Small or big, the same for Amma

31st December 2004

In the wee hours of the New Year, while Amma was giving prasad to one and all in the Ashram, the brahmachari incharge of the kitchen came to Amma. He told Her that the vehicle delivering the supply of rava to be used in making the morning’s uppama for the relief camps had broken down. It would take four hours to take another vehicle and get  the sacks of rava to the Ashram kitchen. It would take another three hours to prepare the food. It would definitely not be possible to prepare the uppama in time for its breakfast distribution at the relief camps.

Amma immediately told him to contact some devotees living in the nearby town of Kayamkulam who owned shops and to try to obtain the rava and other necessary supplies from them. The calls were made, the devotees were woken up, they greatfully pitched in and the breakfast was made on time.

The main concern of the hour is that school is restaring on Monday, 3 January, as the Christmas holidays are coming to an end. The government is asking the evacuees being accommodated in the schools to vacate.

Amma has instructed the brahmacharis to start contstructing temporary shelter for the displace on 10-acres of Ashram-owned land in Sryaikkad, about one kilometre from the Ashram.

With the turning of the New Year came about three hours of out-of-season rain. In a way, it was a blessing, as the rain was strong enough to give a good cleansing to the land, leaching away the salt, givinng the wilting plants and trees a respite. However, many people staying on the open ground have now been forced inside, resulting in crowding at the relief camps.

The two camps run by the Ashram are also becoming more and more crowded, as many evacuees have shifted there from other camps, knowing that the conditions at the Ashram-run camps are superior.

Groups of ashramites and visiting devotees—both from India and abroad—have begun regular cleaning and maintenance work at the government-run relief camps. As important as the work they are doing is the feeling of oneness they are creating within the community.

A time of tragedy, a time of grace

(Brahmachari Dhyanamrita Chaitanya recollects his experiences during the tsunami and how Amma managed the situation. Later on 3rd Jan Amma announced a Rs. 100-crore relief package to rehabilitate the tsunami victims.)

31 December 2004, Amritapuri

I was on the Internet and saw the news that giant waves were hitting Chennai and flooding the city. I ran up the stairs to the temple where Amma was giving darshan in order to inform Her. Amma was very sad to hear the news. I soon came back down and started looking for more information on the Net. Then someone came in and told everyone in the computer room that the sea had risen up and was starting to flow into the Ashram grounds near Amma’s hut.
Photo: Amma giving directions to brahmacharis for the relief and rescue operations.

Amma immediately asked me to make an announcement over the sound system, asking all the devotees to move to the top floors of the flats. She then told all the brahmacharis to move everything from off the ground floor. The announcement was translated into many different languages—English, Hindi, Marathi, Tamil, Kannada, etc.—as there were 13,000 people in the Ashram at the time, including 1,000 from outside India.

Amma then asked that all the vehicles parked in the Ashram lot near the beach be moved off the peninsula, as one of the devotees cars had been pushed back several feet when the water had come. At Amma’s request, I also went to ask all the devotees who’d gone to the seaside ayurveda building to come back.

I grabbed my small digital camera—which also takes video—and started running to the shore. I admit, I was very curious as to what I would see there. When I reached, I saw that the sea had already withdrawn, but a small amount of water had swept through the ground floor of the ayurveda building. The brahmacharis who worked there were busy moving everything upstairs.

I looked out at the sea. It was quite calm. Actually, it had even drawn back 40 feet, exposing brilliant white sand. It looked quite beautiful. I took some pictures of the sea and beach, walking out on the sand itself. Then the sea slowly started coming back. After a couple minutes, some of the villagers who were standing on the sea wall began shouting and pointing down the coast. They were telling people to run, that the sea was violently coming up against the rocks to the south. I ran into the Ashram ayurveda building and headed up to the roof.

The sea indeed was rising fast. It came up to the sea wall and then spilled over. I was excited. I started shooting video with my little camera. Again the water receded.

Then a few minutes later, the sea rose up a third time. This time, it surged forward onto the beach and poured over the sea wall with real force. It did not come as a wave, but as if some invisible dam that had always been containing it had suddenly been removed. The water rushed towards the ayurveda building, bending the trunks of the young coconut trees planted in the compound. I had seen so many situations like this one depicted on National Geographic, but this was the first time I was seeing something like that right in front of my eyes.

The water smashed into the ayurveda building and simply kept going, flowing like a river. All of the ayurveda compound and the Beach Road beyond it looked like it had been overtaken by white-water rapids. Even though I know how to swim, I knew very well that because of my health problems that if I were caught in the flood that I would not survive. Still, I was not afraid; I knew Amma’s grace was protecting me.

There is a second smaller building in the ayurveda compound, which is used for storage. I saw that three brahmacharis were trapped in there, one of whom I knew couldn’t swim. I was worried what would happen to them. The water was really rushing past that building and it was quite deep. Suddenly, the cement wall around the ayurveda compound washed away. Everything was chaos and confusion. Huts and houses were being washed away. Power lines were down. The air was filled with the sound of men shouting, women screaming. I was helpless. Continuing to video with my small camera, I prayed to Amma to save everyone.

Across the Beach Road people were climbing up onto the roofs of their houses. Others were wading quickly through the waters, struggling to get to their near and dear ones in order to save them.
Amma Takes Charge

After 15 minutes or so, the current of the water began to somewhat subside. I quickly waded through the water in order to get to the Ashram. When I arrived, I saw that Amma had stopped giving darshan. She was standing on the balcony of the temple, yelling at any devotees still standing in the water to come upstairs. The next thing I knew, Amma had wrapped a yellow sheet around Herself and was descending the spiral stairs from the temple into the water, which was about three-feet deep.

It was such a surreal scene. One brahmachari was pulling a small row boat to the staircase where Amma was standing. He wanted to take Amma to safety. But of course She wouldn’t go without Her children. Amma then called a few local people and asked them if it was possible to arrange for extra boats to help people cross the backwaters. Some of the young village boys agreed. Within a few minutes they returned with extra boats.

Amma then waded through the water to the boat jetty. She began calculating how feasible it was to send everyone across at this dangerous time. The water had abated, but more could have come at any moment. She spoke to the boatmen and the villagers and the senior ashramites. She then had a safety-line strung all the way from the temple to the jetty. Having made Her decision to relocate everyone to the mainland, Amma started sending people across.

First, She sent the villagers who had taken refuge in the Ashram building, then the devotees and last the ashramites. When sending the villagers, Amma would enquire if they had all the members of their family with them or not, before sending them across. She didn’t want anyone lost or left behind. After ten or fifteen minutes, She call a brahmachari and says “Go to the other side. Buy milk, tea and sugar, prepare chai for them. Go”. When the foreigners came past Her, She would ask them if they had their passports or not. She then told the people running the International Office to gather all the important documents. The amount of detail Amma was paying attention to was amazing—this was really disaster management!

By this time, I was running back and forth, making sure everyone had crossed the backwaters, that the boats were running properly and that the volunteers were following Amma’s orders, and then reporting back to Amma.

The next order of business was ensuring the safety of the Ashram elephants and the cows. Amma said that they should be accommodated in the main temple. It was really funny to see Ram and Lakshmi climbing up the temple steps, followed by all the cows. Amma had some brahmacharis bring hay and water for them. Soon it looked more like a zoo than a temple. A few hours later they were taken across the backwaters on foot via the Beach Road Bridge.

Then sun was setting and still Amma Herself had not crossed over. She wanted to be sure that the whole village had made it to the safety of the mainland before She left. Allappad Village, of which the Ashram is apart, is only 50 to 100 metres wide, being a peninsula between the Kayamkulam Backwaters and the Arabian Sea. But it is about four kilometres long. Amma had boats sent to other parts of the village to take everyone across. She was really concerned.

Amma told me that She was happy that Her disciples were running around to help rescue the villagers and devotees. In their selflessness, they had forgotten that they also had to save their own lives.

It seems that when the water had just started coming in that the brahmachari in charge of Ashram electricity had immediately switched off the main power, pulled out the UPS cables and called the electric department and told them to switch off the mainline. He had done this all on his own.

It was getting really late. People were expecting another surge to come at any time. Amma evaluated what could be brought from the Ashram to the university campus across the backwaters to help the evacuees—things like food, sleeping mats, clothing. She then inquired into what all was available at the university in terms of cooking supplies and sent brahmacharis to purchase whatever else was needed. Most of the 10,000 straw mats owned by the Ashram were stored on the ground floor and thus were soaked with salt water. Amma had the dry ones packed up and taken across for use at relief centres. Similarly, the bottom level of our piles of rice sacks had been soaked in the flood. What remained dry was taken for use in the relief work.
Amma Crosses the Backwaters

Eventually Amma realised that some of the disciples would not leave the Ashram because Amma had not left. The ashramites love Amma more than their own lives. They could not leave Her in the current situation. Amma knew this. But She also knew that their families would not understand if something happened to them. It could even have brought a bad name to Sanatana Dharma. So eventually—after midnight—Amma decided to go across Herself with the 20 or so people who had remained.

On the other side, She continued coordinating relief works. She called Shaaji, a local fire officer, and asked him if all the people at the relief camps set up by the government had been served dinner. When She came to understand that there was not enough food, She told the brahmachari in charge of the Ashram kitchen to start cooking. All the 75-kg sacks of rice that had not been soaked by sea water had been brought over for cooking and distribution at the relief camps. Some of the evacuees at the relief camps said they did not need food that first night, as some other organisation had provided it, but that they wanted breakfast the next morning. So Amma told them to start cooking uppama for the next morning. The kitchen was soon preparing more 1,700 to 2,000 kg of rice a day, as well as 1,000 kg of uppama. We also gave away 1,500 litres of milk each day. Amma also said that no one from outside the Ashram should be allowed in the kitchen, as She was concerned that someone may intentionally contaminate the food and cause everyone to get sick.

Amma then put five brahmacharis in charge of looking after each of the 12 relief camps set up by the government. She also assembled teams of devotees to accompany them. She wanted the relief camps to be amply provided for, but She was very concerned that not a grain of rice be wasted.

Amma called seven ambulances from AIMS, as well as medical teams, headed by 10 doctors, with paramedical assistants and nurses in order to start providing medical care for the evacuees. Within the first 48 hours, the doctors had distributed medicine worth four lakhs [Rs. 400,000] and seen more than 1,700 patients. They were making rounds so that each camp would be visited every two hours. Some of the evacuees were heart patients or had high blood pressure or diabetes. Their medicines had been lost in the flood. One evacuee named Shantakumari even started vomiting blood because she had missed taking her medicines.

Some of the volunteers, like Vivek from Japan, even learned a few sentences in Malayalam so as to be of better service in the relief work. “Asukham undo?” [“Are you unwell?”], he would ask the people when he went out with the Ashram doctors in the ambulances. He then would bring those who said yes to the doctors. Even though most of Amma’s children from outside Kerala do not know Malayalam, they transcended that language barrier, communicating on the level of love and compassion that Amma is always teaching.

Around 13,000 people were accommodated at the Amrita University Engineering College and at the Amrita Ayurveda College—that includes ashramites, visiting devotees and villagers. They all shared the same roof, food and facilities. Most of the visiting devotees returned to their homes the next day.

Since the government had filled up all their schools, people were sent to the temple in Ochira. But there was nothing there in terms of amenities. The people were just lying on the bare ground. Amma sent six buses there to take people to Amrita Vidyalayam at Puthiyakavu, but the people refused, preferring to stay in that holy place.
The Morning After

The sun came up, and Amma still had not eaten or slept. Once when offered a glass of water, She said, “How can I drink when so many people have lost their lives?” Around 9:00 a.m. Amma visited two relief camps set up by the Ashram. She did not inform anyone that She was going. She just started walking towards the Engineering College with bare feet. The college is about a furlong to the east from the AICT building where Amma was staying. The brahmacharis ran to find a vehicle and driver to take Amma. But by the time the car came, Amma had already walked half the distance.

At the relief camp, Amma went around, asking the people how they were. When Amma saw someone with a wound or a cut, or a bandage, She would ask them what had happened. Were they in pain? Did they have medicine? Were all their family members accounted for? Were their neighbours ok? It was unimaginable the number of details Amma was going into.

Eventually, Amma met a man who had lost his son. The whole family was there: the wife who had lost her husband, the children who had lost their father. They told Amma how the man had been running to save his mother. She had a gimp leg and was suffering from depression. On his way, a wall had fallen on him. At least the mother had been saved by one of the brahmacharis. For 10 minutes, Amma simply cried with them. She just sat there wiping the tears of the mother, the wife, the father, the children, as well as Her own.

Soon the wife started crying to Amma. Her wails came rhythmic and melodic, almost like a song: “Oh, Amma! My Amma! How difficult it is to see Amma in this manner. Now we are having this chance. But you [her husband] are not here. You are not having this chance with us. Oh, Amma, you are my only salvation. My beloved Amma!”

The tears flowed ceaselessly from Amma’s face. The grief of the entire family was reflected in Her eyes. At one point, Amma had the children on Her lap, the wife in Her arms, and the father was holding Amma from behind, laying across Her back, as it were.

She consoled them and encouraged the young boy, telling him that he had to be strong so he could be the support for his family. “Don’t worry. Amma is there with you,” She told him. The wife eventually seemed to have cried herself out. She then fell into Amma’s arms like a wilted plant. Amma silently held her like that as she gasped for air, like a child who cannot calm down after crying. Filming this, I realized that I also was crying. Tears were running down both my cheeks. The whole 20 minutes Amma spent with them, I was in tears.

Amma then went to the Ayurveda College, where all the injured and sick were housed. Many people were there suffering from small injuries, disease and mental shock. There was a man there who had been rescued by brahmacharis and brought across the backwaters. Another patient was Bhargavan. Back when Amma held Devi Bhava darshan in the kalari, he was the one who would blow the conch with one hand and ring the temple bell with the other. He had some minor injuries. He told Amma that he had been praying that She would come and see him. Amma bent down and kissed him on the forehead. From where he was laying on the bed, he lifted up his arm and wrapped it around Amma’s neck.

There was also a lady there who had lost her child. She was in a terrible shock—not speaking or taking food. Just sitting, staring out with blank look on her face. Amma made her lie down and asked the doctors if they could give her some medicine to help her sleep. She also told the brahmacharinis to watch over the lady’s surviving two-year-old baby.

Many of the evacuees were Amma’s devotees. As Amma walked amongst them, She said that many of them didn’t even know that they had lost their children or relatives yet. Some had died from being knocked unconscious and then drowning in the water—others, when a tree or a piece of a house hit them on the head. We had already collected four dead bodies from the Ashram jetty. In the next 24 hours, we helped recover 12 more. Once, a mother was found on one side of the river and the body of her child on the other.
Mass Cremation in Azhikkal

On the 28th of December, two days after the tsunami, a mass cremation was held in the village of Azhikkal, only two kilometres north of the Ashram. The ashramites helped with everything from the building of the funeral pyres, to bringing food and water for the families, to transporting the families to and from the cremation site, to consoling those who had lost their near and dear ones, to assisting them in performing the last rites.

The government arranged for the firewood and the plantain trees for the ritual. All this was done by the collector. We used four of our ambulances to transport the dead bodies from the mortuary to the cremation ground.

Government buses and vehicles from other service organization were also there. The cremation process went off smoothly. Ashram brahmacharis and brahmacharinis chanted the eighth chapter of the Bhagavad-Gita. It was such a solemn affair. People were full of pain and shock. It was a rare and sorrowful sight to see 40 bodies being cremated at the same time. But nothing could compare with the sight of five mothers rushing forward to claim the body of a small child—each one thinking him to be their own.

When the pyres were lit, Amma was holding a prayer back at the university campus, with all Her children sitting around Her. She asked everyone to pray for peace—both for the dead and for the living. For more then 15 minutes She sang a version of the peace mantra: lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu… This is the same song Amma had song twice the week before the disaster, each time ending in tears.

When the song was over, Amma got up and returned to the Ashram.

The morning of the 29th found the ashramites engaged in cleaning the Ashram. Everything was a mess: water and sludge in the ground-floor rooms; Books, CDs and tapes from the bookstall and papers from the press were scattered everywhere. Metal plates, chairs, tables and cooking vessels were strewn about… Everything had to be accounted for and cleaned.

In the evening, Amma came down to see the surroundings. What was the condition of the Ashram? Was it hygienically safe to bring all the devotees back to the Ashram from the relief camp? Amma had to consider all these things before making a decision.

Later that night, Amma saw the brahmacharinis had set up their sewing machines in the main temple and were busy stitching underskirts for the villagers. Amma joined with them, spending an hour sewing a skirt Herself.

What Next?

Amma is very much concerned about the future of the villagers. Soon the Christmas vacation will be over, and the classes will have to start again at the government schools. Where will these people go? Amma wonders. What about these peoples’ clothes, cooking vessels and utensils? School books for the children? Amma is discussing all these matters with different authorities and is getting reports on everything that is required before acting.

She is concerned about possible diseases that could come, epidemics. Amma has been discussing such things with doctors at AIMS. She also says that She would like there to be a study to see if another such earthquake could happen again. How can the houses be built in a way to withstand the power of the natural forces?

As I write I feel a bit sad because it is impossible to do justice to all that Amma is doing by writing just one small article. And here I am only focusing on this small coastal area. Amma has also initiated similar programmes in Chennai, Pondicherry, Velankanni, Trivandrum and Vypin—sending teams of medical doctors, distributing food, clothing and toiletries. Ashram lorries and tractor trucks are helping in the removal of the debris. Ashram is providing fuel for not only our own earthmovers but also those of other organisations.

One night in Her room at the relief camp, Amma said to me, “The plight of the village is so sad. These people have lost their houses, their utensils; their children no longer have clothes or books for school. To remove their broken houses itself is difficult. It will cost almost as much to remove the debris of the ruined houses as it will to build new ones. It is a great relief that the government is there to look after these people. This is the first time in 52 years that Amma has seen the water coming high onto the land like this. We should pray for everyone’s peace. Pray that people are freed from their sorrow. Pray for peace.

“In 2002, Amma said that She felt 2005 would be a year of tragedy and danger. For the past one week, Amma had been praying. Amma felt that something would happen. Hopefully this is the end of the darkness, but Amma feels it is not, that there is still more to come. We should all pray that something further, like war, does not follow.”

Listening to these words directly from Amma’s lips, I was stunned. I could not move. I started crying, thinking of the love and motherly concern Amma has for the world.

For the past five days, Amma and the ashramites have been working tirelessly. Even at 3:00 in the morning, if one walks around the relief camp, they will see people cutting vegetables, cooking rice, doctors returning from rounds, brahmacharinis sorting clothing donations… It’s important to remember that we were also affected by this tragedy. We also were evacuees. Water destroyed many of our computers, the UPS, the printing press, the books and papers kept on the first floor of the Ashram were all lost. But in the midst of the sorrow and the shock of the tsunami, the presence of Amma inspired us ashramites to forget how we were personally being affected and made us ready to help others. Isn’t that the ultimate aim of spirituality?

Om Lokah Samasthah Sukhino Bhavantu

False tsunami alert

30th December 2004

1. Around 11:00 a.m., an alarm was issued by the office of the Chief Minister of Kerala, ordering people to once again evacuate the coastal areas.

2. Evacuation from Amritapuri: Amma told everyone to once again calmly go to the other side of the backwaters.

3. After the majority of people had left, Amma came down from Her room and had a look around. She then told the remaining ashramites to shift all the plates, books, mats, cooking pots, speakers and other things being cleaned to higher ground.

4. Amma Herself engaged in the work.

5. Within half an hour everything was done.

6. The remaining ashramites insisted that Amma also leave for the university campus. Amma gives in to their request and accompanies them to the campus on the other side of the backwaters.

7. The Indian Government tells all foreign embassies in India to inform their citizens not to travel to the South.

8. The warning was soon taken back.

9. All the visitors of the ashram, devotees from the foreign countries are safe and fine.

10. Back at the University, Amma discusses the future needs of the displaced people with the relief workers and local devotees.

11. An assessment of the damage to houses on the coast is undertaken on Amma’s instructions.

12. Food, clothing and medicines are provided as usual at the various camps.

13. Volunteers are flowing in, bringing clothes and whatever they think may be of use to the displaced people.

14. Amma comes out in the night to spend time with Her children in meditation. She sings a few bhajans.

15. Amma is staying in the University campus for the time being.

Relief work in Tamil Nadu & parts of Kerala

as of 29 December 2004

Both in North and South Chennai

Also in Nagapatanam and Pondicherry

Ashram ambulances and medical doctors are regularly doing rounds of worst hit places.

Ashram is supplying food for 4,000 to 5,000 people every day.

Food is donated, cooked and packed by devotees.

Already more than 10 truck loads of clothes contributed by Amma’s devotees have been distributed.

Uncooked rice and other provisions are being supplied regularly.

Ashram is also collecting blankets and cooking utensils to be given in distribution.

A large number of students and staff from Amrita Institutions are involved in the relief work.


Amma has sent a team of three doctors—Dr. Vaidyanathan, Dr. Rajam, Dr. Unnikrishnan and paramedical staff to render medical services. Accompanying them is a team of volunteers who are providing essential services.


24-hour medical centre has been set up with doctors, resources and medicine from AIMS.

Devotees are contributing every thing they can:  rice, tea, clothes, sleeping mats, blankets, sugar etc.

Seriously injured people are being taken to AIMS Medical Hospital in Cochin.

Hundreds of volunteers , including devotees, students and workers at Amrita institutions.


Relief work continues in all the camps.

1010 kgs. of rice, 900 kgs. of uppuma and 860 liters of milk were distributed today.

Many more service organisations are helping the people now, in all the relief camps.

Medical team has reported 17 cases of disentry. It can be the indication of epidemic diseases.

The Ashram doctors are creating more awareness among the people about hygiene.

Ashram cleaning is in full swing

The visitors and ashramites are staying in the relief camps.

Ashram cows move back to their shed. Ram and Lakshmi, the Ashram elephants, are still on the other side of the backwaters.

Amma sews an underskirt along with the brahmacharinis who are sewing underclothes for the women at the camps.

10,000 People must be fed

28 December 2004 — Relief Centre at Amrita University, Amritapuri

With the entire coastal area around the Ashram evacuated, more than 10,000 people need to be fed three times a day. And this is only taking into consideration the people now housed in relief camps on the mainland. There are even more who have not left the peninsula, but are now without any food supplies, stoves or fuel.

Thus from the minute Amma had the Ashram set up its relief camps, the cooking began. The food is regularly being transported to the 12 centres in the area, as well as to the villagers remaining on the peninsula. Amma herself has visited the kitchen to make sure everything is going according to plan.

As the Ashram is used to feeding as many as 20,000 people a day, the ashramites have not had trouble preparing the food. They’ve mainly been cooking rice, uppumav and simple but nutritious curries. They are also bringing fresh water to the people, as many of the wells have become contaminated by salt water or waste.

“The serving is going on literally 24 hours a day,” says the brahmachari in charge of the kitchen. We are using 1,000 kg of uppumav every day, 1,700 to 2,000 kg of rice and have just received four lorries full of vegetables. We also are giving away about 1,500 litres of milk every day.”

There are approximately 150 ashramites and devotees helping with food preparation, cooking and food serving. It never stops. The canteen is constantly full of brahmacharinis and householder devotees—including many from the West—chopping up vegetables for use in curries.
In the picture on the right, commandos are taking lunch served by the Ashram.

Werner, a 67-year-old devotee from Germany, has been working almost non-stop since the disaster struck. “Mostly I have been helping move the heavy kitchen items. My only prayer to Amma is: ‘Please give me strength to be useful for this planet.’ It is fulfilment for me. I am only sad that I am on old man now and cannot be as useful as I would be if I had a younger body.”


Mass cremation in Azhikkal

28 December 2004 — Azhikkal, Alappad Panchayat, Kollam District, Kerala

The sun was going down when the pyres were lit at the beach in Azhikkal. As the sun set, its sullen red colour spread across the sky, as if it were sharing the grief of the villagers. The air was filled with the moaning cries of the near and dear ones of those who had passed away. A sight that could move even the most stone hearted to tears.

Azhikkal was one of the worst hit villages on the Kerala coastal belt. Most of the houses there had collapsed as the waters surged in, taking away the people inside along with it. Days later, dead bodies were still being recovered from the backwaters, the fields, under the rubble. One could see utensils, clothes, toys, footwear and so many others things scattered about the open grounds. Whom did they belong to? Are they still alive? Nobody knows.

On the 28th evening, a mass cremation was arranged for the 42 dead bodies that had been recovered on the first day and had been lying since then in a mortuary. The relatives of the dead started arriving in large numbers by afternoon itself. A tent was erected for them to sit in shade. There were a number of Ashram vehicles plying up and down the road, bringing in the relatives from the relief camps. Many of them were staying in the relief camps set up by the Ashram. The Ashram volunteers were also serving food and water to all the people attending the funeral.

The swamis and brahmacharis had been working since afternoon, shifting logs and firewood, arranging for coconut husks and coconut shells and doing whatever was necessary to help with the arrangements. Many other organizations were also helping in this work. Some were political groups who were totally opposed to each other ideologically. But at this time of crisis, they all stood together and worked as a single unit. Meanwhile Amma’s brahmacharinis were with there as well, consoling the mourning families and trying to give them some strength. Most of the houses seemed to have lost one or two family members.

As the bodies arrived, the cries in the air became intense. The bodies were first placed in the tent, so that the relatives of the deceased could pay their last respects. When one coffin was opened, exposing the body of a small child, five different women ran to it, believing it to be there own. Others came and placed gentle kisses on the foreheads and arms of the dead. Many fainted as they paid their last tributes.

Before the pyres were lit, the Ashram residents chanted the eighth chapter of the Bhagavad-Gita. Soon one could see 40 burning pyres, with the crowd around standing with folded palms, praying from the bottom of their hearts for the peace of the departed.

Darkness came and the fires were still burning. Many family members held vigil around pyres all night long. The Ashram volunteers, who had been working since morning, remained also. Actually, they were the last to leave.


A song of mourning

28 December 2004 — Relief Centre, Amrita University, Amritapuri Campus

The sun had set. Two kilometres up the river in Azhikkal, the villagers had just set flame to 42 bodies. In the relief camp set up by the Ashram, the only sound was that of crickets.

From the college, Amma walked silently to the field behind the building and sat down, facing the backwaters. She closed her eyes. Soon many of ashramites were seated around her in meditation.

A little after 7:00, a harmonium was brought, as was a simple microphone and amplifier. Through its tiny speaker, Amma began to sing a sad-sounding prayer for happiness.

Amma’s voice was the only amplified sound, so it alone was carried out into the night. Her tampura, the drone of the crickets.

Could they hear her? Those who would never see their husbands again… those who would never see their wives… those who would never touch their children again… never know their mothers and father? In that darkness, was her voice some how holding them—perhaps even without them even knowing it?

lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu…
lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu…
lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu…

Amma sang this refrain for almost 15 minutes straight. Each time the gravity of the line seemed to increase. Each time the devastation of the past three days seemed more inescapable.

Clearly many ashramites were thinking back to just the week before when Amma had twice sung this very song—both times ending in tears.

When the song was over, Amma sang a few more bhajans, then led everyone in a short meditation and announced She was returning to the Ashram.

With the turning of the moment, the destruction was over, and the rebuilding had begun.


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Tales of Tsunami -2

Ashramites and devotees share their experiences of the tsunami in Amritapuri.
Christiane Gude, Germany

“I was standing with Amma on the balcony of the temple, taken aback to see how fast the ashram grounds were filling up with water. I work with pictures professionally and had the opportunity to take some. Watching Amma instructing and the water rising, I thought ‘What’s the us of taking pictures if my camera will be taken by the ocean soon anyway?’ I was not afraid at all, rather fascinated to experience the feelings of how nothing belongs to me. And if now was my time to finally get to swim with Amma—so be it. Jai Ma!”

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Sivani Banchio, Italy

“As the water was rising and Amma—herself in the water—was directing everyone to climb to higher floors, I was thinking how unfortunate it was that my mother had chosen this time to come all the way from Italy to visit me in India. I had hoped for a smooth and peaceful time for her, but things were otherwise…

“However I soon realized that my mother was in fact receiving a precious blessing—to participate in the around-the-clock veggie-chopping at the relief camp, to witness the Ashram boats continuously dispatching enough food to feed 10,000 evacuees, to see the villagers being given shelter, clothing and solace, and most of all to experience what it feels like to be part of a bigger family, one that knows no boundaries of culture, religion or colour, where all are the darling children of one Mother.

“And today, I am thinking how unfortunate it is that my mother had to return to Italy before Amma made Her pledge to dedicate 23.3 million dollars towards the reconstruction of Southern India—to construct temporary shelters, donate land, repurchase household items and secure the future of orphans…

“For us who live with Amma throughout the year, this is an occasion to realise how little we know Her, how little we have understood Her limitless compassion, how utterly impossible it is to gauge the depth of Her immense heart that melts with love for every being of this vast world.

“I have only one prayer, that we may all grow and become as she would like us to be: selfless, dedicated and pure—just a tiny bit like her.”

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Akshay, Germany

“I was in the kitchen, when it hit. The water level rose very fast. There was no time to move anything. Soon around 150 kg of cooked rice was floating in dark-brown water. One large pot containing some rice just started floating, as if it were a ship!

“As soon as the people were across, Amma started telling us to send food. All the cooked food and veggies we loaded in handcarts—quite hard to push them through the mud to the boat jetty, but we had lots of volunteers. The good news was that, as Amma had called for Devi Bhava, there was already enough lunch for all the devotees, ashramites and the first wave of evacuees from the village.

“It was difficult squeezing the really big pots on to the boats. In all we took more than 100 pots and 5,000 plates. Kunji was made for dinner, but it wasn’t until 1 a.m. that the kitchen was fully operational. That was just early enough that we could cook uppumav and curry for the evacuees’ breakfast. From then on, it just carried on like that—three meals a day, working around the clock. Finally we made some shifts, so we could get at least some rest.”

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Prana Morton, USA

“I was blessed to next to Amma in the temple when the water came. Everyone spontaneously came close to Her. Never before have I felt her pull us so close. I found courage in her unshakable strength.”

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Harsha Makhijani, Mumbai

“Amma has always said that the very next moment is not in our hands, but until the 26th December I had never had a near-death experience. When the water from the sea came and flooded the whole Ashram, we all experienced the grace of the Guru’s umbrella, and not one person was hurt.

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Kevala Imanishi, Japan

When the tsunami hit the Ashram, I heard loud and strange sounds, including screaming. I jumped from my room. Then I saw that the wave from the Arabian Sea had just come and covered the ashram grounds. It had happened so suddenly. I remember thinking, ‘Before the power of Nature, we are so helpless.’

“After that, we took refuge at Amma’s college near the Ashram. I feel like this was an actual case of taking refuge in Amma. We all survived by Amma’s grace. There is no eternal thing except for God—so we have to take refuge in God.”

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Tales of Tsunami -1

Ashramites and devotees share their experiences of the tsunami in Amritapuri.
Love, Dharma & Samskara

When the flood struck, Damayanti Amma, Amma’s mother, was immediately taken across the jetty to the mainland. But when she reached the other side, she immediately realised the Suganandan Acchan, her husband, was still at the Ashram. “What? Acchan is still there?” she said. “How can you bring me and not Acchan? It is not right. It is my dharma to be with my husband. No, you take me back right now. I will not stay here without him.” Damayanti Amma was so adamant that Amma’s brothers and sisters had no choice but to take her back across the backwaters. There they found Acchan and together Amma’s parents returned to the mainland.
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Christie Nunn “Kripa” (19 years old), Fairfield, Iowa, USA

“I was watching from the dormitory window in the temple when the third wave hit, sending water gushing through the front gates. As soon as I realised that this was a serious situation, I rushed down to see Mother. As I followed Her instructions—first to go to the roof and then to go across the backwaters to the mainland—I couldn’t help but feel totally looked-after on every level, despite the grief, chaos and tension that was surrounding me. Throughout the entirety of my experience, I felt so cared for. I can only attribute this to Amma’s incredible shraddha [paying of intense attention to every detail].”

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Mehga, Amritesh & Joel

“When the water started filling the Ashram premises, I cried for Amma and the following days went in harmony and adjustment. Amma’s presence made the whole experience feel like prasad and gave me the feeling that we have nothing to worry about; Amma is with us.”

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Vimukta, Denmark

“On the 26th December, a person in me died: the one who thought she was in control of her own life. Amma saved the lives of 20,000 people in less than an hour. A thousand pranams to my beloved Amma.”

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Karuna Poole, Seattle, Washington, USA

“As I stood on the top of the temple and saw devotees standing on the balconies of all the building, what kept going through my head was, ‘She has built us Noah’s ark… She has built us Noah’s ark.'”

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Kripalu, France

“Amma constantly repeats: ‘My children, you must be like birds on a dry twig. Be happy, enjoy life, but remember that at any time the twig may break.’ When I witnessed the tidal wave, I really understood the power of this message.”

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Ramya Fennell, UK

“As we were evacuating, I kept hearing Mother’s words: ‘Live like a bird on a twig that might break any moment.’ In a flash, life had changed. It was all in God’s hands.'”

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Manueal Ceresola, Italy

“When the flood arrived, I was sitting next to Amma and I never felt in danger. We were advised to go to the roof of the temple. From there, I could see the work of Amma and of the swamis and brahmacharis as far as saving people and coordinating everything. We were quickly moved to a safe place, Amma’s Engineering School, and offered an excellent meal. Through the next days, support was good and we didn’t lack anything. When we finally came back to the Ashram, it was already in order. During all this coordination, Amma found the time to console the grieving families one by one, sharing their suffering. They were supported emotionally and materially.
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Millen, USA

“I am grateful to Amma who has given me the experience that bliss flows through all circumstances, even “disasters.” Never have I been more at peace.”

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Kalavati Yates, Nanaimo, BC, Canada

“It was six days after the flood during darshan that some of the pain and loss experienced by the villagers truly hit me. In front of me, a local man was telling Amma of his losses. I felt teary, then deeper and deeper sorrow. Five to 10 minutes must have passed as I choked back tears. Finally my turn to have a hug came and I was sobbing as Amma held me to Her breast. Later, crossing the backwaters, I was overcome with sorrow for the absence of fisherman busily heading out to sea in their boats and no nets dipping down to catch what they could.

“I am now working hard, scraping mud and washing and picking up garbage and doing anything else I can, falling exhausted into my Ashram bed at night. Grateful to be useful.”

Frightened villagers see hope in faces of Ashram doctors

28 December 2004 — Relief Camp at Amrita University, Amritapuri

Immediately after the flooding, Amma ordered six ambulances from AIMS Super Specialty Medical Hospital in Cochin to be sent to the Kollam District in order to facilitate the Ashram doctors in treating the distressed and injured. The ambulances were fully equipped with medicines, ventilators, etc., even having the capacity to house small operations.

As soon as they reached, 10 doctors accompanied by teams of assistants, began making rounds of the all nine relief camps in the mainland. They also made trips into the evacuated coastal area from Azhikkal to Pandarathuruttu. Within 48 hours they had already distributed more than four lakhs [Rs. 400,000] worth of medicines and served more than 2,000 people .

“You see, these people know us,” says Dr. Raghavendra, a brahmachari who works at AIMS and the Amrita Kripa Charitable Hospital in Vallikkavu. “Many of them have been coming to the Ashram Hospital for years. When they see it is us, they come running.”

“We don’t have badges,” says Dr. Chandrasekhar, another brahmachari who serves at Amrita Kripa, “but even the people who do not know us by face, know we are Amma’s brahmacharis by our haircuts and dress, and they immediately open up to us. Their main problem is depression. So many have lost everything.”

“All they know is gone,” adds Dr. Ashok, a brahmachari brain surgeon who is based at AIMS. “Imagine, you have nothing but a small house on the beach for 30 or 40 years and then in five minutes, that is completely washed away. They are in shock. They have lost daughters, husbands, wives, fathers… Some are suffering from small wounds, cuts, abrasions, pieces of glass lodged in their feet. We treated someone the other day for a fractured rib. But the big problem is depression and anxiety. They really need people to talk to them. We ask them a few questions, calm them down, and then they immediately open up and just start crying. They tell us ‘My house is gone’ or ‘I lost my child… I lost my wife.'”

“We trust them because they are from Amma’s Ashram,” affirms one of the evacuees. “One medical team from another organisation came and set up a table full of medicines. They then saw about 10 people, took 20 photographs and packed up and left. The next medical team that came we just told them to get lost. We wouldn’t even let them get out of their vehicle. But we know these are Amma’s brahmacharis so it is different.”

Right from the beginning, the doctors knew it was serious, says Dr. Ram Mohan, a brahmachari serving at Amrita Kripa. “Within one hour after the waters hit, our brahmacharis brought in the bodies of two men who had drowned, and these were big men—young and strong.”

After 48 hours of relief work, the doctors have heard many sad stories. “We came to one camp and this woman just out of nowhere became hysterical. She had just learned that her 15-year-old daughter had been discovered among the dead,” says Dr. Raghavendra. “Another man was complaining of chest pain, only upon speaking with him did we realise it was because he too had lost a daughter.”

Dr. Ram Mohan tells similar tales. “One man came in the other day, and from his demeanour you could immediately tell something was seriously wrong. He was reactionless, completely without emotion, indifferent. Slowly we came to realise that five people in his family had been killed.”

They are helping all they can, but for some wounds there are no painkillers.