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.

Stories of the old days

18 & 23 November 2004 — Amritapuri

Acchan’s Satsang to Ashram Residents

As Amma often laments, the elderly are not valued in today’s world. In fact, they are most often pushed away as a nuisance. In truth, their wealth is in their years, the vast amount of knowledge they have acquired during their long lives—knowledge borne out of their personal experiences and reflections, as well as all they have witnessed. What they’ve lived, the younger generations can learn only through books, often written by those who weren’t even there. Thus, to respect one’s elders is to respect knowledge itself.

Twice this past week, someone who’s witnessed more of Amma’s life than almost anyone else made his way to the bhajan hall to give satsang to the hundreds of ashramites assembled there: Suganandan Acchan, Amma’s father.

Accompanied by his wife, Damayanti Amma, Acchan sat for more than one hour each day, telling story after story—some of which were as many as 45 years old—to his riveted audience. Towards the end of his second satsang, several brahmacharis and brahmacharinis were even asking him questions in hopes of learning of events long past about which they’ve always longed to know.

Even though some of the stories have been recorded in books published by the Ashram, hearing them from Acchan’s perspective always proved fascinating and entertaining. And often, he would reveal details not provided in the books.

For example, many have read the story of Amma’s pilgrimage to Madurai and Kanyakumari in the early 1980s. The tales of Her visiting the Meenakshi Temple and visiting the avadhutas Mayi-Amma and Nayanar Swami are well known. But how they came to life coming from Acchan’s mouth!

The avadhut Nayanar Swami lived in a small village in Tamil Nadu on the way to Kanyakumari. Though abiding in his oneness with God, he was like a mad man in his ways—not bathing, urinating in the same place he slept, speaking mainly in a language no one could understand. Acchan told how the group sat in the hut around the swami. Amma sat on the swami’s right and the devotee who had brought them there on his left. Suddenly, the swami grabbed the glasses of the devotee to his left and flung them across the room. He was known to act in unexpected ways—even striking a blow or spitting. Everyone assembled in front of Acchan laughed as he confessed, “I, too, was wearing specks and, not wanting to lose them or receive any beatings, I quietly moved to the back of the hut.”

Similar was Acchan’s telling of the visit to the Meenakshi Temple in Madurai. The temple, which is more than 2,000 years old, sees thousands of pilgrims coming every day to have the darshan of Meenakshi Devi. Thus, there was a large crowd assembled around the stone image of the goddess in the temple. As Acchan recollected, as soon as Amma saw the murti, She entered a divine mood. Her body became stiff like a board. After some time, it began to vibrate intensely. Then, suddenly, Amma began to dance. It created a real stir, and soon many of the pilgrims gathered around. When the pujari in the sanctum sanctorum saw the commotion, Acchan said, he seemed to immediately recognise that the girl was not a regular devotee, but an embodiment of the Divine Mother. He immediately removed one of the garlands from around the Meenakshi murti, came out of the inner temple and placed it around Amma’s neck. The whole scene was almost too much for Acchan, who told everyone that he resolved then and there not to bring Amma to anymore temples.

Other stories included those of various attacks on Amma by rationalists in the early days and experiences that helped Acchan to understand that Amma’s body is not at all like an ordinary human one. He also explained why Amma chose the spot in Kodungallor as the ground for the Ashram’s first Brahmasthanam Temple.

To end, Acchan shared with everyone something he had written for Amma, something that he, as the sole one whose fate it is in Amma’s leela to play the role of Her father, has the license to compose—a lullaby.


Watch out for those green lights

Amritapuri — Friday, 20 August 2004

Today Amma came to give satsang to all the ashramites. One of the first questions put to Her was by a new visitor to the ashram. “Amma,” he said, “When I first came to the ashram I had a wonderful experience. I felt my aajnja chakra [third eye] open up and I attained a divine consciousness. But after five and a half days, the experience left me, and now I am very depressed. What happened?”

Amma began by telling the man that for those five and a half days he had “pushed the button” on the torch [flashlight], and therefore he’d seen “the light.” But whatever he had been doing he must have stopped and thus his experience ended. But that didn’t matter, Amma said, seeing the path before him illumined he can now continue forward inspired and guided by what he had seen.

Such experiences may come, Amma said, but don’t give them too much importance.  Consider them something to inspire you to persevere in your spiritual practices. We should let such experiences come and also let them go. If we don’t let them go, we may find ourselves stuck on them.

Amma said we may experience many things along the path to realisation. Perhaps we will see a blue light or a golden light, etc. But we are not here to chase such experiences.

Amma then told a story about a man who began seeing a green light in his mind while meditating. He became so obsessed with the light that he soon started seeing green lights everywhere he looked. Then one day while driving his car through an intersection, he met with a bad accident because he thought even the red light was green.

Amma concluded be saying that such experiences are not the way to gauge our spiritual progress. This can only be judged by checking our ability to face all situations with equanimity of mind and our ability to always be loving and peaceful towards others.


Celebration of Amma’s birth star

30 January 2004 — Amritapuri

Tonight is Kartika. As always on the night of Amma’s birth star, the ashram was alit with various lights and candles, in particular, the pathway Amma follows from Her room to the bhajan hall.

Towards the end of the night’s set of bhajans, Amma surprised everyone by practicing a new song in Telegu “Ni Raanjanam,” meaning arati. She then finished off by singing “Amma Amma Taye,” a treat for all the devotees.

Upon the conclusion of the bhajan, Amma fed the two ashram elephants, Ram and Lakshmi. Then, after Amma went to Her room, it was time for the Kartika Puja, wherein the oblations are poured into the homakunda, the 108 names of Goddess Kali are chanted and everyone sings the stotram “Mahishasura Mardini.”


Lakshmi arrives in Amritapuri

11 December, 2003 Amritapuri
A large crowd gathered in front of the temple this morning, as Amma welcomed Her newest resident into Amritapuri. New ashram residents don’t usually cause such a stir, but this is a special case. Her name is Lakshmi – the elephant.

It was just after 11 a.m. and everyone was on or around the temple steps, looking up with anticipation, waiting for Amma to appear. Suddenly, to everyone’s surprise, Amma emerged from around the corner below! Amma stood at the base of the steps, as Lakshmi, garlanded with yellow and orange flowers and anointed with sacred ash, was brought forward to receive Amma’s blessings.

Amma fed Lakshmi apples, bananas, payasam, and balls of jaggery and nuts with affection, speaking softly to her while stroking her brow and trunk. Lakshmi was perfectly calm and composed, happily accepting the sweets from Amma’s sweet hands.

Amma teased her, “Lakshmi, have you seen Ram yet?” eliciting laughs from those nearby. Ram is the five-year-old “brahmachari” elephant that has lived in Amritapuri for the last three and a half years. Now Lakshmi becomes his elder sister.

While feeding Lakshmi some payasam, a small amount fell on the floor. Lakshmi then received her first instruction from her new Guru, as Amma said, “Ram doesn’t waste his prasad, so you should pick up everything.” Lakshmi promptly began to carefully pick up each small piece of sweet, and Amma approvingly said, “Good. You have shraddha, you don’t waste – you’re my child.”

After whispering a few loving words, and hugging and planting some tender Motherly kisses on Lakshmi’s forehead, Amma turned and walked up the temple steps, returning to Her room. Lakshmi was then led to her new home, near her new brother Ram’s stable.

Sadanandan and his family, who offered both Ram and Lakshmi to Amma, have been devotees since She visited Chennai in 1985. Amritapuri.org had the chance to speak briefly with him:
So many people offer gifts to Amma. Why do you offer Her elephants?
“I wanted to offer something that Amma could play with. I found a small baby elephant – Ram – in the Andoman Islands, and bought him for Amma.”

Why Lakshmi? Was there anything special about her that made you choose her?
“One night while playing with Ram, Amma mentioned, ‘Poor Ram, he doesn’t have anyone to share his heart with.’ I heard this, and decided to find a friend for Ram. I found her nearby, in Kollam. Lakshmi has what are considered to be auspicious signs – 18 toenails and a straight tail with much hair at its end. Ram also possesses similar auspicious qualities.”

With the nightly interplay between Amma and Ram already such a source of fun and laughter, the addition of a female elephant is sure to provide even more delight, for Amma, Her children, and of course Ram, who now has a friend to play with and share his heart with.