The Goddess and the Guru: A Spiritual Biography of Sri Amritananda Natha Saraswati book landed in my hands when in a casual conversation with a friend I learned about Devipuram. The name fascinated me, so I googled it a bit and learned that it has been built recently by a nuclear physicist who worked with the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research. My curiosity was on the roll and I started reading this book.
Intense and intimate – that would be the two-word review of this book. It takes you through the personal spiritual journey of Dr. N Prahalad Sastry or Sri Amritananda Natha Saraswati, commonly referred to as Guruji. It captures his journey from a small town on the east coast of India to its premier science institute, his sojourn with India’s nuclear program, and his initiation into Sri Vidya.
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Middle of the book that talks about the encounters of Guruji with Devi in her various forms like Saraswati, Bala Tripursundari, and Kamakhaya are really intense. You kind of travel with the protagonist as he goes through these visions and encounters. You wonder if one fine day you will also get the same vision if you would chance upon a Guru as he did. His conversations with the Devi appear real and surreal at the same time.
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Tantric path of worship has stayed with the lineage that practices it. There are many paths to pursue Tantra. But the one that is most esoteric and kept under wraps is Vamachar or the left-handed path. Only the initiated are allowed to know the intricate details of the worship methods and rituals. However, Swami Amritananda performed and taught them openly. He gave Diksha or initiation to anyone who asked for it. He spoke about the methods and rituals openly and even put them in the public domain.
Sri Chakra at Devipuram
He built a temple in the form of a Sri Chakra at Devipuram, with Sahastrakshi at the center and Khadagmala Devis all around. Sensuous images and the temple of Kamakhya invited protests from people. It gave a different turn to the spiritual journey where Guruji wanted to give away Devipuram. But as luck would have it, he could not find anyone to take it. He had to be at the helm of it till his last days.
There is a lovely story of his supportive wife who always stood by his side. When you think back, it was her support and resilience that allowed Dr. Sastry to become Guruji and lead a demanding public yet spiritual life.
My biggest learning from the book, apart from glimpses of the tantric tradition of Sri Vidya, is the fact that one must follow traditions of lineage. Guruji created his own ways to worship. Used his own wisdom to distribute the mantras on demand. In the end, in passing he mentions that like his Guru he should have given it to a few chosen ones.
I also feel that he was known primarily in coastal Andhra where he lived and outside India. I have come across so many spiritual Gurus in India. But I never heard of him. In fact, the author hints that he was disappointed that he is not as popular as other spiritual gurus of South India like for example Sri Sri Ravishankar.
Journey of Sri Amritananda Natha Saraswati
It is interesting to see the journey of a scientist, a spiritual seeker, an institution builder at Devipuram, a teacher, and a householder. The author has put in his own experiences with his subject, along with some of his other devotees. There are some miracles and supernatural acts also mentioned. As a reader, you would accept or reject them based on your own experiences and convictions.
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This book The Goddess and the Guru is not for everyone. It is easy to read. But not easy to digest. I am reading a lot of Shakti texts. Including the Devi Mahatmya and Devi Bhagwat Puran. But still, a lot of things in this book were not easy for me to read. It is a very intense book.
The author has done justice to his subject. His language is simple. He has made a lot of efforts to explain complicated terms, rituals, and non-translatable words.
Take your call.