Sister Prasanna Devi, the first Catholic hermit-nun of the Syro-Malabar tradition, died on February 27, aged 89, in the Western Indian state of Gujarat.
Prasanna Devi, endearingly called by locals as "Mataji" (goddess mother), lived alone as an ascetic in a cave and a hut, deep inside the forest, on the Girnar mountain ranges of Gujarat for four decades. This mountain range is part of the renowned Lion Sanctuary of Gir, in Gujarat.
She was suffering from age related illnesses for the past few years and was being looked after by Carmelite Father Vinod Kanatt, in the parish priest of St. Ann’s Catholic Church in Junagadh, wherein she moved in 2014 due to deteriorating health.
Prasanna Devi was admitted in Christ hospital in Rajkot on February 3 after her health deteriorated and had been discharged two days earlier and was in the parish presbytery when death occurred. She is cremated on March 1 in Junagadh.
Born in 1934 in Karimannoor near Thodupuzha in Kerala state, she joined the Little Sisters of the Sacred Heart, a contemplative order founded by Fr. Charles de Foucauld. She stayed there for five years and left without taking vows, when the order closed the house in India.
She then moved to Maharashtra where she studied fine arts and learned tailoring and worked in a farm for a few years. Later took to teaching drawing and tailoring.
She continued to nature a strong urge for contemplative life and lived for a time with the Benedictine Sisters of Our Lady of Grace and Compassion in Bangalore, on the advice of her spiritual director.
After two years, she left this convent and visited various Christian, Hindu and Buddhist pilgrimage centres and Ashrams, interacting with monks of various faith traditions.
She was deeply attracted to the Indian ascetic tradition of wandering monks, owning nothing, and eating what people give and staying in temples or forests.
In 1974 she reached Girnar forest and decided to stay there, although her original intention was to move to the Himalayas.
There she meditated in a cave for five months and later settled in a small hut in the forest, which she named Sneha Deepam (lamp of love), her companions being lions, panthers and other wild animals.
She adopted the lifestyle and dress of Hindu Sanyasin (nun), and shared the love of Jesus Christ with everyone who came in contact.
Her simple hermit life attracted so many people, who regularly visited her for her counsel, blessing, prayers and advice and bring food and other offerings. She would tell them that Jesus is her Guru and explain the Gospel.
People called her endearingly as Mataji (Mother Goddess). Her name Prasanna Devi means, one pleasing to God.
The Carmelite Bishop Emeritus of Rajkot, Gregory Karotemprel, codified her way of life in a 42-page book titled Prasanna Devi, A Christian Hermit and declared her as the first canonical hermit of the Syro-Malabar Church.
The hermit nun’s mission has a new successor in Father Christanand (Father Sebastian Malieckal), who moved into the ashram of Prasanna Devi, on August 15, 2019, to begin an ascetic life in solitude, silence, contemplation, and prayer.
He spends time in meditation, canonical prayers, Mass, rosary, and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Much of the daytime is spent in manual labour and meeting and visitors and praying with them. His regular companions are wild animals who come for food and water.
Father Christanand was inspired to pursue contemplative life in a retreat he attended in 2018. He had visited Prasanna Devi’s hut with Bishop Gregory Karotemprel of Rajkot to offer Mass in 2005. When the hermit nun asked the two who would continue her work, the priest told he would continue the work, just to comfort her.
Christanand was born in 1971 at Adimaly in Kerala’s Idukki district. After his ordination in 2003, he was engaged in mission in Rajkot diocese.
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