The hungry hands of Kozhikode

18 December 2001, Kozhikode


If I had thousands of people gathering early and waiting patiently for my arrival for hours and hours in the heat and humidity, I would probably feel at least a touch of pride: “Just think, I mean so much to so many!”

If when I entered the room, everyone stood up, and when I greeted them they prostrated and wanted to touch my feet, I would surely grow arrogant: “They see my superiority, and well they might!”

And if wherever I went, people would rush towards me and call my name and want to touch me, it’s only natural that I would develop more than a little self-importance.

But this is not how it is for Amma.

Yes, the crowds gather, they respond to Her arrival with love and respect and reverence and when She is near enough, they call “Amme!” and try to touch Her.


But if you watch Her closely, you will see that never does She respond as would I (and most of us): you don’t see pride nor arrogance nor self-importance. You see only and always humility and love.

Take a few days ago, when She arrived in Kozhikode for the four-day Brahmasthanam program at Her ashram in this north Kerala city.

People had been waiting for hours (because, you see, when Amma travels you never know whether She will come directly and fast-in this case, the journey from Amritapuri would have taken, at best, eight hours-or whether She might stop along the way to play with those traveling with Her, perhaps to sing, to serve lunch, to give satsang. You just can’t pin Her down to a schedule). So in Kozhikode the people began waiting even earlier than She could possibly arrive (I mean, you just never know!), and in the heat of the day, they stayed ready. They worked, too, many of them: there were last touches to put on the temporary shaded areas in which thousands would find shelter from the sun under thatch roofs; bookstalls and incense displays and temporary STD/ISD (telephone) booths had to be set up; sleeping arrangements for Mother’s tour group (five buses full) and the many sevites who came for the four days had to be finalized…and more. So people worked, but also they waited. Waited and yearned and anticipated; they meditated and chanted, “Om Amriteshwaryai Namah!” in special anticipation of Amma, and the mantra that would be chanted during five archanas a day during the Brahmasthanam festival: “Om Sivashaktaikya Roopinyai Namah”. In quiet and orderly rows on the temple floor they sat. Waiting. Waiting for hours for an arrival scene that would last maybe ten minutes. They do this every year, too. There is something uniquely too beautiful about how Amma begins Her annual stay at Kozhikode. Once you have experienced it, even knowing how hot and dusty and difficult the wait will be, you wait.

When Amma came, the great brass gong was sounded and the conch was blown; it was suitable for the arrival of royalty. But once you could see past the mob of press people, you saw just a small dark woman in a white sari, reaching out to touch the hands of Her children. Yes, She was wearing flower garlands-maybe six or eight; but something in Her demeanor showed you that She wore them not as proofs of rank but as tokens of love.

The eagerness of her children to touch Her worried the ashramites accompanying Her, so they tried to create a sort of “zone of safety” around Her. Foolishness! For though it is true their efforts did keep the procession moving forward, in fact, for all their zeal and excitement, the Kozhikode devotees, well-coached by their crowd control team, kept their own ranks in order—it was just those arms, those hungry hands, those voices calling “Amme! Amme!”—and the irrepressible response of Amma who would move to this side, then that, stretching Her arms over the protective shoulders of Her attendants and across the clasped hands of the crowd control people lining the centre aisle until She could touch Her children. This was clearly not the regal procession of a monarch; it was the return of the Mother.


Reaching the steps from the temple floor up to Her room, Amma paused and bowed Her Head to receive two more garlands, and then started climbing. Not too fast: at each level, She would look out across the sea of heads and hands to see the faces not seen before, visible only now, at this height. She turned away from the temple to look down into the yard where, come program time, ladies and children waiting for Darshan would be packed; now there were the overflow of volunteers and the earliest of the devotees (yes; they would sleep there, perhaps on newspapers or straw mats, to be first in the waiting area next morning). She gazed at them as a Mother gazes at her family after a long separation, and their faces glowed back with love. Upwards: up the steps and around the corner, to mount more steps. Gone are the days when She might take these last few steps to Her doorway alone: the photographers had gotten up there first, and so had some of the devotees. The entire area was packed. Still She did not hastily slip into Her room. No. The most amazing moment of the evening was yet to come. She turned away from Her room and towards the temple hall below. There on one of the lower steps of the balcony She leaned out to see Her children massed below.

A roar from the crowd: “Amma!” Men’s voices, women’s voices, all mixed: “Amma! Amma!” or simply “Ma! Ma! Ma!” She stood there and looked out over all those faces, all those hands, and the only way to say what happened is: love poured from Her Face, Her Eyes, Her Self. As if to give physical form to this shower of love, She began stripping petals from the flower malas still nearly burying Her. She let them trickle down onto Her children; to be sure those not directly below were rained on as well, She hurled these blessings as far as She could.

What did She see? A sea of faces, a forest of arms, a sunburst of brilliant smiles and flashing eyes: Her children’s love. For each handful of petals that descended, arms would stretch and open hands would reach and grab-there! A woman caught a petal and touched it to each of her eyes; a man caught petals and kissed them; another woman caught a handful and poured the petals over the child snuggled in her other arm. Mother removed the bedraggled garlands and laid them over the balcony railing. She stood there unadorned and just as beautiful, and continued to gaze at Her children. She leaned way down, so that She could see—and be seen by—those furthest back. A roar of appreciation and love from the distant ones. Then again, directly below: more calls of “Amma! Amma!” and She looked downwards again.

They say that the open beaks of baby birds hungry in their nest essentially force the parents to feed them; just as irresistible to Amma were the open hands of the men and women and children—all Her children—down there on the temple floor. She took back the laid-aside garlands, stripped more petals, and showered more blessings down to their hungry hands.