Ram’s bath and the Bird’s hug

30 January 2001, Amritapuri

At 8:30 a.m., Amma returned to Amritapuri in a little boat over the backwaters. She came from Kodungallur where the last programme of her three-week tour of southern India had finished at 4:00 a.m. When she arrived the first thing she did was to visit Ram, the baby elephant. She went into his stable and gave him a bath. As Amma hosed him with water, he raised his trunk in delight and came close to her several times, fondling the curve of her face with the end of his trunk, like a baby kissing its Mother. Amma received her son’s affections joyously and continued to bathe him.

He sat down, clearly enjoying his ducking beneath the spray from his Mother and rolled over to let his attendants scrub his body and clean the lips of his mouth. Just like a baby’s bath-time, parents and children were having a lovely time, and nobody wanted to leave. Finally Amma stopped the hose and, calling his name, said her goodbyes.

As she walked to her quarters somebody handed her a tiny homeless baby bird. She cupped it in her hands and kissed it. Devotees pressed her on every side, and Amma kept the bird carefully in her hand as she walked, letting her divine glances fall on the faces of everyone. She walked up the steps to her room, the bird still clasped gently to her bosom, and, kissing it once more, she waved affectionately to her children below the stairs and went inside.

Response to Gujarat Earthquake

January 26th, 2001 India’s Republic Day

Amma was giving darshan in Kodungallur, Kerala when one of the worst earthquakes in Indian history hit Bhuj, Gujarat. It measured 6.9 on the Richter Scale. The initial reports were bad—buildings were rubble, entire villages had been razed, and the injured and the dead were uncountable. Amma asked the Kodungallur devotees to pray.

Amma’s immediate response was to send a 12-person medical team from AIMS, M.A. Math’s Super Specialty Hospital, along with two fully equipped ambulances to the region.

The team comprised one general surgeon, two neurosurgeons, an orthopaediatrician, two anaesthesiologists and a paediatrician. There were also three nurses, a biomedical engineer and four ambulance drivers.

The ambulances supported inbuilt operation theaters and were stocked with Rs. 2,000,000-worth of medicine as well as an equal amount of surgical equipment. Amma also made arrangements for around 100 student and staff volunteers from various Amrita institutions to participate in the relief efforts.

“Our medical facilities, being sophisticated, came as a great boon to the locals,” says Brahmachari Abhayamrita Chaitanya, one of Amma’s disciples sent to the area. “On day one itself, our doctors took care of nearly 600 cases. People with fractured limbs were given expert orthopaedic care and people with deep wounds on their body and heads were also treated.”

The surgeons performed operations day and night without rest. The medical team from the Math was able to save 40 lives from a collapsed school, and right inside the ambulances eight babies were delivered, one of which was born after a Cesarean operation. “On the second day, we were woken up at 1 a.m. by a man asking for help in the delivery of his wife,” says Br. Abhayamrita. “Our doctors had to assist in a few delivery cases like this, as the local hospital was totally devastated, and a few nurses had died.”

The conditions were tough – bitter cold, Spartan facilities, lack of proper food, and utter confusion prevailing in the town. Regardless, the student volunteers rose to the occasion, cooking food and serving food, distributing water sachets supplied by well-wishers and devotees, clearing debris so that ambulances could ply the route, promoting general sanitation.

They also assisted the doctors in shifting patients in stretchers, sorting the medicines, and consoling the people.

On the second day, a man who was the sole survivor in his family came to the Math’s Relief Post. Excavators were clearing the debris burying his family. He was afraid that the bodies of his loved ones would be mutilated. “Our student volunteers, under the leadership of ashramites, used crowbars and their bare hands to clear the debris, and recovered the dead bodies of all six of his family members,” says Br. Abhayamrita. “The hapless man was weeping because of the pain of separation, and because he was, at last, able to see the bodies of his loved ones. He also expressed his gratitude to our volunteers. The students were really moved by the scene. We then removed the bodies to the crematorium nearby.”

All in all, the team visited 25 villages, distributing food articles, water and clothes, and providing medical care. After two days, they started concentrating on five villages, namely Kokera, Dagara, Mokhana, Modsar and Jawar Nagar. In most of these villages, there were Hindus as well as Muslims.

“In each of the villages we visited, we had to literally search and find the injured people,” says Br. Ashok, a neurosurgeon from AIMS. “Those with big fractures often had inadequate splints, and sometimes casting had been done without X-rays. So, the fractures had to be checked and reset. We had to check them all. Even two weeks after the quake, we could still find children with long bone fractures that needed setting. Oftentimes, the villagers did not realise the seriousness of their condition. We explained that their children would be crippled if they were not taken care of properly.”

At Jawar Nagar, the Math team found a group of women lying on cots in a tent. Amongst them was a 20-year-old girl named Geeta. “She was suffering from femur and unstable pelvic fractures, and it was already the seventh day after the quake,” says Br. Ashok. “Her mother and three sisters had died. Her father and brother were with her. Next to her was a nine year-old girl with a pelvic fracture. She had not been diagnosed at all. Her mother had forearm fractures that were not set properly. All three of them were simply lying in pain side-by-side in a hut. We took all three of them back to our base camp and had X-rays done. We took Geeta to the nearest port-city, and arranged for her to be transferred to Mumbai, where she underwent surgery and is presently doing well. Devotees in Mumbai visited her in the hospital there to make her feel at home.”

Most of these days, the team survived mainly on biscuits and water, their only real meal at night. “For us, encouragement took the form of the smiling faces of recovered patients and the warmth of villagers,” says Abhayamrita. “The greatest encouragement was, of course, Amma who called our mobile phone a couple of times at about midnight.”

Amma’s 2001 visit to Kodungallur

The very first Brahmasthanam temple Amma installed is located in Kodungallur. 13 years ago Amma breathed life into its unique four-sided murthi (image) [symbolizing the one Supreme Being underlying all the various names and forms of the Divine]. This kind of temple has now spread to all parts of India and even abroad. (The first foreign temple was inaugurated in Mauritius in 1998)

The people of this small town four hours’ drive from Amritapuri have had years of experience with Mother’s visits – and their enthusiasm seems only to grow, as the crowds get bigger and more eager. Every day this year, during Amma’s darshan, the line of women, clad in colorful saris, stretched at least a kilometer from the ashram grounds. At the other side of the ashram premises a line of men had formed, stretching equally far.

This was the scene during all three days of the programme: huge crowds, darshan from noon until at least five, an evening programme at seven-thirty, and darshan until four in the morning. When the last darshan was finished and Mother rose to bid her children farewell, she looked out over a sea of loving faces and reaching arms. “Om Amriteshwaryai Namaha,” the devotees were chanting, the same words with which they had greeted her arrival.

Mass Prayer

When the devastating earthquake struck, Amma was in Kodungallur, Kerala. Amma’s heart went out to the victims, and she urged her devotees gathered at the programme, numbering over ten thousand, to offer special prayers for the earthquake victims.

During the bhajan programme, Mother suddenly stopped singing and asked the devotees to pray with her for the people who had died in the earthquake, for the peace of their souls. She also asked them to pray for all those who were still alive and were suffering. She then ended the programme with the song:
Amme Yi Jivende kannuneeroppuvan
Amme e jeevanu mukti nalkan, ……..

[Oh, Mother of the Universe, there is no one other than You who can wipe the tears off this face, who can liberate this soul].

‘Kumbha Mela’ in Trissur

25 January 2001, Trissur
All the splendour India is capable of was in evidence during Amma’s recent one-night programme in Trissur on 25th January, 2001. It was Her first visit to this town in three years, and the enthusiasm of the devotees was overwhelming. The whole city seemed decked out to welcome Amma. There were banners, stickers, and long strands of banana leaf streamers hung across and along the streets.


A gigantic cut-out of Amma towered over the open field that had been turned into the programme site, and strings of flashing lights lined the walkways and boundaries. A hundred-meter aisle led to a pandal – designed to resemble the dignified stone temples – which was bounded by statuettes of meditating Buddhas. Women stood on both sides of the aisle holding trays of grains, oil lamps and flower petals. High above them fluttered ceremonial parasols in brilliant colours.

Standing at the foot of the aisle in welcome were three elephants, regal in golden head dress, their mahouts seated on top of them. A large photo of Mother’s compassionately smiling face graced the head of the elephant in the centre. The smallest of the elephants was adorable, and was even smaller than Ram, the elephant staying in Amritapuri.

Yet another spectacle was the dancers. On their shoulders, they carried towering structures resembling the traditional trapezoidal temples of South India, balancing them with grace while spinning and moving up and down.

Crowd gathered to attend Ammas Trissur program
Crowd gathered for Ammas Trissur program

At about 6:15 in the evening, Mother arrived. A conch sounded, and temple musicians welcomed her enthusiastically. Smiling at the exuberant devotees who had rushed to the aisle to catch a glimpse of Her, Amma mounted the stage, prostrated to the devotees, and began the programme of satsang, bhajan, meditation and darshan.

There was a crowd of over fifty thousand, prompting the local Member of the Legislative Assembly, Mr. T. Ramakrishnan, to remark that the programme was like a mini Kumbha Mela.

By the time Amma had finished giving darshan, it was past seven the next morning. As She walked down the aisle towards Her car, she looked around at Her children, checking to see if everyone had received darshan. So ended this year’s Trissur programme – too short for the devotees, but eventful nonetheless.

The bhavani tradition

24 January 2001, Bhavani river

Devi Bhava darshan at Chennai had ended well after sun-up, so it was a hot and dusty ride to the Bhavani River. After dark, Mother seated Herself on a small raised circle of cement and grass. The location was special, with a number of temples and shrines here and there. They rose like stone trapezoids pale against the darkening sky, their surfaces covered, in the traditional South Indian style, by carved forms of gods and goddesses, demigods and flowers, mythical beasts and geometric forms.

If you let your gaze glide upwards from Mother’s Face, you saw a blue-skinned flute-playing Krishna; he sat with one leg crossed over the other, actually some distance away and high on the temple face, but the juxtaposition of his form and Mother’s was a special delight. Again it was bhajan time, and Mother, accompanied by Swamiji’s harmonium, led the group in both old, familiar Malayalam bhajans and the newer Tamil ones. Suddenly there was a squeaking sound – Mother looked up to Her right, and all eyes followed: a pair of white owls sat on an electrical wire, adding their voices to the bhajans, fluttering now here, now there, always together.

A bit later in the evening, Mother called out to one of the brahmacharis to dance while She sang, and there, on the circle of concrete, he did so, amidst cheers and laughter as his movements grew wilder and more exuberant. Next She called on one of the western women to dance, “Sing and dance,” She directed, and that’s just what the woman did. More laughter and applause, and admiration at the simple innocence of these two who would do anything – even perhaps look foolish – to delight Mother.

The group stayed at the Bhavani that night, leaving for Trissur only late the next morning, having shared the traditional breakfast for that location: Bhavani Kanni. The story goes that one year when the group stopped at the river, there was enough rice for kanni, but not enough of one kind of lentils for the curry. Two different lentils were mixed, and a new dish created. Since then, not only at the Bhavani itself but often also on the day of departure for a tour, this special dish is served. A family tradition, one could almost say.

Travel with Amma is like that: a mixture of traditions and novelty; the familiar and the unexpected. Perhaps that is why, despite the rigours, Mother’s tour groups keep on growing bigger, year after year.

The child knows best…

24 January 2001, Chennai

This year, Amma’s Devi Bhava darshan in Chennai finished at around 7:30 a.m. Yet, even after sitting and receiving all her children for about 12 hours, Amma wanted no rest. Within ten minutes of the curtains closing on the Devi Bhava, she had reappeared in a fresh white sari, ready to travel to the next destination. But not without another of her lilas…

As soon as the Devi Bhava ended, the devotees had rushed to form a pathway for Amma to walk the short distance between the stage and Her car, hoping to catch that last glimpse of Her. Everyone was waiting in silent anticipation, except a young child, whose loud crying filled the air. This child’s parents were trying everything they could to pacify their child, but nothing worked. Finally, Amma appeared and began to stroll through the pathway. She walked right up to where the child was crying, took it in Her arms, and the crying stopped instantly! The crowd was so struck by this scene that everyone began to applaud and laugh simultaneously! After a few moments, when Amma returned the baby to its parents, it started bawling again immediately, much to everyone’s amusement. The child sure knew what it wanted!

How blind people smile

20 January 2001, Chennai
During the Chennai Brahmasthanam Festival keys were distributed to recipients of Amrita Kuteeram, Mother’s house-building project for the homeless. The Union Minister for Rural Development, Sri Venkaiah Naidu, handed over the keys in the presence of Amma.

Speaking on the occasion, he said: “I am not a spiritual man. I am an ordinary person, but I can tell you that I am really mesmerised, thrilled, and inspired by the service Amma is doing for the people. I can say that she is doing more than I am doing as a government Minister, and more such activities are forthcoming that will be really useful in answer to the people’s problems.

“I have seen how blind people smile, how Amma touched them and they smiled. They are filled with joy because they are getting something of their own, their own house, their own shelter. Deprived women, the handicapped, the blind – I see a light in their faces because of the blessings of Amma. I am really happy about it.”

Meenakshi and her temple

19 January 2001, Madurai

Madurai is famous for an exquisitely designed, sculpture-covered, dramatically high-rising (in the traditional Tamil Nadu style) Meenakshi Temple. The Devi there is clad in green, and whenever Mother is in Madurai, this Devi is honoured on the night of Her final programs. First, when the four-sided murthi (holy image) in the Brahmasthanam temple at the ashram is decorated for the Shani Puja, the face depicting Devi is always dressed in green, and her crown is a replica of the crown of the Meenakshi Devi. (In fact, when Mother installed this temple in 1995, the Meenakshi Temple sent their Devi’s crown itself to grace this side of the murthi). After the puja, Mother begins Devi Bhava-and though in other parts of the world She might be clad in red or gold or cream or white or blue-in Madurai, it is always green. In this way, Mother is honouring the local people’s devotion to Meenakshi.


One must be a Hindu to enter the Meenakshi Temple. This year many of Mother’s western devotees who are following the tour wanted to visit the temple; those who have adopted Hinduism as their path dressed in conservative Indian clothing, wore traditional marks of vibhuti or kumkum on their foreheads, and were escorted into the premises by an Indian devotee. It was an unusual and impressive experience for Mother’s children, to enter this venerable edifice.

At a roadside lunch stop, Mother, sitting surrounded by all the Indian and foreign devotees travelling with Her, looked out over the crowd and asked: “Meenakshi?” At first, no one seemed to understand. She continued, “Temple going?” “Yes, yes,” came the enthusiastic responses of those who had visited the temple. “Very nice building,” Mother offered. A voice from the back of the crowd said, “Yes, but Meenakshi was giving darshan back at the ashram!” And everyone laughed. Some reflected, and felt blessed.

Plates and names

19 January 2001, Madurai to Chennai

Amma departed from Madurai immediately after Devi Bhava darshan at about 8:00 a.m. A long day of travelling was to follow for the long caravan of ashram buses and vehicles. Yet the magic of travelling with Amma is not so much the moving, as it is the stopping. All of the ashramites were blessed with the first such stop at lunchtime under the veranda of a small roadside temple.

After sitting with all her children and singing bhajans in a very informal, joyful mood, Mother served lunch to all, one by one. A funny incident happened as Amma began serving the food

Many of the ashramites have their names painted on their plates, so as not to lose them. As Amma passed the plates, she kept stopping to read the names, both Indian and Western, to everyone’s delight. “Eckhard, Melissa, Paul, Amma’s Jani…,” she called out. But as soon as someone asked Amma how she could read the Western names printed in Roman letters (being only familiar with the Malayalam script), Amma suddenly stopped. There was a mischievous smile on her face. But she kept serving the food.

Several hours later the ashram road train pulled over again as the sun was setting. This time in a more serious mood, Amma began to ask questions and a satsang developed. Amma explained the importance of sincerity in our spiritual practices. She said that often we may feel dejected because it seems that no progress is being made. She asked us to think about how often we are introspective and take time to examine how much progress we have really made, to see how much we have changed since we came to spirituality.

Amma then told a story from the Ramayana.

As the satsang ended the sun had nearly set and Amma and all her children welcomed the night sky by joyously singing bhajans. Finally after a quick dinner all climbed back aboard the buses to finish the journey to Chennai. Like all other days travelling with Amma, this was one to remember.

Amma’s Chennai visit 2001

14 January 2001, Chennai
Chennai (Madras), one of the cinema capitals of India, has large cut-out photographs of film stars. A centre of political activity, it sports larger-than-life cut-outs of political leaders, too. Among the cut-outs towering above the crowded streets of Chennai, this year there were those of Amma – the one at the entrance to the Ashram showed Amma holding her hands above her head as in prayer, in the humble greeting one makes to God. It is the very same gesture Mother makes whenever she steps onto a stage and greets the crowds: She raises her hands in this prayer, and then humbly prostrates to the Divine in each of her children.

Mother was greeted by enthusiastic crowds upon her arrival at her Chennai Ashram, where she would hold a four-day Brahmasthanam programme. Early the next morning, after three archanas [traditional chanting of the Divine Mother’s thousand names], she arrived at the stage for bhajans, satsang, meditation, and darshan. This is the pattern at Amma’s Brahmasthanam Festivals – the morning programme with darshan running until late in the afternoon, then more archanas and an evening programme, with darshan sometimes lasting until nearly dawn, when the cleaning and setting up for archana begins.

Sri Venkaiah Naidu, the Union Minister for Rural Development, who had flown in from New Delhi, received the keys from Amma and handed them over to the fortunate individuals who would be moving from hovels (if any shelter at all) into the simple but adequate homes that Amma’s “Homes for the Poor” programme is providing all over India.

The audience cheered as each recipient approached Mother for her blessing, and then Sri Venkaiah Naidu, who handed them their keys to their new homes- their new lives. There were elderly women, bent old men, a young mother with her child, a blind man, and a man so crippled that a friend had to carry him to Mother to receive her embrace. Even for people familiar with Amma’s project that provides housing for the destitute, there is nothing to compare with seeing the very individuals whose lives are so touched – seeing their reverence, love and gratitude for she who is giving them such hope. One woman prostrated so long at Mother’s feet in her thankfulness that someone had to help her rise. These are the humans behind the statistics; in their presence, our hearts naturally open.