6 March 2002, Giving Prasad to Amma
When Amma gives darshan in India, each person is given a candy wrapped inside a packet of ash as prasad. This prasad is precious to the recipient, as it contains Amma’s sankalpa (resolve) and comes directly from Her hand to theirs. To receive prasad directly from a Mahatma is an opportunity that could take lifetimes to come about . Obviously the preparation and organisation of the prasad is an important, even sacred, task.
How the prasad gets to Amma’s hand and finally to the hand of the devotee is an interesting saga. It is also an example of how Amma is continually creating possibilities to serve Her with detachment, attention and devotion.
The first step is the purchasing of the raw materials: the sweets in sacks containing around 7,000 pieces of candy (one sack might only contain enough for one darshan session), the ash, the paper ash packets and, in certain states of India, kumkum and plastic packets for it are required. It is the responsibility of the devotees at each program site to fill the ash packets. They are filled with just the correct quantity of ash and closed with a staple or glue. Usually groups of ladies gather to fill the packets in assembly-line fashion while chanting their mantras.
Once Amma’s tour group arrives at a program site, it is the Westerners’ responsibility to organise the prasad for the darshan. This includes a team to roll the prasad into packets on the stage during darshan, someone to instruct the person about how to give prasad to Amma, someone to supervise the person giving to Amma, someone to time the person giving and someone to organise the queue of people Amma has called to give prasad to Her! All these duties are assigned to Westerners travelling on the tour, with the exception of the trainer, whom Amma wants to be able to speak the local language.
Rolling and timing prasad are arranged by sign-up sheet. As the space on stage near Amma is limited, people watch closely for the moment the sign-up sheet is posted to reserve a spot. Timing is the most coveted position, as the timer sits near Amma’s pitham and has a good view of the laughter and lila going on during darshan. Some people are particularly fond of making the rolls of ash and candy, as this is something Amma will touch and She knows very well who was chanting their mantra and rolling with attention.
The chance to give prasad to a Mahatma is the opportunity of a lifetime, perhaps many lifetimes. If a person misses the chance, he or she may never have the opportunity again
Westerners are able to give prasad consistently on tour, sometimes every day, depending on the number of local volunteers. Westerners usually start giving prasad at the beginning of darshan and then alternate with the local volunteers or other groups Amma has called.
Amma is always aware of who and how many are in the darshan queue. When darshan nears its end, She wants to be sure that everyone She has called to give Her prasad has received the chance. The chance to give prasad to a Mahatma is the opportunity of a lifetime, perhaps many lifetimes. If a person misses the chance, he or she may never have the opportunity again.
At the end of darshan in Mananthavadi, seven men remained in the prasad queue. On Her way off the stage, Amma took a piece of prasad from each man so as not to disappoint them. At the next program as darshan came to a close, She asked how many were left in the queue and told us to be sure that they gave prasad, reminding us that seven were left over in Mananthavadi. Such is Amma’s sweet attention to every detail and to each person.
People used to give prasad to Amma for as long as 10 minutes. Now they give from between three minutes and three seconds. The average time is one or two minutes. Some of the Westerners will ask how long the queue is or for how long we are giving and then decide if they will participate. Others never miss any chance to give prasad. One can recognise the time-oriented nature of the West by the analysis of whether the amount of time is “worth it.” Most of us were taught since childhood that time equals money! However, around Amma time takes on a different dimension. Amma stresses not to waste time and that time wasted can’t be regained, but when it comes to giving prasad, She knows that giving one piece of prasad is as valuable as giving for hours, if the attitude is right.
It seems that it’s not just that the prasad-giver is giving something to Amma, but that Amma is giving something to the prasad-giver. Sometimes it is something subtle or intangible that we may recognise later. Other times what Amma transmits is obvious. Many people have had their relationship with Amma transformed while giving prasad. Others have been healed of lifetime wounds. “I thought I wasn’t good enough or pure enough to give Amma prasad, but now I know I am good enough.” “I used to be afraid of Amma the way I was afraid of my biological mother, but after giving prasad to Amma. I’m not afraid anymore.” These are some of the comments I’ve heard by devotees after they’ve given prasad.
For many years Amma never called the volunteers at the Calicut Brahmasthanam, as there are around 1,500 of them. One year She called the vegetable-cutters only. She asked for the 100 cutters to give for one minute each. She eagerly watched for their arrival on the stage and, when they came, each lady was crying. Their lips were moving incessantly as they chanted their mantras. The ladies were obviously poor, as could be told by their dress and lack of jewellery. They were used to being on a low rung of social status in society, but that day Amma gave them a place of honour on the stage.
One lady came to give prasad and, after giving one piece, she began to pound her chest and cry. The supervisor was frightened and thought the lady was having a heart attack. Amma looked up at the supervisor, smiled and said, “Bhakti.” The lady was overwhelmed by devotion after giving but one piece of prasad. The lady managed to crawl off the stage and her place was taken by another vegetable-cutter. Amma looked at each one with such compassion that many observers had tears in their eyes. For these devotees there was no question of whether the amount of time to give prasad or the length of time to wait to give was “worth it.”
This was the beginning of Amma’s practice of calling all the local volunteers at every program site, even when there are as many as 1,500 of them. As the number of devotees grows and the size of the darshans increases, Amma has less time for each devotee, so She invents more ways to give devotees experiences with Her. This year on the North India Tour, in addition to the 300 people travelling with Her, Amma called at least 4,000 people to give prasad. And at each stop along the way, this touching display of Amma’s love and the devotees bhakti was replayed.