ANANDMAYI MA (1896–1982)
Anandamayi Ma was a mystic and cult leader close to many important people of the 1960s and 1970s. Originally from Bangladesh, she made her home in the Dehra Dun hills and received many celebrated devotees, including Kamala Nehru and Indira Gandhi (q.v.).
She was born Nirmalasundari Devi on 30 April 1896, in the village of Kheora, now in Bangladesh. Her parents, Bipin Bihari Bhattacharya and Mokshada Devi, were not well off, but content and respected in society. Nirmala’s education was elementary, yet she did well in school; she explained that she always had a premonition as to what questions would be asked and could prepare for them. Her religious education was similarly perfunctory; all she knew was that the lord of the universe was very big, that he had to be worshipped to secure his mercy and His name was Hari. In later days she characterised her spiritual inspiration as ‘kheyal’ or the spontaneous upsurge of Divine Will. At first she showed little sign of her spiritual power, appearing to be of below average intelligence.
In 1909 at the age of 12 she was married to Ramani Mohan Chakravarty who came to be known as Bholanath. It was Bholanath who proclaimed her to be his guru when she was only 18. He opened his doors so that people could come and be blessed by her. Anandamayi Ma’s following began to grow when Bholanath was transferred to Bijatpur.
She experienced trances in which one or more of her limbs would be twisted by paralysis; her temperature would fluctuate and she would lie like one dead for long intervals. As the changes progressed mantras and shlokas would well up in her mind, though she knew no Sanskrit. She was open-minded about other religions. The best known of her devotees was Jyotish Ray, later known as Bhaiji. He gave her the name Anandamayi, meaning ‘filled with joy’.
In 1924 Bholanath was appointed trustee for the Shahbag Gardens and other properties of Nawabzadi Pyari Banu in Dhaka, and they lived in that city for two years. Anandamayi Ma’s following grew and stories of her miracles spread. She took to visiting the Siddheshwari temple in Dhaka, and her followers built an ashram for her there. Another was built later at Ramna where she performed a Kali puja and installed an image of the goddess; this was razed during the Bangladesh war. In 1927 Anandamayi began her wanderings across North India, though she returned often to Dhaka. This spread news of her in the north, and in 1932 she finally settled in Raipur near Dehra Dun, making her home in a dilapidated Shiva temple. Soon the ashram was flourishing thanks to the efforts of her devotee Hari Ramji, who also helped set up the Almora Vidyapeeth for boys. Shortly afterwards the Sri Anandamayi Kanyapeeth for girls was set up in Varanasi, and affiliated to the Sampoornanand Sanskrit University. Many important people sought her blessings, Kamala Nehru was a regular visitor.
In her own words, “My consciousness has never associated it self with this temporary body. Before I came to this world ‘I was the Same…… Even afterwards though the dance of creation change around me, in the hall of eternity ‘I shall be the Same.”