Editors Note: Here is a little correction. We have been informed by brother Westerlund that the above article was actually authored by Mr Timothy Conway, Ph.D., from Santa Barbara, U.S.A. based on the material provided by Gordon Westerlund. Mr.Timothy Conway is also the author of popular bookWomen of Power and Grace, familiar to many of our brethren.
Since her earliest childhood, Amma had been extremely precocious in the way she spoke to people and penetrating words of wisdom or blunt confessions of her fully awakened spiritual state were the norm rather than the exception. Reading through the many insightful dialogues she had Zen-like koans (enigmatic questions) or expounding in pithy fashion the highest truths of the final teaching of advaita (nondual) Vedanta, one is stunned and deeply curious how such a profoundly clear consciousness could be expressing itself at such a tender age-the textbooks on child development surely need to be rewritten to account for such a phenomenon. Once a wrestler experienced one of these question- and-answer encounters with little Amma and was tearfully moved to see in her the manifestation of the Radha-Krishna divinities- just prior to this encounter he had been prayerfull requesting a tangible experience of the Divinity. Chidambara Rao, her aged relative, also enjoyed many of these wisdom interchanges with this little Amma. On one occasion when she was six, Amma was taken by one of her fathers aunts to visit a revered scholar-yogi-monk, who wanted to initiate her with a mantra, however, Amma a reversed the roles and soon, through her incredible display of wisdom and purity, she had the old man in tears of joy and gratitude for the privilege of meeting her.
Here I should mention that a few of her relatives recognized her spiritual grandeur, they thought her to be "odd" or impertinent". In her mid-teens, Amma's unconventional ways- which began to include some bizarre-looking “fits" of falling, weeping, talking without any sense, not recognizing f amply members, and so forth, behaviors which have been seen in the lives of a number of God-intoxicated" souls in the history of religion-were variously regarded by some relatives as being either signs of mental retardation, insanity, or possession. How could they fathom the nature of her deep spiritual states? A few exorcists were brought in, to no avail, and finally she was admitted to a Christian missionary hospital at Chirala. Here she stayed for a year, though rarely in her hospital bed, tor she devoted herself to looking after and uplifting the other patients, also spending some of her time with the hospital staff playing tennis and other games. According to one of the patients who knew Amma in those days, both the patients and the staff looked upon her with great veneration, recognizing her obvious holiness, and some of them experienced divine visions as a result of her influence. Some of the Christian staff members thought her to be some kind of manifestation of Mother Mary.
A short time before her year of hospitalization began, namely, on May 5, 1936, Amma (age 13) had married her cousin, Nageswara Rao or Nannagaru, as he came to be known. Amma persisted in marrying him though her family had been resisting the marriage for several years due to his lower social standing. It turns out that Amma had a clear memory-from the time when she was only one month old-of hearing the women in her household joking that one day she might marry Nannagaru, who had been present as a 10 year old boy at her naming ceremony a few days before. It was in answer to those words that Amma insisted on marrying Nannagaru a dozen years later.
To stabilize her strange mystical condition, Amma was sent off to the Christian hospital shortly after their marriage, after her return a year later she settled down with Nannagaru and enthusiastically loved, sewed and obeyed him in perfect fulfillment of the ancient streedharma ideal for Hindu wives, an ideal which she did not consider to be at all demanding. In later years she replied to someone's question about her getting married that marriage need not be anything of an obstruction to a spiritual life.
In 1941, Amma, Nannagaru, and their new infant son moved to the backward, impoverished, faction-ridden little village of Jillellamudi, seven miles (and a difficult journey) away from Bapatla, where Nannagaru had been appointed as the Karanam (equivalent to mayor). Here Amma seems to havehidden her spiritual grandeur for a while, not speaking of the highest non-dual Truth to anyone, instead, she looked after the needs of her family (which would come to include another son and a daughter), fetching water from the village well, making dung cakes for fuel, tending and milking the cows, and extending the traditionally generous Indian hospitality to any villagers who might wish to visit their home. (some 15 cats and a number ol dogs took up more permanent residence with Amma and her family, some of them very conscious little souls indeed. Several strangely acting cobras also were seen to spend time with Amma as well. Once, Amma was seen throwing some snakes, which had gotten stuck in a rivulet to a safer spot, so as to alleviate their agony).
In addition to carrying out these household duties, Amma also devised and organizer a grain bank to help the destitute and ministered to the needy. She also purchased a piece of land and had a temple (Anasuyeswaralayam) built on it for the people- who had previously been considered too low-caste by the orthodox to merit any temple in their village.
On the evening of August 22, Amma, aged 26, was taken to an old female guru, Desiraju Rajamma, for a formal initiation by mantra into the typical Brahman-caste form of Hinduism. What happened over the course of that extraordinary night was a remarkable switching of roles, wherein Amma, through a masterful, Zen-like use of language and metaphor, artfully served as the real guru, and by dawn the old woman was tearfully, joyfully regarding Amma as the Divine Mother incarnate-having experienced a glorious vision of the Divine Mother in Ammas presence while the latter was in Samadhi for some three hours. Rajamma demanded that Amma hereafter become guru and initiate the masses. One hundred pages of provocative dialogue and extraordinary happenings from this encounter have been published, virtually every word and action of Ammas, rich with deeper multilevel meanings. Amma, who knew that her public mission was soon to begin, nevertheless for a few years continued to maintain a low profile, apparently only interested in raising her family and doing countless acts of kindness on behalf of the locals. She never hankered after any leadership role or desired to havefollowers".
In spite of Ammas obvious goodness, or perhaps because of it, she was persecuted and harassed by the ignorant and jealous miscreants-who probably resented the presence of this highcaste Brahmin family in their village-and she uncomplainingly suffered the ill effects of several attempts on her life made by them. Things began to change, however, when a village thug hired to harm her instead was won over by her love and became her hired hand. Both he and the man who replaced him at his death saw Ammas greatness, and, by the mid 1950s, other people, too, had begun to discover her, especially after she was called in by a relative at nearby Kommur to heal his wife's paralyzed leg, which she gladly did. Krishnavenamma and husband Haridas (Sriramula Venkateswarlu) from the nearby village of Kakumanu began visiting her after this (Krishnavenamma would regularly walk the eight miles to see her)-and they would become the first devotees to settle down near her several years later in 1958. Krishnavenamma was having many dreams, visions, and bi-locations of Amma (later in life she would easily go into Samadni for several hours at a time in Amma's presence), and would eventually become the first of Amma's attendants. Rukminamma was another early female devotee who was graced with many extraordinary experiences of Amma, and who later lived with her family at Jillellamudi and was Ammas traveling companion when the later began occasionally visiting some of the cities in the area in the early 1960s.
More healings and Amma's exorcism of someone's demon occurred around 1956 and soon people were coming to her in droves, especially on weekends. These were not only local village folk but also Brahmins from nearby towns and a dozen professional men who regularly visited her from Chirala. Visitors would rest their heads in her lap or massage her legs, thereby receiving her blessing-force. They would ask her all and sundry questions and be amazed by the pearls of wisdom which emerged in response. Upon their departure, Amma would give them fruits and small packages of kumkum (vermilion) powder, sacred to the Goddess, as Prasad (Prasad isGod's gift", it is customary when visiting an Indian saint to bring a gift of food or flowers which the guru then blesses and distributes to all as a consecrated token of Gods love for humanity). If no fruits or kumkum powder were available, she would bless and give them pieces of earth, which, wondrously, would be sweet and fragrant for days, having been consecrated by her divine touch. ln 1958, early in the morning of a full-moon day, Amma gave mantras (sacred phrases of power) individually to some 600 people who had gathered, thereby fulfilling old Rajammas desire that Amma become a guru-though Amma would not initiate anyone thereafter, saying that she was neither Guru nor Guide nor Teacher, but simplyMother to all. (....to be continued)