Pop Quiz: Students question Amma

20 & 21 September 2006 — Amritapuri

They are currently more than 5,000 students studying at the four campuses of Amrita University. And with more departments being added all the time, each year more and more students enrol. In order to give the Ettimadai, Eranakulam and Bangalore students a chance to interact with their chancellor—Amma—different batches of them are given the opportunity to spend a few nights in Amritapuri each week.

During their stay, the students go for darshan, participate in bhajans and typically have a question-and-answer session with one the brahmacharis. But this week something new happened: Amma decided she would answer their questions herself. The only problem was Amma’s schedule. Amma already packs twice as much as possible into every day—darshan, bhajans, satsang with the ashramites, reading letters, solving problems, dealing with all the Ashram’s institutions…

But Amma, the ultimate multi-tasker, knew just what to do: hold the question-and-answer sessions while giving darshan. So, for an hour and a half on Thursday and on Friday, that is exactly what Amma did.

The student’s questions covered a wide range of concerns—everything from how to attain God to how to be a good journalist to “Why can’t we wear jeans?” Amma responded to the spiritual and the mundane alike with her trademark charm and honesty, not just providing answers but also pushing the students to go deeper in their analysis of the worlds around and within them.

The students took over the area in the temple directly before Amma and asked their question over the sound system.

A boy studying engineering at the Bangalore campus asked Amma if it was right that so many people had “run away” from mainstream life to come and live in the ashram.

“You are studying at a university to become an engineer. Is that running away from life?” Amma asked him. Amma then explained how just as one getting a PhD needs to go to a university to study with experts in his chosen field, so too those desiring to master the mind need to come to an ashram and study with a Satguru.

“Spirituality is life management,” Amma said. “The ashram is a place where the Guru teaches the disciples how to manage their mind, how to manage their life. Here one learns how to face all the various situations in life without losing his mental equipoise.

“One has to study driving before heading out on the main road, don’t they? If one drives without properly learning how first, he will only wind up in the hospital. This is why people come to ashrams—not to run away from life.”

“There are hundreds of thousands of children who cannot go to college for various reasons,” Amma said. “If those children were to suddenly say that your going to college is running away from life, would they be correct? This is not escaping from life. The people living here, in fact, are the ones who are really coming out of hiding.”

A girl studying at the Ettimadai campus asked Amma if she had any advice for overcoming the tension that comes with university life.

“Live in the present,” Amma said. “If you really listen to what the teacher is saying, then it will penetrate deep within and then you will easily remember at the time of the exam. Then there won’t be any reason for tension. The problem is that we are not listening properly. When the teacher is lecturing, our minds are not in the present but in the future, worrying, ‘Oh, this is so difficult! Ayyo! How will I possibly remember all this come exam time?’ But if we listen deeply, we will remember and there will be no stress.”

Amma also suggested that the students spend 10 minutes a day in meditation, imagining that all the cells in their body were becoming relaxed and that everything inside and out was becoming peaceful.

“If a pond is full of ripples, we will not be able to clearly see the sun reflected in it. In the same way, when the mind is agitated we have no clarity. Meditation helps calm the mind and gives peace inside and out,” Amma said.

There were a number of questions about how to contribute to society as professionals upon graduation, whether as engineers or journalists.

“It is not enough that you excel in your profession” Amma said. “Set aside a few hours a week for serving the poor or set aside some money from your earnings. Try to work an extra hour with the intention of directing that money to the poor.”

“There is a higher purpose in life other than just being born, growing up, getting married, retiring and dying,” Amma told the students. “One who lives like that is really not much different from a worm living in excreta. If we don’t spend some time in life helping others, all our achievements become just like a list of zeros. But when we help others, it is like putting a “1” at the head of that trail of zeros. Helping others is what gives value to life.

“When a turtle crawls it leaves a trail. We should also leave a trail. Our trail should be our good deeds. When we look back in reflection on what we have accomplished in life, we should see the tracks of our good deeds.”

“Research is also a good seva,” Amma told the engineers in regard to selflessly pursuing scientific advancements for the benefit of society.

Amma told the journalism students that their fundamental principle of journalism is dharma. She said that their job was like a war, a war against adharmic factions within their own society. Amma then said that they also had to gracefully negotiate the pressures of their partisan editors and publishers upon taking work at a newspaper or channel. Amma also said that as journalists they should never create controversy for the sake of controversy and that if they did have to reveal a scandal that they should see to it that they saw to its proper conclusion.

It was a girl from Bangalore who asked Amma why Amrita University students are not allowed to wear jeans and instead had to wear a formal school uniform.

Amma said that education is to cultivate the culture of the heart and to see everyone uniformly. “In Sri Krishna’s time the rich and poor studied in the gurukula side by side. The Guru saw all as equal and treated the prince and the pauper as one and the same. But in today’s world this is not the case. The rich will come in expensive clothes and the poor in tattered clothing. The poor students will feel sad; they may even develop an inferiority complex. The egos of the rich students may also increase.”

Amma told the students that they could wear casual clothing once or twice a week, but then asked them why they were in such a hurry to throw away their own culture as if it were garbage.

“If you go to Europe or the U.S., you won’t find people wearing saris or dhotis,” Amma told them. “They have their own culture, and they are proud of it. But we are blindly imitating the West. We should be proud of our dress, food, music, family relations and culture and heritage.”

This drew a loud round of applause from all the students.

Amma continued, “It is okay to adopt certain things from the West, but let’s not brush our culture away like rubbish. In fact, we are not adopting the good habits of the West—like their strong work-ethic—but are only adopting the very things the West is spitting out.

“When we blindly follow Western culture, it is like Shiva dressing like Brahma. Blindly imitating another culture is dangerous.”

Amma then said that in all her world travels, she has not seen a country that is imitating the West as much as India. “With our songs, our clothing, or behaviour, our food, our cinema—in every way we are imitating,” Amma said.

“The people of Western society thought that by indulging in worldly life, they could enjoy more freedom, but now they are finding out that that is simply not true. It has only served to destroy their mental strength. We should develop a pride for our culture.”

Amma then told the students that she was not forcing any ideas upon them, just sharing her outlook. “It is up to you to accept or to reject, but you should remember this now and then,” Amma said. “Don’t try to become the image in the mirror. Become yourself. When you try to imitate the image in the mirror, you become a stranger to your self, you become an orphan.”

It was a boy from Ettimadai who boldly told Amma “I don’t want any other birth. I only want my soul to remain with Lord Krishna. Amma, what should I do to make sure this happens?”

Amma told him that if that was his particular desire, then he did not need any particular advice, as he already was Sri Krishna.

This inspired some laughter from the other students. Amma explained further. “In Sanatana Dharma, the creation and the Creator are not two. God is in everyone. It is only that the mediums for expressing that divinity vary. God is not on a throne up above the clouds. God is inside. To understand this properly we need to study the scriptures. But as most people are not able to do this, you should try to cultivate childlike innocence. Childlike innocence is the bait to attract and catch God.”

One of the most touching moments of Amma’s sessions with the students took place when a student referred to Amma as the chancellor, her official position at Amrita University. Amma told him, “I am not a chancellor. I am only doing seva.”


Amma’s 53rd Birthday Celebrations in Amritapuri

20 September 2006 — Amritapuri

Amma’s 53rd birthday will be celebrated at the Amritapuri Ashram on September 27th. All of Amma’s children from around the world are of course invited to come. In fact, 30 to 40 thousands people—from all over India and abroad—are expected to make the pilgrimage.

For Amma, the day holds no special significance. She will spend it like she does any other day—expanding the range of her charitable mission and holding and consoling one and all who come to her.

The schedule for the celebrations is as follows:

Night of September 26th 2006

Cultural Programs by Eminent Artists & Students of Amrita Educational Institutions

September 27th 2006

Amma’s Padapuja

Amma’s Birthday Address

Distribution of Keys to Tsunami-Relief Housing (4th phase)

Inauguration of Amrita SREE—Program for Uplifting Unemployed Youth

Awarding of Amrita Keerti Puraskar

Free Marriage Ceremony for Impoverished Couples

Distribution of Free Clothing to the Poor

Amma’s Darshan

Everyone lives as one

“maaveli naadu vaaneedum kaalam
maanusherellaavarum onnupole”

The time when Mahabali ruled the country,
All of mankind lived as one.

Each Onam {news}, Keralites throughout the world sing these words. Amma says that the meaning is not that everyone was equal in terms of money or capabilities, but that society functioned with the harmony that comes when everyone—from the street sweeper to the prime minister—lives in adherence with dharma, in the knowledge that all are manifestations of the one Self.

This year, in Amma’s Onam message, Amma said, “Although we might not talk about it much, the concept of “untouchability” and discrimination between castes and religions are still there in a subtle form in the human mind. During Onam, may the Brahmins, Nambootiris, Nayars and people belonging to the scheduled castes and tribes, the leaders, the artists and the labourers forget all distinctions and come together to take part in the Onam feast. May they take part in the Onam games together. In this way, may the feeling of difference between human beings be reduced.”

As always happens on Onam, Amma later gave everyone who’d come to Amritapuri—about 10,000 people—a plate of onasadhya [the traditional Onam feast]. Watching the queue, one could easily see fruit of Amma’s prayer in full manifestation. Under Amma, people of all castes, ashramas [stages in life] and countries were queuing up and eating side by side—workers, Amrita University students, brahmacharins, sannyasins, tribal children from the Ashram’s orphanage, householder devotees living in the ashram and those visiting from America, Japan, Russia, Africa… Even people of different faiths were present.

Everywhere we look in today’s world, we see people trying to solve the problems of war, terror and hate crimes. The great jnanis like Amma know that such horrors are only symptoms of the root problem—the feelings of difference and “otherness.” In true unity, there can be no fear, hatred, suspicion or jealousy. This is the “oneness” of King Mahabali’s golden age that is glorified in the Onam song. In coming together through the knowledge that we are all children of Amma, true unity can be attained. The Truth of our essential oneness has never been more clear than in the presence of Amma.


Amrita Setu – bridge seva

17 September 2006 — Amritapuri

For a long time there was “sand seva.” Then, later it was “brick seva.” Now it is “bridge seva.” Towards the end of darshan on the 16th, Amma asked all the ashramites to come in the morning and help mix the concrete and pour the girders for the deck of the bridge connecting Alappad Panchayat with the mainland.

The next morning, not only did the ashramites come ready for work, but also a host of devotees and Amrita University students.

It was like the scene in the Ramayana, wherein Rama’s army builds the bridge from Rameshwaram to the island country of Lanka in order to rescue Sita from Ravana and restore dharma. The “Sitas” in this metaphor are the approximately 25,000 villagers who live on the peninsula. Alappad was the area in Kerala most severely affected by the 2004 tsunami, with more than 142 deaths along its 17.5 km stretch. The Ashram’s intention in constructing the bridge is to enable the evacuation of 15,000 people in 30 minutes should another such tragedy strike the area. Currently there is only one bridge connecting Alappad with the mainland, and it is at the southern end of the peninsula. {news}

As with all projects Amma initiates, here there are two sets of beneficiaries: those being helped and those doing the helping. It is in this way that Amma is restoring dharma through the construction of the bridge—inspiring hundreds to transcend selfishness and happily toil for the benefit of others.

The mixing work took place on both shores of the backwaters—the men on the east and the women on the west. Old and young alike shoveled blue metal, sand and lime into sacks, which were then passed via human-chain to a mixer. Once mixed, the wet concrete was winched up to the bridge’s deck. There, men shoveled it into trays, which were then carried to the girder frames.

When asked about the work, one devotee from France who was carrying sacks of metal said she was simply doing seva: “I’m serving my beautiful Mother!”

A young man from Malaysia said, “Amma is just giving me an opportunity to help.”

Another French woman expressed her attitude of trying to see everything as a manifestation of the divine as she worked: “We’re just moving little pieces of Amma!”

As the seva continued—literally through rain and shine—a two-year-old boy from France was seen looking rather sad. When asked, his mother said that he was unhappy because he could not help. He was simply too little to pass the heavy sacks. But after some time the boy stood as part of the human-chain anyway, raising his tiny hands up to touch every passing sack.

It was exactly like the story from the Ramayana, wherein the squirrel helps construct the bridge to Lanka by rolling in sand and then shaking that sand off amongst the boulders placed by Rama’s army. While the squirrel’s contribution in terms of quantity was not very impressive, its compassionate and selfless attitude touched Rama. At the end of the day, Rama reached down, picked the squirrel up and stoked it lovingly with three fingers. It is said this is why squirrels today have three stripes.

By mid-afternoon, the day’s bridge seva was finished. All the cement had been poured. This will be allowed to set for a few days and then the next layer will be poured on the 20th.



Krishna Jayanti celebrations at Amritapuri

14-15 September 2006 — Amritapuri

Amma, the ashram residents and a couple thousand visiting devotees celebrated the birth of Sri Krishna all day today. The celebrations began in the morning with a go-puja, then continued with a village procession of little Krishnas, gopis and gopas. Next the children played uriyadi, the traditional pot-breaking game, as Amma watched and threw water balloons at devotees. A little before 11 pm, Amma came to the bhajan hall. The evening celebration began with Amma giving a short talk about the message of Sri Krishna, then the story of Krishna’s birth from the Malayalam Srimad Bhagavatam was sung, culminating at the midnight hour. Amma then sang Krishna bhajans, including “Agatanayi Agatanayi Krishna Devan” and “Govida Gokula Ayo.” The evening concluded with Amma dancing and distributing hot payasam to one and all.

Sri Krishna Jayanthi: Six Videos

Vrindavan in Amritapuri

Krishna Jayanti Celebrations – Part One

14 September 2006 — Amritapuri

For most people, celebrating is something looked forward to. Five or six days a week one works (jobs being the opposite of celebration) dreaming of quitting time, of the weekend, the seaside vacation, the religious holiday. With Amma, life is different. There is no “looking-forward to celebrating.” Every day is a delight—the intense labour of service is itself is part of the party. This is the teaching of the spiritual masters: sever your selfishness and find the joy and freedom awaiting you—not after death, but here and now in this very life.

That said, there is something special about Krishna Jayanti. The anniversary of India’s most popular Avatar is a time for people around the world to dance in remembrance of the bliss that was his life {story}. And this was exactly what took place in Amritapuri.

The morning started off with Go Puja, worshiping God in the form of the cow, which gives so selflessly to mankind. The cows were led to the front of the temple where they were anointed and garlanded to the chanting of mantras and the singing of bhajans.

Later, around 3:00 p.m., children of all nationalities—both from the ashram and from the surrounding villages—gathered in the main hall, where they were dressed up as little Krishnas, Radhas, and gopis and gopas for a procession to the a nearby Krishna shrine. Mothers adorned their daughters in colourful saris and plastic jewels and applied tilak to their foreheads. With their painted eyes, veils and jingly anklets, the little girls looked very much like the gopis of North India. Most of the boys dressed up as cowherds with dhotis and sashes tied round their wastes, but a few donned crowns and peacock feathers and carried a flute. Joining a crowd of ashramites, Amrita University students and musicians, the children wound their way through the ashram and along Beach Road to the Krishna temple. After circumambulating the temple, they headed back to the ashram.

When they returned, it was time for uriyadi, the pot-breaking game associated with Krishna’s childhood. In the past, this game has always been held in front of the temple. This year, however, it was played in the space created when the East Wing buildings were recently razed. Amma sat in a chair and watched as the children ran towards the suspended pots, trying to break them open with sticks, while mugs of coloured water were thrown at them. The pots, of course, are hoisted up and down—in and out of the children’s reach. Whenever a child succeeded, everyone would cheer, and the children would all scramble to collect the coins that had been hidden inside the pot.

During the games, the children who had been in the procession approached Amma for darshan. When they were finished, a few of the Amrita University students and brahmacharis who had participated also came for their blessing. They had dressed up for the occasion, quite elaborately, as various characters associated with the life of Sri Krishna. Among them were two beautiful Radhas… No, wait, these were not girls but two brahmacharis! When Amma recognized them, she nearly fell off her chair with laughter. It was really almost too much for her. Amma kept having to turn away in order to stop laughing.

Uriyadi continued for another hour or so. At one point, a two-year-old French boy had his turn. Wearing only his diaper and holding his small stick, he took a few swings. Finally, the pot was lowered enough for him to reach it. Alas, swinging as hard he could, he simply could not break the pot.

Eventually it was the students’ turn to try their luck breaking pots. At one point, the students formed a human pyramid in order to reach the pot. Teetering this way and that, they reached up to where the pot hung (25-feet high!) and smacked it open. Cheers erupted all around followed by chants of “Arrroppo roh roh roh!”

Meanwhile, Amma was playing some games of her own. Someone had given her a few balloons filled with water, which she took great delight in throwing at various devotees and ashramites who happened to be sitting within range.  With a gleeful look on her face, Amma then took one balloon and scratched open a small hole in the skin. She then held the balloon over her head and squeezed it, squirting water over all the devotees within range.

As dusk approached, Amma started singing “Krishna Krishna Radha Krishna.” What started off as a regular bhajan soon sped up radically, all the while increasing in volume. Amma was clapping her hands with those of the children seated near her. Just when one thought the song couldn’t get any louder or faster, Amma raised her hands above her head in ecstasy, pointed her index fingers to the sky and started shouting “Hari Bol! Hari bol! Hair bol!” over and over again.  Everyone joined in. Amritapuri and Vrindavan were one. The gopis and gopas were singing with Krishna once again. The joyous sound reverberated through the air, bouncing off the flats, where many devotees had gathered on balconies to watch the festivities below.

Amma got up from her chair to the sounds of everyone shouting “Sri Krishna Bhagavan Ki Jai! Sri Krishna Bhagavan Ki Jai! Sri Krishna Bhagavan Ki Jai!”

It was a glorious way to end the uriyadi games, but the Krishna Jayanti celebrations had only just begun. [click here for more]


Govinda gokul ayo!

15 September 2006 — Amritapuri

You will not find a more ecstatic bhajan than the one that takes place just after midnight in Amritapuri on Krishna Jayanti. These are not the heart-wrenching bhajans of separation, but happiness itself set to music. The melodies themselves burst at the seams with the gusto with which they are sung—and in fact the words are not really sung, but shouted. Four thousand pairs of hands keep the rhythm! Sadness in the presence of such music is simply not possible. Like darkness and light, they simply cannot share the same space.

Govinda gokul ayo!
Govinda gokul ayo!

The meaning is so simple: “Govinda has come to Gokul.” To read such a line on paper tells one nothing. The full meaning comes only through its rendering. Put a hundred exclamation points at the end of this line, and it still wouldn’t convey the joy expressed through it on Krishna Jayanti in Amritapuri. It is the joy only known to one whose life has been made full by the presence of a Satguru. The gopis of Vrindavan knew this joy 5,000 years ago, and the children of Amma know it today.

In her Krishna Jayanti message, Amma spoke of the bliss the Guru brings into our lives through a story wherein all the gopis cite the day Krishna came to Vrindavan as their birthday. “That was the day we truly started living,” the gopis said in the story. “Before meeting Krishna, there was such a void in our lives. But as soon as we had his darshan, our lives became beautiful.”

What a joy the Guru brings to our lives! In this modern world, where depression, negativity and dullness seem to claim more lives every year, so many people joining together to make such a joyous noise is truly a miracle. And, in fact, it is that very miracle that is being celebrated when Amma and her children sing these lines.

“Govinda comes to Gokul” means happiness itself is coming into our lives—through the sheer presence of the Guru and, furthermore, through the freedom wrought when the Guru’s teachings are put into practice and the knowledge therein is imbibed.


The birth of Sri Krishna

Krishna Jayanti Celebrations, Part Two

14-15 September 2006 — Amritapuri

“It is not death, but immortality and bliss that life is all about,” Amma began her Krishna Jayanti message. “This is what the life and birth of Sri Krishna teaches us. Sri Krishna faced an immense number of difficult situations in his life—many more than the average person. Although death appeared before him in various forms, he faced and defeated it with a smile ever on his face.”

When Amma finished delivering her message, it was 11:30—only a half an hour remained until the hour of Krishna’s birth.

Next, the story of Krishna’s birth was sung from a Malayalam version of the Srimad Bhagavatam. It culminated at midnight. Drums banged, conches blew, and a baby Krishna murti [idol] was brought to Amma, who anointed him with butter and honey.

Then it was time for the traditional post-midnight Krishna Jayanti bhajan. As is tradition, Amma sang “Agatanayi Agantanayi Krishna Devan,” “Nanda Gopan Tapamirunnu Sundara Kannan,” “Katti Tayar Taram” and “Govinda Gokula Ayo.” The songs were so full of life and love that they nearly burst at the seams. It was happiness itself set to music. {story}

Then, for the last song, Amma rose to her feet. Everyone knew she was going to dance. Amma asked everyone to stand up, raise their hands in the air and dance along with her. She also asked everyone to pray for world peace, saying that the world is continuing to go through difficult times.

Swamiji lead the bhajan: “Bolo Bolo Gokula Bala Gopala Jai Gopala.” Amma started off, slowly swaying to the beat, stepping gently from side to side. Then, as the beat increased, her steps turned to hops. Eventually, Amma was almost bouncing on the stage while playing her kaimanis [small hand cymbals]. Just below her, in the hall, the devotees and ashramites were jumping too, swaying back and forth and clapping their hands. When the music reached its peak,  Amma suddenly sat down on the floor in meditation. For several minutes there was utter silence except for the ringing of a small brass bell—the sound of a brahmachari concluding the Krishna puja.

Amma then stood up, walked a few steps to the edge of the stage, sat down and began serving payasam prasad to everyone in the hall.

It was nearly 1:30. Another Krishna Jayanti had come to a blissful conclusion.



Tsunami baby is born

12:16 pm, 13 September 2006 — AIMS Hospital, Cochin, Kerala

Today at 12:16 pm, a special baby girl was born at AIMS Hospital in Cochin. The baby’s mother, Priya, was one of six women from Alappad Panchayat who had undergone fallopian-tube-recanalisation surgery under the sponsorship of Mata Amritanandamayi Math.

Priya Puthenparambil from Azhikkal, had previously undergone fallopian-tube ligation as a form of permanent contraception. As such, when her and her husband, Baby, lost their two children —Kiran and Kinkini— in the 2004 tsunami, they found themselves not only childless but also unable to conceive. When Amma learned of their situation, she offered them—and other couples—the opportunity to have their contraceptive surgeries reversed.
baby of priya

Priya had her recanalisation surgery at AIMS on 9 March 2005 at the hands of Dr. Sarala Sridhar. Her daughter, who was delivered via caesarean section, weighed three kilos at birth. According to AIMS officials Priya and her child are fine and are resting in the post-operative ward.

“It is all Amma’s grace. I am only an instrument,” said Dr. Sarala Sridhar upon completion of the delivery.

Upon hearing the news of the successful delivery, Amma said, “It happened because of grace.”


watch also

* Photo of the tsunami babies
* Aparna Video

Foundation stone laid for 100 tsunami-relief houses

10 September 2006 — Bamboo Flat, South Andaman, Andaman Islands

The Ashram laid the first foundation stone for the 100 tsunami-relief houses it has committed to build in Bamboo Flat, South Andaman.

Sri Dharam Pal IAS, the Commissioner-cum-Secretary for Relief & Rehabilitation in Nicobar-Andaman, laid the stone as part of a brief function.

It is estimated that the 100 structures will be completed within one year’s time, at a cost of nearly Rs. 6.5 lakhs per house (14,100 USD).

The MOU between the Ashram and the Andaman-Nicobar authorities was signed in for the project was signed in April.