22 Aug 2007—Amritapuri
This morning, the main hall was abuzz with activity. Over a dozen groups of women had gathered to participate in a day full of activities in celebration of Onam. Each team consisted of women who were part of a Self Help Group (SHG) from the surrounding Allappad Panchyat where the Ashram is located. MAM has been fostering the growth of these SHGs which empower women in various trades such as tailoring, making leather goods, shoes, embroidery, weaving, and other fields.
The morning started out with a welcoming talk by Swami Amritaswarupananda followed by chanting Amma’s 108 names. The groups then began making Pookkalam* designs on the floor of the main hall as Amma gave darshan to the devotees.
Elaborate, colorful designs took shape in the aisle down the middle of the darshan hall. Petals of white, purple, orange, pink, yellow, along with green leaves quickly filled in the chalk-drawn templates on the floor. Hands moved rapidly across the designs, spreading out the petals, filling in gaps, adding a little here and there.
The women all wore matching saris with a different colored choli (blouse) identifying each group. Together with the flower petals, the saris formed a veritable rainbow of colors in the hall. When the pookkalams were finished, lamps were lit by each one, and the teams sat silently by their respective designs while judges looked on. The winning pookkalam would be announced later.
Next, there was a talent show. Each group took their turns singing traditional Malayalam songs while judges intently listened. Then, select women came to the microphone to show off their skill at vocalizing the sound ‘looloolooloolooloolooloo’ * which is sort of a yell/yodel and is usually called out during auspicious events or ceremonies such as weddings or festivals.
After the singing contests, about 24 women joined in a playful game of ‘musical chairs’. Finally, the winning pookkalam was announced. From the darshan seat Amma then addressed the gathered crowd, “You have made these pookkalams with thoughts of the Supreme in your mind, so every pookkalam is beautiful. There are flowers in the garden and in the wild – all bloom by the rays of the sun. In a competition, the judges have to set some standards to select a winner. But all the pookkalams have already been accepted by the Supreme. You have the grace and blessings.”
The colorful displays of saris and pookkalam flowers were soon matched by the beaming smiles on each face as they went for Amma’s darshan.