Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi | Biography & Teachings Of Sahaja Yoga Founder


Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi was a spiritual guru, famous for having brought her brand of self-realization to the world: Sahaja Yoga.

Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi claimed to be a reincarnation of The Holy Spirit, and spent the majority of her life lecturing on spirituality, traveling all over the East and West well into old age.

Described as an “avatar of the modern era” by Claes Nobel, Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi was known for her compassion, meditative teaching, and humanitarian efforts.

In this article, we’ll cover Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi’s life and teachings over the below topics:

  • Early Life And Background
  • Spiritual Experience
  • Teaching Sahaja Yoga
  • Humanitarian Work
  • Death
  • Spiritual Principles Of Sahaja Yoga
a photo of Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi smiling
Photo of Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi, By Chris Patmore

Early Life And Background

Nirmala Srivastava, affectionately titled as Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi, was born in 1923 to a Protestant Christian family, in Chhindwara, India. Her birth name Nirmala means “immaculate”, meaning pure, and her honorific spiritual title translates to “Revered Mother”. 

Her lineage in fact traces back over 3000 years, rooted in the royal Indian Shalivahana dynasty.

Interestingly, unlike a lot of other gurus that have a hagiographic account of a divine inception point of their God-realization, Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi claims to have been born self-realized.

Her parents recount a story, reporting that upon sighting a tiger in the jungle, they knew that there was divine importance surrounding their daughter’s birth.

Brought up in a large family with 10 siblings, she spent most of her youth in Nagpur, India in relative comfort.

With a lawyer for a father and a mathematician for a mother, Nirmala Srivastava was raised in a household where intellect and passion for freedom thrived. 

Her parents were instrumental figures in India’s Independence Movement, dedicated to breaking free from the clutches of British rule. 

Nirmala’s father was an erudite scholar, impressively fluent in 14 languages and even translating the Quran into Marathi

Meanwhile, her mother achieved a groundbreaking feat as the first woman in India to earn an honors degree in Mathematics. 

The legacy of her parents’ remarkable accomplishments undoubtedly left an indelible impression on Nirmala’s own journey.

Meeting Mahatma Gandhi

Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi’s father was friendly with Mahatma Gandhi, and as a family they would regularly frequent his ashram whilst she was around 7 years old. 

Her parents were often imprisoned during the struggle of India’s Independence Movement, and so she would often look after her siblings, and live at Gandhi’s ashram.

Supposedly, Gandhi recognized that she was wiser beyond her years, and even as a small child he would consult her for advice on spirituality, as if she was as knowledgeable as a grandmother.

a statue of mahatma gandhi sitting cross legged

Teenage Years Fighting for India’s Independence

During her teenage years, Nirmala Srivastava fearlessly joined the cause for independence, stepping into the role of a youth leader. With courage, she led picket lines, standing firm against armed police in defiance. 

Her commitment to the fight for freedom was so profound that she found herself imprisoned and subjected to torture for her involvement in India’s Independence Movement. 

She also began medical studies, however, due to the tumultuous times of the mid-1940’s, she ended these studies and married.

From 1947, through to 1970, Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi essentially lived her life, across her role as an social activist, homemaker, and a philanthropist.  

Her husband was also a special individual, who was a decorated civil servant awarded the Padma Vibhushan by the President of India.

a man waving the indian flag agianst the sky

Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi’s Spiritual Experience

Through these years, she focused her understanding of human nature, and how it could interact through self-realization at scale. Her thought process around self-realization was about how human beings can manifest their potential through inner transformation. 

This inner transformation was through an ignition of the inner subtle energy, namely Kundalini energy.

Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi recounts a specific spiritual experience that led her to this understanding that took place in 1970. 

Just before dawn, after a night of deep meditation, she had a profound experience. Describing the moment, she found herself all alone, immersed in a sense of pure bliss. There was no one in sight, and there was silence around her. 

During her meditation, she sensed that the time had come for the opening of the crown chakra. As she set her intention for its awakening, something extraordinary unfolded within her.

This was a Kundalini energy awakening that surged up through her and pierced the brahmarandhra, considered the pinnacle experience of spiritual awakening.

Sharing her experience, as a prescription for awakening, Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi started teaching Sahaja Yoga: her brand of self-realization.

a purple illustration of a spiritual awakening

Teaching Sahaja Yoga

Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi started out with an old lady she knew well, taught her what she knew, and claimed she also gained this self-realization.

After attaining it herself, then sharing it with another person, she believed that she could also help others become enlightened. 

With a compassionate heart, she offered realization to an initial twelve, then to all those who were open and willing to receive it. 

She delivered lectures on Sahaja Yoga, explaining profound cosmic truths in simple terms that could be understood by everyone. 

Alongside this, she shared techniques for clearing the mind to a growing community of followers. 

Gradually, Sahaja Yoga, the path she shared, began to take shape. As her influence and teachings spread, she then became known by her affectionate title Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi. 

This title reflected the deep reverence and appreciation people had for her role in nurturing and guiding individuals on their spiritual paths.

Throughout the 70’s, her message spread, and she conducted programs in America, and the UK.

In 1979, Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi claimed she was a reincarnation of The Holy Spirit, or Adi Shakti.

In the 1980’s, she ventured in continental Europe, and the wider reaches of Asia, spreading Sahaja Yoga as a method of self-realization.

As of today, Sahaja Yoga as a practice exists in over one hundred countries, and her global prominence led her to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and awarded with the UN peace medal.

a group of people meditating in a park

It’s important to mention here that her meditation centers for Sahaja Yoga are offered free of charge. In my book, this is a fantastic indicator of true spirituality. 

A beautiful quote, she said:

“how can you be charged for something you already have?”

Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi

Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi’s Humanitarian Work

Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi was also known for extensive humanitarian work, in India and in other parts of the world. We list some of her achievements here:

  • In 1995, she spoke at the UN Women’s Conference in Beijing.
  • In 2003, she set up a charity home center for women and children in extreme poverty in Delhi, India.
  • She established health clinics, schools and spaces of refuge in many places all over the world.
  • She established retreat properties all over the world too, offering meditation and Sahaja Yoga free of charge to those who seek self-realization.
people feeding others at a canteen

Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi’s Death

Throughout her 80s, Shri Mataji remained devoted to spreading the teachings of Sahaja Yoga. However, as time passed, she gradually reduced her public appearances and dedicated more time to her immediate family. 

In doing so, she honored her father’s prophecy that she would accomplish something remarkable in her lifetime. 

With her mission fulfilled, Shri Mataji peacefully passed away on February 23, 2011, at the age of 87.

5 Spiritual Principles Of Sahaja Yoga

Sahaja Yoga as prescribed by Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi, as we’ve mentioned, focuses on Kundalini awakening to self-realize. 

The name “Sahaja” has two elements in Sanskrit: saha means with, and ja means born. Another description refers to Sahaja as a translation of “innate”. 

This coincides with Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi’s belief that God-consciousness is innate within all of us.

Here we list the spiritual principles of the practice:

#1: Self-Realization

Sahaja Yoga emphasizes the attainment of self-realization, a state where an individual becomes aware of their true self beyond the physical and mental sheaths of existence.

In tandem with this, there is also an emphasis on “collective consciousness” as something to realize. This is the understanding that we are all connected at a deeper level.

#2: Kundalini Awakening

In Sahaja Yoga, practitioners seek to awaken the latent spiritual energy known as Kundalini, which exists within each individual. 

This awakening process facilitates a profound spiritual transformation, opening the doors to higher consciousness and an expanded awareness of the self.

a man kneeling in the mountains at sunset

#3: Meditation And Thoughtless Awareness

Regular meditation is an essential aspect of Sahaja Yoga, enabling individuals to achieve a state of thoughtless awareness, where the mind is silent and devoid of unnecessary mental chatter.

#4: Vibratory Awareness

Sahaja Yoga emphasizes the experience of subtle vibrations, which are considered as manifestations of our inner energy centers or chakras. By developing vibratory awareness, one can gain insight into their own state of balance and harmony.

#5: Divine Love And Compassion

Love and compassion hold significant importance within Sahaja Yoga as essential qualities to cultivate. 

By nurturing these virtues, individuals can establish a profound connection with the divine and cultivate harmonious relationships with others.

Further Reading

If you’ve enjoyed reading about Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi, why not check out our other biographical articles:

Photo of author
Born and raised in London, Luke is a passionate writer with a focus on travel, yoga, philosophy, and meditation. As a certified yoga teacher having studied under a swami in Rishikesh, Luke now lives in India pretty much just practising yoga, meditating and writing articles! Luke's life arc has gone from somewhat turbulent to peaceful, and he considers yoga and meditation direct methods to sustain introspective insight to manifest peace and happiness, despite life's challenges. Luke's passion for meditation has led him to complete multiple meditation retreats, where he spent almost 40 days in silence in the last two years. He practices various meditation techniques such as Vipassana, Anapana, and Metta Bhavana, each adding to his knowledge and experience of the true self. Most recently he meditated in Jaipur, India, and before that lived for a short spell in a monastery with forest monks in Northern Thailand. To Luke, yoga is more than just a physical exercise; it's a way of life that helps him cultivate a stronger mind-body connection. As a young man with arthritis, Luke understands the importance of observing and controlling his body, and yoga has been a vital tool in his journey to better health and well-being. The practice of yoga has not only helped him manage his symptoms but has also given him a new perspective on life. Luke's love for yoga and meditation is not limited to a single tradition or practice. He's fascinated by the spiritual teachings of all types of religious philosophy, including Buddhism, Hinduism, and Christianity for their essence and wisdom. His passion for spirituality is what drives him to continue learning and growing, and share his knowledge with other people. Luke in his spare time is an avid chess player, cyclist and record collector. He also has experience with addiction, and so sponsors multiple people from different walks of life in their recovery programmes.

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