Mata Nirmala Devi decorated with sarisMataji asks: "Others say that they give self-realization, but what is the proof of that?" Her own, she says, can actually be felt within the palms of the hand and on the crown of the head as well as experienced as peace.

I wonder if vibrations could not be created by fervent expectation and desire, just as the speaking with tongues is a unique manifestation of the Pentecostal faith? Man, after all, makes his own reality. And the common collective experience of a group is no more proof that it is the only way, than the common human experience of being bodies disproves our spiritual identity. Both are only beliefs created by our own certainty about it.

To do Mataji credit, however, she reserves her ire for those gurus who she feels take money for self-realization, or mislead their disciples in other ways. She says categorically: "It's a living process, you cannot pay for it. It's your own power which will be awakened." She also contends that once the kundalini is awakened, an individual feels all knowledge at the tips of his fingers. "When you encounter a bad person or a cheat, your fingertips begin to burn."

The lady herself is said to have "opened sahasrara chakra of the universe" at a beach in Nargol, near Mumbai on May 5, 1970. She describes the experience of merging with the divine as a feeling of cool rain falling upon her. Subsequently, she realized within her the power of raising mass consciousness. The Sahaja Yoga people have a portfolio of photographs, accessible on their website, which shows blinding light or energy emerging from her or surrounding her. Subsequently, Nirmala Devi started her ministry across the world. But she is no sanyasi (nun). She is the wife of a top bureaucrat, Sir C.P. Srivastava, whose illustrious career culminated as the Secretary General of the UN Maritime Organization. Her two daughters are married and she has just become a great grandmother.
Today, at 77, she spends half her time in a chateau in Italy and the other half in India. Her Indian abode is in Pune. She is said to be independently wealthy. Prathisthan, her house, resembles a cross between a palace and a museum. The entry is lined with bronze statues of Indian gods and goddesses, and the rooms within are studded with priceless bric-a-brac.

Her drawing room is massive, with beautiful carved furniture and elaborate candelabra. The hall is ringed with a balcony, accessible through a carved staircase. Nirmala Devi is reputed to have designed the place herself. We are shown into a portico, overlooking a beautiful lawn. Mataji is sitting on a sofa. A few chairs have been laid for us, but the disciples accompanying me sink to the floor, hands folded in deep reverence. I do likewise. Later, as I try to rise, my legs feel rubbery. I wobble comically in my attempt to find my balance. Mataji, with deep concern, holds me and says: "Let me put my foot on yours. I am Mother Earth."

A great warmth fills my foot and sensation returns. The next day, we return to say goodbye. Nirmala Devi is having an inventory of her kitchen vessels (hundreds of them) done, but she meets us with a smile. When she notices me, she asks with genuine concern how I am. Feeling my back with her hands, she says: "She is a very emotional child."

One cannot help warming to her persona, which is affectionate, natural and motherly. Her fervent patriotism is touching. "What saved me (as the wife of an IAS officer) from false pride was patriotism. My husband got into the IFS but I refused to leave the country. I also told him, 'The day you take a bribe, I will leave you'."

Likewise, her concern for women is genuine. "I have started an organization to look after destitute Muslim women. If their mothers and sisters are weeping what will become of the children?" she asks. "Women should help other women."

One of the ways she addresses it within the organization is through the inter-marriage of Sahaja Yogis, from across the globe. "Sahaja Yogis fill up forms and submit them at centers. She selects by matching their vibrations," says Willy. "To an outsider some of the alliances seem wildly improbable, but they work."

Lyn, an Australian working with Mukund Iron and Steel, was married to Vasudeva on a trip to Ganapatipule in Maharashtra. She says: "Has it worked? Well, it's the only marriage I've had; we have two children and we aren't planning to kill each other. My husband tells me that he was always interested in Australia and knew he would marry an Australian. As for me, my friends said I would never marry an Australian."

Other initiatives taken by the group are the Sahaja Yoga school in Dharamshala, in Northern India, which apart from the academic curriculum emphasizes the absorption of Indian values. Meditation is a daily activity. With transformation of human society as her mission, Mataji has a long way to go, but who can deny that she has brought the end closer?
 August 2000

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