Devoted to greater good of the world, young brahmacharini listens to call to monkhood

Brahmacharini Shuddhabodhatma, right with her Guru Pujyaniya Sanyasini Shivananadamoyee. (Photo by Rishma Lucknauth)

Imagine relinquishing your identity—your name, familial relations and the way of life that you have grown accustomed to. That’s precisely what 25-year old Kavita Sridevi Singh did when she made the decision to accept a life of monkhood five years ago during a trip to India with the initial intent to learn music.

Brahmacharini Shuddhabodhatma as she is now called has enlisted herself to “self-less service, for the greater good of the world”, says her father Dr. Lakeram Singh. She has traded in her old name for a new one and western clothes for an all-white habit. Commencing her 12 years of study, to complete her new identity as the first female monk of the Bharat Sevashram Sangha in the western hemisphere, she will accept saffron robes and a new name as a sanyasini—the female equivalent of a swami.

While the calling has always existed, it did not manifest until the death of her paternal grandmother when Shuddhabodhatma began questioning the process of life and her purpose in this materialistic world. “She began to look at the quality of life,” asserts Mr. Singh. “She will go to university and have children and one day she will have to perhaps witness her own child die and she began to question what is this all about. There is something more beyond life—that’s why she is on this path.”

“I am happy for her because she is right,” further adds Mr. Singh.

Shuddhabodhatma is mentored by the renowned Pujyaniya Sanyasini Shivananadamoyee, founder of Pranavananda Matri Ashram—the female arm of the Bharat Sevashram Sangha—which was established in 2007 and located in Hridaypur, Kolkata in India. Shivananadamoyee was formerly a medical doctor before accepting monkhood in 1981.

Her goal as a brahmacharini and eventually as a sanyasini is self-realization. “Self-realization—that is the whole purpose of everything. If I read the ramayan for anything other than to reach my goal then they will tell me, ‘don’t read the ramayan’” explains Shuddhabodhatma, in a gentle, compassionate tone. This goal of self-realization is one that is shared amongst all swamis and sanyasinis. Upon answering the question, she gestures to her guru and jokes, “Do you want me to ask her what her goal is?” Laughing, she turns to her guru and says, “your goal is self-realization” indicating the mutuality of their goals in their congruous paths as female monks.

In the western hemisphere where women have joined the ranks of men in all crevices of society from CEOs to construction workers, it may come as a surprise that there is still an imbalance in the number of male and female Hindu monks. Contrarily, in the east female monks have established themselves as equals to male monks thinning the line that separate the two. “[Formerly] in India, female monks could not go out after dark, but all that has changed now,” explains Shuddhabodhatma. “There are many female monks in India and they are all very educated,” adds Shivananadamoyee.

You could say the bramcharini is straddling the east and west, originating from Canada and studying with a monastic order that originates in India with extended male arms throughout both the western and eastern hemispheres. “I have no place to live,” she humorously states. Sanyasinis and Swamis are mandated to live in separate facilities and because the ashrams instituted in the western hemisphere are all male establishments, the brahmacharini will have no place to live in the west until a female branch is established—and therein lies one of her visions. “Eventually, I want to start a female branch here.”

“There is a calling for her in the west because there are many like her in India” says Mr. Singh who understands the importance of establishing a female branch in the western hemisphere and hopes that his daughter will be the facilitator of this dream. “A bird cannot fly with one wing.”

On Friday, January 15 Shuddhabodhatma sat with her guru at the Sant Gyaneshwar Ashram in Brampton, Ontario and performed her first Ramayan Yajna. The event was a milestone marking her first opportunity to reveal the depth of her studies. She read a beautiful yajna and debuted an angelic voice that enchanted and engaged the devotees—who had come to see her—in harmonious singing and clapping.

In her early years of monkhood, Bramcharini Shuddhabodhatma has a long journey ahead of her. She has a good understanding of what it will mean to the Bharat Sevashram Sangha to have her as their first female sanyasini in the west and her role of progressing old practices to reflect the needs of modern Hindus. But above all, she is spirited and inviting by nature and eager to perform her duties as a daughter to the world.

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Indo-Caribbean World, Janaury 20, 2010

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