A visit to remember….

“Yan Ammeye pala mura nokki” – Knowing that we were first time visitors there, Unni, our Auto driver, was enthusiastically telling us. We had just got down from Parasuram Express, at Karunagapalli, and were on our way to Valikkavu, a village 12 kms from Karunagapalli, in Unnikrishnan’s auto. The weather was cool, the clouds were dark and a slight drizzle set the mood for our pilgrimage, or so it seemed. “Good men and Women are few in this world, and saints, fewer still!” – I told my wife. For, more than me, it  was she who wanted to visit this place and get the blessings of this woman saint. She gave me a glare, and said nothing, for she knew my views on religion only too well.

We reached the ferry service point, from where we would be ferried across to Valikkavu. On the boat, amidst the tranquil waters, my heart felt light. I hastily dismissed it as “scenic influence” – lest I fall prey to irrational devotion, like my wife. At the other end of the bank, a narrow path led to a temple like structure, with lot of devotees going hither and thither. I glimpsed several foreigners sweeping the ground, washing dishes, clothes, and I was surprised to see a white woman washing the toilets and cleaning them.

We asked at the reception whether “Amma” was there that day. `Yes, she is there, you can go in.’ We climbed the steps into the hall where scores of people were waiting already. After about half an hour, slips with numbers written on them were given to all those assembled there. I asked what it was for. “Don’t you want an audience with the mother?” asked the man. I nodded, and kept the slip. The ladies were a separate queue.

I had seen her in some news photographs, and my wife had shown some news clipping about her. I was not impressed. “India has an abundance of saints”, I had then blithely dismissed my wife. But now that I was going to actually see her, I wanted to ask her a lot of questions. Questions, that would do a rationalist, proud, like, “Why do you encourage personality worship?” Mentally listing the questions, I observed the place around me – people waiting all day just to get a glimpse of her while the inmates of the ashram went about the business of their religion with utmost sincerity. I told myself that I should not forget the questions that I have to ask. She should be amazed at my intelligent questions, I prided myself, for I was sure that all the questions were truly rational, and could not be answered without scientific reasoning. I did not know her, and yet I was sure that I’ll stump her with my questions. I sat there, waiting for the doors to open, so that I could go in and start asking the questions.

Then, all of a sudden, the doors were opened, and a dimunitive dark lady in white clothes stood before us. In all humility, she pranamed to the gathering, and prostrated before all. I was moved. I went ahead to see her, and saw people of all hues kneeling in front of her, and telling her their troubles. Many of the people, wept on her lap.

I inched along the queue with a lot of gusto, but strangely, my heart was quiet. Right in front of me, an old man wept like a small child weeping before his mother. With all compassion, she heard him, said something to him, and he came back a different man.

Was this all a drama ? The supreme rationalist in me was all alert as I moved forward. When my turn came, I went near, and then she saw me. Something happened inside my head, or so it felt. Suddenly, all my rationalist questions, seemed superflous. It was as if I was face to face with compassion personified. To recall Jack London in White Silence,`Strange thoughts arose unsummoned’. And unknown to me, I had tears in my eyes. My wife’s faith had found it’s mark. Rationalism took a back seat while I indulged in a new-found irrational wave of devotion, and I bowed before her, and came back, conquered by love and a hug, not reason.

(This was 12 years back. I am still grateful to my wife for having insisted that we go and meet Amma. And, I am even more grateful that I am still irrational with devotion ….)

Women Saints and Sages of India…..

“Who is the sexiest Indian female? – this was the topic my wife, who is a free lance writer, got one day as an assignment through the net from an agency she works for, as I was leaving for office from home.
As I was driving to office, I was thinking about the subject and came to the conclusion that instead of asking who is the most endowed, had they only asked to name Indian women of the 19th and 20th centuries who can be considered as a real symbol of the true, spiritual India, then, I would have listed the following :-

Sri Sarada Devi (West Bengal)

Rani Rasmani (West Bengal)

Saint Alphonsa (Kerala)

Akka Mahadevi (Karnataka)

Lallayogeshwari (Kashmir)

Mirabai (Rajasthan/Madhya Pradesh)

Muktabai and Janabai (Maharashtra)

Avvaiyar (Tamil Nadu)

Andal (Tamil Nadu) [Andal is considered as one of the 12 Alwars]

Karaikkal Ammaiyar (Tamil Nadu)

Ananda Moyi Maa (West Bengal)

Aghormani Devi, popularly known as Gopaler Ma (Disciple of Sri Ramakrishna – West Bengal)

Golap Sundari Devi, known as Golap-Ma (Disciple of Sri Ramakrishna – West Bengal)

Yogindra Mohini Mitra, or “Yogin-Ma” (Disciple of Sri Ramakrishna – West Bengal)

Giri Bala (West Bengal) and

Shankari Ma ji (Uttar Pradesh)

M.S.Subbulakshmi (Tamil Nadu)

This list is certainly not exhaustive, since there are a number of women saints in India, and most of them have expressly shunned any kind of publicity. Just like Sri Nivedita and Sri Daya Ma, many foreigners have followed Indian spiritual teachers and have attained success in spirituality. But unknown women saints abound in India, and since most of them prefer anonymity, they remain hidden. There was a very famous woman disciple of Sri Shirdi Sai, who lived in Bangalore upto a ripe old age – like this, there are hundreds of women saints and sages all over the country, but somehow, we know very few of them….

But I would like to mention more than their names when I mention the following three:-

Gauri-Ma

Gauri-Ma was born in 1857 and was named Mridani. She was also called Rudrani. Even as a child, Gauri-Ma exhibited traits of fearlessness and was uncompromising in her attitude to go towards God and renunciation. During a pilgrimage, she escaped into the crowds and carved out a yogini’s life for herself, carrying the stone shila of Lord Vishnu as her “husband” – after enduring many trials in her travels, often disguised as a man, and smearing ashes on herself to hide her beauty, and after extensive travel, often on foot, she finally came to Sri Ramakrishna, and accepted him as her Guru. She was very bold and courageous, and Sri Ramakrishna reportedly told her that her mission in life is to educate and liberate women. In 1894, Gauri-Ma founded the Sri Saradeshwari Ashrama for women on the banks of the Ganga at Barrackpore in Kolkata. During Sri Ramakrishna’s birth centenary in 1936, Gauri-Ma gave an address in Bengali, which was broadcast on All India Radio. She consciously passed away on 28 February 1938, after informing those nearby that her time had come. She lived and braved the male dominated spiritual world at a time when it was very, very difficult for a woman to roam India as a saint.

Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa is perhaps the perfect symbol of the Indian Woman that I would like to look up to. From very humble beginnings, she showed that love moves the world. Born on 26th August 1910 as Agnese Gonxhe Bojaxhiu, the Abanian nun founded the Missionaries of Charity in Kolata in 1950. For over 45 years she worked for the poor, sick the orphaned, the aged and the dying, believing that they all needed love and service. In her lifetime, she won the Nobel peace prize as well as India’s most famous title, The Bharat Ratna. After her death, she has been beatified by the Pope as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. Shortly before she passed away, when she was hospitalized, an entire nation prayed for her. I still remember when she passed away and when her body was kept for public viewing at the Salt Lake Stadium, at Kolkotta, the then President, Dr.K.R.Narayanan, who came to attend the State funeral, bowed at her feet. It was then, that the entire nation stood still in silent homage along with the crowd at the Auditorium. It was not just a President saluting a lady, it was a nation saluting an institution.

AMMA.
I have seen Sri Mata Amritanandamayi on two or three occasions personally, and have been following her activities through the media for quite sometime now, and I am convinced that the Mother of a Billion hearts embracing all humanity stands out as the finest example of Divine love – She does not perform miracles or astound the audience. She sits, patiently, most of the time without even eating or drinking anything, for hours together giving darshan, saying comforting words, embracing visitor after visitor with only one thought – of proving to the world that love and kindness CAN be shared through a hug. I have often wondered, “What keeps her going?” – And I am sure it is not a desire to enter the Guinness Books of records as the person who has hugged half of humanity. It must be an intense love for the whole of humanity that must be moving her to embrace the people from all walks of life, irrespective of region, religion, caste or sex. Strictly speaking, I am not the religious type. In fact, when I first accompanied my wife to see Sri Mata Amritanandamayi, I was skeptical. But when I first stood before her, all skepticism simply vanished from my mind. Such compassion has to be seen to be believed. The simplicity of such a personality can certainly be called the real Indian Woman. From a small fishing village in Kerala, she has embraced her way into the hearts of billions…..from all over the world.