In my childhood in Ballyganj — a sophisticated area of South Kolkata — there were several addresses where, now and then, on leaving her Himalayan abodes, Anandamayi Ma liked to spend a couple of days in company of her loyal disciples. She was popularly known as Mataji. We were familiar with that ever-smiling face, especially those large eyes that reminded everybody of the goddess Kali appearing in a human form.
In 1948 when we three brothers were admitted by the Mother as students of the Ashram School at Puducherry, I was running eleven. Once we heard Madhav Pandit-ji confirm that having brought to Sri Aurobindo’s notice a photo of Mataji, Dilip Kumar Roy was informed that she was in the triune state of Sachchidananda (Existence-Consciousness-Bliss). Ignorant of what this status could signify, we heard disciples questioning, “How can you attain Sachchidananda consciousness unless you reach supramental consciousness? Do you mean to say she has realized super-mind?” Sri Aurobindo replied that one does not have to pass through all these graded levels of consciousness to experience the Sachchidananda, for the simple reason that Sachchidananda is not only up there but here throughout. According to the Master, it is behind all, supporting all, as the Chandogya Upanishad (III.14.1.) teaches us : sarvam khalvidam brahma ‘the Supreme is all this’. And being part of Brahman, Sachchidananda is also behind everything. Later we understood that at every level there is Sachchidananda. So even at the physical level, even without being highly developed mentally, without knowing the Sastras, without having to pass through all these, one can just deepen the consciousness and realize the Sachchidananda. So there is a realization of Sachchidananda at the physical level, at the vital level, every level. But if you want to realize it evolutionarily, confirming it in every part of the being, you have to go through the gradations. If one has realized Sachchidananda at the physical or the emotional level, it is only there; the mind need not be illumined by Sachchidananda, Now that Sri Aurobindo and the Mother have emphasized the necessity of evolving spiritually, the whole of the person, right from the body upwards, requires to be enlightened, illumined, possessed by the highest Consciousness. So it is only if man wants to go up the evolutionary ladder that he has to go through the supermind, but he can always withdraw from the course of evolution and realize the Divine where he is.
Four years after our joining the Ashram at Puducherry, in the morning on 3 November 1952 we found Mataji sitting near Sri Aurobindo’s Samadhi, surrounded by five of her companions and four sadhus (monks) who had joined them from the Ashram of Maharshi Raman.
Having though of receiving Mataji alone, when the Mother sent a word at 11.00 that Mataji was expected upstairs for darshan, she went up with her two lady attendants, and two sadhus. One Ethel Merston, an English disciple from the Ashram of Raman, had been accompanying Mataji in her South Indian tour. Frustrated by this exclusion, Ethel and the other four took the liberty to be the witness of the meeting of — as they called it — the two “saintly women”. Somewhere in their protest there was a contempt for both the women Gurus. Unwarranted, they took the liberty of going up a narrow steep stairway to a landing where a doorway opened into a room. They sat down. Just inside the open door; close to Ethel, stood the Mother with her attendants. Mataji emerged through a doorway at the far end of Sri Aurobindo’s siting room. Ethel looked at her watch to fix the time of the meeting: 11.25 am.
Habituated to welcome cordially Presidents and Ministers and representatives of various pursuits, the Mother was well-known for her loving presence. She happened to have been exceptionally described by Ethel in most uncharitable terms. Thus we have tried to explore her personal trauma which could prompt her to soil such a precious historical moment. Before we analyze the bitter picture of the sweet Mother, as recorded by Ethel, let us cast a glance at this masterpiece of perversion.
“Anandamayi Ma came down the two steps into the room followed by her people in single file: she smiled as she approached The Mother, who stood rigid, unsmiling and motionless, her hands clenched behind her back, her head thrust forward fixing Khukhi (sic!) with her eyes. It was an amazing meeting, completely silent. For a moment Khukhi (sic!) looked taken aback by the fixed unwelcoming stare, then just stood still facing The Mother and relaxed, simple and childlike. There they both stood, not a muscle of their bodies moved, it was like puppets arrested suddenly, frozen; each showed her essence: power and simplicity.”
In addition to her guilty conscience of having trespassed private apartments and having ignored the intimate wish of a spiritual guide, Ethel never forgot that her mother had rejected her from birth and obstructed the relationship with her father, creating a psychic wound with which she would work her whole life. Daughter of a rich Jewish family of Victorian England,, one of Gurdjieff’s first students in Paris, Ethel had remained with him for seven years. In 1927 she had departed for India.
Fortunately, a more humane description of this meeting is available. It mentionsthat theMother looked at Mataji for a long time with a fixed gaze while Mataji looked at her with a natural poise. The Mother’s eyes blinked after a long time. She presented Mataji with a rose, a ‘ball’ flower (globe lily) and two pieces of chocolate. Mataji returned the rose and one piece of chocolate. The Mother kept the chocolate but gave the rose back. This exchange of flowers was repeated twice or thrice after which the Mother tore a portion of the rose and returned the rest to Mataji.
Later, during a conversation, Professor Jyotish Das Gupta told Mataji: “I also have been to Pondicherry. There someone told me that the Mother looked straight at you with a steady gaze and you, unable to bear it, lowered your eyes.” The Professor related more of the kind and wanted to know what Mataji had to say about it all.
Mataji listened to everything and then said with a smile: “She is the Mother and this (pointing to herself) Her little daughter. What more is to be said about it ?”
But some of the disciples begged of Mataji: “Should not the actual facts be disclosed? Do please speak ! For in this case it cannot be as it would with ordinary people like ourselves.” When they went on pressing Mataji to explain what had really happened, She laughed heartily and at last responded: “As you know, Sri Haribabaji took this small child with him when he went on a pilgrimage to South India. This is precisely how this little child went to see the Mother of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. This body did not approach the Mother in quest of spiritual experience or the like; a little girl is simple and natural in the presence of her own mother. You well know that the behaviour of this body is quite Unpredictable (‘elomelo‘ in Bengali): here there is no question of giving or receiving power, of finding anything bearable or unbearable-whatever comes to pass at any time is as it should be. As this body feels here with you now, just exactly the same it felt at Pondicherry. What is the difference between this body, the Mother and you all ? From your angle of vision only they are different one from the other.”
“Very well then,” Mataji continued: “Since you are eager to hear, listen. When the Mother came and stood before this body, this body out of its own kheyal  (Divine Intuition) looked straight into the Mother’s eyes and for a moment, just as it looks at all of you; but then the kheyal came that the sadhus who had come with us were all being kept standing and so this body for a second looked in their direction; then again there was the kheyal to respond fully to the blinkless gaze of the Mother. Thus this body of its own accord did look directly into the Mother’s eyes for some length of time, did it not? Then the Mother herself lowered her glance and put a flower into my hand; an exchange of flowers followed.”
Turning to the disciples, Mataji added : “You all witnessed this yourselves. The Mother’s eyes did not even radiate intense light while focused on this small girl. In other words did my Mother attract and hold the eyes of this small girl with her glance as is done in the case of others? This is the exact truth of the matter.”
After pausing for a while, Mataji spoke again. “Some years ago, when this body met Satubhai, he talked about the Mother of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram and said that when one goes for her darshan she gazes straight and steadily into one’s eyes. At that time this body had the kheyal (Divine Intuition) ‘Very well, if ever circumstances bring about a meeting of this body with the Mother, this body will behave quite naturally according to its kheyal; whatever happens is as it should be’.”
Mataji laughed and then continued : “If someone had told this body that at the Pondicherry Ashram it was a rule to respond from the very beginning to the Mother’s gaze and look straight into her eyes, this body would have had the kheyal to do accordingly. Every place and every condition, wherever and whatever they may be, are but the ONE. If the kheyal had come, this body would spontaneously have acted (to whatever extent it might be) as consistent with the demands of that particular place. Where this body was made to stay, there it stayed. When and where it was taken to see (someone or something) it did go and see at the appointed time and place. Further it sat down or stood up, etc. for precisely the length of time and at any particular spot that was in keeping with the ritual of the place, so far as it had been made known to this body. From your worldly point of view there are no doubt a great many different ways of expressing things. So long as the individual is what it is and has not been freed from its knots, how can a correct solution of any problem be arrived at ? Suppose the Mother’s gaze had been met by the gaze of this body from beginning to end, this might have given you the chance of saying : ‘Look, Mataji held the eyes of the Mother with such power that the Mother was incapable of averting her eyes.”
Here Mataji broke out into ringing laughter and then remarked : “This is the kind of thing you might have said, is it not ? Look, all forms are but the expressions of the Power of the One Lord; at different times He manifests in different ways.”
In 1995, Buddhadeba Bhattacarya, a disciple of Mataji, wrote in his book Anandamayee – The Universal Mother that on the same evening (3 November 1952) the Mother and Mataji “ had another meeting at the same place.Mother was distributing roasted peanuts to visitors with a spoon from a wooden container. She offered some to Ma who said, “This little girl is the youngest of all.” Mother said in English “Forever a little child.” The singer-saint Dilip Roy, an inmate of Pondicherry, met Ma several times during her stay and sang before her.
The meeting in the afternoon was not at all at the same place. Adjacent to the main Playground at Puducherry, there was the courtyard of the building known as ‘Guest House’ available for adolescent boys and girls belonging to the ‘Green Group’, with a see-saw, a sand-pit, a jungle gym (replacing an old champaka tree). I was present there, not because Tejen-da — my father — was in charge of this section but, also, because I taught the children music and we were three assistants who, selected by the Mother, used to go through the dictation she gave, prior to herself proposing the final corrections in the classes that she conducted for these children.
Having seen the Mother busy with a ceremony, stealthily Mataji reached the rank of kids who were waiting for Prasad, and knelt down. Every day the Mother distributed hot roasted peanuts; on special occasions, instead, she asked the Cottage Service to prepare delicate toffees with almond paste. That being the case, when the Mother was in front of her, pretending to be surprised to see her there, Mataji folded her hands and, with a mock impish smile claimed: ami-o to tor chhoto méyé; amay mishti dibi né ? (“I too am your little girl; won’t you give me sweets ?”). I clearly remember that particular regional speech she practiced. There was an exchange of hearty smiles. More than sixty years later, while Pandit Ravi Shankar and I were to re-live some instances of our old happy days, he was to shed a few drops of tear by repeating fondly some such regional accents from a loving heart.
The daily ceremony I mentioned above consisted of a garland that my parents — Usha-di and Tejen-da — brought every afternoon, waiting for the Mother near the passage between the Guest House and the Play Ground. They handed the garland over to Pranab-da: he took it to bedeck the Mother’s neck. Late in the evening, on returning to the Main Building of the Ashram, the Mother placed the garland at Sri Aurobindo’s feet.
The Mother with Tejendranath Mukherjee, his wife Usha and Pranab Kumar Bhattacharya.
Every morning, Tejen-da, on cycle, went exploring Puducherrry gardens up to quite far villages to find out the flowers required by Usha-di for weaving the chosen pattern for the day. Never did she repeat the same pattern twice over. I do not exactly remember when this ceremony began. Most probably on 18 October, 1950, when Tejen-da had organized a superb festivity to celebrate Pranab-da’s birthday. By the way, on that day, with flowers and leaves and moss, Tejen-da had drawn a map of united India on the wall of the Play Ground: pleased with it, the Mother touched it up considerably, before assuming the present form in cement.
After Mataji’s leaving the Play Ground, the Mother informed my parents that the experience with the garlands was over. She needed no garland any more. Nobody knows the significance of this mysterious coincidence.
 Mostly this word means “whims”, “phantasy”, creating a genre of classical composition in Indian music.
1. A Woman’s Work with Gurdjieff, Ramana Maharshi, Krishnamurti, Anandamayi Ma & Pak Subuh (Fairfax, CA: Arete Communications, 2009) by Mary Ellen Korman, foreword by William Patrick Patterson.
4. Ananda Varta, p. 171 Vol VII, No 4 1960 Gurupriya Devi. “Pages from my Diary”.
5.Anandamayee – The Universal Mother”.Buddhadeba Bhattacarya, 1995
6. Ma Anandamayi, by Somesh Ch Banerjee, 2013
About the Author: Dr Prithwindra Mukherjee (b. 20th October 1936) is the grandson of the famous revolutionary Jatindranath Mukherjee alias Bagha Jatin. He came to Sri Aurobindo Ashram in 1948, studied and taught at Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education. He was mentioned by the Sahitya Akademi manuals and anthologies as a poet before he attained the age of twenty. He has translated the works of French authors like Albert Camus, Saint-John Perse and René Char for Bengali readers, and eminent Bengali authors into French. He shifted to Paris with a French Government Scholarship in 1966. After defending a first thesis Doctorat d’Université on Sri Aurobindo at Sorbonne, he served as a lecturer in two Paris faculties, a producer on Indian culture and music for Radio France and was also a freelance journalist for the Indian and French press. His next thesis for PhD (Doctorat d’Etat) studied the pre-Gandhian phase of India’s struggle for freedom; it was supervised by Raymond Aron in Paris University IV. In 1977 he was invited by the National Archives of India as a guest of the Historical Records Commission. He presented a paper on ‘Jatin Mukherjee and the Indo-German Conspiracy’ and his contribution on this area has been recognized by eminent educationists. A number of his papers on this subject have been translated into major Indian languages. He went to the United States of America as a Fullbright scholar and discovered scores of files covering the Indian revolutionaries in the Wilson Papers. In 1981 he joined the department of ethnomusicology attached to the CNRS-Paris (French National Centre of Scientific Research) with the project of a cognitive study of the scales of Indian music. He was also a founder-member of the French Literary Translators’ Association. In 2003 he retired as a researcher in Human and Social Sciences Department of the CNRS. A recipient of ‘Sri Aurobindo Puraskar’, in the same year he was invited by Sir Simon Rattle who was to conduct Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra for the world premiere of Correspondances, opus for voice (with the divine participation of Dawn Upshaw) and orchestra, where the veteran composer Henri Dutilleux had set to music Prithwindra’s French poem “Danse cosmique” on Shiva Nataraja, followed by texts by Solzhenitsyn, Rilke and Van Gogh. In 2009 he was appointed to the rank of chevalier (Knight) of the Order of Arts and Letters by the Minister of Culture of France. Six years later the Minister of Culture appointed him Knight, too. In 2014, the French Academy recognized Prithwindra’s entire contribution by its Hirayama Award. He has penned more than seventy books in English, Bengali and French and some of his published works include Samasamayiker Chokhe Sri Aurobindo, Pondicherryer Dinguli, Bagha Jatin, Sadhak-Biplobi Jatindranath, Undying Courage, Vishwer Chokhe Rabindranath, Thât/Mélakartâ : The Fundamental Scales in Indian Music of the North and the South (foreword by Pandit Ravi Shankar), Poèmes du Bangladesh (welcomed by the literary critic of Le Figaro as the work of the “delicious Franco-Bengali poet”), Serpent de flammes, Le sâmkhya, Les écrits bengalis de Sri Aurobindo, Chants bâuls, les Fous de l’Absolu, Anthologie de la poésie bengalie. Invited by the famous French publishers Desclée de Brouwer, his biography Sri Aurobindo was launched with due tribute by Kapil Sibal, India’s ambassador in France. His PhD thesis, Les racines intellectuelles du movement d’independence de l’Inde (1893-1918) was foreworded by Jacques Attali: it ended up with Sri Aurobindo, “the last of the Prophets”. While launching Prithwindra’s biography Bagha Jatin published by National Book Trust, H. E. Pranab Mukherjee admitted: “It is an epitome of the history of our armed struggle for freedom.” To celebrate the centenary of Tagore’s Nobel award, in 2013, Prithwindra brought out a trilingual (Bengali-French-English) anthology of 108 poems by Tagore, A Shade Sharp, a Shade flat, it was launched by the President of the illustrious Sociéte des Gens de Lettres founded by Balzac. In 2020, he was honoured with the prestigious ‘Padma Shri’ by the Government of India.