First meeting with Sri Ma

(As narrated to Narayan Chaudhuri by a devotee Sri B.K. Guha )

Varanasi in the month of May is nobody's haven due to oppressive and unbearable heat. Those who visit this holy city during this time of the year take back many happy memories along with the memory of intense heat. But I shall remember the month of May 1952 to the end of my life for no other reason than an unforgettable incident. Let me begin from the beginning.

I came to Varanasi from Calcutta in March 1951 with a friend with the intention of building up a practice in Ayurvedic medicine. We hired a room in Sonarpura area, made plans, started collecting tools of trade; but one day a midnight telegram nipped our project in the bud. The telegram was addressed to my friend from an acquaintance in Bombay inviting him there for a prospective job. My friend forgetting all about our well thought-out plan, decided to proceed at once to Bombay not probably for the allurement of a good job but mainly to get away from the scorching heat of Varanasi. I was thus left alone to brood over the plan of becoming a practitioner in Ayurvedic medicine: but the prospect looked dimmer day by day and ultimately I had to abandon the idea. I then started looking for a job.

It was a part of my daily routine to go and sit each afternoon with a sizeable crowd on the spacious steps of the famous Dasaswamedh Ghat and hear discourses on Tulsi's Ramayana, as a part of daily satsang. One day I went a bit early to the satsang and found that after sometime, a respectable-looking gentleman seated himself just beside me. After some routine talk about weather, etc. he inquired about my vocation. I told him my tale of woe, adding that I was in search of a job so that I could find means for staying permanently at Varanasi. He said he was looking for a man who could act as a care-taker of his house with an attached garden situated at the Gurudham area of the city. The owner also informed that the house was untenanted and that his purpose of coming to Varanasi from Calcutta was to appoint a caretaker, who would have to stay in and look after the house, on a monthly allowance of Rs. 100/-, until the house was sold out. I made a quick decision and, like a drowning man, readily offered myself to be the care-taker of his house. The deal was struck then and there and I was installed in the new assignment from the very next day. It was middle of April 1951.

The house I had to look after was a fairly big one with a spacious compound in front of it and a garden on its Southern side containing about a dozen mango and guava trees and also some beds of roses and other flower plants. It was part of my daily duty to water the plants myself, although there was a paid Mali (gardener) to keep the garden neat and clean by weeding Out dried leaves, etc. In summer months, it was very refreshing to pass the mornings and evenings in the garden in the cool shade of trees facing the roses in full bloom with a riot of colours.

A year rolled by in placid peace. In came the oppressive month of May 1952, but it was a memorable month in my life. One evening after sun-set, I was as usual reclining on a charpoy with an English magazine in my hand and enjoying the cool breeze. Suddenly a sweet girlish voice from behind startled me. On turning back I found a girl of not more than 15 or 16 years of age standing with a smiling face and shining eyes. As I was sitting with my back to the main gate, I could hardly be aware of her silent entrance or her stealthy approach towards me. The colour of her face was blackish and one end of her red-bordered white sari was wound round her slender waist.

One thing about her which would at once attract everybody's notice was her wonderful and abundant mass of black hair flowing loosely down her back. Her feet were bare and two white glass bangles adorned her wrists.

From her simple dress and appearance, she seemed to belong to some

working class family, but in that scarlet hue of the setting sun she appeared to me simply wonderful.

Noticing my slight embarrassment and mute admiration in my eyes, she asked me in a melodious tone, "Babuji, won't you give me a couple of ripe mangoes?" My first reaction was indirect refusal which I repented later in leisure. I replied pointing to a mango-laden tree, "Look, the mangoes are still green. How can I give you ripe mangoes?" However, she brushed aside my reply and unwounding a portion of her waist-bound sari and stretching the two ends of it with her two hands, she appealed, "Please give, Babuji, give. Haven't you got some in your room?" Her mention of "room" made me remember with a guilty conscience the three ripe mangoes I had gathered that very morning while strolling in the garden, mangoes that had fallen from the trees at night. I asked her to wait a minute and ran to my room. Holding two mangoes in my hand, I returned to her. Her face brightened with beatific smile and, exhibiting child-like simplicity and haste to grab a priceless thing, she stretched out the portion of her cloth still held by her hands and gleefully said, "Drop them here, Babuji." When I did so, she pointed with her right hand towards the rose-beds and said in the same sweet appealing tone, "Now please give me some roses, Babuji." I was going to refuse but restraining myself I replied, "You can pluck a few yourself, if you like." But surprisingly she refused to do the plucking herself and asked me instead to do it for her. I then plucked a few roses of different colours and dropped them into her folded palms. She seemed immensely delighted, and as she was about to retreat, I just halted her by raising my hand and then put to her a number of questions one after another: "Where are you coming from? Do you happen to stay near by? Are you a neighbour of ours? Where do you actually stay?" With a twinkle in her eyes, she answered my last question, "I stay in Bhadaini Kali Temple." So saying, she turned back and virtually ran towards the gate and vanished without giving me an opportunity of asking any further question.

For a few moments, I was in a trance as it were, and when I came to my own, I ran to the front gate hoping to find her somewhere near by. But my search was in vain and, strangely enough, the few passers-by whom I met on the road, denied having seen such a girl in the locality.

On returning to my resting place in the garden, I started pondering over the dramatic happening of the last half an hour. The more I thought about it, the more mysterious it seemed to me. The sudden appearance of an unknown and uncommon girl, her unearthly appearance, manner, gaiety and talk-all seemed on closer scrutiny to be surrounded with a mystery. And take her last words. "I stay in Bhadaini Kali Temple." At first I took it as an innocent joke because during my stay of over a year in Varanasi, I had occasions to visit all the Kali temples of the city. But I had never heard of the existence of a Kali temple in Bhadaini area and, strangely enough, this area is not very far off from the house in which I live. Was then her statement nothing but a juvenile prank or was it a spontaneous truthful admission? I decided to verify it in order to satisfy my two-fold curiosity that arose in my mind to confirm the existence of a Kali temple at Bhadaini which in turn might lead to a possible clue to knowing more about that mysterious girl. With these twin resolves in my mind, I set out to pursue my task from the very next morning. For one week I virtually ransacked the whole area of Bhadaini, visited every nook and corner, pestered many people of the locality, asked the Pujaris of the two well-known and important Kali temples - Panchakote Kali temple and Cooch Behar Kali temple - situated within the radius of a mile but none could vouchsafe the existence of a Kali temple at Bhadaini and everybody denied having any knowledge about it. All my labour was thus futile, and this disheartened me, more so because I harboured a feeling in my innermost heart that there was a ring of truth in what the girl told me about her abode. Although the search was abandoned, a faint hope, however, linger in my mind that some day the girl would re-visit the garden and ask for mangoes or flowers. But the days rolled by without any sign of my cherished hope being fulfilled. Then happened the most incredible incident three months later on the Janmashtami Day (Birthday of Lord Sri Krishna). As on other auspicious days, an early morning dip in the Ganga on the Janmaslitami Day is a must. On that day, I decided to have a dip in the Anandamayee Ghat adjacent to Sri Sri Ma Anandamayee Ashram at Bhadaini. I started at day-break and had a dip in the Ganga at that particular Ghat. When I was ascending the steps after the bath, an unbelievable spectacle caught my eyes. From the window of the Annapoorna Temple of the Ashram, which overlooks the Ganga, two white hands with spotlessly white conch-shell bangles on, were found to be waving as if sportingly, but to me they looked like beckoning me to come nearer. It lasted only a few moments after which the hands were withdrawn to my utter bewilderment. I stood rooted to the spot oblivious of the world around me. With the sun just up in the sky, it was neither a dream nor a hallucination.

Could it then be a purposeful action of a woman devotee doing her daily morning salutation to the rising sun? That was at least the reasonable explanation one could give to that unusual happening. With a decision in my mind to know what it was all about. I went inside the Ashram and met a Brahmachari in the inside courtyard. Looking at the bundle of wet clothes in my hand he thought I wanted to do pranam to the deities in the temple as many people do after a bath in the Ganga and so he directed me to the stair-case leading to the first floor of the building wherein lies the Annapoorna Temple just by the side of the Ganga. Standing in front of the temple door, I looked inside and found a pujari (priest) sitting in deep meditation in front of the several deities installed there. There was none else inside the room and certainly not any female devotee, the object of my exploration. I then directed my attention to the deities.

On the left-hand side, two big Shivalingas and several Narayanshilas were found installed. On the right- hand side of the room, I found a big glass case on a raised pulpit of marble stone. To have a clearer view of the deities inside the glass case, I moved a step or two nearer the temple door and found images of Devi Annapoorna and Lord Siva made of some burnished metal like gold. I closed my eyes and did obeisance to them. On opening my eyes, my gaze was fixed on a jet-black image of Mother Kali, on the right-hand side of the glass case, standing on the breast of a lying Shivamurti. At once a thought flashed across my mind. Was this then the much sought-after Kali Temple of Bhadaini as mentioned by that mysterious girl? This must be the one, I felt convinced, as there was none other. But where was that girl who had mentioned this as her place of abode?

I reasoned that she must be somewhere here in this Ashram. With a ruffled mind, I hurriedly ran downstairs and made inquiries about the girl but everybody was emphatic in his reply that no such girl of my description did ever stay in that Ashram. Someone even sarcastically remarked that the girl I was searching for was nothing but a figment of my imagination. But how could I convince him that the girl I had met in my garden was not a fanciful object but very much a living human being of flesh and blood. I thought it better to give up that futile attempt. I came out of the Ashram and took the way to my home with a heart elated and satisfied at the dramatic discovery of the Bhadaini Kali Temple which solved at least one mystery and that discovery generated in my mind a faint ray of hope of resolving the mystery of the girl as well as of the owner of those two waving hands. Needless to say, I observed the Janmashtami festival with a joyful heart.

For the next few days the indelible memory of that inconceivable vision of the two beautiful waving hands haunted me day and night. Those hands couldn't belong to that elusive girl. Then whom did those hands belong to - Devi Annapoorna, Mother Kali or somebody else? Whoever it might be, it was a mystery beyond my comprehension. I only prayed to God to reveal the truth to me someday.

A week later, I went to the Ashram and the person I met first was no other than its Secretary who was popularly known as Kamalda (Virjananda). Tauntingly he smiled and said, "Are you not the same person who inquired the other day about a mysterious girl? Could you find her out?" I replied in the negative. He then said, "What do you do? Can't you help us in the Ashram work?" I replied, "I can, but before that I want to have a darsan of Ma. Is She here?" "Yes," he said, "She is here. You can wait in that hall down there on the side of the Ganga where She will come after a while." On entering the hall (which was subsequently demolished after it was damaged by flood water), I found about thirty persons sitting on a duree - men on one side arid women on the other, all expectantly waiting for Ma.

I quietly sat down at the rear and waited. After about 15 minutes, all stood up in reverence as Ma entered the hall. At first sight Ma appeared to me like a goddess just descended from heaven. She glided past me and took the seat allotted to her at the top end of the hall. She was dressed all in white and a white chaddar (wrapper made of cotton) covered her body including her hands.

A few minutes passed in blissful silence and then Ma asked an Ashram girl to sing bhajans. As she finished one bhajan and was about to start the second, Ma brought out, from underneath the wrapper, her hand and started adjusting the garment on her shoulders. Seeing those hands with conch-shell bangles on, my heart leaped to my throat as it were, because those were the hands I had no difficulty whatsoever in recognising, hands that had waved outside the Annapoorna temple the other day while I was ascending the steps of the nearby bathing ghat. The impact of that revelation was stunning and overwhelming for me. The owner of those two divine hands was none else but Ma Anandamayee who through her infinite compassion and grace revealed to me the identity of the owner of the waving hands. My heart overflowed with joy as the revelation had a special message for me, a message of Mother's boundless grace and ineffable compassion. I then got up from my seat, drew near Ma and without a word prostrated myself before her - with a heart full of gratitude and reverence.

I now leave it to you all to establish the identity of that mysterious girl. To me, her identity stood fully revealed. After meeting Ma, I had no doubt whatsoever in my mind that it was Ma herself who kindly visited my garden out of sheer compassion in the guise of an unknown and uncommon girl. You may of course draw your own conclusions. But I shall die with my own.