She advised a firm adherence to truth, saying that by doing so everything could be obtained on the spiritual path. She also advised those that chose a path or life of service that they should do so with the idea that it was God they were serving, or else they could fall prey to egotism.
She taught that "the supreme calling of every human being is to aspire to self realization. All other obligations are secondary" and "only actions that kindle man's divine nature are worthy of the name of actions". She often said "Apne ko paana Bhagavaan ko paana, Bhagavaan ko paana Apne ko paane"- "to find yourself is to find God, and to find God is to find yourself".
Anandamayi maa always showed an outward reverence for ascetics, renunciants and devotees who had renounced the wordly life and devoted their lives to God. Sri Sri Sitaramdas Omkarnathdev was a well known saint of West Bengal who had great reverence for Anandamayi Ma and would ask his disciples to go for Ma’s darshan whenever they have the chance to do so. A letter from Sitaram to Sri Ma dated 6 October 1981 "Oh! Kind Mother, Beloved Mother, assuming all forms Thou art playing with Thyself. Before creation Thou alone existed. The desire arose in Thee. Let me be born, let me multiply. It is Thou who became Mahat, Ahamkara, Pancatanmatra and Pancabhuta. It is Thou who became the thousands of millions of Universes (Brahmanda). Hundreds of millions of Salutations to Thee and Thy Lila (divine play). I bow down today to Thy triumphant cosmic play." 
Once when asked how someone would know whether to choose the renunciate life, she responded "would one deliberate on whether to flee a massacre?". On another occasion when a widower approached her in his grief she laughed and told him that there was one less obstacle between him and God.
She did not however ask everyone to become a renunciate, and instructed householders that they could draw close to God whilst maintaining a family life by seeing God's presence in their family members and serving Him in that manner, and by maintaining the attitude of a 'manager' rather than 'master/owner' (i.e. the latter being God's role), then by devoting free time to worship and meditation. She often requested all householders set aside a fixed daily time reserved exclusively for divine contemplation, even if for only five or fifteen minutes to start.
Meeting with Vishuddhananda Paramahansa
Anandamoyi Ma met Vishuddhananda Paramahansa sometime in December 1935 at Varanasi. She is said to have accounted her brief meeting with the yogi to one of his bhaktas:
Ma said, "When this time I was coming via Varanasi, I met Babaji, but not for long. Maybe half an hour or an hour at the most. Gopi baba (Gopinath Kaviraj) took us there. Going there, I sat by Babaji. He had already arranged a seat for me. You know the way I speak. I pressed Babaji with child-like importunity, 'Baba, they say you have shown magical feats to many. Do show me a few, will you?'
Babaji said, 'You are sitting quietly. Have you discovered any secret?'
I at once posed as a little girl and said, 'Baba, I am your daughter. What do I know? Shall learn what you would please to teach. Teach me all your secrets?'
Babaji then called Jyotish to him and showed him a crystal which he had made out of the petals of a flower. He also produced a number of scents. When Babaji was demonstrating these things I clapped and said, 'Baba, I can make out what you are doing. But I shall not divulge it. Then all would say to me, Ma, do tell us the secrets of Babaji. If I do so, Baba would strike me on the head with a cudgel.'
Babaji said, 'Beti (little girl), what is there that I can show you? You know it all. I am demonstrating only to others.' Next he brought some sweets and offered us to eat. He fed me and I also did the same with him. Babaji said, 'Beti, remember me. Never forget me. And whenever you come here make sure to meet me.'
Before Ma left she said to Gopi Baba (Gopinath Kaviraj), 'You see, Babaji is deluding you all with these demonstrations. You should not allow him to delude you. Try to elicit from him the other things that he has within him.' 
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- In Hindu diksha, when the mind of the guru and the disciple become one, then we say that the disciple has been initiated by the guru.
- (Hallstrom 1999, p. 39)
- (Hallstrom 1999, p. 42)
- (Hallstrom 1999, pp. 42–43)
- Lipski, p. 66.
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- Life History: Chronology of Mothers life Anandamayi Ma Ashram Official website. "Prime Minister Smt. Indira Gandhi arrives at noon, Maa's divine body given Maha Samadhi at about 1.30 pm near the previous site of an ancient Pipal tree, under which she used to sit on many occasions and give darshan.".
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