Who is Jillellamudi Amma? Is she a Mystic? Is she a Prophet? Is she an Avatar or Incarnation of God? Is she Rajarajeswari? Or is she simply an ordinary woman born to the couple Mannava Seethapathi and Rangamma and married to Brahmandam Nageswara Rao, a Village Officer?
These are questions I have been hearing since my first visit to Jillellamudi almost half a century ago. Some of these questions, I had put to myself too. Many have tried to answer this question in their own way, naturally, from this humble writer in this country to western authors like Richard Schiffman of the United States from a layman living in Jillellamudi to acclaimed – intellectuals like Dr. Sripada Gopalakrishna Murthy and from Avadhootas like Raghuvaradas in the neighborhood of her village to Siddha Purushas like Mouna Swami (Courtallam). Their views are diverse and sometimes conflicting. There is however an area of agreement! All accept that she is Mother of All and that she is the personification of maternal love. Conflicting views and disagreements are in interpretations and descriptions in terms of divine forms.
Amma had never claimed that she possessed esoteric knowledge or developed occult powers through spiritual practices. She does not fit into any definition of mystics or she was not simply another Saibaba or another Ramana Maharshi. Devotees saw some of the qualities of mystics in her but no one had unequivocally said that she was a mystic. The question whether she was a mystic remains unanswered to the satisfaction of all the devotees. Amma herself had said. “I do not know anything of that sort.” So, calling her a mystic is not appropriate.
My first article on Amma was titled “Buddha. Jesus and Amma”, in “Gunturu Vani” Weekly’s inaugural issue, around the year 1960. Jesus was a prophet but some considered Buddha an Avatar. Many in other religions do not accept that a new prophet is born because they believe that the world has already seen the last of the prophets. Therefore, describing her as a prophet is not possible.
There are some who believe that Lord Krishna took birth as Amma. When Yarlagadda Raghavaiah of Singupalem village (near Repalle) in Guntur district had praised Amma, in a lyric, as none other than “Krishna in this form” and worshiped her so, Amma heard the melodious praise but neither endorsed nor rejected his view. She simply showered her love on him as she did in the case of anybody else. Puranic literature is full of stories about the Avatars. (The Supreme God that descends to the Earth to protect the helpless and to punish the wicked is an Avatar, Vedic mythology puts the number of Avatars at ten and the last is Kalki to be born in Kali Yuga but the descriptions of Kalki do not conform to anything in the life of Amma. Punishing somebody did not arise in her case as she had declared that she saw no wrong in any one’s deeds. Scriptures tell us about Amma (partial) avatars also but that concept too is not applicable to Amma. So, she may not be called an Avatar.
There were some who saw in her the deities that they have been worshiping for long. Amma never had said she was an incarnation of a deity. She, however, did not object to people worshiping her as their chosen deity. In Mannava village, a few months before Amma was born, a Rajarajeshwari Yantra was installed in the ancient Vaishnavite temple of Chenna Kesava Swamy. (A yantra is a plate usually made of copper on which mystical symbols, letters and geometric diagrams are inscribed. It is believed to possess extraordinary powers.) Shortly after that event, three girls were born one after another with a small gap of a few weeks between them, in that village. Two of them were named Bala Tripura Sundari and the third was named Anasuya Devi. The latter was Amma. Rajarajeswari and Balatripura Sundari are but two of the one thousand names of Lalita, the divine form of primordial energy. Most people in the village believed that the three girl children were the blessing of the Goddess Rajarajeswari. The year was 1923. All the three were childhood friends. Only in the case of Amma extraordinary events had taken place right from her birth. The other two kids knew that Anasuya was a different kind of child, but their age did not give them the knowledge and ability to understand their friend’s superhuman qualities. The two
Balatripura Sundaris later spent normal lives as housewives. The last among the trio passed away in 2009 February. (She was Peddiraju Bala Tripura Sundari, mother-in-law of this writer.) Most villagers too were aware of the extraordinary faculties of Amma but could not understand them. They are not like miracles about which they have read in the books and have seen in the street plays of stories from Bhagavatham and Bharatam. Interestingly, it was Amma who revealed that the consecrated plate in the temple was Rajarajeshwari Yantra when she was hardly three years old. The villagers pooh-poohed it thinking that it was only a child’s blab. They were under the impression that it was Rajya Lakshmi yantra. Three decades later there was an occasion in the village when Amma proved that the Yantra was indeed the one she had said as a child, namely Rajarajeswari yantra, characterized and identified by mystic symbols and letters on it, to the surprise of the villagers. Mouna Swamy, a reputed Siddha Purusha (mystic person) who founded the Siddheswari Peetham of Courtallam in Tamil Nadu had installed the Yantra. But Amma had never said that she herself was Rajarajeswari incarnate, though she did not object to people worshiping her as that deity. That way she did not object to people worshiping her seeing other gods and goddesses in her. We therefore find no authentication to the view that she was Rajarajeswari.
The only thing that she had emphatically and repeatedly said was that she was the daughter of Mannava Sitapati Rangamma couple and the wife of Brahmandam Nageswara Rao. When a certain lady in the later years of Amma’s life posed herself as Amma and started claiming that all the powers of Jillellamudi Amma transmigrated into her body and that all the mystic powers that Amma possessed were consequently vested in her since then, Amma jocularly asked, “Is she now the wife of Brahmandam Nageswara Rao as I am?” That question is reported to have silenced the impersonator at least for some time. Amma indeed lived like a housewife. But at the same time she herself proclaimed that she was the Mother of All and lived her word. Either in mythology or in modern times we do not come across another instance when a housewife declared herself as Mother of All and treated everybody as her child. Amma, therefore, does not fit into any of the earlier descriptions. She was not a Mystic, not a Prophet, not a reborn Rajarajeswari, no incarnation and no Avatar. But if she is none of these, how is it that hundreds of thousands of people right from the time when she was a baby in arms till she left her mortal body experienced what they thought was “divinity”? When some of our brothers said that Amma was a great personality with extraordinary human qualities, she commented “Well, you see human qualities in me and I see divinity in you, my children!” What is divinity? In my first article on Amma this writer casually described her voice as that of a Devata (Divine figure). Amma on reading the same laughingly asked, “Did you see a Devata to make the comparison?” Do we all, the devotees of Jillellamudi Amma, have the same view of her? No. Do we all pray to her in the same manner?. No. Are our prayers the same? – No. Notwithstanding the diversity, we all call her Amma and equally enjoyed her motherly love and affection.
What motivated us to visit Jillellamudi? Did she or anybody on her behalf write to you or did she send word through somebody to visit her? No. I put the question to myself. What attracted me to Amma is a question that I have not been able to rationally explain till now. It is at this juncture that I entered the realm of faith. Did I go to her of my own free will? Was it something like curiosity that drove me there? My first visit to Jillellamudi was with a group of writers, poets and intellectuals of eminence. Among this group, the interest was not the same for everyone. Even at that time I was not convinced that my visit was out of my own free will. I tried to argue within myself that it was the cumulative effect of different circumstances over which I had no control. Inquisitiveness is common for an agnostic or an atheist that I was then, to probe into the talk of ESP and other occult phenomena. I did try to find the truth or otherwise of the various stories that people told about her. Watching her every movement and action, I was struck by her extremely human feelings and superhuman actions. She was not taking food as every one of us does but ensured that everyone was fed properly. She merely tastes when food is brought to her as Nivedana (offering). In terms of calories that a human body requires it was no food at all. Water and coffee of course she used to take more than once. For small ailments like headache, fever and body pains she used to ask for allopathic tablets or homeopathic pills. She was taking baths a number of times in all seasons, which practice continued all her life even when she was running high temperature. Was she drawing energy from the water she was bathing with? It could be so, but there is no way of proving it. Once I had an opportunity to talk with Gora, a great leader of the atheist movement in India, about the condition in which a human being does not eat at all but survives. He had said of a psychological disorder called ‘melancholia’. But Amma never suffered from extreme depression or hallucinations and delusions, usual symptoms of melancholia. People coming to her with worries and depressions of varying degrees were going back with contentment and happiness writ large on their faces. Once, Jonnalagadda Ramalingaiah, a rationalist and humanist visited Jillellamudi. He had no belief in supernatural powers etc. Amma fed him with food cooked with broken rice. He told me that he relishes that food. He wondered how she knew about his tastes. His convictions and ideas remained the same even after his visits to Jillellamudi. But he did enjoy his conversations with Amma and her motherly love.
Amma used to say that her health condition was such that she has not been able to take food like others. Perhaps, it could be a reason. But does she sleep? I slept near her bed and sometimes half my body underneath her cot along with some brothers. By experience. I learnt that she snores but does not sleep! She appears to be in deep sleep but her brain records all that happens in her surroundings. For, there have been several instances when she recalled our hush-hush conversations when she appeared to be in deep sleep. Is it possible? I do not know the scientific explanation to the phenomenon but we observed that even when she appeared to be sleeping and apparently snoring, all her faculties remained active as when she was awake. Amma gave me opportunities to talk to her when nobody else was present. I should say, nobody else was physically present! Because, sometimes she used to talk in such a low voice and I used to wonder whether she was talking to me or someone else. My conversations with Amma were long and went on for hours and days. My questions were varied and some of them were perhaps embarrassing too. Fortunately for me the crowds who came to see her were less at that time. Once I woke her up in the dead of the night and asked “Amma! Please tell me who you are?” Her reply was “Why my child! I am Amma!” The question of how she could be mother to all of us simply does not arise. That was undoubtedly her feeling towards all of us. Every one of us has love and affection for our fellow human beings though in varying degrees. There is no wonder in it. In her case the feeling touched its extreme.
Apart from her no-food and no-sleep characteristics, her extraordinary memory and knowledge of our unexpressed thoughts were also awe-inspiring. Thousands of devotees have such personal experiences. When confronted with the question “How did you know all these things, Amma?” her reply was “I do not know. It just occurred to me like that and I told you so!” She never claimed that she had superhuman qualities. On the other hand she told many devotees when they wailed out their woes before her, “Listen, my children! I too have suffered like you. How can I, a simple housewife, solve your problems?” Unmindful of her expression of helplessness, devotees narrate their problems before her, unendingly. Amma would patiently listen and empathize with them. When people tell her that they have been trying to visit Jillellamudi for darshan of Amma for a pretty long time but could make it only then, Amma used to reply. “It is not you but I who should do it. Then only you make it!” What Amma had said about devotees’ visits to Jillellamudi could be extended to other human activities as well and even the five elements. The conclusion is that the free will is subordinate to the divine will or it is the divine will that organizes the will (or what we call the free will) of the individual. Could we substitute the word divine with collective? I did not ask Amma about this concept for I had no knowledge of Carl Jung’s concept of collective unconscious at that time. There were occasions when in the course of our one-to-one conversations, science subjects like Big Bang theory and Einstein’s Relativity also figured. Amma used to explain in simplest Telugu words the same concepts, which great authors had discussed at length in their science books. Unfortunately I did not record them as Dr. Sripada Gopalakrishna Murty did. I confess that I did not realize the historic importance of the conversations I had with Amma at that time. More appropriately Amma, perhaps, did not want it!
When there is no free will of the individual, the conclusion could be, everything happens according to destiny. When Hyma, born from Amma’s own womb, was about to leave her mortal body she was only about 25. There were many who thought that Amma would somehow save her daughter’s life. Understanding the wish of the people around, Amma had said, “Things happen as ordained”. Amma obviously knew about Hyma’s short span of life. There was an occasion when I talked about Hyma’s marriage when the girl was eighteen or so. She did not parry the question but gave me the impression that the matter could wait. The reason was known to her only. No serious effort was made to find a suitable match to Hyma. What is ordained cannot be escaped is the message. Some thinkers who are familiar with the concepts like “determinism” and “fatalism” may be tempted to apply them to what Amma had said. But those concepts are not exactly the same as Amma explained. There are theories in Indian philosophy, which are nearer to what Amma had said but again not exactly the same.
Since ages mankind has been deliberating, arguing, quarreling and fighting among themselves on the issue of God. During the last quarter of the second millennium there has been tremendous advancement in science and technology. This has benefited most human beings on this earth. We are all one and there is no disagreement on taking advantage of science and technology. But religion continues to dominate the thinking of the masses and even at the dawn of the new millennium we find the world deeply and rigidly divided on faiths.
Does prayer help? If every prayer really does, nobody needs to suffer. As Amma says if everything is preordained what is the point in going to a place of worship and praying to God? Why should one go to Jillellamudi and worship Amma or Hyma in their temples? These are imponderable questions. People are going to the temples, churches, mosques and other places of worship because they find it useful and rewarding. All their prayers may not be answered. Only God knows which of our prayers are to be accepted. It is the case with Amma and the temples in Jillellamudi also. God is incomprehensible. So is Amma. But Amma’s advice to see God in the whole creation is most acceptable and least controversial. Amma says that it is she who decides what we do and what we experience. It sounds reassuring. Any mother takes care of her children, naturally. Children may ask for many things but mother gives what is good to them, as she only knows what is good and what is not. Amma says that she is the Mother of All. It is an assurance that she is taking care of all. She certainly knows what is good for us. Instead of worrying about and breaking our heads on the incomprehensible things and imponderable problems and issues let us realize, by experience and by reasoning, that Amma takes care of all of us and accepts whatever happens as her grace.
In the realm of philosophy or Vedanta, as some people prefer to call it, there is no other concept more easily understandable than the mother-child relationship, mother for God, child for devotee. When we accept this concept, questions like whether Amma is an Avatar or a Prophet or a Mystic become irrelevant. Which earlier philosophy in the world taught us this easy solution to the eternal issue of God?
(This article was originally published in Mother of All, Oct-Dec 2009. As a tribute to Dr. Potturi Venkateswara Rao, we are bringing it before our readers once again Editor)