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Memories of Anandamayi Ma
Legend has it that one evening, in the midst of a festival of religious song, the Divine Mother Anandamayi Ma suddenly stood up and walked out of her ashram. To the two disciples who anxiously followed her and asked where she was going, she only replied, "Sarnath," the name of a town miles away. A mail train she boarded mysteriously made an unscheduled stop there. Then she proceeded without hesitation to an unknown inn, past the innkeeper and directly to the room of a disciple who, unbeknownst to anyone else, had been stranded there penniless a few hours before, crying and praying to Anandamayi Ma in desperation. The rest of the night was spent laughing and teasing the now overjoyed disciple about her anxiety and fear.
Born in a village in East Bengal (now Bangladesh), Anandamayi Ma, by the time of her death in 1982, had become one of the most revered female saints of this century. Her photographs alone testify to her luminous beauty and her extraordinarily powerful divine intoxication. There are innumerable stories of her healings, miracles and prescience. Although she was almost illiterate, over time an entire complex theology grew up around her. She was held to be an avatar, a divine incarnation who was enlightened from birth. Her actions were said to have been the result of her
kheyal, her divine inspiration, and she was thought to have had no motivations of her own. Indeed, after the age of about twenty-eight she stopped feeding herself and had to be fed by her disciples like a young child.
She traveled ceaselessly and established a network of ashrams throughout India. Her admirers included such eminent personalities as Mahatma Gandhi, Indira Gandhi, and Gopinatha Kaviraj, one of the most respected of Indian scholars who, when he visited her, felt that she, an uneducated woman, had finally answered all of his spiritual questions.
Arnaud Desjardins and Daniel Roumanoff were among Anandamayi Ma's earliest Western disciples. They both met her in India in 1959 and spent years as her students. In the following two articles they recount memories of their time with her. Their stories paint a vivid portrait of a modern female saint who was larger than life, and directly communicate what it was like to be close to her. She catapulted both men into profound spiritual experiences, and at the same time challenged to the core their love and devotion towards her. Yet the conclusions that each man finally drew about her are radically different. Where one saw only the inscrutable and profound play of the Divine, the other perceived profound limitations in her teaching and her actions. Taken together their articles raise fascinating questions about this influential Indian Divine Mother.
French-born Arnaud Desjardins is a highly respected teacher of Eastern spirituality, and is also a noted filmmaker and author. His work has been instrumental in introducing Eastern traditions to the European world. Author Daniel Roumanoff holds a doctorate from the Sorbonne, and is a successful businessman and corporate executive.