Nirmala Srivastava, known as Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi, was the recipient of the UN Peace Medal, a two-time nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize and founder of the worldwide meditation movement known as Sahaja Yoga. She died on Feb. 23 in Genoa, Italy.
Born on March 21, 1923, in Chindawara, India, her Christian parents, Prasad and Cornelia Salve, were direct descendants of the royal Shalivahana dynasty.
Her father was a renowned scholar, a master of 14 languages. A close associate of Mahatma Gandhi, he served in the Constituent Assembly of India, which helped draft the country's first constitution. Her mother was the first woman in India to receive an honours degree in mathematics.
As a child, Shri Mataji lived with her parents in the Gandhi ashram. She was recognized for her special gifts at an early age; Gandhi himself is said to have frequently tapped her spiritual powers. Later, as a youth leader of the liberation campaign, she was arrested and jailed.
On her release, she studied medicine and psychology at the Christian Medical College in Lahore. Shortly before India achieved independence, she married C.P. Srivastava, one of India's most respected civil servant officers. After Shri Mataji raised two daughters, she embarked on a spiritual mission.
Initially unsure how to present it to the modern world, she experienced an epiphany on a beach near Mumbai in 1970 that led to the establishment of sahaja meditation yoga, or spontaneous union, based on principles of self-realization or kundalini awakening. For the better part of the next four decades, she took her message around the world. Today, there are non-profit sahaja centres in more than 100 countries. She charged no money, insisting that her lesson was a birthright, which should be freely available to all. "There can be no peace in the world until there is peace within," she said.