Amma did what the government could not

26 September 2005 — Alappad Panchayat, Kollam District, Kerala

On 26 December 2004, they lost everything. For generations their families have been maintained through fishing. Never did they dream that in one day their means to that income could literally be washed away. But that’s exactly what happened when the tsunami wrecked their fishing boat and nets.

After the tsunami, Thankan, Dushadhan, Senan, Vimalan, Bose and Krishnan were left with no resources or recourse whatsoever for gainful employment. “We first turned to the government, but their priorities were not clear,” said Thankan. “Many voluntary agencies promised to help, but none kept their promises. Finally when we met Amma, she assured us she would help. We don’t have any words to thank Amma, because Amma did what even the government could not do.”

“Amma has been giving to all without any favouritism,” said Bose. “She is giving to the really needy, whereas we are not sure whether the government aid has gone to the right people.”

Tomorrow, on Amma’s birthday, this team of six fishermen will be given a fully equipped motorised fishing boat and new nets. In fact, a total of 150 fishing boats will be handed over to tsunami-affected fishermen during Amma’s birthday.

When asked if they had decided upon a name for their new boat, the team members smiled and hinted that it would be “Amriteswari.”


Lighting the lamps of love

26 September 2005 — Amritapuri

The Kayamkulam Backwaters looked like the Ganga flowing through Haridwar. The waterway was glowing with the dancing lights of thousands oil lamps lit all along the banks of the village community—a spontaneous and loving gesture by the neighbouring villagers to express their unfathomable gratitude to Amma.

The twinkling lamps—Amrita Jyoti—symbolized the light of love that Amma lit in their hearts during their darkest hour, when the tsunami had literally drowned their village.

The day began on an auspicious note with the villagers continuously chanting Amma’s 108 names and the Sri Lalita Sahasranama. Hundreds throughout Alappad had erected small altars with Amma’s photo and oil lamps before them.

Thus, Amma’s birthday is no longer confined to the Ashram grounds—it has been transformed into a celebration for the whole community.


Birthday guests from around the world

26 September 2005 — Amritapuri

From all the parts of the world, they came to celebrate Amma’s birthday—from Europe, North and South America, Japan, Australia, the Middle East, and of course from India itself…. We had a short chat with a couple from Peru, a Malayali living in Dubai, a lady from Poland, two young girls from Germany, a devotee from India and two people from Japan…
Here is what they had to say:

Cesar Ricardo Sarmiento Mendoza, 53, & Rita Cecilia Vergara Ponciano, 43 (Peru)

Is this the first time you’ve come to Amritapuri?
Cesar: Yes! We arrived yesterday! We are a married couple and have a daughter and two grandchildren!

How and when did you hear about Amma?
Cesar: Last year. Some friends in Peru told us about her.

Are you here for Amma’s Birthday?
Rita: Yes, we are staying in Amritapuri for six days.

What is your impression after reaching here?
Cesar: This place is immense. The crowds are impressive! I can also strongly feel the divine grace.

Did you already meet Amma?
Rita: Yes! We had our first darshan yesterday!

How was it?
Cesar: What an extraordinary force! I felt clearly a pulse of expansive energy from Amma’s heart. When she hugged me, She said in my ear, special divine words. It was a unique life experience. I felt her energy enter me.

What touches you the most about Amma?
Rita: She is a pure manifestation of the Divine. What a wonderful experience Amma’s darshan was! I could feel the pure love coming from her heart and filling me!

Jayaram, 53 (Indian living in Dubai)

How long have you known Amma?
I heard about her 14 years ago and met her for the first time 12 years ago.

When did you first come to Amritapuri?
It was in 1994. And this is third time that I have had the good fortune to attend in her birthday celebrations.

What is your impression when you see these big crowds?
By seeing this and coming from the world, I can sense the transformation that Amma makes within each one. When in her proximity, the love within each one overcomes the hatred.

What would you like to offer to Amma on this occasion?
Whatever I could offer materially is anyway already hers. What I would like to offer is my mind. I would like to put my soul in her hands!

Vasuda, 41 (Poland)

For how long have you known Amma?
I met her for the first time in 1997.

When did you come here for the first time?
In 1998, but it is the first time that I am here for Amma’s birthday.

As a person from Poland, is there any particular service that you are doing at the Ashram?
I work in the Information Centre, and in addition to the Polish language I know some Russian and some Czech…. so when people come from those countries, I can speak to them and help them.

What is your feeling, witnessing all the preparations for Amma’s birthday?
It is overwhelming! The crowds are enormous! I’m happy that so many people come to participate in the event. It was also very beautiful in the morning to listen to the archanas.

What will you do tomorrow?
Like everyone, I will attend the padapuja and the ceremonies. I will do my normal daily seva and do some extra seva that is needed as well.

What is your feeling regarding this extra seva?
It’s great to serve all these people. Many could be new or feel lost. I’m very happy if I can help in any possible way! I’m also so impressed by this whole organisation. It is done so well!

What would you like to offer to Amma on her birthday?
My pure heart! But… she has to help me purify it first.

Anything else you want to add?
I want to thank Amma for bringing me here and offering me this wonderful chance to live in her ashram and in her presence.

Sneha, 14, and Valsala, 12 (Germany)

Is this the first birthday of Amma’s that you have attended?
No, we were here in 1998, when we were seven and five!

What do you remember from that year?
Sneha: I remember the big crowds and the padapuja! I also remember that the birthday programs were held in this hall, but the hall was smaller then.
Valsala: I remember the children I used to play with. I remember going for darshan with them in the very beginning. I also remember being stuck in the crowd, not seeing my mother and crying until she came!

Why did you come here?
Valsala: I like it. It feels like home.
Sneha: I want to live here for a while. Valsala, our parents and I are here for a few months. I want to see Amma a lot!

Why do you want to see Amma?
Valsala: She is like my mother! She gives love to everyone and everyone feels her love! She hugs us and cares for us.
Sneha: Amma is like my mother! Everybody likes his or her mother, no? Amma is so special!

What would be your gift for Amma on her birthday?
Valsala: I started preparing it. I am stitching a big heart with a rainbow. I’ll put Krishna there too.

Is there anything else you would like to offer to Amma?
Valsala: Anything! My heart, love…

A. Sushil Kumar, 52 (India)

When did you meet Amma for the first time?
In 2000, and it changed my life. After that I asked Amma if I could leave my job and come work in her institutions. Last year, it finally happened. I resigned and joined Amrita University in Ettimadai. I am the Dean of the School of Business.

Have you attended Amma’s birthday before?
Yes, I have attended it each year since 2000.

What is your impression when seeing such a big crowd?
Well, previously, I had seen that only in Disney Land ! Now it is common to see it around Amma.

But there are big crowds in India usually.
Not this big! And anyway this crowd has a unique quality in that it is serene. Usually when you see such a crowd, you have fear. But this crowd doesn’t bring fear. Even in the night, it is safe for women and children.

What do you feel like offering to Amma for her birthday?
I have a strong desire to put all the knowledge and qualifications that life has offered me at Amma’s feet!

Hiromi Yamaguchi, 31 (Japan)

Is it the first time you’ve come to the Ashram?
Yes, we are a group of six Japanese people coming here for the first time and staying for five days.

Why are you here?
I am here to see Amma in India. I have seen her for the last five years in Tokyo when she visits Japan.

What are your impressions after reaching here?
I feel light. Free from social duties that pressurize everyone in Japan.

What are your feelings upon reaching the ashram?
I see a good mixture of Indian and people from around the world. Spiritually, it seems open and welcoming to all kinds of people. I am also touched by the huge number of devotees and their devotion.

What is your gift to Amma on her birthday?
That my heart purely and sincerely joins her prayers for world peace.

Toshiaki Tabata, 19 (Japan)

You are for the first time here. Why have you come?
I want to practice Amma’s teachings in her own birthplace.

Have you seen Amma in Tokyo?
Yes, last May. It was the first time.

What are your impressions upon reaching here?
I am surprised by the crowds coming to meet Amma. In Japan you would never see anything like this.

Are you a student?
Yes, I am studying to become a social worker.

So what touches you more, Amma’s social work or her spiritual energy?
To do social work properly, it is very important to have a clear mind!

Would you like to come back and do social work here?
Yes, I am joining this the house-building project [Amrita Kuteeram] that is organized by the Ashram’s centre in Japan.

What would you like to offer to Amma on her birthday?
I want to offer my ego, so that she cleans my heart

Anything else you want to say?
Unfortunately, in Japan religious practices are not well perceived. I hope that Amma’s grace will make people more spiritual there.

Amma is applying the real communist principles

26 September 2005 — Amritapuri

Sri. Devakumar is a member of Kerala’s Legislative Assembly and is a leader of the CPIM (Communist Party of India, Marxist). Speaking before the Assembly, Sr. Devakumar strongly supported Amma’s social-welfare projects, particularly in regard to the Ashram’s tsunami-relief work. He was one of thousands of people who came to Amritapuri in order to celebrate Amma’s birthday.

What is your impression when you see such big crowd?
This gathering of Amma’s devotees and other people is very precious. Because it is spiritual, but at the same time there is no differentiation between religions. All are equal here.

How do you evaluate Amma’s social work?
It is very much needed, specifically the tsunami work and educational activities.

Anything special happened to you today?
Yes, when I met Amma in her room, she knew that I had diabetes, so she used some blood-sugar-testing equipment and checked my blood herself! It was 162. After that, when I was offered juice, Amma told me not to take it… like a real mother! She really cares for everyone like a real mother.

What would like to offer her on her birthday?
I wish her a long life. I believe that Amma is applying the real communist principles.

But as a communist leader, you must have had a negative opinion about her in the beginning?
That all changed when I saw how her work and how helpful and needed it is for the poor people. I know the places where she is giving help and, as a representative of the people, I know the needs of the people there.


Birthday preparations underway

25 September 2005 — Amritapuri

First there was the kalari… When it became too small, the main temple was built.. Then in 2001, what is now referred to as the bhajan hall was constructed… And now it seems that even that is too small for Amma’s birthday. This year, the birthday programme and Amma’s darshan will not be held in the bhajan hall but in a pandal [temporary structure] that is being constructed on land recently acquired by the Ashram, about 200 meters beyond the bhajan hall.

On two occassions in the past week, Amma herself has gone to check on the progress of the construction of the temporary hall. As of now, it is almost completed, and will clearly be able to accommodate 50,000 people.

With Amma’s 52nd birthday only two days away, devotees pouring into Amritapuri from all over India. The Ashram-side boat jetty is already decorated with a temple-front facade to welcome the 200,000-some-odd people who will arrive tonight, tomorrow and, of course, on Amma’s birthday itself.


Helping out Katina – Rita Hurricane victims

Hurricane Relief

On September 23, 2005, Amma announced that her organization in the US, the Mata Amritanandamayi Center (M.A. Center), would be providing one-million dollars in aid to help victims of Hurricane Katrina which devastated New Orleans and the coastal areas of Louisiana and Mississippi.

All over the US, devotees are providing assistance; visiting relief camps, donating food, clothing or other needed items, helping evacuees find jobs, housing, and other aid, and using the internet to locate missing relatives and friends.

Devotees are also helping with relief efforts associated with the lesser known, but equally devastating Hurricane Rita which struck the same region just a few weeks later.

Related Links:

Million dollor to Bush-Clinton Katrina relief fund

Photos from the hurricane affected areas

Blog:  Devotees from the Dallas Satsang traveled to Louisiana to help a victim of Hurricane Rita

Transcribed from press conference at Amritapuri

September 23rd 2005, Amritapuri

Q: Was the UN recognition of the Mata Amritanandamayi Math as an NGO because of its tsunami relief work? What is the implication of this recognition?

AMMA: No, the UN recognition was accorded on the basis of all the humanitarian work that the M.A. Math has done so far. With this recognition, the UN may entrust the Math with projects in the future. The Ashram would also be able to share its views with the UN members, and participate in UN forums.

Q: How many tsunami-relief houses has the Math finished building so far?

AMMA: We have finished 1,200 houses, and the piling for another 1,000 houses is going on. On September 27th, we will be handing over 550 houses to the beneficiaries. We have already completed and handed over 150 houses. We first finished building houses in Ernakulam, then in Aleppey, and then in Kollam. In Tamil Nadu, we have finished building houses in Nagapattinam and Kanyakumari, and have already handed them over.

Q: How long did it take the Math to build these 1,200 houses?

AMMA: For the tsunami-resistant houses, which need good piling, we took about three to four months.

Q: How long will it take to finish the houses?

AMMA: We should finish within another three to four months.

Q: There is a perception that some government agencies did not cooperate with the Math. Are you happy with the government’s attitude?

AMMA: Amma has nothing against the government. She does not pay much attention to what the government does or says. She concentrates on what she can do for society.

Just after the tsunami struck, Amma walked four kilometres to participate in the moksha deepam, a day to pray for the departed souls, to assess the situation, to see how much damage the tsunami had done, the evaluate the impact of the waves, how the houses had been washed away by the waves. Amma had to study so many minute details so that she could do justice to the work she was about to undertake. At that time, the government came up with a plan, meant for the tsunami-affected in Cochin. It did not have a staircase, nor a room upstairs. Amma thought this was not the right plan. Amma suggested that every plan for such houses should have a staircase and a room on an upper floor. This is because both grownups and children living here were gripped by fear. Even the change in the sound of the fan, caused by fluctuation in voltage, or the sounds of the wind would strike terror in their hearts of these traumatized people.

Amma also wanted the houses to have a column-bearing structure, and not a load-bearing structure, because a tsunami can cause a house based on a load-bearing structure to collapse. Tsunamis can even wash away huge boulders. When Amma submitted this plan, the government accepted it. So Amma does not have any difference of opinion with the government.

Q: Amma, has the recent attempt on your life emboldened your mission?

AMMA: Amma has no fear. Even the next breath is not in our hands. In any case, the body will perish one day. So rather than rust away doing nothing, it is better to wear away doing something beneficial to society. So there is neither courage nor a lack of courage. But Amma’s children are scared.

Q: Does the Math have any other experience in relief activities?

AMMA: In Gujarat, after the 2001 earthquake, the Math adopted three villages and built 1,200 houses. We also renovated temples and mosques there. In 1997, the Ashram provided assistance for people who had been affected by the earthquake in Lathur, Maharashtra.

Q: Was tsunami relief the first time the Ashram built houses?

AMMA: The housing project is not new to the Math. We have been involved in this work since 1996. We first undertook to build 25,000 houses, which we finished in 2002. Then in 2003, we announced a 100,000 house-building project across India, In addition to this, we have undertaken the tsunami-housing project.

Q: Is giving homes to the homeless the mainstay of Amma’s mission? Is your philosophy home-centred?

AMMA: Many other things are there: pension, orphanages, hospitals, nature protection… Amma doesn’t have any projects. Amma just flows, like a river. Most of the projects that Amma has undertaken happened spontaneously when the situations demanded them.

Born and brought up in this village, Amma has seen the pitiful plight of villagers not being able to sleep at night when it rains, when their thatched roofs leak. Some of them would have grownup daughters in their houses. Most people here work as fishermen. If they get a good catch, they will have food; if not, they won’t. So Amma’s life-long desire is that everyone should have a shelter over their heads and at least one meal a day.

Q: There have been some reports that houses built by the government in Andaman have not been satisfactory. The government had gone ahead without thinking about what the tribal folk were used to and what they needed. For example, the government built houses with tin roofs. Is the Math taking all this into account, before going ahead with the housing project? Are there any experts advising Amma?

AMMA: There are devotees who are engineers and architects, including experts from IIT who are volunteers, who design and build according to local custom and culture. Some of the householder devotees, who are professionals in this field, are also actively involved in the construction work. About 500 of them go every morning to do this seva work, including carrying bricks and shifting other construction material to the site. And no, we have not built houses with tin roofs.

Q: Did Amma have any premonition of the tsunami before it struck?

AMMA: Amma does not like to predict anything. Even if Amma feels something, she does not openly express it. However, in 2002, at the end of the US tour in Boston, Amma felt that something bad would happen during the period starting from the end of 2004 and in 2005. So Amma told the devotees that this period would be bad for the entire world, and asked everyone to chant, “Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu” (“May all the beings in all the worlds be happy”). This message was published by a magazine [What is Enlightenment?]. Devotees circulated this message by email to everyone. Some devotees from US were so frightened that they wanted to migrate to Australia or Canada. When the tsunami struck, there were about 1,200 Westerners here in the ashram. There were a total of 20,000 people here. Before the tsunami, people were running to the seashore because they had heard that the sea had receded. But Amma warned them that the sea would flow in, and therefore asked everyone to move upstairs. So we made everyone move to the upper floors. Amma also asked everyone to drive their cars to the mainland. If all these steps had not been taken, at least 5,000 people would have died [in the Ashram]. More people would have died here than anywhere else.

Q: Amma, do you think there will be similar natural calamities in future?

AMMA: When Amma looks into nature, she sees that nature’s fury is not yet abated. Nature is still turbulent, agitated. Only the cool wind of prayers can shift these dark clouds. Only this moment is ours; even the next breath is not ours. Amma has heard that the butterfly’s life span is only one day, yet it flutters around joyfully. Likewise, we should live joyfully. If there is fear, you cannot live happily.

Q: What did the Math do during the recent monsoon that hit Mumbai?

AMMA: The Math sent two fully equipped ICU ambulances, as well as medical and paramedical staff. We took medicines worth 20 lakh rupees. We were there for two weeks, providing food, medicine, clothes, vessels, etc.

Q: How much have you received in terms of donation for your tsunami-relief activities?

AMMA: We never asked for donations. We did not even announce a fundraising drive in our ashram publications. Amma also did not want devotees to solicit for funds. But 60 percent of Amma’s devotees have an attitude of sacrificing for the world. That is Amma’s real wealth.

Q: What are future activities of the Math?

AMMA: Before the tsunami, Amma had thought of undertaking two projects. One concerns the suicidal rate in Kerala, which is much higher than that of other states. Amma wants to do something about this. The other project is to rehabilitate the sex workers in Mumbai and Kolkata–creating more awareness among them, introducing self-employment programs for them, building schools for their children. But because of the tsunami, we couldn’t invest funds in these.

According to the latest figures, there are 35,000 sex workers in Kolkatha alone, mostly, girls between eight and 13 years. If we save them before they are 18, they must be returned to their homes, according to law. And if that happens, they will go back to prostitution again. So there are legal loopholes. Amma is still discussing the project with legal experts.

Q: Amma, could you elaborate on the project to tackle to problem of suicide?

AMMA: Amma is doing a study on this. The saddest thing is that parents who want to commit suicide kill their young children first. Amma has asked a team of devotees to gather newspaper clippings over the last five years, and find out more about what people commit suicide, so as to study this issue thoroughly.

Amma is also thinking about starting a village for people with suicidal tendencies, so that we can attend to them personally. Children of such parents are more likely to develop suicidal tendencies. Most of these people have borrowed heavily from loan sharks.

Q: You talk about dharma, but at the same time what we see here are so many social-welfare activities. Would you like to be known as a religious leader, spiritual leader or social worker?

AMMA: Amma doesn’t have any desire. You can call her what you want: “mother,” “she,” “woman”…. I don’t care. Amma has offered herself to the world. Once you become an offering, you have no claims.

Q: Amma, you have such a big following and you are so powerful and people adore you. Have you ever thought of going to politics? You would win.

AMMA: Amma does not have any desire to enter politics, because in politics, there is always two (two political parties). When you represent a political party, you cannot serve society fully. If you are ruling, there will be an opposition. Amma does not have any party, she can serve everyone; she can serve better. If the government gets 1,000 rupees, only 10 rupees go to people because they have to pay their administration and workers. It’s like pouring oil from one vessel to another. By the time we reach the last vessel, there is no oil left. Whereas if Amma gets 10 rupees, it goes to people as 1,000 rupees, as in Amma’s ashram, there are tens of thousands of people willing to serve without remuneration.

Amma provides 1 million $ for hurricane relief

23 September 2005, Amritapuri

In a national press conference today at Amritapuri Ashram, Amma announced that her organization in America, the Mata Amritanandamayi Center, would be providing one-million U.S.D. [Rs. 43,800,000] in aid to help victims of Hurricane Katrina, the storm that devastated New Orleans, Louisiana, as well as coastal areas of Mississippi and Alabama.

At the crowded press conference, Amma answered questions about the Mata Amritanandamayi Math’s massive Tsunami Rehabilitation & Relief Project, as well as other ongoing service projects of the Math.

Amma also announced that so far the Ashram has completed 1,200 of the 6,200 tsunami-relief houses it has undertaken to construct throughout India and Sri Lanka.

Even though the Ashram has pledged 100 crores in Tsunami relief Aid, in fact the effective value of the amount is closer to 200 crores, because so much of the work is being done by volunteers, Amma said.

Amma also discussed future Ashram social-welfare projects,such as her plans to uplift sex workers in Mumbai and Calcutta and her desire to set up a programme to reduce India’s suicide rate, particularly in Kerala.

As to the Hurricane Katrina relief, the Mata Amritanandamayi Math has a number of centres in the United States,including the M.A. Center in San Ramon, California.There are also some 200 satsang centers throughout the United States, comprised of supportive devotee volunteers.

Soon after the hurricane struck, Amma sent the head of the M.A. Center, her disciple Brahmachari Dayamrita chaitanya, to the affected areas to assess the best ways for Amma’s organization to help the hurricane victims. So far, the main areas in which the M.A. Center has helped have been through the provision of food,clothing and school supplies, as well as giving emotional support.

Matrugramam – creating self-reliant villages

20 September 2005 — Alappad Panchayat, Kollam District, Kerala

For anyone who has been following the evolution of the Ashram’s tsunami-relief work, it is clear that Amma’s intention is not merely to repair what was broken by the tsunami, but to fix things that had broken way before that fateful day. Through the door opened by the disaster, the Ashram has rushed in with everything from better houses, to better venues of education and employment, to better to medical care.

This vision of Amma’s is reaching its full fruition through a programme called Matru Gramam, (News) or Mother’s Village. Matru Gramam involves the implementation of a systematic plan to make small villages in Kerala more self-reliant, primarily through the establishment of self-help groups.

The first Matru Gramam is Alappad Panchayat, the collection of villages located on the peninsula in Kollam District, Kerala, where the Amritapuri Ashram is located. Matru Gramam will not be limited to the immediate area around the Ashram. But the programme will soon expand to all of Kerala’s 14 districts.

“We want to help the villages become self-reliant,” says Swami Jnanamritananda, one of Amma’s senior disciples, who is helping to coordinate the programme. “First we take a survey to determine what the village’s needs are, then accordingly we create an action plan, and from that we start providing the needed awareness camps, education and job-training. We want the villages to be able to produce all of the main items they need by themselves, rather than depend on outside resources. When people depend too much on outside resources, they suffer when strikes and other unpredictable events take place.”

With this in mind, the Matru Gramam villages will produce their own vegetables, clothes, soaps, sandals and other necessities. In order for the villages to accomplish this, the Ashram will help them establish self-help groups.

“The self-help groups are really just groups of families,” says Swami Jnanamritananda. “In the Matru Gramam villages, the goal is for every family to have at least one member that makes 100 rupees [approximately $2.30 U.S.D.] every day. This will cover the family’s basic needs. This can happen through the self-help groups.”

Depending on the size of the village, the self-help groups will comprise 10 to 20 members—one person from a family. Four to five of these cooperatives will then join together to form a cluster. The Ashram is providing the training in the fields the groups decide upon. For example, two of the groups in Alappad Panchayat are a sandal-making group and a tailoring group. The Ashram is also helping the villagers set up group bank accounts, as well as will coordinate and monitor their groups.

The first Matru Gramam meetings took place in Amritapuri in early September. In Alappad, the majority of the men work as fishermen, so the cooperatives will mainly comprise women. “I’ve come with hopes of earning additional money to support my two children who are attending school,” said Sebini, a young women from Alappad. “My husband is a fisherman, but his daily catch is unpredictable and we cannot survive on it.” Just prior to the meeting, Sebini had successfully completed the free tailoring classes provided by the Ashram. The Ashram is providing her and the other ladies in the self-help group with the sewing machines needed for their work. This will be Sebini’s first job.

Jayasree, 40, also attended the meeting. She has been attending Ashram classes on how to make leather goods. “My husband is handicapped and cannot work,” she said. “I have two daughters in school, and when the tsunami hit, our home was damaged. Some walls fell in, we lost most of our possessions.”

In fact, the self-help groups have already received work orders,  including some for government departments.

Recently, the women working in the different self-help groups came to Amma with the first fruits of their work. The tailoring group with their towels, the sandal group with their sandals. When the sandal-making group offered their wares to Amma, Amma smiled, encouraged the ladies and then placed a pair of sandals on her shoulders—one on the right, one on the left—to show her pride in their accomplishment.


Onam: Unity of hearts is the beauty of the society

15 September 2005 — Amritapuri

“All of you look like a beautiful pookkalam,” Amma said, looking down at the 10,000 or so people who had gathered at Amritapuri to celebrate Onam. Later, in her satsang, Amma explained that pookkalams, the multicoloured flower-petal mandalas of Onam, symbolize the confluence of hearts in society. “Pookkalam represent the unity of hearts. The unity of hearts is the beauty of society. Each flower has a beauty of its own, but when they come together their beauty multiplies. This is the true celebration of Onam.”

Amma explained how the saying “മാവേലി നാടുവാണീടും കാലം മാനുഷരെല്ലാരും ഒന്നുപോലെ Maveli nadu vaneedam kaalam manushar ellavarum onnu pole –  [“During the time when Mahabali ruled, everybody lived as one.”], did not mean that during the time of Mahabali everyone was identical, but that society was functioning harmoniously, as everyone was adhering to their dharma.

Amma concluded her talk by saying that if we really want we can recreate such a world: “If we are all determined, we can create such a world. We can put an end to looting, killing, cheating and other forms of violence. Our world has enough resources to do so, but we are not using them correctly.” {read Amma’s Onam message}

Amma then sang “He Giridhara Gopala.” When she finished, she rose to her feet and asked everyone to join her in dance. No sooner had Amma stood up then a harmonium could be heard playing the melody of a traditional Kerala boat-racing song… which several years back one brahmachari converted into a bhajan about Amma: “Amrita Vahini.” { }

Everyone in the bhajan hall was clapping to the fast tempo of the bhajan and jumping up and down as Amma danced. As one devotee commented afterwards, “It was a real festival!”

When Amma was finished dancing, she sat down in meditation for several minutes. She then called the devotees for darshan. After giving darshan for an hour or so, she started serving Onam sadhya, the traditional Onam meal, to one and all. Ten thousands plates later, Amma got up and walked to her room, where two more devotees were waiting for their Onam prasad–Ram and Lakshmi, the ashram elephants. Amma fed them large balls of rice, banana chips and other treats.

Then, as Amma was giving payasam to Ram, she commented that it was too watery and, therefore, difficult to serve. She asked for a metal cup, so that she could pour the sweet pudding into Ram’s mouth. The first time Amma’s hand disappeared into Ram’s mouth, it came back out without the cup. Amma immediately starting yelling, “Tuppada! Tuppada!” [“Spit it out! Spit it out!”]. A few seconds passed, as everyone anxiously waited to see if Ram would really swallow the metal cup. But after he had made sure the cup was empty, he obliged Amma by spitting it out onto the floor. In unison, everyone let out a sigh of relief and had a good laugh.

It was only a few hours later that Amma returned to the hall. It was 6:00 p.m.–a half hour before the bhajan was scheduled to start. Why had she come? She wanted to spend some more time with the children who were visiting from the Ashram’s orphanage in Parippally. Soon Amma was dancing with about 30 children in a wide circle.
amma dancing with the children of Parippally

Many of the children from Parippally are Vanavasis [tribals] from Northern Kerala, and as such they love sharing their tribal dances and songs with Amma. Together, they did several different dances. When she was finished, Amma began the evening bhajan.

For the final song of the night, Amma sang a very old bhajan, “Bhakta Vatsale Devi Ambike Manohari.” Amma became so lost in the bhava of the song that it seemed she would never finish. For the next half-hour Amma called out into the night, singing every single one of the song’s 27 verses. Amma never once opened her eyes, the words just poured forth, unstoppable, like a tsunami. O Devi who showers motherly love upon her devotees! Mother! Enchanter of the Mind! May you dwell here in order to end the suffering of the people!