What does a hugging saint, a 17-year-old who became president of a worldwide spiritual organization, a Canadian YouTube sensation, the founder of a mystical yoga practice, and the devoted wife and disciple of one of the most revered Gurus of India have in common? These five individuals have made big impacts in the spiritual community and led thousands of seekers into higher consciousness and enlightenment. They are some of the most influential and respected female spiritual leaders in India and in the West.
Sri Daya Mata : The teenage disciple to grew up to be the leader of a world-wide spiritual organization.
Daya Mata was born Rachel Faye Wright in 1914 in Salt Lake City Utah. She grew up in a Mormon household, and at the age of 17 met the respected Indian guru Paramahamsa Yoganada. She attended one of his lectures seeking true perfect love, and further understanding of life. Their meeting impacted her deeply and changed her life. That same year she was ordained as one of his first disciples. She was given her spiritual name Daya Mata which means Compassionate Mother. For nearly 80 years she devoted her life to God, her guru, and the organization.
Before his death, Yogananda prepared Daya to carry on his legacy. At that time, few females led monastic organizations. Her story is remarkable because one of the most respected and revered Hindu leaders appointed her, a western devotee, to lead a worldwide organization during a time when few women led monasteries. In 1955, after Yogananda’s death, she was appointed president of SRF (Self Realization Fellowship). The organization now has over 600 temples and centers in 60 countries. During her presidency, Daya wrote 4 literary volumes, and initiated thousands of loving devotees. A notable disciple of Daya Mata was Elvis Presley who met with her in 1966, and was initiated into Kriya Yoga under her guidance.
Sri Mataji Nirmala Devi – Founder of Sahaja Yoga, activist, and outspoken denouncer of deceptive gurus.
Nirmala Srivastrava was born in Chindwara India into an affluent scholarly family. As a child, she frequently visited Mahatma Ghandi’s ashram. As a teen, she participated in the movement for Indian independence. In 1942 she was jailed for participating in a revolutionary effort called the Quit India Movement.
In 1947 she married a high-ranking officer who went on to serve as Prime Minister. During this time she launched several charitable programs. She encouraged the growth of culture, national, social, and moral values of the youth.
She claims to have started her spiritual journey in 1970 after experiencing Kundalini awakening. She developed a meditation technique which would allow others to awaken their own energy and experience self-realization. She named her practice Sahaja Yoga. During the 1980s she toured the world giving lectures, and initiating thousands into her practice. Her followers began to refer to her as Mataji Nirmala Devi. During this time she was very outspoken against false gurus and dubious spiritual practices. She denounced those who exploited spiritual seekers, and offered her teachings free of charge.
In the 90s as the organization grew, she established the International Sahaja Yoga Health and Research Centre. She also set up a charitable house for destitute women, several schools, and an international music and art academy.
Ma Nithya Swaroopapriyananda: YouTube personality, ordained monk, animal rights activist, and Arcturian spiritual warrior.
Swaroopapriyananda is formerly known as Sudevi by her 40,000 YouTube followers. The Canada native began her channel in 2010 with a series of videos titled “Free Yourself from the International Conspiracy Against Enlightenment, An Essential 10 Step Program”. In her channel she covers topics ranging from Hinduism, mysticism, vegetarianism, to enlightenment, and extraterrestrials. In 2011 she published a video declaring that she is of extraterrestrial origin. Specifically from Arcturian descend.
Her channel has inspired thousands of viewers to follow a path of meditation, spirituality, and vegetarianism. She is a strong advocate of animal rights and a cruelty free lifestyle. She strongly promotes her guru’s (Sri Paramahamsa Nithyanda) teachings and his programs. After watching her videos, many of her followers have become devotees of Nithyananda, and joined his organization.
She is the author of 5 books, and before becoming a Brahmacharini of the Nithyananda Order (ordained monk) she was a professional tarot reader, jewelry designer (her pieces are available trough her online Etsy store), and spiritual teacher. As a teacher, she traveled trough Canada and Europe offering programs and discourses.
In 2015 she took monastic vows in the Nithyananda Ashram in India and was given her new spiritual name Swaroopapriyananda . While residing in the Ashram, she was the host of a television show called “Living Advaita”. She also produced other shows, and coached fellow members of the community to start their own YouTube channels. She currently resides in Canada where she is head of the Calgary Sangha. She continues to educate and inspire her followers trough social media and her videos.
Amma: The Hugging Saint
Mata Amritanandamayi is lovingly known as Amma by her millions of followers. She is a prominent Hindu spiritual leader, guru, and revered as a saint to her devotees. As a child she grew up in intense poverty, and had a strong inclination to share her food and basic items with others. She lovingly embraced those who suffered, and soon she found herself surrounded by many who wished to become her devotees. Since 1987 she has traveled the world conducting programs and hugging people. In her sessions she sits for up to 20 hours hugging and embracing those who seek her. According to Wikipedia she has hugged more than 33 million people in over 30 years.
Amma is also a talented composer. She has recorded over 1,000 bhajans (devotional songs) in many different languages. Bhajans are prayers in musical form. Amma recommends singing as a form of meditation and spiritual practice. She has also been known to play a variety of musical instruments.
Amma’s teachings focus on the importance of meditation and Karma yoga (selfless service). She runs a charitable organization called “Embracing The World” which provides food, education, and medical services to the poor. According to her website the organization is active in over 40 countries worldwide. In the US the organization raised $1 million dollars to aid hurricane Katrina victims. In india they donated $15 million dollars to the “Clean the Ganges” program. The Amala Bharatam Campaign promotes environmental awareness, and sanitation efforts. They have constructed toilets in rural areas, and they teach children about health and hygiene.
She has been awarded with honors by several publications and humanitarian organizations. In 2012 she was named as one of the top 100 most spiritually influential people in the world. Two years later she was chosen as one of the 50 most powerful female religious leaders by the Huffington Post.
Her headquarters are located in India in the state of Kerala. She has a hospital onsite which provides free and low-cost care to the public. She is also the founder and chancellor of a University called The Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham. According to their website, the University has over 18,000 students spread across five campuses.
Shri Sarada Devi: Devotee and wife of Ramakrishna.
Sarada Devi is regarded as one of the most beloved, respected, and notable female saints of the era. She was born in India as Saradamani Mukhopadhyay. In 1858, at the age of five she was betrothed to Ramakrishna who was 23 at the time. She remained living with her parents in West Bengal India until her late teens when she traveled thousands of miles to meet her husband in the Dakshineswar Kali Temple where he served as a priest. By this time, he had become a respected mystic and Yogi. Their marriage was never consummated. She served him as a wife, devotee, and caretaker. Ramakrishna regarded her as an incarnation of the goddess Kali. His disciples addressed her as divine mother, renaming her Sarada Devi.
As Ramakrishna’s following grew, she spent most of her time cooking and tending to his disciples. She was kind and welcoming to female devotees, and inspired many of them to take monastic vows and follow a life of spiritual devotion. After her husband’s passing, she remained active in the Ramakrishna order. She became a spiritual leader to his followers. She initiated several disciples and became a guru. In 1954 one of her close devotees founded the Sri Sarada Math and Ramakrishna Sarada Mission, a monastic order for women in her honor. The organization continues to provide charitable assistance, and currently has centers in India and Australia.
These five remarkable women have guided thousands in their spiritual journey. Some of them have made charitable contributions that total in millions which have helped construct hospitals, schools, monasteries, and academies. They have lived exemplary lifestyles that have influenced many to seek self-realization. Their teachings transcend gender, social, and cultural barriers and stigmas. They are leaders in the spiritual community that will continue to inspire many generations to come.
To find out more about these gurus, their lives, missions, and organizations visit their websites in the links below.
Nirmala Srivastava: shrimataji.org
Ma Nithya Swarupapriyananda: youtube.com/user/MaNithyaSudevi/about
Sarada Devi: ramakrishna.org/hm.htm