Weaving waste into wealth

28 August 2007 — Amritapuri


When Amma came to the temple for Meditation Day on Tuesday, a small purse and hand-fan were waiting for her on her peetham. After sitting down, Amma placed the purse’s strap over her shoulder and began fanning herself, beaming a smile as if she were modelling some of the most glamorous apparel in the world. Amma then showed everyone how the blade of the fan was made from chocolate-bar wrappers and how the purse had been woven from strips of disregarded plastic. Amma then asked the people who’d made the items to stand up. Two ashram residents rose to their feet—one from India and one from the West.
amma holding a plastic fan

“Amma is very pleased by these children’s efforts to create wealth from waste,” Amma said. “You make think it is only a small gesture, but through this the hearts of the individuals blossom and then others are inspired to follow. This can lead to significant changes in society.”

Amma then went on to explain how plastic, although cheap, is non-biodegradable. “This is one way to fight this problem,” Amma said.

Amma said that in general she was very pleased with how her children from the West are taking to heart and putting into practice her teachings of the importance of re-establishing the harmony between man and nature. Amma went on to give the example of how many devotees in America have formed car-pool groups in order to reduce the amount of cars they use to get back and forth from work. “In this way, they reduce the amount of pollution emitted into the atmosphere, reduce the money they spend on gas, reduce the use of gas, and reduce traffic,” Amma said.

One of the main weavers was an ashram resident from America named Meenamba. She says she was inspired to start the weaving project after one of Amma’s programs in Mumbai. When the program ended, local children came and began culling through the trash for hard-plastic bottles and clean paper. She learned that the children get about 50 rupees for each a bag they fill with plastic bottles and a few rupees per kilogram for paper. But the soft plastic (candy wrappers, etc.) wasn’t recycled in any way—just burned. Meenamba wanted to come up with a way that the poor trash-pickers could earn more money as well as help the environment. Eventually the idea of using the soft plastic as a weaving material dawned to her.


When Meenamba returned to Amritapuri, she started collecting various types of disregarded plastic—plastic bags, chocolate wrappers, plastic twine, laundry-soap packets, old banners advertising Ashram programs. She then sanitized all the materials by washing it and soaking it in EM (Effective Micro-organisms). When that was finished, all that was left to do was to cut it into strips and weave it. To do this, she learned a number of weaving techniques, including methods from Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Japan and Bavaria.

So far Meenamba and the others have made an assortment of items, including a pair of sandals and an asana for Amma. Some of the other things they have made include cell-phone cases and carry bags.


Amma is back home

3 December 2006, Amritapuri

Amma returned to Amritapuri this afternoon at 4:47pm after her two month tour of Europe and the US.

Hundreds of eager Ashramites, visitors and students lined the Ashram grounds, hoping to get a glimpse of Amma as her car made its way to her accommodations. Some had not seen Amma in months, others had come from the US or Europe where they had just seen her – still thirsty for her love.

As the car slowly inched forward, window down, Amma extended her hand out to touch those of her children When the car came to a stop in front of Amma’s room, a hundred or more people were gathered – some of whom had been waiting for hours. As Amma headed up the stairs, she jokingly asked those who had forgotten to eat, or had fallen asleep while waiting to raise their hands. Many did. After a few laughs, she blew kisses at everyone, then headed up to her room. A few moments later, Amma reappeared at her window – lovingly glancing down upon her children who had missed her so much. She glanced around, waved her hands, smiled, then closed the curtains. Our beloved Amma is back home.


Anytime, anywhere… anything is possible for Amma

4 October 2006, 4:45 am, Amritapuri

3:30 a.m.: The bell rings for archana, a little earlier than usual. Some ashram residents haven’t slept, as they have been helping out with last-minute packing for the tour. The other sleepyheads were keeping awake in anticipation of Amma’s early-morning departure.

4:45 a.m.: The bell rings thrice, a clear indication that Amma is coming out.

The morning archana is just over, but not the mahishasura mardhini stotram. The boys postpone the stotram. The girls zip through it at super-fast speed. Everyone gathers around Amma’s car. All eyes are on the steps leading to Amma’s room, anticipating her arrival.

Suddenly, a message arrives. Amma is calling everyone to the temple.

O my God! We run into the temple. As the steps of the spiral staircase are narrow, many take the other ways to the hall. Why did Amma go to the hall? What is she going to do? A thousand questions.

Amma is sitting on her wooden cot, like she usually does on Tuesdays. Surprise, surprise! She asks for a mike. She is going to talk… no, she is going to conduct a meeting! How could it be? She had spent so much time with us at the swimming pool the evening before, pushing us into the water, joking with us, singing and sharing stories from her childhood. She could have held the meeting yesterday. Why now?

This is what makes Amma unique, inimitable, more beautiful and wonderful than anything in the world—her spontaneity.

Amma starts inquiring about the housing projects and the status of the tsunami-related works in Tamil Nadu and the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. She poses a variety of questions: Should the timber be procured from Kerala, Tamil Nadu or Kolkata? Isn’t it more economical to make windows and doors here and then transport them to Chennai by truck, to be then shipped to the Andamans? Anyway the timber should come from Kerala.* Suppose a truck can carry 10 tons, how many finished doors and windows can be transported in one truck? Are there any additional transportation costs involved? She tells a brahmachari to check out the timber prices and labour rates in Tamil Nadu and Kolkata.

Amma asks whether the electrical-wiring work in the new houses is finished. She finds out that it isn’t. She entrusts the work to a brahmachari.

She tells another brahmachari to talk to government officials in Tamil Nadu where, in some areas, land hasn’t been identified by the government for the tsunami houses it wants the ashram to build.

Amma then turns her attention to the Amrita Vidyalayam schools. The increasing number of new admissions means a whole lot of work to be done in a short period. It means more classrooms, more labs, etc in each school. Also, there is maintenance work in the old buildings and construction work in the new ones… in Perumbavoor, Trivandrum, Kolkata, Bombay, Hyderabad, Tiruvalla… Amma summoned the brahmacharinis in charge to confirm what needed to be done by the end of the year. Do what needs to be done now, and postpone the less pressing works, she said. Amma also assigned brahmacharis to take charge of the construction work in about 30 schools.

The printing press received her attention next, and after that the Ayurveda section. Amma also spoke to the brahmacharis and brahmacharinis translating ashram publications; to those going to hold satsangs outside of Kerala; and to those teaching and/or working at our schools and colleges. Amma also delegated some brahmacharis to work in newly set-up branch ashrams.

Amma insisted that everyone should attend the Bhagavad Gita class, and that this should not affect the regular work they do in the ashram or school. If necessary, they should work extra hours in the evening to make up for any lag in the work.

Amma didn’t forget to give some motherly scolding to some brahmacharis for the mistakes they had made in their seva. She reminded them that work done without shraddha [attentiveness] is adharma [unrighteous].

Just when everyone thought that the meeting was about to end, Amma asked, Who doesn’t have any work? Everyone smiled. A few nervously stood up. Amma gently advised them to help whenever and wherever work needs to be done urgently.

What one sees in Amma is the manifestation of outstanding managerial skills: resource management, quick decision making, fund management, HR administration, time management, productivity, superb communication skills, and more than anything else, the ability to harness all of them to a common goal: loka sevanam [service of humanity].

Those who were expecting Amma to talk about ‘spiritual’ matters during those early hours would have been surprised—she seemed to be talking about worldly matters. But for Amma, there is nothing worldly. Nothing is mithya [unreal]. As far as Amma is concerned, ‘Ishavaasyamidam sarvam’ [‘Everything is divine, real’].

Before leaving, Amma sang ‘Mukunda murari gopala.’ It was a bitter-sweet moment: there was so much joy being with Amma, and yet, everyone felt sad, thinking that Amma was about to leave. Before getting up, Amma asked all her children to bless her two-month tour of Europe and the U.S.

The ashram residents lined up on one side: the side where Amma sat in the car. Everyone stood with palms joined together prayerfully: in devotion to Amma and with prayers.

What a great fortune and blessing it is to have such a Mother and Guru!


Ashram alive again

30 July 2006, Amritapuri

Amma returned to Amritapuri on Sunday, July 30th, 2006, after the recent Japan-North America yatra. She arrived at about 10:45 a.m., bringing smiles, laughter and tears of joy to the faces of Her children who had gathered to welcome Amma.

In the throng of devotees were freshmen of the Amrita University (Amritapuri campus), who had just started their first semester. To the uninitiated among them, the sight of the crowd’s ardent devotion may have been a wonder. It proved infectious. Many of them asked, “When can we meet Amma? When can we get Her darshan?” The students, who were from various parts of India, craned their necks to catch a glimpse of their beloved Amma. Many voices, from many directions, called out “Amma! Amma!”

Amma, beaming with loving compassion, looked left, right, in front, behind and even above, for there were people crammed on the balcony above and lining the spiral staircase near Amma’s room too. After spending some time chatting with Her children and cracking jokes, Amma walked back to Her room.

Amritapuri had come alive again!


Amma’s darshan in Amritapuri will start from 5th Saturday August 2006 onwards.

Diminishing distances

Guru Purnima in Amritapuri

10 July 2006, Amritapuri

For many years now, residents of Amritapuri have been celebrating Guru Purnima in the Guru’s physical absence. This is because Amma is usually in the U.S. during that time of the year. Amma usually calls though, and hearing Her soulful voice is the day’s highlight for ashram residents. This year, there was something new: a ‘live’ web casting of Amma’s programs from Iowa.

That was why ashram residents began the morning archana half an hour earlier, at 4:30 a.m., so that they could be ready to watch the ‘live’ transmission. Everyone gathered around the huge screen that had been erected in the hall. At 5:30 a.m. sharp, Amma appeared on the screen, much to everyone’s joy. She was giving a satsang, which Swami Amritaswarupananda was translating. It was a poignant moment: the sight of Amma sharpened the pangs of separation; yet, the sense of exhilaration one felt at the sight of their beloved Amma talking, smiling, joking and laughing was palpable. More than once, Amma looked straight into the camera. The ashram residents couldn’t help but feel that She was looking at them.

After the satsang, Swamiji led the archana. As he called in Iowa, the ashram residents in Amritapuri responded joyfully with “Om Parashaktyai Namaha.” Truly, where there is technology, distance is diminished! This fact reminded Her children of one of Amma’s sayings: “Where there is love, distance is no barrier.”

The live transmission of the bhajans sung by the swamis infused devotional fervour in the hearts of all. The bhajans were followed by the Devi Bhava darshan, all of which was web cast ‘live.’ What an auspicious way to start the holy day!

At 8:30 a.m. in Amritapuri, Swami Turiyamritananda performed the guru paduka puja (worship of Amma’s sandals). During the paduka puja, ashram residents chanted Vedic mantras, including the Guru Stotram, Durga Suktam and Purusha Suktam. This was followed by bhajans, arati and the partaking of prasad. Later in the morning, everyone gathered to listen to satsangs by brahmacharis.


The web casting had not been interrupted in the meantime. Some sat in front of the screens, watching Amma giving darshan. In the afternoon, Amma’s Guru Purnima message (in Malayalam) was played. (had recorded it earlier). In the message, Amma mentioned how Krishna had left Vrindavan for good. “But where did He go from there?” Amma asked. “He went to the Vrindavan of our hearts, to the Yamuna River of Love, and there He will dance the rasa lila1 forever.” Amma exhorted Her children to remember this story, as it illustrates how the gopis, who had overflowing love and devotion towards the Lord, could achieve within a relatively short time what the rishis (seers) took thousands of years to attain.

The ashram residents also heard a satsang by Swamiji. In it, he mentioned that the relationship between a Guru and a disciple is the peak of love and devotion. He also explained the significance of worshipping the Guru’s feet or sandals: they represent the ultimate Truth, of which the Guru is an embodiment.

While giving darshan, Amma spent time speaking with both the brahmacharis and the brahmacharinis in India, occasionally pointing to various people on the computer screen, calling their names and sending them kisses.

When Amma finished giving Devi Bhava darshan, Swamiji performed pada puja. Though the ceremony was taking place across the Atlantic, all the ashram residents felt as if they were physically present with Amma. Everyone sang along with Swamiji as he intoned the Guru Stotram. And as Swamiji offered flower petals at Amma’s feet while chanting Amma’s Ashtottaram [108 names], all the ashram residents offered petals of their heart to Amma.

At the end of Devi Bhava, when Amma got up, Swamiji started singing ‘Amma, Amma, Taye.’ The joy of those in Amritapuri knew no bounds. It had been a long time since there was Devi Bhava darshan in Amritapuri. And to be blessed to witness it on Guru Purnima was, all felt, nothing but Amma’s divine grace.


1 An enchanting episode from the life of the gopis in which many Krishnas were manifested to dance with each of the gopis.

Amma left for Japan – USA

25 May 2006, Amritapuri

Amma left Amritapuri this evening for her two month long Japan – USA programmes. For the past few days Amma had been meeting the Ashram residents seperately. Before leaving for the Japan – USA tour Amma had a meeting with all of the ashram residents, giving instructions on how all were to maintain individual discipline, do sadhana, their specefic seva and also the ongoing tsunami rehabilitation work.

As Amma’s car moved slowly out of the ashram Amma extended her hand to her children lined up to bid her farewell – a final touch of love for all of her children in Amritapuri, to be treasured in their hearts for the two months that she is away.


“Did you go yet?”.. Darshan in Amma’s room

24 May 2006 — Amritapuri

First it was the brahmacharinis… then the brahmacharis… then the Western ladies… then more brahmacharis… more brahmacharinis… then the householder ashramites… the Western men… and finally the sannyasins. During the past two weeks Amma has given private “room darshans” to all of the 3,000 residents of Amritapuri. It is a tradition that goes back to Amma’s first world tour in 1987—everyone staying behind gets to go to Amma’s room for a few minutes of private time with Amma. On the final day, even Ram, the Ashram elephant, was in line!

It is a time to seek advice about one’s seva, receive personal instruction regarding spiritual practices, have doubts cleared and to deepen one’s bond with Amma. For many, it is the only time they go for darshan the entire year.

Amma first started meeting residents in her room on May 14th—the very day she returned from her two-week Kerala tour. From then until Amma finished late last night, the only hiatus she took was the three days of the Brahmasthanam Festival in Trivandrum.

It is truly a special time in the ashram. Everywhere you look, you see smiling people talking about the time they have recently spent with Amma. Everywhere you go you hear the question, Did you go yet?

– Kannadi

Christmas in Amritapuri

25 December 2005 — Amritapuri

Never is Amritapuri filled with more of Amma’s devotees from the West than during Christmas. Each year people from America, Europe, Australia and other parts of the Western world come all the way across the globe to spend their winter holidays with Amma. Many of them only get 10 days off from work, but still out of their love for Amma make the pilgrimage, which can take as many as 40 hours each way.

In fact, many of them had arrived when Amma was still conducting her programmes in Tamil Nadu. During the long journey back from those programmes, Amma’s mind was clearly on her newly arrived devotees. At a lunch stop on 24th, she reminded everyone that they had to go fast so they could reach the Ashram in time to celebrate Christmas with all her Western children.

Amma reached Amritapuri in the wee hours of Christmas morning. To her devotees’ delight, at 6:00 p.m. she came out for the nightly bhajan, singing bhajans in Malayalam, Tamil, English, Sindi, Marathi. (Devotees not only from the West but also from across India had come to Amritapuri during the work holidays.) Then, at 9:30, Amma again came out to the bhajan hall for the Christmas celebrations.

“The message of Christmas is the life of Jesus Christ itself,” Amma told the devotees gathered to celebrate the holiday. “It is said that God is the embodiment of infinite divine values. At the same time, God is beyond words and the mind. It is through the lives of Mahatmas that we are able to directly experience the divinity of God. Mahatmas teach us through their own lives. Christ was the embodiment of love, self-sacrifice and humility.

Surrender towards God and love towards the world—both of these qualities shined through him. He took birth in a barn, worked hard in life and lived in an ordinary hut. Though materially he had nothing, he was the embodiment of prosperity.”

To celebrate the anniversary of the birth of Christ, Amma’s Western devotees put on a children’s play, performed dances and sang Christmas carols–all of which Amma watched while seated in a chair in the midst of a sea of devotees.

The children’s play started off with a young child asking his mother the question, “Who is God?” When his mother couldn’t answer, the child sat down and started to think: “God is in the sun.. God is in the rivers, the moon, and the mountains.. God is also in the lion and the tiger..” And as the child thought, various children came out, enacting each image or animal. One child even came out as a train. (“God is in the chugga-chugga chugga-chugga of the train.) Amma laughed whenever the children–many of whom where very small–lingered too long on the stage, missed their cues or acted generally confused in the spotlight. At the end, the child realized that if God is in all these things, He must also be inside each child, mother, father, brother and sister as well.

The Western men and women who sang the Christmas carols kept switching back and forth from various different languages. For example, the verses of “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” were sung alternately in French, German, English and other languages, while the chorus remained in Latin. Carols were also sung in Finnish by a large group from Finland.

There was also a juggler from France, an Indian dance by a group of teenage Western girls, a Latin dance led by an Ashram resident from Venezuela. The performances ended with Murali, a professional pianist from France, playing a piece by Elbeniz.

When all the cultural performances were over Amma distributed chocolate cake as prasad–something that has become an Amritapuri Christmas tradition.


Amma coming

The Ashram is bustling with activity as residents prepare for Amma’s arrival.

Ashram residents are busy cleaning and sprucing up the premises to welcome Amma back after Her two-month Japan-North America Tour.

Residents can be seen painting flower pots, changing curtains, and lovingly painting flowers on the steps the Amma climbs daily.

All the different sections such as the Cafe and Accommodation are busy preparing for the flood of devotees expected to pour into the ashram when Amma arrives.

You may recall how Amma was front-page news in the Washington Post. The Times of India noted that Amma made more headlines in the U.S. than the Indian Prime Minister when he visited the U.S.

Seeing how Amma wins everyone over, no matter where, no matter who, it cannot be denied that Love conquers all.


Life at Amritapuri

Nowhere on earth is life lived as fully as it is in Amritapuri. Every nook and corner of the ashram sparkles with dynamism. From the stillness of the morning hours when the ashram is rapt in meditation to the vibrancy of the night when the air is filled with Amma’s ecstatic bhajans, Amritapuri is always wonderfully abuzz.


In the glow of yagna fires where the pujaris perform Vedic rituals, in the silence of the library where young monks study Bharat’s sacred scriptures, in the sweat falling from the backs of those maintaining the ashram through seva and karma yoga, and of course in the lap of Amma, who is forever sharing Her boundless love in the darshan hall—Amritapuri is truly, as its name indicates, the City (Puri) of Immortal Nectar (Amrita).

The inspiration for the activity is and always has been Amma. Thousands come to the ashram everyday for Her darshan. Some are seeking spiritual guidance, others want to unburden their sorrows, and many want to simply spend a few moments in Her arms. Amma sees each and every person, no matter how long it takes, giving each person exactly what they need.

In many ways, the ashram is a university where people of all walks of life have come to study the science of life.

When Amma is not giving darshan, She is leading the ashramites in meditation, instructing them in their spiritual practices and edifying them with Her immortal wisdom. There are classes in yoga, Sanskrit, Vedanta and meditation.

At Amritapuri, the ashramites and the devotees form a big family under Amma, and together they celebrate many religious festivals — Krishna’s Birthday, Onam, Christmas, Vishu, Guru Purnima, Shivaratri, Navaratri, Divali — but in truth each day at Amritapuri is a festival. This is reflected in all who come here — the sense of peace, joy and fullness that radiates from their faces.