Rebuilding the villages in Gujarat Earthquake

The villages Amma adopted—Modsar, Mokhana and Dagara—were located far away from the highways, about 40 km from the Pakistan border. The Math not only rebuilt 1200 houses, but also schools, community halls, water tanks, medical clinics, and roads, as well as provided electricity and sewage systems.

The construction began in August 2001. Rebuilding the villages was an arduous task, as they had literally been razed by the terrible force of the earthquake. Dagara actually had to be relocated, and to do so meant the volunteers and workers first had to clear the land of acres of thorny bushes—more like barbed-wire than vegetation. Then trenches in which to lay the foundations had to be dug, deep trenches able to withstand the tremors of possible future earthquakes. This was done with pickaxes and shovels. Next concrete blocks had to be loaded, by hand, to vehicles and then unloaded in the same fashion.

“Many hired workers left because of the insufferable heat,” says Sadashiva Chaitanya, one of the brahmacharis Amma put in charge of the reconstruction efforts, “and many were scared to come because of the malaria epidemic. Amma’s volunteers from overseas, however, came to help twice.

I was hospitalised twice during the project. I had severe malaria and typhoid both times. “The Math worked closely with the village leaders, making sure that their concerns were addressed, namely that the houses were built in line with certain scriptural injunctions—such as that all the main entrances face east or north. The villagers were initially leery of outside help, but soon they put their trust in Amma’s team.

“The work is very good,” says A.N. Tucker, a Dagara village officer. “Why? This construction is definitely earthquake-resistant. After the earthquake, in my mind, was the thought, ‘However will we get over this, who can make it all?’ I had no idea who could. Everyone was very depressed; we were not thinking about the future. We’d had earthquakes before but never so big as this. When the swamis came and told us they could, the villagers and I thought they were only saying it. Because it is impossible to do much. So now I feel it’s very good because it’s so quickly done.”

“They promised to build houses; we believed them,” said Amirbhai, a farmer who was living in a tin shed when the Math came. “When the village people heard the news, they thought, as they were monks, we could believe them. Somebody showed us videocassettes about Amma. All the villagers saw them and we believed in Her.”

The government norm for replacement houses was 35 sq. meters, but Amma had the Math built them bigger – 45 sq. meters. The structural design of the Math’s houses is also much stronger than the government norm. The Math used solid concrete blocks as opposed to hollow, and also reinforced many structures with steel.

“I think the new village is very good,” says Habas, a Muslim schoolteacher from Dagara. “We saw an international team of Amma’s volunteers came to help with the work, and that impressed us very much. They participated directly; that is something very great. Anyone can see that Amma’s construction is very good compared to others.”

At the peak period, 900 workers—many of which were Amma’s devotees—were on site, and the ashram had four big excavators levelling the land. As the villagers waited for their houses to be finished, the word came that Amma Herself would be coming there to give darshan on the next year’s North Indian Tour. After hearing this news the village head of Mokhana was ecstatic. “This institution belongs to Mataji [Amma],” he said.

“If even once after the houses are built She comes to our village, our village will be purified. If Mataji comes, our lives are purified; we don’t want anything more than that. And if we have darshan of Mataji once, that is more than enough for us.”

After all the houses were complete, Br. Sadashiva reflected on the experience. “The most important thing is that the villagers have a relationship with Amma now, and they know, in case of need, we are there to support them.”