Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati, whose ecumenical blend of Eastern and Western spiritual beliefs built Kashi communities throughout the U.S. and cared for the sick and elderly, died Friday night at the ashram she built on the banks of the St. Sebastian River in Roseland, Florida. She was 71.
Ma, as she was respectfully called by followers, was diagnosed Jan. 13 with pancreatic cancer and had been in declining health. Anjani Cirillo, Kashi Ashram’s director of community relations, said she died in her rooms about 10:15 p.m., surrounded by family. [...]
To the outside world, Ma, a former Brooklyn, N.Y. yoga instructor, and her unorthodox religion, was the subject of skepticism. Detractors, who sometimes were former Kashi adherents, claimed she exerted cultlike control over people at the ashram.
Such accusations included parents who claimed, in separate 1989 and 2001 court filings, that Ma had manipulated them into giving her custody of their children. The most notable example was when former Kaski spokesman Richard Rosenkranz quit the group in 2000, then deposed Ma the following year in a divorce proceeding against his then-wife.
None of this was evident Saturday, as a flood of adherents from the U.S. and Canada came to Roseland to pay their respects. [...]
According to an official history, Kashi began with Ma’s spiritual awakening in 1973, after which she began teaching yoga and meditation to small groups in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Some of her students began living in communal houses and these ashrams took root in Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago, San Francisco and Boulder, Colo.