Pongal’s Sweetest Payasam

15 January, 2004 — Rameshwaram

From one holy city to the next, India truly offers an unending stream of spiritual inspiration for the many pilgrims who travel here. These lands of Wisdom and Light are currently being graced by one of the Wisest and Brightest ever to sanctify its ground, as Amma travels throughout on Her 2004 Tour of South India. Amma arrived in sacred Rameshwaram this afternoon, the Tour’s fourth stop.

Rameshwaram temple

Actually a narrow island attached to the mainland by the 2.2km long Pamban bridge (the longest bridge in India constructed over a bay), Rameshwaram exists atop some the most sacred soil in India. It’s unique history dates back to the time of the Ramayana, the ancient epic tale of the life of the Avatar and King of the Treta Yuga, Sri Rama, from whom it receives its name. It was here that Sri Rama worshipped Lord Shiva for His blessings with a Shiva-Lingam that is still installed in the Rameshwaram Temple. Then, with the help of his dearest devotee Hanuman and the monkey armies, began to build the bridge that was to reach Lanka, the island kingdom of the demon Ravana, over 12 km away. Ravana had abducted Sita, Sri Rama’s beloved wife and queen, and the great battle that ensued defined the age. There are a number of sites in the surrounding area directly connected to Sri Rama’s life and leela’s, all mentioned in the Ramayana, making Rameshwaram one of the most holy of India’s pilgrimage destinations.

Rameshwaram has now received the blessings of a second Avatar — our beloved Amma. It is here that Amma has constructed an entire neighbourhood of free homes for Rameshwaram’s poorest, under Her Amritakuteeram housing project. Given the name ‘Amritapuram’ and adjacent to tonight’s darshan hall, its residents welcoming Amma by lining their pathways with flowers and showered petals on Amma and Her car when She arrived. This is the second year that Amma has come spreading grace through Rameshwaram the way a flower spreads its fragrance — naturally, spontaneously, beautifully.


The crowds were huge… but, then, when was the last time they were small? Anywhere? It is predominantly poor villagers from Rameshwaram who come for Amma’s blessings, and with a devoted enthusiasm. One can really see in their eyes the simple faith they have in Amma, and the comfort that they anticipate and receive from Her divine touch.

One special aspect of tonight’s program is that it falls on the first day of Pongal, which is currently being celebrated throughout South India. During Satsang on the rooftop of Amma’s Madurai ashram last night, Amma told of how over the three days of Pongal a different aspect of the Divine in Nature is worshiped, partly with the symbolic offering of payasam (sweet rice pudding). The first day the Sun is worshiped as the embodiment and source of Life-Force, without which we could not be. Payasam is offered to the sun seeking his blessings, and then eaten as prasad; the second day, animals are venerated, usually through the worship of a representative cow, which again is offered sweet payasam; the third day sees the family relations worshiped, of course through more offering of payasam, and, more importantly, through the coming together of family members. If there have been arguments or miscommunications in the family, this is the day when the air is cleared and hearts are opened. It can be a very healing time, restoring a deep relationship with the Universe, Mother Nature and one another. Through this festival, the Creation is recognized as the miraculous divine blessing it truly is.

Amma also explained an interesting point about the intelligence behind this kind of worship, saying that it is not superstitious, but in fact very practical. During this particular festival for example, the tradition of cooking payasam and allowing it to boil over is observed all over South India. This overflowing of sweetness represents the Prema (Divine Love) that should overflow from our hearts towards all of Creation. Amma continued with a remarkable point. She said that the steam rising from the rice, jaggery, cardamom and other spices being boiled in so many households and mixed with the smoke from the firewood traditionally used, actually creates a special medicinal combination that has a very beneficial effect on the atmosphere. The collective observance of this and similar practices has a positive effect on both the ‘mental environment’, as well as the weather, climate and harmony of Nature in general. This is just one aspect of the subtle wisdom underlying these simple, elegant customs.

There must surely be a similar effect born from Amma’s traveling around the world. Aside from the instant sanctification that the mere touch of Amma’s Feet brings, everywhere Amma goes there are pujas and bhajans, camphor and incense are burned, prayers and mantras are chanted even while performing the most common tasks, and being in the presence of Amma creates an abundance of positive thoughts within us; all of this acts like a healing ‘steam’ rising up and spreading through the atmosphere, purifying everything on some level and to some degree. Holy places like Rameshwaram remain holy due to the faith of devotees, regular observance of the traditional rituals, and the ‘re-charging’ that is bestowed by the presence and grace of Mahatmas like Amma. And, as Amma reaches out to such a broad spectrum of the people, drawing larger and larger crowds every year, the ‘steam’ produced no doubt grows in effect as well. This truly is a great service to the world.

Amma’s wisdom  is the sweetest Divine Payasam, abundant with love and appeasing the hunger of Her spiritually starved children everywhere. How much we enjoy depends entirely on whether we come to Amma with spoons, cupped hands or barrels. Each takes according to his or her capacity and Amma gives freely to all.

After drinking their fill, the Rameshwaram devotees watched as Amma stood from Her chair, the morning sun having already risen well into the sky. Just as when She arrived, devotees sprinkled flower petals over Her as She walked to Her car, and continued to shower them over the car as it pulled away. However it wasn’t quite time to leave. Amma made a brief stop at a nearby devotee’s house and then just a few minutes away the caravan stopped again, this time in front of the famous and beautiful Rameshwaram Temple. Amma went inside, and the temple pujaris came out with wide smiles to receive Her darshan.

– dass