Prathiba Ray received Amrita Keerthi

September 27, Amritapuri

As part of Amma’s upcoming 53rd birthday celebrations, Smt. Pratibha Ray was awarded the Ashram’s Amrita Keerti Puraskar for her meritorious contributions to the field of Indian literature. Ray is an award-winning writer from Orissa who has captured reader’s hearts through insightful narratives that often shed light on historical and mythological characters of India’s collective consciousness.

This year’s Amrita Keerthi Puraskar {news}, the Ashram’s award to outstanding contributors to Vedic culture, went to Pratibha Ray, the novelist from Orissa. The award was presented by the living legend of Malayalam film, director Padma Bhushan Adoor Gopalakrishnan. The award carries with it a cash prize of Rs. 123,456, a commendation by the Ashram and a handcrafted statuette of Saraswati Devi crafted by the artist Nambootiri.

In a speech, Gopalakrishnan said, “Amma is the glory and light. Amma is compassion, light, consciousness and fullness. I offer my pranams to Amma.” Then speaking about Pratibha Ray, the filmmaker said, “She has given a new face to the characters of the stories of the Puranas.”

Upon receiving the award, Pratibha Ray said, “Amriteswaryai has become the world’s Hrdayeshwari. [The Goddess of Amrita has become the Goddess of the heart for the world.] Spirituality is the power of India. Love is the only thing that can free us from the problems and obstacles of life. I am so happy to receive this award from the embodiment of selfless love.”


Ray’s most acclaimed work is Yajnaseni (1985), a novel that reconstructs the life of Draupadi, the enigmatic heroine of the Mahabharata. Written in Roy’s mother tongue of Oriya, Yajnaseni has since been translated into seven different languages. The book also won for Ray the Bharatiya Jnanpith Trust’s Moorti Devi Award (1991), making her the first woman to receive the honour. It also won the Sarala Award of Orissa in 1990.

Other important works by Ray include Mahamoh (1997), a classic novel on Vedic culture that illumines misunderstood and misinterpreted characters from Indian literature, especially Ahalya, the wife of Gautama Rishi in Valmiki’s Ramayana. Shilapadma (1983) is an inspired novel that explores the legends associated with the world-famous Sun Temple in Konark, Orissa. And Uttarmarg (1988) is a novel based on the suffering of neglected heroes of the freedom struggle in rural Orissa. Roy’s most recent novel, Magnamaari (2003), is centred on the cyclone that ravaged Orissa in 1999.

Roy’s work is unsparing in its indictments of social evils and injustice, and the writer has often raised her voice against social injustice and corruption in society.


Amma’s essence and wealth are her children

Amma’s 53rd Birthday Celebrations

27 September 2006 — Amritapuri

Amma’s birthday began in the Brahma mahurta with a Maha Ganapati Homa performed by Brahmasri Surya Kaladi Jaya Suryan Bhatathiripad. In fact, only two hours prior to the start of the homa, Amma was still out and about, cutting vegetables and checking into the preparation of rice and sambar for the birthday feast, which would be provided for free to the lakhs of people sure to attend.

It was at around 9:30 when Amma came down from her room and walked through the massive crowd to the stage. At this point, Amritapuri was literally a sea of people. Swamiji performed Amma’s pada-puja and then led everyone in the chanting of Amma’s 108 names. The whole time Amma sat with her eyes closed, humbly accepting the worship by her children.

When the pada-puja was concluded, all of Amma’s sannyasin disciples laid garlands around her neck, as well as did Amma’s parents, Suganandan Acchan and Damayanthi Amma.

It was then time for Amma’s Birthday Address. “Amma does not see this occasion as a celebration of her birth. Amma sees it as a day to make her children happy and to start new service activities,” Amma began. “Amma’s essence and wealth are her children. May the oil lamps of selflessness and divine love that shine in your hearts become the light of the world.”

Amma went on to address the current world situation, saying how wars, violence and terrorist attacks will only come to an end when hatred, loathing and desire for revenge are eradicated. “For this to happen, we must awaken to our true nature, which is love. This love should reverberate in each and every aspect of our life,” Amma said.

Amma went on to speak about the problem of mankind’s unrestrained exploitation of Nature, love in the modern world, anger, the importance of values and dharma, and the nature of the mind.

At one point, Amma addressed the soaring suicide rate in Kerala, which is particularly high amongst farmers who become mired in debt after harvest failures. “The Ashram wants to do many other things for such people,” Amma said. “If there is cooperation also from the government and society, a lot of change can take place. We need to understand the gravity of this situation. Amma’s compassionate children should be ready to render service towards this cause. Otherwise this trend will lead us to disaster.”

When Amma finished her address, it was time for the public function and the inauguration of the Ashram’s new charitable projects.

The public function began with a welcoming address by Swami Amritaswarupananda. Swamiji spoke about Amma as an international unifying force who is bringing light to all corners of the world through her vast charitable mission. “Her children are not of one land, one religion or caste,” Swamiji said. “Just look around you. They are of all lands, of all faces, of all religions, all walks of life. Only when the people of the world recognize that they are but diverse children of the same mother will this world know permanent peace. Only then will this world know brotherhood. Only then will this world know the love that has long ago been rendered the stuff of fables.”

The first inauguration was the fourth and final phase of the Amrita Tsunami Relief & Rehabilitation Program in Kerala. With the help of S. Sharma, the Minister for Fisheries & Registration; M.V. Rajasekharan, the Union Minister of State for Planning; and C. Divakaran, the Minister for Food & Civil Supplies, 30 Alappad villagers were given the keys to the homes the Ashram had built for them to replace the one’s that were destroyed by the tsunami. These 30 people were representative of the entire phase of 342 houses.

Conveying the Kerala Government’s respect for Amma, S. Sharma, then spoke about how Amma has become the refuge of thousands following the tsunami, “The sea is the mother. When the sea became violent, the mother on the earth [Amma] became the sole-support for the children.”

Next, C. Divakaran officially distributed 100 sewing machines to local women, as part of the Ashram’s initiative to help villagers become more financially independent. Said Divakaran, “Whoever has the fortune to meet Amma takes with them unforgettable memories.”

The Ashram’s newly founded Amrita Sree program (Amrita Self-Reliance, Employment & Empowerment) was launched next. This project to ensure self-reliance to unemployed youth was officially inaugurated by Union Minister of State for Planning M.V. Rajasekharan.

Said Rajasekharan. “In today’s world, which is filled with faithlessness, violence, corruption, Amma is the source of light. Of 43 ancient cultures, only India’s is still alive. The reason for this is the teachings of the Rishis including Amma. The work of Amma for love and service is always relevant. The help that Amma gave to the tsunami victims by providing the needed means for livelihood is a perfect example of service.”

Four new books were released on the occasion: A Matruvani Birthday Supplement commemorating Amma’s 53rd Birthday, a new book by Swami Ramakrishnananda titled The Secret of Inner Peace, an English version of Satyam Sanatanam, a book of Amma’s teachings on Sanatana Dharma, and Singhalese version of Amma’s biography.

K. Karunakaran, the former leader of the opposition, released the Matruvani Birthday Supplement, giving the first copy to film-music composer Sreekumaran Thampi. Said Karunakaran, “For the problems of the world Amma is the cure-all medicine. She is different from other sannyasis. She is the mother of the world, seeing the whole world as one. There is no one else. Having Amma’s darshan was the greatest fortune for me.”

Acharya Narendra Bhushan, a former Amrita Keerthi Puraskar winner, gave the first copy of Amma’s biography in Singhalese to former Kerala Minister C.V. Padmarajan. And the first copy of Satyam Sanatanam was given by Pratibha Ray to Adoor Gopalakrishnan. Swami Ramakrishnananda’s new book was released by former Amrita Keerthi Puraskar winner P. Narayana Kurup, who gave the first copy to Asian Net Managing Editor K.P. Mohanan.

This year, there were five top-rank holders from Kerala University, studying in AITEC the Ashram educational institution. These students were presented with certificates of honour.

The final segment of the public function was the mass marriage of 51 impoverished couples by Amma. The Ashram provided all the wedding saris, dhotis and shawls, as well as the gold ornaments and traditional feast.

The public function concluded around 1:30 p.m. at which point Amma immediately began giving darshan to one and all.


Birthday Camaraderie

27 September 2006 — Amritapuri

During Amma’s 53rd Birthday Celebrations, there was a very precious moment between Amma and Sri. C. Divakaran, the Honourable Minister for Food & Civil Supplies of Kerala.

In the speech the minister delivered when inaugurating one of the Ashram’s new humanitarian projects, Divakaran said, “The first time I saw Amma, with one word itself, the Embodiment of Love conquered me.

“‘I am a Communist. We are atheists,’ I told Amma the fist time we met.

“‘Son, I have heard that the Party works for the poor. Amma and the Ashram are also dedicated to the upliftment of the poor. Sri Krishna, in the Bhagavad-Gita, addresses Arjuna as sakha.’

“When Amma said that, I decided it was better to escape without arguing any further.”

In Sanskrit and in Malayalam, sakha means “friend.” It is also the word the Communist Party in Kerala uses as the equivalent of “comrade.”

Everyone laughed when the minister recounted this story–including Amma.


Dancing celebration

Amritapuri, Israel, Ooty & California Merge in Devotion

27 September 2006 — Amritapuri

It seems Bala Bhaskar’s Indo-rock fusion ensemble that performed on the eve of Amma’s birthday was a harbinger of things to come. In the final hours of Amma’s birthday celebreations, music and dance from several lands merged together like a confluence of rivers flowing towards the sea.

It all started when a group of devotees from Israel sang a set of traditional Israeli songs in Hebrew, including “Oseh Shalom” and “Hava Nagila.” Although the majority of people celebrating Amma’s birthday in Amritapuri had never heard such music before, many were visibly moved. Not long into the first song, a group of Amma’s Jewish children began dancing in a circle next to the musicians, clapping and dancing to the beat of “Hava Nagila.” Eventually a devotee from Cameroon came on the scene. She joined in with the Israeli group and soon was leading them in a fantastic version of  “Om Namah Shivaya.” She then sang a soulful version of “Happy Birthday to You,” with the entire hall full of devotees singing along.

A little later, a group of devotees—Baduka community— from the remote hill station of Ooty (Tamill Nadu) gathered near the stage. Like with the Israelis, they also had a group of singers and a circle of dancers. As their folk music played, the Baduka devotees danced, letting their arms elegantly flow up and down to the beat. The rhythm was too inviting, and soon a number of Western devotees joined in, trying to imitate the movements of the Baduka devotees.

Amma was observing everything as she gave darshan. She was visibly delighted by the multicultural display, and even started to move her hands to the rhythm as well. With more and more Westerners joining the fray, they soon outnumbered the Batukas. Then a large group of students from Amrita University joined in. What was once an organized circle of choreographed dance quickly became sea of dancing devotees.

When the music reached its peak, some began shouting “Amma! Amma! Amma!” Amma then suddenly took the mic and started calling out “Amma!” as well. This was all it took for the entire hall to erupt into similar cries. “Amma! Amma! Amma!”—the sound reverberated throughout the hall. Everyone was dancing, jumping up and down and clapping their hands—the people in the hall, the people on the stage, even the people on walking up the ramps for Amma’s darshan.

Things calmed down for a while, but then near dawn, as the darshan queue began to shorten, Amma started singing bhajans along with the crowd. Clapping her hands, swaying back and forth, Amma sang “Amma Barama,” “Lalitamba Lalitamba” and “Amma Amma Konachi,” as she continued to give darshan.

About half way through “Amma Barama,” someone brought a computer and a small video camera to Amma. An Internet connection had been established between Amritapuri and the M.A. Center in San Ramon, California, where hundreds of devotees had gathered to celebrate Amma’s birth. Amma waved at her San Ramon children through the computer and they waved back in delight.

As Amma continued singing bhajans, the San Ramon devotees swayed back and forth and sang along. Whenever Amma could, she would look over at the computer screen or at her children down below her. Amma also would playfully play “patty cake” with everyone—alternating between her children in America and the one’s directly before her.

At one point, Amma began calling “Om Namah Shivaya!” into the computer microphone. Amma was anticipating a response from her San Ramon children, but if they gave one, it was overshadowed by the one from below—the orphans from Parippally!

Holding the microphone, Amma then told her San Ramon children in English, “My darling children, you are the beautiful flowers of my heart!” At the very end of darshan, Amma waved one last time at the computer camera and then gently kissed the camera’s lens.

What a Mother—one whose love crosses oceans and all boundaries of time and space.


Icing on the cake: Amma in the kitchen

3:00 a.m., 27 September 2006 — Amritapuri

In the wee hours of Amma’s birthday, Amma paid a visit to the kitchen, where hundreds of devotees had been busy for hours, preparing the rice, sambar and curries needed for the next day’s meals. On Amma’s birthday the Ashram feeds everyone without charge—anna-danam. With the potential of more than 100,000 people coming to participate in the day-long celebrations, there were literally tons of rice to boiled and vegetables to be chopped.

Amma first stopped among the men who were cooking rice, inquiring about the work and their families. It was a beautiful surprise and break for the devotees.

Next Amma walked up the steps to the kitchen’s second floor where the ladies were busy chopping vegetables. It has become something of a tradition for Amma to help with the vegetable-chopping seva on the eve of her birthday. As such, the ladies had already prepared a table, chair, chopping board and knife for Amma.

Actually, when Amma walked in the room, the devotees were singing an old Malayalam bhajan, “Entamme Nin Makkale Nokkuvan Madikkunnu.”

Seeing the hard work and devoted hearts of her daughters, Amma immediately joined in their song:

Why, Mother, are you hesitating to look at your children?
What is mistake did this poor one make? This, please tell us, Mother.

O Mother who sustains the three worlds,
We are waiting to serve thy holy feet.

O Mother who is the essence of compassion, dearest Mother,
Please come near your children and look at them.

Amma had joined in her children’s appeals to Devi. The Mother had become one of the children. Many of the ladies spontaneously dropped their knives and began dancing—some crying as they did so.

But then Amma suddenly switched songs—and roles—and began singing to them from the bhava of Devi [“Ellam Ariyunna Ammayodu”]:

To the all-knowing Mother
You don’t need to tell anything.

Walking along with us, everything She is seeing,
Everything She is knowing.

All the thoughts in the innermost recesses of the mind
The Primordial Shakti is seeing.

As two the songs are of the same sruti [modal scale], the devotees hardly knew what hit them. It was a beautiful trick—one that brought smiles all around.

When the song finished, all the devotees began singing “Amma Amma Taye.” When the song reached its peak, they threw their arms up into the air and called out “Amma! Amma! Amma!”

Next Amma started walking to the bakery. On the way there, she stopped to watch the Ashram’s recently acquired chapati machine, which was in the process of firing out 2,000 chapatis an hour. In the bakery, Amma spent some time kneading dough with devotees working there as well.

Amma’s final stop was in fact the sweetest—the cake-making area. There, Amma joyfully iced a big cake.

Eve of the Birthday

3 a.m. 27 September 2006 — Amritapuri

After finishing darshan about 5:30 pm, Amma briefly returned to her room, and then came out for bhajans at 7:00. The hall was filled to the brim with devotees who had come to celebrate Amma’s Birthday. After bhajans, Amma then returned to her room again, and the hall was prepared for the evening cultural performances.

Throughout the day the people living in the villages surrounding the ashram offered prayers by chanting the Lalita Sahasranama and Amma’s 108 names. Now, as sunset, they lit oil lamps in front of their homes and or set them to drift in paper boats down the backwaters.

The first performance of the evening was by violinist Bala Bhaskar and his ensemble, which included a tabala player, an electric guitarist, a trap-set drummer, a keyboardist and a ghatam [clay pot] player. Bala led the group through a set an amazing set of India-rock fusion, which found the musicians dancing through ragas at lightening speeds. Amma fully enjoyed the show, clapping her hands to the beat. Bala then played a sombre ballad, which he dedicated to Amma. For most of the song, Amma’s eyes were closed, her head slowly moving back and forth to the melody. At the end, Amma gently wiped tears from her eyes….

When the performance concluded Amma compared the performers to the colours of the rainbow, saying how they brought joy to everyone around. She blessed Bala Bhaskar, saying over the microphone that she hopes he will one day rise to fame. She then encouraged the youth of Kerala to imbibe the rich cultural music of India.

Amma never acknowledges her birthday. She says that for her it is just like any other day. In fact, Amma says that she only allows it to be celebrated as a prayer for world peace and to launch new charitable projects and to make her children happy. Regardless, at midnight all the devotees began joyously singing “Happy Birthday to You!”

Next came performances by students from various Amrita schools and institutions. Medical students from AIMS performed an award-winning “peacock dance” choreographed by one of the students. This was followed by two classical Indian dances and a skit in Sanskrit re-enacting a story from the Ramayana. The final performance was a short play depicting the life of Markendaya Rishi.

Once the performances ended, Amma headed straight for the kitchen, where preparation for the next day’s massive feast—which would be provided free by the Ashram to one and all—was well underway.

Amma first checked the rice and sambar. She then headed to the kithcen’s second floor where devotees were chopping vegetables. As has become something of a birthday tradition, Amma joined them for some time. At this point, a crowd gathered around Amma and began singing bhajans. Amma immediately joined in, bringing joy to all the hard-working devotees’ hearts. When Amma returned to her room, it was 3.a.m., with Amma’s pada-puja and a full day of darshan only five hours away.


Birthday buzz starting in Amritapuri

25 September 2006 — Amritapuri

There is a buzz that starts in Amritapuri around the time of Amma’s birthday. It starts about a week prior to the actual date, increasing in intensity until the day finally arrives.

Each day more and more devotees from all over India and abroad have been arriving in Amritapuri. The ashram pathways and open spaces have been covered with temporary roofing in order to protect the massive crowds from the frequent rain and their is joyous feeling in the air.

There is lots of cleaning going on as well. And today Amma herself came down to inspect things and to lend a hand in various last-minute projects.

Tomorrow night, the celebrations will officially begin, with cultural performances from leading artists being offered at Amma’s feet. And the next morning—the 27th—will be a full day of satsang, bhajans, pada-puja, inauguration of new charities and, of course, Amma’s darshan.


Navaratri begins today

23 September 2006 — Amritapuri

Navaratri began today, is celebrated all over India with great devotion and enthusisam. For the next three days, the Divine Mother will be worshipped in the form of Durga. Then, for three days, as Lakshmi. And for the final three days, as Saraswati. The 10th day of the festival is Vijayadashami—”The Day of Victory.” {read more on Navaratri}

It is rare for Amma to be in Amritapuri for the culmination of this festival, as it normally takes place after the start of her European Tour. This year, however, Amma will still be in the Ashram on the 10th day. The last time Amma was in Amritapuri for Vijayadashami was five years back. Amma’s birthday celebrations also falls within this years Navaratri.

NGO and UN have something to learn from Amma

Interview with Olara A. Otunnu, Former UN Under-Secretary General

22 September 2006-Amritapuri

Olara A. Otunnu recently paid a visit to Amritapuri. In 2005, Mr. Otunnu completed his eight-year term as UN Under-Secretary-General and Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children in Armed Conflict. In this capacity, Mr. Otunnu was a moral voice and advocate on behalf of war-affected children, promoting measures for their protection in times of war and for their healing and social reintegration in the aftermath of conflict.

Mr. Otunnu told Amma that he wanted to come to Amritapuri to thank her personally for the love she was bestowing upon the world. “We need you in major parts of the world–in Latin America, in Asia, in Africa, in America–where people are hungry for love, healing and the sense of being accepted and being loved,” he said.

Mr. Otunnu asked Amma for her support and advice in relation to the independent international organization that he recently founded in New York, the LBL Foundation for Children, which is devoted to promoting protection, hope, healing and education for children in communities devastated by war.

He also said that he wanted to draw Amma’s attention to the genocide plaguing his native Uganda, where for the past 15 years some two million people have been living in concentration camps–1,500 of which are dying each week. “We need Amma’s positive thoughts and prayers to end this genocide,” he told Amma.

In the 1970s, Mr. Otunnu played a leading role in the resistance against the regime of Idi Amin. He has also served as Uganda’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, during which time he served a stint as President of the Security Council (1981), Chairman of the Commission on Human Rights (1983-84), Vice-President of the General Assembly (1982-83) and Facilitator of Global Negotiations (1982-83).

Q : Why did you come to India?

Otunnu: The original reason was to come to Mumbai to receive an award, the Global Award for Contribution to Human Rights.

I met Amma in New York earlier this year, and I told her that I would very much like to come and see for myself where she is based, to her in situ, if you like, and to pay my respects and tribute to her in person. So after the award ceremonies, I decided to come to Kerala and see her where she was born, where she grew up and where she is doing most of her work from.

Q : How was your meeting with Amma?

Otunnu: I was very moved by the meeting. Before the meeting, of course, I’d seen her in darshan. She was receiving a lot of people. And the way in which people bring to her their troubles, their burdens, their grief, and how they seemed to leave it on her shoulders and the comfort and sense of relief that they seemed to feel when they leave her–it was very moving to see that.

And then later I was able to have a more private meeting with her, and the experience that she related to me as to how she has built this phenomenon, which has began in this village, moved to other parts of Kerala, to India, and on to become a worldwide phenomenon;it is extraordinary.

She is so simple, so modest and yet the power of what she is able to bring forth is truly extraordinary–a very, very moving experience.

I had a very good discussion with her about the humanitarian work she’s been doing, about the education she’s providing for the children and about some of the other projects that she is now discussing, about how she has come to the support of those who suffer from tsunami. And today I was able to see some of the houses built during that time, and it’s phenomenal what she has been able to do.

Q : As someone who has multiple decades of experience in the field of humanitarian intervention, what is your perspective on Amma’s humanitarian work, your impression?

Otunnu: It is very striking, because I have been involved with the United Nations, with non-government organisations, and it is very difficult to get good, quality delivery–with all the best intentions in the world it is not easy. By quality of delivery I mean to have quality delivery of services to those in need, to those in distress and to those to whom you are giving support. And to do that in a timely way is exceedingly difficult, especially in the middle of a massive disaster, a massive emergency like the tsunami.

Another problem that we face in terms of international relief work is how much of the resources mobilized to support those in need go to those who are providing support–the personnel. Whether UN agencies or NGOs, the overheads tend to be quite high relative to what actually ends up benefiting the people who are truly in need. I was very struck by how much of what is generated, how much of the money that is mobilized, actually goes and benefits directly those in need. This is remarkable. This is remarkable. It was very striking for me how she managed to get that formula right.

She acts on the spontaneous and instinctive. And that has given a lot of speed and momentum, cut out the bureaucracy, and made it possible to inspire people and to move with them to actually provide timely and quality support to those in need. This is a remarkable thing. And I think that international NGOs and UN agencies have something to learn from the work of Amma and what she has been able to build.

Q : What do you think Amma has to offer to the world?

Otunnu: You see a lot of hatred, a lot of bloodshed, a lot of ugliness in the world, a lot of suffering and despair. And what she’s been able to give a lot of people … is a sense of genuine love, to feel that they are loved, to feel that she cares, and that she is able to relieve their despair. And the world can do with a lot more love than there is right now, and Amma provides that. Amma has that sense of love and comfort.

Q : What do you feel your are taking with you from your visit here?

Otunnu: I am simply very moved by what I’ve seen here. I have been very touched meeting her, having that private moment with her, seeing people coming and having darshan with her, and also seeing some of the projects that she has been building here. So I leave very, very moved, wanting very much to learn from this experience. And, secondly, wanting to tell the world about this phenomenon of spreading love and good will and support and comfort to people who are in need, to people who are suffering, to people who are in despair, to those in pain.

I have been delighted to have been able to come and see this extraordinary work firsthand.