Amma: the traffic light

Andhra Pradesh, Bharata Yatra 2004

Amma has been touring India for so long now. And over the years Amma’s children throughout the world have heard so many stories about Amma during the tours, so many fantastic stories like the time Amma went into samadhi in the freezing waters of the Haridwar Ganga; the time Amma paid a visit to Mayiyamma, the avadhuta of Kanyakumari; the time Amma made a pilgrimage to the Meenakshi temple in Madurai. But while the stories we’ve read are many, there are countless more that have only been archived in the hearts of the senior ashramites.

Here is one from Andra Pradesh that you might not know: The year is 1986 and Amma is visiting the city for the first time. The tour group is traveling together with Amma in a small van. In Nellore, as they cross the Krishna, one of the biggest rivers in India, a traffic jam suddenly brings all the cars on the bridge to a complete stop. Everyone waits—a half hour passes, then another, then another. Suddenly, without a word, Amma opens the door of the van and begins walking ahead, passing the seemingly endless queue of idling cars, trucks and buses.

Of course, some of Amma’s brahmacharis follow Her to make sure She is okay. Soon, they come to the source of the jam, a small accident—nothing serious. And what does Amma do? Wrapped in Her white sari and standing less than five-feet tall, She begins directing the traffic!

As one of Amma’s senior brahmacharis recounts, “With one hand, She commanded the line of trucks coming from the right to stop, and with the other, She waved ahead the trucks coming from the left. Then She switched. Amma guided traffic like this for some 20 to 30 minutes.”

Amma some times speaks of the Guru as a traffic light. So, even though today Amma is a state guest guided by police cars, She is still there standing on the road, giving us the right directions and indications, controlling the traffic of our minds, making sure we cross safely. Isn’t She?



Bharata Yatra 2004

Tuesday, 17 February 2004 — Mangalore, Karnataka

The last programme Amma gave in Mangalore took place in a town hall, with less than 3,000 people in attendance. That was nine years ago. This time it was in a sports stadium, packed to near capacity—some 90,000 people.

Indeed, looking out at the sea of people that filled the stadium grounds and the majority of the bleachers, many people in Amma’s entourage were hit with a not-too-subtle feeling of having recently seen this all somewhere before. As one awed brahmachari working in the bookstall said, “It’s Mangala varsham!”

The photographer covering Amma’s programme for Prajavani , the leading Karnataka daily, was similarly blown away. “This is by far the biggest number of people to assemble for one event in Mangalore,” he said, explaining how the last thing to come anywhere close was a cricket match in 2001. Of course then the stands were not full and, being a cricket match, no one was allowed on the field.

After Her nine-year absence, the Mangalorians really went all out to welcome their beloved Amma. Upon Her arrival, 108 heart-shaped balloons were released into the air, 108 muthukudas [ceremonial parasols] lined Amma’s path and 108 women greeted Amma with the traditional offering of kalashas [brass pots containing five mango leaves, coconut and water of netravati ] and one purnakhumba . There was a brass marching band, kombhu and tuturi temple musicians, women from Maitreya Gurukula chanting the Medha Suktam , and an official Karnataka welcome from giant papier-mache pakkiraya statues, who absorb the evil eye as well as greet. From start to finish, it was the traditional way the Tulu people of Karnataka welcome God.

Amma was joined on the dais by the His Excellency the Governor of Karnataka, Sri. T.N. Chaturvedi; the Honourable Transport and District in-Charge Minister, Sri. Ramanath Rai; and the Honourable Mayor of Mangalore, Sri. Divakar.

Governor Chaturvedi distributed free pensions to 10 widows, symbolising the thousands of destitute Mangalorian women who will now begin benefiting from Amma’s Amrita Nidhi Programme. And Minister Ramanath Rai distributed keys to 10 recipients of free homes, symbolising hundreds of yet more Amritakuteeram houses the Mata Amritanandamayi Math has built in the area for the impoverished homeless.

In his welcoming speech, Governor Chaturvedi said the huge presence of people was an indication of the reverence Mangalorians hold for Amma. He said it showed “their hunger for Her darshan and Her words of wisdom.” He described Amma’s uniqueness by saying, “Amma looks at every human being as the supreme manifestation of divinity. She is the embodiment of shakti .” He praised Her efforts to uplift women’s role is society: She wants to empower women. She inspires women as such, because She is the adi-shakti , the energizing force of the entire universe.” The Honourable Governor later added, “She wants us to live in harmony with ourselves. She wants us to live in harmony with the environment. She wants us to live in harmony with each other. This is Her message.” He prayed that Amma would grace the city every year from now on during Her annual North India Tour.

Amma then gave satsang and sang bhajans —including songs in the local languages of Kannada and Tulu. Included in the set were Kannada versions of “Nilambuja Naiane” and “Jwalana Kalyana.”

The stage itself was decorated with traditional Karnataka folk art and had more floor space than a tennis court, making plenty of room for the students of the local Amrita Vidyalayam to put on their cultural performances. First, there were a series of traditional devadasi dances, where the girls held kalashas , as they moved about. Next, the children performed scenes from the stottaram Devi Mahatmyam in the Karnataka’s traditional yakshagana style, a colorful and lively form of theatre and dance.

As of this posting, the stadium was still full of Amma’s children waiting patiently for Her darshan, at 7.27 am in the morning of 18th… And Mangalavarsham was still very much in full swing!

— Sakshi

A night of laughter

Bharata Yatra 2004

Friday, 13 February 2004 — Talassery, Kerala

Talassery is a small fishing community where you can always see kids playing football and fishermen mending nets on the shore. Amma’s relatively small ashram there is just across the road from the beach. It was built six years ago. Amma installed a Brahmasthanam temple there in 1999 and, a few years later, an Amrita Vidyalayam school was built down the road.

The night before the 2004 Talassery Brahmasthanam Festival began, Amma called her children to come and sing bhajans in Kannada and Tulu on the ashram’s roof.

When the bhajan singing was over, Amma asked Her children to tell Her some jokes. “Amma wants a joke!” She said. “But it needs some spiritual significance!”

As most people are shy to speak in front of Amma, everyone sat in silence. But Amma wasn’t having it. She suddenly thrust the microphone into the hands of one brahmacharini sitting at Her side. “Please, please!” Amma encouraged Her in English.

Slowly the brahmacharini started her story: “There were three men who all had habits that irritated the people around them. One of them had infected eyes, so he was always waving the flies away that itched his eyes. The second one had a runny nose and was always picking it. The third one had sores on his underarms and was always scratching them.

“One day, all three decided to try and stop their bad habits. As they sat in front of their hut, the one with the infected eyes could not stand it anymore. He thought of a trick. He screamed and waved his hands in front of his eyes saying, ‘O there is a snake! There is a snake!’ Then the second one immediately started wiping his nose, saying, ‘Yes, did you see its nostrils?’ Then the third pointed and, taking the opportunity to scratch his sores, said, ‘And did you see it run there?’

Amma cracked up laughing and then made the girl mime the joke’s gestures a second time. The spiritual significance, the brahmacharini explained, is in the fact that no matter how hard we try to rid ourselves of them, our bad habits always seem to come back to us.

Then Amma encouraged a second brahmacharini to talk. ‘Oh, Amma!’ she said dramatically. Amma gave her a sweet smile and then directed her to keep the microphone right in front of her mouth so that everyone could hear her clearly. She told an old story about a saint from Rameshwaram.

The saint was lying down in a field with his head on a pile of mud, quietly contemplating the nature of the Self when he heard two giggling voices. It was Vani and Rema, the two goddesses. “Ah, there is that famous saint from Rameshwaram who renounced all his riches,” said Rema.

“But see, he still has some attachments,” said Vani. “He still wants a pillow for his head to rest on!”

The saint was shocked when he heard this and, as soon as the sound of the voices died down, he stood up and then laid down somewhere else, making sure his head rested on the solid ground like the rest of his body.

A little while later, he heard Rema’s voice again. “Ah, there is that saint again. You see,he has renounced everything—even the mud he was using as a pillow.”

“No, he still has some attachments,” said Vani.

The saint could not believe his ears. What attachments could he possibly have?

The voice continued, “He is still attached to what people think about him!”

The evening continued like this for some time. Although a Satguru, when Amma is laughing and joking, She truly becomes a child. And those sitting at Her side are taken along with Her to that state of innocence where past and future are gone and all that exists is the beautiful moment at hand.


A mother’s love for her children

Bharat Yatra 2004

Thursday 12 February 2004 – Kannur Public Programme

“What do a priest, a football player, an industrialist and a politician have in common?” It sounds like the setup to a good joke, but there is no punch line—simply another testament to Amma’s ability to bring disparate groups of people together, as this was the diverse collection of VIPs, devotees and well-wishers who sat side-by-side on the dais when Amma began Her public programme in Kannur. In turn, each addressed the sea of devotees assembled for Amma’s darshan; each talking of Amma’s immeasurable gifts to humanity.

It’s been almost two years since Amma has come to Kannur, a district in the northern part of Kerala that sees more than its share of strife. Her last visit was during the pre-monsoon heat of 2002, but that year the high temperatures finally broke upon Amma’s arrival, as unexpected rains poured down upon the stadium. What was most memorable about that program was not the heat nor the rain, but the devotees—who sat tight, covering themselves with whatever they could until the rain abated.

If it was the love of Amma’s children that stood out in 2002, it was Amma’s love for them that made the lasting impression in 2004. For after concluding Her 12-hour darshan at 8:30 in the morning, Amma was almost to Her camper when She happened to notice a few latecomers, who had not yet received Her blessings. As soon as She saw them and the tears in their eyes, She immediately took a seat on the doorstep of Her camper and resumed darshan there itself, embracing one and all as if She were still sitting on Her peetham. Soon, a queue formed and a couple of brahmacharis took up the task of guiding the devotees into Amma’s arms.

For those who’d been watching Amma give darshan all night long to some 30,000 people, it was almost too much. But Amma simply cannot put Herself first; it is impossible for Her.

Amma’s every thought is for the happiness of Her children. Amma even told one of the brahmacharis at Her side that a temporary shelter should be constructed to protect people from the quickly rising sun. With the queue all but finished, it was clearly more a teaching than an instruction: will the right hand stop tending to the left simply because it is tired? Only when we, too, are able to see others as extensions of our own Self will we be able to give so completely and without reserve. This is the real Vedanta—it is in Amma’s every embrace, every word, every step and every breath. It is the bridge between Her and us, and between us and each other.


Amma belongs to the world

Bharata Yatra 2004

Thursday, 12 February 2004 — Kannur Public Programme

At four in the afternoon, hundreds of devotees and schoolchildren of Kannur Amrita Vidyalayam started lining up for a colorful procession that would go right through the center of Kannur and then on to the sports stadium where Amma’s program was being held.

The procession was headed by a jeep done up to look like a pair of swans, the divine vehicle of Saraswati, the Goddess of Learning. The winged symbols of discrimination formed a peetham for Amma’s portrait. The drums and trumpets of panchavadyam , Kerala’s traditional temple music, opened the procession with enrolling rhythms and sounds. Behind them were two brahmacharis carrying Amma’s picture, followed by more brahmacharis in yellow.

After the Westerners, there was an Amrita Vidyalayam marching band with drums and trumpets. Next followed a little Radha and Krishna, as well as a flock of gopis and cowheards—dozens of children dressed in white and carrying wooden sticks.

Hundreds of devotees carrying beautifully decorated muthukudas  [processional umbrellas] in all colors of the rainbow chanted “Aum Amriteshvaryai Namah” as they walked passed the citizens of Kannur. Yet more Kerala temple music came from a thayambaaka , ensemble, who was leading the hundreds of devotees who had come to join the parade.

The procession ended in Kannur’s sports stadium, which had been decorated with huge photos of Amma. The thousands of devotees awaiting Amma’s arrival in the stadium were obviously thrilled by the site there enjoyed the sight.

It wasn’t much longer that Amma arrived. By then the stadium held nearly 40,000 people. The president of the local organizing committee welcomed Amma and referred to Her growing international recognition by saying, “Amma is Indian, but Amma belongs to the world.”

Among the distinguished guests were Father Erathara, former Kerala State BJP President C.K. Patmanabhan, president of Leela Hotels Capt. Krishna Nair and P.P. Lakshmana, former President of the Indian Football Association and member of FIFA ( Federation International Football Association).

Even though Amma started darshan at 9:30 after a more than two-hour program of satsang and bhajans, it was not until nine in the morning that She blessed the last Kannur devotee by taking him into Her arms.

Overall a grand start to Amma’s 2004 North India Tour.



Leaving Amritapuri… Again

Bharat Yatra 2004

Wednesday, 11 February 2004 – Amritapuri

It’s always the same—the girls waiting by Amma’s stairs, the others queuing up in hopes of touching Her hand, the eagles soaring above. Leaving: if you are one of Amma’s children at Amritapuri—or anywhere else in the world, for that matter—you get used to such scenes. The perennial union of Guru and disciple—in your heart you keep this solemn Truth tucked, but it’s not always easy when you are one of those not going along.

Thus it was for more than the hundredth time at Amritapuri this Wednesday, February 11th—Amma was leaving for a long tour in India.

As Amma’s car slowly rolled past the line of those staying behind, She would occasionally grab someone by the hand, or express Her sorrow at a brahmachari’s inability to come. At one point, Amma took one of the Ashram’s newest residents, a one-year-old English boy named Benjamin, into Her arms—and into Her car. He was all giggles as Amma showered him with affection, but started wailing when Amma finally handed him back to his birth mother.

Though few expressed it, this was the sentiment in most of those assembled’s hearts. For most of them, it will not be until the conclusion of Amma’s Australian Tour that they see Her again—three long months.

But the twist is that only when Amma leaves one place, can She come running to another. Thus when one group is left dejected, another is ecstatic—this time, Amma’s children in Kannur and Talasseri, the first two stops in Bharat Yatra 2004.