Category Archives: a. Significant Figures in Hinduism


Sankara is a name that stands for auspicious and merciful. Historians suggest that Sankara was born either in 568 AD or 805 AD (Isayeva 83). According to legend, (Isayeva 72) many signs were given prior to the birth of Sankara that he would be an incarnation of Siva. Siva promised the other gods to go down to earth to restore Vedanta and to reestablish the state of self-realization. Meanwhile, Sankara’s parents, Sivaguru (the teacher Siva) and Sivataraka (Siva’s eye), had great protection from Siva. They were trying to conceive, and after having no luck for quite some time decided to seek blessings for a child. They traveled to Trichur, a Saivite sanctuary for this blessing. While there, Siva appeared to the couple separately in dreams. To Sivaguru, Siva appeared as an old man, and offered the choice of having a son whose destiny it was to become a great sage with a short and brutal life span, or 100 happy, successful sons. To Sivataraka, Siva was revealed to her in a dream, undisguised, and pronounced the fact that her forthcoming child was to be a great Vedanta teacher. Once sharing these dreams with each other, Siva’s voice was heard, declaring that he himself would be born as their son. (Isayeva 83)

Throughout Sankara’s childhood, he achieved many great things. By the age of one, it is said that Sankara could read and speak Sanskrit. His belief in monotheism was first apparent when he settled a dispute among classmates (Isayeva 74). He pronounced that the number of gods who created the universe was to be the same as the number of seeds in this particular melon that they were bickering over. They opened it to find only one. After his father passed away, he was old enough to take part in the sacred thread ceremony, and start studying the Vedas. This bright child was asked for guidance and advice by neighbors and travelers from nearby villages. Sankara felt the need to become a sannyasin, but was held by his mother from taking the vows. At the age of eight, Sankara was taken by a crocodile and dragged into a river and most likely would have died. However, if his mother allowed young Sankara to become a sannyasin, he would be reborn and given a second chance at life. This would in turn rescue him from a durmarana (evil/bad death), which was so awful it could be considered a sin. She of course made this promise, and Sankara was released, with new life. (Isayeva 75)

Sankara then proceeded to travel to the banks of the Narmada River, where a Saivite sanctuary was located. Here he found his teacher, Govinda. Govinda had been waiting for Sankara for quite some time. Sankara stayed under the discipline of Govinda for around 2 years. It is believed that it was during this time, Sankara composed many of his works, including Saivite hymns, philosophical treatises, and a commentary on Brhadaranyakopanisad (Isayeva 76). Badarayana had given a prophecy to Govinda, stating that the one to tame a wild river would be the one who would write the best commentary on his text, the Brahmasutra. Sankara, as predicted, composed a commentary on the Brahmasutra, which ended up being Sankara’s main work. While Sankara and Govinda were meditating, the Narmada River flooded into the cave they were in. Sankara then said an incantation and pushed his bowl forward. The river then proceeded to fill the small bowl, and disappear. The river then purported to have receded back to its original size. (Isayeva 77)

After receiving Govinda’s blessings, Sankara set off on a voyage to the sacred mountain Kailasa. It was here that he met Siva for the first time, who was in the form of Daksinamurti (Giver of true knowledge) (Isayeva 77). Here Sankara stayed, on the edge of the Ganga river until he received word that his mother was ill. When Sankara first set off as a sannyasin, he promised his mother he shall return when she was upon her deathbed. Therefore, he returned to his mother’s side to comfort her and let her die in peace. A sannyasin is considered to be above any worldly attachments such as family, and therefore the sannyasin vow did not allow for the regular ritual of the eldest son preparing the death rituals (Isayeva 77). However, Sankara disobeyed these vows and performed his mother’s death rituals. Once his mother passed, Sankara received word that Govinda had fallen ill, and was also dying. He then headed back to say his tidings to Govinda, accompanied by a follower of his own, Padmapada.

In regards to Sankara’s beliefs, he relied on the Upanisads to support his monistic philosophy of Brahman. Brahman [derived from Brh, meaning growing; not to be confused with Brahmin, the priestly class or Brahmanas, the ritual texts] is without any cause and effect, and remains unaffected by anything (Masih 64). Sankara’s monistic beliefs are in favor of the Mahavakyas (foundational texts of Vedanta, sayings from Upanisads), using them to gain Brahman. By becoming Brahman, one can conquer daily life. To become Brahman, one must know Brahman. Passages from the Upanisads, such as “This everything, all is that self” (Brihadaranyaka Upanisad, II.4.7), and “Brahman alone is all this” (Mundaka Upanisad, II.2.11) support Sankara’s beliefs. The basis of Sankara’s teachings can be summed into one sentence: Brahma satyam, jaganmithya jivo brahmaiva na parah, (Brahman alone is real, the world is illusory and the jiva is identical with Brahma) (Masih 66).

Sankara teaches that to realize Brahman, one must achieve bodhi (awakening) (Masih 102). Karma, in this sense, is disregarded from the process of obtaining liberation. Karma is a temporary achievement, therefore cannot be associated with the attainment of Brahman, since liberation through Brahman is eternal. In no way does Sankara support the belief of karma. He does not even support the doctrine of jnana-karma-samuccayavada, in which Brahma-jnana and karma are combined (Masih 102). In order to gain liberation, one must gain purification of the mind (Sattva-Suddhi), by concentrating to the point where the mental stream is steadily flowing wards off disturbing thoughts. It is only then that one can fully attain enlightenment and followed by liberation.

Throughout the thirty-three years of life that Sankara attained (presumed death in either 600 or 837 AD) (Isayeva 83), he brought new beliefs to the world.


Isayeva, Natalia (1993); Shankara & Indian Philosophy. Albany: State University

of New York Press.

Masih, Y. (1987); Shankara’s Universal Philosophy of Religion. New Delhi:

Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers.

Related Topics

– Prasthana-traya

– Nirvikaplaka pratyaksa

– susupti

– turiya

– Sanksepa-sankara-vijaya

– Upanisads

– Brhat-sankara-vijaya

– Vedanta

Related Websites

Written by Katie Duffin (Spring 2009), who is solely responsible for its content.

Sri Ramana Maharsi


Venkataraman (later shortened to Ramana) Maharsi was born on December 30, 1879 to a couple from the brahmin class in Tirucculi, South India (see Herman 8). It may have been his family’s “curse” which led Maharsi to liberation and renunciation of normal life. “His household, according to tradition, was ‘cursed’ into surrendering one member of the family in each generation to become a monk or sannyasi (a ‘renunciate’) who would break all attachments to the world and live a life of holy solitude” (see Herman 8-9). After the death of Ramana’s father in 1891, the Maharsis moved to Madurai to live with the boy’s uncle (see Herman 9 and Godman 1). Here Ramana attended Scott’s Middle School and the American Mission High School, learned English and participated in outdoor sports and games (see Herman 9).

At the young age of sixteen Ramana underwent the sudden and irreversible transformation to a jivanmukta (“one who is liberated while still alive”) (see Herman 9-10 and Forsthoefel 246). On August 29, 1896 he was sitting alone in a room when he was abruptly struck with an overwhelming fear of death (see Herman 9 and Godman 1). He promptly lay down and essentially became “a corpse” by “stopping his breathing and closing his eyes” (see Herman 9). It was in this state that he became aware of the true nature of the Self. His attainment of moksa (“release” or “liberation”) drastically altered the rest of his life as he also realized the futility of carrying out everyday tasks (see Godman 2). Six weeks after his liberation, Ramana followed what he considered to be his destiny, left his family, threw away his money and worldly possessions and made his way to the sacred mountain of Arunacala (see Godman 1-2 and Sharma 1984:616). It was here that he spent the rest of his life “attracting loving attention, admirers and devotees from around the world…” (see Herman 10).

The first two or three years of his new life were spent in a state of intense absorption into his realized awareness. So much so that parts of his body were eaten away by insects, his fingernails and hair grew to incredible lengths and he scarcely ate. Slowly, over a period of several years he regained a state of physical normalcy without ever losing touch with his liberated consciousness which began to manifest itself as an “outer spiritual radiance” (see Godman 1). As word spread about the Hindu sage, people came from the far reaches of the world with their “questions, problems and concerns” (see Herman 11). Most of his teachings were conducted in a non-verbal manner. Ramana sent out a “silent force or power which stilled the minds of those who were attuned to it” and gave insight into the liberated state (see Godman 2). He felt this was the way in which people could understand his lessons in the most concentrated and forthright manner (see Godman 2). However, for those who were unable to understand his silent knowledge, Ramana occasionally gave verbal teachings (see Godman 2). He made himself available to visitors twenty-four hours a day and spent the rest of his life living in a small communal hall and delivering spiritual guidance (see Godman 3). In 1950, Ramana Maharsi contracted cancer and passed away at the age of 71 (see Herman 10).

Beliefs and Teachings

The attainment of Self-realization and liberation is the ultimate goal of the teachings of Ramana Maharsi (see Sharma 1984:619). The process by which this is to be achieved was one of the distinctions of Ramana’s beliefs. He advocated the importance of an individual “inward quest” to realize the “ultimate source of the limited ego” (see Forsthoefel 243-246). This quest was centered around the constant search into the question “Who am I?” (see Forsthoefel 246). Earnest inquiry into this question would bring a person to the awareness that the ego, or “I”, does not exist, thus destroying it (see Godman 53). In other words, “when the mind unceasingly investigates its own nature, it transpires that there is no such thing as the mind” (see Godman 50).

During one’s quest for liberation, and once Self-realization occurred, Ramana advocated assuming a “still” or “silent” mental state (see Herman 34 and Godman 13). Stillness during meditation on the question “Who am I?” allows for concentration on this topic only. This creates a “firm base for liberation” (see Godman 160). Once Self-awareness is known, an individual will have a “still mind which is adorned with the attainment of the limitless supreme Self” (see Godman 156). In other words, silence and stillness allow the identity of the Self to become assured (see Herman 13). Stillness is also strongly connected to Ramana’s emphasis on the individuality of the path to liberation.

Ramana insisted on the importance of personal experience in gaining liberation. He taught that learning from books was ultimately useless due to the fact that “no words, categories or concepts can apprehend the limitless Self” (see Forsthoefel 248). He also deemed the guidance of a spiritual guru (including himself) to be superficial and futile because a guru could not give an individual anything which they did not already have (see Godman 32). Each person has the ability to gain liberation; “all that is needed is that you give up your realization of the not-true as true” (see Godman 12). For Ramana, spiritual truth was unaffected by social and cultural differences. He promoted the thought that liberation is “here and now, available to any person, regardless of caste, stage, nationality or religion” (see Forsthoefel 245). On the subject of non-Hindu traditions he believed that “…their expression is the same. Only the modes of expression differ…” (see Forsthoefel 251).

Ramana’s teachings are considered to exemplify the jnana yogic path (see Godman 34 and Sharma 1984:623). Jnana yoga is “the way of knowledge” which is exactly what is gained through the destruction of the mind: true knowledge of the divine Self (see Herman 120 and Forsthoefel 247). However, this knowledge is not separate from the knower, nor is it an experience, it is “a direct and knowing awareness of the one reality in which subjects and objects have ceased to exist” (see Godman 10).

Ramana Maharsi’s life took place in the context of the Indian Independence Movement. However, his views on social activism did not match other Hindu sages alive at that time (ie. Mohandas Gandhi). Ramana did not support Indian nationalism nor did he support any kind of social involvement (see Sharma 1999:102). It was of his opinion that individuals should focus on Self-realization instead of on social action (see Herman 14 and Godman 213). It was in this way that they would realize that the world is not different from Themselves and ultimately, “there are no others to be helped” (see Herman 14). This is a view which Ramana had to defend many times (see Sharma 1999:100).


Ramana Maharsi is the only modern Hindu sage who is widely considered to be a genuine jivanmukta and who has spoken about this enlightened state at great length (see Sharma 1999:93). The sage “embodied the supreme excellence, the highest ideal represented in so many epic accounts, mythologies, and philosophical texts in the history of Hinduism” (see Forsthoefel 243). This gave him incredible appeal to not only the elite Indian classes but to lower castes and non-Hindus alike (see Forsthoefel 251). He represented an intense spirituality which seemed to manifest itself in a radiating “presence” (see Forsthoefel 255). This presence provided legitimacy for Ramana’s religious teachings, added to his popularity and quickened the spread of his ideas (see Forsthoefel 252 and Herman 10). In this way, he was extremely important wealth of information for students and scholars interested in the state of a jivanmukta (see Forsthoefel 257).

In addition, Ramana was influential in that his religious philosophy was accessible to all people, in their present lifetime (see Forsthoefel 242, 248). These ideas were particularly progressive during the time period and thus were highly influential to Hinduism as a whole (see Forsthoefel 248, 257). The cross cultural aspect of Ramana’s ideas also added to the attention he received from other religious groups around the world (see Forsthoefel 250). His ideas and unique life experience inspired many people and were highly regarded on a worldwide scale (see Forsthoefel 251).


Brunton, Paul (1952) Maharsi and His Message. London: Rider & Co.

Forsthoefel, Thomas A. (2002) “Weaving the Inward Thread to Awakening: The Perennial Appeal of Ramana Maharshi (sic).” In Horizons. Erie: Mercyhurst College. pp. 240-59.

Ganapatimuni, Vasishtha (1998) Sri Ramana Gita: being the teachings of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi (sic). Tiruvannamalai : Sri Ramanasramam.

Godman, David (ed.) (1985) Be As You Are: The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi (sic). Boston: Arkana.

Herman, A.L. (1991) A Brief Introduction to Hinduism: Religion, Philosophy and Ways of Liberation. Boulder: Westview Press.

Maharsi, Ramana (1970, c1959) The collected works of Ramana Maharshi (sic). Arthur Osborne (ed.). New York: S. Weiser.

Sharma, Arvind (1999) “Jivanmukti in Neo-Hinduism: the case of Ramana Maharsi.” In Asian Philosophy. London: Taylor & Francis Ltd.

Sharma, Arvind (1984) “Predetermination and Free Will in the Teaching of Ramana Maharsi (1879-1950).” In Religious Studies. London: Cambridge University Press.

(1995) Ramana Maharshi (sic) Part 1. New Delhi: Library of Congress Office.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Mount Aruncala

Jnana Yoga

Indian Independence Movement



Mohandas Gandhi





Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

Article written by: Marie Robertson (March 2008) who is solely responsible for its content.

Sri Aurobindo Ghose

Sri Aurobindo was an Indian nationalist, yogin, philosopher, scholar, and poet. Following his brief political career, during which he vehemently fought for India’s outright independence, Sri Aurobindo began to explore the ancient Hindu practices of yoga (Heehs 88). Sri Aurobindo subsequently developed his own style of yoga which he called “Integral Yoga,” because it “takes up the essence and many processes of the old yogas” with a new approach of “aim, standpoint and the totality of its method” (Minor 4). Sri Aurobindo believed that enlightenment came from the Divine, but that human beings possess a spiritual “supermind” that allows them to reach upward toward awareness. Spiritual perfection is achieved through Yoga practices that lead to “a change of life and existence” through the development of a new power of consciousness, which he called the “supramental” (Heehs 96).

Sri Aurobindo was born Aurobindo Ghose in Calcutta, India, on 15th August, 1872. At the age of seven, Sri Aurobindo and his two elder brothers went to England to pursue their studies. Initially, Aurobindo was tutored privately in Latin, French, history, geography and arithmetic. His proficiency in Latin allowed him to gain admission into St. Paul’s School in London, where he was awarded a Foundation Scholarship (Heehs 11). At St. Paul’s, Aurobindo began studying the Latin and Greek classics, writing poetry and prose in both languages, and reading English and French literature. At the age of fifteen, his studies ceased to interest him and his teachers began to lament that he was wasting his “remarkable gifts” because of laziness (Heehs 12). However, two years later, Aurobindo decided to try for one of the Open Scholarships offered by King’s College, Cambridge. He took the examination and finished at the top of the list. One of the examiners commented that Aurobindo’s classical papers were “the best I have seen in thirteen years as an examiner” (Heehs 14). In 1893, after two years at King’s College, during which he devoted much of his time to writing, Aurobindo returned to India.

Aurobindo became interested in political work amidst the anti-partition movement in the early 1900s. Between 1905 and 1910 Aurobindo acted as a political journalist for the revolutionary newspaper Bande Mataram, and as a leader of the advanced nationalist party known as the Extremists (Heehs 38). In 1908, Aurobindo was arrested on suspicion of his involvement in a bomb plot and was remanded in Alipore Central Jail (Heehs 56). Although he was later acquitted and released, his conversion from political action to spirituality occurred while he was incarcerated, where he was inspired by his meditation on the Bhagavad Gita. After reading it, he was able “not only to understand intellectually but to realize what Sri Krishna demanded of Arjuna and what He demands of those who aspire to do His work…to renounce self-will and become a passive and faithful instrument in His hands” (Heehs 93-94). This realization would become one of the preliminary steps towards Aurobindo’s ultimate awareness of the Divine.

Sri Aurobindo once wrote that there were “four great realizations on which his Yoga and his spiritual philosophy are founded” (Heehs 93). The first occurred in 1907 when Aurobindo encountered a yogin named Vishnu Bhaskar Lele, who introduced him to “the awareness of some sole and supreme Reality” – an experience Aurobindo would later identify as the “passive Brahman” (Heehs 89). Lele instructed Aurobindo to “sit in meditation, but do not think, look only at your mind; you will see thoughts coming into it; before they can enter throw these away from your mind till your mind is capable of entire silence” (Heehs 89). Aurobindo wrote that, “I flung them [thoughts] before they could enter and take hold of the brain and in three days I was free” (Heehs 89). However, Aurobindo also wrote that he was left with “a cleft of consciousness between the passive and active Brahman” (Heehs 99).

The second realization was achieved as Aurobindo regained his personal harmony by taking refuge with the Divine within him during his solitary confinement in Alipore jail. Aurobindo read the Bhagavad Gita and his initial realization regarding Sri Krishna soon blossomed into an all-encompassing awareness of the Divine, seen as Krishna in the form of Vasudeva, “as all beings and all that is” (Heehs 94). Aurobindo wrote that “I looked at the jail that secluded me from men and it was no longer by its high walls that I was imprisoned; no, it was Vasudeva who surrounded me. I walked under the branches of the tree in front of my cell but it was not the tree, I knew it was Vasudeva, it was Sri Krishna whom I saw standing there holding over me his shade” (Heehs 94). This universal vision of the Divine was followed by Sri Aurobindo’s awareness into what he called the “cosmic consciousness” (Heehs 94).

As mentioned above, Aurobindo’s first realization left him with “a cleft of consciousness” between the passive and active Brahman. This “cleft” was closed with Aurobindo’s third realization that the two aspects of the supreme Reality were the static and dynamic Brahman (Heehs 99).

Three years later, Sri Aurobindo reached his fourth realization through a “prolonged dwelling in Parabrahman” (the supreme Reality) (Heehs 99).

Armed with these four fundamental realizations, Sri Aurobindo’s spiritual development grew into his “yoga of self-perfection” or integral yoga. The aim of the yoga of self-perfection is to enable one to attain conscious identity with the Divine – the true Self – and to transform the mind and body into an instrument for a divine life on earth (Minor 121). Sri Aurobindo emphasized surrender as the most important requisite of integral yoga. He wrote, “Surrender is giving oneself to the Divine – to give everything one is or has to the Divine and regard nothing as one’s own, to obey only the Divine will and no other, to live of the Divine and not for the ego” (Minor 122). Sri Aurobindo’s “yoga of self-perfection” had four constituent elements: shuddhi or purification, mukti or liberation, bhukti or beatitude, and siddhi or perfection (Synthesis of Yoga 38).

Sri Aurobindo believed that the essence of purification was the organization of the chaotic action of the various parts of man’s nature such as the mind to thought. Ultimately, perfect purification loosens the bonds of nature, specifically the bond of ahankara or ego, which allows actions to be performed without the incentive of personal satisfaction. This liberation, mukti, leads to perfection of the individual nature, siddhi, and enjoyment of the delight of being, bhukti (Synthesis of Yoga 61).

The culminating objective of Sri Aurobindo’s yoga is the remolding of the body, “even here upon earth” into a fit vehicle of the transformed consciousness. Sri Aurobindo believed that Nature must “evolve beyond Mind and manifest a consciousness and power of our existence free from the imperfection and limitation of our mental existence, a supramental or truth-consciousness…Into that [spiritual] truth we shall be free and it will transform mind and life and body” (Heehs 104-105). In his later years, Sri Aurobindo’s practice of yoga was directed towards achieving the effective transformation of the physical in pursuit of freedom of the truth-conscious spirit (Heehs 104-105).

Sri Aurobindo wrote prolifically in English on his spiritual philosophy and practice. Most notably, he introduced the concept of evolution into Vedantic thought (Minor 104). Although Samkhya philosophy had suggested a similar idea centuries earlier, Sri Aurobindo rejected the materialistic tendencies of both Darwinism and Samkhya, and proposed an evolution of spirit which led to the evolution of matter.

In essence, Sri Aurobindo’s evolutionary philosophy centers on the idea that humankind as an entity is not the last rung on the evolutionary ladder, but can evolve spiritually beyond its current limitations to a future state of supramental existence. This spiritually evolutionary step would lead to a divine life on Earth characterized by a realization of the supermind (Heehs 104).

Sri Aurobindo did not believe that the ultimate goal of his yoga – a divine life on earth – could be achieved so quickly. Nor did he foresee a day when a multitude of people would practice and study his philosophies and method of yoga (Heehs 151). Sri Aurobindo wished to bring the Divine into all aspects of life. Although his teachings may be seen as an attempt to re-institute the “spiritual practicality” that he regarded as the great discovery of ancient India, Sri Aurobindo was arguably one of India’s most fascinating and enigmatic leaders (Heehs 152).

References and Related Readings

Chakravarty, Satyajyoti (1991) The Philosophy of Sri Aurobindo. New Delhi: Sterling Publishers Private Limited.

Chaturvedi, B.K. (2002) Sri Aurobindo. New Delhi: D.K. Publishers Distributors Pvt. Ltd.

Heehs, Peter (1989) Sri Aurobindo: A Brief Biography. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Heehs, Peter (1998) The Essential Writings of Sri Aurobindo. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Kaul, H. Kumar (1994) Aspects of Yoga. Calcutta: South Asia Books.

Minor, Robert Neil (1978) Sri Aurobindo: The Perfect and the Good. Calcutta: South Asia Books.

Nikhilananda (1992) Hinduism: Its Meaning for the Liberation of the Spirit. New York: Ramakrishna Vivekanada Center.

Nikhilananda (1994) Upanishads. New York: Ramakrishna Vivekananda Center.

Rama (2005) Fearless Living: Yoga and Faith. Honesdale, Pennsylvania: Himalayan Institute Press.

Sri Aurobindo (1996) Synthesis of Yoga. Pondicherry, India: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Press.

Yogananda, Paramahansa (2001) The Yoga of the Bhagavad Gita: An Introduction to India’s Universal Science of God-Realization. Los Angeles: Self-Realization Fellowship Publishers.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

The Mother


Sri Aurobindo Ashram

Sri Aurobindo’s evolutionary philosophy

Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy of involution

Sri Aurobindo’s vision for the future

Sri Aurobindo’s philosophy of social evolution

The Vedas

Bhagavad Gita

Sri Aurobindo’s poetry













Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

Article written by Lewis Chong (Spring 2008) who is solely responsible for its content.

Anandamayi Ma

To her devotees, Anandamayi Ma, was not just considered a highly spiritual woman but a true incarnation of a deity or God. Anandamayi Ma was born on April 30, 1896, to a devoted Vaishnava Brahman family, in Kheora, Bengal (present day Bangladesh). At birth she was named Nirmala Sundari, and would not be called Anandamayi Ma until much later (Hallstrom 23). According to accounts of her devotees, everything about Ma, in her early years was spiritually auspicious. One instance of her future greatness was when she was nine or ten months old, a holy man visited Ma’s family. He was seated close to little Ma and she crawled up like she was intimately familiar with him. He then picked up Ma and, “placed her feet reverently on his shoulder, head and other parts of his body in an extraordinary show of devotion and veneration and then sat her on his lap.” After seating her in front of him, “he began to perform puja or worship to her, bowing down before her.” He then said to her mother,

“This whom you are seeing before you, this is Ma [the Divine Mother]

and is so not [only of] men and women but also as permeating and

transcending the universe. You will certainly not be able to keep her

bound to family ties. She will definitely not remain here.” (Hallstrom 25)

Despite receiving religious instruction only from her parents, “she displayed an uncanny knowledge of religious matters,” (Hallstrom 25) and often was witnessed in bhava, a state of ecstasy or trancelike states, which were described as supernatural in nature. One particular form of worship, kirtan, devotional songs, would put her into a state of pure spiritual ecstasy. She was known to often wander off, singing devotional songs. Her states could last a short time but as she became older, these instances lengthened. Some relatives felt that when they were around Ma during these instances, they experienced a loss of body consciousness (Hallstrom 28).

At the age of twelve, her marriage was arranged to a man named Ramani Mohan Chakaravart from a distinguished Brahman Bharadwaj family. An auspicious day, February 7, 1909, was picked and they married. Ma remained with her family until she was fourteen, and then she went to live with Ramani Mohan’s family, entering the household stage of her life. Ramani Mohan’s parents had died, so Ma was placed in the instruction of Ramani Mohan’s eldest brother’s wife, Dadamahashaya. Ma excelled at housework and became a pleasant, hardworking wife in her brother-in-law’s house, where she was very well liked. Ma often fell in states of Samadhi, but they believed the states were just bouts of extreme exhaustion or absentmindedness (Hallstrom 32). She stayed with her husband’s family until she joined her husband in Ashtagrama, in East Bengal, in 1914. This was the first instance that Ma and Ramani Mohan were around each other for a substantial period of time since their marriage. Devotees point out that Ramani Mohan was unaware of Ma’s extraordinary state. He assumed he had married an ordinary illiterate village woman, but he quickly became aware of her spiritual power. The first time her tried to approach her sexually, “he supposedly received such a violent electric shock that he put for the time being all thought of a physical relationship out of his mind” (Lipski 6). He thought that it was because Ma was so young and that she would become “normal” in time, but their marriage was never consummated; sexual desire never arose again in their marriage (Lipski 6). Despite the lack of sexual relationship, Ramani Mohan cared for Ma, loved her very dearly, and accepted their unconventional marriage.

Anandamayi Ma murti (image) in Varanasi
Anandamayi Ma murti (image) in Varanasi

It was also in Ashtagrama, where Ma was first recognized as a “spiritually exalted woman” and received the name Ma given to her by a man named Harkumar. He became the one to bring attention to the “ecstatic states or bhavavastha of Anandamayi Man”(Hallstrom 34). He arranged a kirtan, where Ma was first publicly observed in a state of bhava. For those around her, her state of bhava was a frightening experience, as she either fell to the floor in convulsions or sat motionless, “her face and eyes bathed in a radiant glow” (Hallstrom 34). At subsequent kirtans, Ma experienced similar state of bhava.

Close-up of Central Face of Anandamayi Ma image (Varanasi)

Between 1918 and 1924, Ma began experiencing her most spiritual activities. It was also at this time that Ma became more centered on her spiritual life and moved away from her household duties. In 1922, Ramani Mohan was advised to get Ma initiated by the family guru as soon as possible. On August 3, 1922, Ma experienced self-initiation, a feat not experienced before, especially as a woman. At this time, Ma began so display siddhis, or spiritual powers (Hallstrom 38-40). Five months later, on January 3, 1923, Ma initiated her husband and she changed his name to Bholanath, a name for Shiva. Later that month, Ma entered into a three-year silence or mauna. (Hallstrom 41) Their initiations marked the transition of their marriage into a complex relationship. Ma remained an obedient wife, always asking Bholanath’s permission before any undertaking, but she was not bound by his decisions, and always found ways to persuade him for approval. On the other hand, Bholanath was spiritually inferior to Ma, who also became his guru (Lipski 7).

By 1924, Ma began to gather devotees while living at Shasbagh Gardens. Many people were invited by Bholanath to see the extraordinary spiritual powers of his wife. She warned him not to invite so many people, stating, “You must think twice before opening the doors to the world in this manner. Remember that you will not be able to stem the tide when it becomes overwhelming” (Hallstrom 43). Many devotees believed Ma, was an incarnation of Kali and called her Manusha Kali, or “Kali in human form,” others believed she was “a self-realized being of extraordinary spiritual power” (Hallstrom 43). In 1926, devotees witnessed Ma’s inability to feed her self, as her hands would no longer work as they used to, leaving the task to Bholanath and her closest devotees, who fed her until her death (Hallstrom 46). On her thirty-first birthday, a special kirtan and puja was performed in her honor and again on her thirty-second. 1928 also marked the year Ma began her years of travels and transition to the Renouncer stage.

Throughout the next ten years, Ma traveled extensively throughout Bengal and India. Bholanath followed her transition and entered into a period of silence and pilgrimage under Ma’s instruction. Many time he asked her not to travel without him, but she warned that she would leave her body if he refused her. In the years after 1933, Ma, Bholanath, and many of her devotees made many spontaneous pilgrimages, full of religious festivals, kirtans and satsangas. On April 23, 1938, Ma predicted that Bholanath would become seriously ill. True to her word, Bholanath died fifteen days later on Mar 7, 1938 of smallpox (Hallstrom 51).

After the death of her husband, Ma’s life experienced little change. She continued her constant traveling, until the number of devotees swelled to huge numbers, which reduced her spontaneous travel. Ashrams were built throughout the country and a central administrative organization was created, the Shree Shree Anandamayee Sangha, in February 1950. The Sangha was able to establish two Sanskrit schools, a hospital and a periodical called Ananda Varta (Hallstrom 52). By 1973, there were twenty seven ashrams around India. Ma had no involvement in the Sangha or subsequent administrative organizations; however she founded the annual Samyam Varta, a week-long retreat, held in a different place every year. During the week, Ma and her close devotees would instruct devotees in spiritual practices (Hallstrom 52).

On July 11, 1982, Ma gave her last public darshan. Her health had begun to deteriorate seriously; she asked to be moved to her Kishenpur ashram where Bholanath had died in 1938. It was on August 27, 1982, Ma died, in the room directly above where her husband had died. According to her wishes, Anandamayi Ma was buried and a shrine was erected, which has become a place of worship and pilgrimage, known for its spiritual power (Hallstrom 52).

Anandamayi Ma’s greatest influence on Hinduism was the creation of a way women could become important figures of worship. According to female devotees, they believed Ma was incarnated in the form of a woman to give them spiritual equality to men. They were able to experience an intimate closeness with Ma which her male devotees could not experience. According to her male devotees, they longed for an intimate relationship, but cultural norms prevented this. Ma, being a woman, benefited and inspired all women. This gave Ma’s female devotees the chance to be close to God, which they had little chance, because of the male domination of the Hindu religion. Ma also provided a motherly loving relationship to women which they might not have had after their marriage, living with their husband’s family. The feeling of loss of a biological mother was lessened for Ma’s devotees, because she became their spiritual mother (Hallstrom 204). Ma’s female devotees ranged from her closes followers who willingly devoted their whole lives to Ma, to women and men in their householder stage. Ma’s most devout follower, other then Bholanath was, Gurupriya Devi, or Didi, as she was affectionately called. Didi was one of Ma’s brahmacharini devotees who chose to live a celibate life and was able to have a lifelong relationship with both her biological and spiritual mothers. Devotees claimed Ma provided a safe and prideful life for unmarried daughters, who would have been an embarrassment to her family (Hallstrom 204). Ma’s followers, who were in the householder stage, could also have a close relationship with her. Despite Ma’s unorthodox position in her marriage to Bholanath, she held many orthodox views on how women should like their lives as wives (Hallstrom 210). She believed women should fulfill their duties, but could still participate in spiritual activities, such as kirtans. Ma often held these for her women devotees in Decca, a radical idea at the time, but made sure the kirtans were held at night, as not to disrupt their daily duties (Hallstrom 211).

Ma was said to have been very beautiful women that had a radiating presence that attracted people to her. She was always kind, with a contagious laugh and emanation of God’s divine power. The intimate relationship she had with her female devotees allowed greater access to Ma, therefore, greater access to God (Hallstrom 203). She will always be remembered as a true women guru and saint.


Hallstrom, Lisa Lassell (1999) Mother of Bliss: Anandamayi Ma 1896-1982. New York:

Oxford University Press.

Lipski, Alexander (1988) Life and Teaching of Sri Anandamayi Ma. Delhi: Morilal


Murkerji, Bithika (1980) From the Life of Sri Anandamayi Ma, Volume One. Calcutta:

Shree Shree Anandamayee Charitable Society.

Murkerji, Bithika (1981) From the Life of Sri Anandamayi Ma, Volume Two. Calcutta:

Shree Shree Anandamayee Charitable Society.

Related Topics for Further Investigation


Ananda Varta


Shree Shree Anandamayee Sangha




Anandamayi Ma as a saint

Anandamayi Ma incarnation as a woman

Anandamayi Ma’s rejection of castes

Anandamayi Ma’s renouncer life

Gurupriya Devi




Noteworthy Websites Related to the Topic

Written by Stephanie Ralph (Spring 2006), who is solely responsible for its content.

Ram Mohun Roy and the Brahmo Samaj

As the nineteenth century dawned, Western economic and religious ideals began to impact India as the British spread throughout the country. The establishment of the East Indian Trading Company by the British, as well as the spread of Christian missionaries throughout India, provided many Hindus contact with European education, religion and economics (Leneman 22). Although Christian missionaries were adamant in pushing the Christian religion upon those in India, there were many Hindus that opposed such attempts at conversion. They desired to remain loyal to their Hindu faith despite verbal persecution by the British (Leneman 22) [Many did not agree with the Western idea of an all encompassing law, as dharma and the belief in karma are the only real laws in traditional Hinduism. See Leneman (1980)]. Many individuals began to speak of reshaping their Hindu beliefs and political ideals to create greater economic advantage as well as social and religious comfort (Bhatt 24, Leneman 22). Among these individuals was Ram Mohun Roy, who was born a Rarhi Brahmin from Bengal (Killingley 5) [Many different spellings of the name Ram Mohun Roy occur due to translation differences. See Killingley (1993)]. Roy believed that India could develop only through learning from the Europeans, and consequently he looked to reform Hinduism (Kopf 313). The Brahmo Samaj is an Indian religious movement started by Roy in Calcutta in 1828 based on this idea of reformation that he saw as being necessary (Bhatt 24, O’Malley 224).

Ram Mohun Roy was born a Rarhi Brahmin in 1774 in Bengali in a Vaisnava family. Many of his ancestors held positions of high esteem among the Mughal rulers in Bengal (Killingley 5) [See Killingley (1993) for more on the debate as to the year Roy was born]. Little is known about Roy’s early life except that he was educated in a number of languages, both Indian and European, and opposed aspects of the Hindu faith such as Idolatry (Leneman 22) [Due to his opposition to idolatry and other Hindu practices, Roy was not allowed into his own house for four years from age sixteen to twenty. See Leneman (1980)]. He traveled through much of the area near Calcutta and Bengal where he first came into contact with the British through the East Indian Trading Company (Killingley 6). Roy was considered a political liberal, and opposed the East Indian Trading Company economic ideals as he favored free trade (Killingley 8). Although he opposed the East Indian Trading Company, Roy was receptive to Western ideas and incorporated them into his beliefs (Killingley 57). He became outspoken in the political world and was desirous to more fully empower the upper class of India by pushing European education and striving to get the East Indian Trading Company to grant privileges to Indians (Bhatt 24).

Although Roy turned primarily to the Hindu Vedic scriptures for his belief, he incorporated much of Christian and Islamic thought. He said that he would borrow books and ideas from other religions to “purify Hinduism” (Killingley 59). His primary belief was in the worship of the God of Nature who was the only true God and creator of the universe. He formed a small group in Calcutta based on this belief called the Atmiya Sabha, who in 1828 changed their name to the Brahmo Samaj (Killingley 10, O’Malley 224) [Brahmo Samaj has been translated as “House of God,” “society of the believer,” and “society of the worshippers of the One True God.” See O’Malley (1935), Bhatt (1968) and Leneman (1980)]. The Brahmo Samaj stated their objective as: “The worship and adoration of the eternal unsearcheable, and immutable Being who is the Author and Preserver of the Universe” (O’Malley 224). They believed that God was a father figure and that all humans were in fact brother and sister (O’Malley 224). It was open to any who wished to join, no matter their caste, skin color, or previous religious beliefs, and attempted to strengthen the relationship between people of all religions (Bhatt 24, Leneman 23).

Although the beliefs of Roy and the Brahmo Smaj were predominantly based on the Hindu religion, they opposed many traditional Hindu beliefs and practices such as reincarnation, animal sacrifice, and sati [The practice of sati involves a widow throwing herself on the cremation fire of her husband, allowing herself to be consumed by the flames, and thus freeing her husband from his sins and moving on into eternity together]. The Brahmo Samaj believed that salvation was obtained through worship of God and that a person could have direct communion with God (O’Malley 225). In a type of afterlife, an individual’s soul would be punished or rewarded for their dealings in this life, although the traditional Hindu view regarding the transmigration of souls was not incorporated into the belief (Killingley 46-47, O’Malley 225). In his first writing, Tuhfat al-Muwahhidin, Roy speaks about that afterlife of the soul and the punishments and rewards received (Killingley 46-47) [For more on the teachings of the Tuhfat al-Muwahhidin, see Killingley (1993)]. Roy also became extremely vocal in his opposition to the practice of sati, and his persistence lead to the practice becoming illegal in 1829 (Leneman 23). Roy was also very concerned with the education and increased economic opportunities granted to women and this carried through to the beliefs of the Brahmo Samaj (Kopf 314, O’Malley 226).

Among the traditional Hindu practices that were most opposed by Roy and the Brahmo Samaj, was that of polytheism and the practice of idol worship (O’Malley 224). Roy argued that idol practice was extremely inappropriate because it gave God a visible form. As Roy and the Brahmo Samaj believed in the spiritual, yet unseen existence of God, this contradicted their belief (Killingley 74). Roy used the Upanisads, which he had previously translated into English, to validate his belief and opposition to idolatry (Killingley 74). He taught that one should turn to contemplation of the Eternal Being as the proper way of worship. This would lead to actions of charity, morality and virtue leading to salvation (O’Malley 224).

Upon the death of Ram Mohun Roy in 1833, the Brahmo Samaj which had flourished in Bengal began to decline. In 1843, Devendranath Tagore, who previously had adopted the beliefs of Roy, added further aspects of Orthodox Hinduism and Christianity to the Brahmo Samaj which led to resurgence in the movement (Leneman 23). A number of years later Keshab Chunder Sen joined the movement and aided Tagore in this resurgence. Sen was influenced by Christianity a great deal in his younger years and brought many of his Christian beliefs with him when he joined the movement. In 1867, Tagore felt that Sen had become radical and extreme in his Christian influences and a split in the Brahmo Samaj occurred (Leneman 23). Tagore held on to the more traditional aspects of Hinduism and started the Adi Brahmo Samaj, while Sen took his Christian influences and started the Brahmo Samaj of India (Bhatt 24-25, Leneman 23). The younger generation, who had grown up with heavy Western influence followed Sen, while others in the movement who could not give up the majority of traditional Hindu beliefs remained with Tagore (Leneman 23). Under Sen, the Brahmo Samaj of India turned to radical social reform, considered Christ an ideal Hindu Yogi, and held Sen in a type of deity status (Bhatt 25). Sen eventually adopted a greater belief in Christ and this led to a split in the Brahmo Samaj of India. This split led to the Sadharan Brahmo Samaj, started by those who opposed Sen and the adoption of a belief in Christ as more than a yogi. Sen, and his followers founded the Church of the New Dispensation (Leneman 24).

Today, the Brahmo Samaj and the various branches that occurred through these divisions are considered to be more of a religious movement than a sect or group (O’Malley 225). It has mostly been confined to Bengal, and has never obtained full status throughout India (Bhatt 26). The political beliefs voiced by members of the Brahmo Samaj as well as the changes to the traditional Hindu religion have led many to believe that Brahmo Samaj is a socio-political movement that acted as a force in Indian nationalism (Bhatt 24, Leneman 30). Ram Mohun Roy and the Brahmo Samaj defended aspects of Hinduism while reforming other aspects that they felt would benefit India (Leneman 30). Although not popular throughout India today, the Brahmo Samaj and the work of Ram Mohun Roy were instrumental in Hindu Renaissance and reform in Bengal during the nineteenth century (Kopf 313).


Bhatt, Gauri Shankar (1968) Brahmo Samaj, Arya Samaj, and the Church-Sect Typology.

Review of Religious Research, Fall 68 Volume 10.

Ghose, Jegendra Chunder (eds.) (1982) The English Works of Raja Rammohun Roy. New Delhi: Cosmo Publications.

Killingley, Dermont (1993) Rammohun Roy in Hindu and Christian Tradition. Newcastle: Grevatt and Gravatt.

Kopf, David (1979) The Brahmo Samaj and the Shaping of the Modern Indian Mind. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Leneman, Leah (1980) “The Hindu Renaissance of the Late 19th Century.” History Today, May 1980 Volume 30.

O’Malley, L.S.S. (1935) Popular Hinduism: The Religion of the Masses. Cambridge University Press.

Related Topics for Further Investigation

Arya Samaj

Adi Brahmo Samaj

Brahmo Samaj of India

Church of the New Dispensation


Debendranath Tagore

Dayanand Saraswat


Hindu Renaissance

Indian Nationalism

Keshub Chunder Sen

Orthodox Hinduism

Sadharan Brahmo Samaj


Notable Websites

Article written by Brett Steed (March 2006), who is solely responsible for its content.

Significant Figures in Hinduism





Guru Nanak

Ram Mohan Roy

Dayananda Sarasvati

Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa

Sri Aurobindo Ghose

Rabindranath Tagore

Satya Sai Baba


Ramana Maharsi

Swami Sivananda Saraswati

Swami Vivekananda

Sri Ramakrishna

Anandamayi Ma