My First Darsana of Anandamayi Ma by Anil Ganguli
It was one of the coldest nights in Northern India on January, 31st 1947. The Delhi-Calcutta Express was about to leave Delhi Junction. As I had no reservation, I was
frantically rushing from one end of the platform to the other in search of accommodation. The porter led me to a vacant compartment and there was nothing to indicate that it had been reserved. So, I took the earliest opportunity of occupying one of its berths and lay on it, dead tired. It happened to be an upper berth-a fact which eventually proved to be of great significance.
Then some respectable ladies and gentlemen appeared on the scene. One of them told me that the compartment had been reserved for Ma Anandamayi and convinced me that the porter had misled me. I realized that I had landed myself in trouble. I had no doubt that law, equity, convention - everything was against me. I deserved to be turned out of the compartment as a trespasser. But I was not. I overheard the sweet voice of a Bengali lady: "Leave Baba (the poor
child) alone; he is so tired. I could not see the lady, but was agreeably surprised and deeply touched by the sympathetic tone of her voice. The sense of the words uttered by her was comforting, the sound simply captivating. My first impulse was to be chivalrous and to leave the compartment.
But expediency prompted me to pretend that I was sleeping, and I did fall asleep within a few minutes. I did not bother myself about my fellow passengers; nor did they bother about me.
My sleep was, from time to time, disturbed - not by any human agency, but by dreams. Again and again I saw visions of Puri. Incidentally, Puri is closely associated with my spiritual life. In 1928, a Mahatma gave me diksha (initiation) in the temple of Lord Jagannatha at Puri. I was not a willing party to the ritual and it made no impression on my mind. At that time I belonged to that group of serious students of Presidency College who believed in living an ethically clean life of austerity, service and sacrifice, but were sincerely of the opinion that too much of religion had resulted in India’s downfall. It was out of this conviction that I had, on principle, ignored my initiation into religious life, but faithfully stuck to my idealism.
Early next morning I awoke, refreshed. The glow in the eastern sky indicated that sunrise was near at hand. I was lying on my upper berth and the lower berth on the opposite side was occupied by a lady. We were lying diagonally opposite each other. This was a strange coincidence.
And what- did I see at this first sight? An exquisitely beautiful and radiant face of a motherly lady with a pair of sparkling eyes; a cluster of black, silken hair. overflowing her pillow and swinging in rhythm with the movement of the train; her body wrapped up to the neck in a spotlessly clean, white sheet. I felt that a pencil 0f rays linked, as it were, the eyes of that motherly lady with mine. Her gracious gaze was focused on me. That gaze seemed to penetrate into every fibre of my being. It was so loving, so soothing, so purifying! Later I was told that she was Ma Anandamayi and that by such a gaze she often makes, as it were, an X-ray examination of a person’s personality. Be that as it may, I seemed to read a mystic message in that gaze - a message of warm welcome from a mother, ready and willing to take charge of a forgetful child. I have no language to describe the ethereal charm of the motherly lady’s face and its serenity. Within a few seconds I was almost unconsciously transported
into a mood of adoration and worship. My eyes were automatically closed in silent salutation.
After some time I recovered from this almost bewildering effect of the first contact. I then opened my eyes, but found the Mother’s face covered up. I was disappointed. I came down from my upper berth and wanted a seat on the
lower berth just below mine. Part of it had been occupied by an old sannyasini. She looked the very picture of peacefulness. As I came to know later, she was Didima, the mother of Ma Anandamayi. Evidently, Didima was then immersed in japa. She did not speak to me but made a kindly gesture, offering me a seat on her berth and sprinkling holy Ganga water on my head. I appreciated Didima’s courtesy, but frankly speaking, I did not like the freezing temperature of the drops of water that moistened my forehead on that cold winter morning.
Soon I discovered to my dismay that my fellow passengers were all ladies and I was the only male in the compartment, I felt extremely embarrassed. Barring the sound of the rolling stock, pin-drop silence prevailed in the compartment. Didima suddenly gave me a mild note of warning that her belongings were not to be touched. I was not quite conversant with the sanctions and inhibitions governing the orthodox Hindu way of life. I felt uneasy in the company of my fellow passengers, evidently conservative in their outlook. I concluded that discretion would be the better part of valour. So, I packed up my bedding and prepared myself for a change of compartment.
The Mother had in the meanwhile uncovered her face and was sitting on her berth, tenderly looking at me. The train stopped at a wayside station and I tried to leave the compartment. But the Mother would not let me go. She gently asked me, "where are you going?” Instead of replying to her question, I simply apologized to her for my "trespassing” into a ladies’ compartment. She uttered two words in an East Bengal dialect "Ashaw, bawshaw (come, sit)", and offered
me a seat just beside her. We sat fairly close to each other and my right arm accidentally came into direct contact with her left arm. My whole system thrilled with a peculiar sensation of joy and peace. I forgot, for the moment, that I was a grown-up male and a complete stranger. I was being transported, as it were, to a new sphere.
The Delhi Express moved on slowly. Sitting so close to the Mother, I had the delightful feeling that I was being caressed by my own mother. Her very presence inhibited speech. It was a unique experience indeed. For some time there was no exchange of words between us until she broke the silence. She asked me several questions of a personal nature in the manner, of an inquisitive stranger — my name, occupation and residence; also details about my family, the purpose of my visit to Delhi and so forth. I answered fully each and every question, naively assuming that I had thereby given her much information about myself. I could then hardly imagine that she knew more of me than I did myself. In fact, my knowledge was limited to my conscious mind whereas she could, as I have since convinced myself, read the sub-conscious too, and even more.
We talked on all kinds of subjects. Religion or spirituality did not figure prominently in the conversation. Occasionally, our talk was being enlivened by the intermittent intervention of a middle-aged lady with an impressive appearance and of an imposing personality. She was Sri Gurupriya Devi
(popularly known as Didi, that is to say, elder sister ), the great author of the invaluable literature published under the caption of “Sri Sri Anandamayi Ma". I was not interested in her books. What really pleased me was her kindly offer of prasada (sacramental food ) as I was very hungry. But there was a snag in the offer : Didi added that she was waiting for me to change my clothes before I took prasada. I told her that I was not in the habit of changing in the morning. I added that I should be much obliged if I got some food from her, otherwise I would order breakfast elsewhere. My apathy to prasada was bad enough. My attitude was worse still. Didi looked sullen. The Mother, however, seemed to be indulgent. She observed that the rules regarding changing of clothes were
not for me. This one gesture from her was enough to make Didi all smiles and she gave me prasada. I appreciated the Mothers "liberal” outlook and enjoyed the delicacies received from Didi.
Our conversation,temporarily interrupted by the prasada episode, was resumed by the Mother. Without any preamble she asked me to sing a song. Unhesitatingly I at once sang a song by Tagore. And then I had an unprecedented experience - she seemed to be pleased with my performance and asked me to sing more songs. For a normal listener one musical recital by me would be boring enough.
By that time I had become very free with the Mother and felt like addressing her as "Ma”. Incidentally, I told her that there was a pathetic story which spoilt my prospect of becoming a great musician. The Mother expressed her curiosity to hear the story, but Didi suddenly rushed in for a private interview with her. During the confidential conversation Didi’s "whispering" was loud enough to outvoice the noise of the running train and her points ranged from the
sublime to the ridiculous. The Mother's replies were terse and cryptic. But the dialogue, thanks to Didi, seemed to be never-ending. As the Mother's destination was not far ahead, I was impatiently longing for an opportunity to talk to her.
My wish was fulfilled quite unexpectedly. The Mother abruptly and unceremoniously cut short Didi's private and turned to me for my "pathetic story". I told her that a connoisseur of music who regularly used to listen to my voice-training practice, once wondered whether I thought that my song was in tune with my stringed instrument. Hearing my confident answer in the affirmative he remarked in despair, ”Well, if that is your assessment, I am afraid music is not your line'. Thereupon I bade good-bye to music.
I had previously narrated this sad experience of mine to several persons. Every listener enjoyed the fun, laughed at my cost for a few seconds and there the matter ended. But the Mother's reaction was simply amazing and almost terrifying. An insignificant event, or rather an adverse opinion, had spoilt the doubtful prospect of my becoming a great musician. This fact proved hilarious enough for the Mother to create a scene. She suddenly burst into loud laughter
which continued until she was half exhausted. After a short pause, she started laughing again and would not stop until she was almost out of breath. This fit of laughter went on relapsing at short intervals. The Mothers face turned red,
tears rolled down her cheeks and at times she seemed to be almost reaching the point of suffocation. All this was terrifying beyond measure. Didi sternly stared at me with a look of concerned consternation and I was made to feel that I was responsible for the mischief. I failed to realize how I was at all to blame. I never had the faintest idea that the simple narration of my discomfiture could possibly lead to such a serious climax. I had a mixed feeling of embarrassment and apprehension of an unforeseen calamity. I was disgusted with myself for my decision to continue traveling in the ladies' compartment.
I learnt from practical experience that the Mother was absolutely unpredictable.
This time Didi came to my rescue. She gently suggested to me that the mischief could be remedied only by offering prayer to the Mother. I considered it worthwhile to experiment. With all the sincerity I could command I prayed to God (and not to the Mother as advised), that nothing untoward might happen to the strange lady. Instantaneously the Mother's alarming symptoms disappeared. She again became as charming as before—a gentle smile replaced her roaring erratic laughter, a possible calamity was averted. Was it due to my prayer? I preferred to explain it as a coincidence.
The tram stopped at an important station, Fatehpur, if I remember rightly. Several devotees forced their way into our compartment and prostrated themselves before the Mother. I then thought it was also my duty to do so. As the train left the station I bowed to the Mother in reverence, and was about to touch her feet when Didi stopped me in a peremptory manner. Her firmness suggested that my conduct, had been objectionable. I could not understand why. Incidentally, it is the time-honoured custom of Hindus to touch the feet of a superior person as a mark of respect for him or her. I did not know if there was any particular reason for not touching the Mother feet. I imploringly looked at the Mother, expecting support from her. Had she not already saved me out of several awkward situations? But even the Mother let me down this time. In fact, she seemed to approve of Didi’s objection she would not permit me to touch her feet. I felt hurt. Have I not begun inwardly to regard her as my mother? What does she mean by depriving a child of its natural right and privilege to touch its mother's feet. Anyway, I quickly finished a formal salutation from a distance and immediately thereafter I left the Mother's berth and shifted to the berth on the opposite side.
Lest the unpleasant episode should leave any trace of bitterness in my mind, I turned to nature's beauty for solace. I looked at the extensive fields and the limitless sky for the “healing touch of nature". Nature, however, failed to assuage my aggrieved heart. The more I tried mentally to move away from the Mother, the closer I felt drawn towards her; and this was so in spite of her apparent apathy. It was a mystery to me. I felt distressed by these conflicting emotions. But the cloud of my mind vanished and my heart leapt with joy when suddenly the voice of the Mother reached my ears — "Why not come to this bench?" I looked at her and noticed an apparently mischievous smile on her face. I came back to the Mother and the resumed talking to me, as if nothing had happened in the meantime. This was enough for me to forget my childish pique.
Now I found the Mother in a serious mood. She started with a question; "Do your people expect you to be back home tomorrow?" I replied, "No, Ma, they do not". "That's all right", observed the Mother. I failed to understand the implication of such a remark. Her second question was; "Is anybody expected to receive you at the Railway Station?" I said, "No". The Mother repeated her first remark: "That's all right". I was unpleasantly surprised because a repetition of the same remark seemed to confirm her apparently unsympathetic attitude. A mother who attracts and repels, alternatively, seemed an enigma to me. Indeed, her “That's all right" remained a mystery to me for the time being. Within a few minutes, however, I discovered that it had a deep significance for my future life.
The train stopped at Allahabad, the Mother's destination. I was about to bid her good-bye, when she said in East Bengal accent "Lamo” (get down). I was puzzled. I did not follow as to who was being addressed. The Mother smilingly
looked at me and said, with a strong accent in East Bengal style, "Laimya paro (do get down" ). Didi explained to me that a lower berth from Allahabad to Calcutta had already been reserved for me by the next convenient train and that I was to break my journey at Allahabad for a few hours. All this had been inspired by the Mother and arranged by Didi without my knowledge. I helplessly saw my luggage being carried to the platform by two bright-looking boys who had come to receive the Mother at the Railway Station. I got down, as desired. I had no option in the matter. The Mother asked me to get into her car. I did so and sat by her side. Our destination was the confluence of the Ganga and the Jamuna.
Ardha Kumbha Mela, a periodical congregation of saints and sages, was going on there. The "Ma Anandamayi Camp" consisting of a large number of tents, had been set up for the occasion under the supervision of Dr. Pannalal, I. C. S., since
deceased. The assembly of holy men in the sacred place on that auspicious occasion was a sight for the gods to see. I stayed at Allahabad as the Mother's guest for about eight hours. She introduced me to Dr. Pannalal, who treated me with paternal care and accommodated me in his own tent. Then he told me in detail his rich experience of spiritual pursuits and read out portions of his book 'Ma Anandamayi". Suddenly Dr. Pannalal stopped and took me to the dining place where we had prasada. The food served there was more delicious than any I had ever tasted. What added to its charm was the fact that the Mother herself served one of the items and smilingly told me that I should not feel shy nor hesitate to ask for more if I wished. Her hospitality was unexcelled. It deeply touched my heart.
After prasad Dr. Pannalal again took me to his tent and enlightened me on certain points raised by me. He genuinely tried to be helpful to me, From his experience he warned me against a strictly rationalistic approach and advised me that in the spiritual field there was no alternative to faith. Though not fully convinced by his argument, I was touched by the ring of sincerity in his words which seemed to carry conviction. His views were supported by some elderly devotees, benefited by their long association with the Mother. I was much impressed by the narration of the experience of these venerable persons as recipients of the Mother's grace. It set me thinking from a new point of view.
Commencing from my entry into a ladies' compartment, followed by my vision of Puri in dreams, a series of "coincidences" occurred, each preparing my mind for the climax yet to follow. The time for my departure was drawing nigh. The sun was sinking down to rest on Ganga-Jamuna's breast. Its mellowed rays were reflected on the Mother as She was proceeding from her tent to ours. Her face, as I had seen it at dawn, had been charming; what I saw at dusk was majestic.
The Mother came right up to me and blessed me by touching me. Then She uttered certain words which touched my soul. These words are too sacred to be repeated and too personal to be disclosed. They shook the foundation of my so-called rationalism. They showed me light and kindled in me a new type of spiritual aspiration. My initiation, treated under the cold shade of neglect since 1928, was revitalised. I became inspired to be true to the Mahatma who had given me initiation. I realized, for the first time, that I should have at least made an honest experiment on the path shown by him instead of rejecting it straight away. The Mother's glance at me filled my heart with regret for opportunities lost in the past and with hope for a bright prospect in the future. Better late than never - this was the soul-stirring message I received from the Mother. And this was the beginning of a new chapter in my life.*
* This article is based on the writer's diary published in Bengali in Volume I' of Ananda Varta about twenty-five years ago.