- Anandamayi Ma
- (1896–1982)mystic and avatar of ShaktiBorn Nirmala Sundari Bhattacharya in Vadyakuta, East Bengal (now Bangladesh), on April 30, 1896, Anandamayi Ma was a mystic considered by her disciples as an AVATA R of SHAKTI, the manifest energy of the divine, and as God in the form of the goddess KALI.Her father, Bipin Behari Bhattacharya, was head of a poor Brahmin family and was often in religious ecstasy as he sang songs from the Vaish-navite tradition. Her mother, Moksada Sundari Devi, also experienced states of religious emotion and reported visits by avatars and deities who appeared surrounded by light. Moksada eventu-ally took vows of renunciation.As a child, Nirmala also behaved as an ecstatic. She fell into trances, saw visions of religious fig-ures, and gazed into space with eyes not focused on physical objects. Her education was limited and her writing skills minimal.Married at age 13 to Ramani Mohan Chakra-varti, she spent a few years living in her brother-in-law’s house, often in a trance. At age 18, when her brother-in-law died, she went to live with her husband; there she met a young man who was impressed by her quiet way of being. He called her Ma (mother in Bengali) and said that one day the entire world would address her with that name.Her marriage remained celibate because Nir-mala’s body would grow stiff and faint when her husband approached the topic of sexuality. She would regain normal consciousness only after he repeated MANTRAS. He eventually accepted her as his GURU and took initiation from her.Throughout her life, Nirmala exhibited bodily states of trance, physical stiffness, and fainting. She could hold difficult yogic positions (ASANAS) for long periods and form complex hand positions (MUDRAS) and gestures. After examination by exor-cists and physicians, she was diagnosed as having a kind of god intoxication, a divine madness. Her status as a holy woman was based entirely on her spontaneous ecstatic states, as she did not receive formal religious training or initiation from a guru. Instead, she heard voices that told her which spiritual practices to perform and which images to visualize. She would variously shed profuse tears, laugh for hours, talk at great speed, roll in the dust, dance for long periods, and fast for days.At age 26 Nirmala began a stage of spiritual discipline (SADHANA) without a guru. She per-formed her own initiation (DIKSHA), spontaneously visualizing the ritual and initiatory sacred words, after which she entered three years of complete silence. In 1925, Sri Jyotish Chandra Roy named her Anandamayi Ma.Although her parents worshipped KRISHNA, Anandamayi is not properly placed in a specific Hindu sect; rather, her influence was felt in many religious traditions of India. She traveled widely, staying at abandoned temples and other inhospi-table sites, with little care for her physical body. She taught detachment from the world, religious devotion, and service to others. She was known for her SIDDHIS, or yogic powers, particularly telepathy, healing, and a variety of psychic states. Her chaotic states of consciousness, she believed, derived from spontaneous eruptions of the divine will that arise out of the state of nothingness or the void (mahasunya). She explained that her emotional states were the play of the Lord acting through her body, and that she as an individual person did not exist. She died on August 27, 1982. The Sri Sri Anandamayi Sangha of Varanasi coordinates many ASHRAMS built for her by her disciples throughout India.Further reading: Gopinath Kaviraj, ed., Mother as Seen by Her Devotees (Varanasi: Shri Shri Anandamayee Sangha, 1967); ———, Shri Shri Ma Anandamayi (Cal-cutta: Basyant Prakasani, 1982); Lisa Lassell Hallstrom, Anandamayi Ma (1896–1982), a renowned 20th- century mystic of Bengal and North India (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999); Richard Lannoy, Anandamayi: Her Life and Wisdom (Rockport, Mass.: Element, 1996); Alexander Lipski, Life and Teachings of Shri Anandamayi Ma (Delhi: Moti-lal Banarsidass, 1977).
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.