The Kumbha Mela of the South

13 September 2003 — Cochin, Kerala

stadium from inside

In one of the registration offices in Amma’s AIMS Hospital a few kilometres from the stadium big piles of papers are on the desks of the people filing the registration from devotees who are coming. The lists are endless. From Trivandrum 4,500 people are coming; from Kannur 6,253; from Palakkad 9,234; from Kollam 4,500; and so on. Thousands and thousands are coming for the event of the century. In total the number of Indians registered is at the moment 80,499 but that number is increasing day by day, hour by hour. There will be some 3,000 buses coming; 10-15,000 people will come by nearly 200 trains. There are two or three special “Amma” trains coming in, completely full with only devotees. There are additional flights to Kochi and few delegates even have their own charted flights to attend the Amritavarsham celebrations. Thanks to the airlines for offering 50% concession to the flight tickets. Then there is some 5,000 foreigners coming, hundreds of dignitaries and a special police force of some 5,000 officers to help with security. This is a massive logistical operation.

Free accommodation and food in Kochi for more than 100,000 devotees
And where will they sleep? How will they get to the stadium? “We now know there are hundreds of buses coming in daily, with a thousand buses coming on the 23rd. All these buses need to go to two bus stations on the outskirts of the city. From there all the people are assigned to the schools and wedding halls where they will sleep.” Another big operation is getting all the devotees from the schools to the stadium. For this all the Amritavidyalayam school buses from all Amma’s institutions in South India have been called to Kochi. Starting at 4:30 a.m. they will start running to make sure everybody will be in the International Stadium at 8:30, in time for the programme to begin. The obvious question—Where the students will go during that week?—is answered with a great smile on the face of the man behind the desk: “But it’s a holiday! The District Collector has declared all of Kochi a five day holiday especially for the Celebrations.” This sketches the atmosphere in Kochi: Everything is getting ready for Amritavarsham50 and everybody, including the authorities, are giving maximum support.

stadium in Kochi

100,000 people are going to sleep in 42 schools, 105 community centres and marriage halls, and 52 spacious temporary tents. Already volunteers are working to clean up the schools and to improve the toilets and bathrooms in the schools. “Many schools are happy because we are putting in new toilets and repairing the old ones. This is also Amma’s blessing: we leave it better than it was and the children get new toilets.”

The preparations are well underway in Kochi. Not even mentioned here are the one-and-a-half truckloads of sugar that will be brought in for the chai and the 60,000 kilos of rice that will provide the daily three meals to the 100,000 and more. This is indeed a divine operation.

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