Gayatri Devi (c. 1897–1995)

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Gayatri Devi (c. 1897–1995)

Indian-born spiritual leader of Ramakrishna Brahma-Vadin, a female religious order rooted in Hinduism. Name variations: known to her followers as "Ma," short for mataji, meaning reverend mother. Born in Bengal, India, possibly in 1897; died in La Crescenta, California, on September 8, 1995.

The Reverend Mother Gayatri Devi, the spiritual leader of a bicoastal religious order known as Ramakrishna Brahma-Vadin, was born in Bengal, India, around 1897, one of 19 children of a civil lawyer and a housewife. Forced into marriage at an early age, she was widowed at 19, after which she was allowed to

join her uncle, Swami Paramananda, in America. She was ordained at the Massachusetts center which her uncle founded in 1909, according to the teachings of Swami Vivekananda, who introduced Hinduism to America. The first Indian woman to teach Americans the Vedanta philosophy, which honors all religions, Gayatri Devi inherited leadership of the religious communities in La Crescenta, California, and in Cohasset, Massachusetts, after the death of her uncle in 1940. Although the mostly female order was disowned by its all-male parent order in India, it survived and flourished, eventually supporting two ashrams for underprivileged women in Calcutta.

In 1975, Gayatri Devi appeared with Mother Teresa at the Conference of World Religions at the United Nations. She helped found the Snowmass Religious Leaders' Conference, and, at the invitation of the Dalai Lama, taught at the Harmonia Mundi Contemplative Congress in Newport Beach in 1989. Mother Gayatri Devi died in September 1995.