“I’ll be a good boy”

31 December 2006 — Amritapuri

This evening during darshan, Akshay came to Amma to ask her permission to remain at the Ashram for one more day—his family was planning to leave that night. He was with his friends Ramu and Eknath. All are nine or 10 years old, and have known Amma for practically their entire lives.

The boys, best of friends, of course play around the Ashram—sometimes a bit too rough. Ramu came to the stage sporting a band-aid on his chin from having bumped into a pipe while running about earlier in the day. Instead of answering Akshay’s question right away, Amma started to ask the boys some questions of her own. “Why they are naughty?”

“Because we are children. You cannot remove the naughtiness completely.”

Amma wanted to know what changes are they going to bring in their lives.

Amma asked them to speak through the microphone. “What do you want to be in life? How you are going to change in the next year?”

They were reluctant to speak, as they would be heard by everyone in the Ashram. Amma insisted. “Ramu, you first!”

Ramu: “I want to become a cricketer [cricket player], a footballer [soccer player] and a tabla player. I will do seva. I’ll obey my parents. I’ll fight less with my friends. I won’t fight.”

Eknath: “I want to be a doctor. I will obey my parents. I won’t be too naughty, or less naughty, but in the middle. I will do more work than more sleep.” Everyone laughed. But what he really meant was that he would do more work instead of sleeping more.

Akshay: “I want to be a cardiac surgeon. The heart is one of the most important parts of the body. If something goes wrong with the heart, I want to be able to fix it. I can save the people’s lives and help them. I will listen to my parents, I will do my best to obey— about 94%. I will do seva in the Western Canteen and the Juice Stall.”

The New Year was only a few hours away. What the future will bring, only Amma knows.

—Tulasi

Bharat Jyoti award for Amrita Vidyalayam

December, Pune

Brahmacharini Pavanamrita Chaitanya was presented the Bharat Jyoti Award in recognition of her contributions  in the field of education. The Indian International Friendship Society (IIFS) presented the award. Bri. Pavanamrita is the principal of Amrita Vidyalayam, Nigdi, Pune.

Amrita Vidyalayam, Pune, participated in a Cancer Aid Society Awareness Programme under the guidelines of World Health Organization. The school received a certificate and a shield for generating the highest total donation for the Society.

Two years after the Tsunami

26 December 2006 — Amritapuri

At 8:00 a.m. all the ashram residents rose from their meditations and walked to the kalari, where they were each handed a flower. Then, in a single-file line, they walked out of the Ashram, toward Azhikkal, the village in Alappad Panchayat where 42 people were cremated a few days after the 2004 tsunami. The day marked the second anniversary of the tragedy.

It was a silent walk, a meditative one—the cool breeze of morning still in the air. Every so often, the ashramites would pass a family offering prayers for the souls of a departed loved one at small temporary shrines. When this occurred, one of the brahmacharis would invariably leave the line and offer his flower at the foot of their memorial.

When they reached Azhikkal, the ashramites circumambulated the cremation site and then did the same at the nearby tsunami monument—a permanent statue formed from black sand, symbolising Mother Land praying to Mother Sea to maintain her boundaries. There, the ashramites offered their flowers, pranamed and began silently walked back to Amritapuri.

It wasn’t long after everyone reached the ashram that Amma came down for meditation and satsang. At this time, Amma asked everyone to spend one minute in prayer for the peace of those who had died two years earlier, as well as for harmony between man and Nature.

—Kannadi

Mahatmas never die

25 December 2006 — Amritapuri

Christmas celebrations in Amritapuri

Christmas is always a special time in Amritapuri. Not only does it mark the anniversary of the birth of a Jesus Christ, but also—with so many people around the world having time off from work—the Ashram is overflowing with devotees from Europe, America, Russia, Japan and all over India.

On Christmas Eve, Amma gave darshan in the bhajan hall, beginning at 10 a.m. and continuing until midnight on the 25th.

For a few hours in the evening, Amma decided to sing a joyful set of bhajans as she gave darshan. It was a real celebration, with as many as 5,000 people singing along to bhajans in several different Indian languages, including “Inji Mahimano,” “Ramakrishna Govinda Narayana Hari,” “Sristiyum Niye” and “Banda Krishna.”

Around 11:00, devotees from the West gathered to sing Christmas carols, including a version of “Silent Night” that drew upon 15 different languages. There was also a short children’s play about finding God within.

Darshan finished about half way through the carols. Amma then came down and listened to the rest of the music sitting in a chair on the bhajan hall floor, requesting the carollers to take the stage.

Around 1 a.m., Amma delivered her Christmas message, speaking of Jesus as an embodiment of truth, love, compassion and self-sacrifice.

“Although Jesus was born more than 2000 years ago, he still lives today in the hearts of countless people around the world,” Amma said. “Mahatmas never die. Even after their time, they continue to live through their teachings and the power of the example they set during their lives. To truly celebrate Christmas is to remember the teachings of Jesus Christ and to try to put them into practice in one’s life.”

Amma said that Jesus never abandoned his ideals in life, even when he was being crucified. “If we hold firm to our ideals, we can, in fact, transcend fear. This is what Mahatmas show us through their lives,” Amma said.

Amma concluded with a prayer that God take birth in everyone’s heart. “Let us decorate the manger of our heart with good thoughts, kind words and compassionate actions,” Amma said.

But that was not to be all. As has become the Christmas tradition in Amritapuri, Amma then began distributing chocolate-cake prasad.

—Kannadi

Before, then and after Tsunami

20 December 2006, Amritapuri

Below is a photo history of the backwaters before, during, and after the tsunami. All the photos were taken from the top of the flats.

[swfobj src=”/mm/b4now.swf” height=”226″ width=”600″ align=”center”]

The first photo is from 2002. You can see AICT (Amrita Institute of Computer Technology) on the mainland side.

The swirls in the water in the second photo are the effects of the tsunami rushing into the backwaters (taken 26 December 2004). The Ashram boat had been spun around by the force. At the time, no one knew what had happened. In the background are the rising buildings for Amrita University’s new Engineering campus.

The last photo, from 19 December 2006, shows the newly completed Amrita Setu – connecting the Alappad island with the mainland and standing as a testament to Amma’s love and compassion for the local villagers.

– Kannadi

Amrita Setu will also go into history

Excerpts from President Kalam’s Address on the Occasion of the Inauguration of Amrita Setu

20 December 2006 – Amritapuri

I offer my prostrations to all of you. My great respects and reverence to Amma.

Friends, I have come here a number of times. Whenever I come here to Amritapuri, I ask myself what is so unique about the environment of Amritapuri? It may have an engineering college, it may have a spiritual setup, it may have beautiful people, but what is the unique thing? I was searching myself. I believe it is that the environment is beautiful. When an environment is beautiful, it creates beautiful minds. When beautiful minds are there, they give creativity. And the creativity leads to many, many wonders. It may be in the form of love. As reverent Amma put it just now, “That shore and this shore, both can be united through a bridge.”

It is indeed a beautiful thing to connect people. Now I am very happy to be in the Mata Amritanandamayi Math in the presence of Amma and to participate in the inauguration of Amrita Setu. I am happy to be here to inaugurate an important connectivity for the people of this region.

When I saw the Amrita Setu, my memory went back to Rameshwaram. It is said that Lord Rama ordered the construction of a bridge at Rameshwaram Dhanushkody. His vanaras [monkeys] built the bridge in time for Rama’s troops to go to Sri Lanka for waging the war against the evil Ravana, as mentioned in the Ramayana. Satellite pictures show that the remnants of a bridge still exist between Rameshwaram and Sri Lanka.  I am sure that the Amrita Setu built by Amma will also go into history and enhance the economic activity of this region.

I am happy that this bridge will greatly benefit the citizens of Alappad Panchayat. For these people, crossing to the mainland has been a big problem due to the lack of a nearby bridge. For any medical emergency, a bridge like this could be a life-saving connectivity. If there is a need for large-scale evacuation due to any natural calamity, Amrita Setu   Bridge will enable people to move to safer places with speed.

I tried to climb up—just now before coming here—and it was a unique experience for me. And when I was going up, Amma also was coming. So, I didn’t want to trouble her; I came down.

I have seen, in my younger days, how the Rameshwaram cyclones shattered my father, a boat builder’s, dreams. So, friends, as a boatman’s son, I can understand this bridge’s importance. So I give my reverence to Amma for giving such a beautiful thing to our people in Kerala.

Now, finally, I will say that when the people work in the seacoast, it is essential to provide a proper warning system about the sea condition and wind condition, for the safety of the people who are following a profession in and around the sea. The Amrita Setu indeed will be useful in normal times for people and material movement, and during the high wind and high sea conditions, it will facilitate the evacuation of large number of people in a short time.

When I was traveling just now towards Amritapuri, I saw a lot of people standing to greet me, at the seashore, close to sea, even beyond the sea… And I felt, I will work with Amma. One mission needed in the coastal region is the creation of a Coastal PURA.

The Coastal PURA will increase the earning capacity and enhance the quality of life of the citizens living in the region. So if you live in the village environment all around Amritapuri, the Physical Connectivity, the Electronic Connectivity and Knowledge Connectivity, Economic Connectivity will come. From the present 10,000 to 15,000 per capita income, it will increase three times; that is to about 50,000 per capita income.

So definitely Amma has a noble mission. Amma has been working on a number of societal missions in Kerala. Every time I come to Amritapuri, I have found a unique thing. What is that unique thing? That is: Give. Go on giving. And give and go on going. And in giving one gets the pleasure, happiness and anand [bliss].

And the message that people like us—the people that are sitting there watching—get: is that giving is indeed happiness. This New Year—2007—is coming. Let us decide 2007 will be the “Year of Giving.” You give. You go on giving.

Amma has given the bridge—Amrita Setu. And this bridge is nothing but one of the greatest givings—connecting the shores. That is what has happened. [We have to ask ourselves,] “How to connect this shore and that shore.”

So, friends, I want to share with you what I have learned from Amritapuri: Giving. You go on giving. You can give. It’s not only money. You can share knowledge. You can remove the pain. And you can even go to the person who is suffering. Every one of us—the rich and poor—can give. That is the message I get from Amritapuri, friends. There is no greater message than Amma’s giving to all the people of this region, and Kerala, and India, and to the world.

Friends, finally, I would like to say I congratulate the devotees, planners, architects, builders and service providers who have collectively ensured the construction of the bridge, Amrita Setu, in a record time of one year. In one year, a beautiful bridge has come. One day, I will climb on to the other end. One day, I will definitely do that. My respects and greetings to all of you. May God bless you all. Greetings.

Amrita Setu: Connecting lands connecting hearts

20 December 2006 — Amritapuri

Salutations to all of you who are verily the embodiments of love and the Supreme Self.

It’s been nearly two years since the tragedy of the tsunami. Amma can still clearly see the tears and hear the cries of those who lost their near and dear ones that terrible day. My earnest prayer is that such a tragedy never occurs again anywhere in this world. But when Amma sees human beings selfishly exploiting nature, she becomes fearful inside. These people do not have the mental strength to face the fury of another tsunami; should one come again, they will breakdown.

We are all aware of the general increase in Kerala’s suicide rate, especially among farmers in the Wayanad District. May a similar fate not fall upon these people whose lives depend on the sea. Human beings may not have the power to prevent natural disasters, but they can at least stop inflicting misery and sorrow upon each other. The first step towards this comes in protecting Mother Nature. As per the latest survey reports, it is said that one out of every four people in the world will suffer from cancer. Maybe this figure is not accurate. If someone pricks us with a needle, we might take it lightly, saying, "It’s okay, it’s just a needle." But what if we were to be pricked by hundreds of such needles? Then it becomes dangerous. So too is the case with the exploitation of Mother Nature. If we continue to torture Her, it will only lead to our own destruction. If human beings show hesitancy in changing, Mother Nature will make us change. This is the message behind Mother Nature’s retaliations. It is like the clay telling the potter, “Today, you may be the one manhandling me, but not so long from now, I will be doing the same to you.” Let us not draw more than we need from Mother Nature’s resources. Whether it is the treasures of the sea, the sands along the coast, our forests, mountains or lakes–preserving such treasures is the duty of every individual.

After the tsunami, Amma thought that, if only there had been a bridge here, so many deaths could have been prevented. On that day, Amma decided to construct one. With the grace of the Paramatman, today that work has come to completion. Amma is very happy about this. Amma’s happiness is not only due to the fact that the villagers now have a bridge to use. The bridge is also a symbol–a symbol of the power of love and unity to bring human beings together. It is the nature of rivers to ever flow in one direction. But the flow of love is not like that. Love flows both ways, embracing one and all. With this bridge, Amma expects the notion, &quot;I am from this< shore and you are from that< shore,&quot; and all the sense of difference originating from it, to come to an end. Amma knows that nothing can be forced upon anyone, but she believes that such change will now gradually begin to take place.

Wickedness and the feeling of “otherness” used to be seen only in cities, but today we find them even in small villages. In previous times, Indian villages were full of simplicity, purity and innocence. But today things have changed. It’s not the fault of the villagers. We all are to blame. Therefore we should be ready to boldly face our responsibility and help usher in the necessary changes. The inauguration of this bridge here today heralds such an occurrence. If this bridge can help people hold hands in love, forgetting the attitude that &quot;I am from this< shore&quot; and &quot;I am from that< shore,&quot; and make one feel, &quot;We are from the same< shore,&quot; wouldn’t it be a great feat. Such unity is the solution to so many of our problems.

Even if we are not able to do big things, we might be able to achieve quite a lot by doing small things at the right time—Amma told a story of a doctor who was able to save the life of the man with a seemingly insignificant feather.
If we take one step sincerely, the next step will automatically follow. But in today’s world, where there is so much competition and selfishness, nobody wants to take the first step. Everyone wants merely to look on, idly, from the side. Nobody wants to take a decision.

Only through unwavering love and faith in the ideals that benefit society can we make and implement the right decisions. Otherwise, there will just be promises and opinions that, although diplomatic, change nothing. In order to make a decision and move ahead with its implementation, we should first understand the needs of the people. We should have a thorough understanding of their problems and then put in sincere effort. We should not only please the “haves” and give only promises to the “have-nots.” This only pushes them into a bottomless pit of expectation. Seeing no way out, they will become despondent and may even commit suicide.

Today we are completely governed by our lack of acceptance to both the good and the bad. No one has faith in anyone else. This is the cause behind the lack of creative decision making in society, as well as its implementation.

The goals of religion and politics are the same: to unite everyone. Division only weakens us. Amma has hope in the coming generations. Allow them to grow emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. For this, there should be support from politicians and leaders. Instead of making farfetched claims regarding our superiority, may our efforts be unified. May this bridge not only connect two shores, but remain forever as a symbol of love and brotherhood, uniting human hearts as well. May the Paramatman’s blessings fulfil this prayer.

May the country be able to use the talents and knowledge of the President so as to be able to most benefit from them.

— Amma’s address on the occasion of Amrita Setu inauguration, 20 Dec 2006

amritasetu

President Kalam inaugurates Amrita Setu

20 December 2006 — Amritapuri

The President of India, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, came to Amritapuri in order to inaugurate Amrita Setu, the bridge the Ashram has constructed connecting the island of Alappad Panchayat to Vallikkavu. The bridge was constructed with the aim of providing a centralized escape route via which 15,000 people could evacuate in 30 minutes should Alappad face another natural disaster in the future. It was the third time that the President has come to the Ashram, the second since taking office in 2002.

The President arrived at 3:15 pm at the location of Amrita Setu, where he with Amma unveiled a plaque commemorating the occasion. The President then started to climb up to the top of the bridge, but when he saw Amma coming up with him, he stopped and came back down. Later, while addressing the gathering, President Kalam said that he’d wanted to climb to the top but, as he did not want to trouble Amma, he had turned around.

After a private talk with Amma, the President took the dais. He was joined by Amma and Sri. C. Divakaran, Kerala’s Minister for Food & Civil Services, and Sri. S. Sharma, the Minister of Fisheries and Harbour Engineering.

Swami Amritaswarupananda delivered the welcoming speech, recounting the day of the tsunami and detailing the Ashram’s 100-crore relief-and-rehabilitation project. “With full confidence,” he said. “I can say that no one in the world has done as much for the tsunami-affected of India as Amma.”

Swami also explained how Amma had first told him that the Ashram should build an evacuation bridge after witnessing the confusion, over-crowded boats and the amount of time involved in two false “tsunami alerts.” “Amrita Setu is Amma’s love in rock-solid form—a symbol of the compassion and selflessness she embodies” Swami continued.

Welcoming the President, he said “This country has had so many presidents since Independence and all have done good things, but President Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam is very special—because he is such a great lover of Bharat. He loves this country, and he loves her culture. He is a great visionary—one with only one dream: making India the most powerful country in the world. Even the money he gets each month he gives in charity. Indeed, Your Excellency, it is an honour to have you among us.”

It was Amma who spoke next {read message}. Amma said that, in her heart, she could still clearly see the faces and hear the sounds of those who lost their near and dear ones to the tsunami. She then prayed that such a tragedy never takes place again anywhere in the world. Amma said that unfortunately when she sees mankind continuing to selfishly exploit Mother Nature, she is filled with fear. “If we continue to torture [Mother Nature], it will only lead to our own destruction,” Amma said. “If human beings show hesitancy in changing, Mother Nature will make us change. This is the message behind Mother Nature’s retaliations.”

 

Amma also spoke of Amrita Setu as a symbol of the power of love and unity to bring human beings together, and urged the citizens of Alappad and the citizens of Vallikkavu to forget their differences. “It is the nature of rivers to ever flow in one direction. But the flow of love is not like that. Love flows both ways, embracing one and all. With this bridge, Amma expects the notion, ‘I am from this shore and you are from that shore,’ and all the sense of difference originating from it, to come to an end.”

Amma ended her talk by praying that may India is able to use the talents and knowledge of President Kalam in the best way possible.

After quick talks by the two ministers, the President himself stepped up to the podium. {read full speech}  He began by speculating on what was so unique about Amritapuri. “When an environment is beautiful, it creates beautiful minds. When beautiful minds are there, they give creativity. And the creativity leads to many, many wonders” said Dr. Kalam.

President Kalam said that Amrita Setu reminded him of how in his childhood home, Rameshwaram, Rama had built a bridge to Sri Lanka thousands of years ago. “I am sure that Amrita Setu will also go into history,” he said.

The President then said that he would look to work with Amma to create a Coastal PURA in Alappad. PURA (Providing Urban facilities in Rural Areas) is the President’s program for empowering villages.

The President said that he understood Alappad’s need for a bridge, as he had faced many cyclones growing up in Rameshwaram. He also said that it was essential for people living close to the sea to have a proper warning system with regard to severe weather conditions.

The President concluded by saying that he would take with him from Amritapuri the message of giving. “Give and go on giving,” he said. “That is the message I get from Amritapuri. There is no greater message than Amma giving to all the people of this region, and Kerala, and India, and for the world.”

Amma then presented stipends to village ferrymen, and Swami Amritaswarupananda presented President Kalam with a memento to commemorate the occasion.

—Kannadi

 

Thanks for fulfilling the dream

19 December 2006, Amritapuri

“Nowhere in the world, has another NGO built such a bridge like Amrita Setu. On behalf of the people and the Panchyat Committee of Alappad, we thank the Mata Amritanandamayi Math for this noble gift. When the Tsunami occurred in 2004 there was only a bridge to the south in Panikkarukadavu which connected us to the mainland, but the Tsunami hit worst in the northern area of Alappad Panchyat at Srayikkad, Azheekal, and Parayakadavu. There, the only way to escape to the mainland was via water. Amrita Setu provides a new evacuation route that will help to allay the fears of the people in this area. Amrita Setu is a blessing from Amma to the Alappad region.”
– Mr. Rajadas, President Alappad Grama Panchyat

* * * * * * * *

“The Amrita Setu bridge, which will be inaugurated by His Excellency, Indian President APJ Abdul Kalam, is very useful for the people. The concept of a bridge has long been a dream of this area. The Kulasekharapuram Grama Panchyat Committee Members thank Mata Amritanandamayi and the officials of the Math for fulfilling this dream.”
– Srimati Jagadamma, President Kulasekharapuram Grama Panchyat

New bridge, new hopes

19 December 2006, Amritapuri

Long before the towers of Amritapuri were constructed, in fact, as long as one can remember, ferrys have been taking villagers back and forth across the backwaters separating the Alappad island from the Mainland.  The small wooden boats, capable of holding about a score of people, have been operated by a number of village men – some of whom have been doing so for many years.  Holding a 15-foot tall bamboo pole, the oarsmen steer the boats lazily across the backwaters, taking about three to four minutes from shore to shore.

Stephen (61) and Bhargavan (73) have been working the backwaters for many years.  Both have been grateful for the livelihood that the visitors to Amritapuri have provided them.   “It is because of Amma and the fares paid by visitors to the Ashram that I have been able to feed my family,” Stephen noted.   He was also a recipient of one of the homes built by the Ashram before the Tsunami as a part of the Amrita Kuteeram program.  “One of my family members is also receiving a pension from the Ashram.”  With a twinkle in his eyes, Stephen also recalled the few times when he ferried Amma across the backwaters.

The tsunami has changed everyone’s life.  With Amrita Setu towering above their small boats, it most certainly will dramatically affect their livelihoods.  Even so, all the oarsmen agree that the bridge is necessary. ‘Amma has built this bridge to save the villagers,’ noted Stephen, who along with Bhargavan, was there when the tsunami struck.  Bhargavan still has nightmares – he had just taken a group of people across the backwaters and was tying his boat up when the waters rushed in.  The two of them immediately became part of the rescue team – spending hours ferrying the villagers from the island across to the mainland to safety.  Stephen noted that he must have made at least 27 trips.  “It was during this time that I saw Amma’s amazing ability to help in such a calamity.”

Sanu Lal (aka Podimon) has been the operator of the Ashram motor boat for the past 8 years.    During the tsunami, he also helped with the relief efforts.  In the days and months afterwards, he worked around the clock- helping to bring workers, supplies, and food from the mainland to the various points along the backwaters where homes were being built.  At times, he even slept on the boat. “I believe that it was my punya (merit) that gave me this opportunity to help serve others. But now with the bridge, it will be easy for the students to get back and forth from school.”

Tomorrow, Amma will give each a financial compensation package which will help the oarsmen establish a new means of livelihood.  With the gift, Stephen, Bhargavan, and the others hope to realize their dream of offering visitors and tourists tours of the backwaters.  Even so, there may still be people who elect to choose the ferries just to get from one side to the other simply for the experience.   Rising high above the backwaters, the Amrita Setu bridge is bringing new hopes to both the oarsmen and the people of Alappad.

-Sree