It believed that in extremely rare occasions the lord of the universe Shiva chooses to assume physical features and when the time does come, it is for a cause to serve humanity for its welfare and education. Ma Anandamayee’s followers believe that she was part of that cycle, who descended to the earth with a divine illumination and made a difference to the lives of all she came in touch with.
Nirmala Sundari, the given name of Ma Anandamayee, was born in a small non-decrepit village called Kheora in East Bengal (the region which is now in Bangladesh) on April 30, 1896. Her mother was Mokhshada Sundari, who later on came to be known as Didima (Bengali for grandma), and father was Bipin Behari Bhattacharya. Soon after her birth, her father became an ascetic.
The young Ma Anandamayee kept on giving glimpses of her divinity throughout her childhood. When she was sent to school, she managed to learn the Bengali consonants and vowels in one day, which earned her praise from her teacher and a promotion. Throughout her schooling, which was rather sketchy, she was one of the best pupils having no real trouble learning her lessons.
Since her parents belonged to the priestly community of Bengal, meditation and religious rituals formed the fabric of her family’s existence. At such religious discourses or congregations Anandamayee Ma would enter a trance like state and would remain so for quite a few hours. Religious chanting would often take her into an ecstatic state.
As a child she often told her family members that she could actually see religious figures, gods and goddesses emerging from religious objects like statues and idols. And more often than not they would believe her, as there was a sort of spiritual aura around the child.
She was married off by her parents at a very young age. From the very beginning of their married life, her husband was convinced that this was no ordinary relationship as he felt the divinity in her. Later on, her husband Ramani Mohan Chakravarty (who later came to be known as Bholanath) became one of her most ardent and loyal devotees. In fact, at one point of time he even took a vow of silence and would silently tend to Ma Anandamayee’s needs. Although till the time he was alive, Ma too never forgot her wifely duties towards Bholanath and would always look after him. Till his last moments Ma remained at his side tending to him, performing the kriya on his forehead and trying to soothe his pain.
In India, there is a custom of taking deeksha (initiation) when one decides to go on the path of spirituality or enter a sect from a guru. This is done when the disciple, or the one seeking initiation, sits with the guru and the latter says some Mantras (holy words), which a disciple repeats after him. However, Ma Anandamayee was never formally initiated by a guru or a holy man. In fact, she one day initiated herself as she could visualise the rituals (performed at the initiation scene) and could inwardly hear the chanting of the mantras (sacred words said at such initiation ceremonies).
Another thing she always talked about was the importance of detachment from the world and spending time in religious activities. For her it didn’t matter whether one worshipped one god or the other, what she felt was important was the devotion of the worshipper. While her parents were Vaishavites (followers of Lord Vishnu), her husband believed in Shiva. But to Ma Anandamayee the two were like two paths to achieve the same aim, becoming one with the eternal truth.
Ma’s tolerance and belief that all religions were a path to one goal -realisation of the supreme – is indicated by the fact that there have been instances in her life when she has performed the Namaz and recited verses from the Holy Quran. Another similar example was when she explained the essence of the Bible to a Christian disciple. She was a truly secular person who believed all religions, all forms of life and objects animate and inanimate, were primarily the manifestation of the one eternal truth.