(15 Sep '00)
For weeks now, preparations for Amma’s birthday celebrations have dominated the landscape at Amritapuri, as the ashram gears up for the big event. In every corner of the ashram and at any hour of the day, one finds extensive work taking place. Temporary thatched roofs are being raised throughout the grounds to protect the crowds from both sun and rain. The entire temple building is being repainted, inside and out: not only the walls and doors, but also the domes and Krishna Himself on the chariot are being given new life in a whole new set of colours.
This year, the Onam holiday takes place just before Amma’s birthday celebrations, so devotees who are free from their responsibilities have a chance to spend more time in Amma’s divine presence. Daily, devotees are reaching Amritapuri in large numbers: volunteers and families with children are coming early to help with the preparations in whatever way they can. Some help in the kitchen, some with the construction work, and others with the cleaning and general preparations.
The construction of the enormous new program hall is almost complete. Its high, white ceiling and open sides give a sense of spaciousness. With its 40,000 square feet, it is the largest hall in south India, without a single pillar in the middle as a central support for the structure-there is nothing to obstruct one’s view of the stage!
Every year Amma’s birthday programs draw enormous crowds from all over India and the world. Fifty thousand people are expected this year. In Kerala, posters and banners can be seen in major towns and along the highways. Extra ferryboats are being organized so that 200 people can reach the ashram across the backwaters at one time. Many people coming to Amritapuri are beneficiaries of Amma’s charitable programs. Under the third phase of Amma’s Amrita kuteeram free housing scheme, 5,000 people will receive houses on this occasion. Another 10,000 beneficiaries will receive pensions under Amma’s Amrita Nidhi pension scheme.
Six tons of rice and six tons of vegetables will be cooked for Amma’s birthday luncheon. Just to cook the rice, 25 people will work non-stop from 2:00 AM through the day. Food will be served from 10:00 AM onwards, until the last person is served. Fifty thousand laddus (an Indian sweet) are being prepared for Mother to give as prasad.
The Boat Race
To honour Amma on Her Birthday, the local fishing community organizes an annual boat race on the backwaters by the Ashram. The popular boat races of Kerala are traditionally associated with religious festivals and draw huge crowds. There will be 16 boats participating in this prestigious event, which includes Kerala’s highest ranking teams. Each of the boats holds 120 athletes, rowing as one to the rhythm of bhajans