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    Mother of Bliss: Anandamayi Ma (1896-1982)

    By: Lisa Lassell Hallstrom

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    Some feminist theologians in the West have suggested that a move toward powerful yet compassionate female religious imagery, inspired by ancient goddess cultures, would empower women and create a more balanced and humane society. Yet India has one of the oldest continuous traditions of goddess worship in the world, a tradition which is very much alive today. In fact, the Hindu tradition holds that the Divine Mother can take form as an apparently human being. Moreover, Hindu women throughout the centuries have been considered to be living saints and venerated as such. This book examines the life of one such woman, Anandamayi Ma, who by the time of her death in 1982 was widely revered as a saint, guru, and incarnation of God. Born into a poor brahman family in Bengal in 1896, Anandamayi Ma became one of the most renowned Hindu holy women of modern times. Ma found her religious vocation early, and by 1926, she had begun her ceaseless travels through India, attracting devotees wherever she went, among them such prominent figures as Kamala Nehru and her daughter, Indira Gandhi. By the time of her death Mas devotees numbered in the hundreds of thousands, and today they continue to worship her daily in their homes and gather to participate in spiritual practices in her name. Drawing on extensive interviews, literature from Mas community, and a vast array of other sources, Lisa Hallstrom paints a fascinating and vivid portrait of this extraordinary woman, her teachings, and her continuing influence. In the process, Hallstrom sheds new light on a wide range of important themes in the Hindu tradition, and examines the capacity of a powerful female religious figure to serve as a model for women when she is perceived as divine, and, therefore, beyond gender.

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