Shri Kalikananda Mishra (Kalikananda Swami) was the father of Shankari Mai. His father was Shri Hari Narayan Mishra. His ancestral birthplace was in the the famous Mishra Gram (Dattarail Thakur Bazar) P.o. Dacca South, and Dacca 24 paraganas, in the district of Srihatta within the former undivided Bengal. Currently, the place belonas to Banaladesh, separated from the indian Territory after partition of Bengal.
The 'Mishra vansha' (the Mishra clan) of that place became famous due its famous descendant, the holy lord Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabnu. His father Shri Jagannath Mishra and his forefathers belonged to that clan. Shri Shri Shankari Mataji also belongs to that blessed clan. She is the only daughter of Shri Kalicharan Mishra, and her mother's name is Ambalika Devi. Ambalika Devi was the daughter of a family who lived in the town of Shantipur in Bengal. Shri Shri Shankari Mataji took birth on the auspicious lunar day (Tithi) of Ram Navami (The lunar day which corresponds to the one in which Shri Ramachandra, the incarnation of Lord Vishnu took birth) on a Thursday, in the month of Chaitra in March 1827 when India was still under British rule.
Kalicharan Mishra, father of Shankari Mataji was highly spiritually inclined and was indifferent and detached from mundane matters since his early days. With the advent of youth, he chose to walk away from starting a family ife, due to his spiritual inclinations and tendencies from his previous births and heredity.
After visiting many different places he finally reached the holy Kashi and Shivpur (dwelling place of Lord Shiva), where he came across Mahayogeshwar Trailanga Swami and received his holy and benevolent grace.
Baba Trailanga Swami ordered Kalicharan to marry, even though he had previously decided to remain a life-long celibate, keeping himself away from the bondage of family life as he felt that life would not allow him to fulfil his loftiest ambition of reaching God. Shri Shri Gurudev with his divine foesight saw the details of Kalicharan's many previous liveS, and then decided that he should live the life of a married man
Kalicharan was reassured that his long cherished desire to reach God would not be in vain or get affected by his marriage. Thus having been reassured by his spiritual father, he got married to a bride who came from a famous family from Shantipur in Nadia District. The couple began live in the holy Kashi, detached from their matrimonial life in its true sense.
Arter some days, while Shi Shri Mataji was conceived and was in the womb of her mother, her father Kalicharan, out of his intensive aversion tO wordly matters devoted his self to the feet of his Gunu and begged to be initiated as sanyasi and become a renunciate.
Soon after that, Kalicharan informed his wife of his plans, and adviced her to depend on the grace of their Gurudev and took the life of an ascetic with the name of Kalikanandaji. He relocated to the tranquil solitude of the Himalayas to pursue his spiritual austerities undisturbed, on the command of his Guru.
After her husband Kalikanandaji gave up family life and became a renunciate, Ambalik Devi took refuge at the holy feet of Trailanga Swami. She was provided a small room as accomodations. She dwelt there under the affectionate care and watch of Trailanga Swami. Swamiji blessed her and anointed her with a new name-Maa Ambalika
Shri Shri Shankari Mataji, was born on the auspicious Ram Navami Tithi in the year 1827 in Kashi at her Guruji's place. After the period of her physical impurity due to the birth of her daughter was over, Ambalika Devi dedicated her newborn baby at the lotus feet of her Guru. By her Guru's grace, she could clearly understand that it was her Guru's intention that had arranged the place for her to bring forth the baby near her Guru and the holy waters of the Ganges in Kashl-dham.
Trallanga Swami affectionately gazed at the newborn baby and opined thus: "The future of this baby is bright. This baby who took birth in an auspicious moment will be able to save Indians and the people of the world from ignorance and the degradation of humanity."
He advised Ambalika Devi to bring up the Goddess-like child with due care. Some days later Trailanga Swami said to her, "Your daughter wll be given initiation (deeksha) and will receive proper education from me. She will remain a lifelong celibate and adopt Brahmacharya (austerities of an ascetic) as her holy mission in life. In due course of time she will acquire immense spiritual powers. Over the course of her lifetime, she will provide benediction for the spiritual and metaphysical development of countless people. Oh Mother! Do not worry about her prospects in lie.
Assured by this, Ambalika Devi began to bring up her daughter with due care, as adviced by her Guru.
In her childhood, Mataji once got a severe attack of small pox to the point that it appeared as if her very life was at stake. Her mother Ambalika Devi, inspite of her extraordinary powers of yoga, was crying bitterly sitting at the place where her daughter's head was laid. Mataji was still conscious. She said to her mother, "Mother! My dear mother! Why are you crying? Can't you see Swamiji pasSing his soothing hand over my body?"
The mother said, "What, where is he? I can't see him!" Mataji took her mother's hand and said, "Mother! Look, he is there. Ambalika could see her Guru and hear him, "Don't worry, my mother! Your daughter Shankari will get well very soon. Death cannot touch her at this time." Ambalika heard her Guru's assurance but soon could not see him anymore. He had disappeared in the meantime. Usually at that hour Swamiji would not go anywhere outside the ashram. When Ambalika Devi went to his place, she found out that her Guru did not at all move from his place. He had spent the entire day in intense meditation. He was omniscient and thus there was doubt that he appeared before them in his subtle holy body.
One day when Mataji was around 8 to 10 years old, Trailanga Swami took her With him while going for a bath in the Ganges. He asked her to sit on the flight of steps on Pancha Ganga Ghat while he himself took a dip under the water. He submerged under the water and went out of sight for a long time. Then he emerged and indicated that Shankari Mataji should also take a dip in the Ganges water. Mataji became panic stricken. She said, "Baba, I don't know how to swim, I might drown."
Signalling with his hands Trailanga Swamiji indicated that, I am with you and so you don't have to be scared. Come with me." Mataji then came down and reached the Swami, and then proceeded to hang on Swamiji's back, putting her hands around his neck firmly. Swamiji dived under the water with the little Mataji with him on his back. Then due to the divine touch of Swamiji, Mataji perceived something extraordinary-with sudden divine vision Mataji clearly saw a heavenly room under the current of the river.
She found Trailanga Swamiji sitting in that room, in front of her where she herself seemed to be sitting. Trailanga Swami asked Mataji, "Can you guess what place you have come to?" Mataji replied, "I see a new type of nouse here." A little girl who seemed to be around 8 to 10 years old was standing in front of them. Mataji asked Swamiji, "Baba, who is she?" wamiji replied, "She is Bhagavati Shankari Maa (Goddess Shankari),DOW your head before her and touch her feet." Mataji did accordingly.
After his dips were over they came back to the ashram; and sometime later Mataji asked Swamiji, "Baba, what was the place where we went to a little while ago?" Swamiji in reply said, "My little mother, that was Nashikam Dham (A place that is removed from earthly desires). One can go there only after performing duties free from material desires and earthly lust. You are an innocent girl without any earthly passion and it is Decause of this purity of heart you were able to go there easily and with your spirntual insight saw your ownself."
Trailanga Swami, the spiritual Guru to Mataji's parents, initiated Mataji with the deeksha on thee auspicious day of Akshaya Tritiya (The third lunar day of the fortnight when the moon is waxing, in the Bengali month-Baisakhi-the 1st month of the Bengali Calender (in 1839). It is believed that any activity begun on that day will be successful and permanent) and asked her to adopt the vow of 'Maha Brahmacharya (Lifelong celibacy and pursuit of the Supreme Reality via spiritual austerities).
He invested her with the sacred thread according to the Vedic rites. Swamiji imparted lesson on yoga to Mataji for twelve more years. Without any hesitation and with a smile on her face, Mataji went about fulfilling that great vow of Brahmacharya according to her Guru's instructions for a long period of time.
Inspite of living in a human habitation, Mataji would only look at the faces of her mother and spiritual father, but never looked at anything else, not even at the sun or the moon. Swamiji provided her with everything that she required so that sne could observe her spiritual practices without any disturbance.
There was a tunnel that existed, that reached the ghats of the Ganges from underground chamber of the ashram; her mother Ambalika Devi used to be Mataj's guide whille pasSing through that tunnel to reach the Ganga every day before dawn and at dusk so that she could have her bath in complete solitude, away from the eyes of anyone else.
Mataji's mother Ambalika Devi used to bring her food once a day only after dusk. The following dietary-habits were strictly followed by Mataji, as per the instructions of her spiritual father Trailanga Swami.
1) For the first four years of her practice from 12 to 16 years of age- the diet was that of only fruits.
2) For the next four years from 16 to 20 years of age- the food consisted of only boiled radish and milk.
3) For the final four years 20 to 24 years of age a handful of rice and milk used for her worship
Shri Shri Shankari Mataji observed long twelve years of Brahmacharya in this strict manner, as per the instructions of Baba Trailanga Swamiji, only taking food once a day and continuing intense spiritual practices. Quite often Trailanga Swamiji used to impart further spiritual knowledge and teach his disciple Shankari Mataji. Swamiji used to break his vow of silence for this purpose, and at the sight of his divine presence, Mataji used to go into deep states of divine contemplation.
Only a few fortunate people can reach that plane and enjoy such divine bliss! Being in this state most of the time, Mataji used to be quite lost in enjoying the blisS of Supreme Consciousness and knowledge of true God, to the extent that she did not even notice the passing of time During such a tender age, influence of fickleness of mind is quite natural, but her mind was completely merged into the Supreme and thus she was beyond any mundane issues or worries.
She simply did not have the problem that all others face, which is: "Why is the mind so agitated? Suffice to say that she is indeed a divine soul who realised the truth that due to deviation of thought from the divine Creator, all agitations of mind Occur.
She passed long twelve years of strict spiritual activities, almost as if unnoticed. Then following her Guru's instruction, she emerged from the small underground chamber when she was twenty-four years old.
On Baisakhi Sankranti (The last day of the Bengali month Baisakhi around March-April) when Shri Shankari Mataji was 24 years old, Baba Trailanga Swamiji initiated her with a prayer. He made her perform Viraja Homa' (A fire ritual where a monk takes up the vows of renunciation, part of sanyasa deeksha) offering the sutras (aphorisms of the members) of Brahmacharya into the holy fire.
Afterwords she was instructed by her Gurudev to relocate to the serene solitude of the Himalayas, far away from the maddening crowds of a city and dedicate her activities to divine contemplation. Mataji, being at a tender age, naturally became a bit afraid especially since she was inexperienced in worldly matters and so she asked her Guru, "Baba! How can I live in the Himalayas completely alone?"
The great Guru assured her and informed that a fellow sadhak Shri Bholananda, who was like an elder brother to her, would accompany her and look after everything. Further, he said, "You will even see me there at times." Assured by his sweet soothing words, Shri Shankari Mataji became inspired and very glad. Without any further hesitation she got ready for leaving for the vast Himalayas, showing due respect to her Guru's advice. In 1851, after bowing down and touching the feet of her Guru and her mother with her forehead, Shankari Mataji set out for the tranquil refuge of the great mountain.
She reached her destination after starting from Kashi and going via Haridwar. She achieved further spiritual success in her life as an ascetic by Visiting the previously mentioned Pancha Dham and other important piligrimage places during her long 18 years of sojourn in the Himalayas. Shri Shri Shankari Mataji stayed at a beautiful place, Chandra Puri, on her way to the holy Kedardham, and underwent spiritual austerities there for a considerable period of time. Then she stayed at Gupta Kashi and'Triyogi Narayan hill area for a long time
Mataji used to perform spiritual practices and austerities staying at tne Badrinarayan Dham from the months of Vaisakh to Ashwin, a stretch of six months, and then owing to heavy snowfall, descend down mountains reacning Joshi Math (abbotage) or Jyotir Math, covering path traveling for four days at a stretch.
Mataji also did intense spiritual practices at the place that is famous and is known as Manasarovar situated in Tibet, for a considerable span of time. The time. The holy Kailash Parvat (Peak) is situated just above the Manasarovar. By the grace of her spiritual father and guide Baba Trailanga Swami, she went to Kailash and then upto the holy mount Meru (the North Pole), the solar regions, the lunar regions, and the planet Mars in her subtle spiritual body.
She passed a long period of time in meditation, starting at the Vyasa Guha (Cave of Vyasa) on the banks of Vyasa Kunda (the lake named after Maharishi Veda Vyasa) situated at the foothills of the Kailash Mountain. She had the rare fortune of seeing Devi Bhagavati Herself (The Goddess Bhagavati is considered to be the source of all Shakti in the universe) face to face and that wonderful experience wiped off all her remaining doubts and confusions for ever.
She reached her final accomplishment as an ascetic, having having comprehended all the aspects of the visible or invisible, of God with form or formless. Henceforth she had been living a full existence with complete knowledge of the Pooma Brahma
The retreat ended. Her Holiness Shri Shankari Mataji, the celibate ascetic, returned to her childhood abode, the holy Kashidham, after 18 years of solitary life in the lap of the Himalayas. In the serene calm of the great mountain she had passed her days as a practioner of Raja Yoga (Balanced Path of Yoga) and made great spiritual progress. Now she was coming back to Kashidham and returning to the feet of her Guru accompanied by her Gurubhai Bholanathji in the year 1869 at the age of 42 years.
In all this while, she had come downhill only once following some unspoken command from her Guru Trailanga Swami and reached Prayag in Allahabad, and stayed there for 30 days when she was 30 years old. That was the time when Sepoy-mutiny was happening against the British rule. She had left for the Himalayas via the holy Vrindavan, a deeply significant pligrimage place in the context of the religious history of India.
The day when Shri Shankari Mataji left for solitude and the life or deep meditation in the tranquility of the Himalayas, she had only one sari which she was wearing, with the second one left behind by her left out to dry under the sun, in the verandah of the ashram. Coming back to the ashram, when she went to meet her own mother, she was astounded on seeing the sari that she had left behind out to dry, exactly as it was when she left.
Out of her deep love for her darling daughter, who was living thousands of miles away, Shri Shankari Mataji's mother would not move the sari, It was token of the memory of her dear daughter.
For such a long period of time Ambalika Devi, her mother, had never got the opportunity to see her, and because of this reason she could not recognise her own daughter who had the look of a veteran renuncate, complete with thick matted hair.
Overwhelmed at the sight of a renunciate, she was even about to touch the feet of her daughter whom she considered to be a representation of the Eternal Mother, Jagadamba, the Mother of the universe. Another reason behind her confusion was that in her childhood Mataji was thin and slender bodied, but after 18 years she had put on weight and that decieved the eyes of her mother. But on Shankari Mataji's part, she was able to recognise her mother at the first sight. She said to her mother, "Maa, don't you recognise me. I am your own daughter, Shankari."
The day when Shri Shri Shankari Mataji left for solitude and the life of deep meditation in the tranquility of the Himalayas, she had only one sari which she was wearing, with the second one left behind by her hanged out to dry under the sun, in the verandah of the ashram. Coming back to the ashram, when she went to meet her own mother, she was astounded on seeing the sari that she had left behind out to dry, exactly as it was when she left. Out of her deep love for her darling daughter, who was living hundeds of miles away, Shri Shankari Mataji's mother would not move the sari, as it was a token of the memory of her dear daughter.
After some days Shri Shankari Mataji suddenly got a thought that she had not been able to worship Lord Vishwanath for a long period of time. One day she started for the temple of Lord Vishwanath with some tender green-leaves of the fruit named as Bilva marmelos (wood apple) and flowers for worshiping the Lord of the universe. All of a suddent another thought appeared in her mind that Baba Trailanga Swamiji is none other than Lord Viswanath Himself!"
But her mind was still not decided She went to the temple, and worshiped the idol or Lord Viswanath. Returning back to the ashram she was utterly astounded to see that the flowers and the Bilva leaves that she had placed over the head of the idol of the Lord Shiva after offering her prayers were seen on the head of Baba Trailanga Swamiji, who was deeply absorbed in meditation. Since then all her doubts disappeared from her mind forever.