…left her body on 21st January 2017.
Ma Devadasi, 1917 – 2017
Born in California to a doctor father and nurse/teacher mother, Devadasi had an idyllic childhood among the pines and meadows of rural northern California… until her adored father died suddenly when she was seven, leaving the family shocked and destitute. Her mother worked and the children had to spend summers boarding with strangers. Devadasi has written about this in So Many Summers (not yet published, but on the way.) One of these extended visits was to a preacher’s family. Devadasi was in Human Design terms a Manifestor, a self-starting, independent, ornery breed; and the preacher’s efforts to convert her resulted in a lifelong aversion to Protestant Christianity!
She began college at U C Berkeley at sixteen, majoring in English and minoring in Spanish, and graduated with a BA. She was an innocent, auburn-haired girl who had suffered a typically puritanical upbringing. Glen Akin, a chemistry major, courted her and when she became pregnant they married. (She later said, “I thought that if you kissed someone you had to marry him.”) He dropped out of college to support her and the baby and they moved to southern California for his work. There in the desert heat and dryness, far from the springs and freshets of her youth, they embarked on a difficult, painful thirty years together, producing seven children despite efforts to the contrary. The family lived in poverty and mess, want and defeat and great bouts of Manifestor rage by the trapped and moody Devadasi. But she read to her children every night, with full dramatic effect, and took great joy in nature, tromping through puddles singing when it rained… which was hardly ever! We were all happiest while camping, because Mama and Glen would both be joyful out in the wilds.
She wrote a children’s book review column for the local newspaper, short stories when she could carve out the time, and her agent successfully placed them with women’s magazines. A book of them, The Dream Years, was published around 1966. She believed passionately in human rights and demonstrated for Civil Rights and against the war in Vietnam, right alongside us teenagers. She adored her children and reserved her rage for her kind, clueless and abstracted husband….
She left Glen in 1967 after she had a health crisis, and she then became an itinerant henna-haired poetic-romantic in sandals. Young men courted her… she was a great listener, a joyful and starry-eyed lover. I was sewing her clothes by that time, to make up for the years of terrible sacrifice. (At fifty she still had only the now-raggedy garments she had worn during college, as she had always put the children’s needs first.)
In 1967 part of the family, together with friends, started an Alternative school in an old Victorian house in Riverside. Devadasi vowed that she was nobody’s mother any more, and never again interfered with my life or judged my choices, even when they were obviously awful!
That summer she, with part of the family, moved north to Ferndale, on the Eel River, with my artist boyfriend. And the summer after that she rented a house for $25 a month in Fortuna, California at the edge of the mossy woods and filled it with kids and teens – hers and other people’s. They all remember it as a halcyon time.
The long process of separating from Glen was excruciating for both, but she finally moved alone into a little house in an orange grove. There Sarita and I stayed with her for a few months before, in June of 1970, leaving on our hitchhiking travels. When I left Sarita in Colorado to accept an invitation to travel to England as a dancing extra in a film, Devadasi hitchhiked out to collect her, and the two had an epic adventure hitching together to New York City where Sarita then studied ballet.
I returned from Europe two years later and persuaded my mother to leave the orange grove house and move with my little brother Ian to San Francisco, where the action was. And in December 1973 she and I flew to Bombay and met Osho… who gave her the name Ma Devadasi, which she struggled against as she thought it sounded prostitutey! But she gazed wordlessly into Osho’s eyes and held him in a big space in her mysterious, ardent soul.
Back in San Francisco she met Bob, a retired Coca Cola executive, at a liberal political meeting, and they later married and lived in Baja and in Alaska, then bought, renovated and sold houses in California, Arizona, visited Poona twice, and spent time at the Ranch; then lived near Mt Shasta while she studied photography – always a passion – at the local college. Then they finally settled in Gold Beach, Oregon. There, after some happy years, Bob died of a heart attack, and after a while she married again, a native Oregonian named Al, whom she introduced to meditation. For her 90th birthday he took her hang-gliding. They loved to roam the countryside together taking photographs; he was a prize-winning amateur. (She never sought recognition for her photographs or for her poetry, but both were beautiful.) He died in 2009.
Her short-term memory was by this time deserting her more and more, making daily life more challenging – but her particular, mordant, sharp and original sense of humour, a great light in my childhood, shone through often, reducing us to howls of laughter at funny things she would suddenly come out with.
Her children moved her to a big house in Lake Arrowhead, California, in the mountains, which she loved. She walked daily and read a lot of books. One son lived there with her and family visited often. During those years she visited Japan with Sarita and me to attend a meditation retreat in a Zen temple with Kohrogi-sensei, the Ito-Thermie healer, whom she adored, and also to Greece and France to see Sarita and me. Further deterioration forced another move, to be cared for by her granddaughter Aleshanee, a Steiner school art teacher, in Ukiah, California, and Aleshanee’s two grown children. Aleshanee, my brother Huck, and the two kids have provided the bulk of her care… often quite heroically as deterioration ensured more difficulty and sleep interruption. (They deserve medals, all of them.)
Finally she was breaking arm, hip, other hip… a mastectomy, was done… but she still walked most days, and always stuck to a vegetarian diet.
A few days before she left her body she was dizzy and ill and could not walk. As soon as she got to hospital she demanded to go home, as always! But she had a blockage internally and was intubated and sedated… and two days later, in the very early morning, she left her body while everyone had gone to snatch some sleep.
That would be like her: independent in the extreme, a fighter… she always wanted to make her own decisions. But her body was by this time like an old, ragged coat, which she could no longer button, so that the drafts got in. I think it slipped off easily, after such a long time of incremental sheddings. She had worn it and worn it and hatched rabbits from it and sweated in it and torn and patched it and it had shrunk most awfully, and was twisted now and scratchy, and bits had fallen off… and it was time for it to leave her, and she it.
What I got from her: a sense of freedom. Poetry and romance as the cornerstones of life. Courage to face the unknown. A rapt joy in nature. Humour. Words. Survival. And so much love, approval, and praise…
Thank you, Devadasi. Fly well, fly high, fly to where your soul is drenched in love of the very best sort, the sort that most suits you. Love enormous and eternal, healing and resurrecting, peace-making in an absolute meadow of natural beyondness. I think your father came to help you in your journey, to welcome you to the ease and breathing without the constrictions of our form. I think others welcomed you too – Osho, who always seemed delighted with you; and your little dog Rags, whom you had loved as a child, and your mother, and your son Rudra, who went before you.
Happy meeting, happy adventure next…
Text by Madhuri
On 21st January my mother died. At the time of her passing she was in a hospital in California and I was in Bali, celebrating the birthday of the cinematographer for a new project of mine. We had just enjoyed a scrumptious raw banana cacao cake and, in the moment of her passing, our production team was giving our cinematographer an eight-handed massage. The hostess of the villa we are staying in is nine months pregnant and ready to give birth any day. As birth and death are so intimately intertwined it is a fitting artistic touch to the tapestry of life that as my mother was moving out of life, others are in celebration of new life.
Each mother is a multi-armed goddess. Her intimate relationship to each child of hers is unique and mysterious, a sacred bond which deeply influences the life of each child in a different way. The life experiences I have lived in relation to my mother are a serendipitous journey of profound significance. Many seemingly random events in the flow of our mother-daughter relationship have led to mystical lessons in life and love.
When my mother found out she was accidentally pregnant with her sixth child (me) she gasped, and then, almost immediately felt a powerful intuition that she was throwing herself into the river of life, that life wanted her to simply let go and accept her destiny as a mother to this baby. When I was 17 years old, during my sannyas initiation ceremony with Osho in India, he gave me the name Ma Ananda Sarita, and explained the meaning as, Ma, (Mother of the Universe) Ananda, (Bliss) and Sarita (River). He told me if I continue with meditation I would become a ‘river of bliss’.
During her pregnancy with me, my mother had a dream that she was carrying a butterfly in her womb. She experienced the butterfly being born and almost immediately taking flight far across the world where it discovered paradise and then invited her to come live in this paradise. When I announced at the age of 15 that I was leaving home to go hitchhiking around the world in search of the essence of life, she simply said yes, trusting in her dream. She went to a notary and signed a document that she was allowing her underage daughter to travel and requesting that border authorities in any country allow me to pass with her permission and blessing. This document served me well at many borders I passed through.
As is done in the many mystical fairy tales she read to us as we children lay cuddled in her arms, she baked me a bannock to wish me luck on my travels. She also prayed for a guardian angel to protect me. During my hero’s journey, of course, there were many trials and tribulations, but I always felt I was protected by a being of light, as I made my way overland to India.
In India, I met Osho (symbolic of finding paradise in her dream) and then invited her to come. I sent her a book by Osho so this remarkable enlightened being may inspire her. The title of the book was, Death, the Greatest Fiction. Nine months later she too journeyed to India and was initiated by Osho into his Neo Sannyas, receiving the name Ma Devadasi (mother of the universe, servant of the divine).
When my mother gave birth to me and discovered it was a girl, she was in ecstasy as she really wanted another girl. It is interesting in this respect that an important aspect of my life’s work is to bring greater ecstasy to women all around the world.
When I was two and a half years old I contracted measles and was gravely ill with an ever-escalating fever. I was in a delirium, floating near the ceiling looking down on my body, or floating and flying around the room. At one point, a seductive tunnel opened up in front of me and I was drawn like a moth to a flame into the tunnel. At the end of the tunnel was a great white light and in a state of rapture I yearned to move towards it. From far away, I heard my mother weeping, as she tirelessly put cold damp cloths on my feverish body. She began speaking to me with a solid determination that only a mother in her lioness power can muster. She implored me to come back to my body, saying, “It is not your time to go. You have to come back. You have a great destiny. You will grow up to be renowned all around the world. You will be the most beautiful woman in the world and worshipped by many people for your great beauty and wisdom. You will have men falling at your feet and you will bring grace and healing to this world.” She babbled on and on, and momentarily I turned back from the tunnel to hear her. Finally, I was lured by the intensity of her love, back into my body. The fever broke and she wept tears of gratitude, kissing me all over my body, welcoming me back to life.
Did she form my destiny in that moment, or did she read my destiny? This remains a mystery, but the fact is much of what she babbled to me during that healing crises came to pass in my life. Many years later, in her 97th year, my sister and I took our mother to Delphi in Greece. Giggling, singing and laughing; we helped her up the mountain to the very top where the ruins of the temples are. She said she had to rest and found a place to sit down. As we were sitting there, someone pointed out to us that my mother was sitting directly in front of the sacred oracular stone. This was a basin with a hole in it carved from rock. In ancient times when Delhi was active as a matriarchal temple of the oracle, this stone was placed over the bubbling spring, which emitted a natural gas called ethylene. The high priestesses went through intensive and long training to be able to inhale this gas and through this, to open up their clairvoyant power, becoming a channel for spirit to speak through.
As well as being a housewife for 30 years, my mother was also a writer. I well remember the intense joy which would emanate into the room whenever she was able to snatch an hour or two from her housewife duties, sitting at her desk to write. I would sit nearby and play, simply bathing in her creative ecstasy. From the moment I was able to read and write, I reveled in creating fantastical stories or plays. To this day, whenever I sit down to write anything, whether that be a blog, an article, a poem or a book, I slip into an ecstatic trance, opening the channel for a higher power to write through me. This process is sacred and mysterious and I always sense the power of my mother’s transmission as a writer in these moments.
My mother had an indomitable spirit. She came from American pioneer stock and weathered many storms in her life, always coming through with even more determination and vigor. She outlived three husbands and eventually became the proud matriarch in a family spanning several generations. Always ready for a laugh, she used to tell jokes or write witty poems. One such poem reads:
I’m 95 and still alive
Whoever would have thunk it?
If I was a boat, please take note
They would have hauled it out and sunk it!
When she was in Osho’s community for one of her many visits, she sent Osho a joke, which he read out in discourse.
A crowd was getting ready to stone Mary Magdalene to death.
Jesus showed up and said: “Let he who hath no sin throw the first stone!”
Everyone held back. Then, suddenly from the back of the crowd, a little old lady hurled a big stone at poor Mary Magdalene.
“Mother!” Says Jesus, “You exasperate me!”
Of course, no one is perfect and my mother had her faults and neurotic tendencies arising from challenging early life experiences. I witnessed her suffering and as many children do, wanted to alleviate it in some way. I well remember being six years of age, getting the bright idea to make a cup of tea for her as she was laying down in her room in exhausted depression. It was a big feat for me to think carefully over all the details of how to make a cup of tea and how she would like it to be prepared. Very shyly, I brought her my best efforts in tea making, not knowing if my gesture would be received or I would be reprimanded for disturbing her. The exclamation of surprise, delight and gratitude as she received this offering was so gratifying.
As we all know, what goes around, comes around. Just as I was writing these words about bringing my mother that fateful cup of tea, my beloved appeared by surprise, bringing me a green smoothie! My exclamation of surprised gratitude brought a look of love and joy to his face. I am ever in awe at the synchronicities in life.
When I was twelve years old, I was in a free school my mother and brother had created. Some of the older teenagers and I used to sneak into the fields to smoke dope. One evening we came back with a typical stoned ravenous hunger and my mother cheerfully offered us food. We tried to convince her to smoke some dope with us, and her reply inspired me tremendously. She said, “I don’t need it! I am already naturally high!” She carried on laughing and joking with us in our stoned hilarity. With her wise words I decided then and there I would like to discover how to attain such a ‘natural high.’ My interest in dope smoking vanished in that instant.
When my mother met Osho I was sitting with her and him together in darshan. My mother said to him: “I have prepared my daughter for you and I offer her to you as a blank slate. Now you take over and write what you will. She is ready.” I looked at her in astonishment. Sometimes deep mysticism would simply leap out of her mouth as if she was an experienced high priestess. At other times, she would express herself through the mask of American normalcy.
Over the years, my sister Madhuri and I gifted my mother with many remarkable trips to various exotic locations around the world. We enjoyed hanging out with her as her vibrant energy always lit up the space. I well remember one occasion in France when she was in her 80’s. We were in a beautiful group venue having a wild Tantric Party. Everyone was dancing far into the night. My mother, to the astonishment of everyone present, went into trance and danced wildly for hours. One Frenchman exclaimed to me, “Ooh la la! Your mother is so sexy!”
My mother had always said she wanted to make it to 100 years of age. She also stated emphatically she never wanted to go into a home for the elderly. As her memory began failing her it became a conundrum how to care for her. One of my brothers, (Huck) devoted himself to this task, and after some years, it was time for him to move on from that role. His daughter Aleshanee took over being caretaker and, after a few years of dedicated service, she was burnt out as care for the elderly who have memory loss is actually a 24-hour job. In my mother’s 99th year, my family was in great debate as to what would be the best next step for my mother’s caretaking. No decision was being reached.
My mother, true to her intuitive style of being, expressed that stalemate by getting an impaction in her intestines. Due to the impaction, which doctors said they could not alleviate, her organs began failing and, within a matter of a few days, she was gone. She solved the conundrum over her care by gracefully exiting life.
I sense she died too early, simply because I know how much she wanted to celebrate her 100th birthday with all her near and dear around her. However, her manner of leaving life, the moment she sensed she was in some way burdening others, is a further testament of her love and compassion. I am sure that with her usual determination and power of spirit, she is now moving in the best direction according to her soul calling.
At the time of writing, I am doing a series of 10 Bardo Meditations for my dearly departed mother. I am accompanying her as best I can, as she discovers new levels of consciousness and bliss in her onward going journey beyond the body. I know, many other friends and family are also sending their prayers and blessings and this brings me peace. In contemplating my mother Devadasi and all she has created and blessed with her presence, I am left simply with awe and gratitude.
Text by Sarita
Mother and Daughters – Madhuri and Sarita celebrate their mother’s birthday with poems dedicated to her
Return to Casa Naranjal – a poem by Devadasi
The Rishi Told Me – a poem written and read by Devadasi, Madhuri and Sarita’s 93 year old mother
You can leave a message / tribute / anecdote using our contact form (please add ‘Devadasi’ in the subject field)…
Beloved Devadasi, I feel connected to you by hearing about you from Sarita. You seem such a unique being, mystical and mysterious. And your daughters follow in those footsteps and in your independence. Fly high, dear one.
Beloved Sarita and Madhuri, Blessings to both of you. What trips (of many kinds) you had with Devadasi! And what trips lay ahead as you move on without her in the world. No ordinary mother; no ordinary daughters. Love to you both.