On The Road to Pune

23 Feb 2003,Pune

The caravan of buses pulled over to the side of the road near a tiny hamlet named Bharvati. Many children were washing their family’s clothes at a pump near the road. They froze in midair at the amazing sight of five orange buses and many Western faces. While we waited for Amma to arrive, some of the group played with the children and took photos. We discovered that they belonged to a nearby ashram school that housed over one hundred children. We could never understand exactly whose ashram it was, but the children were very sweet and well-mannered.

It was decided to eat lunch in a shaded area next to their small, simple school. The children and a few villagers gathered to watch us arrange Amma’s chair and arrange ourselves around it. Soon Amma pulled up and sat among us like a blooming lotus surrounded by bees. Some boys perched on a wall like little monkeys and Amma looked at them and laughed. Some elderly villagers dressed in the spotless white dhoti, shirt and cap of the Maharashtrian farmer stood respectfully watching. We chanted the Fifteenth Chapter of the Bhagavad Gita and ate our lunch.

After lunch we told spiritual stories and sang “Karunya Murti”. Amma stood up and began walking to Her camper. She called for prasad and the children surrounded her looking for sweets. An elderly man with a cane hobbled over to Amma and painfully bowed. Amma seemed delighted to see him and pulled him next to her. He stood on Her right side with eyes beaming and a group of boys stood on her left.

It was a lovely picture; the elderly man with bright eyes and a sweet smile and the young boys on the other with the Mother of All in the middle. Then Amma walked to her vehicle and with a last smile drove away. The villagers gathered talking softly and inspecting their ash packets. The children sucked their sweets and followed us as we washed our plates and prepared to board the buses. The children gathered to wave good-by. We were sure this day would be the subject of conversation for some time to come.

This road from Nagpur through Aurangabad to Pune has been traversed by pilgrims from time immemorial. Many great saints have walked along this road or ridden in a bullock cart. Amma follows this same route in a vehicle appropriate for the twenty-first century. Eventually the villagers will surely come to know that a great saint chose their village to bless with Her presence. We can only guess at what benefits they will derive from this visit of Divine Grace.

A prayer from the heart of India

21 February 2003, Nagpur

The state of Maharashtra has an exalted history; as recently as the 13th century it was said that one could find a mahatma in every village in the state. The city of Nagpur, aside from being a major city of Maharashtra, is also the geographical heart of the nation. North and south, east and west, Nagpur is in the center of India. This lent a special significance to Amma’s programmes there. On the second night more than 20,000 came to hear Amma’s words, sing bhajans along with Her and finally fall into Her warm embrace. The people were very attentive to Amma’s satsang, and when She asked them to close their eyes in prayer, they also joined their palms above their heads. This sea of joined palms overhead was a beautiful evocation of the faith and devotion of the local people.

Amma ham na mamgte he tujse
Dhan or doulath, nahi jannath
Amma, ham to bas ithana hi mamgte he tujhe
Tere hath rakh de hamare mathe par.

The programme’s host spoke the following words in prayer: “Oh Amma, we have come to your court. We don’t ask anything of this world or of heaven, but one thing: That you always keep your hand on our heads. This is all we ask.” As the crowd repeated the words, many could be seen to be moved to tears. Seeing this, one felt that this was the prayer of the people of Nagpur, a prayer from the heart of India.

Dr. Shrikant Jichkar, who is listed in the Guinness book of world records as the politician with the most university degrees (24!) introduced Amma on the first evening as “God walking on Earth.” He had been a guest at the Geneva convention of women religious and spiritual leaders, and he spoke about how Her words and presence there had moved him deeply.

In his speech, he struck a comparison between the murthi (idol) in the temple and the holy river Ganga. About the murthi, he noted that one has to be clean before going to see it; that there is a distance between the devotee and the murthi; and that one cannot merge into the murthi. But the Ganga accepts everyone as he or she is, Herself cleaning the devotee; there is no distance between the water and the swimmer; and by submerging oneself, one can in effect merge with the river. Then he said that Amma is not like a murthi, but like the river Ganga, except that while the river Ganga is confined to its banks, Amma goes everywhere. In conclusion, he said that Amma is propagating the religion of Love throughout the world.

The mayor of Nagpur also attended, presenting Amma with a memento on behalf of the people of Nagpur.

A walk to remember

19 Feb 2003,Nagpur

On the way from Hyderabad to Nagpur, the North Indian tour group stopped along the banks of the river Godavari, about two kilometres off the main road. The river Godavari is considered one of the seven sacred rivers of India. The group waited patiently for Amma to join us; some skipped rocks over the river; others meditated on the setting sun, still others marvelled at a herd of passing water buffalo. When Amma’s car drove down from the main road, everyone gathered around Her chair, eager to spend a few moments with their Mother.

As the sun sank beneath the horizon, Amma asked Her children to discuss the qualities necessary for a devotee of the Lord and for spiritual aspirants in general. Then She elaborated on the need for the control of food, sleep, the importance of seva and chanting the Divine Name. After the satsang She sang two new bhajans and asked Her children to tell jokes and stories before returning to the road. But this synopsis does not do justice to the magic of the evening—unfolding around Amma were some beautiful illustrations of the truths expressed in Her satsang.

By the time Amma sat down, it was nearly dark. Many of us took turns holding lamps in the air so that everyone could see Amma under the stars. But like moths to a flame—and like us two-legged moths to the Light that is Amma—all the bugs of the countryside flocked to the lamps. Whoever happened to be holding one, and for that matter whoever was within a meter of that person, found themselves covered in bugs from head to toe!

As Amma and Her children discussed, among other things, the importance of detachment one brahmachari stood with a lamp in each hand for over an hour, seemingly blissfully ignorant of the swarm of bugs around him. But such an opportunity—to serve as the candle to light the face of the Guru, simultaneously draw the insects away from one’s beloved Amma, and finally to practice detachment under trying circumstances, could only be a gift from God.

Then, just after Amma and Her children were discussing the importance of the control of food, and discrimination between the Real and the unreal, the Permanent and the impermanent, Amma encouraged everyone to go and take chai. But to get chai meant to walk away from Amma while She was singing new bhajans, a rare and intimate moment with the Master. What was one to do? It had been a long day’s journey and a warm cup of chai in the chilly night air sounded good. But what of Amma’s warmth? What about the Permanent sweetness right in front of us? Some went for chai and returned. Some stayed with Amma without an apparent second thought. Some of us, myself included, failed the test completely: staying with Amma while thinking about drinking chai!

One more lesson (perhaps one of many… these are only the three that I happened to catch) was in store for the tour group before resuming the journey. After Amma got up from her seat everyone crowded around the car, hoping for a smile, a touch, a last glimpse. But instead of getting into the car, Amma insisted that She was going to walk back to the road. All two kilometres of it. Some tried to talk Her out of it, both at the start and en route, but Amma had apparently made up Her mind to make the trek. Along the way Amma was asking how to say different words in English, like “stones” and “thorns” and then shouting warnings when She spotted obstacles along the path: “Children, be very careful! Stones! Thorns!” At one particularly rough point She took a lamp from someone who had been shining it near Her feet and held it high in the air, illuminating the way ahead and asking Her children to go forward, Herself staying behind till the last children had caught up.

After Amma was inside Her trailer at the top of the hill, it occurred to me that the walk was a beautiful illustration of the way Amma is leading all of Her children along the spiritual path, warning us when obstacles arise, illuminating the path ahead, by Her presence lending sweetness to the journey.

Dreams come true

19 Feb 2003,En route to Hyderabad

A long journey in the hot plains led us to a cool evening chai-stop at a quiet temple yard by the road. The setting sun made his presence felt by brightly outlining the cloud that hid him.

Amma sat amidst Her children facing the temple water-tank. Soon She exclaimed, “Look! Sandhya!” meaning the crimson west at dusk. One of Her children called Her attention to the rising full moon in the eastern sky. Satsang followed with Amma’s question: “How can one focus on God even amidst noise and din?” This was related to the comments of some who said they found it difficult to meditate during Amma’s Brahmasthanam festivals, with so many people around. One person said he tried to see everything as Amma and that that helped him in the absence of quiet meditation. Another said he would go on trying to feel Amma’s presence within while doing seva. Amma then gave an answer of Her own, elaborating on the answers of others: She said that the vibrations at the Brahmasthanam festivals are so charged with spiritual energy, due to the mass Lalita Sahasranama archanas chanted each day as well as the intense prayers of the devotees, that just breathing the air at the festivals is beneficial.

She also said that performing seva is highly elevating even if one doesn’t feel it to be so. Further She stressed the need for discrimination in every thought, word, and deed of a spiritual aspirant. After the satsang Amma sang bhajans in Telugu, the mother tongue of Andhra Pradesh.

Everywhere She goes, Amma reaches out to local people in many ways, like singing bhajans in their language. The people respond to Amma in their own way as well. In Hyderabad, devotees brought Her colourful glass bangles as offerings. They glittered around Her dark wrists as She continued hugging Her children. The picturesque temple on the hilltop witnessed great festivity that lasted deep into the night on both evening programmes in Hyderabad.

* * * * *
Five hours Northwest from Hyderabad, another dream came true: an evening with Amma on the Godavari riverbed! Godavari, a highly evocative name. The name of the holy river finds mention in the ancient scriptures. Under the massive bridge flowed the Godavari along her grassy bank. The yonder forest seemed home to hundreds of cranes and other birds. Under the clear sky, with the westerly sun settling down, sat Amma’s children around Her chair, themselves of different colours but all dressed in white. As the dusk covered us over, Amma walked into our midst like the full moon.

Even as She sat, satsang began: “Which are the qualities necessary for one to develop devotion? Are they sufficient for one to reach the goal?” She wanted Her children to respond. Brahmacharis and brahmacharinis responded. One explained the six necessary qualities: shama (control of mind); dama (control of sense organs); titiksha (enduring all sorrow and suffering without complaint); uparathi (withdrawal); shraddha (faith in scriptures and Guru’s words and diligence in thought, word, and deed); and samadhan (equanimity of mind). Another put these in a larger context: a sadhak needs viveka (discrimination); vairagya (detachment); the six aforementioned qualities, and mumukshutwa (a burning desire for liberation). Another took a non-Vedantic perspective, focusing on the importance of love for Guru and God. All stressed the importance of faithful obedience to the Master as the greatest prerequisite for any form of sadhana. “The Guru’s words are the ultimate,” said one. “The Guru’s words are scripture.”

Amma integrated all these answers, saying that love is the first prerequisite. If one has love for God or Guru, all these qualities will follow. Without love, none of them can be cultivated. To cultivate these qualities, one should never lose sight of discrimination, which comes from an attitude of surrender to the Beloved. Amma also spoke about the need for control of the senses, especially of the tongue, both in talking needlessly as well as eating tasty food. Restraint practised in regard to the tongue would surely help one to progress spiritually.

Then Amma wanted Her children to tell jokes. As She has often said, She always wants to see the faces of Her children smiling and joyful.

Amma was unmindful of the hordes of insects around Her. But how could She, for whom everything is nothing but Her own Self, be bothered? Then it was time for singing bhajans. One was an expression of the sorrow of the gopis when Krishna left Vrindavan for Mathura. Amma had a brahmachari translate the meaning of the song into English before She sang; Her children from around the world tuned into the melody and the mood as the singing went on.

The star-studded sky overhead, Her nose-stud brighter than the stars, Her eyes which put to shame even the brightest diamond. And Her complexion, merging with darkness of the ether. Was there any reason one had to close one’s eyes to meditate on Mother Kali?

Amma walked ahead of us to the buses on the main road. Glow worms decorated the country path. Amma stood at the tar road where it crossed the path until the last of Her children had gotten safely across.

Then Amma stood on the footboard of Her camper. She took a lamp into Her hands and shone it out across us. Love poured out of Her eyes. Then She signalled us to go to our buses. But none of us, mesmerized by Her charm, stirred. Only after Amma went inside the camper and closed the door did we turn and head for the buses.

Once again the train of ashram vehicles moved out onto the road. The bright moon overhead seemed to keep pace with us till we reached the city of Nagpur, where Amma has been given the honour of being the Guest of Maharashtra State.

Prana pratishta in Bangalore

14 Feb 2003,Bangalore

At 8:30 am today, Amma installed the murthi (idol) at Her newest Brahmasthanam Temple. Gongs, bells, traditional panchavadyam drums and horns accompanied the continuous chanting of the mantra “Om Sivasaktyaikya Rupinyai Namah” by the thousands of devotees present. The scene was similar to that of two days ago, when Amma performed the Kalasha Sthapana, only magnified several times over by the presence of a greater number of devotees and a greater sense of anticipation and mystery. Today, Amma was going to perform a miracle.

She was going to breathe life, breathe Divinity, into an inanimate stone. As devotees pressed in on all sides for a glimpse of Amma meditating inside the temple, the atmosphere fairly pulsed with anticipation. Even Nature seemed to be searching for the best view: as they always do at Amma’s temple consecrations, eagles circled overhead as the murthi was carried to the temple from the nearby homa kunda.

After the brahmacharis carried the four-hundred pound stone inside the temple, the doors were shut to all but Amma’s senior most disciples and a Her senior pujaris, who remained inside with Her. The rest of us could only close our eyes and imagine the miracle taking place inside: Amma embracing the murthi and, just by Her breath, installing the Divine therein.

After Amma performed the Prana Pratishta, the four doors of the temple were opened and Amma performed abhisheka (ritual bathing) to the murthi, using water from kalashas presented to Her by representatives from all four ashramas (stages of life according to the Vedas), including one sannyasi, eight brahmacharis, and more than twenty grihastas (householders) and vanaprastas*. Several Westerners also presented kalashas to Amma containing water for abhisheka.

Finally She performed arati to the murthi and prostrated before it, Her newest signpost on the path to God.

In Her satsang after the installation, Amma said, “Some may ask, ‘In this age of science, why are temples necessary?’

“Amma feels that temples are necessary to propagate culture and educate people about the importance of dharma. Temples are like mirrors which show the dirt on our faces. But just by looking into a mirror, we will not become clean. We need to put forth effort. Even a little effort from our part will attract God’s boundless grace.

“Remember that the real pratishta should take place in our hearts. Our hearts should be filled with love for God. We should be able to see God everywhere.”

Swami Amritaswarupanandaji also spoke to the assembled devotees in a satsang shortly after the consecration.

He said, “The term prana pratishta is very significant. Only a Divine Being such as Amma can do it. It is the process of giving life, Divine Light to the idol just by breathing into it. Amma’s prana, Her vital force is the vishwa shakti, the universal energy. The idol was only a stone until 8:00 this morning. But just after 9:00, once the doors were open, once Amma had imbued Her vital force into the idol, it was transformed. Amma transformed it into a center of Divine Power in one moment. This is a great miracle. But was this consecration only outside? No. By performing the prana pratishta our most beloved Amma was giving us a higher message. Through Her action, She was telling us, “Children, be a seed. Prepare yourself to be reborn as a child. Just as the unattended rock became divine by the touch of Amma’s sacred hands, children, be prepared to take a new birth. When the seed goes beneath the soil, the earth will take care of the seed. Fall into the earth, my children.

“But remember the stone had to have immense patience. There was a lot of chiselling, shaping, moulding and remoulding. And it was always patient, all the way until 9 am this morning. Likewise, we too have to be patient. Amma is tirelessly working, day in and day out, reshaping and remoulding, and we don’t know it, because we are sleeping, dreaming. Then, 9 am arrives. The stone attained liberation at 9 am and we too will attain it one day. That blissful moment will come. What is the catalyst for this transformation? It is Amma’s love. It is Amma’s love that transforms us. But just as the stone, we must have patience.”

Including the temple in Bangalore, Amma has consecrated 16 Brahmasthanam temples, both within India and abroad. This is the second Brahmasthanam temple in Karnataka, after Mysore.

* vanaprasta is the stage which comes after one’s children are grown, when one renounces all worldly responsibilities and retires to a solitary place or an ashram to perform spiritual practises and focus one’s life on God

Kalasha sthapana in Bangalore

12 Feb 2003,Bangalore

At 8:30 this morning Amma performed the Kalasha Sthapana for Her newest Brahmasthanam Temple, installing the stupika at the apex of the temple’s roof.

Gongs, bells, traditional panchavadyam drums and horns accompanied the continuous chanting of the mantra “Om Sivasaktyaikya Rupinyai Namah” (Salutations to the One who is the union of Shiva and Shakti) as Amma performed the ceremony. Throngs of devotees spilled out from the temple on all sides, palms joined and eyes upturned. Amma frequently looked to them as well, turning to all four sides with each piece of the stupika held high before installing it, and also to shower flowers and consecrated water at intervals.

The stupika consists of three brass bowls set vertically on a central spike, each smaller than the one below it. Amma filled each bowl with navdhanya (nine types of food grains) before placing the next one, and atop the third and smallest She placed a sculpted point.

Watching the proceedings, one was touched with a profound sense of the sanctity of this morning’s ceremony. What an infinitely rare and precious gift to witness a Divine Incarnation consecrating a new temple. Thousands of years ago, Lord Rama consecrated the Siva temple at Rameswaram. What was it like to be there? It was like this.

When She was finished, the stupika shined brilliantly in the sun, imbued with Amma’s shakti and sankalpa (divine resolve), a sparkling gem in the sky that will shine through the ages, pointing to Amma’s message of Unity in diversity, of Oneness inherent in the apparent duality of the world.

Anandavady

9 Feb 2003,Mananthavady

Amma calls it Anandavady, the Blissful Garden. Not without reason. Mananthavady is a town among the hills of the southern tip of the Western Ghats. The ghats are known for their precious forests and beauty. Amma’s Brahmasthanam Temple, built atop one of the hills, is visible from a distance in all directions. The annual three-day program attracts huge crowds from nearby towns and villages. Here, Amma’s children are mainly economically disadvantaged but exceptionally rich at heart. Most of them are workers on tea- and coffee plantations, some of them have small holdings themselves. Living in proximity to nature probably has made them sweetly receptive to spiritual satsangs. I say this because though they are not exposed to spiritual disciplines like the urban people, the people of Mananthavady are exceptionally receptive to Amma’s satsangs.

In Her Anandavady, Amma, the Mother of Bliss, becomes the Mother of the Woods, Vanadevi as well. She is received with fanfare consisting of traditional as well as popular local festivity. In Her Anandavady Amma, as usual, never tires of receiving garlands as offerings of love. In addition to the garlands made of flowers commonly used all over the land—such as rose, jasmine, marigolds, hibiscus, basil leaves—Amma is offered garlands made of any flower that blooms on the slopes or in the valleys, flowers small and big, flowers of all possible shapes and hues and shades! In the jungle I would have passed by them, calling them flowers on the bushy fence. But people here are very artistic; they make colourful garlands out of scented leaves and wild flowers. Just as the bouquet made of different flowers is more beautiful than the one made of a single kind, these malas have a beauty of their own.

Worshippers of Devi offer malas made of fifty-four or one hundred and eight lemons. It is not unfamiliar to Amma’s children to see Her accepting such a mala just as She does a flower garland, unmindful of its weight. Here in Mananthavady, the farmers are fond of making malas out of their agricultural produce: malas of cardamom, of cloves, pepper, coffee seeds. Oh, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see malas of bananas, jackfruits or coconuts!

The silent valleys around here are a home for perennial ponds where white, pink and blue lotuses bloom. They make their way to adorn Amma’s peetham. The thin pure air on which, after sunset, settles fog, fills with the song of bulbuls and other singing birds sitting on treetops. So much of Nature and Her bounty around

Amma make Her verily the fairy—nay,the Devi of the woods. After the three-day festival, Amma and Her train of buses glided down the slopes into the bamboo groves in the plateau. In Her eight-week North Indian Tour, Amma will be covering all the major natural zones of the vast country.

How to change the world

There was once an old man who was looking back on his life. He sat in a tea shop with his friends, telling them his story. ‘When I was a young man, I was arrogant and thought I knew it all. I felt I could do anything, and wanted to change everyone. I would pray to God to give me the strength to change the world. When I reached middle age, I awoke one morning and realised that my life was half over. I had done nothing, and I hadn’t changed anyone. So, I prayed to God to give me the strength to change those who were close to me since they needed it so much. But now I am old and my prayer is very simple: ‘God, please give me the strength to change at least myself.’ ”

“Children, don’t try to change the world or other people before you are able to change yourself. If you try to change others without changing your own attitudes, it will not have any effect. Change yourself, the world around you will change.”

In the hills of northern Kerala

8 Feb 2003,Mananthavady

The first stop of Amma’s 2003 North Indian Tour was in Mananthavady, deep in the rolling tropical hills of Northern Kerala. The ashram itself is perched atop one such hill, with a view opening out into a forested valley, dotted with the lights of homes nestled among the trees. The area is home to the Adivasis, or tribal people of Kerala. In addition to the Amrita Vidyalayam at the Mananthavady ashram, M.A. Math is in the process of establishing 10 schools specifically geared towards these tribal children.

Even though the Adivasis haven’t studied any scriptures or previously learned anything about spirituality, they have tremendous faith in Amma and love for Her. After meeting Amma, whole villages have been transformed, giving up alcohol, improving hygienic standards, resolving differences peacefully. In many cases, these transformations happened quite literally overnight.

About the Adivasis, Amma issued a public statement in October 2001, quoted in The New Indian Express. In part, She said, ” ‘Adivasi’ means the people who have inhabited the land since time immemorial… The Adivasis have a lot of things to remind the present day person who runs after modernism. Haven’t our minds, trapped in modernism, lost the sanctity of the ancient? Though uneducated, the ‘Adivasi makkal’ are rich in simplicity of mind and heart. Is this not a great blessing?”

She also said, “We have lost and are losing many things which we will not be able to retrieve. In this situation, is it not our duty to protect the Adivasis who depend upon land and nature for survival?”

At the 2003 Mananthavady programmes, the Adivasis showed their love and appreciation for Amma by performing traditional tribal dances on the stage while Amma was giving darshan. As they danced with the grace and dignity of the ancient and obvious devotion for Amma, She turned to watch. The dance was also broadcast on TVs situated throughout the ashram, so that all the devotees present could enjoy it. As they prostrated before Amma upon the conclusion of their dance, Amma led the applause which echoed throughout the hall.

Witnessed and appreciated by both the Keralans of modern day and the “Western” devotees—who, in their diverse citizenships ranging from Japanese to French, from Russian to Canadian, could be said to represent the whole world—not to mention the Divine Mother Herself, one can be sure that, at least for now, the Adivasis have not been forgotten.